Dreaming of California
As we left Flagstaff and drove merrily along the road through the brilliant clear light, everything seemed perfect. The sun beat down, not a cloud in the sky. We were approaching the Mojave Desert when the temperature began to climb. At a small grocery store on the side of the road, we stocked up with ice, grapes, Cokes, orange juice, water, and set off.
The heat intensified, and the sun was blinding. And no air conditioner! Forgot to get Freon…. As we drove further and further into the desert, we covered up with damp towels and shirts to keep our skin from burning. We also rolled up the windows at times to keep the dust from blinding us. The car was baking – we have never been so hot in our lives.
But… it was fascinating to see the desert up close: so endless and dry, with the purple mountain’s majesty far away in the distance. The green of the Canyon scenery seemed just a dream.
We kept ice in our mouths as much as possible to offset the drying heat, gulping juice a mile a minute as the ice melted. We packed ice in towels with which we wiped our faces and necks constantly. With a sigh of relief, we saw Rose’s Restaurant appear like a mirage on the highway.
We pulled up beside the trucks and motley array of vehicles, and made a beeline for the interior…oh, so cool! It helped to drink drink drink, and not eat at all. We hung about as long as we could, but all too soon, it became time to get back on the road.
As we walked out of doors, the heat smacked us in the face, wet, thick, hot. It was at least 130 degrees and getting back in the car (the windows had to be kept rolled up) was torture. More ice, and then onwards once again.
The asphalt highway cutting through the desert was the only sign of civilization after leaving Rose’s. The view of sand and dusty cacti stretched for miles. But, we actually drove through a small rainstorm there in the wilderness! We couldn’t believe it. A few cars had parked on the side of the road, and as we passed through that little black cloud, everyone at the roadside cheered. Doesn’t take much, does it?
After about seven hours of straight driving, the end of the desert at last seemed possible. And there was the sign: the California border – never was there a more welcome sight! But the desert wasn’t through with us yet. The highway became winding and hilly, and before too long, the golden-hued hills began to appear. Coming into California from this angle (through Needles), you can see why it is called the Golden State. The hills were covered in honey-colored grass, and the golden haze was everywhere. At times, the grass looked mown and brown, but closer observation revealed the golden-wheat color.
This lasted for an hour or so, and then once again desert appeared. We drove through barren land, and even more barren-looking towns, until finally, around 7PM, we arrived in Bakersfield. We drove through the town and decided to go a few miles further before settling in for the night.
About 30 miles beyond Bakersfield, we stopped (yet again) at a gas station to fill up, and asked for the nearest motel. “It’s back in Bakersfield.” We looked at one another and decided, “He’s WRONG” and on we went. Our biggest mistake of the journey!
We drove, and we drove, and we DROVE. At one point, we debated returning to Bakersfield, but decided something had to turn up in the way of a motel or hotel…or… something…anything? (Somehow, we’d forgotten about the sleeping bags.)
It was 3AM, and it seemed the night became blacker and blacker, and the road stretched out longer and longer. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, a gigantic gothic inn loomed. (This was two years before The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” but every time I hear that song, I think of this hotel.) There was nothing else around…just this huge imposing structure. We were exhausted, and looked incredibly awful, but at that point we didn’t care how creepy it seemed or we looked.
And apparently it didn’t matter anyway, because, lucky us, no rooms were available. We had to get back in the car and drive on. We found the freeway, which at that time of the morning was filled with nothing but semis, driving like bats out of hell. It was surprising to us how black the night was, and how isolated we were on this freeway to, seemingly, nowhere. But suddenly, we saw lights at a distance far off the road.
We pulled off the freeway, into a wide swathe of vineyard, lit every so often by a tiny lamp. What did we know – we kept driving in. Then, in the middle of it all, there appeared a telephone booth. And a man talking on the phone. I was about to pull up, ask him for directions, when Lana whispered “He’s got a gun!” Surreal! We both swallowed, and putting the car in reverse, backed and swung around towards the freeway again.
