Never pass up the opportunity to do something crazy and fun ...
One of the many benefits of working for IBM so long, and especially during the early 90s when we
could spend money like crazy, was to be able to take business trips to just about anywhere in the
world -– for the simplest of reasons like spend 4 days in Paris for a 2 hour meeting or a week in
Vienna for a 2-day meeting. Those were the days ....
Anyway, some 19 years ago in late August of 1997, my very good and close friend, Greg Brown,
and I went on another such long business trip to San Jose, California to visit one of IBM’s
Could we have solved our problems/found the answers to our question about IBM Announcement
Letter creation in the Lab environment with a telephone call (or two, or four, or ...) -- yes, BUT, who
wants to talk on the phone for hours on end when you can have face-to-face meetings and hear all
the good stuff first hand?
After several previous trips to San Jose and talking with others who had also gone before us, we
“knew” where we wanted to stay while visiting San Jose. About ten miles away from the IBM plant
and in the town of Campbell on the outskirts of San Jose, was a fantastic hotel/residence inn type
place called the Campbell Inn.
What made this place special was not the rooms, TVs, service, whatever, but what they did every day
at 5 pm. In a large banquet type room by the pool area, they hosted “Happy Hour” for guests every
afternoon. Happy hour was free with a great spread of snack foods and drinks, including beer in
bottles. Unfortunately, they had a huge sign posted that stated that there was a limit of 2 beers
per person, per “visit.” Phooey!
However, it only took Greg and I about 2 minutes to see the con here -– by watching others do it -–
that all you had to do was walk outside the door to the “refreshment pavilion,” wait 2 minutes, and
then walk right back in.
Upon reentering the pavilion, you would be again greeted at the door by a hostess cheerfully
exclaiming, “Welcome to the Campbell Inn Guest Hospitality Lounge … would you like a beer?”
Some nights, we must have walked in and out of that place 6 or 7 times!
Greg and I had already explored the area around San Jose to the point it was now just boring. This
included things like driving 25 miles down to Santa Cruz on the coast and eating dinner out on the
Santa Cruz Wharf (huge pier with shops, restaurants, fishing, the works).
Heck, they even let you drive your car out onto the pier. Talk about lazy -- and ruining the
"atmosphere" of being out on a pier over the ocean. Only in California....
Meanwhile, if we were really bored, we would take off and drive 70 miles or so on down past Santa
Cruz and head for Monterey. After a while, it all looked the same but -- I have to admit, driving
along the coastline south of Monterey and down towards Big Sur was breathtaking. Everyone needs
to ride on the Pacific Coast Highway along here at least once in their lifetime. It was about a
180-mile roundtrip ride for us from Campbell but worth every minute of it.
We had also gone on another wild and crazy 150-mile trip up to San Francisco on what we jokingly
called, "The Almost World Famous Five Bridge Tour."
The goal was to crisscross the waters of San Francisco Bay by driving across all five bridges that
span this beautiful bay area. It took several hours but it was worth the time as you get to see
San Francisco and the bay area from so many different points of view like from the fabulous
Golden Gate Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge,
the San Mateo Bridge, and the Dumbarton Bridge down at the bottom of the bay and the last one
to cross over it.
All were beautiful and all majestic in their own way, including this view of the Golden Gate Bridge
with San Francisco and Greg in the background. We had been touring around inside The Golden Gate
National Recreation Area and was visiting an old military gun battery called Battery Spencer that
overlooked the entrance to the bay from the ocean.
Meanwhile -- back at the ranch -- one weekend morning when we were feeling really, really yancy to
go exploring somewhere totally new, Greg said, “Hell, let’s go to Virginia City, Nevada and get a
hamburger and a beer and head back home.”
“Greg … are you kidding me ... that’s at least a 500-mile plus roundtrip ride -– all the way up and over
the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.”
Without missing a beat and with a smirky grin on his face, he said, “Piece of cake, Mikey … I’ll put it
on cruise control and let it roll!”
Ten minutes later with coffee cups in hand, we were "letting it roll" across the San Joaquin Valley
towards Stockton where we would pick up California Highway 4 and follow it onto Angles Camp in the
heart of Gold Country -- Calaveras County. Mark Twain wrote one of his most famous stories about
this area when he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in 1865.
Keep in mind that this was just 17 years after the famous California Gold Rush of 1848 had filled
this entire region with miners looking for gold. Supposedly, Mark picked up on a story that one of the
bartenders at the Angles Hotel in Angles Camp used to tell to amuse his bar patrons and Mark used
it to fabricate his story of the “Jumping Frog.”
