Finding the Ocean – Chapter 10

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. (Again.) On a complete and utter whim, I took off on a 4,700 mile road trip to go find the ocean. Just me… and the dog.

Continue along on my healing and soul-inspiring journey below, or start from the beginning


After four days of solid driving and three nights of sleeping at interstate rest areas, I had finally made it to San Francisco. I’d driven almost 2,000 miles in my quest to find the ocean, and now that I was this close, I could practically taste it.

But first, there was one thing I was curious to know.

I’d been staring at that checkered flag on my GPS for four days now. Somewhere around Watertown, South Dakota, I’d finally given up on my fairytale notion of trying to find the ocean by simply “pointing my car in a general southwest direction” and resorted to modern day technology. I had pulled over and typed in “San Francisco – City Center,” not really knowing where that would take me. Now that I was within striking distance, I was really curious to know where exactly that checkered flag was. I figured it must be a pretty important landmark if it was truly considered the “city center” of San Francisco.

I kept following the green line on my GPS, my heart swelling with excitement as I inched closer to that checkered flag. I wondered if there was some kind of monument to mark the center of the city. Maybe it was a historic building, like the Minneapolis City Hall. Or a courtyard with a statue in the middle of it like they have in France. Or, maybe there was an actual checkered flag on a flagpole! Wouldn’t that be cool? I was giddy with anticipation. Within minutes, I would finally arrive at my destination… the CITY CENTER of San Francisco.

Sigh.

Per usual, I had built something up in my head to be a lot grander than it actually was. Gah.

I kept driving north on U.S. 101, mostly out of curiosity. I had no plan; I was just making random lefts and rights and trying to get a general feel for San Francisco. Overhead, I noticed the old streetcar cables and ended up singing the Rice-A-Roni jingle in my head for the next several miles.

At some point, I realized all the signs on the buildings appeared to be in Chinese and I wondered if I was in Chinatown. I took a few more random turns and ended up on streets that went up and down at 45 degree angles. I wondered if this is what they meant when they named that old 70s show, “The Streets of San Francisco.” Hmm. I pondered that for a bit, happy to be driving an automatic and not a stick shift, then started humming THAT theme song in my head for the next several miles.

Finally, I’d had enough.

It was time to find the ocean.

I pulled over, grabbed my iPhone, and Googled “places to see in San Francisco.” I scrolled down to the picture section and my top three choices were:

  1. Pier 39
  2. Golden Gate Bridge
  3. Fisherman’s Wharf

I wasn’t sure what Pier 39 was and I figured I’d get to the Golden Gate Bridge eventually, so by process of elimination, I decided Fisherman’s Wharf was the place for me. At the very least, I knew it was on the ocean.

I  hit the “Directions” button, and off I went in pursuit of my new checkered flag.

Holy wow.

Apparently the entire population of San Francisco had also entered Fisherman’s Wharf into their GPS, because that’s exactly where they all were when I arrived. It was a mad house. I inched along, stuck inside a throng of vehicles all trying to find a parking spot. Suddenly, I remembered what day it was… Labor Day. No wonder the whole world was here.

Even if I had wanted to stop and explore some of the cute bayside shops and clam chowder cafés along my route, I couldn’t. I was stuck in the throng, with no options but to keep inching along with it. Eventually, I came to the final intersection before the land met the bay.

Fifty-fifty chance.  Left or right?

I chose left.

Per usual, I was wrong.

The road was blocked by a fence, and I was stuck again. Blazes all to hell!!

I slowly and carefully turned my monster-sized vehicle around in this tiny space, inching forward and backward a thousand times before I was finally turned back in the right direction.

I stared at all those happy people on the grassy hill next to me and wanted to go slap the happy right out of them. Them… with their clean fluffy hair and their well-planned itineraries. I wondered where they had found a place to park. Probably in all their pre-planny wisdom they’d taken the damn Rice-A-Roni streetcar to get here and enjoyed it immensely.

Stupid, happy idiots.

I parked my car in the middle of the road and grabbed my iPhone again. To hell with the beach. To hell with San Francisco! I needed a hotel. And a nap. And a drink. (Not necessarily in that order.) I started to Google furiously.

I looked up briefly to see a traffic cop walking my way with a book of parking tickets in his hand.

Really? Really??

I rolled down my window.

“You can’t park here, ma’am.”

I tried hard not to lose it completely. “I know… I’m sorry. I’m from Minnesota and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just trying to find a beach and a pet-friendly hotel.”

Zoey came bounding up from the back and stuck her nose out the window to greet the traffic cop. He laughed and patted her on the head.

“Well, this probably isn’t the best place if you’re looking for a beach,” he said. “You should go to Crissy Field… it’s just a few miles west of here.”

I asked him which way west was and he pointed for me.

“And, if I were you, I’d look for a hotel on Lombard Street. It’s just a few blocks north… that way,” he said, pointing again. “San Francisco is a very pet-friendly city, and you should be able to find a nice hotel within walking distance of Crissy Field.”

I could have kissed him.

In fact, I can honestly say, if it had not been for that friendly traffic cop with his fat book of parking tickets and his dog-lovin’ recommendations, I would have beat it out of San Francisco and never looked back.

Instead, I drove a couple blocks north to Lombard Street and happened upon the most absolutely perfect hotel I could have found in that moment… the Hotel Del Sol.

I pulled into their beautiful little driveway, parked, and went inside the office to see if they had a room for Zoey and me.

They did.

The room wasn’t quite ready, so the nice man at the registration desk handed me a brochure and a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. (A. fresh. baked. chocolate. chip. cookie.) He invited me to sit in their courtyard while they finished cleaning my room. As I walked back out to my car, I happened to glance at the brochure he’d given me. It was for the hotel’s “Joy of Life Club.” At the top, it said, “Create joy.”

I smiled.

Create joy.

It was Labor Day… exactly one year earlier… when Patty Wetterling had shared this exact same message for an entire state that was mourning right along with her. We were at a loss… devastated by the news that Jacob’s remains had been found… and in the midst of her own grief, Patty put out the following statement on the Facebook page of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center:

“Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us. Say a prayer. Light a candle. Be with friends. Play with your children. Giggle. Hold hands. Eat ice cream. Create joy. Help your neighbor. That is what will bring me comfort today.”

Thank you, Patty. It was exactly what we needed to hear… at the exact moment we needed to hear it.

I parked my car, put Zoey on her leash, then nestled into an Adirondack chair next to a palm tree while I watched a family with young kids play in the pool. I broke my chocolate chip cookie in two, then gave half to my adoring black lab.

Sometimes happiness can be so simple.

Next time… a slice of pizza, a cold Corona, and the real Golden Gate Bridge…

1 Comment

  1. It’s been so fun following you on this adventure – thanks for sharing! 🙂

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