Saturday morning, I got up at 6:30. Leaving the blinds open was a natural alarm clock that I was getting to like. I had been having a dream that I was making out with Dave Matthews, and that he had some kind of weird kink I couldn’t remember afterwards. I got ready as fast as possible and went for my last caffe extreme at Royal Gourmet Coffee. Sigh. I got on the 101. It was sunny and cold in SF, and got more and more foggy the closer I got to the coast. I drove along, my stomach hurting from drinking so much coffee, thinking, “I know there’s an ocean here somewhere.”
I got to Santa Cruz a little before 10am. The rides at the boardwalk didn’t open until 11, which was fine. I walked around, took pictures, and got a cappuccino. I watched the karate classes taking place on the beach, which was already crowded despite being cold and foggy.
I took a detour from the 1, heading inland to San Juan Bautista. I saw truckloads of migrant workers laboring on produce farms in 90-degree weather. The mission was incredible. It reminded me of the ones we had seen a few years ago in San Antonio. I’m fascinated by missions; being nonreligious, I find their history pretty horrifying, but the architecture is amazing. It’s a good blend of scary and cool. I especially like the cemeteries, with their circles of stones and simple wooden crosses.
Not only is San Juan Bautista on El Camino Real, it’s right on the San Andreas Fault. I contemplated this as I walked into the little town to see the outdoor craft market. The crafts were the same kind of thing you could get anywhere. It was hot and I wasn’t feeling well. I stopped at a coffeeshop which just happened to have sugar-free ice cream, and was happy. I sat and drank a bottle of water, watched people wandering around the street, and wrote postcards. I walked some more, then stopped at a food stand where they cheerfully agreed to make their sampler plate into something portable just for me, shoving falafel, hummus, and vegetables into a pita. I walked back to the car, dripping tahini on the sidewalk.
Heading back to the coast, there was a huge traffic jam on the 101. I looked up and saw a sign that read Los Angeles: 350 mi. I wanted to cry. I hadn’t looked at my map in days, and had no idea it was that far. It was after noon, and I had hardly made any progress. I’d have to hurry.
It took about half an hour to get to Monterey. It was beautiful and sunny, so the town was crowded. I parked and jumped out of the car long enough to see the waterfront, use the bathroom, and walk down cannery row (why do all west coast cities seem to have a cannery that’s been converted into cheesy shops and restaurants?) then got back on the road. I found the entrance to the 17-Mile Drive in Pacific Grove. At $8.25, it was worth every penny of the $.50 per mile. The coastline was unbelievable. I saw the Lone Cypress. I saw the Ghost Tree. I saw how people live when they’re completely cut off from reality, and decide to charge people for the privilege of driving through their neighborhood. I saw seals! Fat and grey and lazy, they made me homesick for my cats.
I stopped at Pebble Beach to get postcards to prove I was there. Unfortunately, you can’t buy postcards at Pebble Beach. You can buy golf shirts and antiques and probably your very own custom-built servants, but no postcards. I peed angrily in working-class protest (in the restroom, of course) and exited at Carmel(-by-the-Sea! Best city name ever!). It was such a cute, artsy little town, I wanted to spend time wandering around it, but I had miles and miles left to drive that day.
I got back on the 1 and drove as fast as the narrow, winding highway and slow traffic would allow. Big Sur was desolate and beautiful. I was pretty sure it was even better than the northern coast. Every 10 miles or so, there would be a gas station that would have everything: cabins/motel, restaurant, convenience store, etc. I wasn’t picky and wanted to stop, but every time I neared one, the slow vehicle ahead of me would turn and I would think, “Hey! Now I can go fast!” and I’d speed off. I alternated between ‘performance-car commercial’ and ‘unsafe tailgating out-of-towner’.
I saw the Hearst Castle from afar, not wanting to take the shuttle bus up to it. I decided to get off the highway for dinner in San Luis Obispo, since I wanted to see the mission anyway. The city was really cute and seemed to have lots of good restaurants. I put it near the top of my list of places to re-visit when I have more time to spend. I saw the mission quickly, then went to find food. I didn’t want to take the time to stop and eat – I had only managed 200 miles in 9 hours – so I found a natural grocery and ran in. I got a bunch of fruit, and some protein bars and snacks, and got back on the 101, shoving a banana into my mouth. On the way out, I passed the Madonna Inn, which Jay had told me about months before and I’d completely forgotten about.
I was starting to worry because I still had so far to go. That was the problem with not planning. I called my sister and talked for almost an hour, calling her back whenever I’d drive into a valley and lose my signal. I passed Pismo Beach and Solvang, barely noticing. I got to Santa Barbara just as the sun was setting. I might have considered just staying on the highway, but there was a huge traffic jam anyway, so I exited. I was glad that I did, because the city is beautiful, and sunset was the perfect time of day to see it.
Santa Barbara is touristy, but in a classy way. The main drag is lined with huge palm trees all along the massive beach. I wanted to stay, but it was getting dark.
I got back into the traffic jam and almostly immediately felt sick. Something I had eaten had too much sugar in it. I slumped against the door and tried to concentrate on traffic. All I could think about was passing out in my hotel bed in LA. I switched the CD to the Foo Fighters and cranked it, hoping it would keep me awake. Luckily, it passed after about 15 minutes, and I felt my head clear. At that moment, I was passing through Ventura. The moon was full and bright, and they were shooting fireworks from the beach. It was a perfect moment.
I was thrilled driving in LA after spending so much time on 2-lane, winding highways. I loved those massive, 12-lane structures where everyone drives like they’ve got to get someone to the emergency room but quick. I was laughing out loud as I drove because my primary frame of reference for LA was The Big Lebowski. Everytime I saw an In-N-Out Burger, I thought, “Shut the fuck up, Donny!” Then I laughed even harder when I saw that there were FIVE exits for LAX. I got off at Century Boulevard and quickly found my hotel. It was 10pm – I had spent 14 hours in the car that day. I gasped with relief as I spiraled down the parking ramp. I dug clothes out of my bag (I was unsure of the weather, but figured I wouldn’t be needing my hoodie anymore), organized the car, grabbed my travel guides, and took the elevator to the lobby.
I made my way to the check-in line, trying not to stagger. I was exhausted and my blood sugar had crashed again, so I was disoriented and dizzy. I did my best just to hold it together enough to not seem crazy; I accomplished this by fixating on my phone, messaging Heather. Finally, it was my turn, and it was all I could do not to put my head on the counter while I was checking in. I got to my room and dumped half my stuff on the floor and the rest on the bed. I wanted to write and look at maps, but I couldn’t. I switched on the TV for two minutes to try and find the weather for the next day, but even that was too much effort, and I switched it off right away. I jumped in the shower, then fell into bed. By 11pm, I was comatose.