The Loh Life

The One

Sandra Tsing Loh goes road-trippin' via the scenic route.

Recently, for both work and family, my partner Charlie and I have been driving back and forth between LA and the Bay Area.  Leaving San Francisco on a sunny Saturday morning, holding the iPad before me like an Etch-a-Sketch with the friendly directions lady trapped in it, I suddenly say:

"Man, we always take the boring 5!  Why don't we be spontaneous and take the 1 instead?  Sure, instead of six hours, it will take maybe nine - No worries!  We'll split up the drive, spend the night in Cambria - It'll be fun!"

Unbeknownst to me, following the coast down to LA takes approximately 87 hours for time-space reasons I still don't understand.  But, that was then.  We were still young, innocent, beat poets.

The 1 from San Francisco is all sparkling, ocean-viewing pleasure.  Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Moss Landing!  Which has the world's cutest roadside stand!  It boasts fried artichoke hearts, chili lime almonds, and other devilishly clever gourmet produce - The type organically engineered to reach their panko-and-asiago-cheese-fried tendrils into your pockets and gently tug out twenty after twenty.  Nevermind!  It's summer!

The sun is still high as we whiz through scenic Carmel, Big Sur, past the Henry Miller Library, and Hearst Castle, into Cambria.  A fabulous dinner features martinis - clink, "Here's to spontaneity!" - fried oysters, snails, chowder, sourdough - Yawn!  Great meal!  Gettin' a little tired.

Now, it's time to tuck into one of those charming coastal hotels, somewhere, hereabouts.  The Moonlighter Inn!  All booked up.  Hmm.  OK, how about the Cambria Lodge?  Nothing available.  A damn Motel 6?  No vacancy.

And now comes a dark dreamscape, an Allen Ginsberg - like Howl, if you will - as we continue to plunge down frickin' Highway 1.  We have now been driving for it seems like 50 hours, I have eaten fried artichoke hearts dipped in jalapeno mayonnaise and - and snails!  I can't be in a moving car anymore!

We pull into the parking lot of Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton.  Not what I want to be thinking about in my state, but they must have a room, right?  How popular can pea soup be?  It turns out... very.  The clerk says there are, in fact, only three hotel rooms left in the entire state of California.  Where?  "At the Comfort Inn in Lompoc."  Seems a contradiction in terms.

We pull in to Lompoc at 4 a.m.  At breakfast, Charlie chats with a young Asian fellow who says he arrived at 3.  Flying down the 1 the day before, his girlfriend had suddenly become obsessed with "having blueberry pancake breakfast in Solvang."  You see how that turned out.

Ah, well.  He has cute Morro Bay seal photos.  And, we have our Kerouac-like memories of being not just On the Road, but On and On and On it.  Which is why next time, I'm going with jazzer Dave Brubeck, who said: "Take Five."


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