Friday, August 22

Stories of the Road

I hit the road that morning with a sense of great anticipation. Windows rolled all the way down so I could feel the wind on my face... The first leg of the road trip was the 101 freeway to Highway 33 in Camarillo. Highway 33 would lead me to a charming old town called Ojai where I made my first stop and the rest of my trip. It was an unadventurous stretch of a highway by the way but I was optomistic. And Ojai for all its charm and history is rather small and boring looking. But if rustic and idyllic is your idea for a visit, Ojai just might be the place for ya (Home to the Chumash Indians before becoming one of many Spanish land grants along the California Coast). But just 10 minutes north of the Ojai Valley is where the fun really starts. Boring Highway 33 goes through a transformation of sorts in that short stretch. What started off as a commuter road quickly becomes an all too tempting road-course. Seemingly all of the bustling commuters disappear as if to give way to the intrepid of travelers. Perhaps because beyond Ojai lies nothing but the promise of the open road. And not just any road but perhaps a route no one traveling from Los Angeles to Salinas had ever taken before. Not that it is the most illogical of routes, just the most distant and adventurous...

The next 60+ miles can only be described as a terrifyingly fantastic drive. Highway 33 leads the way up and over the Los Padres National Forrest. It's kind of like driving to Big Bear mountain except without all Big Trucks in the way. This particular drive however offers pretty much all of the things one would wish a Canyon Drive could offer; Rolling hills and big sweeping high-speed turns etc etc. And even some pretty gnarly switch-backs! What one should keep in mind when driving through canyons is that the posted Speed Limits always seem to be a little on the conservative side. The 30 mph bends when taken at 50 mph is still fairly safe actually but not until you go beyond 60 do you really begin feeling a little uneasy. And believe it or not I saw all but 3 cars through the canyon giving it a sense of eeriness and solitude...

It begins to stretch its legs a little after the canyons. Long stretches of road as far as the eye can see at times. I eased off the gas a bit to take-in the mountains that abound me... But as I was coming around a big sweeping bend, I hear the unmistakable roar of an American V-8 coming up behind me fast! I had hoped to see a Rousch or Saleen Mustang in my rearview but what I saw instead surprised me quite a bit - a seemingly lost mean looking Ford F-150 SVT-. Just like me the gentleman was all by his lonesome. And although he'd probably broken a bunch of traffic laws already before he got to me, I sensed hesitation in him (Perhaps he's had some bad experiences before with other Ricers LOL). But in these lonely highways Road Warriors like us aren't rivals so I waved him by and he'd happily obliged despite the double yellow. When he got by me though, I just couldn't help myself. I took after him and kept my nose right under his bumper as he tried to speed away just to give him something to think about. Can't have these yahoos thinking they're Mad Max or something right?...

Soon the arid highway made way to a sea of Oil Fields. Miles and miles of it with the heat and stench to match. A scorching 106 degrees Fahrenheit (in contrast L.A. was a high of 85 that day). These places really play their role well let me tell ya... Seriously if you had slept in the back seat for an hour and woke up to that, you'd be impressed. Dreary yes, but impressive. Incidentally the price for 87 octane was at a steeeep $4.89 (only gas station i saw for a hundred miles). You'd have to appreciate the irony in that... After that impressive stretch of oil wells is yet another transformation. This time to lush farming landscapes where tractors & farmers dominate the lands and are hard at work. Even my mood seemed to change along with the scenery. I seemed to have become convinced that the California I have come to know isn't just about the fame and the glitz and the glamor of Hollywood and Los Angeles. Perhaps a reminder that the backbone of this proud and super-power of a country isn't the Fortune 500 companies, the Movie industry, or the Fashion industry, but the middle class...

I found myself liking the transformation. Maybe it reminded me of my formidable years in the Philippines as well, where things seemed a lot simpler and life is much slower than they are in Los Angeles. I was raised in a small town and I haven't yet forgotten what it's like. In fact some day I'm going to move to a small town (or a pseudo one like the outskirts of Los Angeles). Los Angeles is great because it is arguably the epicenter of everything cool in the Western World (right?), but i think small towns suits this calm soul much much better. It just has to be somewhere a couple of hours away from a Ski Resort hehe...

I'm glad I had planned on staying in Coalinga that Friday night (still 100+ miles away from my true destination) because that alone was a grueling 7 hour drive. Coalinga by the way is one of those small forgettable transient towns no one ever wishes to visit again. And if they do come back it ain't for a visit but for another one night stay yet again. And that's one thing that strikes you immediately about this place; the number of motels that lay on the main drag. I mean its all they've got! There's not even a Denny's downtown. They really sort of force you to visit their local patrons. There is it might surprise you an improbable and incongruous Starbucks. Sort of speaks volume about California doesn't it? A hundred miles outside of a major city, dusty as a Western Town, and the foul odor of cow dung everywhere; it don't matter -- they need Starbucks! Not until I laid down on the bed did I realize how tired I really was. And the room as you might expect was nothing to write home about. In fact there wasn't even any hot water nor did the AC work very well. But whaddya expect for $45 a night from a small town, formerly a "Coaling Station" in which its name was derived (The Southern Pacific Railway established the site as a coaling station in 1888, and it was called simply Coaling Station A= CoalingA), and a Mental Health Hospital that houses Sexually Violent Predators as a main attraction? Charming eh?

After another cold shower in the chilly morning, I hit the road once again. The drive to Laguna Seca in Salinas California according to Google Maps was a 57 mile trek due West on Highway 198, then just under 40 miles due North on the 101 freeway and finally a quick 7 mile drive West on Highway 68. I didn't expect much out of these Highways besides I was too excited about Laguna Seca to think about it. But Highway 198 despite being a relatively short 57 mile Highway (by California Standards) was a fantastic drive! It's like this; For the Formula One fans, it's Monza or Silverstone with its long straightaways and highspeed hairpins, only with blinding elevation changes. Or like the Laguna Seca Cork Screw over and over again -site of the greatest Pass in American Open Wheel Racing Ever- dubbed "The Pass" (Alex Zanardi over Bryan Herta to rob Brian of his first CART win in the very last lap of the race. Alex would go on to win back to back Championships). And for the non-racing fans? It's like the scariest road you ever seen!

And the drive back to L.A.? Highway 68 to Highway 1 to the 101 freeway and finally to the ugly 405 freeway. Or like the Road to Perdition... lol just kidding

It was fun!

1 Comments:

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Mel said...

One heck of a birthday trip
Peter H. King would be proud...you've managed to make even a night at the local $45 a-night motel on your trek sound almost poetic '-)

 

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