Saturday, August 01, 2009

Stuff I Learned on My Road Trip to California

A few things I noted while logging 2,500 miles in 10 days through Utah, Nevada, California, and a little bit of Arizona:

1-The single greatest threat to Californians are fresh cherries, even if they were originally grown in California.

No reason for native Cali's to worry, though; the nice man at the inspection blockade confiscated my three-pound Costco bounty. I was worried there would be another checkpoint on the way out of the state, but fortunately they were only stopping inbound traffic. I did find it ironic that the I-80 checkpoint is located in Donner Pass, though.

2-Highway ignorance knows no state boundaries.

Contrary to my previous assumption, Californians struggle with the "yield the left lane" concept every bit as much as Utahns do.

3-The San Diego Temple lives up to its reputation.

It seems the designers of the San Diego Temple came from the same "let's make this thing loom up over the highway and scare the crap out of everyone" school of thought that the DC Temple designers did. The first time I saw it as I swung south on the I-5 coming into San Diego, I could only wonder what goes through the minds of non-LDS folks when it springs into view.

Driver: "What on God's green earth is that?"

(sound of brakes squealing)

Passenger: "Funny you should use that expression, Earl. That happens to be the Mormon Temple."

(car horns blare)

Driver: "Mormons, eh? Aren't they the ones that drive buggies and raise barns with Harrison Ford?"

(the crunch of distant bumpers)

Passenger: "No dear, you're thinking of the Mennonites. I don't think the Mormons are very tight with Harrison Ford. Though I think Robert Redford lives among them."

(an SUV bursts into flames)

Driver: "Oh, kind of like Sigourney Weaver in 'Gorillas in the Mist.'"

(a dog barks in the distance)

Passenger: "Yes, I imagine so."

4-You should always carry cash in California.

There's a saying that suggests any trend that starts in California will eventually spread to the rest of the nation. If that's true, then debit cards are on their way out. It felt like half the time I tried to make a purchase out there I found out the vendor only accepted cash. The strangest encounter took place on Santa Monica Pier, where I stood at a table full of the typical tourist crap and prepared to buy my customary fridge magnet. When I asked the owner of the kiosk if he took cards, he grunted at me and said, "Cash only. Money talks, man." For a moment I wondered if I should let him know that debit cards ALSO constitute an exchange of money, but then I figured that it would be a waste of time to argue economics with a man who chose to make his living selling fridge magnets on a pier.

5-It is possible to sleep in my car. Not probable, not effective, and certainly not comfortable, but possible.

On two different nights during the trip, I was faced with spending a night in my car. At my $25 slot in the Big Sur State Park campground, I also had the option of sleeping on a nearby picnic table. Sadly, that wasn't very successful at all, partially because of the hardwood table, and partially because the foam pad I'd brought along was approximately 2.4 millimeters thick. Actually, the worst thing about the table was that it sat only 50 feet from the glowing windows in the bathroom complex, which meant that everytime someone tried to use the can all night, they walked out the door to see a glowing bald head sticking out of a sleeping bag on a nearby picnic table.

6-Shark tastes a lot like fish.

Last time I came through San Francisco, I had shrimp that came in at two inches WIDE. (That partially made up for the fact that it cost me $12 to eat four of them.) This time I decided to walk the wild side by ordering shark at a spot on Fisherman's Wharf. It wasn't too bad, really. I think the coolest thing is the feeling of machismo that comes from eating one of the ocean's most notorious predators. Nothing establishes dominance of one's foes quite like eating them.

7-Two of my best friends from grad school live in Endor

During the back half of the trip, I spent a couple of days visiting Jordy and Anna, two friends from grad school who live in a small forest community an hour and a half north of San Francisco called Guerneville. Guerneville is located at the tip of the so-called "Emerald Triangle," where copious amounts of clandestine doobage are grown and distributed every financial calendar year. This small forest community also happens to be the place George Lucas and Co. filmed all the Endor footage for "Return of the Jedi." And speaking of Ewoks...

8-Guerneville is a lot like Island Park, Idaho...if you swapped the cowboys and trading posts for palm readers, organic produce stands, and an annual influx of 33,000 hairy musclebound homosexuals.

Apparently my late July visit immediately preceded the yearly "Bear" gathering/festival/convention/massive nightly bonfire. According to Jordy and Anna, "Bear" is NorCal-speak for a large, hairy gay man.

9-It never occurred to the Utah Department of Transportation that eastbound commuters on I-80 might want to exit the freeway onto a convenient turnout and photograph the famous "Utah Tree" on the salt flats, just like westbound commuters can.

Actually it did. That must be why they posted all those "EMERGENCY STOPPING ONLY" signs on the eastbound lanes.

10-Music still provides a lot of the best moments on the road.

Exhibit A: About a half-hour west of Reno, well after my iPod had run out of power and I had switched over to the half-dozen CD's left in my changer, The Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" played on the stereo as I drove into the eastern horizon, which at 11:30PM is pretty much like driving straight into a black void. Given the scope of my circumstances, I'd say Jerry Garcia's little road ballad was quite appropriate.