By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/29/2020
Occurred: 3/17/2009
Topics/Keywords: #Travel #Photography #TwoHarbors #SantaCatalinaIsland #California Page Views: 3732
My early return from Santa Catalina Island.

Today I reluctantly left Michael and the rest of the family on Catalina Island, as I made the journey back home so I could get to work tomorrow…a trip that involved almost every mode of transportation known to man except hot-air ballooning.

But first, the good part: I awoke refreshed and feeling wonderful after about 12 hours sleep on our wonderful, finally inflated, air mattress. By the time Michael and I arose, Mary, Jenny and Zach had already walked into town for the thrill of the day: a hot shower. So we prepared to join them, Michael bringing his shower gear, and me bringing my luggage.

Because each passenger on the ferry can take two pieces of luggage and one carry-on (and we had to, because of the camping gear), and because I knew I would be returning early, it was always planned that I would bring back two pieces of the luggage with me. We chose the suitcase and the rolling duffel that had contained dry food. The food that had not yet been eaten, was simply transferred to the picnic table. I then found I could put the empty rolling duffel into the rolling suitcase. So I effectively had one piece of baggage to check, and one carry-on containing my personal stash of vitamins and my camera.

Michael thoughtfully carried my carry-on (after I asked) and I dragged the rolling suitcase up the hill, feeling much too much like Kathleen Turner in Romancing The Stone. At least I wasn't wearing high heels.

Danger Men Cooking

I treated Michael and myself to breakfast at the snack bar. I had scrambled eggs and bacon with two enormous pancakes, apparently made from scratch and absolutely delicious. I had to laugh when I placed my order; the guy who ran the snack bar was cashier, waiter and cook; and over the stove was a sign that read, "Danger Men Cooking".

The shower stalls, located in the center of town (if by "town" you mean a gathering of huts that would make Fire Island's Cherry Grove look like a teeming metropolis), featured a sign that advised "50 for 90 seconds", next to a cunningly-located change machine. So I got $2 worth of quarters, and gave half to Michael, who handed two of them back. "I don't take that long a shower," he declared.

The shower stalls had been constructed, I would guess, about 30 years ago, and came complete with a daddy-long-legs. I put my first 50 into the coin receptacle and the water gushed forth (washing the spider down the drain). I had just gotten the shampoo in my eyes when Michael began pounding on the wall. "The machine stole my quarters!" he said. "I need two more."

"You're going to put them in the same coin machine?"

Grudgingly, he moved to the stall on the other side of mine. (We had to have adjacent stalls because we were sharing shampoo and body wash.) I passed him the quarters and, this time, he was more successful.

Meanwhile, I was frantically attempting to get thoroughly wet before my 90 seconds ran down. But minutes passed, and the water continued to run. I was able to brush my teeth and shave, shampoo and wash (I do all those things in the shower) and was almost, but not quite, completely rinsed when the timer clicked and the water stopped. So I had to use my second set of quarters after all, and then waste most of the time they gave me. I was tempted to run into the street and drag someone back who needed a bath, just to avoid completely wasting that remaining 45, but managed to relax and let it go.

Then it was wait, wait, wait for a half hour or so until my bus arrived. This bus, which cost me $20, would take me to Avalon, the largest town on the island, where I was to catch my helicopter for the mainland. While we waited, Michael and I strolled across the isthmus to see the "other" harbor in Two Harbors. Right between was a little red schoolhouse, which couldn't have held more than two rooms…making it much like the elementary school I attended in Vermont.

Finally the bus arrived and I boarded. The driver, a very cool guy whose name was also Paul, explained that he would take us as far as the Airport; we would then transfer to another bus that would take us the rest of the way into Avalon. Here's the route of the first bus, and remember that "squiggly" roads on maps almost always turn out to be composed of hair-raising, hairpin turns. "A" is Two Harbors; "B" is the Airport In The Sky. This route took us into the interior of Santa Catalina Island, which I had never seen before.

The route was scenic, to say the least; and I clicked frantically as we drove, hoping not to miss anything.

The Airport In The Sky terminal.

That got me to the Airport in the Sky, where we had to wait about a half hour for the connecting bus. The airport only handles private traffic so has a nice gift shop and restaurant. There are also outdoor historical and geological displays.

There was also a fairly fantastic view from the edge of the runway, as this airport, like the one in Sedona, Arizona, is built on a mesa.

Below the Airport In The Sky.

The first thing our second driver said was, "The bad news is, both the bus and the driver are old. The good news is, we both function." Having covered the extremes, there wasn't much the passengers could do but pray.

Map route from the Airport In The Sky to Avalon.

