Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

While driving home yesterday afternoon, I noticed what I at first thought was a rainbow in the Western sky, and took the photo above.

However, it couldn’t be a rainbow, because it wasn’t opposite the sun, as shown in the second photo below, where I’d changed position slightly so that the building did not block the sun. When I finally discovered what it was, it gave me a title for this post that sounds like it would make a good name for a Spaghetti Western!

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

It was in fact a Sun Dog, an atmospheric phenomenon that I hadn’t previously noticed here. The scientific name is parhelion, which doesn’t explain a lot since it’s just from the Greek for “beside the sun”.

The location of the photos is just off North Wright Road in Santa Rosa, near a place that used to be called Leddy Junction (before 1947). This was where the North Western Pacific Railroad’s tracks were diverted during the 1930s to connect to what had been the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad’s line. That allowed the trackbed of the duplicate NWP line to be sold to the state, for the construction of what’s now Highway 12.

In my photos, you can just see a pair of rails glinting in the sun. Those are the remains of a spur that once connected to the “main line”, which passed through where the row of bollards now are, on the left in the photos.

This is the current Google Streetview of this location. (I managed to avoid including any portable toilets in my photos!)

Autumn Leaves in the Park

The view below was from our bedroom window, one misty morning during last week. The trees surrounding Village Green Park are now displaying their full autumnal shades, and in fact the leaves have begun to fall.

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

That may have been my last chance to photograph autumn leaves this year, but we do have the Thanksgiving holiday this coming week, so maybe I’ll stumble across some more somewhere.

California Movin’: Thirty Years Ago

Golden Gate Bridge from Treasure Island

Golden Gate Bridge from Treasure Island

I arrived at San Francisco Airport for the second time exactly thirty years ago today, on Monday, 16th November, 1987, but on that occasion I did not have a return air travel ticket, and I was planning to make a home in California, for a while, at least.

This is the third in the series that covers the events of that time, when, while living and working in Southern England, I was offered a job in California, decided to accept it, and moved here on what turned out to be a permanent basis. The first post in the series was It was Thirty Years Ago Today, and the second was California Confusin’.

Living in Foster City

When I arrived, my employer had obtained temporary accommodation for me at the Residence Inn in San Mateo, which was very pleasant, but too expensive to be a permanent home. My boss recommended that, for long-term accommodation, I should look in nearby Foster City, which is a modern waterfront community with many apartment complexes.

I did look there, and eventually signed up for a one-bedroom apartment in Beach Cove Apartments, a large complex on Catamaran Street. Although these units were generally regarded as barely adequate by locals, by comparison with my accommodations in Britain they seemed palatial and well-equipped. For the first time ever, I had my own phone line, and—wow!—an automatic dishwasher!

The photo below shows part of my apartment in Foster City. The only item visible in the picture that I brought with me from the UK is the hi-fi system, which I’d bought in London while a student there. Everything else was bought or rented in California. Just visible, on the right, is my new answering machine, which was to cause a completely unexpected change in the direction of my life, as described below.

My Apartment in Foster City, 1988

My Apartment in Foster City, 1988

Driving

California officially only permits visitors to drive on an out-of-state license (so spelled!) for 10 days. After that, you’re required to apply for a California license. Thus, I began the process of applying, which required both a written and practical test. Although my prior experience of driving in Britain actually worked against me (because it made me seem too confident for the California examiner), I did eventually pass both, and had my first California license by December 1987.

What Credit History?

One significant problem that my employer had failed to warn me about was that, despite having a job and a Social Security number, I would be completely unable to obtain credit in the US on arrival. In Britain, I had already bought several cars on credit, had two credit cards, and had credit accounts with several stores, and I was oblivious to the fact that my UK credit rating would be totally meaningless in the US. My credit history outside the US simply didn’t appear on the records, so it effectively didn’t exist.

Buying a car turned out to be a significant problem, because of my lack of accessible credit history. Eventually, I was somehow able to persuade one dealer to grant me credit via General Motors Acceptance Corporation (probably only because it was a secured loan).

