Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Into The Great Wide Open Part Two: A Mudslide, A Funny Farm and a Shiny House On A Hill

Back for more? Check out part one of this stupid one-man odyssey right here! On to part two, where I check off a couple dumb items from the bucket list, attempt to re-create an underrated bad movie scene, have a romantic dinner by myself surrounded by people in love, and see what really unnecessary opulence looks like! Anyway, here we go!

The Best Road in North America
It was just past one o'clock when I passed the Seventeen-Mile-Drive turn-off just adjacent to Pebble Beach where the road forks and the entrance to the Pacific Coast Highway began. Sweet jeezus, I've only ever seen it on television and in the movies, but I've always imagined this stretch of road as the greatest stretch of highway in the United States. I flashed back to memories of riding with my uncles from Anchorage to Homer, Alaska on the Seward Highway years ago and thinking that was some pretty impressive beauty, as well as multiple trips through Big Sky country in Montana in my playing and coaching days at Westminster, but this was something different. This was me and my car making this drive for the drive's sake. Not with any end goal in mind, but just to see an epic stretch of America and to lose myself in the sheer beauty of it all. Sure, the 101 was a lot quicker way to get to my next overnight stop in San Luis Obispo/Atascadero, but it lacks a certain...majesty.

I think this means something
Once you pop out of Carmel Highlands heading south, it's like the entire world opens up to you. I had mountains to my left, high cliffs and thousands of miles of ocean out to my right. It was like I could see to the end of the earth. Being that there were no real time constraints, the drive was slow and steady as I'd pull over every couple miles just to admire the view. I'd snap a picture here and there, but mostly just stared out and down into the sapphire coves below. Occasionally the road would cross a bridge, such as the Big Creek bridge that I've pictured here, but they do a nice job of blending that into the scenery until you look back on it. I wondered if there was a metaphor there. I'm sure there was but I hadn't figured it out yet.

Bide your time and all becomes clear.
Eventually I made my way into the place I've been obsessed with for years, Big Sur. As I've mentioned before, Big Sur was the location of the final scenes of one of my favorite films of the the late-90's called The Limey. Starring Terrence Stamp as Wilson, a recently released long-term inmate in an English prison, This underrated Stephen Soderbergh classic features the man once known as General Zod making his way to California to seek revenge after the suspicious death of his daughter at the hands of Hollywood producer and part-time drug lord Terry Valentine, played by Peter Fonda. The cliffs and the coves below were an awesome spectacle to see. I also appreciated that there was virtually zero cell-phone coverage anywhere in the area. This would be an awesome place to disappear to. And if I was a Hollywood mogul and part-time drug lord, this would be an awe inspiring place to retire and eventually meet my terrifyingly violent demise in.

Why would anyone want to
be anywhere else?
I pressed on heading further and further south until I realized, "I think I might be the only car on the road." Followed quickly with, "Oh shit, I forgot about the landslide." A couple years previous there were some pretty massive wildfires in the Big Sur area, followed soon with a massive landslide that wiped out several miles of the Pacific Coast Highway and actually reshaped a good chunk of the California coast. I was the only car on the road because I was getting near the end of the line. I looked for signs of detours south but there were none. Eventually I hit the big orange barrier in the "town" of Gorda By The Sea. I walked into a little gas station there where the first words out of the fella behind the counter were, "you're lost aren't you?"

In more ways than one. "Kinda. I'm on a road-trip, but I forgot about the slide," I sheepishly replied.

Later, I raced the Drift King
down this bastard to win his girlfriend's
freedom, or some shit.
"You're not the first, and you're not gonna be the last. But at least you look good," he said weirdly. "Double back seven miles until you come to the Nacimiento Road and it'll take you over the mountains to the 101." I told him thanks, paid to re-fill my water jug and turned back north. Ten minutes later I hit the turnoff and for the next ten minutes, I was almost driving vertically upwards. WE'RE GOIN' BALLISTIC MAV! That strange dude wasn't shitting me when he said it took you over the mountains, I figured the climb would be a little more gradual. Like many things in life, I was wrong, but eventually it kind of evened out although the climb was still there. And it was easily the most winding 1 1/2 lane road I've ever been on. Reminded me of something out of the European mountains on Top Gear or the climax of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift!. I'm sure that if I knew that I was the only car on that road, it would've been an absolute blast hooning around those crazy turns, but every couple of minutes a car would pass going the other direction or around a blind turn so it was WHITE KNUCKLE TIME. It took about an hour and a half at 15-25 miles per hour to drop down on the other side and eventually make it to the 101. I often get sick riding in a car, but never driving a car, but this road left me a little queasy. Pretty awesome drive though. The dropoffs were terrifying, but the views were incredible. It was starting to get dusky and I was still an hour or so away from my hotel, but I eventually found it in the little town of Atascadero.

