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What do you get when you cross an engineer and a design graduate?

What do you get when you cross an engineer and a design graduate?

A book cover artist of course.

Another Word Con and more engaging presentations from a variety of professionals in the publishing industry. Though I was saddened not to listen to Justin Heazlewood’s session (and more importantly get him to sign my copy of his book ‘Funemployed’), day one was full of fun and facts.

Rob introduced us to Marisa and Puja from Hardie Grant Egmont, specifically from their YA and middle-grade fiction. Though not a field of interest to me, I enjoyed the dissection of the publishing process.

Andrew presented a session exploring the space between flow state and focus in our contemporary, increasingly distracting, society. Robyn Doreian’s guest Cate Blake from the Penguin Random House imprint Viking proved a popular guest. With a focus on middle market and literary fiction, Cate pulled back the curtain on the submission process and emphasised the importance of being involved in literary competitions. Venetia bravely pitched her completed novel, putting into practice exercises from the previous semester. If I had a completed manuscript or even a firmer grasp on my project’s thesis, then I am sure that I would have also pitched.

Emma Noble was the final guest for the day. With a background in the publishing industry in various roles, she currently runs her own business as a literary publicist. Overall, Word Con 4 is a ripper of a mini literary conference. I enjoy the variety of presenters and the range of positions they can talk to within the publishing industry.

I found Puja’s contribution to the first session the most engaging. Puja’s varied background, including an engineering degree, reinforced for me the obscure nature of many career paths, my own included. Through the publishing subjects, I have managed to combine my innate visually creative inclinations and the book embryo I am birthing. As with Puja, every step that I’ve taken professionally has led me to this point though not necessarily via any predetermined plan. As a side note, she was completely charming to speak with after the session.

vibrant

 

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discover who you are through writing

 

Science fiction, speculative fiction – yep, you can keep them. Adam Browne’s lecture on his process of translating his narratives to short film seemed like a diversion of interest only to others. I was wrong. Slightly nervous with reflux tablets to hand, Adam cut a ‘handsome genius’ figure, to paraphrase his blog site. Checked chef pants, fire-engine red runners and tropical bird print Hawaiian shirt only added to the quirky image of him as author, illustrator, and filmmaker.

Between attempts to play his short films and responding to Andrew McRae’s prompts, Adam also fielded a mess of questions from the audience. During ‘The Adjustable Cosmos’ I noticed he sat, arms resting on his head and eyes closed. I couldn’t not ask him about this.

‘You sat through that with your eyes closed. I wondered if it may have anything to do with the fact that as a writer you were concentrating on the words unlike the visuals over which you didn’t have any control,’ I asked.

‘No, just nerves,’ he replied.

I pursued him further. ‘You write, illustrate and make films. What comes first in your head? Is it a linear or circular process? Or more like a pizza dough?’

‘That’s a good question that I don’t have an answer to. I don’t know.’

In a way, I had hoped that he was going to answer that he sees his stories as a movie first of all. This is how I experience my stories. Even when writing from my own real-life experience, I see the movie unfold in my head. I then try to describe the scene, picking out key details that will express the most in as few words as possible.

I’m curious about the interplay between the part of my life as a visual artist and that of a writer. As Adam said – a good question that I don’t have an answer to. I will, however, take solace in another piece of wisdom he shared – that you can discover who you are through writing.

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Portland,OR – Thursday 25th August

Portland, OR – Thursday 25th August

11:46 AM

3217 N Williams Ave, Portland, OR 97227, United States

MILES 2.54

TRIP TIME 00:07:28

FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare $1.25

Distance 2.92

Time 1.49

Subtotal $5.66

Booking Fee $1.35

City of Portland Surcharge $0.50

Total $7.51

Driver – Scott

The People’s Pig bright sky blue building is only a block or so from our AirBnb loft lodgings in Portland’s North-Eastern district. Wide, tree-lined streets of two storey homes in lush well-tended gardens. Plenty of shade to stop us over-heating on the way to second breakfast. Steve is wearing his light white linen shirt and beige shorts, a panama atop for added protection. Our brunch, late breakfast or early lunch is worth the smoke tainted clothing we are now left with for the day’s remainder.

Smoked chicken pieces which were then battered and deep fried.

Moist pork shoulder smoked dark and sticky. Coleslaw comprising of equal parts mayonnaise and cabbage. Macaroni salad – I’m still yet to determine the parameters for salad in the United States. It seems that anything is up for nomination: dried fruit, pasta, cheese, small goods, cooked meat. In fact, raw or cooked vegetables appear to be the most flexible ingredient.

Sweet vinegary barbecue sauce, spicy aioli and jalapeño jelly.

A local beer for Steve and a sweet iced tea with bourbon for me.

As suspected, neither Steve nor I, are in any shape to walk downtown so we order an Uber. Thanks Uber Scott for saving us from excessive exertion during this unanticipated heatwave. San Francisco, inland Northern California and Oregon had been cooler than we were expecting but Portland weather certainly made us catch our breath again. It is a short but welcomed ride from brunch at People’s Pig to downtown Portland. Time to join the line of tourists, domestic and international at Blue Star Donuts. VooDoo Donuts also has a strong reputation for the fried pastry in all crazy flavour combinations, but this one is easier to get to and surrounded by a range of craft beer places we want to visit.

Over this and my previous trips to America, I’ve revelled in the differences and the similarities between my own and American culture. As a food-focussed person, one element has always confused and intrigued me. The combination of sweet and savoury within a dish and often within one item. PB&J donut with blackberry habanero jelly and peanut butter powder was an elevated example of this. A butter-rich brioche dough made freshly daily with a rotating selection of flavours, it is easy to see why the business was nicknamed ‘donuts for grownups’ – Blueberry bourbon glaze, buttermilk old-fashioned, raspberry rosemary, maple bacon, Cointreau crème brûlée.

In order to scratch somewhat beneath the surface of Portland, we book a Brewcycle tour. A dozen people together power an over-sized bike around a tour of some of Portland breweries. Possibly due to the expected heat (35 degrees Celsius plus) half the group have cancelled last minute and while the tour could go ahead, we take the opportunity to bail with a compensatory beer from Back Pedal and a full refund.

One beer in, we decide to gently wander the streets of Portland’s downtown and sample more breweries on our own. Fatheads, Deschutes and Rogue are on the hit list before heading in the direction of our new home. Labrewatory is hidden underneath a freeway overpass in a light industrial area. This is something we encounter time and again on our brewery pilgrimages. I’m enchanted by the business concept of Labrewatory. They don’t brew beer. What they do is hire out brewing equipment and space. A percentage of the beer produced is then sold in their bar. It is an intelligent way to be involved in the brewing and beer industry. A canny business plan, I’m half-tempted to try and launch something similar on return home. The sheer population size of States and its more compact distribution means that the depth and breadth of their craft beer industry is beyond the scope of what many Australians can imagine.

