Sunday, October 07, 2007

To Sur, with love

Twice a year my wife has to go up to Berkeley for an academic conference so we took the opportunity to have a romantic night in Big Sur, visit our son in Silicon Valley (where he’s designing the new Apple iSomething), and have a leisurely weekend getting lost thanks to the Avis GPS system.

Rented my first Prius at the San Jose airport. For an extra $10 a day you can get one with Oregon plates so you’ll REALLY look like you’re going green. It would’ve been nice if Avis had included an owner’s manual. Questions I never solved: why did the little explanation point warning light go off? What does it mean? How do you get the car out of reverse?

Big Sur is absolutely breathtaking. And the drive to it on winding single-lane California Highway 1 offers spectacular views if you can just get by the traffic, gusty winds, septic tank trucks, construction, vertigo, panic attacks, drizzles, car sickness, and bikers.

You’ve seen Deer Crossing signs? There is a Pig Crossing sign on Highway 1.

Since the area is so stunningly gorgeous they take their New Age star gazing, crystals, plein aire painting, scented candles, and Yanni very seriously. Glad I opted for the Oregon plates.

Stayed at the Ventana Inn & Spa, which is my way of “roughing it”. A plasma TV and wireless internet is a must for this hearty outdoorsman. Sure the fireplace wood was pre-chopped, treated, and in a convenient burlap bag but I had to light it. Well…actually my wife lit it.

They have a clothing optional pool, which is wrong on so many levels. Let’s just say this is where the pig crossing sign should be.

Did not sign up for the mushroom hunting expedition, which reminds me, lots of old hippies still make Big Sur their cave. They can all show you Bobby Darin’s former trailer and where Jack Kerouac – all hopped-up on espresso – wrote his greatest novel (until it was explained to him that someone else had already written “Little Women”).

The drive back up to the Bay Area was equally treacherous/lovely.

Swung by storied Pebble Beach golf course in Monterey. I could almost hear the ghost of Bing Crosby saying to his caddy, “Hey, hand me a five iron, willya? Think I’ll beat Gary senseless with it.”

From the mean streets of Carmel comes this from their police blotter: “Parking complaint/violation of box delivery truck blocking in numerous cars in the Carmel Center parking lot. Driver found but had a disrespectful and cavalier response to complaining parties. His employer has been contacted/warned.” You’d think former mayor, Clint Eastwood would have cleaned up this shameful lawlessness!

There is a need for “stump removal specialists” in Carmel. Depending on how long the Writers Guild strike will be many of your favorite sitcom scribes may apply.

The Carmel Middle School was holding it’s 5th annual “Solar Tour & Sustainability Fair”. It’s as if Al Gore planned a Halloween Carnival.

Got out of there just before the moth spraying. Moths? Still??? What the hell did Mayor Clint DO for four years??

Drove past Santa Cruz. Lovely woodsy area. In California anytime you have a region with more than one hundred trees it is required by law that there be a Santa Claus Lane.

The Silicon Valley is now New Delhi with a P.F. Chang’s. Technology and the Indian culture just seem to go hand-in-hand. You see them everywhere, working at Apple and Applebe’s.

A Broadway winner with Broadway talent”. That’s what a San Jose theater was boasting with its production of GUYS & DOLLS “starring original cast members of Broadway’s CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG”.

The NHL hockey season is about to begin and folks from San Jose were surprised and delighted to learn they have a team – the Sharks. Now beginning their 17th season.

There is not one Coffee Bean in the entire south bay. However, my son Matt says there is one in Shanghai.

Palo Alto was going nuts Saturday night after the Stanford football team, a 41 point underdog, upset mighty USC. Crazed rowdy students filled the bars on University Avenue yelling, “Imported lager and Irish Red ale for everyone!

From the “Summer of Love”, San Francisco has moved into the “Fall of Maybe We Should Start Seeing Other People”.

KFRC has returned to an oldies format. But it is now the whitest radio station in America. Paul McCartney is considered ethnic.

When in Berkeley NEVER stay at the Doubletree Marina. There is a buoy in the bay that rings a bell every thirty seconds ALL NIGHT LONG. The homeless guys on Telegraph Avenue get a better night’s sleep than anyone staying at the Doubletree Marina.

Unfortunately, I was one week too late for the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. The Folsom Street Fair is a celebration of leather culture and sexual fetishism (not to be confused with the Carmel Middle School “Solar Tour & Sustainability Fair”). There were the usual couples leading each other down the street with dog collars and leashes, public floggings, men in thong underwear playing Twister, women dressed as dirty martinis in teeny silver dresses shaped like martini glasses and bra cups decorated like green olives, and for the shoppers, stalls selling such must-have items as baseball caps reading “Master” or “Slave”, silk ropes for being tied up, and a book entitled “Dungeon Emergencies and Supplies”. “The Solar Fair” offered recycling tips.

