Time to wind back the clock again to pick up the thread of our trip around the world that started in New Zealand in 1997. At the end of November that year we flew out of Auckland to Honolulu for a brief stroll along Waikiki Beach, and then on to San Francisco, to start a trip up the west coast to Canada to reach Alberta by Christmas.
I was going to hold off on my San Francisco photos until I could make a bigger gallery once I reached late 2000 in my scanning, but why not get the rainbow-coloured spinning beach ball rolling now. Here’s a few dozen to start with, including some from a second visit in 1999 (more on which below).
I first visited San Francisco with my family at the age of 12, when travelling around California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and finally Chicago after a few months of living in Hawaii, where Dad had been a visiting professor at the university in Manoa. My best friend from school in Kaneohe (near Honolulu) had subsequently moved to the Bay Area for college, and was still living there, so we now had a chance to see each other again in person and meet each other’s partners. He and his wife took us for a weekend away to Lake Tahoe in Nevada, where we rapidly lost our modest limit of gambling money at a local casino and ended up playing table hockey instead.
Back in San Francisco, and after a few more days’ sightseeing, I made my way back to the airport to pick up a rental car and drive for the first time on the wrong side of the road, which is to say the right side. Carefully cutting into the heart of the city, I picked up J. and our bags from our hotel, then drove out to the Golden Gate Bridge and over it to the north. J. had to warn me whenever I drifted too close to the right-hand railings; the challenge wasn’t so much remembering to keep on the right, but having to adjust my sense of where the rest of the car was.
With the city behind us, we spent the next few weeks making our way up the coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington state. It was December by now, and it felt as if we had the highways to ourselves; we would pull into parking places to look at the dramatic views and have our pick of dozens of parking spaces, half of them for coaches that weren’t there. The weather was wet and grey but mild, thanks to that year’s El Niño. We stayed in quiet coastal towns with hardly anyone around: one where the supermarket didn’t sell butter, only margarine; another with tsunami warning sirens mounted on lamp-posts around its empty streets.
The coast itself was spectacular and rugged, like other temperate west coasts that I’ve known and loved. Inland were forests of redwoods (in one case, a pygmy forest), and on the coast, sea stacks, sealions, sand dunes and banana slugs. Once we reached the Columbia River in Washington we backtracked inland to Mount St. Helens, which famously erupted in May 1980, while my family and I were living in Hawaii. Seventeen years later it still seemed a recent event, with the valley leading up to it still full of mudflows and flattened trees.
In nearby Portland, Oregon, we discovered the joys of Honkin’ Huge Burritos (“How big are they?” “They’re honkin’”), elephant ears (a honkin’ flat donut), and the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, a one-woman Portland institution. Leaving our rental car, we caught a bus up to Seattle, where the early-’90s grunge boom suddenly made sense: a city where the middle-class kids of tech families look for an escape from the gloomy weather. The city has an excellent Asian Art Museum (with a memorable wall of snuff bottles) and a fine aquarium full of sea otters.
Heading north again by bus, we crossed the border into Canada to reach Vancouver, another city with a fine aquarium featuring more sea otters, orcas and belugas. We met a friend there who was living in the city at the time, and took in the First Nations art and artifacts in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
With only a few days left until Christmas, we didn’t have time for a leisurely amble across the Rockies, and instead ended up catching a Greyhound bus to Edmonton—overnight. I wasn’t to see them properly until a few years later.
Alberta was experiencing an atypical “brown Christmas”, with relatively mild temperatures and no snow. On New Year’s Eve, though, the snow blew in and the temperatures dropped to -20°C. As an Aussie who had never experienced anything colder than around -6°C, I couldn’t quite believe I would survive; and yet here I am.
Our visit included taking in a local ice hockey match and a drive south to Drumheller, home of the Royal Tyrell Museum—a wonderland for anyone who had dreamed of being a palaeontologist as a nine-year-old, full of spectacular Cretaceous fossils unearthed in the surrounding area.
We were back in Canada only eighteen months later. By now I was working as what would now be called a learning technologist for the School of Politics at ADFA, where Australia’s military cadets pursued UNSW degrees alongside their officer training. As part of the role, to help figure out how to deliver online courses to cadets in remote areas, I went on a fact-finding work trip to North America, starting with WWW8 in Toronto, where I saw Tim Berners-Lee speak for the first time, then to the home of WebCT at the University of British Columbia, and finally to Stanford University in the Bay Area. All of which meant that J. and I could revisit some of the same places we had seen in 1997, along with Victoria in B.C. They feature in the second half of the gallery above of Canada, as well as in the gallery of San Francisco. Among other sights on this trip, we took in the eagerly awaited Star Wars Episode I in Vancouver the day it premiered. My family and I saw The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 on the day of its premiere as well, in the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I remember the crowd going nuts during the opening title crawl—both times.
A caveat about the 1999 photos in these galleries. When we got back to Canberra with our four or five rolls of film, the local photo-processing place managed not to notice that their machine was ripping a line down the middle of two of them, splattering the resulting prints with blotches and ruining most of our pics of Vancouver and San Francisco. This example shows the impact, made worse when scanning the negatives because the holes throw the colour balance off. All these years later, though, I’ve managed to repair many of them, by content-aware-filling the blotches in Photoshop—mouseover this one to see how that went. The photo shop (in the old sense) was extremely apologetic and gave us twenty rolls of replacement film in recompense, which softened the blow a bit, and took care of our film needs for the next year or so.
Back to the round-the-world trip. A few days into 1998, we caught a flight from Calgary for the next leg of it, to somewhere just as far north but a long way east. That’s coming up next.