California Memories,  Living Between the Lines

San Francisco Bay Area – just another day

More memories from my lone Californian trip of 1997 –

This morning, a blue sky opened above me, clouds rolling away to reveal a shiny new sun. Just another day on this crazy holiday I have chosen to take.

I am sitting here, alone in the back garden ostensibly reading but really, just sitting and thinking.

I woke this morning with a real urge to pack my bag and head for home. It isn’t that I am not having fun. It isn’t that I am not constantly amazed by what is going on around me. It isn’t even that the woman I am travelling with happens to be a bi-sexual, possibly transexual, self confessed white witch and is as mad as a hatter. She has a good heart – I believe.

No, it is none of those things. Today I find I am missing my family more than I can say. Begging time on the computer that sits in Annie’s trailer, I have managed to send a few emails home and whenever I can, I ‘phone home’. These phone calls always make me feel better for a bit.

Generally, I phone at the wrong time. The eight hour time difference makes it hard to judge. Hence I speak to my husband just as he is about to take the children to school and can hear the usual panic about P.E. bags and pencil cases and cries of,

“has the dog eaten my shoes?” going on in the background.

The dog has been known to eat a brand new pair of school shoes so it is a reasonable query even if the child in question will be shot if she/he has left his/her shoes anywhere near the dog’s bed overnight. I feel the tug of homesickness overwhelm me as their voices call out,

“Hello Mummy!” across the miles.

Another phone call will find the children safely tucked up in bed and tired husband about to retire for the night. To give him his due, he stays up gamely chatting to his wife who is crouched in a trailer some 5000 miles away, hanging on his every word.

I don’t recall him being so needy when away from home on an extended business trip but maybe the circumstances are somewhat different.

As I hang up the receiver, Annie will breeze in and suggest we ‘go get a burger’ or pop over to Denny’s for breakfast.  My body clock is completely frazzled so I am apt to agree whatever the time is.

Today, the homesickness swept over me like a blanket from the minute I opened my eyes. As it will now be one in the morning at home, I am not about to phone. I will just have to get over it.

“Everything ok?” Annie’s mum asks as she brings the rubbish out, barely pausing for a reply before she launches into an account of how Annie should really get her teeth/hair/hip done. As though on cue, Annie bursts upon the scene wearing something from her store of ‘summer clothes’.

“Will you quit talking about me as though I am not here?” she demands and lights up a cigarette, “You ok Deb?”

“I’m fine thank you,” I smile brightly. That’s it, back on track.

“We’re heading over to San Francisco today,”

“In that wreck?” Annie’s mum indicates the VW and raises an eyebrow.

“Hell no, Mom, gonna hire a car,” Annie replies.

Oh, yes, it was mentioned I recall – today we are hiring a car. The VW is not built for the steep inclines that SF offers.

So, here we are at the car hire centre. We drove here from the other side of town. I wonder where Annie will leave her own vehicle. I am a little perturbed to learn that Annie will be driving the VW back to her Mother’s house while I will be driving the hire car.

This seems reasonable. Never mind that I have never driven on the right before and that the gear stick is nowhere to be seen. The gentleman who is hiring out the car hands me the keys, since I am the one who has paid, and waves us away with as few instructions as he can muster.

Annie leaps into the Van.

“Hang on, where is the gear stick and I don’t actually know the way back…” I protest.

Annie chuckles and says she will lead the way. She is already out of the forecourt and I am relieved to find the gear stick attached to the steering column. It is an automatic. Hoping the man behind the desk doesn’t hear the engine rev as I manoeuvre the car out into the road, I get used to the controls quite quickly.

I am feeling quite happy driving along on my own, even if it is for a short time – then we come to some traffic lights. I watch as Annie, two cars ahead of me, runs a red light and disappears. The other two cars follow. I stop. The car behind me beeps and its driver gesticulates for me to go ahead.

Aha! So, a right turn on a red light is ok is it? How very odd! I check and turn. This will take some getting used to. I have time to get used to it over the next several junctions. I am amazed that my brain seems to have taken in our outward journey because I recognise a few landmarks and by some small miracle find myself in Annie’s mother’s road where she has parked the VW and is stretching her legs.