Our last stop before turning in is Ex Novo brewery. A not-for-profit enterprise and only couple of blocks from out Portland loft, in the four days we spend in Portland, we visit it three times.

ELKTON, OR TO BEND, OR – TUESDAY 23RD AUGUST – part 2

Eager to get some more miles on the odometer, we head out of town loosely following the river into the mountains ahead. The appropriately named Lookout Point Lake accompanies us along Willamette Highway for so long, I become blasé to its beauty. At Oakridge, we stop in a car park of a large supermarket to stretch our legs, buy some water and road snacks. Road snacks are portable, easy to eat treats that you normally don’t buy. Scouring the shelves of the remote supermarket, we pick up candies, cookies, jerky and sweet iced tea. The carpark at Ray’s Food Place in Mountain View Plaza has incredible views of the mountains opposite. Leaning against the car, I start in on a jumbo bag of abnormally bright red Twizzlers. This chewy, strawberry-flavoured sweet is hitting the spot.‘Hey. Guess what is just up in the street behind here?’

‘A brewery bar?’ I posit. Naturally, I’m correct. I’m not convinced that this was a random stop for some blood sugar adjustment. Turfing the open packet onto the back seat, I climb back in for the quick trip to Brewers Union Local 180.

He pulls the car in at an angle to the curb, three mountain bikes parked in the bay next to us. We’ve passed a few intrepid cyclists on this section of our road trip and it is a feat I can’t begin to fathom. Tight corners, oversized RVs and too many miles between towns for a fair-weather cyclist like me to contemplate.

Here in the Umpqua National Forest, Oregon is a little piece of Steve’s motherland. Cosy armchairs, beers from hand-pumped kegs at cellar temperature and shelves of books and games. Paper coasters decorate the bar overhang and twinkling fairy lights hang in garlands below. I settle into a wingback chair by the front window and pull out my phone to take advantage of the free wifi.

‘Food was overcooked and the beer was warm’ reads one review. Just like home then?’ I ask Steve and take a sip of the amber nectar he has just returned with.

‘Umm, you’ve got a little –‘ pointing to the creamy foam on my top lip. I take a bigger swill before wiping the back of my hand across my mouth. ‘Apparently, the owner spent some years in the UK learning how to make traditional English ales.’ He informs me cocking his head towards the barman.‘Time well spent, I reckon.’

Placing the phone down on the table in front, I get up to explore the maps which line the walls. Detail cartography outlines the forest trails and the contours of the inclines. A well-designed map is the perfect blend of art and mathematics. ‘Where to from here?’

‘I’m hoping we will be in Bend by about – oh, let’s say 4.30,’ he answers after consulting the oracle in hand. ‘There is a place along the way I’d like to stop in at. Salt Creek Falls. Supposed to be pretty.’

‘Okay, if you like.’

Pulling into Northwest Riverside Boulevard in Old Bend is like pulling up in any suburban street. A young man only wearing shorts is washing his car in the driveway. Two kids attempt to take a dog for a walk, holding onto the leash with all their might. A supermarket delivery van pulls up and a woman unloads bags of groceries. We leave our car and make our way to the front door just as our hosts walk down the path.

‘Hi there. I’m Mandy. This is Steve.’ I gesture hoping it’s all rather obvious.

‘Oh great. I’m Bev and this is Stan. We were just about to head out so fabulous timing.’

‘Sorry, we had hoped to be a bit earlier but it’s tricky to judge how long things take sometimes,’ Steve apologises as is his English nature.

After a quick tour of the unit, we head back to the car to collect our bags.

Bev and Stan are loading up their car with what appears to be camping equipment.

‘Are you guys going camping?’ I ask, now noticing their outdoorsy clothing. Practical hiking clothing always has a particular look – slim cut, non-chafing breathable fibres, colours not found in nature.

‘Oh yeah, Bev and I love to hike. We go deep into the forest. There are some great day hikes around here if you want some suggestions. We love the outdoors. Whitewater rafting, skiing, mountain biking, bear wrestling.’ I may have tuned out there at the end so I can’t verify that he actually said bear wrestling. ‘If you guys want to go tubing on the river, we can lend you some tubes,’ Bev pipes in

Shaking my head a little too violently, ‘no, no, that’s okay. I think Steve has our time here planned out fairly strictly.’ I back away in case it’s contagious and go to help Steve unpack the car.

‘I think it’s time for another beer,’ I say to Steve. ‘Gotta be a bar around here somewhere.’

And so the craft beer tour of Bend, Oregon begins after a short walk over Deschutes river, passing the aptly named Mirror Pond with people adrift on inflated tyre inner tubes. First stop is Sunriver Brewing Company. Only a few years old, this slick restaurant and bar is fortunately positioned on the Main Street into town. It’s only 5.30pm and the sunbeams in the concertina windows that is the front façade. Thankfully the ebullient waitress provides chilled beverages only minutes after our arrival. The staff all wear red, yellow or green t-shirts advertising particular beers. Beer merchandise is a big thing here in America. T-shirts, singlets, caps, glasses, and even socks can announce your loyalty to a particular craft beer brand. Steve picks up a few along his journey and even I am not immune to their charms.

Menus are produced and we start the elimination process that is ordering.

‘How hungry are you?’ This is a standard question of mine to determine whether grazing or full meal is required.

‘You know me. I’ll eat.’ His standard answer doesn’t provide any assistance.

‘Okay. How about fried avocado, sriracha aioli, cumin lime sour cream, pico de gallo. I love pico de gallo.’

Rarely seen in Australia, pico de gallo is a fresh take on tomato salsa. Sprinkle salt on decent size dices of ripe juicy tomato and slices of red onion. Leave these to sit for a short while the salt draws out liquid, adding to the sauce’s natural juices. Finish with liberal handfuls of fresh coriander, finely chopped and de-seeded Serrano peppers (you want flavour but not overwhelming heat) and lime juice. It’s got to be lime juice, not lemon juice. Limes have an economy of flavour; they’re more bitter than sour and bitterness is a useful accent in many dishes. They pack a bigger acid hit than lemons. Most people reach for lemons more readily then limes. Partly, I think it’s the price factor. Lemons are substantially cheaper and are more easily grown at home. Pico de gallo, however, deserves limes.

‘Pineapple poppers as well then. Pepper-bacon wrapped pineapple, jalapeño queso fresco and a burgundy reduction. What’s queso fresco? Fresh cheese?’He answers his own question.

‘Yeah. A soft, mild cow’s milk cheese. I’m more concerned with the phrase burgundy reduction. I’ve not heard of red wine being referred to as burgundy for a long time. If the wine really is from the Bourgogne region, you wouldn’t be cooking it down into a sauce.’

