By Johnnie W. Lewis
We came. We saw. But we left, taking our hearts with us. San Francisco is safe from the Lewises. We won’t be taking the city by the bay away from you, Franciscans!
We left our RV in an RV park south of Sacramento, CA early in the morning and drove the 40 miles toward the Bay Area. Since it was 92º F when we left the RV, I chose a sleeveless shirt to wear. I had forgotten about the wind from the bay that we had seen every time we have watched a football or baseball game on TV that is played in San Francisco. Every attendee is wearing a coat, even when the temperatures in the rest of the country might be 85º-95º.
So, Dorkus here wore a sleeveless shirt to the Bay Area, to the former Naval Air Station at Alameda. My parents met and lived there after getting married in Reno, Nevada 68 years ago, at least for a while until a few months before my birth, at which time my father was transferred to the east coast. So, since we had gone to Burbank earlier to see where Jimmy lived until he was 5 years old, we wanted to go see where I “got started” as well, if possible.
NAS Alameda was closed in 1972, but the land was not given to the City of Alamada until the early 1980s. So what we saw was the remnants of the a once thriving naval air station — plus a museum! The U.S.S. Hornet, the aircraft carrier from which Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led his flight of 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers in his raid over Tokyo in 1942, is now a museum that normally is open daily but while we are in the area, of course, nothing is open because of COVID-19. But we did spend about an hour roaming around the dock at Pier 3 and reading anything posted about the ship and its missions. And admiring San Francisco from across the bay. And getting colder than my sleeveless shirt wanted it to get!
We scouted the “base,” but got run off by a security guard who officiously roamed around ordering people away from his "construction zone” in the area being demolished by the city and being rebuilt as housing.
However, we did find where my Mama had worked, or at least one of the areas. WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) stationed at Alameda were usually assigned the auxiliary jobs, like working in the cafeteria, commissary, or base exchange, to leave the enlisted male personnel free to work more “Navy” jobs. Mama’s job had been cashier in all of the three businesses above, sometimes working in any of the three locations on any given day. We found the commissary, behind a heavy fence and is slated for demolition, but it was still right there, just for me to find.
As you drive across the Oakland Bay Bridge from east to west, you realize that it is actually two bridges. The first goes out to an island where the next leg continues on toward San Francisco. As you enter the city on the northeast side, you suddenly realize that (1)there are too many buildings packed into every square inch, (2)all of the buildings are much taller than the average buildings in other cities, and (3)those hills are just as steep as they look on every movie you’ve ever seen. We wanted to drive down the twisty road we’ve all seen on TV and in movies -- Lombard Street. It really is that twisty! In fact, at the top of the hill, there is a sign calling it the Crooked Street!! It doesn’t matter how slowly you drive down that brick street, it ain't slow enough!
We didn’t have enough time to see the whole city, after having spent time at Alameda, so we will be going back next week. During that visit, we want to see Fisherman’s Wharf, the Presidio, Embarcadero, and a few more hills. Jimmy’s comment, as soon as he turned down one street that screamed 25% grade at us was, “I’m not tall enough for this ride!” Me neither. The next time we visit the city, we want to see the things we missed this time, plus maybe take a ride on a street car! Unfortunately, the tour companies are closed “temporarily” at this time due to the Coronavirus.
One thing you need to be aware of right now is that even though restaurants and other businesses have been allowed to open in recent weeks, the California governor ordered the restaurants all closed again, until further notice. Once we left San Francisco and headed back east over the mountains, the temperature rose back to the 100º mark (from 74º in SF). We tried stopping for dinner at Mel’s Diner (made famous by the movie American Graffiti), which still had a “We’re open for dine-In” sign painted all over the front window. When the server tried to lead us out to the back deck, Jimmy informed her that he wouldn’t be eating there if it meant eating in 100º heat. Sheeze!
Johnnie Wright Lewis is the author of more than 46 books, and with her husband, Jimmy, travels the U.S. in their RV, stopping to see whatever they can. They met and married in Athens and with cousins and friends in the Athens area, including their beloved Bulldogs, they take every opportunity to come back to where they “started.” Follow them on Facebook at “Two Old Farts Traveling” and watch the many videos of their travels on YouTube under the same name. Look for Johnnie’s books on Amazon.com under the name of Johnnie W. Lewis.