“What took you so long?” she grins. I am a little peeved that she didn’t wait for me though, to be fair, I have found my own way back.

We head off towards San Francisco in the sunshine. (I let Annie drive) A previous trip taken in the first week of my visit was very disappointing. We had arrived at the Bay to find the entire place bathed in a thick fog. The Golden Gate Bridge was a shadow, North Beach was cold and uninviting and in the end we decided to call it a day.

Today it is clear and bright and Annie takes the wheel to show me the sights. We drive down Lombard Street – a narrow twisting street of brick cobbles that reminds me of the cobbled street of steps that is Clovelly in North Devon. I can see that the VW would not have cared for this.

Feeling as though I am on the set of a 70’s cops and robbers show, we follow the trams up and down the steep hills and meander through China Town before Annie decides we will go down to the Bay Bridge area and park. She informs me that she has somewhere special she wants to show me.

“You’ll love it!” she giggles. I have been here for over two weeks and I now know that it is highly unlikely I will love whatever it is Annie thinks that I will, but I am willing to give it a go.

The wheel chair is a must. Annie insists. So, here I am, pushing a wheel chair around San Francisco in which sits an excitable 43 year old women wearing a straw hat and carrying a small dog.

We come to a stop outside a tacky building which Annie informs is,

Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” museum.

This is the big surprise? This is the place I will just ‘love’? I am dubious to say the least.

The exhibits are somewhat weird and often gruesome. Annie soaks it all up and enthuses over the displays. I cannot help thinking that I have entered yet another time warp and am now witnessing a travelling freak show. Rather cruelly, I wonder if I am not actually in one.

We negotiate the automatic doors and locate a lift which will house the wheelchair.

Annie can hardly contain her excitement as we travel up to the first floor. I summon up some enthusiasm because it seems churlish not to.

I would far rather be taking in the sights and sounds outside. Reluctantly, Annie finally agrees to leave this macabre place and we step out (or rather roll out) into the sunshine again.

The wheelchair meets another and there are a few moments of confusion as my companion negotiates a three point turn to extricate herself from the wheels of the second wheelchair. I smile at its occupant who glares at me as though I am personally responsible for Annie’s incompetent steering.

Half way down the road she abandons the wheelchair and wanders across to read something of interest pinned to a post. I don’t know what it is or whether it truly is interesting because I am too busy moving the wheelchair out of harm’s way and parking it. By the time I look up, she has decided to take the little dog for a walk and I take ten minutes to recover my composure.

After spending the afternoon wandering around San Francisco, dodging trams and wheelchair, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and doing the things that tourists tend to do in S.F. we head off to eat at Sinbad’s by the Bay Bridge.

Rolling up in the smart hire-car, we are greeted by a young man with slicked back hair who demands the keys. Annie hands them over and the car is valet-parked by the same young man. I follow Annie into the restaurant and am much relieved to find that we are seated in a relatively private recess in the dining room. As the seating forms a semi-circle around the table, it is possible for me to enjoy the views across the bay and to almost ignore the toothless chewing going on to my right. I am not sure if the other diners are so lucky.

We have left the wheelchair in the car for once and the little dog is also snoozing on the back seat. Annie grins and is evidently enjoying herself. I am slightly ashamed for wishing I could escape for an hour or two or maybe eat alone for once.

There are very few days left for me to enjoy this amazing and truly eye opening visit and I decide to make the best of them. Hence, much later, back at the house, I don’t turn a hair when Annie emerges from the trailer in a tightly fitted cotton blouse that threatens to burst its seams at any moment. Nor do I mind when she insists we go to Denny’s Diner at Midnight because she is hungry and introduces me to everyone as her ‘English Friend’. I put up with the questions about fog and smile when I remember that this experience has taught me so much about myself.

The visit is almost over – not much else can possibly happen can it?

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. sounds like a bit of a nightmare trip with some fun thrown in .. slightly claustrophobic character?! Still at least San Fran cleared for you .. I wrote about Lombard Street on my blog – different perspective!

    One day I shall get to see LA and San Fran .. haven’t had much time as it’s been recently when I’ve been in San Diego & Mum’s been ill .. so I’ve had to hoof it back after my visit.

