Day 15

I got up around nine and headed out from Santa Monica, joining up with Highway 101 two blocks from the hotel.  This was definitely L.A. driving, with four lanes of crowded but speeding traffic with the odd motorcycle darting in and out of the lanes.  It is a pretty nice drive though, as on the right were the mansions of Santa Monica, Malibu and Santa Barbara, and on the left was the ocean, shining in the summer sun. 

After about an hour, the traffic lessens and the mountains become more pronounced, without all the clutter of celebrity mansions.  It’s incredibly beautiful and the breeze picks up and cools things off as well.

Around the town of Oxnard, there was a detour, and then a detour off the detour so I ended up getting lost for about half an hour before stopping for gas and asking someone who told me to turn right on Franklin Avenue like I was the biggest moron for not knowing this.  Well, there were no signs for detours at all around Franklin Avenue, but that was the correct way to go, so I finally got back on track and made it to San Luis Obispo around 1pm.  I parked the car and checked out the restaurant I had originally wanted to go to but it was packed and I was in no mood to stand in line, so I went to another place called Tortilla Flats and had, what else? the fish tacos.  They were made with salmon instead of whitefish, which was a little strange but the very spicy salsa made up for it.  I paid my check and asked for directions to Route 1 which would lead me through the San Lucia Mountain Range and Big Sur.

It took me about half an hour to get out of San Luis Obispo and onto Route 1 which goes all the way up to San Francisco.  I would be taking it through Big Sur into Monterrey and then getting off to go to Santa Cruz.  I put on Weezer’s first album (the blue one) because for some reason, it always made me think of driving along the Californian coast, even though Weezer are from Wisconsin and they mostly sing about their garage and sweaters and Buddy Holly who was from Texas.  I don’t know, call it intuition, or something.

I drove along the rolling hills at the south of the park and passed a lot of seal-watching spots.  I stopped at one and took a picture but they were mostly just laying there in the sun.  I thought it would be cool if they were fighting or something, slapping each other around with their flippers, but I guess that’s the kid in me.

Shortly after stopping to see the sun-bathing seals, I saw the signs for San Simeon (how's that for alliteration?), so I parked the car and went into the visitor center, where I was told that all the tours were booked for the rest of the day.  I checked out the few exhibits that they had on William Randolph Hearst and San Simeon, which were pretty cool, except they made me really want to see the mansion/castle. I could barely see it at the top of the hill behind the Visitors Center, so I checked out the gift shop before leaving, but decided not to ask if they had the deluxe edition of Citizen Kane.  That probably wouldn’t go over well.

Back on Route 1, the road begins to get a lot steeper after San Simeon, snaking up the sides of mountains that practically hang over the ocean.  The road is so steep and windy that I had to drive at about 15 miles per hour, and the Weezer wasn’t cutting it, so I put in some more mellow music; The Best of Chet Baker, who perfected the West Coast cool jazz of the 1950’s.  It was perfect. 

There were a lot of places to stop and get out of the car and take pictures, so I ended up taking about half a roll, which of course, doesn’t do justice to how incredible the view is.  At times, the road was about a thousand feet straight up from the waves, which crashed into the jagged rocks protruding from the water below, and the mountain kept climbing another thousand feet or so above the road.  It got a little nerve-wracking at times, but it was worth it.

I took me about four hours to drive through the park and start coming down from the mountains into the flat, grassy wetlands outside Monterrey.  This is where the temperature for the entire trip bottomed out at 62 degrees Fahrenheit.  I actually had to roll the windows up because it was getting too cold.  Monterrey is a surf town and since I was heading in the general direction of San Fran, I popped out the Chet Baker and put in Chris Isaak’s San Francisco Days album.

It took me another hour and a half to get into Santa Cruz and since I had been driving for about nine hours, I stopped at the first hotel I saw: a Quality Inn.  It was a hundred bucks, but at this point I didn’t care. 

