2003 Road Trip Diary: Chapter 9

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.

For example, on the first day after leaving Los Angeles, we stopped in Santa Barbara around lunchtime to visit the mission there. Sure, I could sit here and tell you all the details about how we walked up to the place, saw a big line, and impulsively decided to sneak in the exit gate and wander around on our own rather than wait and pay for a guided door, but what would be the point of that? As I type this, we’re five years out from that happening, and Carleen and I already have some vaguely accurate, two-person shorthand of the story that we share at dinner parties, usually when the subject of the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church comes up. It no doubt strays a bit from what actually happened, and over time, will begin to stray further. Our kids will one day groan when they hear us tell whatever time-addled version we’ve settled on by then. And you know what? That’s how it should be. On some level, marriages are about agreed history, and something is lost when one person takes ownership over a mutual memory in the name of petty accuracy.

Not that I won’t sketch the outline of our trek up the coast a bit.

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.

By late afternoon – following a brief, kitschy detour to the Madonna Inn – we were in Cambria, where we stayed for the night at a nice little B&B. It was kind of fun talking to the other guests at breakfast the next morning, but truth be told, we’re not really B&B people. We all tell little lies to ourselves in order to get through the day, and one of the lies I’m fond of is that no one besides me has ever slept in the room in which I’m staying. It’s not really easy to believe a whopper like that, but if you try hard enough, you can almost construct a scenario where you were the first person to ever use those sheets, blankets, and pillows. That they emerged from a factory and then a laundry sterile and pure mere days before your arrival. You can’t maintain that fiction, however, when you share olallieberry French Toast with some fat Lothario from New Mexico who comes back to the joint every year and tells you about how he and his “lady friend” used to stay in your room but changed because the bed springs squeaked too much.

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.

After a stop to look at seals at Point Lobos State Reserve, we made it to Carmel by late afternoon and checked into the Sandpiper Inn. The Sandpiper had seen better days, but it was cozy and pleasant. It was also something of a tonic to all of the conspicuous wealth of Carmel which residents and planners have tried hard to hide behind the village-in-a-forest facade, but which can easily be seen in the cars, shops, and people lining the streets of this former artists’ colony. I actually thought I saw a poet for a second, but it turned out to be a smudge on my glasses.

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.

The rest of the day was spent on a slow drive around the bay, a quick stop in Santa Cruz and a meandering cruise up the coast past Half Moon Bay where we stopped for a late lunch. It wasn’t long before we had made it through San Francisco’s rush hour traffic, across the Golden Gate and to the Hotel Sausalito, which would be home for the next few nights. Carleen – still pregnant – took a nap soon after we got there. I set out on a brief walking tour. As is the case with most of my solitary walking tours, this one took me by a pub (it’s the damnedest thing, really). A couple of beers later – and a nice conversation with a guitar-weilding hippie – I was sitting by the same dock of the same bay which inspired a nice little song a long time ago.

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.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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