Sunday, August 22, 2010

California, Day Five

California Day Five
Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sightseeing eats time and cuts miles. Who cares?

Not obeying my own mantra, “Fear of rain is most always worse than rain itself,” last night I determined to see if I could come in a day early at the Airport Marriott, where my IMAX convention starts in two days.

I called in the morning. The rate was $199, my convention rate of $99 was not yet available. I played my government rate card and they came down to $110. So here I am, sitting in the Marriott restaurant, typing in today's ride remembrances.

My artisan hotel in Santa Barbara served no breakfast. No breakfast places were to be found close by. So I determined to hit the road and find something en route to L.A. I was hoping for a Denny's or something.

Nothing appeared for quite some time. I was really wanting that first cup of morning coffee, for nothing else than to burn out the leftover cigar taste in my mouth from the night before. Since my destination was now L.A., a reasonable two hour ride, I stuck with Route 1 the famous PCH, headed back in the direction I came a couple days earlier.

Suddenly a little sandwich board flashed past along the side of the road. Seaside Cafe, breakfast, lunch and dinner was advertised. I made a “uey” and dropped down a very steep switchback drive to the beach. It was one of the parks common to the California coast. Nothing more than the beach, parking lot, a few painted lines for RV parking, a pod for hookups, picnic table and fire ring. The campsites on the beach here are on the beach.

Opposite the campsites was a small building with restaurant and camp store serving meals and selling firewood and sundries. In front was one, very long, picnic table. A couple of surfers were standing around, tops of their wetsuits turned down exposing their chests and tattoos. I overheard they are here for the winter, down from Alaska to enjoy the warmth and waves. A lady was there too, sipping coffee.

A hand-written menu board offered breakfast burritos with bacon or “tri-tip,” six dollars.

I stood by the window for a very long time. I could hear someone was inside. The grill was sizzling. Glorious smells of grilling onions and meats wafted out of the window and mixed with the fresh, salty, beach air. Someone is in there. I hear grill noises, chopping, clanging metal spatula. Eventually the grill noises stopped. I figured maybe someone would take my order now. I waited, and waited longer and longer still.

Finally a very attractive, middle-aged lady, tall, with long blonde hair pulled back tight and sun weathered face appeared with a big smile and four breakfast burritos wrapped in shiny foil. She wore a bikini top over extra ample breasts with an apron layered on top. A set of turquoise beads started around her neck and disappeared into her cleavage. Hippy or surfer? I couldn't decide.

She seemed surprised to see me. But before I could explain, the lady sipping coffee walked up. “I'm sorry,” the cook lady said to me, “I'll take your order in just a moment.” To the coffee sipping lady she said, “Two breakfast burritos with tri-tip, and two with bacon.”

But the coffee lady had ordered only one with bacon. She asked if anyone wanted the extra with bacon. I hesitated. But the surfers were uninterested, so I said yes, in fact, that was exactly what I meant to order. (I had no idea what “tri-tip” was.)

The coffee lady paid in full for four burritos, then handed me the extra one with bacon. I held out my six dollars. But the coffee lady would not take it. I protested. She refused. “Give it to her instead as a tip,” the coffee lady said nodding her head toward the cook lady. So I did.

The cook lady was baffled too. “Well thank you,” she said to the coffee lady. The coffee lady said to forget it. “Let me give you something extra,” the cook lady offered. “It's okay. I know you,” the coffee lady said, adding that she was a regular and would be back and appreciated the cook lady and her cooking. “Then may I have your name?” the cook lady asked, preparing to write it down, I presume to later render some kindness or bonus to compensate on a future order. “None of that,” the coffee lady admonished, then walked off with her three burritos.

I stood there unsure of proper protocol for such a situation.

“Oh, now I have to make coffee and make breakfast for these boys, they've been very patient. Do you like strong coffee or weak coffee?” the cook lady asked me. “Any coffee,” I answered. “The coffee is 45 minutes old. I have to make new coffee. I will give you the old coffee for free in thanks for the extra money for the burrito. If you don't like the coffee, I will give you fresh coffee as soon as I make it, but first these boys have been so patient.”

She was California spacey and sweet and handed me a cup of steaming coffee. I'm guessing the permanent looking trailer next to the cement block cafe is hers. Guess she was attracted to the beach and found a way to stay.

