My $1200 stimulus check was burning a hole in my bank account. It was initially meant for a flight from Sacramento to Atlanta to lay eyes on the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy at Stone Mountain, Georgia. I can't say exactly why -- the Reb World's longest ball of twine? But I was also there for the Union Army of the Tennessee under the command of one William T. Sherman and their victory in capturing Atlanta after the usual long, bloody civil war campaign, their victory assuring Lincoln's reelection in 1864 during a time when the North felt it had shed enough blood -- time to compromise with the South. But the fall of Atlanta sealed Lincoln’s deal. I was going to be there on the exact dates as the Union army -- and for Atlanta's Cyclorama of the battle for Atlanta – 360 degrees around — the world's largest painting?
From there drive on to DC stopping in the Berkeley of North Carolina, Asheville, DC meant for my US stars and stripes, the flag given to me on my recent return to my US Marine Corps pre ’Nam base Las Pulgas in Southern California -- the flag that flew over the base the day I returned in tribute to the warrior Marine. The flag was to be presented in DC at the Tomb of the Unknown, the Korean War Memorial (vets who get little respect) and my Vietnam wall. But the Covid-19 came between.
So what to do? What to do? So, in-house, in state, regardless of Covid. It's only 19 so how could it possibly hurt me?
SoCal surf will heal me. And the trees of Sequoia will wrap their limbs around me.
Prologue: mask on, mask off, mask on, mask off.
Early early morning to beat any traffic out of Sacramento to Silicon San Jose then on to 101 toward Los Angeles getting off at Monterey for good old US-1, stopping by chance in Pacific Grove for a cup of coffee -- oh my goodness, Laguna Beach North with lousy gray weather, compact and quaint, seascapes, overpriced I guess but cool. Sweaters required and nearly a village. Played 18 at Pebble Beach once upon a dream come true -- so there.
On US-1 now, slow the hell down, on the edge of the continent, rocks and washing seafoam, those cypress trees crew cut by the forever winds, Big Sur, Big Sir, just that, its own empire within the Kingdom of California, nothing but surf and forested hills as far as the spyglass can spy. Vista turnouts galore.
Some traffic but not much, that over canyon bridge that’s in every movie ever, houses of the truly super-rich, some signs of hippie-ish shelters here and there and then San Simeon and Hearst and his castle -- no thank you, his was very early fake news -- I remember, Remember the Maine.
Cambria, where you’d turn inland to Paso Robles and Jimmy, the now James Dean Memorial Intersection where his life was cut so short. I'll pay my respects on the way back home.
The Earth starts to flatten out beneath the rolling hills and the vines and vegetables start to take over, hot and dry Lompoc, Santa Barbara on the rise, next several exits but its Carpenteria this time down, knowing there is a nicer Motel 6 which feels a good fit.
Carpenteria, a much less Santa Barbara, thus much more, small town on the coast of SoCal California almost Main Street USA on the coast of California!
Check in, some of the usual suspects at the 6, but all in all clean and well kept in a small town on the California coast.
The beach. No masks, some social distancing, oil rigs in the distance, beautiful and tan-buffed bluffs, not much surf to speak of, kelpy, beautiful cold, absolutely rejuvenating, bathing beauties ranging from early teens to college to Carpenteria’s suntanned well-heeled moms with their darling children, asking a blonde lifeguard up in her Covid coop for the time, her whole being put to song by Brian Wilson and his Beach Boys. A day in the California sun. “Wouldn't it be nice…?”
Could be dinner time. I've completely lost track of any time but for the lapping of the short waves and all the happy voices.
Santa Barbara is already too big, cruising the swanky waterfront, crowds, some Covid covered, a lot not. Just cruising, looking, parking, safely I think.
There is a promenade filled to Covid outdoor capacity, masked and unmasked, crowded, a pizza place. Outside at a shaded table but hell, there is a pitbull under the next table with four pit bull guys drinking beer. Here I am and glad of it because the Italian sausage roll appetizer was one of the finest Italianos I ever had and I'm from New York.
New indifference to Santa Barbara now that there's Carpenteria, nearly full moon “over the lonely sea / the lonely sea / it never stops / for you or me…” Of course it's he, Brian Wilson.
No gunshots or police cars at the 6, so success.
The morning is SF Bay like. I'd like a cup and a bagel. A Main Street bistro obliges, relaxing in this relaxed down, sharing a talk with a local vegetable grower on his way to his plot, looking just roughed up and veggie enough to not only look but be the part.
Beach, sun coming through, parking right at the sand’s page. Early day almost empty, serious senior citizens and family kids as the residents start to appear on a relaxed weekday. “If everybody had an ocean…”
Swim, swim, swim. Adios Carpenteria. We are two days in and far from done. North to Pismo Beach. Must swim in the ocean in the almost California cliche. Coney Island it is, funky, kind of almost dirty, in a well used way, a carnival compared to the backyard barbecue of Carpenteria.
The wide, wide surf and a long, long pier, the wide surf cold and rough, all those cliffs the backdrop for this beach of the working stiffs.
Working my way north on secret, secluded, seductive 101 to Paso Robles. No surfing, just James Dean up Route 46 a’ways. His last day. His last twilight. I've been and been and been some more but since he's on the way, over to 99 and over to Sequoia National Park.
Not a Motel 6 for the evening. An old-fashioned cottage collection in town well within the dwindling stimuli cash. Crash.
Shouldn't say crash but it did happen and he did become legend. He was going to anyway but…
Wine, endless wine, the familiar Jack Ranch Cafe, all alone “roadhouse” just up from where James -- Pay my respects and off into the endless vegetables, over I-5 and onto 138 leading into Sequoia National Park.
The tourist in me wanting the big trees immediately but winding, winding, winding up through the rocks and boulders and trees, higher and higher, not a ranger in sight, rock formations and hazy vistas, then a sense of them coming on, then they start to take command, impossible plants, sprouting all the way to the stars, groves and individuals, Irish setter red/bronze, hunks of them, individual US generals of them, $3 for a short Pepsi at a semi-open lodge, everything oversized, including the drive-you-out-of-your-mind road construction, narrow one lane, slow, hot, let me out of here — after I drop off my short story of a Buffalo soldier and John Muir meeting in Sequoia with a gate ranger. Done.
99 North has nothing to recommend it except where it ends in Sacramento.