Topics on the agenda included upcoming projects, assigning articles, discussing the legal and fiscal implications of increased growth, networking to get the names of agents, and goals for improved marketing. For the most part, these lofty goals were accomplished while barbequing hot dogs and drawing crude pictures of each other on bar napkins.
Very few of the attendees were native to California, so coping with mid-summer Valley heat required the meetings be held in two settings: an air conditioned facility that served frosty adult beverages, or a swimming pool.
The latter idea was a big hit. Everybody liked the idea of being able to brag about a poolside business vacation. It's a glamorous concept, but unless it refers to a conference of body builders, it sounds much better than it looks. A dozen jet-lagged, middle-aged, largely sedentary writers flopped around a pool and gasping in the California heat probably isn't going to be the premise for the next Aaron Spelling series on Fox. But it was fun and productive, and since most of us write fiction, we're going to tell people that we all looked fabulous anyway.
In that respect, sightseeing is a little different when you do it with writers. I thought I was familiar with the view from the Delicato Winery's observation tower, for instance, but I was wrong.
"That's a field where they are performing genetic experiments, splicing swine and almond DNA to create pork chop trees," my local editor gestured.
"Um, that's just where the local community college does some of their Ag stuff," I translated.
"And over there, the city of Manteca is building a to-scale replica of Zoser's step pyramid."
"It's a landfill," I frowned at her.
"And up that way just a little bit, Kerry and Bush are going to stage a debate."
"But there's nothing over there but a little depot they call Jackass Junction," I said, confused.
She smiled. "Exactly."
We also went almond tasting. Some people were not entirely impressed with the fact that California produces 80% of the world's supply of almonds. "I can get almonds anywhere," one person pointed out. "In fact, I brought some with me."
"Well, they probably came from right here."
One of the others immediately pulled out her cell phone and held it up to a bag of almonds for an impromptu puppet show. "Mom? You'll never guess where I'm at right now. No, guess. Let me give you a hint: what are you doing for lunch today?"
But as compelling as the Manteca-Ripon area is, the highlight of the sightseeing had to be the day we spent in San Francisco. See, writers tend to be incorrigible people-watchers. They like to eavesdrop on people in the grocery store, the local cafe, even public restrooms. When they are not being arrested or issued restraining orders, they take their observations and craft them into beautiful works of art, ninety-eight percent of which never get published except as "Exhibit A". But that doesn't deter a real author from their craft, and the best writing comes from lengthy observance of human behavior.
San Francisco is a city that, above all others, embraces a wide range of human behavior. The wider the better.
A bunch of our members were from the Midwest, and though some of them do a fine job at being masters of jaded sarcasm, there simply isn't anything between Los Angeles and New York that could have prepared them for San Francisco. Oh sure, the sight of one Holstein climbing atop another outside the milking shed can at least keep your brain from going into permanent shock, but unless the milking shed combines the best of Victorian and modern architecture, you're still a long shot from capturing the flavor of San Francisco.
It took the group about thirty seconds from climbing the stairs out of the BART station to fall in love with the city.
"What is that?" one of them demanded, pointing at the top of a building where strange and menacing monsters formed a crudely hand-painted mural on the side of the industrial-sized air conditioning unit. The words, "NECK FACE" offered little in the way of explanation.
"It's a Denny's," I pointed at the signs visible nearer the sidewalk.
"This place is great," my friend shook his head and continued walking.
We walked all over San Francisco, just soaking in the sights. None of us were lost, run over by a car, or knocked senseless by running into a parking meter while watching everything but where they were going. (Okay, that actually did happen. To me. When I was in fourth grade. First times in San Francisco can be a little overwhelming.)
The only downside to the trip was when we hit Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf. Everyone was ooohing and aaahing over the sea lions lounging about the marina, when one of the columnists piped up, "Look at them, flopping around the water and groaning! They look like they're having a Piker Press conference, ha ha... ha..." Under the icy stares from everyone else, she quickly trailed off.
We did not look like that. That's our story and we're sticking to it.
Comments and sightseeing tips to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin