More than we bargained for on the Golden Gate Bridge

Some things in life just have to be enjoyed twice.

Whether we want to or not.

When Spencer and I began planning our trip to California, one option on the intinerary really stood out to me: a chance to walk the Golden Gate Bridge, the enduring and universal symbol of San Francisco. The city itself has great significance to my family, what with my dad falling in love with S.F. after a school trip there in the 1970s, and my parents honeymooning there years later. We visited twice as I was growing up, but I hadn’t returned to the City by the Bay in almost a decade.

Needless to say, I wanted to cram in as much as possible.

Our Trafalgar tour had us traveling from Sausalito across the bridge, getting a sense of what it feels like to drive it. (Awesome — “Full House”-style!) When Spencer and I hopped off our tour bus, the plan was to walk the 1.7 miles end to end and be picked up on the other side. Our driver was going to wait there and transport us back to the hotel.

Having our orders, we set off. The bridge was filled with families and joggers, many there to celebrate the Golden Gate’s 75th birthday on Memorial Day weekend. Though our faces were soon windburned and my feet began to scream, we took in the view of downtown San Francisco, snapped lots of photos, avoided kamikaze bicyclists and eventually made it to the other side. After a brisk 45 minutes, the stairs to the visitors center were an oasis in the desert. We’d made it!

Sort of.

Our tour director, Patsy, caught me first. Her eyes were wild, nervous. She gripped my arm. “Don’t panic,” she shouted, “but we’re stranded.”

The word should have sent me into overdrive. “Stranded” is not something you want to hear after a windy 1.7-mile trek. But I was on vacation and, you know, for once in my life? I didn’t feel like panicking. I didn’t want to be high-strung. I wanted to bask in the knowledge that everything would work out somehow or other, and I wasn’t responsible for fixing any of it.

That was poor Patsy’s job.

Four of our 26 tour members had decided to take the walk. When Phil and John caught up to Spencer and me, Patsy paced around trying to decide what to do. Police had closed off the rest area where the bus planned to pick us up. Despite officers’ warnings, Patsy had jumped off the bus to help us get back to safety. No one knew what was going on. Rumors spread of a “suspicious package” on the bridge; others mumbled about there being too many pedestrians, or the winds being too fierce. Regardless, we had two options: walk a few miles to Sausalito, where we could catch a ferry to Pier 39, or turn around and walk another 1.7 miles back where we’d started. Another bus would grab us.

We turned around.

Working off some of our heavy vacation meals, Phil and John didn’t seem to mind the extra chance to take in the view and get some fresh air. Spencer was fine with it, too, snapping photos and pulling me along by one hand. I focused on taking step after step, ignoring that ugly number — 3.4 miles — just on the edge of my consciousness. Poor Patsy looked near tears, but we had no choice: it was hoof it back or be stuck near Sausalito forever.

Not that that would be a problem. I mean, have you seen that place?

We made it back, of course. Frazzled and frizzy-haired and wind-blown, yes, but we arrived — and another bus was waiting where we started the whole madcap adventure.

And since I’d managed to burn off an unexpected number of calories that day, I didn’t mind chowing down in Chinatown. Which I did . . . heartily. Eating my weight in stir fry and fortune cookies. And I slept so deeply that night, I wouldn’t have stirred if you had moved our hotel on the Golden Gate Bridge.

When in Bath — run like the dickens

During our madcap tour of Great Britain last April, there was a time I found myself running — sweating profusely, sprinting — through the streets of Bath, England, en route to The Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street.

Traveling with an awesome tour group, we’d already meandered through Wales and Stonehenge the day we found ourselves in the city. With only an hour to see the town before getting back on the coach en route to London, Bath had to be viewed while dodging fellow tourists and cutting corners down cobblestoned streets en route to the Centre paying homage to literary great Jane Austen.

I had to get there.

It wasn’t easy, though. Temperatures in England were unseasonably warm then — you’re welcome; a little present from your American visitors — and the clothes I’d packed were way too hot. Just trying to navigate to the Centre from our drop-off point had me panting, frantic that we weren’t going to make it. People were everywhere: in line for the Roman Baths; dodging into restaurants and fast-food spots; meandering the streets; sunning themselves on benches. Of all the places we visited during our two-week stint around the U.K., Bath was easily the most populated . . . and the most tourist-friendly.

