One of the reasons I decided to take this 18-month journey was to explore my family's history, starting here in California.
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, who died in Tacoma, Washington seven years before I was born.
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 album contained dozens of precious black-and-white photos from the early 1900s of relatives 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 it nor the photos inside.
Right: This picture was taken in 1908 and includes my grandmother Helga (rear right) and her four siblings.
Henry Swang, who would later help build the Golden Gate and Bixby Creek bridges in California, is front left. His brother Albert, who was
gassed in the trenches in 1918 during World War I but survived, is front right.
One of the most precious photos in the dusty album was a picture taken around 1932 of a partially-completed bridge somewhere, apparently, on the
California coast. 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 it in 1982 after I'd driven across it during a road trip in my college days. The bridge was about 10 miles south of
Monterey in an area known as Big Sur. Of course, when I drove across the bridge many years earlier, I didn't realize that my great-uncle
Henry had helped build it. It's known as the Bixby Bridge and is 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, I 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 gave me goosebumps. In fact,
I still get goosebumps just looking at these pictures.
Above left: Back in 1982 when I was in college, I was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway and was so amazed by this bridge that I pulled
over and took a picture of it. At the time, I had no idea there was a family connection to it.
Above right: Seventeen years later, in 1999, I found this photo in my grandmother's old photo album. There
was no caption on it but the bridge looked vaguely familiar. I searched through my slide collection and found my 1982 picture of the same
bridge. Then I learned that my great-uncle Henry Swang had helped build this bridge in 1932.
Above left: The Bixby Bridge during my visit in 2001.
Above right: Me and my great-uncle Henry's bridge. The Bixby Bridge is one of the most
photographed bridges on the California coast. I spent a couple hours here admiring the view, and Henry's work.
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 as it meanders down the California coastline. I was glad that I took the coast route instead of the inland
routes of Highway 101 or Interstate 5, even though it added several more hours to my trip.
Here's my favorite road song from the 1970's. This is
Me and You and a Dog Named Boo by Lobo.
I could smell southern California before I saw it. The odor of smog is something 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 (briefly), especially because several of my good friends
I spent a few days in southern California visiting two of my oldest and best friends. 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: she's outgoing and energetic while I'm quiet and subdued. But despite our
differences, Carole and I have remained 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, 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 said goodbye to Carole and her daughter, Brandi, got in my pickup and drove down to San Diego, a nice part of
southern California and one of the few areas of California that I might ever consider moving to. I spent a day in San Diego visiting
my old friend Troy and his ever-growing family. I've known Troy since Fifth Grade. Back in those days and through high school,
I got frustrated competing against him because he always beat me, whether it was in tennis, golf, bowling, Risk, billiards, croquet, Mastermind,
or anything else. Let's just say that Troy is a wee bit competitive (but in a good way). He and his wife, Carlye – who's much
less competitive than Troy – are terrific and I had a wonderful visit. It was great to see them again.
Above left: California Highway 1 south of Monterey is a (very) long and winding road.
Above center: Along Highway 1 near San Simeon. I had forgotten how beautiful the central California coast is.
Above right: I love road signs, as you can probably tell.
Above left: Santa Barbara, California is a gorgeous city but is very chic and expensive. Too rich for my blood!
Above right: Pelicans patiently waiting for their lunch on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.
Left: Dropping down into the smoggy L.A. basin above San Bernardino.
Above left: My dear friend, Carole, with her daughter Brandi in southern California. Carole and I met on our first day of high school when we were freshmen and since then I've visited her all over the country. She just can't get rid of me!
Above center: Heading south to San Diego on Interstate 215, near Riverside.
Above right: I stopped by U.C. Riverside, where I went to college 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
Goof Balls and Golf Balls
I hadn't seen my good friend Troy since 1997. 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, because the longest hole is only 120 yards long.
But heck, it cost only $7 to play nine holes so I figured it's the best golfing deal in southern California.
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. Troy
was totally baffled, as was I.
Not to sound too mystical, but a lot of strange and inexplicable things have happened to me during the last two years since
my mom passed away. This time, though, I had a witness.
Above left: One of my oldest and best friends, Troy (right rear), his wonderful wife Carlye (front)
and their kids (Rene, Ty, and Logan) in San Diego.
Above right: Troy, Rene, and Carlye. Troy and I met in California in the Fifth Grade. As we
discovered in California, we were both from Michigan and had been born in the same hospital there just a few months apart. Troy and I both loved
the Detroit Tigers and baseball cards, which laid the groundwork for a long friendship.
Above left: Their backyard has a a beautiful view of San Diego.
Above center: Troy, the master golfer. This is probably the shortest golf course in southern California –
and probably the cheapest, costing only $7 for nine holes. What a bargain! We've played here several times over the years.
Above right: 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. Troy was totally dumbfounded. I thought it was bizarre but not surprising,
considering all the strange things that have happened to me since my mom died.