Once I had obtained the car loan, and began making payments, I was able to begin building a US credit history. Nonetheless, for the first year or so, I had to depend entirely on my British credit cards, sending my payments to the UK in US dollars. It seemed “so unfair”, but in fact the time passed quickly. After only 18 months, I’d built up sufficient credit history that I was able to buy a brand-new Ford Mustang, as shown below.

My 1989 Ford Mustang, in Monterey

My 1989 Ford Mustang, in Monterey

Northern California, Where the Girls are Warm…

When deciding whether to move to California, the idea of finding romance there was definitely the last thing on my mind! As I mentioned in the previous article, I did not even have a girlfriend in Britain, and had essentially given up on dating during my undergraduate years.

I must have heard the Steve Miller Band’s song Rock’n Me on the radio in Britain many times since its release in 1976, but I had always completely ignored its lyrics! Part of the lyrics say:

I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma

Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.

Northern California where the girls are warm

So I could be with my sweet baby, yeah

I had emigrated to California strictly for professional reasons, to get a better job. Nonetheless, something completely unexpected happened after I moved to California, which eventually led me to begin dating again. Strangely enough, it happened because I bought an answering machine!

In my British accommodations, I had never had my own phone line, and of course there were no cellphones in those days. When I rented the apartment in Foster City, it came with a dedicated phone line. Given the 8-hour time difference between California and the UK, I was concerned that people from Britain would try to call me in the middle of the night. I decided to invest in an answering machine, so that at least they could leave me a message.

After I had installed the answering machine and recorded my greeting on it, something odd began to happen. I came home from work several times to find messages from anonymous women, explaining that they had just called to hear my “cute accent”! That was something that, for obvious reasons, had never been regarded as in any way special in Britain, but now it made me begin to think that perhaps there was something about me that might be deemed “attractive”!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d obtained seriously distorted preconceptions about California from American media. As such, I assumed that California women would be impressed only by bronzed “surfer dudes”, and would have no interest in pasty-faced Brits such as me!

My Sweet Baby: Mary!

My Sweet Baby: Mary!

I Won’t be Home for Christmas

Ever since I moved away from my parents’ home in Scarborough, it seemed to have been assumed by everyone (including me) that I would return there to spend each Christmas with the family (or what was left of it). While I was a student, those visits were very short, because I was working in Selfridges or other London stores over the Christmas period, so I had to get to Yorkshire and back during the brief period that the stores were actually closed.

My feelings about those visits were very ambivalent. On the one hand, there was little point in staying in London or Andover when my few friends there were also absent (visiting their families). That would have made for a very lonely holiday. On the other hand, I had no friends or activities left in Scarborough, so spending the time there was also quite lonely.

Of course, it would have been very unrealistic to expect my family to leave Scarborough to visit me at Christmas, because I was living in small bedsits or houseshares, which could not accommodate guests. Nonetheless, by 1987, I was becoming anxious to find a solution to the problem, whereby I could find a reason to stay in my own part of the world during the holiday period.

Union Square, San Francisco, At Christmas

Union Square, San Francisco, at Christmas

Moving to California solved this problem once and for all. It simply was no longer practical for me to return to Scarborough at Christmas, so I had to spend it in California. Although that was a little lonely for my first Christmas there, my employer was accustomed to hiring engineers from Britain, and so went out of their way to ensure that we were to some extent included in the seasonal activities of other families.

Working Three-Day Weeks?

I’d also given no thought to the fact that the week after I arrived in California was Thanksgiving, which of course is not celebrated in Britain. As such, my employer treated us to Thanksgiving Lunch at work, then we had two days of the week off.

During the lunch, my employer’s CEO leaned over and mentioned to me:

We don’t do this every week, you know…

A Good Start

As I began to settle in to my new apartment and new job, I felt that I had made a good choice, and I saw little evidence of the problems and disappointments that some had predicted.

In every aspect, my new life was no worse than my previous existence in Britain, and, in many ways, it was much better.

