I put the day-to-day journal on hold for most of the next week as I was travelling with Carleen. Part of this was because it seemed rude to whip out my little black book in front of her each evening, but mostly because recording everything kind of defeats the purpose of taking a vacation with your wife, which is the creation of mutual memories. The sort of living memories that sharpen, fade, or change based on which of us tells a given story and how over the years.
After learning that I’d be a father come Christmas, we spent two fun days hanging around Los Angeles, sometimes with Todd, sometimes without. Having only been there one time before, we still hewed pretty closely to the conventional: cruising Mulholland Drive; watching surfers in Malibu; walking around Santa Monica; paying $5 for a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice in Beverly Hills. You know, the usual California things.
We had done the traditional Hollywood stuff when we were there in 1997. It didn’t impress us all that much, so it certainly didn’t merit a return-visit. Disneyland and the other artificial attractions always were out of the question. If there were ever any doubts on this score, they were settled when I read about the then-recently-opened California Adventure theme park, which hustles its visitors through simulated California landmarks and experiences such as virtual orange groves and synthetic redwood forests, complete with artificial smells pumped in. While I could almost see the value of such a thing if it were in, say, North Dakota, its existence in California is deeply disturbing. I suppose the only place left to go after that is a theme park-themed-theme park.
On day three we took off up the coast, stopping, as I said, in Santa Barbara, but only long enough for the mission tour and lunch. I did drive around the town long enough, though, to check and see how different it looked from my mental image of Santa Teresa, which is Ross Macdonald’s fictionalized version of his adopted hometown. Assessment: a surprisingly small number of eccentric oil tycoons, missing heirs, and intense yet mysterious matriarchs protecting decades-old family secrets of unspeakable scandal. Sad, really.
Hearst Castle was up next. I enjoyed it an awful lot despite the fact (or because of the fact?), that in many ways, it’s merely a grander version of the Madonna Inn. The primary difference, it seems, is that Alex Madonna realized that he was putting together a kitschy pastiche of clashing styles when he was building his Xanadu, while Hearst actually thought he was making some sort of architectural statement. Well, I suppose he was making a statement, even if it wasn’t the one he intended. It was a fun stop, though, and one gets the sense that it was a very interesting place to be in the 1920s and 30s. By the way: the tour guides at Heart Castle do not think you’re funny when you add “Cost: No man can say!” at the end of every one of their comments, nor are you the first to ever have said it.
That afternoon we drove up Highway 1 through Big Sur. While I’d hate to be stuck on this road behind an R.V. on a summer Saturday, it was as wonderful as-advertised on a traffic-free weekday afternoon in April. People more eloquent than I am have described the isolated beauty of the place a thousand times before so I’ll spare you my stab at it, but suffice it to say that they’re right.
Not that I’m some sort of aesthete or anything. When I’m honest with myself I admit that my reaction to places like Carmel is informed just as much by envy and avarice as it is lamentation for a bygone (well, fantastical) egalitarian age. Proof: today I live in an upscale suburb which pretends that it is still the same old farming village that sat here before it was taken over by lingerie magnates, country clubs, and faux Georgian mansions 20 years ago. I spend far less time railing against this place than I really should. Wealth would not be as corrupting as it is if it wasn’t so attractive to begin with.
We ate another wonderful meal that evening and spent the next day exploring the Monterey Peninsula. The weather was pretty bad, though, so we ended up spending much of the day in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Carleen and I wanted to take home a couple of sea otters but gave up on the plan when we assumed that there were probably, you know, laws against that sort of thing.
But I wasn’t really thinking about Brother Otis all that much because I couldn’t get Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” – the first song that ever comes to mind whenever I’m feeling happy and content – out of my head.