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June 14, 2001 (San Diego, California) < Previous News  |  Next News >

 

 

Uncle Henry's Bridge

One of the reasons that I decided to take this 18-month journey was to explore my family's history, and my brief visit to California provided my first opportunity to do that.  Many years ago, my mother told me that her uncle, a man named Henry Swang, had helped build the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco in the 1930s.  I never met Henry, unfortunately, and I'm afraid that I don't know what happened to him. 

 

Shortly after my mother passed away a few years ago, I discovered a photo album that had belonged to her mother (my grandmother), which I'd never seen.  The photo album contained dozens of precious black-and-white photos from the early 1900s of relatives that I didn't know and had never met, including photos of my great-grandparents who died many years before I was born.  These were the first pictures that I'd ever seen of them.  The photo album was a treasure trove and none of my living relatives had ever seen the album before, nor the photos in it. 

 

 

Left:  This is the only picture that I have of my great-uncle, Henry Swang.  It was taken in 1908 and includes my grandmother Helga (rear right) and her four siblings.  Henry Swang is front left, and Albert, who was injured in the trenches during World War I, is front right.  

One of the most precious photos in the dusty album was a picture taken around 1932 of a partially-completed bridge near Big Sur, California.  The caption on the back of the photo said, "This is the bridge Henry is working on." 

 

Although the old photo was in black-and-white and the bridge was only partly finished, I recognized the bridge and remembered that I'd taken a picture of that very same bridge in 1980 after I'd driven across it during a road trip.  Of course, at the time that I'd driven across it many years before, I didn't realize that my great-uncle Henry had helped to build it.  Today, it's known as the Bixby Bridge and it's one of the most photographed bridges on the California coast.  

 

I decided to revisit Henry's bridge during this trip and, after leaving the Bay Area, drove down California's Highway 1 to look for it.  I soon discovered the bridge and spent a few hours there admiring Henry's work.  Even though I never knew my great-uncle Henry Swang, visiting his Bixby Bridge was an uplifting event, to put it mildly.  In fact, I still get goosebumps just looking at these pictures.

 

       

Above left:  In 1980, I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway.  I was so amazed at this bridge that I pulled over and took this picture after I crossed over it.  At that time, I didn't know what it was called.

Above center:  In 1999, I found this photo in my deceased grandmother's photo album.  There was no caption on it, but it looked like the picture of the bridge that I had shot in 1980.  When I took out my 1980 slide and compared it to this photo, I realized it was the very same bridge.  As I recently learned, my great-uncle Henry Swang helped to build this bridge in 1932. 

Above right:  Me and my great-uncle's bridge.  The Bixby Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges on the California coast.  I spent a couple hours here walking around the bridge. 

 

Southern California:  Smog, Sunshine, and Old Friends

The next few days were glorious as I drove down the sunny California coast to southern California.  I'd forgotten how beautiful the Highway 1 drive is, and it wasn't as slow or winding and I remembered, either.  I was really glad that I took the coast route, even though it added a few more hours to my trip.

 

O.K., I'm showing my age, but here's my favorite road trip song from the 1970's.  This is Me and You and a Dog Named Boo by Lobo.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

 

Due to the pervasive smog, I could smell southern California before I saw it.  The odor of smog is something that you never forget, and having lived in Southern California for five years during the 1980s while going to college there, I've never forgotten that peculiar smell.  Still, I enjoy visiting Southern California now and then, especially since several good friends live there.

 

I spent a few days in Southern California visiting two of my oldest friends (well, they're not that old!).  Carole, my oldest female friend, is a wonderful woman whom I met in World Studies class when we were freshmen in high school.  That was... um... a few years ago.  Carole and I have always been opposites, with her outgoing and energetic personality contrasting with my more quiet, subdued nature.  However, despite our differences, Carole and I have remained very close friends for many years.  She's married to a great guy named Greg who's more talented than I can ever hope to be, but unfortunately he was out of town when I dropped by.  I picked up a pepperoni pizza on my way to her house, way up high in the hills near Big Bear Lake, and Carole and I spent several hours catching up on the last four years.

 

The next morning, I headed down to San Diego, a really nice part of Southern California and one of the few areas of California that I might consider moving to... if only I could afford to live there.  I spent a day in San Diego visiting my old friend Troy and his ever-growing family.  I've known Troy since 5th Grade and, despite our being good friends, I used to get frustrated competing against him in high school because he always beat me, whether it was in tennis, golf, bowling, Risk, or just about anything else.  He and his wife Carlye are terrific people, I had a wonderful visit, and it was great to see them again.

 

       

Above left:  California Highway 1 south of Monterey is a looooong and winding road.

Above center:  Along Highway 1 near San Simeon.  I had forgotten how beautiful the central California coast is.  This is really a wonderful highway. 

Above right:  I love road signs.

 

       

Above left:  Santa Barbara, California is a gorgeous city but is very chic and expensive.  I'll never be able to live here... but that's all right with me.

Above center:  Pelicans patiently waiting for lunch on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.

Above right:  I avoided driving through Los Angeles but I couldn't escape from the smog.  That's the L.A. Basin on the right with the brown cloud hanging over it.

 

       

Above left:  My dear friend, Carole with her daughter, Brandi, in southern California.  I still remember the day that Carole and I met in our freshman year in High School.  I've visited Carole all over the country... she just can't get rid of me!

Above center:  Heading south to San Diego on Interstate 15, near Riverside.

Above right:  I stopped by U.C. Riverside, where I'd gone to school back in the 1980s.  Only 4,000 students went to school here back then and it was a cozy place.  Today, it's a sprawling campus with over 13,000 students and I hardly recognized it.  Same carillon, though.

 

   

Above left:  One of my oldest and best friends, Troy (right rear), his wonderful wife Carlye (front) and their kids (L-to-R: Rene, Ty, Logan) in San Diego.

Above right:  Another shot of Troy, Rene, and Carlye.  Troy and I met in California in the 5th Grade.  As we discovered in California, we were both from Michigan and were even born in the same hospital there, just a few months apart.  Our mutual affection for the Detroit Tigers and for baseball cards laid the groundwork for a long-lasting friendship.

 

Goof Balls and Golf Balls

I hadn't seen my good friend Troy since 1997 and he was kind enough to take a day off from work to visit with me, so we decided to go golfing on a small course nearby.  And I mean REALLY small... the longest hole is only 120 yards long.  

 

We were having a good time on a sunny afternoon when I stepped up to the 100-yard 8th tee and put my drive on the green, and we both watched the ball roll to a stop about 20 feet from the hole.  However when we got up to the green, my ball was gone.  I mean GONE.  It had completely vanished and, despite looking around for several minutes, neither of us could find it.  This was like something out of "Caddyshack" and I felt like Bill Murray, looking around for ball-stealing gophers.  

 

Not to sound too mystical, but a lot of strange things have happened to me during the last two years, ever since my Mom passed away.  This time, at least, I had a witness.

 

  Left:  Troy, the master golfer.  It costs only $7 to play 9 holes here, the best golfing deal in southern California.     Left:  After I hit this tee shot, we both saw my ball land on the green and stop.  But when we walked the 100 yards to the hole, the ball was gone.  Bizaaaaarre.

 

    

 

 

Next News

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

 

 

Previous News

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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