Elkton, OR to Bend, OR – Tuesday 23rd August

Elkton, OR to Bend, OR – Tuesday 23rd August

A deep sleep buried under layers of feather and white linen and quieter than I am used to means that pulling myself out of slumber land requires genuine effort. Steve is sitting in bed next to me, shoulders poking out of the bedding. Phone in hand reading, he turns to face me.

‘I wondered if you ever going to wake up.’

I contemplate closing my eyes and rolling over. ‘What time is it?’

‘Nine o’clock. Want a cuppa?’

‘Always.’

I spread further out in the bed and into the warm patch vacated by his body. I feel myself sink deeper into the mattress. This is a dangerous bed. I might never get out. If not for a persistent discomfort from my bladder, we may never make it to our next destination today.

Dragging clothes on, I stumble to the cedar clad ensuite and squint at myself in the mirror on the wall under the skylight. Slightly sunburnt nose from all this sunshine even though I religiously apply SPF cream every morning. I tug at my hair with a brush grateful for a month without high levels of daily personal presentation demands. Two lipsticks, one eyeshadow and some mascara are enough make up supplies for a month holiday. I know that make up is cheaper here in the States but I’ve never been interested in that kind of thing. I have no childhood memories of putting on my mother’s make up. Like me, my mum is pretty low maintenance. No monthly manicures or facials for us. I’d rather spend that money on smothering more enjoyable like a meal out or a fabulous bottle of wine.

I manage to make it to the couch where my morning cup of tea, in the largest mug available, is waiting for me on the coffee table. Against the wall, a record player and a milk crate of vinyl records sits optimistically. The gentle sounds of wildlife outside, the very occasional passing car and Steve pottering around in the kitchen are all that I could want right now so the record player will just have to remain untouched.

An hour later we are packed up and closing the farm gate on the vineyard behind us. Each night when we arrive at our Air BnB it seems so foreign and someone else’s. Each morning, I feel I have just gotten used to the way the taps turn on, their particular creak of the floorboard near the bathroom or the heft with which you have to close the front door. Traveling is that odd combination of seeking out the unfamiliar and trying to make that fit with what you already know about the world. A curiosity about the world keeps the brain engaged and active. I can’t imagine ever being tired of new places. My parents in their seventies still travel, though the plane legs get shorter and the rest stops become more frequent. That will be Steve and I in another thirty years.

One podcast episode later, we are arriving in Eugene. A university town, Eugene hugs the Willamette River and in the late summer its established trees provide much needed shade. Fisherman’s Market is first on our list. This seafood place came too our attention due to a guilty pleasure of a tv show called Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The name is fairly self-explanatory. A loud, brash host with white-tipped hair drives around everyday America in a red retro sports car calling in on dining establishments nominated by the show’s audience. The premise is clear. Guy is shining the spotlight on hidden gems of America’s often overlooked dining scene – the Korean restaurant in the strip mall, the fried chicken joint attached to a rest stop and the vegan taco truck at the local park. The episodes are easily consumed, not running much longer than twenty minutes and, like the meals showcased, leaves you craving more.

With the parking challenge sorted, we find ourselves inside this part seafood retail space and a eatery.

‘Guy said the Cajun crawfish pie is the way to go,’ reminds Steve as we stand both gawping up at the menu board.

‘Ummm, sure.’ It’s another extensive menu in an otherwise unassuming place. Burgers, sandwiches, pies as well as all manner of fried concoctions fill the menu. I can’t be bothered to read it all properly so am happy to be lead by Steve and Guy.

‘I’m going to have the fried snapper sandwich. Can’t go past something with bang bang sauce.’I leave him to order and step out into a patio area. Unsurprisingly, we are the only people here eating seafood burgers and pies before noon.

Minutes later, the food arrives. My pie even comes with colourful salad. Chunks of crawfish meat held together by a thick creamy sauce, even the pastry is a delight. Flakey and buttery, I lift it off to eat first with my fingers. A habit leftover from my childhood, I always eat the top of a pie first before scooping out the insides and eating the base last by itself, now stodgy from the moist filling. Don’t judge me.

The salad is fresh lettuce, crunchy cucumber pieces, wedges of juicy tomato and thick rings of red onion all capped with slices of smoked salmon just in case you needed more fish. The obligatory ranch dressing sits in a plastic cup between pie and salad. I know Steve wants to try some and I want a bite of his sandwich but neither of us want to share. It tastes too damn good. Reluctantly, we each portion off a miserly part of our meal. While he’s distracted cutting off some of his sandwich, I steal a couple of his waffle fries.

Leaning back into the wood bench, I now notice the tubs of dirty dishes against the wall by the door and the flies they are attracting. My arms touch the laminate table top and it is sticky on my skin. The sun streaming in on the back of my neck is a portent of the heat of the day to come. Steve laps up the last of the bang bang sauce with some waffle fries. Hands are wiped as best they can with the inadequate napkins provided and I’m grateful when he says, ‘Let’s blow this popsicle stand.’

Ninkasi Brewing Company is located a walkable distance that we drive in the same amount of time. A vacant lot down the street as an impromptu parking lot as we park next to a growing number of other cars. I check the fences for signs to no avail. An expansive mural of a Mother Earth figure covers the wall of an adjacent factory. Her arms opened wide, leaves in all shades of green dripping down. I step back to get a photo but can’t fit her in. I do manage to get a photo of the next fence though. Alternating in blue and red, one meter high letters spell out B-e-r-n-i-e-16. By August 2016, Bernie Sanders was no longer in the running to become the US president. Though there was no hope for Bernie, at that stage we still couldn’t imagine Donald Trump gaining office. Like Brexit before it, the 2016 US election was a shock and surprise to most people I know.

Waiting a few minutes for noon to arrive and the gates to open, we loiter on the shady footpath.

‘Poor Bernie.’

‘Huh?’

‘I said poor Bernie.’ I repeat, gesturing towards the sign on the fence.

‘Bernie was never going to win.’

‘Why’s that?’ I am genuinely curious.

‘He is too overtly socialist and that scares Americans. They like to think of themselves as democratic cause that’s all flag waving fun but socialism sounds too close to communism and that makes them uncomfortable.’

We don’t often talk about politics. It’s not that we disagree. We fundamentally have the same take of things politically. Steve is wider read on these thing than I am. I stick my head in the sand too often as I get sick of the lies that seem to get perpetuated. My grandfather taught me not to bring up politics at the dining table. It can be a volatile subject matter and in the wrong hands, test relationships to the breaking point. I’m grateful that we have similar outlooks on politics and the world. Living in close quarters with another person can be very trying at times, but sharing the same basic political views is one less arena of conflict.

