Part 1: Steinbeck Country
Let’s start with a caveat: the trip is not going as planned. I am sitting in a motel in San Simeon typing this with the sun setting behind me. I have some older territory to cover (like Steinbeck Country), and then I will tell the harrowing saga of Highway 1, the busted Bus, Jonathan the Savior, and whatever happens tomorrow. Also, we are having technical difficulties with the camera. Good news? We are well out of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and while we are vulnerable to a tsunami here, it would likely be a smaller, more local freak wave.
Marin to Pacific Grove
We were at the Lagunitas store to get Robert his breakfast burrito (stellar review from Robert), and I was listening to the cars roll by on Sir Francis Drake, this weird road that stretches from the 101 to Highway 1 while crossing Marin’s cities: San Rafael, San Anselmo, Fairfax, Ross…all the way to when you climb the mini costal range and drop into the thriving metropole of Forest Knolls and Lagunitas. There are some great roads off of Drake, including the Nicasio-Petaluma Road, where I learned to drive my 84’ Volvo wagon with Bob and once almost ran into a very large black cow in the road at night.
I was sitting there waiting for Robert, waiting for coffee, and the very perky man who worked at the store or owned it, but who was the cook was explaining everything to the new cook: “Sandwiches are lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, pickles, onions…but some people don’t like mustard, so don’t give them mustard if they say no mustard.” I was thinking about The Next Tsunami book, how I had woken up reading about the tree rings, wondering how old the trees in Samuel P. Taylor were.
We made our way slowly to the 101, and then encountered the Drivers of Marin, or People Who Do Not Know How to Merge. Brett Easton Ellis has an enviable first line in an otherwise forgettable book, Less Than Zero, about the drivers of LA, saying that they do not know how to merge, but clearly Brett never had to deal with oncoming drivers in the slow lane in Marin.
And then we were on the Golden Gate, after passing through the Robin Williams tunnel (I wonder how many people remember his joke about the ethnicity detector installed there). Seeing San Francisco, driving through the city, felt like coming home. I pointed out Judah Street where the Bus once lived with my parents, and then we were off to Pacific Grove. My dear friend Bill hails from Pacifica, so I was happy to stop there, but there is not much there, there. We went on to Half Moon Bay, met another guy who wanted to talk about the Bus, and then we were rolling on the highway to Santa Cruz and beyond.
I always think of Utah Phillips when we roll through there, and his song about migrant workers, “Scott’s Creek Bluff”: ** thanks to the Kate Wolf site for the lyrics**
Well the north coastal highway, it rolls on forever
Any jobs that need doing, any work you can use?
No, thank you kindly, we don’t need a hand-out
We pay our own way, it’s the life that we choose
When there’s work in your county, you make us feel welcome
You treat us like neighbors, when there’s money to spend
But when the work’s over, you close down the campground
Your sheriff comes out, and we’re vagrants again
It’s the Dirty Plate trail, The Factories in the Field Carey McWilliams, my father’s family story over there in the Central Valley, the story of some of the students I teach. The story Woody Guthrie told us so long ago: “Is this the best way you can grow your good orchards; is this the best way you can grow your good fruit?”
And there we were, rolling down the Cabrillo Highway, Highway 1, in the Bus, thinking about the folks growing all the artichokes by the sides of the road, heading down past Mavericks (can’t ever figure out where it is) and into Santa Cruz, then down the windy highway, Watsonville and Moss Landing and Castroville to Monterey.
I always, always think of Steinbeck on these trips, and never more than when we are in Steinbeck country, the Salinas River and then into Pacific Grove. When I was a teenager my best friend’s family took me on a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in part because they knew I loved Steinbeck. On our honeymoon Robert and I read Cannery Road aloud by firelight, and stopped to see the aquarium, but we never stayed in Pacific Grove. I knew the outlines of Pacific Grove from being there when I was younger, and from bonding with a radical lesbian related by marriage to Steinbeck himself. We shared stories about growing up in tourist towns, and Robert confirmed the connection between Pacific Grove and Ashland when he told me we were in “Ashland-by-the Sea.” There were old houses, and a hippie guy with a decorated Mini, and even deer wandering the streets. When we found the VW place in an old Quonset hut, Robert was ready to settle in, until he saw the real estate prices.
We had booked a room at Borg’s by the Beach, and although I had wanted to stay at a fancier place, a sort of Seaside Cottages place, Robert held out for Borg’s because it was where Big Bob always stayed. “You can’t go wrong with Borgs,” Bob told me— “It’s cheap, right on Lover’s Pont, and clean.” Like many of the things Bob told me, this turned out to be true, and we had a lovely time walking the sea paths, marveling at the calm lap, lap, lap of the Monterey Bay, and a nice, misty morning getting coffee and pictures of the Bus in Pacific Grove (and with another Bus). I couldn’t help but think about Steinbeck’s dismissal of Pacific Grove as I passed the many churches on our walks, but I was very happy to be there, and happy that Robert found a VW place to get excited about.
And so we set out on the day we knew might be a challenge, Highway 1 through Big Sur, but it turned out the highway was not entirely the problem.