    Kids must be well and truly grown now?! Have a good rest of the week .. I enjoyed the musings! Cheers Hilary

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Hilary, thanks for coming over to my blog. Yes, children are now all grown, the five year old being in his second year of University, the 16 year old of the time about to have her first baby. I too have grown older and I hope wiser (ha ha). Hope your week is going well too 🙂

  • Andrea Carlisle

    Oh dear, not a happy traveler. Those details about the homesickness, especially the phone calls, do a good job of making it felt, making it real.

    I’m wondering what’s next. That ending promises at least one more surprise, though I’m dreading it on your behalf. I think you show remarkable patience with Annie, who is obviously a selfish character most of the time.

    So glad you’re back home where you’re appreciated.

    • Deborah Barker

      Glad you are still with me Andrea. Most of the time I was so caught up in what was happening I didn’t have time to feel homesick but towards the end I did long for home.

      As for the ending – well, I will do my best not to disappoint 🙂

  • Patricia

    Oh the saga continues and I feel extremely fortunate that my 2 trips to San Francisco have been rather glorious and we had a walking tour book and just walked and walked exploring each of the 10 days. I would like to ride a cable car some day, but it is not so important to me as discovering the history of the city, street by street and almost house by house.

    You trip sounds very life changing and very building of the stamina needed for huge doses of patience. Your heart is good.

    My oldest child is working, living and studying there now…she does amazing tours of SF and loves company if you would like to try another visit 🙂

    Keep the stories coming – homesickness is usually about heading home and appreciating what you have there –
    Thank you for sharing

  • Katie Gates

    I could feel your homesickness at the beginning of this piece, and then I let my own emotions take over. I would have wanted to leave Annie at the Believe It or Not Museum, possibly with a sign that said, “Oh, yeah. Believe it.” Your patience is remarkable. And you ended this with a cliff-hanging question, so I am looking forward to the next installment!

    • Deborah Barker

      So much I’d like to tell about this trip but most will have to wait until I write it all down in book form I think. As for patience – I really didn’t have much option. The next installment may be the final one for now.

  • Deb

    It’s amazing to me that you didn’t get more homesick sooner considering all that was happening on this trip. You were such a good sport, even as your energy began to wane. I can hardly wait to see what couldn’t possibly happen in your remaining days together.

  • John Cowton

    I thoroughly enjoyed this latest beautifully written installment of your time in SF Deborah.
    I could feel strongly your internal struggle to accept Annie’s whimsical behaviour and just go with it. I also felt the stress from your driving the hired car on the right side of the road, the indignation of being having to endure the absurdity of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and moments of missing your family.
    However there were windows of ‘me-time’ when you could languish in and the sights and sounds and atmosphere of the San Franciscan land and seascape.
    Your story reminded me of my early teens on holiday in the Isle of Wight with my parents. I was too young to strike out on my own and go on holiday with friends and didn’t want to be with my family. My poor parents had to put up with my sulking throughout most of the holiday.
    However there were ‘windows’ for me just as I’m sure there were ‘windows’ for my parents. The windows when you absorb from the holiday environment what is pleasing for you.
    These memories remain with you to playback at will the rest of your life. As a writer you can recall those feelings and make your reader experience the same feelings.

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi John, thank you for your lovely comments. Yes, there are windows I could languish in as you suggest. Indeed, when I eventually turn this memoir into a book I will have the time and space to do just that. Writing these memories of my time in California as blog posts has created the urge to do so, especially as I trawl through the photographs and video tapes. I hope you will return for what I believe will be my final instalment (one never knows) before I set out on this trail.
      IOW – I love it! My parents lived there for a few years but prior to that my fondest memory is of winning 18/6d on a one armed bandit in Ventnor! (1968 – I was 12) I will be over to your blog again shortly. Debbie 🙂

  • cj Schlottman


    Having had a similar experience, I feel your pain. I was once stuck with a woman I hardly knew on a trip to Paris. She wasn’t all that excited about museums, and she wanted to eat at Hard Rock Cafe!

    I made it work, tough. I just went places I wanted to go and let her set her own agenda. I realize that you were actually being held captive by Annie, so your experience was surely worse than mine.

    Bless you, my child……….cj

    PS: Thanks for your kind comment on my blog, The Red Sweater.

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