Not having learned our lesson, we noted more lights a little further on…and this time what looked to be a tiny town a mile or two off the feeder. It may have been a town, but there were no motels anywhere to be found. And if ever a town could be said to have slept, this was definitely the one. Not even a dog barked.
The only thing to do was continue on our way to San Francisco. And get to San Francisco, we did, found a Holiday Inn with an available room, and crashed. We didn’t wake until afternoon. But oh, to finally get there! Ecstatic is not too broad a term for how we felt!
And the sky was blue, the sun shone, hippies and flower children everywhere, the atmosphere incredibly buoyant…it was everything we’d hoped for.
The first thing we did after having a late lunch/early dinner was look up Lana’s old friend from college, with whom we were going to stay for a few nights. Having got that settled, we all took off to look around San Francisco. It really did fulfill our ideas of what California would be like – the weather was glorious, people were friendly (since we’d cleaned up), the shops and cafes were enticing, the views – incredible.
We rode on the trolley,
drove up and down twisty, crooked little Lombard Street,
and hung out at Fisherman’s Wharf, where we wandered around very happily for a while.
Then we wound our way to Haight Ashbury, which we’d both wanted to see (a few years too late, but what the hey…). The Haight was not what it had been – mostly, no-one was there! But the atmosphere reminded you of what used to be….
After a few photo ops, we met back at the house for dinner and to make our plans for the next day. We had a good night’s sleep, got back in the car and drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Park, so beautiful in the soft sunlight.
Then it was on to Sausalito, a sunny little town on the edge of the water, filled with boutiques, art galleries, hippies, cafes and the sea, endlessly lapping at the town’s edge. A mime was taking a break in a sheltered corner, and he seemed to embody the spirit of this quintessentially California town. I heard “California Dreamin’” on the radio somewhere.
I didn’t want to leave.
After a bit of shopping and buying
and wandering the waterfront,
we ate our late lunch and planned our trip down the coast to Carmel: the Scenic Pacific Coast Highway Drive (Hwy. 1). We wanted to take our time, stop along the way to look at the amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, and try to spot celebrity homes nestled in the cliffs.
That night, as we were walking around Fishermen’s Wharf, the fog rolled in. It wasn’t a few swirls of mist, it was a palpable blanket of gray rolling across the waterfront into town. I’d heard about how dense the fog could be, and to experience it was a real trip. And even though it was August, the temperature had dropped a LOT, so it was cold to boot. We were glad we wore jackets. But the fog made everywhere we looked that much more mysterious and fascinating.
The day we set off towards Los Angeles, the weather was overcast and much cooler, which didn’t dim our spirits in the slightest. The coast drive was so beautiful, it was hard to be anything other than in awe of the spectacular scenery.
Masses of yellow gorse and wildflowers covered the cliffs, and plunged over the edges. The sea below thundered and crashed in foamy white rollers, and the cries of sea birds mixed with the sound of the waves. The other side of the road led to the redwoods, pine forests and rolling hills. This was one of the (many) reasons we came to California…just everything you dreamed of.
We stopped at many recesses along the road, wanting to capture as many images as we could…but of course nothing (in those cameras) shows the rawness and majesty of that natural region. You just had to be there.
We had been told Kim Novak lived in one of the houses precariously balanced down on the cliff face, so naturally we had to check every post box along the way!
Never were sure if we finally pegged the house she lives in, but all the dwellings along this stretch of the coast looked as if one good blow, and they’d drop into the sea below. Wonderful views – as long as the house lasted.
Eventually we came to Carmel, but (as seems to be our destiny), no rooms were available at any inn. So we turned to Monterey – seemed there were plenty to be had there. We dumped our luggage and took off for Carmel. We wanted to shop, and we wanted to go to Clint Eastwood’s Hogs Breath Inn.
We managed to do both…the shops were charming and super-expensive. The Hogs Breath Inn was exactly what a Clint Eastwood inn would be like: dark, cozy, welcoming, big fire burning in the patio, great food. But no Clint.
