Saturday, February 28, 2009

Back to Monterey

When I was still a sweet young thing, I enlisted in the Air Force and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to learn Russian. I won't tell you why the Air Force was teaching me Russian - you can figure that one out.

In many ways, the ten months I spent in Monterey were intense. I had never been to California before; everything about it was a source of wonder for me:
  • The food was different - peanut butter and sprouts on a bagel? Artichokes on a pizza? Since I've always been a picky eater, it was amazing that I tried these and liked them!

  • The land was different - stepping out of the barracks in the morning, I could look down the hill to see Monterey Bay or over at the snow-covered peak of a neighboring mountain (hill?).

  • The weather was different - every afternoon a fog rolled over the hilltop from Pacific Grove (which is why we called it the PG Monster). We could set our watches by its appearance.

My classmates and I spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, learning Russian and the rest of the time running around Monterey. We went to movies at the Dream Theater, where there was a variety of seats to choose from - recliners, regular movie seats, tables and chairs - how novel!!! (This is where I saw the first Star Wars movie in 1977.) We spent time on Cannery Row exploring all the cool shops that offered tourists crystals and unique crafty stuff. We visited the Coast Guard pier and marveled over the gazillions of barking sea lions on the rocks. (This is probably where I saw my first live starfishes.) We ate Saturday lunches at the Viennese Pastry Shop on Alvarado Street and walked to Campagno's for yummy sandwiches to eat on the monument to Commodore Sloat. (Yes, we actually climbed up on the monument - the view of the bay was magnificent!) And sometimes, we'd hitch a ride with a fellow student over to Asilomar or Carmel. Such a life! For years after leaving Monterey, I ached to go back. I dreamed at night of Big Sur and Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf.

I have returned to Monterey a couple of times. Last Sunday, upon flying in to San Francisco for a two-day Magnet workshop, I rented a car and drove down - through a subtropical storm (the mist in the redwoods was both beautiful and eerie) - to visit my old haunts.

Of course, neither of us (Monterey and I) is the same as we were in 1977. A beautiful aquarium now sits at the end of Cannery Row, and several hotels have moved in to block the view of the bay in some spots. The Viennese Pastry Shop is gone and the Dream Theater is now a store. And the Presidio of Monterey is now off limits to non-military folks. Since I'm no longer military, I was turned back at each of the gates I tried. Sniff sniff.

Some things have stayed the same, however. Compagno's is still open at the corner of Prescott and Taylor, even though it does look pretty run down. The Pacific still pounds Asilomar, fascinating tourists and locals alike as they hunt for interesting stuff left in the rocks by the retreating waves. The sea lions still lounge on the rocks by the Coast Guard pier between meals.

This one smiled with his eyes closed, just like my kitty Sam. Then he posed for me...

...while his buddy scratched his butt with his hind leg/flipper/whatever you call it.

The Monterey Canning Company is still filled with touristy shops at the corner of Prescott and Cannery Row.

Now, being older, I could afford a car to drive up the Prescott Street hill. Back in 1977, walking back up the steep incline to post from Cannery Row would just about kill me.

Over in Pacific Grove, I saw the Monterey sea lions' cousins lazing away out in the water...

...and enjoyed the view of Monterey from the path by the water in Pacific Grove.

Here's looking west from the path. The skies and light were yucky, but at least it wasn't pouring rain!!!

So after spending a couple hours driving around, I'd had my Monterey fix for the decade. I drove back to San Francisco along the coastal road. The area north of Santa Cruz is much more rural and wonderful than the stretch further south; I snatched quick glimpses of the waves crashing on the rocks down below and was reminded yet again what makes California so special to me (besides Monterey and the food and the cities' cultural diversity and Arnie, of course). The natural environment is just spectacular! And on this dreary, drizzly day, I was especially thankful that someone - the state government, whoever - had had the foresight to protect this particular bit of fabulous landscape from development, so that people like me could enjoy it.

After this, the workshop was anti-climactic. I did get a chuckle out of the young security guard at the San Francisco airport calling me "young lady", however. Perhaps I haven't changed that much after all... :)


Katharine said...

This was an absolutely wonderful, sentimental, nostalgic bit of writing. I don't think I have anyplace to look back at in the same way.

Pat said...

Ah yes, but who needs nostalgia when they live in Del Mar, hm??

Kappa no He said...

These posts always make me want to travel. I think I'm going to start a Pat and Kathy List of all the places I must visit. Monterey is now on the list!


Pat said...

Let me know when you're going, Terrie, and I'll meet you there!!!

joan said...

What beautiful pictures.

Pat said...

Thanks, Joan! Although I don't think they can be considered "Joan quality"... :)

Kyle J. said...

