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
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.
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.
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
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.
Smog, Sunshine, and Old Friends
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.
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.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
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.
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
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.
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
Above left: California Highway 1 south of Monterey is a looooong and winding
Above center: Along Highway 1 near San Simeon. I had
forgotten how beautiful the central California coast is. This is really a
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
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
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
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.
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
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
June 14, 2001