The gates are opened and we file in behind several other eager beer tasters. The black tasting room, teal green wall and corrugated stainless steel tank resplendent in the sun. Entering the tasting room we walk straight to the bar while the others let their eyes adjust and get their bearings. We are old hands at this by now. I hang back and let Steve order, knowing he’s already checked these guys on social media and consulted his private beer forums.

‘Two tasting paddles, please.’

‘Anything particular you want to try?’ The bartender asks, leaning on one of the tap handles.

‘A range of your most popular. Whatever you recommend.’ We are rubbing off on each other by now. Steve loves the research as much as he loves the travel but he’s also been pleasantly surprised by allowing staff to guide our choices. After years spent in hospitality and more spent eating out, I know that effective staff know their own product inside and out.

We grab the narrow steel trays that hold our beers and exit to find a shady spot on the patio. Slabs of concrete form perching spots but we grab a small table under a marquee. I’m sure this place is shoulder to shoulder at peak times. Each beer sits in front of a well designed card advertising its brand and varietal. In the style of a graphic novel, these cards are part marketing part collectible. A light seasonal release lager, a session-able IPA, a hoppy red ale, a deliciously bitter double IPA and an oatmeal stout are my introduction to Ninkasi and I’m happy to report that I like them all. It’s almost as if I can’t remember a time that I didn’t like craft beer.

When someone tells me that they don’t like beer, I can only assume they haven’t spent enough time tasting good craft beer. In fact, I have made it a challenge in the past to convert people. Beer can be sweet, it can be dry, it can be bitter and it can be light. Beer can be almost anything. I’ve had a beer so aged that it was thick and syrupy like a fortified wine. I’ve served a lambic style beer in champagne flutes so that guests assumed it was a sparkling wine.

Slightly disappointed not to be able to stay longer, we leave our now empty paddles behind, the cards liberated as souvenirs and head back towards the car. This is another bar that we would want as a local if we lived nearby.

‘Hashtag, our new favourite place?’ I propose, not for the first time this trip.

‘Definitely.’

New York City, NY – Sunday 4th September

New York City, NY – Sunday 4th September

The New York City subway is a complex system comprising hundreds of stations, most underground. Unconstrained by weather and running 24 hours a day, a single Metro card bought from a vending machine will open up all five boroughs of NYC for exploration. This morning Steve and I take the subway south to Wall Street. We have a brief wander around the historic area along with too many other tourists. Neither he nor I feel compelled to do many typical tourist things, the Freedom Tower 9/11 Memorial among them.

After a quick snack from a diner, we stand in line for the ferry to Red Hook and Brooklyn. A bright yellow ferry provided by IKEA transports potential shoppers from Manhattan and deposits them at the door of IKEA. This service is free on the weekends for prime shopping time though charges a fee for its weekday services. As the boat pulls away from the quay, we get a great view of the lower city skyline and other islands. Similarly the free Staten Island ferry is a great way to reinforce the notion of Manhattan as an island, which is something that is easily ignored or forgotten when you’re amongst the skyscrapers.

Red Hook was one of the busiest shipping areas back when shipping was a major mode of freight and people transport. Now, like the rest of Brooklyn, it is at the crossroads of gentrification. Long time residents are seeing infrastructure improve, crime rates decrease but there’s always some character that gets washed away with the grime.

‘When I was here last time, there were a heap of food trucks up near the baseball diamonds,’ Steve explains as we disembark 20 minutes later. A new looking boardwalk skirts factories and car parks. We follow this then divert away from the river towards the ball park.

‘Is this it?’ I ask suspiciously as we come upon fenced off diamonds.

Signs detailing the closure of four diamonds due to soil contamination from lead are attached to the fence by a locked gate. Lead contaminated soil in a park for kids is far from ideal. In a densely populated city with green open space at a premium, this must be having a devastating effect on the local baseball league.

‘Shit. When I was here a few years back, this place was seething. Latin American food trucks up and down both sides of the street, queues at each one.’

Hands hooked onto the black wire fence, I peer through imagining a boy sliding into home base, dirt streaking up his uniform. Parents cheering and clapping. Another kid bat in hand, practising his swing. I’d spent so many weekends of my youth in the same way, playing and umpiring. I can see the entire scene in my head though only an overgrown dirt patch remains.

Consulting the oracle, Steve gets his phone out and checks our location.

‘Another block over, there are more baseball fields. Might be something happening there.’

Rooting, or as it is called in Australia, barracking is heard before we round the corner and see the game in action. I can’t tell if the Tigres or the Coloniales are winning. I don’t understand the language being spoken but I do understand the excitement of the game. Voices raised, kids perched on the edge of the benches, one re-tying his laces. Parents in camp chairs, agua fresca in one hand, tortilla in the other but all eyes on the game. Transfixed by the action, I stand as close as a dare for an outsider.

‘Hey, they’ve got pupusas,’ Steve shouts to get my attention.

‘What’s a pupusa?’

‘It’s like a corn fritter stuffed with cheese, beans or whatever. You want one?’

‘Sure,’ I say to placate him though I’m not really hungry. As well-researched as he is, Steve has a run of bad luck when we travel that means the sought out restaurant is closed that particular day, or run out of its specialty food. The contaminated ball fields and its subsequent impact of the food vendors is just another in a long line of unfortunate dining events in our lives.

Food trucks advertising a slew of Latin American food are doing a steady business in the tree-lined street. We can choose from pupusas, soft corn tortillas with carne asada (charred grilled beef) and more, grilled corn, tamales, ceviche and wash these all down with any choice of agua fresca – fruit based water drinks.

As we stroll away from the food vendors towards our next destination, Other Half Brewing, the scene changes as we wander through residential streets, roller doors revealing neighbourhood bodegas. Young men in ironic fedoras and Ray Ban air wings push toddlers in strollers. I see signs advertising a temporary restaurant pop in in a shipping container, a performance space for hire and bikram yoga classes. Vegetable plots on the verge, rooftop apiary and vacant lots for sale talk of an area facing real change. The coffee shops and bars are no looking servicing stevedores knocking off from a long shift.

Pushing on we hit the Gowanus Expressway. Multiple lanes raised high above the road below. The dominance of the automobile in the development of modern American cities is hard to get away from. McDonalds, a petrol station and other light industry are dwarfed by its pylons. Down a short street, we manage to find Other Half Brewing behind crusty garbage dumpsters and a well-tagged door. Reclaimed wood cobbled together for a cost bar section, this young upstart of NYC craft brewing was certainly drawing a crowd. The obligatory coloured chalk tap list offers a range of IPAs, pilseners, lagers, ales and stouts.

12:55 PM

195 Centre St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, USA

MILES 5.40

TRIP TIME 00:21:07

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $18.97

Subtotal $18.97

Total $18.97

Driver – Mohammed

‘Right. Let’s wiggle,’ Uber Mohammed doesn’t give Steve time to trot out his standard opening line. Only paying scant attention to his driving app, he rips the wheel to the right and we barrel down a side road. Through residential streets, across main thoroughfares with little more than a glance, he chants, ‘heavy traffic. Heavy traffic.’

