My Uncle Bill was the richest and most successful person in our family, after starting out as an engineer with Hewlett-Packard when the firm consisted of seven employees working out of a garage.
For all his wealth, he loved to travel in a very simple fashion, driving along, stopping at roadside cafes for for pie and coffee, and sleeping at motels that looked good at the end of the day.
I have realized that I too find that the most comfortable way to travel, avoiding the crowds, lines and tension of airports and airplanes, and seeing the beauty of our land roll past the windshield. Although you then miss the powerful elixir of a new environment in a different society, which was my father's draught.
So it was that on my birthday this year, I woke up ready for a road trip up to San Luis Obispo. It has been many years since I felt that childhood sensation that this was my "special day," a time to relax from start to finish, do what I would most enjoy, and contemplate the run of life, thank my parents and feel just a smidgen of their love.
With my girlfriend Sanae, we took off up the 210 Freeway, as the wide ribbon of road sweeps through the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and then merges with the 5 going north. We cut off on the 126 Highway to head over to the coast.
I have always liked that two-lane highway, as it winds along the dry bed of the Santa Clara river. Big rigs and agricultural machinery dwarf the cars, in a region of fertile land and farms, even as you can see the beginnings of the creep of development.
As we almost always do, we stop at Margaret's Cocina, a little roadside café in Fillmore, run by women, with Frida Kalho prints on yellow walls.
We sit outside at a round yellow table with red benches and a green umbrella, a few feet from the highway. The fish tacos are so-so but the draft Bud-Lite is cold and fresh. A warm, dry wind is blowing.
A long time ago, I wrote a story about Fillmore for the Boston Globe because, in an agricultural area dependent on Mexican farm-workers, the town had passed an English-only ordinance, requiring that all public employees speak only English. The best interview was with the guys who ran the survivalist shop, selling mostly guns. They were all for it.
Back on the 126, we keep driving west until Ventura, then hook onto the 101 going north through Santa Barbara, passing a string of small, beautiful state beaches, like a set of pearls.
We stop at the last one before the road turns inland, called Gaviota.
It is a small beach under a railroad trestle, but it reminds me of the beaches in Baja. It is unmanicured with dry seaweed littering the sand, a population of sea gulls, a broken pier, an empty lifeguard station, small, empty, concrete picnic tables, and one big Latino family having a meal. So I take a swim in the cold ocean.
Refreshed, I drive on up the road towards San Luis Obispo, where, as my uncle would do, we find a budget, two-story motel, the Avenue Inn, for $81 a night, with an ample parking lot, just off the freeway and next to downtown. The rooms are refurbished and very clean, and our little Prius C is parked outside the window.
We take a break in the room. Sanae naps. I catch up on the latest Trump-astrophe on my i-pad while having a petit coup, a small hit of wine from a bottle of Syrah that I brought along.
We have a reservation for that night at Goshe, my favorite sushi restaurant anywhere, in a non-descript building at the back of a parking lot on a side street. So with some time to kill, we take a walk in town and Sanae stops to shop in a vintage clothing store.
Which gives me the perfect excuse to take a seat in the outdoor enclosure of the Wineman Hotel on Higuera Street, have a cold beer, and watch the world go by.
One of the charms of San Luis Obispo is the large number of students and ex-students from the Cal State University here who work in the cafes and restaurants and fuel the bars. The waitresses are pleasant and friendly.
Two women who appear to be Chinese tourists, thin and smartly dressed, take the table in front of me, and the older one orders a huge stein of beer, downing it at an impressive pace.
Sanae returns with a set of black, embroidered bell bottoms, a throwback to the era of flower power, and we head off for dinner. At the end of a great meal, to some embarrassment, the sushi chef, his assistants and the waitresses chant congratulations in Japanese — Omodeto! — punctuated with a series of rythmic claps. I wave in thanks, secretly pleased with the homage.
We finish the night with another walk along Higuera Street, where the bars are now filling up with students. By chance, the same two Chinese women who were at the Wineman now come barreling down Higuera rolling huge suitcases stood up on end in front of them. Where could they be charging off to at this time of night, I wonder.
We make one stop for a cone of chocolate ice cream, and another for a petit coup of whiskey, and then return to the motel, to sleep soundly at the end of a long and happy day.
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