Anyway, after crossing over the San Joaquin Valley area -- lots of wide open spaces, basically flat
with some rolling hills, and lots and lots of vegetable farms, and tree farms (fruit/nut) –- the rising
Sierra Nevada Mountains ahead of us was a welcome sight. Soon we were past Angles Camp and
working our way up towards Ebbetts Pass on old California Highway 4.
The cool mountain air and the forest of beautiful and gigantic trees were a welcome sight after
crossing over the hot valley below. After stopping for a quick photo op at Ebbetts Pass at an
elevation of 8,730 feet above sea level (where we were just at only a few hours earlier), we started
our long decent down the mountain towards our destination of Virginia City some 60+ miles away.
We followed Cal Hwy 4 eastward until it joined in with Cal Hwy 89 and stayed with it until we
reached the tiny town of Alpine Village. There we picked up Cal Hwy 88 and headed straight for the
Nevada border just 5 miles away and then on another 13 miles up to US-395 and on to Carson
We had pulled off on the side of the road when we had crossed into Nevada and got out to take
some pictures and just soak up the new views. Me and Greg -- in the middle of absolutely nowhere!
Just an hour earlier, we had been surrounded by gigantic tall trees and cool mountain breezes.
Now, we stood on the side of the desolate road in blinding sunlight and blazing heat -- we were in
the middle of nowhere desert country and looking back towards the beautiful Sierra Nevada
30 minutes later we were past Carson City and headed out into the really big nowhere desert area
where Virginia City is located in Nevada. Virginia City sprang up after the discovery of the Comstock
Lode of silver ore in 1859. Thousands of people, Mark Twain included, journeyed to Virginia City to
make their fortune in the mines or simply to mine the miners.
Virginia City is (was) a happening place. While we were there, it was crawling with tourist just like us
-- exploring all the old stores and places to eat. We zeroed in on the old historical Bucket of Blood
Saloon for our place to get something to munch on and maybe have at least one “cool one” before
heading back towards San Jose.
Talking about old –- this building was built in 1876, a year after the great fire of 1875 burned over
a thousand structures in Virginia City. The insides of the saloon are a virtual museum of artifacts
dating back to the day it was built. Beautiful old lamps hanging from the ceiling and mirrors on the
walls plus pictures, guns, whatever, adorn the walls and shelves everywhere.
All in all, it was the coolest “bar” Greg and I had visited on our trip to San Jose -- so far.
I say that because knowing how crazy and impulsive were both are (were), it was no telling where we
might end up next on some wild and adventuresome road trip.
Hey, who said "business trips" have to be boring?
Anyway, back in Virginia City, we tried to imagine what it must have been like back in the gold and
silver mining days in the late 1800s when this place, this town, was a wide open, rooting-tooting
western town complete with a Sheriff, gunslingers, dance hall girls, card sharks, and gold and silver
crazy drunk miners!
As much as I would have loved to have stayed there at the saloon and been able to see it at night
when the place gets really rocking with a band, honky tonk piano player, etc., I knew that we had an
almost 300-mile trip ahead of us to get back to our hotel in Campbell and it was time to hit the road.
When I mentioned this tiny bit of info to Greg, he smiled, and said, “Rats … I forgot that we are all
the way over here in the Nevada desert -– you reckon we can make it back to the Campbell in time
for Happy Hour?”
That's one of the things I have always admired about Greg -- "Always thinking and looking ahead ..."
Anyway, with the thought of Happy Hour in mind, we left town heading south on NV-342 pass
Goldhill and then back on NV-341 back down to US-50 just 5 miles away.
Our plan was to go west on US-50 to the edge of Lake Tahoe, just about 20 miles away and then
pick up NV-28 and ride up alongside Lake Tahoe and then across the top of the lake to Kings Beach
where we could pick up NV-267 and then head towards Truckee and pick up I-80 and haul-tail for
Sacramento and then on to Campbell.
We both had heard so much about the infamous "Lake Tahoe" that we wanted to see it for ourselves.
Well, let me tell you that all the stories were true -- it is an absolutely beautiful lake with waters so
clear and pure that it looks almost like a picture post card. The water was so blue -- it was like
looking at the sky.
