Friday, December 24, 2004

Winston, Oregon—Eugene, Oregon—San Francisco, California—Days 324/325/326/327/328

I drove up to Eugene from Winston and spent a day wandering around the University of Oregon campus trying to look as much like a student as I could. Its pretty easy considering that I practically look like I am a freshman despite the fact that I am 24 (ok, maybe a sophomore) so when I asked at the local bookshop where a post office was and then was told “oh, in the student union” and then of course I had to ask, “um, where is the student union?” I was prepared for the looks of confusion on their faces. Wasn’t I a student? I just smiled politely and told them that I “wasn’t from here.”

I probably downgraded myself to freshman status by admitting this as I turned into “that poor freshman who doesn’t know their way around campus.”

Anyways, it was weird to be back on a college campus—UofO is pretty nice. I could see myself there. Doing something but I still don’t’ know what. However I did like Portland better.

Anyways, so I spent the rest of the day bumming around Eugene, driving in search of that cute shopping street that really should exist in all towns. You know the one, the little boutiques and corner bakeries. I didn’t find it (but I’ll give Eugene credit for probably having one) and instead spent the rest of the afternoon at the mall (blah blah blah) and seeing a movie to kill time.

I then found a hotel close to the freeway and spent the evening wrapping presents that I have accumulated on my way for my family. Its ridiculous the amount of stuff you can find yourself carrying around with you when you have room in your suitcase. I was picking up things left and right and was warned by the guy at the Eugene airport the next morning that I was “one pound under the maximum limit” and that I “better not put anything else in it.” I kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t find any cute things to buy in San Francisco but somehow I knew this wouldn’t happen.

I flew to San Francisco sitting next to a U of O junior women’s and gender studies major. The only thing major about him (yes, there can be WGS majors who are men!) was his braces. We didn’t talk the whole way until we started to land. He started up the standard airplane chit chat (where are you going, what do you do) so I launched into the hippo story but tried to play it off causally when he asked “well, where have you been?”

This question always gets me. Here is this nice guy who is just wanting to know where I went on my travels (he was interested in going to Amsterdam on a study abroad program) and so I tried to just shrug it off. But then they always probe farther. Do I start listing off the countries in order? I’ve done this approach several times and just feel plain snobby for some reason. I try to play it off like it is no big deal (“oh yeah, you know, just hopped over to South Africa for a few days”) but it never comes across right. So I watched as his eyebrows lifted as I began rattling off the countries I had been to.

His response? “Woah.”

He asked me where I was going to next and when I told him “Salt Lake City” it turned out that he was from there. Thus began the awkward, “well, when are you going to be there cause I don’t go back to U of O for a while….” Good god! No no no. I smiled politely and told him (well, lied really) that I had really not a clear idea of when I was actually going to be there.

We landed in San Francisco and I forgot my sweater on the plane which gave an abrupt ending to my conversation with braces boy. I waited for all of the passengers to deplane before I could get back on and get my sweater. I then boarded the shuttle to the main terminal and headed towards baggage claim where Elizabeth—my German hippo adventurer extraordinaire—was waiting.

Elizabeth!! Yay! I had been waiting months to see her again and reunite. It was as if nothing had changed (I was still wearing the same clothes really as when she saw me last) and we did the usual “oooh, cute haircut! Are those NEW jeans?” as we waited for my luggage. We then went and got my rental car (always an adventure really) and then headed off towards the San Francisco Zoo.

Elizabeth has a younger sister Rachel who is four and just so happens to be in the Zoo camp program this week with her little 4 year old friend Sienna. Elizabeth had made arrangements for us to pick them up which was perfect because this meant that we could pick them up at my favorite place (the zoo of course!) and then we could go see the hippos with the girls.

This meant that I had to follow Elizabeth as she zipped around in her little black Volkswagen bug in front of me (she brought her car to the airport) and follow her to the zoo. After we found the zoo and then searched for two parking spots we were able to head into the zoo to pick up the girls exactly on time.

The girls were excited to see us (well, Elizabeth really) and we took the girls back into the zoo to find the hippos. We had lunch first consisting of cheeseburgers and chicken fingers and after having lunch (which is always an adventure with four year olds) we ventured to the hippos. Maps in hand, Sienna and Rachel led us to the hippos.

When we found them one hippo was out of the water. I snapped away (I think Elizabeth was equally excited to see the hippo out of the water!) while Rachel and Sienna played on a hippo statue nearby with other little kids. Luckily they were happily distracted with playing and weren’t paying attention to how long we were at the zoo. I took pictures for a while and was keeping my fingers crossed that something would happen.

To my surprise, the keeper came out.

Not only did she come out but she came bringing a bucket with hippo goodies! Feeding time!

I was thrilled—so was Elizabeth. The keeper was behind the gates with a group of people who seemed to be on a tour of some sort. She got her bucket ready to throw the hippos some food as I waved my arms and shouted at her. Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!

One of the people on the tour tapped her and pointed to us on the other side. I asked her which hippo was which (Puddles or Cuddles) and she told me that Cuddles was the female (out of the water) and Puddles was the male (in the water). Having my sidekick back, Elizabeth also took mental note of this as I kept snapping away.

The hippos weren’t all too interested in being fed though. The keeper eventually had to come around to the side that we were standing on to get their attention. When she did, only Cuddles was interested in feeding. Puddles eventually (and when I say “eventually” I mean like ten minutes into the feeding time) came around and opened up his mouth. The lighting was horrible—the sun was reflecting right behind the hippos so you were basically staring into the sun the whole time—but I managed to get a few good shots before all of the food ran out.

Luckily Rachel and Sienna found all of this just as exciting as Elizabeth and I did.

The crowd eventually dispersed and Cuddles and Puddles eventually settled back down into their pool into that “I’m not getting up EVER” mode that hippos go into after eating. We eventually said goodbye to the hippos (Eliz took the girls on a little walk while I waited just to see if they would move again) and we made our way out of the zoo after riding the steam train around. Who could resist?

We visited the beach right next to the zoo and then dropped Sienna off at her parent’s in downtown San Francisco. We took Rachel back to her house (Elizabeth’s dad’s and step mom’s) and eventually got ready for dinner. The five of us went out for dinner at a gorgeous little Italian restaurant and then they dropped us off at a the M.Ward show in some little bar somewhere in San Francisco.

Oooh, I love San Francisco already.

The next morning we hit Haight & Ashbury and then picked the girls back up at the zoo for a second time. We went back and visited the hippos to see what they were up to but today was less adventurous than yesterday. They weren’t moving around and there was no sign of the keeper. But I was able to get some more pictures of the two to satisfy my needs before we headed back to Eliz’ house to drop the girls off. Elizabeth and I then battled overweight tourists on trolley to fisherman’s wharf! It was SO touristy but really fun. We walked around the wharf and Ghirardelli’s square before taxi-ing it back to our car. We then drove up to Petaluma which is an hour north of San Francisco where Elizabeth grew up. Her mom and sister live up there so we had dinner with them and then woke up surrounded by hills and beautiful country side.

Love it love it love it.

We spent the day driving around Petaluma and visiting Elizabeth’s grandmother who lives in this amazing old farmhouse surrounded by green fields. It was just wonderful. We then drove up the coast to the beach, walked around a bit and then headed back to her grandmother’s. I dropped Elizabeth off (sniff, sniff) and then headed down to Berkeley to visit two more friends from Macalester, one of which is studying in Berkeley and the other who lives and works in Pacifica. We had dinner at Anne’s place (in Berkeley) then headed up to Dave’s house (in Pacifica) where I spent the night before heading to the San Francisco airport to head home for the holidays.