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I’m sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco, nursing a cappuccino and hunched over my laptop like a real San Francisco hipster. We’re here for Fogcon, at the end of a week that started with Potlatch in San Jose.

Potlatch was a lovely, laid-back convention which featured, as it usually does, many fine conversations and meals with old friends. (Armenian Gourmet for the YUM!) Tom Whitmore and I hosted the “Tough Guide to the Post-Apocalypse” discussion as an icebreaker on Friday evening, where I typed up a running transcript of the discussion, including a few snarky asides (e.g. “Darth Alfalfa: ‘I am your fodder!'”), which was projected on a big screen. The panel didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was still a good start to the convention — though now I want to write up an actual “Tough Guide to the Post-Apocalypse.” Maybe for Bento. I also conducted a writers’ workshop session with four fine manuscripts, and ring-led the author readings on Saturday afternoon.

For some reason this particular Potlatch was focused on very long talks with one person at a time, old friends and new. It’s good to go deep sometimes. I also attended sessions on Earth Abides, the convention’s book of honor, and on the future of Potlatch. There will be a Potlatch 21, in Seattle, next year, chaired by Jack Bell.

After the con we piled into our rented Grand Marquis tuna boat, along with friends Kate and Glenn from Seattle, and took off for the coast. The main impetus for this trip was a visit to Hearst Castle, which I’ve long wanted to see but which is just too far from either San Francisco or Los Angeles to be done as a day trip from a convention, but with a whole week between conventions we had time to do the Central Coast in some depth.

We took two of the four available tours of Hearst Castle and also saw the 45-minute IMAX movie about Hearst at the visitor’s center. The movie, with its focus on Hearst and complete absence of information on his wife and girlfriend, reminded me of the L. Ron Hubbard museum (which presented Hubbard as a solo genius with no co-workers or family), an impression which was reinforced by the theatre gift shop stocked with nothing but hundreds of copies of the DVD of the movie we’d just seen. The castle itself is, of course, extraordinary, both architecturally and for the astonishing collection of artifacts housed within it. One room holds four of the five surviving panels of a 10-panel tapestry that may have once hung at Versailles. Copies of these panels hang in the Louvre, and this room was where Hearst’s sons liked to play touch football. Amazing what you can do with way, way too much money.

We also visited Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay aquarium (Otters! Seahorses! Octopus! Flamingos! Diving murres! Jellies! Sardines! Mackerel! And a big-ball-o-fish!), and the National Steinbeck Center (“to which all the regional Steinbeck Centers report”); walked on several very picturesque beaches; and observed elephant seals from a safe distance (“HRWAAANK!”). In between those experiences we ate many fine meals. Especially notable was the Salinas City BBQ, a very modest place where each simple item on the plate was exceptional of its ilk. Probaby not worth the drive from San Francisco but if you should happen to visit the Steinbeck Center I’d highly recommend it for dinner. Go early, they sell out.

I was surprised to find cell phone coverage and free wi-fi nearly everywhere we went. Thanks to which, I discovered that someone from Australia was accusing me on Twitter of impersonating a New Zealand earthquake survivor, and threatening to expose me to the media. WTF? But after a couple of days she apparently realized she had me mixed up with someone else and apologized for the whole incident.

After much driving through lovely and characteristic seaside towns (Cambria was particularly fine), scenic and vertiginous coastlines, rolling hills, spectacular mountains, and verdant farmland — all with excellent sunny weather — we turned inland and headed to San Francisco for Fogcon. Suiting the convention’s name, the weather turned to a heavy mist, then a light drizzle. We dropped off our tuna boat and checked into the convention hotel, where fans are just beginning to trickle in.

This morning we awoke to news of the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Many of the beaches we walked on this week were probably inundated today, and I’m very glad we decided to depart the coast yesterday rather than today. My thoughts and hopes are with everyone affected by this disaster.

And I’ve done almost no writing this week. Such is life.

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