By Ernie McCray
Maria and I just got back from San Francisco, my favorite city on the globe, and as far as road trips go, this one was as pleasant as it gets.
The weather was like a gift from Mother Nature herself, an absolute delight, so warm and embracing, featuring cool breezes in the late afternoons and at night.
The trip got underway on the 805, at Governor Drive, then came the merge with I-5, just an hour or so away from the 405, which drops down to the 101 which takes you to Highway 1 for the real fun: a drive alongside the ocean and on cliffs high above it, privy to jaw-dropping views that exhilarate your very soul, your spirituality.
That highway always opens me up to seeing the sheer beauty in both the mundane and the sublime: a sunny smile on a waitress’ brown face at a Denny’s in Camarillo; a sizable bird stretching his enormous wings, in a seductive estuary, as a yellow sunset morphs into a soft pink and blue sky. Makes you walk away singing “My, my, my …”
Oh, such a natural high… We stopped a little shy of Highway 1, in Oceano, where we hung out, for a couple of days, with our dear friend, Suzanne, talking about books and politics and the like and laughing a lot. To keep from crying, I guess, in a world, where a man with silly hair and devilish ideas can lead his party’s political race.
We hiked outside Suzanne’s “Co-Op Housing” community through meticulously cultivated celery, cabbage, and strawberry fields on a path that leads to the ocean, like a scene in a magnificent dream.
Then we were on the road again. On 1, at last. Heading to a campground in San Simeon, where we slept without a tent under stars that stretched endlessly in the blackness of the night. I always camp completely in the open like that but it was Maria’s first time sleeping so exposed.
She liked it, though. But, in the future, I don’t think “to tent or not to tent” will be the question. Anybody got a tent for sale?
The next day we got going again under a heaven that was both hazy and blue, high above an ocean that changed its colors alternately from blue to gray to turquoise like some giant watery chameleon.
Our destination: Big Sur State Park. We got in a nice hike right away in the redwoods while our room was being prepared at the Big Sur Lodge.
The next day began with a tasty breakfast at Nepenthe and ended with a delectable four course meal at Sierra Mar, listed as one of the 40 places where one should dine before they die. And, on that subject, the ocean views at both restaurants were truly to die for, with jazz in the background, in sterling surround sound, that was not too funky or too groovy, but mellow and soothing.
We squeezed in a visit to the Henry Miller Library with its collection of bohemian and metaphysical and erotic and thought provoking books that reflect his “to heck with literary conventions” style of writing.
We didn’t want to leave Big Sur but, after two days, we got back on the 1 and leaned into curves that would lower us down to sea level, stopping for breakfast at the Santa Cruz Diner, eating amongst some of the most colorful people one could ever see, locals of all stripes and varieties. Santa Cruz’s easy going atmosphere always lifts my spirit high.
From there we motored on towards San Francisco where we would stay for four nights. But our days were spent mostly in Berkeley where Maria indulged in creating art pieces. So we drove back and forth, everyday, across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, marvelling at the strikingly artistic eastern span of the overpass which under the evening lights is a marvelous white sight to behold – thanks to the reconstruction of that section of the bridge after the earthquake of 1989.
This citified portion of our trip, featured so many people we love: Maria’s step-daughter, Robin, a master jeweler and multi-faceted artist, and her husband, Donald, a man well informed about most everything; Paquita, who is as pretty as her name, one of Maria’s best friends, who hosted us at her house in Twin Peaks up one of those hills in the city that make you pray “Brakes, don’t fail me now”; Leon, a brilliant psychologist, who had us nearly breaking our backs cracking up with his unique quick-witted humor; Nyla and Phill, my beautiful daughter and handsome son-in-law, who just moved from Vegas to Berkeley to start a new life, as Phill just landed a great new job in information technology – or something like that as I don’t comprehend any of it.
Seeing Nyla Summer so happy, considering job opportunities and adapting to her new community, rather comfortably, after leaving a desert she never took to was a highlight of the trip for me.
We got in some father-daughter time alone, catching up on stuff, something we’ve been doing for 37 years. What a journey it’s been, filled with good times, sans one horrific and painful sad time. On this day we had nothing short of a nice time.
We were aglow, Maria and I, as we rolled down the hill from Paquita’s lovely home to the 101 to the 41 to Morro Bay where we camped for a couple of days at a site you get when you make a reservation at a popular campground a bit late. In other words this experience, at least temporarily, might have made a believer in tents out of me as we were like as one with our neighbors and with the loo. Somebody sneezed and it was like they were right next to you.
From there we saddled up for our return to San Diego, intending to spend a night in Malibu. But home seemed like where we most wanted to be, especially considering that settling down for a night in this lovely town, next to the sea, costs a pretty penny.
So I kept the Nissan Murano on the road and we spent the last two hours or so of our drive reflecting on how this trip fit exactly what we wanted from our vacation: great scenery, great weather, great food, great people, great hikes, great conversations, great experiences…
But it’s nice to be home, nonetheless, cherishing the memories from having such a good time… Thinking already about trips to take down the line… Our lives move on like a drive on Highway 1… Slow and easy…