Autumn Leaves & Woodpeckers

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

I took the photo above yesterday afternoon, showing a spectacular display of autumnal leaves by the side of Arnold Drive, in Eldridge, CA, in the Sonoma Valley.

I mentioned in a previous post that the “Turning of the Leaves” tends to occur later in California than in Britain, because of the warmer climate. In fact, many native California trees (such as Live Oaks) are not deciduous at all, and do not shed their leaves. Thus most of our seasonal displays are due to imported species, including, of course, grapevines.

Yesterday, I visited Sonoma for the reopening of the Depot Park Museum, which had been delayed for a few weeks due to the recent wildfires. On the way home, due to heavy traffic on Highway 12, I took Arnold Drive instead, and spotted autumn leaves at many points along the route. Here’s another view of the leaves in Eldridge:

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

Incidentally, just in case anyone is wondering, Arnold Drive is not named after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but after General “Hap” Arnold, who lived in a ranch near Sonoma for many years.

I also stopped briefly at General Vallejo’s Home in Sonoma, which is now a California State Park. The idyllic location is surrounded by trees that are populated by noisy Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). It seems that some of these woodpeckers have taken to using the wooden eaves of the Swiss Chalet barn at the site to store their nuts, as shown in the closeup below.

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

I was even able to get some video of the woodpecker in action, although the deficiencies of the camera video system are painfully obvious at maximum zoom!

 

Naturally, the wildfires had a serious negative impact on the tourism industry in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. However, as these photos show, most of the region is undamaged, and local businesses are eager to encourage visitors to return.

Monochrome Film Photography

 

St. Mary's Church, Castlegate, York, in 1977I took the photo above, showing the church of St. Mary’s, Castlegate, York, during 1977. It was taken with Ilford FP4 film.

At that time, most of my photographs were taken with monochrome 35mm film, which I developed and printed myself. Most of them were taken for record purposes, without any serious attempt to produce high-quality or artistic results. Nonetheless, the photo above turned out to be one of the best, in terms of composition and tonal balance.

Thinking back now on those days, in this age of ubiquitous digital photography, the concerns and challenges of film photography seem like part of an alien world. Everything seemed more complex, and it was also quite an expensive pursuit. There was no instant feedback; you had to wait for a photograph to be developed before you could assess the quality, which led to much waste, increasing the effective cost of the photographs that ended up being usable.

The Accidental Photographer

During the 1960s my father became a keen amateur photographer. He owned several cameras, plus a complete suite of darkroom equipment, including two enlargers. He was a member of the Scarborough Camera Club, and regularly exhibited his work at their shows. He used a variety of film formats, from 35mm monochrome, through to much larger negative formats in color or monochrome. He developed and printed monochrome film images himself, and although he experimented with developing and printing color images, he found that too complex and expensive to be worthwhile.

By the mid-1970s, my father’s health had deteriorated to the point that he no longer took an active interest in photography, so I found myself “inheriting” all his equipment. At the same time, I was developing an interest in local history, and was soon to begin my Advanced-Level Art study of architecture, so I was able to make perfect use of his equipment. Nonetheless, I had to make tradeoffs regarding cost and quality.

Predicting Digital Photography

In 1983, during my final year as an undergraduate electronic engineering student at Imperial College, London, we were required to prepare a group report on a relevant topic. My group chose to write a report on possible future developments in telecommunications.

One of the future technologies that we predicted was the development of digital cameras. Our prediction wasn’t really too much of a stretch, because digital framestores already existed, and low-resolution framestores were already used in computer monitors.

It took some time for digital image technology to eclipse film, but for all practical purposes we have now reached that point. Perhaps surprisingly, given my professional contributions to digital video technology, even when digital cameras first became available, I continued to use 35mm film (albeit sometimes output to Kodak Photo CD format), on the grounds that digital images were not of comparable quality.

Eventually, however, the digital technology caught up, and the image quality now available even from some phone cameras now surpasses that possible with 35mm film. (Using 35mm film involved so many variables that the ideally-achievable quality was almost never achieved in reality.)

