The drive up US-101—the Pacific Coast Highway—was the most surreal drive yet. It took a while for the visuals to kick-in, but once they did, I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to render what I was witnessing in words.
The welcome sign outside of Buellton, California proudly declares that Buellton is the home of split-pea soup. Olson’s Baggery in the Dutch village of Solvang sold me the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve had in my whole life. It made an excellent lunch, following my double-double from In-N-Out for breakfast. I stopped at San Simeon, to see the Hearst Castle. I remember when I was ten or eleven years old, going from San Francisco to Los Angeles with my mother and sister, and stopping to take a tour of the castle. This time through, I didn’t feel like paying twenty-four dollars to take a shuttle to the castle and walk through again. After a bathroom break and a walk through the free exhibit featuring Hearst ephemera, I continued driving.
It couldn’t have been more than two hours later when I spied a little dirt path on the side of the road. I pulled the car over and found that it was a scenic overlook, and the view was absolutely incredible. It was indescribable, really. I could sit on the very edge of a cliff, my legs dangling over the side, and watch the waves crash hundreds of feet below me. There were wooden poles jutting out of the ground for people to sit on, but they were set back more—closer to the highway.
So, I moved back a few feet to sit atop one of those little perches, when another car pulled up behind mine. It was an old, gray car that had the squared body of an Oldsmobile or Chevrolet, though I didn’t notice what the emblem was at the time. An old man exited the vehicle, maybe in his 60s or late-50s. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a gray collared t-shirt. He carried a cup of coffee in one hand and made his way over to where I was seated. We started to make small talk, and I found out that he’s just today started driving across the country from the Sacramento area, going east, towards Boston. He told me how he was disabled in an automobile accident a few years ago, and I after he received a settlement from the responsible party, he decided that now was the time to travel cross-country. His rationale was, “You never know what’s going to happen next year,” and nothing in life is a sure thing. I asked how he was driving, and a smile crossed his face. He asked me to hold his coffee, and excitedly shuffled towards his car. He came back displaying his Atlas, and we sat together using our fingers to map out our routes. I ran my finger across the pages in a jagged line showing where I’d been, and where I was going. He traced the route on which he’d just embarked, pointing out where he had friends or family to stay with in the Midwest and South. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to travel based on where he could stay for free, or see something new. I told him about the benefits of staying on peoples’ couches anywhere you could, but the opportunity to see something new isn’t a common one. He agreed and thanked me. We spoke about the view, and he recommended stopping in Big Sur, which grants you a similar view but with a beach below instead of just rocks. I asked how far it was, and he pointed the way on his Atlas. I thanked him, and he shuffled back to his car, coffee in hand, headed east.
Another couple had arrived at the vista to take photographs of each other. I sat down and watched the waves break in the distance. I listened for the crash and the swell as broken waves rolled into the rocks below. I asked the couple if they wanted me to take a photograph for them, and I got to talking with the husband, Greg, who noticed my New Jersey license plate, asked what I was doing so far from home. I told him I was a writer. He told me he and his wife were from Minnesota. They flew out to San Diego and they were driving the coast up to San Francisco. Like me, they were spending the night in Monterey. I snapped pictures as we spoke, and they offered to photograph me as well. As we got in our separate cars, I turned the key and looked up to see Greg racing towards me. He knocked on window and handed me his business card with instructions to e-mail him upon the books completion. He said travel and underground music sounded interesting to him. Plus, he said he is always looking for books to read on business trips, and I should definitely get in contact with him.
As I started to drive, I thought about the sights of today’s voyage. Watching fog roll up the side of this mountain hundreds of feet above sea level with waves crashing below, where not paying attention at the wheel will kill you, with oncoming traffic appearing out of nowhere, listening to [[[VVRRSSNN]]]. The very essence of the trip was in the hillsides, in the rockslide areas, in the narrow lanes one car-width wide. Fog around each bend made which direction to turn a last moment surprise. And then it all dissipated and the sun shone through breaks in the clouds. In a moment it disappeared again, and it was grey and bleak, but the ocean still shimmered.
Just as I found my motel in Monterrey, after stopping in Big Sur and watching the sunset, I thought back to the vista before the old man pulled off the road. I was there alone, and I was overcome with joy that I had the opportunity to experience all this, that I was traveling by my lonesome, finding little corners of the country to call my own, seeing such unbelievable settings and forcing myself to connect with total strangers. Rolling hills and deep canyons, and up and down and waves; stomach churning, unable to see what’s below or above, shrouded in fog, then watching it disappear and give way to a great blue expanse. You’re not even sure where the water ends and where the sky begins. It’s a single entity.
The next morning I arrived in San Francisco. It’d been so long since my last interview I’d momentarily lost sight of my intended purpose.