We had a reservation to pick up a camper van Sunday morning. I should expand on that just a bit: It was a van, specifically a Dodge Caravan, that had been converted from a passenger van into a futon on wheels by taking out the middle bench seat, which was probably left by the curb with a “FREE” sign on it, and building a platform in its place out of plywood that we could unroll the futon in the back seat on. In theory, this gave us a place to sleep every night. In practice, this might have worked for me when I was in my twenties and thirties and was a lot more tolerant of sleeping on hard surfaces in cramped spaces.
It’s not entirely accurate to describe the futon as hard as a board, but it was not forgiving, and it was lumpy as a sack full of stress balls. It is, however, accurate in more than once sense of the word to describe the inside of the van as cramped, particularly after the futon was rolled out. Cramped, as in a very tight space, and cramped as in it gave us cramps. There was barely enough space between the futon and the ceiling liner to crawl in and out. A week of sleeping in this contraption turned me into a shambling zombie, emerging from it the last two or three days with a back so stiff that I walked like I had a broomstick shoved up my butt.
But I suppose it was a camper if you stretch the definition just a bit. Whoever modified it also built a small shelf in the back, where they installed a pump sink and a two-burner stove that burned gas from those little green canisters you can get at almost any Kwiki-Mart. We never used either the stove or the sink, but we did use the camp chairs that were shoved in behind the jerry can that the sink drained into. So there’s that.
I left B waiting with the bags at the hotel while I crossed down on the bus, then got on a tram that ran south down the bay side of San Francisco to a section of town that looked pretty sketchy: Lots of old warehouses mixed with empty lots, but lots of new construction, too. It looked like it might have been a good place to get the snot kicked out of you if you went there too late at night, but had morphed into a gentrified neighborhood of carefully maintained rundownedness for hipsters who worked in the tech industry. I had to walk about two blocks from the corner where the tram stopped to warehouse where the rental agency was just opening up, spend about a half-hour on the formalities of signing rental contracts while the owner told me about the features of the van, and then I was on my way north again, listening my smart phone tell me how to get back to the hotel. Two hours later, I met My Darling B at the curb in front of the hotel where she was waiting with our bags.
And scarcely fifteen minutes after that we were on our way out of San Francisco, again with the help of one of our talking smart phones. The voice on the Android app we use is kind of bossy, but when it gets me across town on busy eight-lane superhighways snaking through unfamiliar metro areas, I don’t care if it cusses at me. We drove north from SF across the Golden Gate bridge (bucket list checked) through Marin to stop at the Marin County Farmer’s Market, where we whiled away a couple hours wandering from vendor to vendor, picking up grapes, dates and other tidbits that would keep in our cooler. Before we left, we sat on a grassy strip with our goodies and had a little picnic lunch, then went to look for a shopping mall because we had not thought to pack towels, and although there was a place to sleep in the van, there was no blanket. We dashed into a Sears along the highway and got those and a few other sundries before heading north again.
Our final destination that day was the Hendy Woods State Park in the Anderson Valley, which we picked because the Anderson Valley is chock full of small California wineries. We planned to make our way up the valley at a leisurely pace, stopping at whichever winery looked like it was open and might be interesting. Truth to tell, there is no way to drive up the Anderson Valley except at a leisurely pace, whether you plan to or not. After screaming up the highway from San Francisco through Marin, it was almost shocking to transition to a two-lane country road with so many twists and turns that thirty miles an hour suddenly felt like breakneck speed.
The first winery to meet our exacting standards (open, interesting) was Lone Oak, where the roadside tasting room had a rustic look and the host was very friendly and chatty, asking about where we’d come from and where we wanted to go in between pouring little splashes of wine into teeny-tiny wine glasses. She was happy to suggest several very good places to stop along our route, and we were so grateful that we gladly took a couple bottles of wine off her hands. We passed a happy hour or so there.
Our second stop was Yorkville Cellars. We were the only two people there and the host was not very chatty at all. Poured the wine, told us what it was, stood there silently watching us drink. I did not feel as though I wanted to linger as long there as I did at Lone Oak. I felt like I was supposed to taste wine, buy wine, and then not let the door hit me in the ass on the way out. Maybe the guy was having an off day, I don’t know. It was tasty wine; I would stop there again. But I wouldn’t expect too much in the way of hospitality, is all I’m saying.
Our last stop at a winery that day was Bing. Lovely place. We turned off the road in to a courtyard paved over with pea gravel. If I recall correctly, the entrance served two wineries, but we were there to visit Bing, which had a very modern-looking tasting room filled with wine snobs who were tossing around terms like “bouquet” and “tannins” and were dressed like people out of the New York Times styles section. Then these two rubes from the sticks showed up in their t-shirts and sneakers. I was pleasantly surprised that the hosts were just as chatty and interested in keeping up a conversation with us as they were with talking to the wine snobs. And the wine was so delicious that we picked out several bottles and bought a couple of souvenir wine glasses, which to this day occupy a special place in our dining room display of china and glassware.
More than one person told us that Hendy Woods State Park was one of the most beautiful places in the area to set up camp, but we didn’t get much of an opportunity to have a look. It started to rain just as we got there and kept on raining, sometimes lightly, sometimes a bit more, all night long. The van came with a rain fly; I set it up so we could lounge in our camp chairs enjoying a picnic dinner of wine, crackers with hummus and olives until well after dark before turning in, reflecting on an agreeably pleasant day.