It was a hectic but fun four days. And to answer your next question: 40.3 mpg. But I understand you get even better mileage if you’re in drive.


Howard Hoffman said...

Glad you survived the coastal route without flying your car off the edge of the cliff and being left to have your flesh torn asunder by vicious sea lions.

Not that the thought crossed my mind last time we drove south on it...

Anonymous said...

In my college days a friend and I took a trip up the coast in his sister's van.

From the elevated perspective of a van there are occasions, while winding through the narrow curves of PCH, when your eyes dart down desperately in search of asphalt only to be met with the view of a cliff (aka death).

On one day my friend had decided to play the recently released (back then) sound track for STAR WARS as we started down a particularly adventurous stretch of road. As I recall after about 10 minutes of the terrifying view coupled with the tension inducing music we had to change the tape to some smooth jazz to avoid having a heart attack.

It is beautiful up there, you make me want to go back. By plane.

Rob said...

Back to your writing room post....

Oddly enough, having spent 12 years at a (mis)Fortune 500 company, you've pretty much described the cast of characters at EVERY large meeting where something has to get done.

blogward said...

Thanks for the teleseminar mp3

Anonymous said...

Hey, my niece goes to Carmel Middle School! And yes, we make fun of the wacky names they come up with for their activities.

Christina said...

Now you know my daily life.

-I attended UC Santa Cruz and am still traumatized by the number of classmates who considered the school to be 'bathing opitional'. The school is located on High Street, of course.

-I then worked for 5 years in Silicon Valley (lived in Santa Clara for 3+ of them) and became very familiar with Indian culture. There were more saris in my local Albertsons than jeans. It's good I liked Indian buffet, or I would have never had a meal with my coworkers. (BTW, wonderful people to work with - fair, smart, polite...)

-Folson Street Fair? So I accidentally got caught in this trying to pick up my friend from BART. It took us an hour to go 2 blocks - we were surrounded by leather and piercings and dog collars - Not fun if you're trying to go to lunch. Not fun at all!

-My friend who is a roadie for a band stayed at the Berkeley Marina Doubletree last weekend and reported the same issue - none of the roadies slept because of the dinging noise. And these are guys that are used to sleeping in a bunk above an engine on tour bus.

-If you were a week late for the Folson Street Fair, that means you could have caught (this weekend) (1) the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (free) or (2) the Blue Angels or (3) the Castro Street Fair...

I swear SF has more events each week than a cruise ship. Sometimes I wonder when everyone works.

The Minstrel Boy said...

From the “Summer of Love”, San Francisco has moved into the “Fall of Maybe We Should Start Seeing Other People”.

oh my, good gracious, you summed up my entire life in one sentence.

that's scary.

Anonymous said...

Folsom Street Fair, Castro Street Fair, Carmel Middle School Sustainability (Street?) Fair. OMG! That San Francisco area has got to be one of the fairiest places on earth. Mazeltov Ken on the eventful yet safe trip down California Hwy. 1 - especially since you apparently found yourself navigating the entire drive in reverse, with GPS hectoring “hang a right” into the abalone. But did you get a release on that wonderful still of the Da Vinci Code monk?

Re: Pig and Deer crossing signage, when you cross the state line from Massachusetts into New Hampshire there’s a sign “Watch out for falling rocks.” That’s apparently it for the rest of the state. They figure one warning is enough.

And congratulations on having scored the posh accommodations, on Big Sur’s busiest weekend of the year – what with everybody rushing up for Simchat Torah (who you’ll remember was married for many years to Ernest Borgnine). Why do you think we’re all so busy the week before putting up those temporary shelters with the stunted palm fronds and hydrocephalic lemons?

For those of you who may only be of the Hebraic persuasion from the waist down, Simchat Torah is the holiday during which we celebrate our completion of the reading of the Torah for the year – by starting to read it all over again. This is one of the principal reasons the Book of the Month Club never made it in Judea, but the Rocky Balboa sextology continued to set box office records under the Roman Emperor Avis Prius (as portrayed so memorably in the movie by Malcolm McDowell).

I really enjoy your travel writing, with its finding both majesty in the spectacular and irony in the otherwise mundane. BTW, with regard to the Prius, I’m almost certain the exclamation point warning light goes off whenever Ed Begley Jr. has another eureka moment. Hope this clears everything up.

Murph said...


Most people are very aware of the Sharks in San Jose. Most, however, do not care.

And the lack of Coffee Bean franchises in Northern California is surely one of the main reasons I have not visited my mother in some time.