I swear we repeat certain street circuits and clearly so does Steve. Phone in hand, he zooms in and and out trying to ascertain our location in comparison to our intended destination. One way streets conspire against us getting too close.

‘Just drop us here, buddy,’ Steve finally allows himself to say.

Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) had come to my attention via Instagram and immediately I knew I had to go there. An embryonic museum, it seeks to connect to people in a very tangible way. Spread across the ground floor of a double-fronted warehouse, the exhibits invite you to taste, smell and touch. My favourite part is the flavour exhibit where you can play with different natural and artificial elements creating a whole host of combinations. Steve’s favourite thing is the free dulce de leche ice cream we receive on our departure.

The rotating exhibitions are entertaining if not extensive but then all museums have to start somewhere. I admire the small collections of food packaging, menus and other ephemera. MOFAD attempts to inspire and educate people about how food is made, how it’s manipulated and its role as social glue for communities. Food is very clearly more than just ornament or fuel and MOFAD respects this. I want to shout encouragingly, ‘keep going, little buddy.’

Eureka, CA to Elkton, OR – Monday 22nd August

Eureka, CA to Elkton, OR – Monday 22nd August

A misty morning in the marina at Eureka gave way to sunny clear skies as we headed inland. Each afternoon while travelling along the Northern Californian coast, a gothic fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. Cutting off the outside world the mist hangs low among the bobbing boats, the tips of their masts disappearing above. The American Gothic genre is finally beginning to make sense to me.

Eureka is a working fishing town with a sprawling marina sheltered behind Woodley island nature reserve. And as such the town is just another typical non-tourist town. No photo-worthy vistas are presented just street upon street of retail, light industrial and residential use. Breakfast has to be at The Chalet House of Omelettes, which we spied on our way into town the previous afternoon. Its laced lined windows, blue paint trim and over-sized slate tile roof helps it stand proud in a large asphalt car park. After a few days driving on the other side of the road, turning into driveways still challenges Steve with his car positioning and more than once we have stopped halfway only to let an exasperated driver manoeuvre around us, shaking his head and no doubt cursing loudly.

An extensive laminated menu is handed to us upon our seating and coffee poured without asking. Additionally, decorated chalkboard menus above the counter spruik today’s, and possibly yesterday’s and tomorrow’s, specials. Wall space was taken up with more menu exposition, photos of local celebrities and historical images. They needn’t have bothered with the cottage-style striped wallpaper or plywood panelling.

Opting for a plate of biscuits and gravy to tick that off my to-eat list, Steve chose scrambled eggs with country sausage (a seasoned mince patty) and a hash brown that I’m sure was half the size of his face. To decode biscuits and gravy, you need to realise that it is not a biscuit as in a cookie and nor is it a meat juices based reduction. American biscuits are a version of a scone with no sugar and not necessarily as light and fluffy as you would want with cream and jam. The gravy portion is a white, roux based sauce that hopefully has cream added for richness. It may or may not come with seasoned ground meat through it. The better ones do as it gives you a reason to eat the dish.

I have made this dish at home a year or two prior to my travels and I’m not boasting when I say that mine is better. I browned ground pork with fennel, garlic powder and onion powder as per my American cousins like to use, paprika, parsley, salt and pepper then drained off excess fat. Adding this to a basic white sauce made with heavy cream and serving with fresh biscuits/scones and I can see the appeal. My biscuits and gravy at The Chalet house of Omelettes, however, was not appealing. So we hit the road resolving to stop somewhere along the way for second breakfast.

‘You don’t do road trips well, do you?’ Steve proposes about an hour into our morning drive.

Reaching forward to turn down the podcast we are streaming through the car stereo, ‘Why do you say that?’ I ask, genuinely curious.

‘Well you don’t seem to want to stop much. We’ve missed two things already this morning.’

‘I don’t like crowds and stopping to take a picture of the largest redwood along with fifty other people doesn’t really do it for me.’ I’m not sure what more to say. I’m rarely attracted to the things that other tourists are drawn towards. I’m not interested in the Grand Canyon, the 911 memorial or Disneyland.It’s the Queen Anne style house, painted murky green on a hill overlooking the Eureka marina that I am drawn towards. It’s the discovering of something unexpected and unearthing its story that most delights me. The Carson mansion built in 1884 looks like it has come direct from Disney Haunted Houses 101.

The Denny’s restaurant we decide to stop at in Crescent City shares a car park with a formal ware hire outlet and a gun store. This is the America I came to experience. The sum of our experience is made up of the deliberately sought and the accidentally found. A slice of chocolate caramel pie for Steve and bacon cheddar tater tots with a side of jalapeño honey bacon for me.

Back in the car and more of Mark Maron interviewing other celebrities is our slightly aggressive soundtrack for the afternoon drive as we press on into Oregon. Almost immediately the quality of the roads change. Yes, we saw the state line signs to alert us that we were leaving California and entering Oregon but I would’ve known some border had been crossed. The roads change altogether. The lanes get wider with large cleared shoulders on each side, the asphalt becomes smoother providing less road noise inside the vehicle which had the effect of amping up Mark Maron’s verbal attacks. Tall lush green redwoods no longer loom over us.

At first, we think the change might be temporary but it isn’t. While I can’t definitively declare, I believe the state tax on the now-legalised cannabis industry has been pumped back into state infrastructure. It is a conversation I bring a few days later with Uber driver Jaimie. He confirms that the state government is enjoying a new found wealth thanks to the booming legal cannabis industry.

From a low-slung seat a few metres away from our Air BnB yurt, I watch the sun slowly set. An earlier conversation with one of our hosts’s reveals the yurt was originally built as a staging point for the many functions, especially weddings, that take place on the Bradley Vineyard. Growing predominantly cool climate grapes, under the helm of son Tyler Bradley, Bradley Vineyards has embraced social media and Airbnb simultaneously. Ferns snuggle in to the wooden deck that rings the canvas tent. Though seated on the edge of a vineyard in view of the road, the lack of human traffic makes this place feel incredibly private.

Across the road, a dozen or so cows continue to feed on the short grass. Frogs and cicadas provide a suitably bucolic tune. Having already wandered amongst the Pinot Noir vines, picking grapes to add to our salami and cheese platter for dinner I’m content to just sit and watch the colours change around me. A full day on the road together and the odd harsh word, we are happy to sit silently in this new yet somehow familiar landscape. Gentle rolling hills, vines caressing the curves and I’m easily reminded of the Yarra Valley, an hour outside of Melbourne in which I’ve spent a lot of time.