I stumbled upon this by accident. I am going back to DLI for the first time tomorrow after graduating back in 1998. It's disappointing to learn that the post is now off-limits to non-military. However, I think I can still find enough to do to keep me busy for two days :) Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

Pat said...

I hope you have a great visit, Kyle! You know Monterey - there's always something to do, even if you're just sitting on a bench along the shore in Pacific Grove.

Thomas Turpen said...

Thank you for sharing this blog. I went to the DLI in 1987. I was just reminiscing about certain places; and had googled the Dream Theater. Your blog came up in the results. I am saddened that the Dream is now a store.

Pat said...

You're most welcome, Thomas! Try to go back and visit some's still quite a magical place.

Russ said...

I went to DLI twice (Navy), in 1979 for French and again in 1984 for Spanish. Haven't been back to Monterey since, but your blog brought back memories.

We used to hang out at Kalisa's on the Row - belly dancers and great curry and Kalisa herself. Go to the Dream and Pillow theaters, eat pizza at Gianni's on Lighthouse and Nick's in PG. Head to the Captain's Cove at midnight for clams. Spaghetti Warehouse next to the carousel. The Fog Bank nightclub next door. The Halfway House, Segovia's and so many other spots.

I found your blog because I was thinking back on Monterey after hearing that Kalisa died last week. Your post made me happy and sad. Great times. But so many places have closed. And now Kalisa is gone, too.

Pat said...

Hey Russ,

I'll have to google Kalisa - she (and the belly dancing club) were obviously from your 1984 stint. I know my Navy buddies at DLI in 1978 would've been visiting her place if it had been open then!

Going (or thinking) back to DLI and Monterey is certainly a bittersweet experience. Thanks for sharing your with me.

Pat said...

Russ, I just googled Kalisa and am truly stunned!!! I can't believe I never heard of her, but now I understand what has happened to the atmosphere on Cannery Row. I'm so sorry I never met her.

Kent said...

I share your nostalgia for the Presidio of 1977. I was stationed there in '77 and '78. After school, I would walk to the bay, sit on a rock and watch the tourists on Fisherman's Warf. I drove down from San Francisco a couple of times since then. I can't believe what a ghost town Fort Ord is. I remember being on casual duty and going there to pick-up supplies for the mess halls at Presidio. It was a bustle of activity back when the 7th Infantry was there. I always enjoyed being a sailor in an Army town although I remember the Monterey/Pacific Grove area being somewhat intolerant to military in 1977. I think that today's styles and attitudes would be conducive to a better climate for military personnel on liberty in that area.

Pat said...

Perhaps we crossed paths back in '77, Kent!

Hopefully, Fort Ord will be recycled by someone. Does seem a shame. I think the Naval Post Graduate School is still operational though. Lovely place it was.

Thanks for stopping by. If you're ever back in Monterey, say hi for me!

CapnZilog said...

Lovely. Grew up in Monterey as a kid, and completely remember the the year - and the era. Recycled Records is still there, but the Dream Theater lives on as the name of Mike Portnoy's oh-so-famous progressive rock band. He also lived in Monterey around that time. Nice!

Marty said...

Well done! Thank you so much. I am going back tomorrow, taking my husband to show him what I mean when I talk about Monterey and PG. I lived there between 1974 and 1976 during a two year break between by sophmore and junior years of college, and it's where I came into my own. We used to say "you always leave the Monterey Peninsula, but you always come back." I want to go back.

Pat said...

Marty, I hope you and your husband have a fabulous time there. I wonder if Monterey would be such a magical place if one lived there permanently. I wouldn't mind trying. :)

Robert Wascher said...

Chinese Mandarin, 1976-77.

Dream Theater, 812 Theater (Cannery Row), Boiler Room (Cannery Row), and The Old Fisherman's Grotto on the Wharf (the only remaining establishment on this short list). NCO Club down the hill at DLI. Walking up the hill to the barracks, late at night, through the misty, cold, and absurdly terrifying woods after seeing The Exorcist at the post cinema.

The Tic-Tac-Toe game in the carousel building with the live chicken inside the game box.

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (Gordon Lightfoot) and "Blinded by the Light" (Manfred Mann & the Earth Band), and Abba.

Hurtling towards Big Sur on PCH on my Kawasaki Z-1 motorcycle.

A magical year for me.

We try and come back every few years and, in fact, we are in the Santa Cruz/Monterey area right now!

Such great memories....

Robert A. Wascher, MD

Pat said...

Hey Robert,

Chinese Mandarin in 76-77? Did you perhaps know Billy Buck, a young Navy guy who also had a motorcycle? I rode a few times with him - so fun on that back road over the hill toward Carmel!

I'd have to say I don't remember the tic-tac-toe game with the live chicken. How on earth did I ever miss that? Too focused on boys and Russian, I guess.

Please say "Hi!" to Monterey for me. And thanks for stopping by.