I trust these dude's opinions on fine-dining and haberdashery.
Just a quick aside here. One of my favorite weekly podcasts is The After Disaster. It had its beginnings as sort of a Loveline after-show starring the sound engineer, the phone screener and a buddy of theirs that helps run the Improv comedy club chain. It's kind of like the Seinfeld of podcasts, with no real topic from week to week and is pretty much just three guys shooting the shit. Sounds kind of lousy, especially with my describing it, but it is wildly entertaining and I can't recommend it enough. Anyway, the show originates out of Southern California, and I kinda wanted to see some of the stuff that they describe on the show while I was out here. One of the guys favorite hangouts is a world famous hotel in nearby San Luis Obispo called The Madonna Inn. The place is famous for their themed rooms, outdoor recreation, winery, killer restaurant and bakery. I would've loved to stay a night at this place, but at $300 a night and this late in the year, I was trying to get through this trip fairly lean. So I was stuck with exploiting my kid sister's Marriott friends and family discount. But I had to see the place for myself, so after getting checked in and getting cleaned up, I drove the thirty miles down the road to have some dinner.

Classic California kitsch
I pulled up and this place looked like something out of an old Rat Pack movie. Just a technicolor wash of lights and colors against the stark, inky blackness of the night sky. I found their steakhouse and this place was a sight to behold. Pink and gold everywhere with the centerpiece being a gigantic golden tree with cherubs hanging over it. It looked like that scene at that honeymoon hotel in Superman II. The restaurant was adjacent to a large dance-floor where a ten-piece band was setting up at the far end. I thought they only had the live stuff on the weekends, then I realized it was almost Halloween when a couple college-age gals dressed like Wayne and Garth walked by. I asked the barkeep what was going on, and he explained that once a week the dance classes at Cal-State SLO hold a theme dance out there. So there would be some entertainment later.

That's true love right there.
I sat at a small table underneath the big tree and had one of the better ribeyes I've had the pleasure of hammering down. They grill over red oak wood here and you can taste it. Looking around, I was the only one there that was on my own. It was late, so the restaurant side of things was winding down for the day, but there were three couples dining on adjacent tables. I found it kind of serendipitous. One looked like they were in their mid-twenties, smiling constantly at each other, two giant pieces of pink cake and champagne in front of them. The next couple were in their mid-40''s. Faces long and mostly silent, two large glasses of wine filling almost as quickly as they were emptying. The third were quite elderly, looking like they'd just gotten out of that bed in the middle of Charlie Bucket's house. The old man's quivering hand holding his wife's throughout their entire meal while never taking his eyes off her, grinning from ear to ear. I thought to myself, "this is like seeing the three stages of a lifelong relationship here." Love can do no wrong early on, but eventually life wears on you and you get tired of each other's shit but over a long time you realize that what you have can't be replaced and love seems new again. That ship has probably sailed in my case, I'm almost 40, but that doesn't mean that I can't recognize it when I see it and appreciate it for what it is. It's like Deadpool said, "Love is a beautiful thing. When you find it, the whole world tastes like Daffodil Daydream! So you gotta hold onto love...tight! And never let go! Or else the whole world tastes like Mama June after hot yoga." Wise words from the "Merc With A Mouth." So I sent a text message to the mysterious gal back home letting her know I was thinking about her and hoped she was doing good.

Top O' The World!
College kids in elaborate costume started pouring in, and the standards from the big band started to swell. I took that as my cue to call it a day. I got a piece of that pink champagne cake to go (I really shouldn't be eating this stuff but I was on vacation! It was good, but I was miserable later), paid my bill, wandered the grounds a little bit and moseyed back up the highway to my hotel in Atascadero to retire for the night. I can't remember another day in my recent past where I did so much from sunup to my head hitting the pillow.