Over the next couple of hours, we spy four satellites and one meteor. I work my way through a bottle of sweet rose from the vineyard and Steve enjoyed some new local beers. It takes a while for the cool air to sink in but we just hunker down with coats and enjoy the large clear skies and no neighbours for miles. Tomorrow will bring more driving and more local craft beers so tonight is about silence and nothing else.

Mendocino, CA to Eureka, CA – Sunday 21st August

Mendocino, CA to Eureka, CA – Sunday 21st August

The morning light reveals a hammock hanging between two redwood giants, ferns nestled in at the base and little else to distract. It is from this hushed oasis that we drag ourselves away from to explore the North California coast and the town Mendocino. Five streets wide and only marginally longer across, the town juts out on a headland into the Pacific Ocean and is as windswept as that entails. Located between Big River and Slaughterhouse Gulch, this historic logging town is less tourist town as it is one that acknowledges its place but gets on with life anyway.

We eschew the two hour self-guided audio tour organised by the local Museum of historic architecture, though whitewashed cottages with their lace filigree eaves don’t go unnoticed. Equally the many recommended coastal and forest hikes are not on our list. It’s a shame that we are too late, or too early depending on which way you look at things, to witness the annual whale migration. California gray whales give the town a swim-by on their way south to Baja in Mexico to get their mating on after months feeding off the Alaskan coast. That I would have been all over. A quick coffee and too-dry buttermilk scone and we hop back into the car to head further north.

One of the handy-dandy apps on Steve’s phone plots possible points of interest along the expected car journey. An portentously named Glass Beach is half an hour north up Highway 1. Magic and romance may come to mind but they should be banished, as this beach at Fort Bragg was originally the town’s dump. What is bizarrely now a tourist attraction was originally the rubbish dump, with fires often lit in order to reduce the size of the pile. This does not discourage the thousands of visitors each year who surely are drawn purely on the name. Local council even tried to replenish the glass remnants after wave action, and human intervention no doubt, diminished the glass supplies.

After hugging the coast most of the way, Highway 1 turns inland and we follow it to its conclusion as it hits Redwood Highway Route 101. That Highway 1 can end in such an unassuming town as Leggett surprises me. There’s a romance road trips inhabit in popular culture. Route 66 was a major migration route west for many years before it was immortalised in songs, novels, films and even a Pixar animation. From Kerouac’s coast to coast freedom fantasy to a Blues musician’s Faustian deal at a crossroads in Mississippi, road tripping in North America has a solid foundation. Dodgy stops such as Glass Beach are just a toll we pay along the way.

The Peg House Grill is little more than shed out the back of a convenience store with a large shaded patio area. Plastic stackable chairs and a repurposed hot air balloon as shade cloth belie the quality of food this no-frills joint pumps out. House made non-alcoholic root beer for Steve to quench his thirst and an ice-cold draft beer for me and we settle in to watch a troupe of traveling musicians set up for the afternoon. Bicycle-powered equipment, they each take turns preparing for the show.

Four sizeable Humboldt Bay oysters skilfully grilled with a garlic barbecue sauce so they are just cooked but not at all dry. A classic cheeseburger comes with a plastic tub of creamy coleslaw on the side both nestled in a paper basket with a green and white checked liner. We make short work of our modest order and I’m sure if we weren’t getting behind according to the spreadsheet gods, we would have stayed longer.

After a stop for fuel along the way, we arrive at Eel River Brewing in Fortuna just after 3pm. Triple Exultation Old Ale, Emerald Triangle Double IPA and Raven’s Eye Imperial Stout make it into cooler for later. A tasting paddle of their organic seasonal beers is a perfect pick me up as we sit soaking up the sunshine. Two cats, who clearly run the brewpub, prowl the perimeter of the beer garden.

‘Does it make you miss our cats?’ I ask Steve.

‘A bit but I don’t miss getting woken up at 5am.’

‘Where you guys from?’ I hear over my shoulder. Turning to see a small family group at the table behind us, I look straight at four faces staring right at me.

‘Australia.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ the younger bearded fellow replies. ‘Whereabouts in Australia?’

‘Melbourne? Victoria?’ With no looks of recognition I proceed, ‘Right down south.’

‘Fantastic. Your first visit to Eel River?’

We nod and sip our beer.

‘We live down the road in Loleta. This is our favourite spot. Beer’s awesome. Food’s great too. Burgers with all the fixings,’ he continues while the peanut gallery behind him bob their heads in agreement.

I’m not sure if we’re done or this is just the start of a conversation.

San Francisco, CA to Mendocino, CA – Saturday 20th August

San Francisco, CA to Mendocino, CA – Saturday 20th August

During our three days in San Francisco, I had tried and failed to light the gas stove so I could boil some water for tea. There’s no point saying I should go out to Starbucks to buy tea. I need tea as I’m pottering around getting ready in the morning. This is a non-negotiable. On our final morning in my new favourite city of San Francisco, I wake early and sit on the mustard velvet love seat peering out the bay window. While the world goes about its workday morning business, I curl up and catch up on my journal writing. I decide to take one last go at lighting the mid-century stove in our eclectic Air BnB.

Our host is a photographer and the apartment reflects his visual aesthetic. Visual vignettes are everywhere. An over-sized glass candy jar filled with fluorescent-yellow foam earplugs graces the bedside table. 1960s postcards decorate the table lamps perched on the triangular tables twinning the loveseat. A wooden artist mannequin resuscitates a polymer cockroach. There’s a fine line between art installation and amenity in our second floor Oak Street apartment.

With the stove finally conquered, I realise I need to go out hunter-gathering for milk. Americans may like their tea floral, black and insipid but I like mine strong and milky. Coffee here in America is filter coffee with creamer. Creamer is a bizarre concoction of corn syrup solids with hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil and white powder thrown in to make it acceptable. Espresso is yet to take strong hold.

So out I trek to find somewhere to buy milk. I aim for a service station or convenience store thinking that will be my best bet. A block west and half a block north and I find two service stations opposite each other. Things are looking positive. As I stand on the street corner waiting for the lights to change, I pull my jacket tight around me to guard against the chilly early morning wind. Unmarked white buses pull up just prior to the intersection and collect a small number of people I’ve just noticed gathering. Later, I discover this is a common practice to bus staff out of town to large corporate estates.

As I enter the store, I head towards the fridge I see at the rear. There’s no familiarity with the bottles I see on the shelves. Out of the way, I manage to decipher images and words to find plain, unflavoured milk. It would have been easier to buy soft drink, sports drink, juice or even bottled water than milk. America clearly isn’t a strong dairy culture, regardless of the cartons of milk I remember seeing children drinking on television. Like a conqueror, I return home successfully and provide caffeinated beverages to prepare us for a long drive to Mendocino north along the Californian coast, the Pacific Ocean at our side.