David J. Loehr said...

I agree. For me, roughing it means they forgot to leave a mint on the pillow.

And I've had the Prius Exclamation Point issue, too. (I've only rented; my home car is a Mini.) I thought it might be that someone at Toyota really likes Victor Borge.

Christina said...

Murph - There are actually a few Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs in San Francisco. I have a hot cup right now, from the Fillmore Street location. You walk in and boom, are instantly teleported to LA.

Unknown said...

Funny. I made that trip from SF to LA almost exactly one year ago, complete with Pebble Beach and 3.86$/gallon stop :-)

The Sharks now have three german players, one of them the national team goalie.

Richard Cooper said...

I think I rented that same Prius with the reverse problem. You didn't find my wallet in the front seat, by any chance, did you?

estiv said...

I thought it might be that someone at Toyota really likes Victor Borge.

I think David J. Loehr wins "best retro reference." Now if we can we work in a mention of Oscar Levant...

Anonymous said...

I've stayed at the Ventana a couple of times. Loved it. They can be booked solid and you still feel like you're the only one there.

Clothing optional. Lord.

Years ago, there was a hippie guy that worked the outdoor bar at Nepenthe. Is he still there? It's the only time I agreed to have a veggie burger and actually liked it.

Killer salsa.


Anonymous said...

The exclamation point is the Prius' way of politely saying: "Excuse me! Car still in Drive! Don't get out yet! The quiet engine is a trick!"

Anonymous said...

I watched the old-school "Parent Trap" movie with my nieces & nephew this past weekend, so watching Mitch & Susan/Sharon on the golf course scene was as close to Pebble Beach as I am likely to get anytime soon....

I want to a Sant Cruz "Home of the Fighting Bannana Slugs" T-shirt!!

Anonymous said...

You didn't happen to stop by the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, did you? I work there part-time... it's a completely ridiculous job, but not a bad tourist trap for the $5 ticket.

Dwacon said...

What, no revelry on Castro Street?

Anonymous said...

>>The Carmel Middle School was holding it’s 5th annual “Solar Tour & Sustainability Fair”.<<

I wanted to go on that Solar Tour, but they said we could only go at night because the sun was too hot during the day. I wanted to sleep, so I skipped it. (too obvious?)


Emily Blake said...

I went up that way about a month ago. I stopped at Hearst Castle and it was very cool.

Unfortunately that day there was a bicycle race through the entire length of the mountains.

So imagine adding that and an extra does of terrified drivers who don't know their cars very well to the already perilous mountain pass. It took us an extra hour to get through the mountains. At least it was pretty.

Anonymous said...

The exclamation point icon used to indicate your parking brake was on. Has that changed in the last few years?

stevie said...

I took a similar trip on my vacation, but we decided to rent a convertible rather than a Prius (we debated it). We stayed in Pacific Grove, and only drove halfway down Highway 1 through Big Sur, but it was stunning. Paying $4.12 for gas at Deetjen's was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, too.

I love your travelogues Ken. Thanks for sharing!

Mary Stella said...

Did not sign up for the mushroom hunting expedition

Mushroom hunting? That explains the pigs crossing.

Anonymous said...

But there are Peet's everywhere!
One of the best is in Burlingame near SFO ... they open early and brew often ... this resident of a large East Coast town, [one that is the true and only home of a baseball club named Dodgers] hits it up whenever he's anywhere near San Francisco.
Is the Nepenthe still bathing optional, too?

Anonymous said...

Just woke up from the dirt nap to add "To Sur With Love" was a real Lulu...

goodnight again.

Anonymous said...

Ever stay at the Post Ranch Inn? One of my favorite hotels ever -- so much that I've never been tempted to stay at the Ventana, right across the street. And the restaurant was so good, we cancelled our reservation at the Ventana because we couldn't wait to go back.

Peet's kicks Coffee Bean's ass any day of the week. But the Urth Italia Cappuccino is the best coffee in LA.

And as a Stanford alum, I can assure you there were no calls for imported lager or Irish red ale because A) cheap vodka does the trick much faster and B) if you're drinking beer, there's too much good microbrew up there to bother with imports.

Anonymous said...

How coincidental, At the Folsom Street Fair, they have persons you
better call "Big Sir" - or else! But don't stay ON Folsom. The hourly floggings will keep you up all night. Actually, keeping one "Up" all night is the main point of the whole fair.

And Dwacon, of course no Castro Street revelry the weekend of the Folsom Street Fair. There are a lot of gay people in San Francisco, but not enough to support TWO gay festivals on the same weekend.

Meanwhile, I'm contemplating the Ferrally Brothers version of THE PARENT TRAP, with Ben Stiller as identical twin adolescent girls.