There’s nothing like a drive on Highway 101 in California to bring out the nostalgia in me. If one could love a road, I love this road. The changing scenery, the little towns, the rolling hills, the vineyards, the beaches, the redwoods, the ocean – all of these serve to remind me of some previous trip or some event that can be tied to a person or time in my life that I remember fondly.
The start of this particular trip actually took place in San Diego County as I packed up my belongings and the dog and cat, and headed north, reaching the beginning of Hwy 101 in Hollywood early on a Thursday afternoon, before the rush hour traffic began. I marveled at the lack of traffic, and as I merged to the left, towards the arrows pointing to the 101, I reflected back on the last hour. I’d stopped in Pomona, where I’d spent a few minutes catching up with my friend, Debbie. She was just starting her lunch break when I’d called, so she drove a little south and I drove a little north and we met in the middle in a parking lot that had a little grassy area and some shade for Dinah Dog. It was to be the harbinger of the days to come, this meeting up in the middle of nowhere with a friend I’ve know since forever. Debbie, you set the tone for my trip… thank you for meeting me on your lunch break!
As Debbie went back to work and I jumped back on the freeway, headed for the 101, I knew that my upcoming trip to the Pacific Northwest was going to be a special one. My mind’s voice kept repeating over and over, saying “FREE! FREE! FREE! I’m free!!” I couldn’t help but think that freedom was finally within my grasp, that I was finally free to do what I was meant to do, that I was finally going to be who I was meant to be.
Once through Hollywood and headed for the Ventura county line with my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, I started digging into the freedom that was mine for the taking. My mind began to go wild, picturing every little possibility along the way, knowing the choices were endless, the options as infinite as the drops of water in the ocean on my left. Oh, the places we’ll go, my dog and cat and me! In our little trailer, just the three of we! (Dr. Seuss would be so proud!)
I called up another long time friend as soon as we passed the city limits into Ventura. He was just beginning his afternoon break, so I stopped on by and got a tour of his kitchen where he is the Chef for the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St. Catherine’s By the Sea. A beautiful kitchen, a gorgeous view out the windows of the dining room, the peaceful, serene grounds of the convent around him – how can he do anything but love coming to work every day? Bruce, you’ve got it made! You’ve finally arrived! Good on ya! Oh, and by the way, your soup simmering on the stove smelled delicious!
I could have stayed in Ventura for another hour or more (I love this town!), cruising around the beach area, soaking up some of that special ambiance that doesn’t seem to be tainted by the fast-pace of life just an hour south, but I knew it was time to take my possibilities and head on up the coast. There were other people to meet, other serendipities to be had, other ocean views to drink in. We’re off!
With a brief stop at the very windy, always windy, Gaviota Rest Area just before the Gaviota Tunnel, we began our drive through some of the prettiest rolling hills and vineyards anywhere. I love this section of 101 – so peaceful, so serene, so green this time of year, so full of the promise of a bottle of yummy wine – the views stretching on for miles and miles, always changing, always beautiful. (The banner at the top of my blog is one of these views.)
Every time I tried to look behind me at the traffic, I saw the UHaul trailer staring back at me in the mirror (for the entire trip, I kept looking in the mirror thinking someone was driving way too close!). With the trailer following us everywhere we went and Louise the Cat snoozing in the sun on the front passenger seat, we drove north, through memory after memory after memory – we’d already driven past the eucalyptus trees in Camarillo that used to span the highway, and we were now were driving past the signs for Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. Ah, Pismo, you’ll always have my beach heart – you’re the first beach I ever drove a car on! Near dusk, we drove past the Madonna Inn where I’ve always wanted to spend a night or two but just never have. Each room has a different theme! What could be more fun than staying in a room called the Caveman Room? Or how about the Highway Suite? Wonder what’s in that room! I understand they have a tasty bakery on site, too… and I hear the waterfall in the men’s restroom is not to be missed – wonder if I could sneak a peak?!
Even though the daylight was ending, I somehow couldn’t stop driving! I was wired, excited, ready to go, go, go, and so I went, went, went, continuing to drive and drive and drive. My mind was still thinking of the possibilities, my eyes were taking in all the surrounding glory of California in the spring. And I was still driving! I thought I should have had a voice-activated recorder with me so I could remember all the things that were going through my head. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget a thing! And then I realized that this dream I was living, this reality I had chosen for myself, was not going to go away simply because I wasn’t writing it down or recording my thoughts. I could choose to remember it all over again at a later date! Oh, the freedom that that thought brought me as we traveled up Hwy 101 heading north. And there was that word again – freedom!
What is it about finally taking off to do the thing that I felt like I was meant to do, the thing that I found myself doing as a very young person only to be disciplined by my mother for it, the thing that my soul yearned to do, the thing that nagged at the back of my head for years, the thing that made me the happiest, the thing that I have no clue how I’m going to do now? What is it about this thing that makes me forget that I’m going to be 60 on my next birthday in a few months, that makes me forget I’m traveling alone in a micro-sized trailer with an old dog and a senior cat, that makes me want to jump up and down and shout out loud, that makes it okay to ignore what everyone else thinks, that makes me impatient as I get our little trailer ready for take-off? What is it?