9:01 AM

955 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

MILES 12.96

TRIP TIME 00:19:44

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $35.11

Subtotal $35.11

Total $35.11

Driver – Tommy

We get dropped off at the Alamo car rental section of the San Francisco airport. Staying close to our luggage, we take our place in the queue which snakes across communal foyer. The vibrant carpet no doubt hiding all manner of stains. Finally, international licenses in hand it is our turn and we stand at the long counter. At five feet tall, I’m not tall enough to lean on the top of the reception counter and yet somehow seated the rental sales person still manages to look down on me. The psychology of sales is not lost on me.

After negotiating our exit from the car park maze, we can begin the self-guided drive portion of our journey. Heading north we zig zag across to the beachside road. Ambitiously named Great Highway, this road extends not much more than five kilometers. Smack bang between John F Kennedy Drive and Great Highway is our brunch stop Beach chalet brewery and restaurant. Two stores high with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean, I imagine this tourist Mecca gets packed with Happy Hour sunset seekers. Chowder in a roll is what I am here for. By the time we arrive just after 10am, the dining room is half full with weekend brunchers.

Ocean Beach Breakfast for Steve with three eggs scrambled, crispy breakfast potatoes and the chicken apple sausage option. Top of the soup and salads section is my target – pacific chowder in a sourdough bowl topped with oyster crackers. Although the size of a small oyster, these crackers don’t contain any oysters but are often served with oyster stew. As much as I’d like to linger over multiple coffee refills with a view like this, I’m eager to put some miles under our belt.

From here the Golden Gate Bridge is only 20 minutes away, which we choose to approach through The Presidio. A former military post, this large park houses many historic buildings though today we sit patiently in our rental car in the steady traffic stream. Controlled chaos is a positive way to describe the scene around us. Tourist buses jockey with cars for position while pedestrians and cyclists take the wise option with their own designated walkway. Most stop to pose for snaps under the signature red suspension cables, the city in the background and swirling currents below.

All too soon though it’s time for our first pit stop at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. 

Our American brewcation was Excel spreadsheeted to the hour by Steve, so we manage to avoid the heaving crowds by turning up as they open. A tasting paddle of their brewery-only beers and a soft pretzel with beer cheese sauce is a fine late breakfast.

Four days of self-driving through Northern California and Oregon dictate that designated-driver Steve is on strictly limited tastings only. California has a legal blood alcohol concentration of 0.8%. While this is higher than what we are used to, the craft beers we are tasting range up towards wine level of 12% ABV (alcohol by volume). The craft breweries we have planned to visit offer all manner of beers from simple west coast IPAs through to barrel-aged stouts. Thankfully, every place offers small tasting paddles.

I’ve offered to drive more than once but Steve definitely prefers to be in control. I don’t think he likes being a passenger, in any sense of the word. I’m trying to avoid leaving nail marks in the door upholstery. Why is it that each corner delivers an RV travelling too fast and too close to the centreline? 

Along the pilgrimage route is Russian River Brew Company. These legendary craft beers are difficult to get anywhere in Australia. If we had wanted to sample beers from their bar, the wait line was over an hour. Instead, we opt for takeaways from their bottle shop, which requires only a 20-minute wait in the noonday sun. We buy their legendary Pliny the Elder which is a Double India Pale Ale that is not only rare in Australia but also overpriced at AU$50 for a standard 500 ml bottle. Much lauded as the ideal DIPA, it regularly receives 95% and higher on beer ratings websites. What do we think we finally get to taste it hours later? Meh. It’s nice but it is nothing more than a well-balanced, bitter fresh ale in the manner of west coast ales with loads of citrus and pine.

We also snag their available barrel aged beers – the Supplication brown ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries, the Temptation blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels and the Consecration ale aged in Cabernet barrels. The Supplication is funky thanks to the added yeast and bacteria and nicely tart from the sour cherries. It’s my kind of beer. The Temptation is buttery and slightly oaky with its time hanging out with the Chardonnay barrel. The Consecration is the youngest of the barrel-aged beers but is satisfyingly full bodied with hints of chocolate and spice. At 10% ABV, this is our sipper beer that end up rounding out our evening.

Before we can get to any of that though we need to complete our allotted day’s brewery visits. Next up we have Anderson Valley Brewery in Boonville, CA. It’s after 3pm by the time we arrive and the dry dusty fields that serve as their car park are full of tents and inebriated campers. Turns out, we’ve happened upon their annual Disc Golf Championship weekend, though we never actually witness the event in action. Essentially a competitive frisbee round-robin, Disc Golf, as we soon discover, has a strong craft beer drinking participation in the west of the United States.

We easily locate the taproom by the steady stream of shoeless people trudging towards an unsigned shed. Now, I know Anderson Valley beers from buying them overpriced from our fabulous bar/bottle shop near our house. Their tart thirst-quenching Briny Melon Gose is a go-to for my summer drinking. Salt and watermelon? What’s not to love about that in a beer. Cans and bottles of Dreef Fooper IPA, Boone Amber Ale, Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Blood Orange Gose find their way into our cooler. Two litre Growlers and six-packs fill the hands of campers as they stock up and make their way back to their camps, like ants filling the home stores.

Just before we get to Mendocino where we are to stay for the evening, we stop in the town of Little River and buy some snacks for dinner from the only store in town. Its dark weathered exterior nestles into the grey green cliff side, white breakers relentless below. Inside is a bustling well-stocked convenience store that sells bait, beer, groceries and hot food. Crackers, some cured meats, cheese. Earlier we bought ourselves a cooler box so we would have cold beer with us at each destination.

Sitting on a damp garden bench, my bare feet push into the humus rich earth beneath them. Though low clouds have rolled in from the Pacific Ocean hiding the tops of the dark redwoods in their misty skirts, the sky beyond is still bright. Our tiny log cabin is marginally larger than our queen-sized bed. An electric kettle, for which I’m grateful, sits upon the mini-fridge. Gathering what we need for the evening from the boot of our rental vehicle (an oversized SUV), I’m eager to simultaneously flop onto the bed with its soft, white linen and explore my surrounds.

The main house is quaint, pale yellow weatherboards and dark grey slate roof. Chooks roam free everywhere except the fenced off vegetable garden. The host family – mum, dad, five year old daughter, eight and eighteen year old sons – are tucked up inside going about their evening routines. I can hear no cars, no airplanes. It’s odd – this loud silence, almost unnerving. The sound of my pencil rustling against the paper is louder than the birds in the woods that surround me.

San Francisco, CA – Friday 19th August  

San Francisco, CA – Friday 19th August

Oak Street on which we are staying is a busy thoroughfare and the morning traffic is an effective alarm clock. Since we are up and moving, I propose we go in search of a hearty breakfast. A few blocks down hill and around the corner and we find ourselves in a bustling enclave of designer retail outlets and cafes. The pace is slower here. No one is hurrying off to work. Young families with dogs in tow linger outside the bakery.

