Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Freeway-Free in California: Sacramento

Cars are convenient, but I find it intensely liberating to be without one. Why travel to a different locale if you are traveling withing your own bubble, complete with too familiar anxieties about parking, traffic, one-way streets, and so on? When possible, I go by other means. It is wonderful to discover how many other means there are, and what new adventures can be found when one is not chained to a steering wheel.

49er's stadium, Santa Clara

49er’s stadium, Santa Clara

Example – for our most recent day trip from the Bay Area to Sacramento we took the train. The Capital Corridor train pulls into the Santa Clara Great America station at about 7:30AM; we are early enough to see the new 49er stadium glowing with construction lights as it grows like a giant phosphorescent fungus adjacent to the station. The train is not crowded yet, so we pick plum seats in the upstairs and enjoy reasonably decent coffee from the café car.

I have written about the train experience here. After a quick three hours (one newspaper, two magazines, and part of a paperback, we debark at the old Sacramento Station, our goal being the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum, and a lunch date with our Sacramento-resident son and his wife.

He doth bestride our narrow world like a colossus...It is a grayish day, but our spirits are buoyed by interesting sight. On one side is the Gateway Arch that leads to the historic Old Sacramento neighborhood, on the other an angular light tower bestrides the path to central Sacramento like a giant’s Transformer or Erector set – I half expect it to fold itself up into a closetful of coat-hangers as we go by.Gateway Arch, downtown Sacramento
The Old Crocker Mansion is changed also; the original Victorian mansion was deeded to the city along with the banking family’s art collection; over the intervening century the mansion/museum has added a wing, then another wing, and now a modern new museum addition which dwarfs the original mansion. The Rockwell exhibit has drawn a wide spectrum of Sacramento citizenry: field-tripping students clutchingtheir study guides, a bevy of Red Had Clubbers In their cheerful scarlet and purple costumes, and even a vanload of art fans from the Lighthouse for the Blind wielding their red-tipped white canes.

Old Crocker Mansion Museum - SacramentoNew Crocker Museum - Sacramento

After appreciating the 350 Saturday Evening Post covers as best we can, we stroll over to Il Fornaio restaurant on Capitol Mall for lunch with the kids. Afterward we have time, so we go through the arch and the gaily painted tunnel to Old Sacramento. The wrought-iron balconies recall the French Quarter in New Orleans; a century of flood damage is hidden beneath the wooden sidewalks. Instead of building levees against the Sacramento and American rivers as their city subsided, Sacramentans simply built second and third stories on top of the “basement” floors which had originally been at ground level.Signage - Old Sacto
We stroll into some of the colorful tourist boutiques, check out the visitors’ center, and make our way back to the station through a surprising remnant of Chinatown featuring a memorial statue to Sun Yat-sen who seems to bless our departure.
If the day had been sunnier, we could have spent time on the Capital Mall exploring the Rose Garden, the Cactus Garden, the various war memorials, and the Stanford Mansion. Instead we caught the earlier train and peacefully read our way back to Santa Clara, gazing occasionally out at the poor folks stuck in their steel bubble gridlock on the neighboring freeways.

Next: the Coast Starlight to San Luis Obispo

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