We drove into the night, occasionally stopping for gas, with me still feeling like I could drive forever. I love the GasBuddy app on my iPhone (you can use it on your computer, too) – with it, I can locate the cheapest gas wherever I am, along with a map showing me how to get there, or wherever I’m thinking of stopping next, usually about 200 miles up the road. In Salinas, we stopped for fuel, and I thought I might like a snack of some kind. Or, that is, a snack that was different than the food I already had in my car, of which I had lots… haha! So I filled the tank and drove through the shopping center, only to find that all the stores, including WalMart, and all the food vendors, including Wendy’s Hamburgers, had closed at 10 PM and it was now 10:05! Bummer! I was going to have to settle for some of that food I already had. Bummer again! I pulled into a section of the parking lot that was empty so I could search out some of that aforementioned food-in-the-car, just as a cat ran across the pavement in front of me… running toward some garbage that had been left on the sidewalk near the door of the store. A hungry cat? Well, I thought, I could help out with that, seeing as how I had a cat in the car with me and she had a food dish that was overflowing with dry food. So I opened the car door and called out to the kitty, watching as she cowered behind a planter box, staring out at me, skittish. I grabbed a handful of the dry food and, quietly speaking words to the cat to let her know I wasn’t going to chase her, I carefully placed the food on the sidewalk and backed towards my car, getting in and closing the door softly. I watched as the cat, belly low to the ground, cautiously made her way to the food and took a tentative bite, watching me all the while. When she realized it was indeed food, and I wasn’t going to jump out and chase her, she settled down and began to eat, still keeping her eyes wide open for any distractions. I wanted to take a photo but didn’t want to use the flash to alarm her, so this picture is rather dark and indistinct – I’ve lightened it a little to make it a easier to see the kitty although it’s difficult to notice that she is a beautiful grey and peach calico – she’s in the lower left hand corner of the photo. Even though I didn’t find any food for me, I began to feel like the stop was simply a way to pass on a kindness to another creature of our universe. It was another sign of the freedom I was feeling!
Onward! Was this day never going to end?! Was I ever going to be able to stop for a few hours and rest? Was my newly found freedom going to interfere with my sleep cycle? Sleep cycle? What was that?!
Highway 101 travels through San Francisco on “surface streets” – that is, the freeway ends and 101 continues through the City, going past places I remember from my distant past when I lived there and thought Dario’s Pizza was the best pizza on the planet. I drove through the streets, remembering the manys: many shrimp cocktails eaten at Fisherman’s Wharf; many picnics near the Marina; many visits to the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts; many cable car rides; many kite-flying trips to Golden Gate Park; many, many visits to the Haight; many trips on the BART; so many, many, many wonderful memories of SF. I left my heart there 45 years ago as a teenager and I love going back to visit it. Even just driving through the City is a joy!
As we continued through San Francisco, down Van Ness, turning left on Lombard (the same Lombard of the Crookedest Street fame), heading for the Golden Gate Bridge, one could see that, even past midnight, the City was still alive with people driving through the streets. After many mostly dark blocks, the lights were still on in the Infinity dealership, blazingly bright, like a homing beacon that’s beckoning, “Buy me! Buy me! Come on in and buy me!” Except the dealership was closed, so we all just drove on by.
Once we near the bridge, while driving through all the night construction taking place, I pull some bills out of my pocket in preparation for the toll which I know we have to pay to leave the City. I can see the glowing night lights of the driving span of the bridge ahead. I get my money ready to hand over for the toll. And there, in a lighted sign over the toll booth, are these words: Slow to 25 mph Pay No Toll. My late-night brain is wondering what the toll would be if you’re driving faster than 25 MPH and how do they know what your speed is as you drive through the toll booth? Is there a radar contraption that measures speed? Why 25? Why not 30? It isn’t until I’ve passed the booth that I realize there is no toll! I’ve never driven across the Golden Gate Bridge leaving the City without paying a toll! How can that be? I wanted to turn around and do it again just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! After all, I’d been on the road by this time for 15 hours and maybe I was hallucinating. I don’t know. It could happen. Instead, I kept driving straight ahead.
As we head on up the 101, passing Sausalito with its wonderful houseboat community, San Rafael with its memories of so many Guide Dogs for the Blind that my son raised, and Petaluma, where my Facebook friend, Laurie, has invited us to stop for a face-to-face meet up (although I’m fairly certain she didn’t mean 1:30 in the morning!), I know I need to stop soon for the remainder of the night. I’m not tired. I’m not sleepy. I feel like I could keep driving for hours more. I also know that it’s pushing 2 AM and if I’m to be worth anything at all tomorrow to continue our trek up 101, I need to figure out a way to get some rest. We drive into Rohnert Park, a place I’ve only been once before to visit someone who lived there, and pull into an industrial area that’s sure to be quiet for a few hours, even though the lights in the nearby parking lots are so bright, it could be daytime. I recline the seat backwards, grab my pillow, and close my eyes. It wasn’t an easy thing to slow down, to rest, to relax, after the recent amazing drive up Highway 101 but I knew it was necessary. I soon fell into a fitful sleep, not waking up until workers began driving by on their way to start their workdays in the adjacent businesses. It had been an uneasy, not very restful three hours of down-time. Now to stretch out my legs and arms, find a gas station, a restroom, a patch of grass for Dinah, and a cup of tea for me.
Coming up: Trippin’ Down Memory Lane – Hwy 101: Day 2, the Sense of Freedom Continues