Day 13: Travel Day IV - The Voyage Home
By Matthew Pedone
October 29th, 2014
Way back on Day 6 I posited that the Muir Woods might be the last place we visit that was used in a movie that I enjoy. Well, though I didn’t realize it on our visit, it wasn’t, as the Monterey Bay Aquarium was used in the 1986 movie, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”. Called the “Cetacean Institute” and set in Sausalito, it is where Kirk and Spock find the pair of humpback whales that can save the future of earth, though the aquarium has no whales. It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, so I didn’t realize it when we went.
The Cetacean Institute in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home". Note the San Francisco skyline in the background, with the Bay Bridge to the left, indicating the Institute is north of the city. Also note the whale, which, honestly, looks a little fake in this shot (other shots looked better). (source)
The actual back of the aquarium features a shallow tide pool that would likely be a little too small for whales (I think the implication in the movie is that the San Francisco Bay is quite deep there). To the left you can see Del Monte Beach and the Gabilan Mountains behind it. The aquarium is actually well south of San Francisco, and this view would be due east across California. (source)
And hey, today is the 4th travel day of the trip, and our own voyage home!
Up before dawn. We have to time our flights better.
Although, an early flight is for the best. If we lingered here today, we might talk ourselves into staying longer. Best to just rip the metaphorical band-aid off.
We pack up the car, head out to fill up the tank, and hit the road. After a slight confusion as to turns, we get onto the 1, and then the 101. We want to be at the airport around 9:00, so we hit the road at about 6:45, with the GPS predicting a travel time of two hours, seventeen minutes, so it’s going to be close. I know that you don’t really have to get to the airport two hours anymore, but we’ve never taken a flight from SFO, we don’t know where to return the car, or how long it will take to get from the car return to the terminal, or how long it will take to check the bags, or get through security, or to our gate, so we want to leave as much time as possible. Around 7:30 or so, we start seeing signs for San Jose International Airport, and wonder if that might have been a better choice for our flight home. As noted earlier, our planning skills need some work.
We can't do anything about that now, though, so we forge ahead. We've learned a number of things on this trip. The Golden Gate is red because the "Golden Gate" is actually the strait it crosses. Don't take your luggage on a bus. Just because you've driven one terrifying road in the area it doesn't mean you've driven the most terrifying road in the area. Today, we learn that California traffic is not just a problem in LA. We take a quick detour around a really bad patch and make up some time. We still sit in a bunch of traffic until I realize that the carpool lane is zipping right along, and we qualify to travel in it. This saves us a lot of time, as the traffic has understandably gotten worse compared to what the GPS showed when we left. We manage to get to the airport right around 9:00. Now, we just have to find the rental car return. I make a wrong turn, but fortunately into a road that has a built-in turn around. We finally make it to the return garage and drop off the car. We didn’t have time to top off the tank, but the agent takes mercy on us and the charge is minimal. I get the receipt, and we’re on our way.
First, we have to load up one of those smart carts, because the handle on Sarah’s suitcase is jammed and not extending properly, and we have the box of wine (and olive oil (and a Christmas ornament)). Once we have that, we head to the elevator to get down to the first level so we can get to the airtrain. We walk for a bit, then take an elevator up to the platform. We hop on the tram, take it around the airport to Terminal 1, and then head to the elevator to descend to the lower level. We walk through the terminal, to yet another elevator… It’s like trying to navigate a dungeon in a Zelda game. No boss battle at the end, though, just an extended cut-scene of a plane flight.
The line at Southwest isn’t crowded, and zips right along, until we’re second in line, and then everything slows down to a crawl. Finally, we get called up, but then there’s confusion with someone in the express line, and for a few moments I think we’re going to have to get back in line, but we don’t. We get the suitcases and the box checked, and head over to security (to no one’s surprise, employees at an airport a short drive from wine country know how to deal with cases of wine). We get through the ID and boarding pass checkpoint quickly, and think we’ll be at the gate shortly, completely forgetting that checking IDs is the fast part of this process. It doesn’t help that they only have one body scanner (between two bag scanners), and so people are lined up waiting to be scanned while their bags go through and sit on the far side unclaimed, causing the whole process to grind to a halt until enough people get through and pick up their stuff to make room for more bags.
Finally, we’re through security, and with about 40 minutes to spare (actually a little longer, as our plane is delayed by about ten minutes, but we don’t know that yet). We stop at the Peet’s by the gate to finally get some coffee and breakfast, then sit at the gate, happy that we’ve actually made it to the plane. After eating, we check to see if we can upgrade our seating numbers for our connecting flight, but we can only do that at the counter in Chicago, so we settle in and wait for the flight. We end up in about the sixth row, so more good luck with seating.
The flight from San Francisco to Chicago is long. I manage to do some writing on the plane, contorted into a very odd position (I do love Southwest, but the times I am truly comfortable on one of their planes is rare), while Sarah reads. We finally land in Chicago and head to the ticket counter at the gate. For just $40 each, we upgrade our numbers from B28 and 29 to A11 and 12. Sarah sees a doctor who used to work in the ER and says hi, and then we make our way to a sandwich shop across from the gate and get some roast beef sandwiches. Not bad. Not long after we finish, our plane begins boarding, and we get a couple of seats near the front. The flight is pretty short, only slightly longer than a Manchester to Baltimore flight, and before we know it, we’re on the ground in Manchester. We pick up our luggage, Jim picks us up and drives us home.
The first thing we do at home is tear open the box and check on the wine, oil, and ornament. All fine (which we’d suspected, as the box wasn’t damp from something leaking). We run to the market to get dinner, as we cleaned out the fridge before leaving, come home and cook for ourselves for the first time in two weeks.
We sit on the couch, eat dinner, and watch Madison Bumgarner finish off one of the most epic performances in World Series history. It’s late, but we’re still on California time. San Francisco wins the World Series the day after we leave. We’re not there to experience the celebration, but I think we’re both happy for the city. It was a great city.
It’s been 12 days since the adventure began with a trip to Detroit. We traveled across the entire country, rented two cars, dealt with delays and changes in planes. In California, we checked into 4 different lodgings – 2 B&B’s, 1 Travelodge, and 1 apartment. We learned the bus/muni system of San Francisco and used it to travel all over the city. We made our way up into wine country, and then around it. We found our way around San Francisco to get to San Jose, and then from there down to Monterey Bay. We navigated various towns and cities we’d never been to or even really seen maps of. This was the biggest vacation Sarah and I have ever been on, and while it didn’t go perfectly, it never went bad. When things didn’t go right, we adapted. We spent 12 days together, with virtually no time apart, and at the end of it, when some people would be ready for some time apart, we just want to be together even more. Going to work on Thursday will be difficult for me, as it means kissing Sarah goodbye and leaving the house without her.
I am already looking forward to our next vacation.