The next day, we wandered to the white sands of Carmel Beach. By this time, it was pretty chilly, and I had on my wool coat. Lana had bought a denim coat here, which I coveted…but I was now running low on funds. New coat vs. eat and drink. Tough choice, but… drinking seemed to be the order of the day!
We padded around the sand, noticing how the cedars were bent double with the ever-prevailing winds. It was a lonely spot at that time of year, and especially with the darkness looming. Quite eerie. But nice.
We didn’t spend much time in Carmel, as our time was actually running out. After a couple of days wandering the narrow streets, checking out the boutiques and art galleries, and falling in love with the fairy tale design of the whole place, we had to pack our bags and get back on the road.
Big Sur…90 miles and counting of one of the most incredible coastlines in the world. Once you experience the beauty of the drive, you never forget it. We passed Hearst Castle, which was closed…(I think there’s a theme here somewhere)…so we viewed it at a distance as we continued to Santa Barbara for lunch.
The day had suddenly, miraculously, turned sunny, and the boats in the marina, white-sailed and blue-painted, were massed together like so many seabirds. We stood on the dock, looking across the bay and up the hills thinking how lucky some were to live in the midst of all this stunning scenery.
The seagulls joined us for an outdoor lunch, and then it was back in the car to Los Angeles, where we managed to nab a room for the nights we’d be there. Our plan was to tour the homes of the stars, go to Disneyland, and experience one of the movie studio tours before continuing down the coast.
We woke the following morning to the yellowest, densest smog we had ever seen. The sky was citronella-yellow, and the TV shows ladled out advice about how to handle it. Basically, the advice was stay put, but hard to do that when your time is limited. We ran down to the coffee shop for breakfast, and as we were finishing, the smog began to lift.
After noon, things were more or less back to normal, so the first thing on the list was Disneyland. The most I can say is: crowds, crowds and more crowds. We took a few of the rides, and wandered everywhere, people watching (and a few watching us, if the photos are anything to go by.)
I took a picture of the most adorable little girl in Mickey Mouse ears, which I am so glad to have saved. This child is probably around 40-45 years old today. Time flies…
The next on our itinerary was a bus tour of homes of the stars…which we enjoyed. It was nice to have someone else driving us for a change. I can’t remember for the life of me whose homes we saw, but suffice it to say, all gorgeous, all big.
The following day, we stood in line to tour Universal Studios, after which, it was Graumann’s Chinese Theatre …
We drove by The Brown Derby, which by this time had started to lose its cachet, and gazed at Schwab’s Drugstore where Lana Turner was discovered.
The sun was intense, it was still somewhat smoggy, so drinks seemed to be in order. Then dinner. And a good night’s sleep was had by all.
The next day we headed to Balboa,
one of the prettiest little towns along the coast, similar in tone to Carmel, but newer and at that moment, sunnier.
All the street lights were hung with flowering baskets, fountains sprouted at every cross street, everything seemed freshly painted, and the sand looked SWEPT. Hot pink bougainvillea draped itself across walls and fences.
It was lovely…almost too good to be true (see above: these must be the worst sunglasses in the world!). We spent the night here (actually found a motel) and walked to the beachfront for dinner, under the stars. It was such a pleasant place to be….for a short time. I say this because it was so clean and scrubbed, the charm of the old had not settled in. That’s one thing I loved about Carmel: charming with character and history. (OK, maybe Balboa does have a history, but I didn’t know it at the time.)
Next stop on the agenda: San Clemente, which is another one of those California coastal towns that is lovely and small. We drove by Richard Nixon’s compound (he didn’t wave), and then we turned our car towards the open road, and home.
We drove back through the desert without incident, to Albuquerque and its bowl of jeweled lights seen from atop a mesa.
Then on through west Texas and back into Houston, where we dumped everything that was in the car onto the driveway, with some vague thought of burning it all! What a trip…we had the best of best times, and sealed our friendship into the bargain.
Life’s good, isn’t it?! (But we never did get our A/C fixed.)