The first shivering thought I had seemed more real than the fantasy about being “trapped in Tijuana”. My knees were shaking as I simulated a “search and seizure from stem to stern” of New Baleau by the local police authorities. To placate Harry and at the same time try to vindicate myself, I had volunteered to call the police. As I was walking back from the phone booth, I had a few minutes to assess the awkward situation. Fortunately, I had the foresightedness to have locked up the van just to avert any attempt by Harry to “plant” his evidence. I had a thought: “Hell hath no fury as a gay man scorned”. Even though I was blameless, he had manipulated me into a defensive position. I had never before been in such a predicament. I was getting a sinking feeling. However, as soon as I had returned to the “scene of the crime”, Harry had conveniently “located” his wallet inside his RV. And to top it all off, he never actually admitted that it had all been a hoax. I even had to do the apologizing to the cops for the false alarm. Oh, but was I ever relieved that the ordeal was over! I was feeling even more pity for ol’ Harry. I drove out of the parking lot with a faint wave of a good-bye. California was sure full of surprises.
I toured the main drag and a few side streets of Santa Barbara which seemed almost impervious to the urban maladies besetting its gigantic neighbor to the east (air pollution, clogged freeways, street crimes, etc.). The city, with its upper crust genre and Spanish architecture, reminded me of an enclave inside Dallas’ city limits known as Highland Park, only its population was about thirty-fold that of its Texas counterpart. I got back on U.S. 101 to head north to the Bay Area. I made a little detour to Lompoc, supposedly America’s “Flower Capital”, just to say I had “stopped long enough to smell the roses”.
With that out of the way, I scurried back to 101 and hightailed it north to San Luis Obispo where I was confronted with the inevitable fork-in-the-road. Instead of the humdrum valley drive, I opted to retrace my tracks up the winding and picturesque coastal highway on which I had driven south back in that glorious summer of ’63. As safety permitted on the hairpin turns, I found myself glancing back to see if any of the dramatic drop-offs looked familiar after an eighteen year absence. But what I was really searching for was a memorable pull-off area on a precipitous point, somewhere about halfway between Morro Bay and Monterey. About one-third of the way up the coast, there loomed on a hilltop horizon a lordly castle which I immediately recognized as “La Cuesta Encantada”, the enchanted hill, San Simeon.
I pulled over onto the wide shoulder and, as I was focusing my 135mm lens, it appeared like a Mediterranean oceanview village presiding over a domain that could have been nearly one-third the size of Rhode Island. It was all the creation of the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and his Bay Area architect, Julia Morgan. I was trying to imagine a stream of elegant autocars as they snaked up the mansion’s approach road, depositing Hearst’s honored guests for an evening of sumptuous satiation and raucous revelry. Holy Bacchanalia! Fortunately, it was too late to feast on a tour. I just wasn’t in the mood. It would be there for an eternity. About an hour later, I found “my spot” at what was designated as Cape San Martin. I fell asleep to the cadence of the crashing waves below the cliffs. “Oh Lord, what a…”
The following morning I knew indisputably that I was at the right place. As I was heating water over an open fire, I could faintly hear the familiar sound of the sea lions down on their rock perches below the cliffs. Was it a pride of sea lions? Were they roaring? Baying? Barking? Those remarkable amphibians emitted a cacophony that was actually pleasing to the audio senses…a sound I would never forget. I made the fifty yard stroll through waist-high weeds and wildflowers in order to see those inhabitants at the edge of the continent. It was their world and their world only. Except for the fact that their rocky habitat was a safe distance from the shore, I might have felt like an intruder.
As I was making my way back to my campsite, I could see that I had my own “intruder”. A foreign-dressed dude was snapping pictures of my blackened coffee pot on top of the campfire. He was one of a busload of about thirty Europeans who had just disembarked to catch a glimpse of the Pacific panorama. I figured that fellow who was taking dead-aim at my cooking fire just wanted a photo record to show his friends back on “the continent” how a typical American traveled his own country (I suggested he take a couple of shots of the van). Their mode of transportation was extraordinary — sort of like a time-share condominium on wheels. The three-tiered bus had European license plates which hinted to me that the “owners” must have had their mobile quarters shipped stateside. The entire top deck and the rear half of the second deck had elongated windows with drawn curtains which suggested sleeping berths. I mean, those people were goin’ in style! But they were obviously on a tight schedule.
They were not there more than five minutes before they had to respond to an “all aboard” call. I kind of felt sorry for them….they didn’t have time to pick some flowers or listen to the sea lions. It’s Tuesday – this must be California. I lingered until noon, even taking one more walk to see my amphibian friends. I squelched the fire and was off to Big Sur and Monterey Bay, snaking along hundreds of feet above the crashing waves below.
The highway was truly a Corp of Engineers’ masterpiece with most of the roadbed having been literally chiseled out of the steep slope. I stopped in Carmel just long enough to say hello to mayor Eastwood. Soon I was back on U.S. 101 and headed into “Silicon Valley”…”Show Me the Way to San Jose…ba-ba-ba-ba, bababa”. I located the Holiday Inn in Palo Alto, not for a luxurious room with a chocolate under my pillow, but for a sequestered parking space in the back lot. I had found one of those perfect settings: an arbored canopy that made me feel protected; a neighboring ’78 Chevy van that obviously had the same intentions as myself and made me feel more at home; and, to complete the scenario, the CalTrain tracks were just a stone’s throw away. I laxed into a slumber to the long-awaited leitmotif of the locomotives. Things were ringing right.
I took the liberty to case out the joint the next morning. It was California personified – white stucco, red tile, arched colonnades, fountains and pools – all enveloped in a melange of plants and trees that would have put any botanical garden to shame. The ivy was even growing upside down on overhangs and soffits. Everything grew everywhere in California. As I was about to vacate my cherished parking space, a CalTrain diesel came roaring by pulling a string of passenger cars with a pushing unit at the rear.
It was a flamin’ commuter train: I had only heard the trains during the night, assuming that they were the usual freight haulers. I stuck around for about a half an hour, having the time of my life. The commuters whizzed by at six minute intervals. I was thinking there was hope yet for a smog-free California. But I was in the civic-conscious Bay Area with its BART subway and ancillary railway system. Sure, they had their conspicuous swarms of freeways, but at least an aroused community had thwarted the elevated extension of the Embarcadero Expressway, thereby saving Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina from emblematically being entombed.