Monday, June 17, 2013

Once Upon A Time In The West - Part II

When we last left each other I was on my way to San Diego to visit an old friend that I hadn’t seen in an embarrassingly long time. I spent two good days hanging out in Ramona, just outside San Diego, playing with a bunch of dogs, a few horses, and a pig named Chloe. My friend and her adopted family surprised me with a really good home cooked meal (probably the last home cooked meal I had since whatever the most recent major holiday was) and a birthday cake. Technically I left out on my birthday, but with time zones and all that it was technically my birthday by the time I got around the cutting the cake. Before completely ducking out of the San Diego area I took a side trip to Escondido to visit the Stone Brewing Company and take a tour of the brewery and sample some beers. The brewery itself is pretty typical – they take you through the process, give some samples, and then send you on your merry way. Where Stone excels about the rest is in their bistro and beer garden attached to the brewery. They serve pretty much every Stone beer currently in circulation on tap, in addition to several beers they distribute, and a variety of others in bottles. They also have a surprisingly good menu, though I did a little tour of the appetizers with quail knots (basically buffalo wings with quail and sriracha sauce) and boar ribs.

Once I was full I made my way to the town of Dana Point, the starting point of California’s Highway 1 – aka Pacific Coast Highway. I took a slight detour in Oceanside on the way to visit Mission San Luis Ray, a Spanish mission that I over 200 years old (an incidentally founded on my birthday). Unfortunately the church itself was closed, but the grounds were still open which included a small museum and very peaceful cemetery. After quickly checking out the mission I made my way on to Dana Point where I then spent hours in start and stop traffic on CA 1 as it passed through every beach town on the way to Los Angeles. It was surprisingly frustrating, and I was beginning to have concerns about my plans for the rest of the trip. Despite my trepidation I trudged through the endless traffic and into the Los Angeles area. Because I wasn’t initially sure how many days I was going to spend in San Diego, I didn’t really know when I would make it to Los Angeles (or any other point beyond) I wasn’t able to book the hotel I had initially interested in. The only thing in LA that I specifically wanted to see was a place called the Museum of Death on Hollywood Blvd so I headed in that direction…and kept heading there…and kept on…and on. I was avoiding the freeway because it was around 5pm and I knew traffic would be horrible so I took surface roads. What I didn’t know was that from Long Beach to what was essentially the intersection of Hollywood and Vine was pretty much the whole fucking city. Oh, and the surface streets sucked too. And then I sat in a Pier 1 parking lot for about an hour and a half while I tried to find a place that wasn’t full or $300, or both. By that point it was about 9:30pm and I was done. I crashed in my room, which wasn’t too bad.

Not as rested as I should’ve been and hungry because I slept through breakfast I headed 4 or 5 blocks down the boulevard and checked out the Museum of Death. The outside of the museum is a bit of a contradiction. It’s a plain white, brick building with bars across most of the front, broken up in the center by a huge 8-ish foot painting skull and then covered by vines full of beautiful red flowers. Unfortunately they didn’t allow photography in the museum, though there wasn’t exactly a lot that was photogenic. The museum is very aptly named. If it has to do with death, it’s probably covered. Serial killers, suicide cults, mortuary sciences, traffic accidents…it’s not exactly cheery stuff. Some of it’s interesting like the art gallery from serial killers or funeral traditions in different cultures. A lot of it, however, is morbid as hell and not for the squeamish. I followed up a building full of death with some fine Thai food in LA’s Thaitown. After a long tour in, and a much more abbreviated trip out of LA I have to say I honestly don’t know why someone would really want to live there. The sprawl is completely out of control and the entire city seems like a slightly scummy mess. Unless you’re an ethnic minority a long way from home and need a group of your own culture to feel at home in this country there just didn’t seem much to appeal to a honkey like me. So I left LA without really feeling like I understood it. A few days later I would talk to a couple over breakfast and after asking them where the “nice” part of LA was, they told me “It’s in San Diego.”

I made my way back to CA 1 and again was hit with stop and go traffic, though nowhere near as bad as the evening before. It wasn’t until getting a little ways past Malibu that the traffic let up and I finally started to get a taste of the PCH I was looking for. Although the weather was cloudy, the coast began to get more wild and rugged and the towns that the highway passed through became much smaller in general. I drove for several hours along the winding coastal highway when I made my way to an early dinner at a place in Santa Barbara called La Super Rica. I had read about the place online and it touted the La Super Rica as having some superb tacos and little tamales (called tamalitos). I ended up getting a trio of their tamalitos, a chorizo taco, and a carne adobada taco (not to be confused with the adovada I had in NM). Each taco is served on a pair of small homemade tortillas, and the tamalitos are steamed in plantain leaves and have raisins mixed in with the pork inside the cornmeal casing. The tacos were hands down the best tacos I’ve ever had, especially the one with chorizo. Although the tamalito wasn’t better than the one I had at Doris’ on my first road trip, I think they could be an equal in their own way. The raisins add a distinctly sweet flavor to an excellent tamale that makes it really hard to compare as an equal to Doris’ tamale. Needless to say, I was extremely happy with my stop.

Once I was back on the road I was on my way to San Luis Obispo where I planned to spend the night. Again I had no reservations anywhere because of the uncertainty of my plans, and again I found myself struggling to find a place to stay. This time it was exacerbated by the fact that I showed up on a Friday night, the night before graduation ceremonies at nearby CalPoly. Again it was a case of places being solidly booked except for the high-priced suites. I had wanted to stay at the eccentrically themed Madonna Inn, but with the only available room being $450 I looked elsewhere. I ended up about 20 minutes away in Morro Bay in an only marginally overpriced, though unfortunately smoking, room. It was a so-so night, but I’ve had worse. The next morning I woke up and took a quick tour of Morro Bay where I got to see some sea otters playing in the bay, a really bold colony of morbidly obese squirrels, and some brave cold water surfers. I drove back into San Luis Obispo to have breakfast at an extremely busy, and really warm, café at the Madonna Inn that I didn’t pony up to stay in the night before.

With breakfast out of the way it was back to the road again, and it was a beautiful drive. The day was pretty much all driving, though with a healthy share of pulling over to take in all the vistas I had been hoping for on my drive. The weather was equal bits sunny and cloudy in waves, with an occasionally patchy fog but never anything wet or oppressive. Lunch was a decent burger at a roadside café in the Big Sur area and dinner was a shitload of fresh strawberries and some deep fried artichokes from a roadside produce stand. The strawberries were delicious and the artichokes were interesting. With some ranch, the artichokes were tasty…but just about everything is tasty with ranch. On their own they were a little bland, but not necessarily bad. The day ended on a now familiar note of struggling to find a place to stay, this time in Santa Cruz. Whether it was the last-minuteness, another graduation I didn’t know of, or just the weekend I again ended up looking out of town. This time though it was way out of town – like an hour outside of Santa Cruz into Redwood City. I stayed in a Good Nite Inn, that I’ve never heard of, and while the room itself was pretty nice for what I paid I still don’t understand why places keep trying to charge people extra for wireless when even roadside shitholes have free internet. That doesn’t bring us current, but I’m sleepy so I’ll continue the story tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

"So I left LA without really feeling like I understood it."

I lived there from 4th grade until I married and was never totally assimilated. There were spots like the Angeles Mts cabin my grandfather had, below LA above Malibu beach areas and cruising PCH that touched my soul. But, otherwise, I think LA is one of those places you either fit or don't...I didn't.

Anonymous said...

And, there was no way I could prepare you for the is beyond description...makes Myrtle Beach look like child's play.