Well, I’m writing on this blog and that can only mean one thing: it’s adventure time once more. Hailee and I have left the United States and, assuming we find a vehicle, will soon start meandering our way around Australia. It’s been two years since I’ve been back and there are a lot of people and places to revisit, and a few new little people to become acquainted with. Hailee has a one-year working holiday visa, so we figured we’d try to see a good chunk of the country while we’re here.
One change I want to make this time around is to write posts more often, and make them shorter. During the cycling trip a few people told me that while they did occasionally check the blog, actually reading the thing was a big time investment.
It’s been a rocky start. I’ve already had two attempts at writing this post, and after a promising start each time I have ended up over 1,000 words deep and (I shit you not) ranting about Donald Trump.
Hailee at Big Sur around New Year’s.
So I’m going to spare you a lengthy “Things I Learned in the Bay Area” post and the “Observations About Americans” (the former you can find anywhere on the internet and the latter boils down to this: they’re diverse and they’re human, just like the rest of us). Instead, I’m going to tell you about two places, quite close to our former home in Burlingame, that I will dearly miss.
Linda Mar is the name of a beach in a town called Pacifica. It’s a 20-minute drive from our place and faces north-west, with houses perched along the high southern headland. Highway 1 runs busily through the dunes and up over the smaller northern headland. Much closer to the ocean you can see the places where the highway used to cut directly around the seaward side of both headlands, and a man with sun-cracked skin once told me he grew up in one of the huts and cottages that were built on the sand dunes. They’re gone now, and in their place there is a single Taco Bell. You can sit on the balcony and eat your volcano quesarrito metres from the waves.
Because the beach faces north and the southern headland juts out so far, the waves at Linda Mar are usually much smaller than those elsewhere, and less muddled by wind. I’ve never been a big wave charger. When Montara spat me back onto the sand or Half Moon Bay looked too wild and woolly, there was always a wave to be had at Linda Mar.
It is not, by any means, the prettiest beach around. The sand is grey and spreads thinly over stones that stub careless toes. The water is usually murky and always cold. The highway is still too close, the grubby parking lot extends right onto the sand and often, the whole place is socked in under a fog that hugs the coast.
But it is a friendly place. Budding surfers pack the sheltered southern end on large learner boards and slowly graduate their way to the northern sandbars, where they are tolerated. The faces in the water mirror the Bay Area’s cultural diversity, and the abundance of ladies out dilutes testosterone levels. On the beach, teenage girls sashay past the boys vying for their attention, while Latino families stake out their patches with tables, chairs, picnic rugs and, often, portable speakers. Middle aged skater punks, too old to be wearing fat shoes and high white socks – and too cool to care – sit in the back of their pickups, watching the waves and shooting the shit. Most days, a stranger would strike up a conversation or share a story – which is unheard of on any urban beach in Australia.
The grey whales like it there, too. They stop in on their long trek south, rolling and feeding in the bay. Sometimes, they surface near enough for surfers to hear a bellowing snort from their blowholes. Hailee would come occasionally, reading or (more likely) sleeping on the sand, graciously pretending to believe my stories of daring and heroics when I returned to shore. One grey afternoon, she defied the toothy creatures of the deep, hired a board and joined me in the water. She did pretty well, too.
Royal Donut Cafe
Over the hill from Linda Mar, down by the Bay, we lived in a suburb called Burlingame. Our street was called Broadway – about as American as street names come – and a block down from us Broadway became a charming little business district. Our favorite spot on the street is the impressively-named Royal Donut Café. Royal Donut is a room full of booth seating beside a counter and narrow kitchen. The kitchen staff are hardworking, grinning Mexican guys – some with rat tails, all with baseball caps – while the wait staff are ladies from Mexico or Cambodia.
Like any good American diner, you usually have to wait 15 minutes before a table frees up and once it does, the sheer volume of menu options will boggle your brain. Personally, I like to go for the “Waffle Wonder.” A Belgian waffle (fluffier than the standard option) comes on a huge plate along with two eggs done how you like (over-easy for me), and a choice of sausage links or bacon, though they’ll give you Cajun sausage if you ask. If you’re particularly hungry, your best bet is the huevos rancheros – a huge mess of chorizo, fried potatoes, peppers (capsicum for Australian readers), jack cheese, avocado, salsa and an egg on top (done how you like it). Your coffee mug is never empty and when you’re done, they respect your sobremesa time and never hurry you out the door.
On adventure weekends, breakfast was usually a coffee to-go and a maple bar – they serve donuts at Royal Donut, too. When I went alone one morning and the waitress asked if “she’s not coming?” it felt like a victory – they recognise us!
With nine other housemates, we could usually wrangle a crew together on weekend mornings, and it was always an easy way to pass a couple of hours. And while the food certainly wasn’t healthy, it did start to feel a bit like home.
There are, of course, a lot of people and a few other spots that are already missed, but it felt like it was time to go. The Bay Area is changing, no longer a quaint haven for the freaks and weirdos of the world. The Sauron’s Eye of American capitalism has been fixed upon it for a while now, and hordes of ambitious young entrepreneurs, would-be Zuckerbergs all, are flooding in. We weren’t inclined to join in, so we left.
This was a big part of my job for a while.
We had six weeks to kill until our flight to Australia, and we filled four of them with a long, looping drive through the western U.S. stuffed into a Prius named Wanda. Those stories are coming in another post, hopefully soon. It’s good to be moving again.