4:00am cold, dark and still feeling the effects of yesterdays hangover.
We arrive at the Greyhound bus deport and are greeted by the smell of a urinal, a dark concrete alcove spattered by huddled figures, makeshift shelters, coughing and muttering. We ascend and a surly security guard checks and rechecked our tickets before letting us into the waiting room. More people are sleeping here, but they have bus tickets. As we sit down on the bus to Reno we are greeted by the most disgruntled bus driver we have ever encounted (think South park bus lady) After dictating a lengthy list of rules she persisted in telling everyone off for the rest of the trip. Yelling at a man who was coughing to move way from her so she doesn’t get his sick germs. “If I can hear your voice your taking too loud!” “If you wonder away from the bus when we stop I’m leaving without you!” which she did, leaving an elderly man running after the bus. Despite feeling like school children and cringing at the conversations around us (white trash is an appropriate term here) the scenery took the edge off. Following a river through valleys and snow capped peaks, deep forest and rough rock. A wild frontier.
After 6 hours of crampy, yelling, boring fun we arrived in Reno. Dropped of in front of Circus Circus Casino across the road from a pawn shop, love motel and tacky wedding chapel it was at once obvious why Reno is called the poor mans Vegas.
It wasn’t long before we were met with friendly faces, old friends of Dotahn’s family Cathy and Vince. After a buffet lunch Cathy and Vince wanted to show us around one of their favorite towns of the Serra Nevada area. A place called Virgina City. This adorable town is like stepping back in time to the good old Bonanza times of the cowboy. Once a boom town for morning the wide wooden boardwalk was still intact albeit a little warped. Apparently in its peak a large tunnel system was dug underneath the town to keep commercial deliveries of the main street. With saloons, the remnants of many a bordello, cowboys strutting around and a whole lotta fudge it really was like stepping back into the days of the settlers. A highlight was a visit to the Mark Twain museum in the old local news paper printing press where he was once a reporter.
After our fill of the quaint cowboy town we headed home to Cathy and Vince’s ranch. On a large barren desert plain stretching as far as the eye can see, in a valley surrounded in snow capped mountains. The two of them built their gorgeous log cabin complete with rustic and antique furniture, saddles, spurs and guns above the mantlepiece. A beautiful open fire adjoining the lounge and bedroom, 4 cats, a dog and of course, 6 horses. Both being cowboy/pilgrim enthusiasts their cabin is perfect, complete with Navajo blankets and old photographs. After a lovely mexican dinner and stories shared around the fire we retired to get an early start on a big day of site seeing the next day.
Cathy went to work early leaving us with Vince and a day of sunshine. After a big breakfast of fried eggs, maple bacon, maple sausage and pancakes with maple syrup we first headed to Pyramid lake and a quick tour of the local reservation. Unfortunately the museum was closed. We discussed the situation of Indian reservations in the US, its similarities and differences to the indigenous population of Australia. There is a current dilemma within these communities, particularly that of the Navajo being the largest. Their land sits upon rich deposits of Oil and Uranium. There is a fierce division within these communities as to whether these resources should be exploited. It does run against the ideals of the tribe, to use the land in this way and money, although desired, does not bring happiness to these people.
From Pyramid Lake we made our way back through Reno out to the museum of the Donner Party. A quaint museum with a film about the hardships of heading west in search of riches in the time of the pilgrims. It was interesting to hear the stories and then look at the landscape and wonder how they managed to travel through such impassible mountains and deserts. Not only navigating mountains with wooden wagons, but then being snowed in for months on end. Listening to tales of the cannibalistic party worked up an appetite so we headed to lunch in a diner which was the essence of small town America in a town called Truckee, Dot’s favorite was the huge moose head on the wall. We then drove into the mountains and down to Lake Tahoe. A beautiful lake stretching out for miles, ringed with snowy mountain peaks and pine forest.
We wondered lazily on the beach and then headed up into the hills for a more rigorous walk. Due to the snow there were very little people around, allowing us to imagine that we were really in the wilderness,removed from society. Dotahn enjoyed jumping into the untouched drifts to see how far he could sink in. To his disappointment he only managed to reach over his knees. The evening was spent eating good food in great company, conversations on life flowing across the table.
The next day we spent the morning with Vince as he fed a baby pig in the farm nearby the ranch. Before begrudgingly heading back to catch the bus back to San Francisco. The driver kept to himself this time, although the passengers on the trip were fairly rough around the edges. On one of the rest stops along the way the bus was met by a police van to let a newly released prisoner onto the bus, clutching a plastic bag of belongings. We traipsed back through San Francisco to pick up our bags and caught the bus out to Marin to stay with Aunt Claudia. Claudia lives in a lovely apartment quite near Grandma Newberry and Aunt Sue. As Claudia was teaching that evening we decided to satisfy Dotahn’s curiosity and go to the Outback Steakhouse for dinner. The Outback Steakhouse is an Australian themed chain restaurant, as you can imagine there was very little about it which was Australian. Emmily had a Quesadilla. The only thing which was Australian made Dotahn happy. They served Coopers!
The next day we went to visit Grandma for the afternoon, with a nice lunch and wonderful stories of her visits to Japan and her family as a child. We heard about the childhood of Sue, Nina and Claudia and Grandma’s job in the phone exchange, patching cords and connecting calls. A world apart form our current communications. We said our goodbye’s went on a walk along the wharf and headed back to Claudia’s for a nice dinner of Chinese takeaway and a good yell at reality television. The next day was Dotahn’s birthday. In the morning Claudia sang for us her two newly written songs. ‘Angel of Light’ was a touching piece in memory of Dotahn’s mother. Beautiful piano melodies and perfect lilting lyrics. The next was ‘Feelin’ Alive’ a more uptempo piece with great piano riffs and a catchy melody. That afternoon we decided to explore Mill Valley, a picturesque town in Marin. Beautiful upscale art and shops surrounded by forested hills. We drank a lot of coffee and spent far too long as usual in the bookstore. For dinner Grandma and the Aunts took us to the Buckeye Roadhouse. We ascended the winding path through the flowered garden into an old world hunting lodge with huge vaulted ceilings and dark wood. A roadhouse like no other, Buckeye’s was very, very busy. The food was delicious and we had a great evening.
The next evening we had a night out with Claudia and Berge. Heading to Max’s first to say goodbye to all the staff who had been so amusing and welcoming. Unfortunately our bar man Michael wasn’t working. The pianist who had worked with Claudia a lot in the past was quite a character. Always at the keys, his occasional breaks involved many a joke. His impersonation of a drunk was extremely convincing. Claudia sang a couple of tunes and then we headed to the club/restaurant she had booked. Asia SF is a transgender bar/nightclub/restaurant. With shows, amazing food and a nightclub downstairs. The most priceless experience of the night was Berge’s reaction to the girls. Not believing that they could have once been boys, like his eyes were playing tricks. He began asking if the girls in the hens party next to us were “real” and any other female in the room. The Asia SF girls were very stunning.
Our time with the Newberry family had come to an end and our bags were packed for the early flight to LA where we would pick up the hire car for the road trip. We booked one last dinner together at Grandma’s favorite restaurant Cottage Eatery. It also happened to be the last night of the restaurant before it closed down so the atmosphere was abuzz with locals. Dinner was filled with many wonderful conversations, sad goodbyes and the last opportunity to have a photo all together.