The first time I ever went to California was 40 years ago in February.
I remember almost everything about it. It was an amazing trip.
My traveling companions were Jack and Norma Gerken. The National Association of Furniture Manufacturers had an annual convention, and Jack was an officer. Each year he took someone from the Norwalk Furniture factory or office with him when he attended.
In 1977, I was the lucky one. And I mean lucky.
Jack and Norma were my hosts and companions, but they gave me plenty of space to have my own unique experience in The Golden State. As a result, not only did I have a worthwhile and productive convention but also a brief but unforgettable love affair with San Francisco and California.
We took off from Cleveland on United Airlines. Above were blue skies. Below, snow. Lake Erie was frozen solid. And Perry’s Monument cast a long, dramatic shadow across the ice from South Bass Island.
There was snow on the ground all the way. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois … snow. Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Nevada … snow. More than two thousand miles of white, white, white. All across America.
When the plane reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it was even snowier and whiter.
Then, in a matter of minutes, the aircraft cleared the Sierras and as far as I could see was the greenest landscape you could imagine. Brilliant, springtime green.
To this day, that remains my symbol of California: a place of new growth and abundance, a place of eternal springtime, a place that is vibrant and different.
Then we landed in San Francisco, a city with a unique blend of people and culture and landscape and lifestyle—a truly remarkable place. Even its quirky weather—August can be the coldest month—is interesting. And this boy — OK, I was 30 — from Huron County, Ohio was arriving for the very first time.
And I devoured it all. The Golden Gate Bridge. Fisherman’s Wharf. The Embarcadero. Coit Tower. The Crookedest Street in the World. Alcatraz. Haight-Ashbury (just a few years removed from its flower power heyday). All of it.
I was on the city’s legendary cable cars four or five times each day. And each 25 cent passage was as magical as an amusement park ride.
Nob Hill was THE place to live or stay in those days. And there were three upscale hotels there: The Mark Hopkins, The Fairmont, and The Stanford Court.
We stayed in the Stanford Court for $95 each night, plus outrageous taxes. As a frame of reference, my mortgage at that time was $117 per month. And I was booked into a $95 per night hotel room on Nob Hill in San Francisco.
I learned things at the convention seminars that influenced my work for the next three decades.
And I experienced things in the city that expanded my worldview and made me want to expand it further. What a trip!
It was amazing and life-changing. And it was just one of the many things I owe to my unforgettable and now regretfully departed friends, Jack and Norma Gerken.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at jimbusek@ hotmail.com.