Saturday, January 20, 2007

Road Trip

There's something about the road, about traveling over the land, that has a distinct appeal and romance. Maybe it's the awareness of covering ground, the way people did in the days of covered wagons, and even train travel. The days when going from New York to Chicago was an overnight trip, during which one could look out the windows at the passing scene, hear the voices and clanking metal doors at arrival and departure, the brisk cold wind of the outside world blasting into the train car at each station. This is far more real to me than airplane travel, when you spend several hours sealed into a metal can with plastic scented re-circulated air and an unreal sense of time (not to mention insufficient legroom). A car is even better. It's your wheels, your ride, your timetable, with the wind in your hair, sunglasses on, and home at your back. Yes, the lure of the road trip, the fantasy of it, had preoccupied me for months. It was something that I needed to do, and with an old high school friend this time, rather than husband and kids, because part of the allure was the lack of obligation, the sense of being in motion, unconnected, free.

It was also a test of my beloved ’98 Volvo, now christened the Queen of the Road, or Queenie for short. She had no trouble at all making the transition from Commuter Dowager/Carpooler of Kids to Road Warrior- all the way down California Highway #1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back, with several detours in between. I’m not really a car person, but she rocks.

So Susan and I (who have known each other since ages twelve and thirteen respectively - and I don’t even need to explain what that kind of history means) set out on a crisp San Francisco morning after listening to our loved ones make numerous “Thelma and Louise” jokes. My 14-year-old son even told me to drive carefully and not to drink and drive. Damn, these kids today are well trained. So the family generously wished me well, and off we drove to the coast, and five days of girls-only revelry.

There is a special pleasure in showing a friend from back home the beauties of my adopted state. After twenty-five years here, I must say I do think of California as home, although I will always be New Yorker at heart. I’ll tell much of the story, as I often do, in photographs. But the photographs can’t capture all of it – the fresh smell of he Pacific at Big Sur, the smoky scent of the fire pits at our beachside motel when we arrived at San Simeon for a stunning winter sunset, the impressively grand scale of everything in the West that really must be seen in 3D.

The audacity of Hearst Castle – that physical manifestation of one man’s obsessions, an impossible wedding cake high on a remote hill, filled with unlikely treasures; European tapestries and marble statues that stay fresh snow white simply from the ocean blasted clean air up there. Afterwards, down by the chilly sea, we watched the miracle of an elephant seal giving birth on a beach littered with the corpulent sausage shapes of dozens of others doing the exact same thing, en masse. Group birthing.

Then of course, there was the continuous excited stream of conversation in the car, which often resulted in dangerous laughing jags for yours truly, the primary driver. This occasionally felt a bit risky, especially when rounding the precipitous cliffs of the coast highway. But we expected this. And Henry had no need to worry. There was never any drinking involved. We saved that for evenings at base camp, wherever that turned out to be.

On the second night, we drove into Santa Barbara in the dark, lost, until we happened by the Santa Barbara Mission – still lit up with Christmas lights – glowing golden in the cold, and eventually landed at the best Sushi place in town, pretty much by accident, where we met a lively costume designer from L.A. As it turned out, she had lived at various times in the New York neighborhood where Susan and I grew up, as well as in the Northern California town where I am now living. This was further proof that there are only 40 people in this big wide world. Coincidences and fortuity always happen when you’re on the road. Maybe it’s something about the motion.

To be continued…