It was time for me to move, again. I scrolled with urgency through area listings for apartments. I had four days. My imagination reeled with pain and possibilities. Live in Japan and commute to SFO? Move to SoCal? Move to Florida and transfer bases?
My mind needed a tether, a time out while the dust settled.
Logic recommended that I spend the next few days visiting potential roomies and apartments, scouring the Bay area listings for the least terrible and most affordable option. Impossible. With the sun rising over the SFO tarmac as I put on my makeup in my makeshift home, the Nissan Versa, I called my dad.
“Get out here. I need you.”
He boarded his flight. Landed in California. Our adventure began.
Logic said room hunt, but I said, “Let’s road trip to pick up my stuff in SoCal, by way of Big Sur. You’ll love it.”
Frightful circumstances turned Father-Daughter trip. He’d be the counter balance to my rampant imagination. A dose of perspective.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in the car with Dad for that long. Our family took so many road trips throughout my childhood, exploring whatever Civil War battlefield or national park that we’d learn about in school.
We started with a breakfast where I’d cried into my cheese eggs. He watched me, told me it was going to be okay, then we both burst out laughing. Two very different peas in a pod. Being with Dad was exactly what the doctor ordered. He drove while I rode shotgun around the winding hills off Big Sur. So many car commercials filmed in these curves. Windows down.
We found ourselves at Hearst Castle by lunchtime, the architectural marvel concocted by media tycoon William Randolph Hearst and brought to life at the hands of architectural legend Julia Morgan.
Dad and I said why not, taking another detour from the urgency to take a tour of the mansion. We toured the estate that includes a castle, a “village” of four villas known for having held celebrities such as Cary Grant, all on 50,000 acres that Hearst camped on as a child.
The structure began with a quick message from the media tycoon to famed architect in San Francisco, “Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something.”
Our timing only allowed us to explore the cottages and kitchens of this 165 room estate. It was enough. The gardens were filled with Hearst’s odd collection of ancient sarcophagi and lush blooms. The houses were full of European art pieces worthy of any palace, alongside stories of Winston Churchill and Clark Gable staying as house guests.
The tour guide pointed out the wild imagination of the newsman juxtaposed to the practicality of the architect.
Growing up in a man’s world, architect Julia Morgan created things to last. Despite the opposition she met, the assumptions she’d work for lower pay than male counterparts, Morgan used concrete in a way no man had before. Her clock tower in Oakland was one of the few surviving structures of the 1906 earthquake.
The only woman in her class at the University of California in Berkley, Julia was raised by a wealthy family in San Francisco, but took the train back to New York every time a new sibling needed a christening.
She’d turned down a debutante ball in favor of getting her career started first. She tried thrice to enter the L’Ecole Nationale et Speciale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, a school determined to deter young women from entrance. She became the only woman in her class, finishing the program in a mere three years as opposed to the usual five.
Her plans for a grand theater were submitted mere months before her 30th birthday, landing her the certificate of architecture she’d so desired. Without husband or children, Morgan is fabled for saying, “My buildings will be my legacy. They will speak for me long after I’m gone.”
She went on to make more than 700 other structures, including several standing silently around Oakland and San Francisco as a testament to her genius.
More than I needed a room rented at that moment, I like Hearst needed a Julia Morgan with their wits about them. I needed Dad. We stopped for phone and coffee breaks, scouring the internet with our downtime between drives. Just before we emerged into the traffic of L.A., signal returned to my cell. It rang. Picking up the phone, I spoke to the woman who would soon be my roommate. There was an oasis in Oakland, a Pepto-Bismal pink apartment building where everyone knew each other. A view of Lake Merritt, the place I’d soon be rollerblading.
We talked. Dad nodding as he topped the golden hills of California. We hung up as signal died again.
“I’ve got the place in Oakland!”
We were Hearst and Morgan. Dad was the voice of reason to my vivid imagination. Like the poured concrete towers of Hearst castle, we saw logic and daydreams turn tangible in the form of a rented room. By way of a SoCal road trip.