From across the street I spy a restaurant with the subtitle Comfortable Food.

‘I want to go there.’ I say, pointing at the black and white striped awning.

‘Where?’

‘There. Stacks. Comfortable Food. I don’t know what constitutes comfortable food but I want it.’

Phone in hand, Steve proceeds to look up said restaurant. I’m already crossing the road to see if there’s a menu in the window.

‘All American breakfast. Old fashioned hospitality,’ he calls out after me. ‘Waffles, omelettes, pancakes.’

By the time he joins me at the front door a server has emerged with a couple of large laminated menus.

‘Good morning. Where can I seat you guys?’ a young, perky woman asks us.

‘Here looks good,’ I point to the aluminium chairs on the pavement behind me. Menus are placed on the table and she returns with iced water before we’ve managed to read even a quarter of it.

‘Can I get you guys some cawfee to start with? Or a fresh-squeezed juice perhaps? We have a fabulous range of fruit smoothies too’

‘Umm, I’ll have a coffee,’ I say without looking up.

‘I’ll have one too thanks,’ Steve adds.

‘Great. Milk or cream?’ she asks.

‘Cream,’ Steve pipes in before I can say the word milk.

A short stack of two raspberry pancakes, whipped butter already melting served with a jug of maple syrup for me and banana pecan waffles with whipped cream for Steve. Possibly we should have chosen from the something light section instead. Oatmeal, yogurt or fresh fruit somehow don’t leap off a menu in the same way. American breakfasts are often sugar-laden affairs and I prefer not to think about the calorie content when I’m fork deep in fluffy, syrup-laden pancakes.

Coffee is needed to cut through the tooth aching sweetness of this meal. Our standard issue cafeteria mugs rarely are allowed to dip below the halfway mark of caffeinated beverage. Bottomless jugs of drip coffee are the expected level in American cafes and this one doesn’t deviate from that.

Two-thirds through my breakfast, I feel the need for a bathroom break and so step inside the café for the first time. Inside, the ceiling is rimmed with artificial plants. As my eyes accustom to the dark, I see large ceramic urns weighted down under bouquets of flowers. Waiters in stiff white shirts descend on me to help.

‘Bathrooms?’ I enquire and am pointed towards the rear of the restaurant, past several large red columns.

Large groups and noisy families fill the majority of the seats, their tables groaning under plates of half-eaten dishes. I’m grateful for the relative peace we seem to have found outside on the footpath. Upon my return, Steve has thrown in the towel on his breakfast also. I’m informed that our next move from here is one of his most anticipated.

12:13 PM

395 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA

MILES 1.21

TRIP TIME 00:07:41

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare 9.61

Subtotal $9.61

Total $9.61

Driver – Antonio

Although this day may be slotted for art viewing, our brewcation is not taking a back seat. Our first stop is Mikkeller bar in a seedy area known as the Tenderloin. Drug deals and sex workers aside, theatres and dive bars sit side by side and I’m sure it all looks shinier when lit by neon at night. With Uber Antonio dropping us right at the bar’s door, it wasn’t long before Steve has an oatmeal coffee stout in hand. I choose a lingonberry-flavoured sour. Soon enough we have a couple of brews under our belt and it is only a few blocks’ walk to the art.

San Francisco may well be my new favourite city. The weather is nicely temperate; there’s a cool breeze off the water, which means walking around isn’t over heating us. Steve has a tendency to get sweaty easily, which means he’s reluctant to do much walking. I love walking around a new city as it’s such a great way to get to know a place at ground level. The slow pace allows me to peek into stores and eavesdropping is unavoidable. The pavements are dirtier than I’m used to. Lots of chewing gum is stuck to the surface and I feel the need to remove my shoes the moment we step in from outside. It’s summer and I’m wearing sandals so my skin is too close to this filth for my ease.

As a visual artist, the art museum in every town we visit is usually on my list. San Francisco is no different. Steve is trained for this by now. I think he secretly appreciates a respite from the heat and sun as well as a chance to sit where he can. Before we even get to step inside a gallery, we come across two people perched on makeshift stools at a fold out table offering poems for sale.

I can’t resist. After a short conversation, Devon starts tapping away at his vintage typewriter to produce a bespoke poem for Steve and I.

There’s winter left

so so have we, we’ve

traversed meridians, both in our minds and globally, taken to

the air, decided to discover

ourselves through

the new lense(sic) of a new street or two

From Winter Left by Devon Kingsford August 2016

Ten US dollars later, I tuck my personal poem in my notebook and we head through the large glass doors and into the expansive light-filled atrium. With admission tickets purchased, the pressing job is to decide where to begin in the seven levels of galleries.

As both daughters are also studying art, my camera is rarely out of my hand as I snap images and artist details to send to them later. There is so much great American art but one that really connects with me is a piece by the artist Chuck Close. He makes large portrait paintings in which he lays down a unifying grid then adding circles and other shapes of varying colours. This has the effect of pixelating the image and slightly abstracting an otherwise straightforward head portrait. I remember loving his work at The Met in New York City and this was a chance to share it with Steve.

But how can you share art with someone? A person’s response to a piece of art is just that – their response. It is also tied to a particular time and place. If this was the first time I had seen Close’s work, would I even feel moved by it? That’s a question without an answer. It was on a visit to New York five years prior. I can recall seeing the painting in The Met as I entered a contemporary art gallery and it was on a far wall. Initially, it was just a large painting of a man’s face. Only as I walked towards it (or is it more accurate to say pulled towards it?) did the gridded abstraction technique make itself clear. It was a hot summer day in New York City when my then-partner and I decided to spend the bulk of the day in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park to which it abuts. The bright sun was unrelenting with heat radiating off the brick and concrete all around us. So it was that the lush dark green and cool shadows of the park called.

After a slow stroll through the park and a snow cone replete with lurid red flavouring, we joined the throng climbing the steps from Fifth Avenue to enter the museum. Immediately, visitors find themselves in a vast multi-storey foyer, light streaming in, wide arches and dome that, in itself, makes you draw breath. I’m sure I spied Close’s piece just as I had started to reach overload. It’s that point when nothing starts to make a connection and you find yourself walking past more than you stop at.

And make me stop it did. I rushed past the adjoining walls, seeing only the painting in front of me and there I stayed for a long time. Standing, watching, observing others as they barely glanced at this masterpiece. I stood back and I stood close. I didn’t want to leave it but once I did I knew I was done for the day. Nothing else would matter now. How do I share that with another person?

So goodbye to Chuck Close, my tired feet and swollen ankles signalling the end of art appreciation for the day and the start of the evening’s entertainment. Another Uber to our dining establishment is both welcome and needed. A fortuitous meeting the day prior has lead to a masterclass of American west coast wines pre-dinner at the restaurant’s bar.