A Visitor From New Jersey…#264.. ( 2004)

Rhoda with her favorite

Interstate #580

San Mateo Bridge spanning the bay

It was a planned visit,  Fran’s cousin Rhoda Turner securing  air travel from New Jersey to the West Coast, in part to visit with Gary and Fran but also to acquaint another cousin, Robert Remski whom she had never met, a resident of  Oakdale,  a small community a short distance from the Willson’s in Modesto.   Gary proclaiming the Buick to the 580 freeway,  traversing the windy Altamont Pass to the Bay Area, voyaging across the San Mateo Bridge,  then north on the El Camino Real arriving at the San Francisco International Airport.   The couple greeting Rho as she descended from the secured  departure upper level,  a visit to the baggage retrieving station,  the creative Rhoda having no problem identifying her garment luggage as she had tied a colored scarf on it’s handle for quick identification.  The transitioning journey to Modesto enabling Gary an opportunity to get acquainted with the lady from New Jersey.

Fran & Gary’s Modesto residence

Rhoda and Fran

Rhoda and Fran

Cousins Rhoda and Robert







An arrival in Modesto,  Gary having confirmed his new-found relative a very delightful lady,  Rhoda’s straight to the point with  conversation,  disguising a subtle hidden sense of humor.  The following day a knock at the door, cousin Robert, a person Gary judged to be his age introducing himself.   The introductory cousin having reached retirement age spending his time with travel, proposing a venture to nearby  Knights Ferry.  Gary declining,  unable to attend because of his work commitment,  Fran and Rho accepting the offer to journey eastward towards the Sierra Foothills.   Knights Ferry not a well publicized attraction was established in 1849 a historical landmark in California history on highway 108,  the original ferry fording the Stanislaus River having been replaced in 1852 by a toll bridge.   After the flood of 1863 it was replaced with the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi River, the structure across the Stanislaus River 330 ft in length.  Robert chauffeuring the group, the  threesome having a luncheon afternoon, Rhoda able to experiencing the foothills of Stanislaus County.

Toll Plaza

The Oakland – San Francisco Bay Bridge

Upper Yerba Bueno tunnel

Gary making a decision to take a day off from work when Robert offered to drive the three to San Francisco in his high mileage older Chevrolet.   Gary sitting  in the front seat, somewhat cautious of Roberts driving ability giving directions as Robert was new to California having yet to journeyed to San Francisco.  Continuing on 580 thru Oakland,  approaching the Bay Bridge, the  thirteen lanes of interchange prorate  into the five lanes of the westward upper deck to San Francisco.   The bottom deck now dedicated for  eastern travel to Oakland,  the three dollar toll having increased from the twenty-five cents of Gary’s childhood days.    Gary recalling his youthful past when the top deck was for cars and the bottom deck for the “A Train,”  an earlier version of BART the new bay area rapid transit to San Francisco and all other vehicles with more than two axles.   Vividly remembering the station stop at Yerba Buena,  better known as Treasurer Island,  sailors disembarking from the  “A train”  to acquaint the navy base established during the second world war.  Gary residual with his memories, not projecting his thoughts, Rho’s cousin Robert continuing with his conversation.

Pier 39 – Fisherman’s wharf

Rhoda at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf

A delightful never forgotten aroma

Nothing changed in 40 years

The entrance to ‘The City by the Bay’ found the foursome’s first stop at pier 39,  Fisherman’s Wharf.  Embarking on a  tour of the shops,  exploring the realm of North Beach,  a tourist haven with a diversity composed from all ethnics of the globe.   Gary having explored this dominion since his teen years,  the area a familiar friend,  never staggered with it’s display or offerings.  The fragrance of the bay,  the open air seafood pavilions, the smell of crabs steaming from the boiling pots,  their presentations being displayed, a continuous insurmountable number of visitors partaking of their delight.   Gary’s reminiscing,  the entertaining pier area hadn’t changed in forty years,  the cable cars,  the maritime museum,  it was the same,  an anamnesis of life,  the vision,  sounds and the atmosphere still flowed,  it’s presence still indwelling within him  as ghost from the past.   A walk to Pier 33 found the visitors at the Alcatraz embarkation ferry,  normally booked far in advance,  but on this day for some unexplained reason tickets were available.   Boarding the Blue and Gold Ferry,  Gary looking forward to a journey that he had attempted to make many times in the past,  having viewed this prison island perceived as  “the Rock”  from afar.   Exposed to its history and relevance,  his sense of expectancy was enthused, a lifelong ambition being fulfilled.