Return to Castlegate

Some 22 years later, in 1999, my wife and I stayed in the Stakis Hotel (now the Hilton) in York, which was constructed later on the site of the brick building in the left foreground of the 1977 photo above.

The present-day Google Streetview version of the same York location can be seen here.

“Such a Vision of the Street”

In his beautiful poem Preludes, written more than a century ago, T S Eliot masterfully evoked the dingy ambience of a rainy urban street.

I was also inspired by night-time photographs of urban settings by other photographers, and I realized that my monochrome film was fast enough to be used at night, if the camera was on a tripod.

One rainy evening, I took my father’s heavy wooden tripod with me to the Odeon roundabout in Scarborough, next to the railway station, and set it up to take some experimental shots. Not all of the photos came out well, but some were quite effective.

The photo below shows the entrance to the Odeon Cinema (now the Stephen Joseph Theatre), when passengers had just alighted from a United 101 service bus. The reflection of light from the wet road surface was particularly effective in this shot.

Scarborough Odeon at night, 1977

Scarborough Odeon at night, 1977

You can see that the Odeon was showing the movie The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which, on another night, I did actually go to see at that cinema.

In those photographs, I was trying to capture the atmosphere of that rainy evening, as eloquently described in Eliot’s poem:

The conscience of a blackened street

Impatient to assume the world.

Goodbye to All That

When I went away to university at the end of 1978, I couldn’t take my father’s processing equipment with me. I continued to take photographs for many more years using Kodachrome transparency film, but that transition marked the end of my brief “career” as a film photographer who processed his own images.

California Confusin’

Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset

Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset

The photo above shows one of California’s most iconic views; the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. I had a reasonably accurate preconception of this location before moving here, but I also had many other conceptions of California that were much less accurate.

In my earlier post describing the events of thirty years ago, by which I came to California, initially temporarily and then permanently, I described how I made a (literally) flying visit to my prospective new employer for interview, then returned to my job in Britain, and was eventually offered the position in California. I finally emigrated in November, 1987.

Reminiscences Interrupted

I’d planned to continue the series with this post, but was of course interrupted by the terrible wildfires that started here on October 9th. In view of that, I felt it more important to post items about my immediate experiences than to reminisce about the events of thirty years ago.

My reasons for choosing to move to California did not include the expectation of a “quiet life”, and indeed it has not been so! (If I had sought that, then staying in my birth town of Scarborough would probably have been the best option!) The fires were not even my “first disaster” in California, since I lived through the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989.

A Distorted View

Like most people who’ve never visited the US, and California in particular, I had formed most of my ideas about the place from American movies, TV shows and music. This provided a highly distorted view of American life, and led to considerable confusion and several misconceptions on my part.

The song California Dreamin’ was played regularly on the radio in those days, relaying the message that California was, if nothing else, warm. Of course, the song fails to distinguish Northern California from Southern California, and I was completely ignorant of any distinction between the two.

My parents’ views of the US were informed mostly by my father’s experience during World War II. His only contact with Americans had been a few servicemen that he met while on military service during the war. As a wireless officer in the Royal Air Force, he had flown a variety of British and American aircraft types, the American types being those supplied under Lend-Lease. I formed the conclusion that he admired, but was somewhat jealous of, the perceived wealth and modernity of Americans. (I recall that he had many negative things to say about some British aircraft types—particularly the Bristol Blenheim—but I never heard him say anything negative about any American aircraft type.)

Time to Live the Dream?

In October 1987, having received the offer of a job in Northern California, I quickly had to make the momentous decision as to whether to accept it, which of course would involve moving myself and all my possessions some 5,500 miles to a different continent.

It had been easy enough to dream about some day getting away from the miseries and frustrations of life in Britain, and jetting away to a great job in some far-off country, but now I was actually faced with the prospect of having to do it!

In the back of my mind, I had been assuming that my new employer wouldn’t be expecting me to start working for them before the beginning of 1988, so it was somewhat shocking when they told me that they’d like me to move and start working for them before Christmas.

