Saturday, October 2, 2010

Road Trip, Days 1-3

Day 1

Beautiful day of fog and eerily warm weather on the central coast.  Tightly wedged into my ordinary car (which is not as zingy as Robert’s, but does have the advantage of being cheaper to fuel), we made the now-familiar drive down 101: past Salinas and Gonzales and Greenfield, past exits to Fort Hunter Liggett and Paso Robles, down the precariously steep Cuesta Grade into San Luis Obispo, through Pismo Beach and Nipomo (“Gary Bang Harley Davidson”) and the seaside splendor of Santa Barbara (which is starting to look like a strip mall for rich people).  On to Ventura (which always makes me think of Tori Amos) and the gloriously named western suburbs of LA: Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Calabasas.
Eagle Rock is a funny little corner of Los Angeles: still full of neighborhood shops and small, well-kept bungalows that haven’t been McMansionized.  It’s a neighborhood that isn’t particularly pretty or quaint, but it’s a neighborhood—it has that kind of feel.  You can eat at the Oinkster or Auntie Em’s Kitchen, where the red velvet cupcakes are divine.  There’s a Baptist church, a Christian Assembly, a church for Seventh Day Adventists, and St. Dominic’s.  I overheard someone at Swork Coffee say that most of the parishioners at St. Dominic’s are Filipino.
We had dinner with both of my kids at our favorite area restaurant, Café Beaujolais, whose authentic French food is served by authentic French waiters.  One always wonders if they are out-of-work actors.  I ordered a chicken leg stuffed with cheese.  “I have a big one for you,” our waiter crooned Frenchly.  I said the only possible thing there was to say—“I like big ones”—which thoroughly mortified my daughter.  We split a bottle of wine.  This marks the first time I have ever had wine in public with both of my kids.

Lots of fun conversation, which involved discussions of relationships, school, work, west-coast swing, whether my daughter should text her boyfriend (who was partying with fraternity brothers in Vegas), why my son should date Jennifer Connelly, should she ever become available, how I have a huge personality and interrupt people when I am comfortable with them.  And how I am quirky. 
Now it is 1 AM and I am suffering from the insomnia that arises from a combination of an unfamiliar bed, the roar of an overzealous air conditioning unit, and the peculiar-but-ultimately-gratifying realization that my children think of me as an actual person rather than just their mother

Day 2

We drove down to Del Mar because Robert is training to ride his bike cross-country in a year or so, and we wanted to scope out the beginning of the trip from the safety of a car.  We wound our way through endless housing developments, none of which existed when I lived in San Diego in 1979 with my then-soon-to-be-husband.  Eventually, we ended up in Poway (“the city in the country” said the sign, which was lying, because “the country” is actually “the Godforsaken desert that no one in his right mind would live in”).  More driving up hills studded with brush and some sort of burnished grass.  Julian, at 4200 feet, is home to Mom’s Pies and a crowded biker bar, but we couldn’t linger. 
Onward through hot, desolate, mournful desert.  Twenty cars all afternoon.  Temperature hit 112 at 1:30 and remained there for hours. 

