Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hwy 1 out of LA

I'm not so sure at this point in my trip whether its good or bad to have Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore" blaring through my car's speakers. I'm so damn engrossed in the story by now that it is hard to concentrate on the scenery as I make my way up highway one for a first ever trip between LA and Big Sur. Sure, I've been to Santa Monica and Malibu, and yes, I've been to Big Sur coming in from the north, but I've never taken that eponymous trip all the way along this highway, north to the Bay Area.
Yesterday was uneventful, as just getting out of LA and the sprawling feel took practically all day. PCH through Santa Monica, past Pepperdine and beyond Malibu is the highway of the cinema, familiar in a "I've seen that before" kind of way. I had been there before a few times, but had not spent any meaningful time along this stretch, nor would I on this trip.
I stopped, completely famished (and a little hung over from last night's dinner at El Bazaar) at a strip mall along the road in Oxnard, low blood sugar and caffeine don't mix well. I didn't want to spend the time to seek out the downtown area and this little mall had a Subway sandwich shop, a few other stores, and a Filipino lunch place. By now you know I probably wasn't going to choose Subway, so Filipino it was. I was so bleary-eyed that is was difficult to choose from the various pans of food on the steam table behind the glass. Everyone in there was a Pacific Islander, and I had to remind myself that they all spoke english and I could ask whatever questions I wanted. My state of mind, however, was dulled and even though they had beautiful looking rice noodles, chicken adobo, several pork dishes and a few other things, I played it safe and ordered the Beef Colorado, basically Filipino Beef Stew. I was in a hurry and just needed some protein to get me through. After using the lysol laced bathroom, I took a few bites and got back on the road.

I passed Santa Barbara and made my way to the Cold Springs Tavern, an old Stage Coach stop off the San Marcos Pass, Hwy 154. Even though it was a good 2 hours later, my biliousness and the few bites of stew had suppressed my hunger (i love that word, both Julia Child and MFK Fisher use that to describe liver overtaxing). I stopped at this historic spot anyway, and had a coffee and a cup of wild meat chile (boar, venison and bison). It was rich and tasty, made with black beans and topped with the requisite chopped onions and cheese. I felt like I was channeling my parents, as hardly in my life have I washed down a savory item with coffee. Both my Father and Jeff James (yes, a distant relative of Jesse James) had separately told me to check this place out. I could see how it was a great stop for the motorcyclists off the very easy, rolling 154. In fact, there were a dozen bikers having an animated lunch around a large oval table in the next room.
A little further up was Los Olivos, and Neverland Ranch, which I dutifully stopped at to pay my respects. I felt sad at the gate to Neverland, perhaps because of MJ and his legend, but also because of the hangover and the pending end of my vacation.
I finally reached my hotel in Pismo Beach. I had chosen this area as a "partway point", as my sister lives right over the hill in Santa Maria and we planned to have dinner together that night. She toured me on the cute towns of Shell Beach and Avila Beach. We drove out on the San Luis Pier and viewed the elephant seals all piled up on a deck below. I was surprised that I could have walked right up to them.
We had dinner at Custom House in Avila Beach, a cute seafood restaurant right on the beach. The chowder was glumpy. I had ordered swordfish, (despite the mercury content), as it had been many many years since I had eaten it. It was dried out and unimpressive, not medium rare as I had expected. It will be another several years before I order it again...
Quickly falling asleep by 10 pm, I looked forward to an easy drive to Big Sur the next day, and checking out the sites with the engrossing characters in Murakami's novel carrying me along.

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