I assured her I was fine, took the coffee from her with thanks and sat down to eat my very tasty, and large, and filling, breakfast burrito and drink the hot coffee. The coffee was fine. No waiting required. By fortune's smile I had jumped to the head of the line.

Looking to the surfers to see if they were upset, they were blissfully ignorant of the entire exchange.

“We may have missed our window of opportunity,” the one surfer said to the other. For a moment I thought they were thinking of me and my karma-produced, no-wait burrito. But it turned out they were assessing the wave action.

Eventually the surfers got their burritos. The were waiting for tri-trip after all. I will have to Google that. Never heard of the stuff. It sounds like a chemical.

I munched away, watching the waves and people.

My breakfast burrito was an entire Denny's “Grand Slam,” rolled into a tortilla. There were eggs, bacon, home fries, salsa, onions, all in an easy-to-hold form. No forks required. It was hot and delicious.

Another couple appeared and called into the window, rather loudly. I hadn't thought of that tactic. They were told the grill was out of breakfast. They ordered burgers and fries instead. The cook lady disappeared again.

She reappeared mid-preparation to sell a couple bundles of firewood to another camper.

Finally the surfer boys from Alaska got their breakfast. The other couple sat and waited for lunch.

A surfing couple emerged from the waves and walked up to an open public shower in front of me. They were muscular, both of them. Young and beautiful. He stripped off his wet suit first, down to nothing and then pulled on a pair of board shorts with nary a moment of modesty.

Unfortunately she wasn't so bold. He held a beach towel around her as she transitioned from wet suit to bikini. They washed the salt off their bodies and wet suits and surfboards and then threw everything, including themselves, dripping wet into an open Jeep.

Meanwhile I was joined by a local who decided that since I was sitting at the table by myself, I wanted conversation. He had just drawn a cup of the now fresh coffee.

He was the proud renter of the only odd numbered address in town. All the others are even numbered, because they sit on the beach side of the Pacific Coast Highway. His is the only place on the inland side of the PCH. He took obvious pride in his contrary address. Such is a western psyche earned by pioneers who braved hardships to push ever westward.

His place, my uninvited Californian said, is a hacienda in a lemon grove, what is left of an original ranch sold off in parcels to rich outsiders desiring water views. There was a lot more to his story. He told a good bit of it, and well.

He looked like a westerner. Thin and strong and wiry, he had a well worn baseball cap, the name of some equipment company advertised on the front. Between bill and cap was an earned stain of sweat and dirt. The brim was severely curled. Like the cook lady, his was another wind worn face. It bespoke years in the sun. He was a tradesman of some sort, a heavy equipment operator. He had a big and easy smile, crinkles at the corners of his eyes.

I got a decent chunk of his life story. How he found the lemon ranch place by chance after he moved up here to work for a local company, and moved from a trailer into a house, and was working to save up enough to bring his wife up from Southern Cali. It was a good story. And he loved telling it.

I would have asked the lemon rancher what the heck tri-trip is, but couldn't get a word in edgewise. I would have asked the cook lady, but she had disappeared again, sounds of sizzling and chopping in her wake.

Now I've done California, found it by serendipitous collision of a hungry belly and a small roadside sign.

Until this morning, I had seen the scenery of California, but had not experienced her personality. Today along the PCH, in glorious sun, I had California for breakfast alongside the sand and waves and surfers and beach folk.

There was a strong, on-shore wind today. At some points the PCH was obscured by mist rolling of the comers.

Once again the temperature was tolerable, but 10 degrees below desirable. Even so there were lots of bikes out. Oh yeah; it's Sunday.

I tooled along, mostly in sunshine. In fact, I never saw any of the rain predicted for today.

In Malibu I stopped for a soda at the most un-Malibu site in town. There is a grubby, small Phillips 76 station right on PCH where it meets Coral Canyon Road. Enjoying the anti-extravagance statement, I sat on a stone wall next the the Harley and watched the parade of exotic cars, BMWs and Mercedes AMGs are a dime a dozen here, and motorcycles of all kinds.

Malibu is just about the end of the scenic PCH above L.A., that is to say it is the beginning if you're headed north.

From there, headed south, I jumped on the 10 then the 405 zipping into L.A. Note my California speak. They never use the word “Interstate” here. If you give a route number, it is assumed to be an Interstate highway. If it is not, you state “Route” so and so, or “California” so and so.

The freeways are fast, and intense, and many-laned.