The guy at the desk told me how to get to downtown Santa Cruz and since it wasn’t too far away, I walked.  I just wanted to get out of the car at that point.  I went to a restaurant called Clouds Downtown which was a bit upscale for my tastes, especially since I was just wearing an old tee-shirt so I just sat at the bar and had a couple of beers.  I eventually ordered the spicy shrimp and noodles which was very good and then headed back to the hotel.  On the way downtown I had spotted a sign for an Irish pub with live music so I knew where I was headed that evening.

I took a short nap and then got up and changed and walked down the road to the Irish pub whose name I can’t remember.  I had put on a dress shirt since I felt kind of out of place at the restaurant in a t-shirt, but this time, it was the other way round.  I walked into the bar, which looked nice from the outside and realized it was a total dive.  I immediately walked out and contemplated going downtown again, but the bartender was really hot so I decided what the hell, I’ll have a beer.

The place was dark, except for the dim lights behind the bar and the lighted-up jukebox, which was playing some really redneck country music.  There were only three people, other than the bartender; a construction worker at the corner of the bar and a couple all over each other at the other end with maybe twenty teeth between the both of them.  But like I said, the bartender was hot, so I ordered a local beer called Flat Tire, which was really good.  Then I noticed the construction worker guy smoking a cigarette, which is a bizarre sight to see anywhere these days but especially in California, so I asked the bartender rather incredulously, “Can I smoke in here?” and without missing a beat, she placed an ashtray in front of me and said with a totally deadpan face, “No, absolutely not.  That would be illegal."

With beer and smokes in front of me I was set for the evening, even though I still felt a little overdressed.  Especially when the construction worker, out of the blue, said to the bartender, “Yeah, I still love Santa Cruz, but it’s becoming too much of a fucking tourist trap,” and looked directly at me.  Great.  I took a big swig of beer and a long drag of my cigarette, trying my best not to look like a tourist.

Luckily, the place started to fill up around ten o’clock and I started talking to some girls who reminded me that the next day was the Fourth of July and that’s why so many people were coming into the bar.  Their names were Pia and Shannon and I ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night, talking mostly about music.  It turns out that Santa Cruz has a big punk population and a lot of rockabillies as well, which was really cool.  Pia described herself as a reformed punk turned soccer mom, and Shannon said that she was, “an ex-punk, now just drunk,” which she was at that point.  So we drank some more beers and did a couple of shots, which was probably a mistake, since I barely remember getting back to my hotel room that night.  But hey, it was a hell of a lot better than watching Ultimate Fighting Championship with a couple of guys in a hotel bar in Oklahoma.


Day 16

I ended up sleeping in until 11am when the management woke me up because people were already wanting to check in for Fourth of July.  So I got up and took a quick shower, called Shannon and met up with her for brunch at a diner down the street, which was packed.  She told me how good the coffee was, and insisted I go cup for cup with her.  I told her I didn’t really drink a lot of coffee, but it was kind of like the night before when she led me and Pia and whoever was within reach in doing shots.  So after some eggs, bacon and five cups of coffee, I was completely wired.  I said bye and hopped in the Old Gray Bastard, my hangover almost gone, but replaced with a new, jittery weirdness. 

Since Santa Cruz was a kind of punk/rockabilly town, I decided to pay homage by playing the greatest album of all-time: The Clash, London Calling.  And by the way; this is not opinion.  This is fact.

So driving at about seventy miles an hour through the three-lane, crowded, windy highway, listening to The Clash and all cracked-up on coffee, I made my way north towards Val and Gabe’s house in Fairfield.  It was supposed to be a two hour ride which I did in about an hour and a half, listening to the Clash and The Silver Jews’ Tanglewood Numbers (The best album of 2005; seriously, get it if you don’t have it.  It’s bound to become a classic.)  I reached their house around 2pm, hugged my sister, said hello to my brother-in-law and my totally adorable niece (I know everyone says that about their nieces or nephews, but she really is the cutest kid), and sat down to have a beer.

There endeth the journey.

Here are some recent pictures taken in Vacaville and Sacramento:

Ainsley outside the new home in Vacaville, California


Scooter, the Orick family dog


My apartment building in Mid-town Sacramento



Cheerleader Ainsley Trick-or-Treating with her dad, Gabe


Ainsley's second birthday party


Ainsley with her Christmas gift from Uncle Bri