Monday, July 19, 2010

Oblivion By The Sea

When I lived in California, a visit to Los Angeles would always set my teeth on edge. It's a vast metropolis, an agglomeration of metropoli, and it never did anything for me but remind me that I am an insignificant pimple on the backside of the Earth. I must be in a better space now because i don't mind it so much, but it remains a city I could never see again and not miss it. California allows motorcycles to lane split, which in Los Angeles is a critical advantage as traffic is appalling, especially for those of us who have no clue where the bottlenecks are likely to be. My wife's iPhone found us alternative routes with ease, though this would have been much faster:
To photograph the city of angels would take several lifetimes and most such pictures fall into the category of cliché, Hollywood has photographed everything we think we know of Los Angeles (the letters "e" are short- the English sound ridiculous when they say "Los Angeleees"). Here's a cliché, squats in the foreground and executives in the back:
The thought of Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf of Mexico's gusher are never far from our minds. These rigs off Santa Barbara have been grandfathered in after a spill sent tar balls to the beach in 1969.
When people ask us about the oil and Key West we just shrug and say we hope it never arrives, though it seems inevitable. I dread the day we have to even consider leaving to make a new life- uff, again-and i look at the cloudy July skies in my former home state and wonder if i could ever cope with this again. 65 degrees of a July afternoon? Taking Highway 101 inland north of Santa Barbara one is exposed once again to the wild variety of climate and vegetation that makes up the vast state of California. Deserts and mountains and a sudden climb to 85 degrees in the sunshine. We had planned a left turn at San Luis Obispo (Saint Louis, Bishop in English and soon enough we were plunged back into the coastal gloom of the famous Highway One. This is the other Highway One, California's state road up the coast, but unlike our own Overseas Highway this road twists along impossible cliffs far above crashing waves below. You don't swim around here unless you like 55 degree water and an impossible climb down to the minuscule beaches at the head of wave wracked coves far below the road. Then there are the rental campers farting slowly along the 100 mile road.Winter wrecks the road between Cambria and Monterey and we had to sit around in three sets of one way lights as crews repaired the road in time for some more mud slides this next winter.
Just because this area is remote and relatively uninhabited doesn't mean there aren't homeless fruitcakes stumping along the road. I should have liked to stop and hear his story, it would be bound to amaze, but we had a date with a hamburger up the road... the most expensive burger in the country actually.If one thinks of the canyons of condos that line the coasts of Florida and then one takes a peak along California Highway One the question has to come up: how come they preserved their coast like this?
The answer is a little known legislative body called the California Coastal Commission, created by Democrats and hated by Republicans. All attempts to dismantle it have so far failed and the result is a coastline that the whole world wants to come and see. Houses are few and new construction cannot be permitted to be seen in any from from the highway. Permits are rare as California Condor eggs and the result is a socialist's dream: nature preserved.The road is an endless series of curves and turn outs that a few slow people were kind enough to use. My wife and I agreed (and I think Cheyenne would have too) that this was a once in a decade drive. Been there, done that- where's lunch? And then finally Oblivion came into view, at the top of a multi layered parking lot and a number of stairs.The home of the Ambrosia burger. Nepenthe in Greek means peace or oblivion and is often used as a synonym for the state of mind induced by grass. We were hungry at this point and sought easier gratification.I was hardly alone in my use of a camera, however we skipped the outdoor seating (62 degrees):The mushrooms are actually outdoor propane heaters, a common sight in California's hip coastal communities. People even keep them in their back yards to radiate heat down on out door parties. It is that cold after dark in July around here. The place was built around the middle of the last century as the back to the earth hippie movement took root and they proudly point out local logs were sacrificed for the building,which strikes a discordant note in our current obsession with preservation, but the result is excellent.
The food is first rate, a crisp fresh salad, chopped steak and French/American bread.
Two burgers and an iced tea (the driver needed a caffeine jolt!) and the bill was, as expected, enormous. Had we had cheese, that would have added a buck fifty to each burger. I should note the price of the Ambrosia burger hasn't gone up as long as I can remember.It's the scenery that does it, and the view is excellent, though trying to capture it on a pocket camera seemed nuts to me. They tried though.
Droves of them.
Jolly family souvenirs. We toasted ourselves in the sun, inside and watched.
This looked especially hopeless on a telephone camera.
Someone finally put her out of her misery and snapped the picture for her. It should have been me then I would have asked her, a la riepe, to lift her shirt. Instead I ate my burger and drank my four dollar tea and watched.
Notice how bundled up everyone is for a July afternoon on the sunny California coast. Dress like that in Key West in summer and get heat stroke. These are the redwoods of Big Sur, driving the last thirty miles north to the cities of Carmel and Monterey.
There is a short stretch where the road runs inland through what were farms and is now Andrew Molera State Park with a trail down to the beach. We stopped to walk the long suffering dog.
Oops! This is California and dogs aren't allowed on park trails! Silly me, why would I want to walk my dog around here?
It was tending toward evening and the coastal clammy low cloud called fog, locally, was rolling back in. I walked Cheyenne round the parking lot (dogs okay on leash - big effing deal...) and off we went.
I had to stop here for a moment of nostalgia. This beach is (or was) known locally as Monastery Beach owing to a bunch of cloistered folk living in the foothills behind here. This was where I learned to scuba dive 25 years ago. This is also where Cheyenne met the Pacific Ocean and encountered waves for the first time (on a leash per regulations).
The black streak on her back was a souvenir from the greasy underside of a barbecue stand at Andrew Molera picnic area. She was not impressed by waves.Imagine coming down here to learn to dive. I was a brave idiot. Little wonder I got the PADI certificate and quit. I am a warm water dude and this was as cold and clammy as it looks.
Don't be surprised to find remains of open fires on California beaches. Walking them barefoot at dawn can produced burned feet if you happen across a properly smothered ring of embers. It gets so cold at night that without a fire it is unbearable. Then people complain about Florida's heat and humidity.The sand itself has a gritty quality, not like proper Florida talcum powder at all.
From Monastery beach we drove round the Monterey peninsula on Highway One and made a beeline for Santa Cruz, the so called "Sunny side of the Bay" which hadn't materialized by the time we got to Moss Landing and the yacht club flashed past the windows.
That used to be a downwind destination four hours by sail from Santa Cruz. Compared to my boating destinations in the Keys this clammy nasty stuff really does suck. But life isn't all boating and issues with weather. There's lots more as we shall see when we explore the sunny side of Monterey Bay.