We passed a camel farm (selling milk, cheese, and rides for children).  It was like Afghanistan, except for the music we listened to: CDs of Buddy Guy and Andrea Bocceli, a couple of decent rock stations.  Weirdly, just east of Yuma, we heard part of a documentary on Count Basie narrated by Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme).
After descending the mountains east of Julian, we turned onto a road with a sign noting that it was the southern stagecoach route of 1849.  Apparently, no one has been on it since then.   Forty-seven miles from the turn-off to the town of Ocotillo.  The only people we saw were some Border Patrol officers about a mile outside of town.
I’m always fascinated by the kind of terrain that people find appealing.  I know lots of people who like the desert.  I do not.  I like farmland: old houses with porches, rolling, green hills which speak to abundance and self-sufficiency.  The desert is terrifying and angry and sullen: a surly teenager in a nasty snit.  Halfway through the afternoon, I started to wonder what I would do if one of us had a heart attack or (almost worse) if the car blew a tire.  What I realized is that there’s no margin for error out there.  One mistake and that’s pretty much it.  You’re done.  (In my head, I’m hearing my friend Jim saying, “A roast is done.  You are finished.”  But in 112-degree weather, I’m sticking with “done.”)
Robert is discouraged.  We have to find another way for him to get over the mountains.  More research necessary.
Billboards outside of Yuma: “Do You Miss Me Yet?” (over a picture of a smug-looking George Bush; “Remember When We Really Had Hope and Change?” (over a picture of Ronald Reagan).
Outside of Tucson, a jagged mountain looks like an open-mouthed fish emerging from the sea.    Who the hell lives here?  At 9 PM it was 100 degrees.  At Texas Road House, where we went for steaks, enormous TVs broadcast the Arizona-Iowa game.  Men and women all over the restaurant were riveted, silent.  I am so glad I don’t live here.
(Lest anyone think I am incredibly self-deluded, I would last about three days on a farm.  I am not built for chores that involve sweating, tractors, or smells.  I would like the pie, though.)

Day 3

Temperature as we loaded the car at 9 AM: 97 degrees.
Drove past Tucson developments in which all the houses look like clay adobes.  Lots of Saguaro cacti.  Sky a brilliant blue, except at the horizon, where it was tinted sepia, as though it had been singed.
Near the New Mexico border, we noticed a billboard advertising a winery in Fort Bowie, Arizona.  We couldn’t pass it up.  We drove into a sad, dusty town, past metal trailer homes, a wooden house painted pink, in the shape of a teepee (with windows), boarded up, a For Sale sign out front.  The only thing that seemed to be thriving was a beautiful orchard of tall, thick pecan trees. 
We found a little store by way of a sandwich board out front: “Wine, fudge, pecans.”  

Nothing else about the building looked remotely like a retail establishment.  But we went in.  There were shelves of wine made from the grapes of a local winery, “chocolate merlot” and “caramel chardonnay” sauces for ice cream, and a variety of fudge home-made on the premises.

I skipped the mint julep fudge and settled on peanut butter chocolate.  Quite wonderful.  We bought a  syrah and can’t wait to drink it at home.
New Mexico was all sky and puckered clouds.  Crossed the Continental Divide, where successive billboards advertised a trading post selling moccasins, saddle blankets, turquoise jewelry, Mexican pottery, cowboy boots, porcelain dolls (“from $18.99”), and leather whips.  Far-off, smooth-sided mountains with severe peaks looked like pyramids.  Temperatures in the high 90s all afternoon.  Happily, we had good CDs: Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Smith, the best of Sly and the Family Stone.  And just outside of Las Cruces, El Paso’s KOFX 92.3, playing 60s R & B.  Sang along to “Wooly Bully” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
Reached El Paso mid-afternoon.  Situated directly across the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico, where crumbling shacks and huts crowd the riverbank.  From the freeway, we saw an enormous Mexican flag flying proudly in the near-distance. 
Once out of El Paso, we drove through more high desert, then mountains, then more desert.  “Drive Friendly—The Texas Way,” warned the signs.  The clouds were different from those over New Mexico: scattered, but thick and dark.  Serious Border Patrol guys held us up for a few minutes while their dogs sniffed our car.  We had to open our cooler.  The agent, wearing a bullet-proof vest, seemed disappointed at our cache of Crystal Geyser Sparkling Waters and waved us on.
We saw a rainbow and what looked like dry lightning.  At sunset, the light against the clouds was very Sistine Chapel-y, which went well with the Marfa NPR show featuring West Texas swing from the 1930s.  We drove in the dark for a time, coming to rest in Pecos, Texas.  I can hear the semis out on the interstate, heading back to El Paso, or north to Odessa, where just today, a Vietnam Vet and rabid Republic of Texas supporter was finally captured by Rangers after a shootout. 


  1. I nearly fell asleep behind the wheel the other day but i had my anti sleep alarm on and it sounded so i pulled over and had a break. They are not that expensive and i got mine from NO NAP

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