The scenery, as before, was mostly untamed. We passed a ranch where horses were raised; the driver told us the owner was experimenting with growing grapes for wine, using a rare grape that only grows on the Channel Islands and was popular for wine-making a century or so ago, but hasn't been used since. Every now and then we would travel a section of road that was carefully lined with trees. These sections were almost always on the edges of cliffs; the trees had probably been planted as guard rails.

Trees served as guard rails.

I had started this bus journey at noon; almost exactly at 2 pm we pulled into Avalon, into a parking lot about two blocks from the beach. Avalon was crowded with beach-weekers, and the streets were lined with T-shirt shops, specialized-cuisine restaurants, snack shops, and gift shops…in other words, exactly like Daytona Beach, Key West, Cabo San Lucas, and every other popular beach town I've been to.

A street in Avalon.

I had two-and-a-half hours to kill before meeting my helicopter, so I got some ice cream and wandered back-and-forth a bit. I got a picture of the oldest big building in Avalon, the Grand Casino.

The Grand Casino in Avalon.

This Art Deco building, constructed in 1926, has never been used for gambling. The Italian word casino means "gathering place" and the Grand Casino serves that purpose, containing a movie theatre and grand ballroom.

When I couldn't stand being a tourist any longer (and one dragging a rolling suitcase behind him, no less) I hired a cab to drive me the mile or so to the Island Express helicopter pad.

My helicopter back to the mainland.

There were six other people waiting for the same flight as me, and I really wanted to sit in front so I could take pictures. So I hung back, made sure to board last; and, sure enough, was directed to sit next to the pilot. Then we took off.

The pilot's name was John, and he was a hunky twentysomething I assumed learned to fly in the Army or Air Force. The other passengers had not only allowed themselves to be placed in the back, they had made no indication that they had any interest in the helicopter ride other than as transportation. So John gave me all the attention he had left over from flying the craft, and pointed out things of interest, like a pod of dolphins and a whale blowing. Unfortunately, all those things were two ephemeral for me to see and focus the camera on before we had flown past.

I did better with scenery.

Catalina Island from the air.

It was not a long ride; it was billed, in fact, as "14 minutes". So Long Beach, California, soon rose up ahead.

Long Beach, California, from the air.

The helicopter actually landed in the parking lot of the Queen Mary Hotel, which is the old ocean liner in its second incarnation as a more-or-less floating accommodation. It looks weird in this context, like a cross between the Titanic and a Disney attraction.

The Queen Mary Hotel.

In fact, there actually is an "attraction" on the ship, "Ghosts and Legends Of The Queen Mary", with its own entrance (and entry fee).

Entrance to "Ghosts and Legends Of The Queen Mary"

I had another half-hour to wait for my Super Shuttle to arrive and take me to Los Angeles Airport. The bellboys at the entrance kindly allowed me to sit in the shade of the elevator entrance to wait. There I watched as, one by one by three by two, unmistakably Orthodox Jewish men in their black suits and full beards, and their wives arrived. At first I thought perhaps this was a traditional Jewish holiday destination, like Miami Beach. But it turned out there was a wedding on the fourth floor. Everyone needed to know which floor the wedding was on, and as the guests came more and more frequently I was able to supply that information to guests who had overwhelmed the bellboys.

A question I couldn't answer was, "Where is the men's reception room?" Fortunately, one of the bellboys could.

My shuttle arrived and interrupted my advising one of the women guests which of two pairs of high heels looked better with her formal dress. The ride to LAX took awhile but I didn't worry, as the sun was still up and my flight was scheduled to leave at 10:43 pm.

In fact, when I got there and tried to check in, I was able to get my standby pass but the machine told me (there was only one actual ticket agent there) I couldn't check my luggage until four hours before the flight. So I sat opposite the machines for a half hour, and then tried again. This time I was told I couldn't check my bag because it was too little time remaining before the flight! It took ten minutes for the harried agent to get to me and arrange to check my bag.

When I got to my gate, the flight had already been moved up to a departure time of midnight. Worse, there were 14 people on standby, including me, and only 6 available seats. I might not be able to go at all!

Fortunately, the gate agent didn't wait to start handing out seats to standby fliers. Even though I was at the end of the list (as always, since I am not a pilot or flight attendant), most of the other standbys hadn't actually bother to show up. So I got my boarding pass; now all I had to do was wait for the plane to arrive.

Which it finally did, about 12:30 am Wednesday morning. We left at 12:45 am (still pretty good turnaround) and I got to Phoenix a little after 2 am. By this time, I was afraid the airport bus to the economy lot might not be running; but it was, the driver told me (I was the only passenger) that the airport buses run 24/7, which is good to know.

Jenny's car was where I'd left it, and the trip home was uneventful…dogs grateful to see me, and even Milton the cat condescended to sit next to me while I got ready for bed.

So…another trip down. So many places, so little time…!