Which is to say, it was crowded as all get-out.

With Dad’s pre-planned route through the city, though, we made it to Gay Street. I knew we were approaching The Jane Austen Centre when I noticed a man dressed in historical garb greeting passersby. In all my excitement, I totally ignored the poor guy and rushed to take a photo with “Jane” herself. A life-sized statue of Miss Austen is perched in front of the Centre entrance.

Jane lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and is considered to be the town’s “best known and best loved” resident, according to the Centre website. Though our dear Miss Austen wasn’t overly fond of Bath herself, my favorite of her novels — Persuasion — takes place there. Northanger Abbey is set in the city, too.

The Centre is located at 40 Gay Street, though Austen once called No. 25 home. If we’d had the time, I would have loved to see the museum or take a walking tour of all the sites bearing some importance to Austen’s writings. The city is brimming with fascinating locales.

But alas, I had time for only one thing: visiting the gift shop. And that didn’t disappoint. All sorts of Darcy-themed trinkets were on display, as well as Austen’s complete works and numerous books on her life. I was so busy grabbing bookmarks and postcards that I didn’t absorb any of the ambiance, though. Still sweating and trying not to knock anything over with my big camera, I set myself back a few dozen pounds but came out with some cute things.

Since we had to hurry right back to grab our lift to London, I didn’t get to soak up Bath the way I would have wanted. There was obviously so much to see and do, and I was dying (DYING!, and we were so close!) to get to the Royal Crescent. But I’ll just filter that experience into an excuse to go back to that gorgeous Georgian city someday.

As if I need a reason.

Taking the waters at Ye Coole Springs

You know how sometimes you take a little detour and wind up somewhere incredibly different than where you planned? Somewhere random? Somewhere almost exciting?

That’s what happened last week when I was out with Spencer and Eric, my sister’s boyfriend, for a jaunt around Southern Maryland. Much to my chagrin, it turns out I live in a pretty rural area — exemplified by the fact that, once you get out of “town,” where I live, there’s a farm on every corner. And, it stands to reason, farmers. And the Amish, who ride on the shoulders of roads in buggies. And local markets. You get the picture. Considering we’re only 45 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., where the majority of locals work, you forget that there’s actually life away from the Capitol. And that it’s all right here.

Cruising down to pick up Eric for dinner and ice cream, a wonderful way to spend any Friday evening, we passed all sorts of historic landmarks. It’s really funny to be reminded that I live in an area steeped in American history — especially of the Civil War variety. After the field trips to local places like Dr. Samuel Mudd’s historic home ran out, I didn’t take note of things like the trail John Wilkes Booth took to escape authorities after assassinating Abraham Lincoln any longer. But touring around with Spencer, a New York transplant, I’m reminded of all the cool things that are literally in my back yard. Things I never pause long enough to notice.

Like Ye Coole Springs.

Aside from having a name that makes me giggle, Ye Coole Springs are natural springs in Charlotte Hall, Md., and the site of the first hospital in Maryland — constructed in the early 1700s. Yes, friends, 1700 — before our country was a country. Before anyone could even breathe the name “America.” Once believed to have “healing powers,” the springs were a popular destination for colonists plagued with illness and disease, especially considering they’d left their healthcare facilities in England. Ye Coole Springs provided clean, natural drinking water for locals and today, in 2010, still bubble up with fluid.

When we pulled up to the springs on Friday, a woman was walking by with several large dogs. Spencer dutifully patted a friendly one on the snout as we approached, parking near the side of the road. Once they’d passed by, we were completely alone and in near-perfect silence. And despite being within miles of Eric’s home, my friend hadn’t visited the springs in years. It’s that sort of mentality — passing things so often that we fail to notice them — that I want to change in my own life. I want to stop whizzing past everything in a fast-moving vehicle and actually see what I’m seeing. You know what I mean?