California drivers are as bad as they say. It is not the aggressiveness of New York. They're just all out to lunch. Three-quarters are on cell phones. Half of them drive up close to the steering wheel peering ahead of them and seeing nothing to either side or in their mirrors. They make clueless lane changes and speed changes. They change lanes without looking or indication. They don't believe blind spots exist.

Fortunately a bit of aggressiveness goes a long way here. My East Coast attitude, backed up by the powerful Harley V-Twin, allowed me to feel in control. I was sure to, and able to, maintain a big space cushion around the bike at all times.

I still have not split any lanes, legal here, and much discussed among motorcycle riders. Tomorrow is my last chance this trip.

Maybe I was not so clever with the Marriott as I thought. Whether it was my government rate or my biker appearance can perhaps be solved with a discussion with my sister-in-law Kathleen who taught me, vicariously, the government rate trick. I will have to ask her if the government rate equals the crappiest room.

Marriott L.A. Airport sits perpendicular to the runway and boulevard. That means there are only two rooms per floor that directly face the noise. I got one of them on the seventh floor.
My whole purpose staying here tonight was not to have to move my stuff, packing and unpacking from a cheaper hotel to move here for my IMAX convention. I will have to see what noises tonight brings. I am not optimistic. In addition to the jets and the honking taxi drivers, there is a window with a padlock that squeaks in the wind. If I was traveling with my own bike, instead of a rental bike, I would take some duct tape out of my tool kit and try to seal the window or at least dull the metallic click of the padlock.

Last night when I determined to stay in L.A., instead of striking out for San Diego, I justified it in figuring I would do some of the touristy things here. To that end, I dumped my stuff in the room and went back out to the bike for a short trip to Venice Beach.

Unfortunately, this was winter Venice Beach. A stiff wind was off the ocean and blowing a good bit of the beach across the parking lot. (I have sand in my ears still tonight at dinner as I write this.) I parked the Harley to take a picture near a break in the parking lot wall, but then moved it. I was afraid the paint would be sandblasted off if I left it in that spot near an entrance to the beach. Plus I was slipping on sand as I tried to backpedal the bike out of its space. I finally settled on the most sheltered spot I could find, as far away from the beach as possible on the city side of the parking lot.

(Boy am I ever on vacation. I just put cream and sugar in my coffee. I have been drinking coffee black since college. I forgot how good it tastes this way, like an indulgent coffee milkshake.)

It wasn't the Venice Beach you see on the Travel Channel. Oh, a very few girls gamely tried to show some skin. But it was like 50 degrees with gale force winds. A few rollerbladers went by, more skateboarders, more in the skate park. Muscle beach was deserted. The actual beach had less than a handful of strolling people. Nobody was sitting down. The sand was blowing across the beach and sweeping up the dunes and blowing off the tops like a “Lawrence of Arabia” movie. Mostly just folks, probably tourists like me, bundled up in sweatshirts and windbreakers, were walking the famed Venice strip.

Even the crazies were cut down to the hardcore few. One carried a cardboard sign, hand lettered, that said, “Circumcision Kills!” Funny, it hasn't deterred me for the past 54 years. Another decried the L.A. County Commissioners' moves to inhibit free speech on the Venice strip. (I am guessing someone asked them to pay rent for their stall.) Another had pictures of Hillary Clinton and George Bush, but so many confusing signs I could not really discern any pattern his protest.

Mostly it looked to me like a multi-block long walkway lined with Jersey Shore boardwalk type shops on the city side and a parade of losers on the beach side, all trying to eek out a living on cheap wares and marginal talent, respectively. I kept thinking maybe Annie would like something from Venice beach, something that said “California,” something unique. I saw only one potential vendor. But his painted mini surfboard would never have made the plane ride home.

I walked out to the end of the pier to watch the sunset. You can watch the sun fall into the ocean on this side of the country. At the very end of the pier a small group of people was having a ceremony of some sort. It involved flowers and in the end the leader passed a plastic grocery bag around for donations. I stayed away.

Like Santa Barbara, the bums tainted the ambiance. They blend in better in Venice than in the “Rivera of America.”

Rain finally came, at 11:11 p.m. I was very comfortably watching it from my seventh floor window. Dry. Inside. It's supposed to clear out by tomorrow late morning. Maybe I'll sleep in. It is, after all, my last vacation day.

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