Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “August, 2017”

Freeway Bound in California – Bay Area to Ojai

20170705_132728docI am  off to visit my cousin and friends who are rendezvousing in Ojai, 500 miles south.  Google Maps sends me down the old main artery of California, US Highway 101, known as the Bayshore on the San Francisco Peninsula, the Monterey Highway in San Jose, and a dozen other names as it passes, (or nowadays bypasses)  every mission town – the brown Historical Marker signs for  San Juan Baptista,  San Carlos Borroméo del  Carmelo, San Miguel, La Purissima, and a number of crumbling Adobe dwellings are more abundant than the Golden Arches on this particular road.  But today I am on the freeway, dodging big rigs and RV’s, not looking for picturesque byways.  

What I am looking for is rest stops.  And Highway 101 is short of these.  I pull off in Salinas, assuming that the large and new shopping center visible before the exit will have a couple of fast-food places with accommodating rest rooms. Amazingly, not.  Where there should be a McDonald’s and a Jack-in-the -box are a dentist’s office and a bank.  The lone Subway has locked restrooms for customers only.  Fortunately, there is Dick’s, a huge outdoor recreation store which I would never normally enter.  Way back near the guns and the archery room, sign tucked at an angle for minimum visibility, are some very nice restrooms. Whew!

My next stop is north of San Miguel, at the sole rest stop along my way. Fortunately it is large, and well-equipped with both rest rooms and vending machines, as well as a working water fountain, large shady trees sheltering picnic tables,  and numerous informational posters and plaques about the local ecology, points of historical interest, and nearby state parks and recreation areas,.  I guess the entire rest stop budget for Highway 101 went into this one spot.  

Then on to the Cuesta Grade, the only three lane stretch of 101 between San Jose and my exit point.  And much needed, as the 7% grade is a challenge for trucks going up, and the REALLY SLOW lane is needed.  I had been apprehensive about the downgrade, but simply pushing the “Overdrive OFF” button on my shift lever put me in a safe range for descent. A nifty trick.

20170705_124831webFor lunch, I treat myself to a stop at the Madonna Inn.  When I was in my teens going back and forth on this road, I always wanted to stop at the Pink Palace on the hill below San Luis Obispo, but never could persuade my destination-fixated Dad to make the stop.  In a concession to 21st century norms, the Madonna is no longer bright pink on the outside, but never fear, there is plenty of rosiness left inside and out:  pink hydrangeas and roses outside, pink marble in the ladies room, and even the lady in the gift shop sported a streak of pink hair. (See above in the mirror.) 

Lunch was perfectly satisfactory. A flavorful cup of split pea soup and a hefty half-sandwich crammed with avocado, lettuce, and tomato  were served by a smiling young woman in a pinafore embroidered with flowers along the ruffled hem and straps.  She was the only brunette among a passel of other young smiling servers with their hair in long blonde braids – not sure where the Scandinavian thread entered the Madonna decor theme, but it is a fun motif, and better than pink pinafores.

Then further south, Pismo Beach, and the first glimpse of ocean since Monterey. 

 At Carpenteria I escape the freeway on CA-154, the Chumash Highway.  This is a two lane road with two stop signs and one traffic circle in 40 miles, snaking through beautiful high country along the Chumash Reservoir, which was looking still a bit under filled despite one year of hefty rain after California’s five years of drought.  Of course, most of the rain fell in NoCal, and we are very possessive about it these days.  This road is a playground for sports cars, and I had to pull over several times in my sedate 6-cylinder Camry to let a Mustang or Camaro roar by.   

 More 6% and 7% grades descending into Santa Barbara.  My first bout with traffic in Carpenteria, and then off the Freeway for good on the road to Ojai, with a sigh of relief.  

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California Under Fire (Los Altos Town Crier July 8, 2017

Whittier Fire

Ventura County STAR photo

A few weeks ago I drove down to Ojai to visit a cousin and some friends.  East of Los Alamos I took the Cachuma Highwy (CA-154) to avoid the dogleg south on 101 through Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, and along the coast.

