In need of a vacation without a schedule or obligations, we pointed the car north to Oregon and hit the road.
     An old habit from days of hot, dusty driving along the old Baja highway is that when I see a body of water, I find a place to stop and take a swim.
     So we stopped at Gaviota beach, where the 101 turns inland just above Santa Barbara. I paid the ranger ten bucks to take a quick swim on a hot day. The camp ground and the small beach under a train trestle were full of white and Latin families either barbecuing or swimming in the ocean.
     Thus refreshed, we returned to the 101, north to San Luis Obispo. From the car, my girlfriend Sanae made reservations for dinner at our favorite restaurant, Goshi, where she is recognized as Japanese and treated especially well.
     The next day, we stopped in the wine country for a visit to St. Jean’s winery which I wrote about a long time ago for the Boston Globe. At the time the winery had been bought by a Japanese beer maker, Sapporo, and there was protest against what was described as an invasion of foreign owners.
     As I started researching the story, which naturally involved checking out some wineries, I found that some of the biggest wine makers in the valley had long been English and Australian companies.
     That foreign ownership had elicited no protest at all.
     St. Jean’s has since changed hands a couple times and is now owed by an Australian beer maker. The winery was as hospitable as I remembered it. Tourists brought their sack lunches to tables under awnings surrounded by vines after buying a bottle of wine from the reception area.
     North we went along the coast.
     In Eureka, the town was full-up, from the bed and breakfasts to the roadside motels. We managed to get the last room at the Quality Inn for $250 a night. In a rough little town that is largely white, a helpful, black concierge with an British accent explained that the hotels were booked by firefighters, parents bringing their kids to college, and tourists in the last throes of summer.
     We asked for a local place to eat and he recommended the fish and chips at what has become a destination brewery, Lost Coast. From the outside it looked like an ordinary tavern on the 101.
     But inside, the big, bustling, unpretentious hall was packed. Our waitress was wide, friendly and efficient. She brought us our fish and chips, which has been justifiably recommended, and a couple blonde beers.
     It was around Eureka that the trip settled into an easy routine. We would drive north along the coast, stop somewhere for lunch, and see how far we got by late afternoon.
     Then Sanae looked for motels on her smart phone, checked recommendations and we found a place for the night, before walking around town to find a restaurant and have dinner and a couple glasses of wine.
     The only felt obligation was to wake up in time for the free breakfast of oranges and grapefruit, oatmeal, toast and coffee in a paper cup, and then point the car north.
     In the early days of Courthouse News, when I was hiring a reporter in Eureka and checking out press access at the courthouse, I had fallen on a humble fish restaurant and bar on the road between Eureka and Crescent City.
     It was part of a fishing lodge near Trinidad Bay.
     So this time I wanted to check out the bay. It had a stark cold beauty even in summer. With steep, dark-gray rock sides and almost-black kelp heads dense on the dark water, it seemed like it should be somewhere in the north of Scotland.
     Vertical rocks stuck up out of the water like huge, dangerous teeth. Among them was anchored a fleet of fishing boats.
     A rusted boat launcher ran boats down a steep, weathered, concrete ramp for $25 a launch. A sign in the window of the operator’s shack said it closed at five except when the salmon and steelhead are running.
     As we cruised by on the 101, I spotted the old bar and restaurant, off on a side road. So we doubled back and stopped to get a cup of coffee. The place was empty and we started talking with the young bartender who wore a t-shirt and had long hair.
     He said the bar hosts reggae night on Fridays, is normally packed, and the deck out back among the redwoods is generally wreathed in marijuana smoke.
     He gave a good analysis of why a recent initiative to legalize marijuana in California was soundly defeated in all three counties in California’s golden triangle of pot, Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino.
     The vote against was made up of two elements, he said. There were those looking out for their economic self-interest, voting to protect black-market profit margins. And there were those who thought the measure had too many shortcomings, including the absence of an amnesty for those serving pot-related prison terms.
     A couple who own a bar in Washington, and were on vacation riding their Harleys down the coast, stopped in for a morning cocktail. And it was time for us to get back in the car and point it north to Oregon.

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