14 April 2008

Back To The Left Coast


Back to my travels. I could leave them incomplete but something nags at me to finish that story. Two stories now.

Out west my journey from San Simeon north to Monterey was every bit as thrilling and consoling as I wanted. People told me about the PCH as a narrow winding road along the steep slopes, so harrowing that one could scarcely notice the vista for fear of driving to one’s death. Wrong. While hardly a six lane highway, the brutal landscape of rock and sea and chartreuse grass and shrub did not forbid a goodly two land road with ample shoulders. Yes, the curves were deep and had to be taken slowly, but those on the highway were like me, there for the experience and thus in no hurry.

Nearly a dozen times I pulled over to catch the view without moving, from a short walk in to the precipitous redwood grove to a series of cliffs jutting toward the sea and the impossibly alive pacific ocean, whose waves were anything but gentle as they slapped the rocky shore for mile after mile.

Arriving at the Big Sur region at lunchtime, I indulged a hilltop restaurant whose prices were equally tall. But the view was what I paid for, and the nearby patrons, some of whom were staying at the spa like hotel. As I drove up the narrow road there were one or two comely ladies jogging along the edge. A boutique with signature bathrooms and local objets d’art told me this was a place for the financially ample. Feeling like an interloper, and treated like one by a staff that recognizes the rich and famous and thus condescends to the merely middlesome, it was a pleasant bit of inverse slumming with a crab cake salad and some Belgian beer, which I nursed as long as I could before the sun proved too bright and potentially burning.

Waiting until the slight buzz of the ale faded, I returned to my car and soon found myself riding through a narrow valley. The road was already leaving room for perched houses, some of which I saw before lunch, or rather I saw their gates. Only when I looked backward from a sinuous curve did I see the self consciously modern aeries with their windows looking out to sea, all with the sort of California informality that never suggests modesty.

Now, though, heading into Big Sur proper, the road traveled in the valley just east of the coast, not an 8th of a mile, but out of view of the sea. I gassed up at a wildly expensive filling station, serving a community with no other choice. Much like those service areas on turnpikes or airport merchants beyond the security zone who know they have no competition.

Not long after leaving the gas station (I think it was after lunch at least) the Esalen Institute and I passed Henry Miller’s Library, which was his home as well and now a bookstore cum museum.


The former was the subject of a book I read a review about, famously infamous for being a hotbed of sexual liberty and esoteric conversation, made into an emulsion by the wild and wooly location. Of course, today it is all past tense, or mostly so. It’s devoted hope to preserve the excesses of the counterculture now makes it seem more seedy and pitiful that revolutionary. All I saw was the sign and gate. Nothing appeared in my rear view mirror this time.

Henry Miller’s home is a rustic place in a hollow at the bend in a hairpin curve. It looked more like a traveling bookstore, the kind with dusty bins of books propped on sawhorses. By the time I realized what it was, it was upon me I was passed it and wondered if I should go back. I didn’t.

That reminded me of the strawberry stand in Oxnard a week before, perched alongside the straight road between two vast fields where workers were stooping in the sun, a truck in the field holding large metal cans of water for refreshment. I thought then, “should I go back?’

If you think it, you probably should. Hope I can keep that wisdom in mind the next time.

1 comment:

James Harrington said...

More and more often, especially when I think back to about 25 years of missed opportunities, I turn back. It is nearly always worth the time and effort.