Road Trip I

     For almost two years, I have banged away at the big centralized IT project called the Court Case Management System, a profligate bureaucracy’s badly conceived and badly run boondoggle. To see it bite the dust last month left me with an empty feeling, like, what do I do now.
     So I hit the road.
     It was not until I left the office that I realized how much I needed to get away and cover some country. The timing was perfect. A huge rainstorm had engulfed much of the state for two days.
     In its wake, the earth seemed to be in party mode, with green coming into the hills and a gentle sunshine washing over the soaked land. Spring was on its way.
     The escape from the office was billed as a business trip. I drove up to Santa Cruz to meet our San Francisco bureau chief and our Santa Cruz reporter, who is also a concert violinist. From there, we worked out way down the coast.
     My uncle Bill, who I am named after, used to travel this way, meandering along the coast, stopping here and there, and spending the night in whatever motel happened to look good as the day wore on.
     My first meander was to stop at Moss Landing, a tiny little bay south of Santa Cruz that is home to two marine research laboratories. The Shakespeare store was closed temporarily. The proprietor had left a note saying he would be back shortly.
     There was nary a tourist in the roughly two square blocks along the sea that make up the landing. I stopped by the Haute Enchilada to get a meal and a beer.
     The patio is in a garden that if I had the time would be my garden. Exotic cacti, succulents and flowers. The garden is dotted with art, a Frida Kahlo painting, a long porcelain wall in the shape of a green dragon, and a fountain held aloft by a full and bare-breasted Aztec maiden.
     The chowder I ordered reminded me of the way we used to cook it on the beach after clamming, with bacon, potatoes as well as corn, onions and bell pepper, in a broth enriched with milk (and not corn syrup). The carnita tacos were excellent, and the Big Sur ale went down smooth and easy.
     The patio was empty and peaceful on a sunny day.
     But the clock was a’tickin’. So I headed south along the coast. All the places that were famous in youth swung into view and out, the Nepenthe Restaurant, the campgrounds under the redwoods. The coast was spectacular but familiar, as well as the slow pokes forever slowing down the drive.
     What struck me more this time was the precariousness of the road, at times cut out of a rock face, and the frequency of repair sites where pieces of the road had evidently washed away into the sea below.
     As a true tourist, I stopped quickly to see the colony of elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, a state park near San Simeon, and then jumped back in the car to, at last, hit some open road on the drive into Paso Robles.
     I have never been to Ireland but the hills along highway 46, connecting coastal highway 1 to inland highway 101, reminded me of the descriptions.
     In the soft, gray light of gathering dusk, the hills, massive but gently rounded by time, were all the deepest green, stretching away as far as I could see. Groves of oak stood along the ridges and hilltops, surrounded by expanses of new grass.
     I sped along the road, trying to make it time for dinner in Paso Robles where the bureau chief was already ensconced with a pint of Guinness. And made it in time for a fine dinner of rabbit cassoulet and a bottle of Everett Ridge pinot, smooth as silk.
     All of it was so far, such an enormous distance in experience, from an office and a computer, and so satisfying to a thirst that had built up over the months, a wanting not unlike the land’s thirst for the rain that had brought it back to life.

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