Trafalgar Square, London, at Christmas

Trafalgar Square, London, at Christmas

As it turned out, 1986 was to be my last Christmas in Britain. The photo above shows Trafalgar Square in London, decorated for the holidays, while I was a student there during the early 1980s.

You’ll Live to Regret It!

I naturally couldn’t talk to my work colleagues about my situation, but I did discuss it with my mother and some non-work friends. Some people cautioned me that such a major move could be a huge mistake, which I’d live to regret. It was bound to be very expensive and disruptive (they said), and I’d find myself pining for the comforts of life in Britain soon after I left.

My response to that argument was that, if I tried it and failed, then I could always come back to Britain, and live the rest of my life wiser for my experience. On the other hand, if I passed up the opportunity, there was a real chance that I’d spend the rest of my life regretting what might have been. I could foresee that, every time something bad happened to me in Britain thereafter, I’d have been thinking: “If only I’d taken that job in the US”.

As it turned out, coming to California changed my life for the better in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined when I was making that decision, but I’ll save those details for a future post.

Footloose & Fancy-Free

It is true that, if you’re thinking of starting a new life in a foreign continent, then doing so when you’re young and relatively unencumbered is likely to be easier than making a similar move later on in life.

In my case, I was single—I didn’t even have a girlfriend—and the other surviving members of my small family already lived about 200 miles away from me. Thus there was nobody who was going to miss having me around on a day-to-day basis. I also didn’t have to worry about all the complications of moving a wife and children along with me.

I was living in furnished rented accommodation, so I didn’t have all the hassle of having to sell or rent out a home. I also didn’t have a lot of furniture to have to sell or move with me. The only large item of furniture that I owned was a bookcase, which held much of my large book collection. I discovered that all those items could be shipped to California fairly cheaply by sea.

Living in the Badlands

As I said above, I had obtained all my impressions of California from American TV shows, movies and music. As such, I was quite convinced that the whole of California was a desert, presumably irrigated artificially from somewhere further North.

While I was a student in London, French winemakers were releasing the first quality wines from their California vineyards, such as Mumm Napa. In my mind’s eye, I imagined that the Napa Valley must be an arid desert, with a few straggly vines baking in the unrelenting sun! (In reality it’s more akin to the South of France, but then in those days I’d never visited France either!)

Château of Domaine Carneros, Napa

Château of Domaine Carneros, Napa

Decision Made

There were various other differences to consider, such as the electricity supply, and learning to drive on the other side of the road, but none of those seemed to be insoluble problems.

I gave it all a great deal of thought, based on the information available to me (there being no World Wide Web in those days), and decided that there weren’t really any insurmountable obstacles that would prevent me from going.

As I mentioned above, I felt that, if it didn’t work out well, I could just come back to Britain, and at least I’d have the “experience” to look back on. On the other hand, if I didn’t try, I’d always regret it.

So, I told my prospective employer I was accepting their offer. The first task was to obtain a visa that would allow me to live and work in the country, for which I would once again have to visit the US Embassy in London. Once I’d got that, my new employer would arrange temporary accommodation for me in California, and I’d be ready to make my arrangements to move there.

I contacted Pickfords, to have the contents of my small apartment picked up and packed into a container for shipment to San Francisco. It would take about 3 months for the container to make the journey, so I had to be sure not to let them pack away anything that I would need urgently on arrival.

In the next installment of this series of blog posts, I’ll discuss the surprises that awaited me after I moved to California.

Devastation in Larkfield

 

Chelsea Drive, Larkfield

Chelsea Drive, Larkfield

The photo above shows Chelsea Drive, Larkfield, just north of Santa Rosa, as it appeared yesterday. Google Streetview shows how this street looked before the fire.

As I mentioned in a previous post, between 2011-13, we lived in a house in Larkfield. That house just escaped the devastation of the Tubbs Fire, but elsewhere nearby entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. Chelsea Drive, shown above, is a few hundred yards south of the street in which we lived.

