Tuesday, May 2, 2006
This trip was for the birds
Bodega Bay has 950 residents and no downtown, not even a stoplight. But each year 100,000 people pour into the place. People like me, who stop at the Sonoma County Visitors Center to ask about local hikes.
A kindly man uses his yellow highlighter to point to some exceptionally easy walks with scenic views. This time of year you can also witness grey whales migrating north with their young. And sea lions and seals basking and barking on a nearby island. I smile and nod.
“Thanks so much,” I respond a little too enthusiastically. I don’t move. He doesn’t move. That must mean it’s time to make my move.
“By the way, these bird symbols on the map…they wouldn’t be, you know, related to that movie that was filmed here, would they?”
He smiles. “Why yes they would. Would you like me to point out some spots you can visit?”
He knows. And I know he knows.
So, I dispense with pretenses that I’m here to hike and just start gushing about how much I loved that Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds” and how for decades I’ve wanted to come here.
Truth is, Saturday’s visit to Bodega Bay fulfilled a longtime dream of mine. Of course, it required a bit of deception. I told my husband we were doing the Sip ‘n’ Cycle winery tour if the weather was nice. Well, it wasn’t. Not just then, at least. So instead we went with a “backup plan” I announced the day before: We were going to drive to Bodega Bay. Gilbert had been there before for some Coast Guard retreat. He groaned, warning I would be disappointed. However, he didn’t know about the place’s significance to Hitchcock fans because he isn’t one.
So driving along a meandering two-lane Route 12 just past Sebastopol, I filled him in on this horror classic.
The movie was released the year after I was born, but it wasn’t until I was 7 that I first saw it. By then it annually aired on a local TV station and, let me tell you, it was a huge event for our household. The birds! The blood! The highly anticipated gas station scene! Every time I watched it, I was thoroughly spooked. Granted, compared to today’s special effects, the movie’s attack scenes are laughable. But unlike today’s slasher flicks, this one had a strong story line and decent acting by Tippi Hendren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and Rod Taylor.
During all of my sheltered youth, I thought Bodega Bay was a fictitious place. Then, when I was in my 20s, a neighbor wearing a Bodega Bay sweatshirt told me the place really did exist. So, upon learning we were only about 40 minutes away last weekend, I didn’t want the opportunity to pass.
First, having forgotten to eat breakfast, we stopped just inside town limits for lunch at The Doghouse, with signs boasting it made the county’s best hamburgers. We both ordered hot dogs. After stopping at the visitors’ center, we took in The Tides restaurant and bar, marked by a memorable scene where Tippi Hendren’s character engages in a conversation with a condescending bird lady. It’s also where everyone cowered in a corner when those demented birds descended.
Next, we went to Taylor Street, which was used to film the children running from the school. I did my best reenactment for my own camera crew. The schoolhouse, however, is actually five miles away in the town of Bodega. We stopped there on the way back to buy the obligatory souvenir and speak briefly to the owner, who provides tours of the historic building. In addition to being a focal point of the film, it’s apparently a documented “classic haunt.”
And just so you know, we did indeed venture to land’s end to look for grey whales and barking seals on a thoroughly enjoyable coastal walk, passing by yet another movie landmark along the way. The weather was a bit blustery; the skies gray. But the guy at the visitor’s center was correct. The walk was easy and scenic. Just like something out of a movie.
[In case you didn’t notice, the photos containing birds -- clipped from an actual scene shot -- were added afterward for effect. Thanks, Alex!]