Although I’ve been to San Francisco many times, it was my first trip there that stands out as an extra special memory.
I was 18 years old and halfway through my first year of community college, when my friends (Deanne and Jenn) and I decided to take a road trip up the California coast to check out several college campuses. It was December 1992…the days when we dressed in oversized flannels, baggy jeans and clunky hiking boots (because apparently it was really cool to look like a lumberjack). It also explains the grainy, somewhat blurry photos. This was back in the day, when you had to wait to have your photos developed at the drugstore before you’d get to see what they actually looked like; you lived on pure faith, clicking away and hoping that somewhere in that reel of film, you’d get a decent shot or two.
Deanne, Jenn, and I had grown up together on the same street and had been friends since we were about 5 years old. But now, as young adults, it was the first time we got to take a road trip on our own…no parents or chaperones, just the three of us. We borrowed Deanne’s mom’s minivan (thanks, Denise!) and headed up the California coastline in that maroon Ford Aerostar.
There’s nothing more exhilarating that hitting the open road, blasting music as loud as you can and driving without any particular plan. There was no such thing as GPS back then (at least not the type that was accessible to the average driver), so it was just us, our road maps and our Thomas Guides (remember Thomas Guides?!) and seeing where the highway would take us. The soundtrack to our road trip included James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Harry Connick, Jr. and Frank Sinatra (perhaps odd choices for the year 1992, but hey, what can I say? I guess we were old souls).
In between our visits to several universities, we made stops along the coast and enjoyed the breathtaking California views. It was exciting to dream about our respective futures, and equally exciting to finally settle in San Francisco for a few days to explore the city at our leisure and freedom. We did all the touristy stuff you’d expect during a first trip to San Fran: meeting colorful characters down on Haight Street, exploring Little Italy, drinking hot mocha and eating chocolate in Ghirardelli Square, accidentally stumbling upon the windiest part of Lombard Street (as we navigated down the hill, we were terribly afraid that the Aerostar was going to tip over), and almost being blown away by the aggressive winds while visiting the Golden Gate Bridge (seriously, the wind was so strong; we were actually fighting to stand upright). And of course, there was the shopping. You’d think that we’d do our shopping in a fun and hip area like Union Square. But being the clueless, novice tourists that we were, we chose to do our shopping around Fisherman’s Wharf, where Jenn appropriately bought a fisherman’s hat and Deanne and I bought matching berets, which we wore devotedly throughout the rest of the trip (because, why wouldn’t you wear berets while traipsing through the streets of San Francisco?).
Although we didn’t know it yet, Deanne would eventually attend USF and become a resident of San Francisco for many years. We look back on that early visit and laugh at how green we were. But that was the fun of it: it was a time of being wide-eyed and free, having no restrictive agendas or responsibilities, just doing whatever we felt like doing. And laughing the entire time.
We were sad to have to head home, but the drive back was no less eventful. Little did we know, the Aerostar would meet its demise, breaking down about 75 miles outside of Los Angeles (fortunately, right as we were passing a Texaco station), and leaving us stranded at a roadside café off Interstate 5. So we waited there for several hours, writing in our journals and reflecting on our travels like worldly vagabonds (at least, that’s how we envisioned ourselves…flannel clad and all), while we waited for the car to be diagnosed and then for Deanne’s dad to come pick us up and save the day. Turns out that driving an Aerostar 120 mph down the 5 Freeway while failing to change gears when going uphill is not a smart idea.
Somehow we even romanticized breaking down in the middle of nowhere, finding it charming and exciting…an adventure, if you will (although I’m guessing Deanne’s parents did not agree with that sentiment). Ah, to be 18 again.
It’s hard not to look back at that time with fond nostalgia. As it turns out, we all ended up attending and graduating from universities along the California coast: Jenn at UC Santa Cruz, Deanne at the University of San Francisco, and me at UC Santa Barbara (go Gauchos!). We all went our separate ways during our college years, but have remained best friends to this day. Some of our tastes have changed (fortunately, we no longer wear oversized flannels or colorful berets) but at heart, we still are those young, wide-eyed 18 year-olds. Thinking back, that trip was not so much about where we ended up, but the fact that we had a blast while getting there.