Road Trip, chapter 7: Heading North

One more treat awaited us before leaving San Diego: we were able to see one of our hosts’ daughters and their son. These were the childhood playmates we missed the most when we moved away from San Diego. I may still have “Twangy Guitars,” the vinyl record she gave me for my ninth birthday.

As we sat outdoors nibbling on my world-famous apricot scones, another hole opened up in the space-time continuum. I was being sucked in! The smell of geraniums in front of our friends’ old house suddenly filled my nostrils; I could see the burgundy-colored patterns in the dining room wallpaper and feel the smooth leather couch we sat on to watch black-and-white TV in the den. We were kids again, riding trikes and bikes and Flexies, hiding in the bar, banging on the piano, bugging the man who lived next door, listening to records. (Point of interest: my personal record collection included timeless classics like, “Peter, Please – It’s Pancakes,” and “The Phantom White Stallion of Skull Valley.”)

The time warp suddenly kicked me back to the present as we shared stories about kids and families, health, old friends, work – our lives as more or less responsible adults. And look at the time – we need to be in Sacramento tonight.

Our “early-ish” departure time turned out to be around 12:30 – we meant early afternoon, not morning, right? We gathered up the stuff we had spread from one end of the house to the other, and with hearts full of gratitude for a supremely restful and fun stay, we bid adieu to these extraordinary people. Goodbye, old dear friends. It doesn’t get better than this, does it? (No.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Make yourselves comfortable, kiddoes – we’re going to see quite a bit of California today. If you need to reach me during the next 500+ miles, Ophelia Sorebutt will have my number.

No more dilly-dallying along the Coast Highway. It’s I-5, baby, all the way. Kind of a drag to be on I-5 just about any time. More of a drag to be on I-5 through LA. Total drag to be on I-5 when traffic through LA is slow. We got tangled up in some midweek pre-rush hour congestion. But maybe two hours to get through LA isn’t so bad? Never mind – don’t really want to know.

The scenery got more interesting in the mountains north of San Fernando. We wound our way through sparsely and uninhabited hills and valleys, past lakes and parks, up to Tejon Pass (4,144′). Can’t imagine driving one of the hundreds of tractor-trailer rigs we saw laboring up and over those roads. Runaway truck ramps indicate the seriousness of the curves and steep grades on this piece of I-5. Driving it reminded me of the movie “Duel,” which I did not mention to Susan or the kids.

The bottom of the “Grapevine” came unexpectedly. Within about a mile the terrain changed from mountains to flat ground. This was the south end of the San Joaquin valley and man, was it hot. The freeway seemed to disappear into the heat in a shimmering straight line.

About this time Susan and I heard the clashing of swords in the back seat. Uh-oh. Sounds like Lauren and Zack are really upset with each other. To our relief they were just watching “Zorro” on a portable DVD player, with our sleep sheets draped over their heads to block out light and stave off motion sickness.

Farming on a scale like we now saw was hard to comprehend, and my ignorance prevents me from offering my usual insightful travel commentary. Now and then a sign would tell us what was growing: “Spinach.” “Alfalfa.” Thank you for that. We did recognize tomatoes – truckload after truckload of them – barreling hither and yon on the freeway. Whither goest thou, fruit of the gods? Grocery stores? Tomato sauce? Ketchup? Catsup? It will be good to get back to our own humble harvest of tomatoes.

Canals that are part of the California Aqueduct showed how water gives life to dry ground. In the Northwest we don’t often regard water as precious because there’s been so much of it. Passing an exit to the town of Coalinga reminded me of friends who lived there for years. The only drinkable water prior to 1972 came in railroad tank cars, and it was said that whiskey was easier to get than water in Coalinga.

It was good and dark by the time we reached Sacramento. We drove by our motel four times before spotting the cleverly concealed driveway. Got a late dinner at an odd little Asian restaurant, watched a movie, and so concluded our first and only evening in Sacramento. In the morning we actually got into the heated spa and cooled off in the pool – several times. Never imagined sitting in a hot tub in Sacramento in August, but knowing we’d be in an air-conditioned car most of the day made us do it. One more long day on the road would bring us to Salem, a relatively short drive from home.

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