Rhoda, Fran and Gary about to board

Approaching The Rock

Rhoda on Broadway

Rhoda and Fran, the ruins of the Social Hall the Native Americans burned in 1964

Clint Eastwood in Escape From Alcatraz

The  escapee’s – the outcome never determined

Aboard the Blue & Gold,  the prevailing leeward wind of San Francisco Bay embracing  all who ventured on deck,  the craft approaching Alcatraz.  Gary wondering about the mindset of those future fortress residents making this trip, knowing what their incarcerating destination would enthrall.   The craft berthing on the east side of the island,  the throng of adventitious tour visitors disembarking.  The Park Guide directing the exploratory group up the quarter-mile walk to the Main Cellhouse.    Entering the capacious building, tour headsets were made available  giving a narration as they journey thru the tiers of prison cells,  down Broadway,  the name given to the central cell area.  Passing  the  barred residence of Al Capone,  Albert Stroud the Birdman of Alcatraz and the cells of Frank Morris,  John and Clarence Anglin,  made famous from the Clint Eastwood movie  “Escape from Alcatraz”, their fate still unknown.    The only documented successful escape from the facility was by John Paul Scott on December 16, 1962,  able to swim the three miles to Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge,  being found by teenagers,  the exhausted inmate suffering from the hypothermia from the 46 degree water temperature was returned to captivity.  Gary finding the 2 ½ hours of touring somewhat familiar and interesting,  the three-tiered facility,  its dining room,  kitchen and outside recreational area pictured in the Eastwood movie were authentic. A major cost to the producers was $500,000 to route a cable for electricity from San Francisco,  the power plant capability on the island was discontinued upon it‘s closing.


Alcatraz as seen from the Hyde Street cable car

Alcatraz view from the Hyde Street cable car

The Transamerica Pyramid Building seen from China Town

The Trans-America Pyramid  from Chinatown



Another entrance to Golden Gate Park


Their Alcatraz adventure fulfilled,  strolling back to Pier 39 the foursome walking to the Powell Street-Hyde Street cable car line embarkation in Aquatic Park for Chinatown.  Arriving at the Chinatown’s Jackson Street stop,  Gary taking notice of the time, it was approaching late afternoon,  a decision being made to forgo a tour of Chinatown, the cable car ride would suffice.  The visitors walking up the steep incline to Mason Street,  boarding the Powell-Mason cable line back to Bay Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.   The group once again addressing their automotive endeavor, their San Francisco visit not yet concluded.  Gary providing directions down Van Ness Blvd to a route that he had made many times in his youth,  the electric bus route on McAllister Street.  By following the bus’ overhead power lines it would take them to Fulton Street, Golden Gate Park and their final destination the Pacific Ocean.

Ocean from Fulton

Rhoda acquainting the Pacific Ocean for the first time

Old Playland at the Beach

Playlands replacement

The Cliff House Restaurant

Presidio Marker

The view from Fulton Street when approaching the ocean was majestic, the  cascading crest of the waves their voice  proclaiming its sound of eminence,  the breaking onrush reclining after caressing the beach leaving its presence known on the sand.  The excursion to the ocean formatted so Fran’s cousin Rhoda,  from the east coast,  could embed her feet in the West Coast Pacific Ocean,  which she did,  the group embracing to share  her desire.   Gary having a deja vu moment,  these scenes like others of a youthful remembrance, across the Great Highway that bordered the ocean once beheld the magnificent Playland at the Beach,  the famous park with it’s Fun House,  Roller Coaster,  Merry-go-Round and exciting rides, the penny arcade with its mutoscope viewing machines,  sadly their existence being replaced with high-rise condominiums for those who could accord the luxury of premium beach front property.   Gary directing Robert back to the North Beach area, the roadway leading past the famous Cliff House Restaurant,  Seal Rock,  the Presidio,  the once famous military facility from WWII,  now a commercial enterprise.  Once again reaching the Embarcadero that lead to the Folsom Street entrance to the Bay Bridge.   Gary questioning Robert driving after watching him run three red lights, relief arriving,  the departure from San Francisco coming to a conclusion, once again across the Bay Bridge.

Gary’s mom at Columbia


Mom out of uniform at Columbia State Park

Mom out of uniform at Columbia State Park

      Rhoda visit was not without a proxy dissentient,  Fran,  Rhoda and Gary journeying to Columbia,  the home of his sister Nancy and the Matriarch of the Willson family,  Gary’s mother,  Betty.   His mother in the eighth decade of her life still an active docent at Columbia State Park  giving Rho and the family a private tour of this historic gold mining community from the 1850 era.   Columbia being featured in many of the early western movies, the most famous being High Noon,  the town having never changed,  it’s history,  a buttress of rural California life during the 1850’s.   Rhoda, a DAR member getting to experience a western view of history, Gary noting that the American revolution didn’t end in the 1700’s but continued on for another 100 years of life in this nation only with a different context.

Always Welcomed

Cousin Rhoda’s visit ending, Gary and Fran found the travel from Modesto to the San Francisco Airport mandarin,  accommodating her return to New Jersey,  her  presence and actualization exemplary of a most enjoyable person, a sadness prevailed with her departure, she would be missed.







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