Nurse Ratched was actually
pretty nice!
It's kinda nice having the freedom to not have to set an alarm, but the golf business is too entrenched into my DNA, so 7:00 AM hit and I was wide awake and hammering down some hotel room coffee with my protein shake as creamer and my Greek yogurt. Other than a few nice meals, I'd kinda managed to stick to my daily diet and routine on this trip. Today I was going to finish the trip down the PCH to Los Angeles. But I had a couple stops to make on the way. Sounds dumb as hell, but I had to stop by the Atascadero State Hospital, where the Terminator and John Connor busted out Sarah in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. They wouldn't let me in. Also, it's a dude's-only hospital, so that movie was factually incorrect. Still, it was a trip just seeing the big sign up front.

This place probably cost a couple
hundred bucks.
After a fuel stop I backtracked over to Highway 46 which took me back out to the coast where I turned north towards a beautiful little seaside town called San Simeon. I had to see one of California's great treasures, The Hearst Castle. As a long-time movie lover and occupier of various Film History classes in high school and college, the 1941 film, Citizen Kane, has been required viewing in pretty much half of them. The real-life version of Charles Foster Kane, William Randolph Hearst was a pretty awful dude, that did some pretty awful shit, but goddamn did he have him a pretty swell vacation home, now a California State Park and museum. As I pulled up to the visitor center at the bottom of the mountain, the marine-layer parted and the house appeared on top of the peak. Impressive to say the least. I paid twenty five bucks and was the last one on the bus for their first "Grand Tour" of the day.

The California climate is
perfect for preserving 3000
year old statues. No wonder
Bob Hope loved it here.
The drive up the hill was awesome with the house appearing and disappearing from view with the voice of Alex Trebek giving little trivia tidbits as we drove past various landmarks on the windy road. We pulled up to this huge staircase where Sean, our tour guide, met us and immediately launched into a few stories about Hearst's father George as he led us up the stairs to the main courtyard. Unfortunately, the legendary Neptune Pool was entering yet another renovation to fix some leaks that have existed since its original construction, but the Roman temple facade was impressive to say the least, as was the incredibly colorful flowers that adorned virtually everything on the outside of the house. The upkeep on this place must be insane. I've barely been able to keep my rose garden alive during this summer! We passed an actual Egyptian statue of Sekhmet, the Warrior Goddess of Healing and entered the building through a tiny side door. I liked that there was actually a screen door on that entrance.

It's not even heated! What
a cheapskate!
Only a couple rules were given to us by the tour guides, keep up and DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ANYTHING! Literally everything in this house is hundreds of years old, imported from Europe and the Middle East and carefully reconstructed. Every piece of artwork in the place, authentic. In addition to pushing us to war with Spain, opposing Roosevelt's New Deal and giving an open editorial platform to nazis in the US, Hearst had a real appreciation for finery, and thankfully he was able to preserve these priceless works of art for future generations to see. Maybe the one good thing he did was to not just leave all of this to his asshole kids. He loved California so much that he left it all to the state when he died to preserve as a museum. I appreciated Sean's passion for the place, and the artwork and attention to detail was incredible, but as the tour moved through the main rooms of the house and the flat-out insane indoor pool, I found myself growing more and more resentful and pissed off. Sometimes, I think this country never learns. Hearst had the resources and probably could've kept half this country afloat during the Great Depression, but instead he just built a big house on a hill. Typical.

What the hell?
The Dulcet tones of Trebek greeted us as we got back on the bus and we cruised back down that winding hill back to the visitor center. I picked up a couple tchockes from the gift shop. Giselle fired back up on cue and I was back on my way south, having re-joined the Pacific Coast Highway south of the slide. The next phase of the trip was about to begin where the golden mountains and rugged central coast were about to give way to the world's ultimate concrete jungle. As I brought the car back up to speed, I nearly drove it off the side of the road at the sight of a couple strange looking horses in a pasture. WAITAMINUTE, IS THAT A FUCKING ZEBRA? It was.

See you next week for part 3: The Saint of Los Angeles.