It’s amazing how much better you feel after a decent night’s sleep. Even one punctuated by two or three sleepless periods and some time spent in an altered state where you’re convinced that you’re participating in some sort of pillow research involving articulating the finer points of the stuffing material and naming it accordingly. I woke up to a blue sky framing tall palm trees and a hotel swimming pool. I also noticed the train tracks whose use had contributed to the afore mentioned two or three sleepless periods.
As I’d driven so much further than planned I was in no great hurry to leave so I made a nice breakfast from the yogurt, fruit and cereal I’d brought along and sat back, listening to Bach concertos. When finished I went out and cleaned the bugs off the windscreen confirming once again that there is no Windex like Mexican Windex. The glass was so clean that I suspected its overall thickness had been reduced significantly. While I worked a passel of Japanese tourists loaded their luggage into a waiting bus. Their driver stood there smoking and watching. One of the tourists took several photos of the front of the motel taking the time to carefully line up his shots, I guess to maximize the grandeur of the Ramada. A woman was doing the same only her subject was the Taco Bell across the parking lot. I was pretty amazed at how empty the lot was this morning, everyone must have left in the wee hours. Several groups of motorcyclists came out, decked in leather and stood around chatting and smoking. On their way to the big ride-in back down the road at Laughlin.
I gathered my things and headed down Main Street to the Starbucks I’d found last night. Arriving I discovered that there were only 4 parking spots and they were all filled. I got in the drive through lane and it wasn’t moving at all so when a spot did open I backed out and parked figuring that inside was bound to be faster. The place was busy, but half the people inside were workers. More than I’ve seen in a Starbucks, anywhere. For all those people I couldn’t figure out why things weren’t moving faster. I made my order and waited, taking a moment to surreptitiously check out a young woman with a stroller. Taller than 6 feet, dressed in black sweat pants, black hoodie, black sneakers and a black baseball hat, the only uncovered parts of her were covered with tattoos. Like the back of both hands and every finger between all the knuckles. She played with her phone while her toddler sat there staring into space. I’d love to hear her story.
I got my goodies and got on the road and a mile up that same hill as last night I freaked out about my missing reading glasses figuring I’d left them at the hotel. While I probably could have just written them off, I know myself well enough to know I’d be thinking about them for the next three days so I took the first exit and figured since I was stopping I may as well top off the gas tank. There was a Shell station on the corner offering regular for $4.89 a gallon. Behind it on a side street there was a generic station offering the same for $4.08. The choice was obvious. I pulled in and paid with my now working credit card and found my missing glasses in my messenger bag. Problems resolved and fully fueled I got back on the highway and headed towards Bakersfield.
The highway didn’t last long, choosing to head off towards San Bernardino instead of in my direction. I got off onto one of those classic western rural highways, two lanes with solid double yellows down the middle and knots of traffic led by RVs whose drivers say “dammit I’m going the speed limit, too bad for them.” A red Suburu tailgated me until the highway suddenly divided and he roared past. I caught him again fifteen minutes up the road when we narrowed to one lane again and he got stopped at the back of another RV led convoy. Every ten minutes or so we’d come to a four way intersection and I’d pray that the RV would turn off, but they never do. The red Suburu pulled off at a rest area and I bid him adieu.
I was now in the heart of the Mojave, miles of nothing in both directions save for desiccated sage bushes and a few Joshua Trees here and there, no doubt cursing the wind that dropped their seed in this particular circle of hell. An F16 did a long, lazy arc across the sky up the road making me think how this must be a pilot’s heaven. Miles and miles of nothing preventing you from taking a plane out and just flying around just above the power lines. Edwards Air Force Base was far off to my left recognizable by those big sinister buildings we’ve all seen on the news over the years. Every once in a while I’d pass a trailer park, a cluster of palms and maybe ten trailers unhitched from their trucks and sitting there in the sun. Talk about the end of the road, I can’t imagine why someone would pick a place like this to park and sit. Maybe the night sky? Outside of that, there is nothing else within 50 miles of here.
The road kept changing from divided to two lanes and back again about every 15 miles. Why the highway department didn’t just finish it is beyond me, probably due to some arcane budgetary problem or perhaps some malice between the state and one of these godforsaken counties. My driving rhythm was suffering, being jacked back and forth between stuck behind trucks and roaring past them. Finally the road split and I was able to gain some speed.
There was no color here. The sky was the same gray as the soil and the sage made no effort to differentiate itself. Suddenly though, tiny yellow wildflowers appeared filling the gap between the road and the edge of the sage wasteland. A truckload of convicts bedecked in prison orange and safety green added to the improving palette. A range of mountains appeared off in the distance crowned with dark gray rain clouds. The coastal rain storm I’d seen on last night’s news. The highway continued to angle that way and the sky grew darker. As the mountains drew closer, the big wind turbine farm at the town of Mojave came into view. More blades than I’ve ever seen anywhere, and in many different sizes. The big white ones dominating little dense clusters of small gray and white units. At first it made me think of an army, coming over the hills. Giants protecting squadrons of dwarves. That notion made me think of all things, the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an whose ranks were arrayed by weaponry, rank and race. The tall fierce Manchus leading the small Han in their eternal battle with the foes of Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united all of China. The highway ended up wrapping around the base of the big turbine army before turning sharply into a gap in the mountains and climbing up and out of the desert and into that lovely chaparral that makes California so beautiful. Live Oaks studding the hillsides, Eucalyptis hiding in the clefts in the sides of the mountains. As I descended that zone gave way to another round of nude gray hills and finally the floor of the Central Valley, America’s Fruitbasket which of course would be another desert, sister to the Mojave were it not for all the water that gets poured on it in the name of agriculture. For the next hour or so I had time to think about water and whether it really made sense to pour such a valuable resource on endless acres of potting plants. Fruits and vegetables, sure. But Petunias? Of course I was constantly informed that it was a good idea by signs on many fields that said “no water, no jobs”, placed there in response to a move by the state government to allocate more water in a probably vain hope of saving the Sacramento River Delta, now threatened by salinization. Climate Wars, coming to everywhere soon.
After a weird map problem in Bakerfsfield I got myself straightened out and on the road to my destination, Paso Robles. While glancing in my mirror to make a lane change, I saw a familiar car – the red Suburu – racing up behind me once again and weaving in and out of traffic. He roared past again and this time disappeared into the distance. After fifteen miles on this highway it was off and onto yet another two-lane/four-lane switcheroo, this time thankfully without an RV to lead the way. I made a call ahead to the rental agent and arrived when I said I would. A nice place overlooking the town. Modern and well appointed and owned by a couple living in China. I made a quick grocery run, ate a quicker lunch and headed out again to see the coast. Rain or not, I was going to see the sea.