So we saw the springs. And there isn’t that much there, to be honest, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile to make a trip to Ye Coole Springs unless you happen to be passing en route to other exciting Maryland attractions, like the fairgrounds. Or St. Mary’s City. Or Bert’s, a ’50s-style diner where waitresses wear poodle skirts and Elvis blares as milkshakes teeming with homemade whipped cream are dropped on your table. (Mmm, milkshakes. Definitely get a milkshake.)

But Ye Coole Springs? Well, it’s right here — a random stop on an evening brimming over with random adventures. When we saw the sign indicating how close we were, we decided to stop. It didn’t take much for the three of us to trot up to the worn white gate and enter the grounds, which were sodden with water. Even on the driest of summer days, Ye Coole Springs continue to generate plenty of spring water — enough to suck my flip-flops right into the ground.

“This is crazy!” I called out, snapping pictures in the fading light.

My excitement over the springs was somehow disproportionate to what I was actually seeing. I mean, sure, the springs were cool — they’re springs. Water. Coming up from the ground. But how could I explain how eager I was to see them, or how awesome it was to imagine sitting on one of the stone benches nearby with a book?

Well, I think it harkens back to one of my new/old life philosophies: slowing down to smell the roses. Or see trees in bloom. Or pull over to look at water coming out of old wells. Whatever it is, I want to see it — and I want to do it. I want to breathe in clean air long enough to enjoy it.

And if that means taking a detour, well — that’s what life is all about.

Pumpkin spice groupies

starbucks_sleeveFew things in life send me shouting and trembling with excitement — and most of them are hypothetical. (Like, say, hypothetically I would get an e-mail from an agent telling me yes, he/she’d like to represent me and already knows just the publisher for my absolutely incredible novel.)

But the ones grounded in absolute reality? Of course, nothing compares to going to a concert — and seeing a favorite band live for the first time. That magical feeling can easily sustain me for days, if not weeks, at a time! The first time I saw John Mayer? Heaven. Total heaven. And The Killers concert from Monday night? I’m still babbling incoherently about it.

But the other crazy, ridiculously exciting stuff? Usually it has something to do with food. And no, I know you wish I were joking . . . but I wouldn’t kid about something like this.

Considering I spend all day on a computer, you’d think I would be a little more up with the times on matters of vital importance . . . like Starbucks’ annual unveiling of the pumpkin spice latte. I mean, seriously! I lust after this drink all year and then I have no clue when it’s finally available in expensive coffeeshops across the U.S.? Am I insane?

And this where I chant, yet again, thank God for Twitter! Without it, I’m not sure I would know if nuclear war broke out, leveling half the world. Trending topics tell me all I need to know! So imagine my excitement when I saw a little Tweet from author Robin Benway . . . which prompted this response from yours truly:


I immediately texted my sister with the great news as I jumped up from my desk, grabbing my keys and hastily waving goodbye to my coworkers. My hometown is littered with Starbucks cafes in grocery stores like Safeway, but I wanted the real deal. My Corolla and I sped over and, only fifteen minutes after discovering my beloved drink was back, I was holding one in my hot little hands.

And oh, it was heaven.

When Katie got home from college later in the day, I regaled her with the tale of my dedication to getting the pumpkin spice as soon as possible. I’d chosen the latte — the hot version — which allowed me to savor it over the course of, oh, an hour or so. Because everyone knows the drink experience will be severely tainted by a burnt tongue.

me_pumpkin_frapMy sister wasn’t content with just hearing about the pumpkin spice, though. Did I seriously think I was going to have the edge over her? We piled into her car after dinner and drove to a nearby Target where, yes, they had the pumpkin spice. And like I was going to miss an opportunity to get another drink? Though this time I went with the cold variety — the frappuccino. Grande, if you’re interested.

And that’s me at right, drinking it. And wearing my Killers concert T-shirt from Monday night. Two of my favorite things, combined! A good night. (Yes, Kate took this photo; we are those pumpkin spice groupies.)

So what’s the moral of the story? Rely on Twitter for news of your favorite beverages making their annual appearance . . . and, after drinking that grande frap, don’t drink two giant pumpkin drinks in one day. Seriously, bad idea.

Still — was it worth it? Heck yes. And all this pumpkin chatter has me hankering once more . . . I wonder when Dairy Queen’s pumpkin pie blizzard will be back? Maybe someone is Tweeting . . .