By the time we reached Truckee about 15 miles pass the California/Nevada border, we were both
sure we’d never want to attempt travel on this road in the wintertime -- winding, steep grades,
Once we had passed over the crest of the mountains not to far away from where near where the
infamous Donner Pass crossing is located, we were all set for an easy downhill ride all the way to the
Pacific Ocean. Just the thoughts of what all those people went through that tragic time back in 1847
when they tried to cross this very same stretch of mountains in the dead of winter -- with 20 feet
of snow on the ground in places -- and so many of them died with some even from being eaten by
others in their own party who were so desperate to do anything to survive.
Anyway -- back to the present –- we were cruising along quiet easily on our passage down the
mountains when I happened to look over at the speedometer. My mind froze for a second or two
before I finally said, “Greg, I’m not sure the California Highway Patrol would approve of your
“Why not?” he asked rather innocently.
“Well, since the speedometer only goes to 120 mph and you have the needle pass that and pined
against the peg on the right, I think he might say we’re going a bit too fast!”
Since we were on Interstate 80, two lanes wide with long easy curves in the roadway and for
whatever reason, traffic was almost non-existent, we were both happily content with zooming down
the mountain and enjoying the views that opened up before us. It never dawned on us that just
because the views out our windows were whipping past us at lightning speed might -- just might --
indicate to a “normal” person that we were going WAY TOO FAST down the mountain!
Needless to say, Greg immediately started slowing our rapid decent down and after a mile or so
later, we were back to a safe and comfortable cruising speed of about 65 mph. Best as I could
figure, we had been doing at least 130+ mph before we decided it was best to slow down.
Scary -- you bet -- it shook both of us up. We talked about how subtle the slow increase in speed
had been and how we just sort of laid back and enjoyed the “take off.” I guess that happens a lot to
the truckers that have to endure these long and steady downhill runs and why there are so many of
those truck emergency pull-off areas where a truck can turn onto them and run uphill on a sandy dirt
roadway to stop them.
Soon we were out of the mountains and once again crossing over the San Joaquin Valley and all of its
many farms. Grapes, walnuts, almonds, apples, tomatoes, cherries, and fields of tall corn greeted us
as we drove across the rich and fertile valley. The amount of commercial agriculture you can see
from just driving by in this area is staggering.
Seeing all the road-side stands that a lot of farmers had set up was making both of us hungry and
thirsty. It was unbelievable what all a lot of the farmers had also stacked up alongside the road to
sell. Not only did they have their “farm produce” but they must have thought, “What the hell, maybe
those dumb-ass tourists will also want to buy some old shoes, second-hand pants, and some neat
Getting to Campbell in time for the 5 o’clock Happy Hour was getting to be more pressing as the
afternoon wore on. However, with Greg’s skillful driving and my expert navigation skills, we found all
the least travelled roads and the quickest way back to our almost world famous hotel.
Sure enough, about 4:45 in the afternoon, we pulled into the parking lot of our hotel. We could not
believe that we had, on just a spur of the moment whim, took out on a 500 plus mile road trip just to
say we had lunch in Virginia City, Nevada.
Oh, by the way, one of the neatest/crazy things we did on our now almost world famous 500-mile
road trip was to stop at every location we could -- small towns, etc. -- that we thought might have
its own post office and then mail post cards back home from there.
Greg was mailing them to his kids and I was mailing them to several people back home. Thinking
about this now, I wish that my wife had kept them as they would be a treasure to look at now some
20 years later.
Anyway, as we got out of our car in the parking lot back at our hotel, we saw right away that
something was very wrong -- somewhere in the world.
People were crowding around doorways and listening to the TVs that were blaring out the news
that over in Paris, Princess Diana had been in some God-awful wreck that had killed her while
traveling though a tunnel in Paris. To say that we were both stunned to hear this news would be
Anyway, after a quick “refresh up” stop in our rooms upon our return from our long and tiring road
trip, we were back down at the hospitality room by the pool and enjoying the first of “several”
beers that we thought might ease the pain of tired muscles and also help erase the news we were
being bombarded with on the TV about the death of Princess Diana.
It didn't really help about the death of Princess Diana so we just focused in on our just completed
500-mile fantastic journey to see the old west up close in person over in neighboring Nevada.
Besides, what difference does 5 or 6 hundred miles really mean between best friends anyway.
Hell, if we had a faster car and more gas money at the time, we’d gone a thousand miles! : -)
|Going to Virginia City on a Mission From God -- Be Back by 5
|Going to Virginia City on a Mission From God --
Be Back by 5
By Mike Bailey
Going to Virginia City on a Mission From God -- Be Back by 5
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