During the time that we lived there, our local grocery store was Molsberry Market. There are still a few items that I can get only there, so, yesterday, I visited the area for the first time since the disaster.

Fortunately, Molsberry Market itself, and the shopping center in which it’s situated, seem to have escaped unscathed. Yesterday, the sign below was posted on the store’s front door.

Thankyou Poster at Molsberry Market

Thankyou Poster at Molsberry Market

A Thankyou event for First Responders was taking place at the store, and presumably the poster was produced by local schoolchildren. On the bottom right of the poster, it says, “Thanks for Saving Molsberrys”.

Ramsgate Court

The Eastern end of the street immediately north of where we lived, Ramsgate Court, was completely destroyed. The image below shows the view looking East. Our favorite restaurant, Cricklewood, stood on the opposite side of Old Redwood Highway, behind the stop sign in the photo.

Ramsgate Court, Larkfield

Ramsgate Court, Larkfield

Here again is the Google Streetview version.

This tragic scene reminded me of some of those old photos we see of World War II battlefields. Although many of the tree trunks survived, I’m not sure how many of the trees are still alive. In some areas, many are already being felled.

Northtown Animal Hospital

From Larkfield, the burned area stretches south all the way down Old Redwood Highway as far as Fountaingrove.

The veterinary hospital that looked after our cats, when we lived in that area, was Northtown Animal Hospital. The sign in front of the building still seems to be in perfect condition…

Northtown Animal Hospital Sign

Northtown Animal Hospital Sign

…but sadly the building itself did not survive, as shown below.

Northtown Animal Hospital Building

Northtown Animal Hospital Building

The scene below shows the burned area on the opposite side of Old Redwood Highway from the Northtown Hospital. The cables hanging from the trees are power lines that were downed during the fire. (Fortunately, in our housing development, all cables are “undergrounded”, so we don’t have aerial cables like these.)

Burned Area near Northtown Animal Hospital

Burned Area near Northtown Animal Hospital

There’s no question that it will take a long time to rebuild many of these neighborhoods, and that work is just beginning. Those of us who were lucky enough to escape the devastation can only do what we can to help in the rebuilding process.

Valley of the Moon Highway Reopens

Valley of the Moon Winery, with charred hills in the Background

Valley of the Moon Winery, with charred hills in the Background

Yesterday, the road through Sonoma Valley (aka State Highway 12, or the Valley of the Moon Scenic Highway) reopened fully for the first time since the recent fires. The photo above shows my car parked at the Valley of the Moon Winery, near Madrone. The vineyard is undamaged, but you can see scorched hillsides in the background.

Assuming that I could get there, I’d been planning to attend the reopening of the Sonoma Depot Park Museum, but that has been postponed due to the fires. Thus my journey yesterday took me only as far down the valley as Madrone.

The photo below shows a closeup of grapes still on the vines in front of the winery, while the charred hillsides are visible beyond.

Grapes on the Vine at Valley of the Moon Winery, in front of Scorched Hills

Grapes on the Vine at Valley of the Moon Winery, in front of Scorched Hills

Fire in the Hills

The distinctive Ledson Winery chateau, near Oakmont, was featured in recent television news reports of the firefighting efforts in Sonoma Valley.

My photo below shows the aftermath. The winery is apparently undamaged, but was closed yesterday when I visited. The fire-scorched hills beyond are clearly visible.

LedsonWineryBurnedCright

Ledson Winery with Charred Hillsides beyond

Fire in the Valley

Sadly, some parts of the valley floor did not escape destruction. My photo below shows a roadside area near Beltane Ranch (between Oakmont and Madrone), where houses and barns stood before the fire. You can see the charred ground and trees.

Burned Buildings near Beltane Ranch

Burned Buildings near Beltane Ranch

There is even worse damage alongside Route 12 elsewhere, but yesterday in those locations the police, and even the National Guard, were mounting a heavy presence, to deter looters or souvenir hunters.

More details of the damage are provided in this San Francisco Chronicle article.