My notes describe the cutoff  as “a two lane road with two stop signs and one traffic circle in 40 miles, snaking through beautiful high country along the Chumash Reservoir, which was looking still a bit under filled despite one year of hefty rain after California’s five years of drought. This road is a playground for sports cars, and I had to pull over several times in my sedate 4-cylinder Camry to let a Mustang or Camaro roar by.” I was looking forward to a return trip on the same road, planning to check out the Vista Points overlooking the reservoir and maybe take a rest stop at the little Nature Center near the Boy Scout Camp. CachumaLakeweb

 

The evening before my departure my cousin warned me “Better check your route tomorrow.  The news says a wildfire broke out and Hwy 154 is closed.” 

Google Maps confirmed the closure the next morning, and I took the dog-leg through Goleta.  Beyond the hills behind Santa Barbara I could see the smoke roiling up like a dirty brown thunderhead.  From Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach the valley winds carried the soot from the fire thick enough to make the sky brown from the Coast Range to the ocean.  I aborted my plan of eating lunch on a balcony overlooking the Pacific, and settled for a grab-and-go shopping center sandwich.

All along 101 the fire scars from old and recent burns seemed to jump out of the landscape – blackened hills and leafless trees from summer after summer of drought and burns.  We had had a record-setting wet winter, but I had been warned by a park ranger earlier that the spring growth, now crisped by summer heat in the 100’s, would make any fire even more dangerous.

A day later the headlines in the SJ Merc shouted “Blazes rage across West;  Thousands Evacuated in State.” The fire that still closed CA-154, now dubbed “the Whittier fire” had consumed seventeen thousand acres and was only 5% contained.  The Boy Scout camp had been evacuated in a bull-dozer-led convoy, but the Nature Center was a total loss;  all of the resident animals had died in their cages.  

Two weeks later the Whittier fire had disappeared from the headlines.  I did a quick Google search;  it was still burning, but 85% contained, with a number of structures destroyed but no loss of life. 

I thought of the miles of sun-crisped golden hillsides that line our local freeways, and the thousands of discarded cigarette butts and back-firing cars that threaten to send a spark in the wrong place.  I remember the Oakland firestorm of 1991 which raged up the canyons of the East Bay hills killing twenty-three people, and I cross my fingers.  We still have a long fire season left. 

 

CachumaLakeweb

Au revoir Paris

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Some years back when I was still travelling on business, one of my son’s friends and I compared notes about our favorite places to stay and eat in Paris.  We agreed that the 7me Arrondissement was a great home base for convenient access to the best-known historic sites and museums, and argued gently over the merits of staying east or west of the Avenue Bosquet.  I liked the slightly better Metro access from the Rue Cler area, while he preferred the slightly more upscale hotel and dining options east of the Avenue. 

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His list of favorite restaurants differed completely from mine, but as I had not been as happy as I wished with our dinner at l’Affriole, I decided to lead my group of four to one of his recommendations on Rue St. Dominique just east of the Avenue Bosquet, La Fontaine de Mars.  It was as wonderful as he had said.  Next time I’m in Paris I will go there on my first night, not my last.

But it was a fine farewell to our week.  The next morning we rose early, glimpsed the Seine from our taxi, and caught a last view of the Arc de Triomphe by dawn light from the express bus to deGaulle.  The only good thing about leaving Paris is that each time I do, I am reinforced in my determination to come back again.

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[next week: my monthly article from the Town Crier.  After that, a new set of Freeway Free travels in a completely different part of the world!  I hope you keep reading.]

Freeway Free in France: A Drizzly Day Among the Honored Dead

P1030342webWhat better way to spend a gray and drizzly Sunday in Paris than wandering around the cemetery of Pere-La-Chaise, site of burial of many notable and not-so-notables of recent (since the 1800’s ) French history? The requirement for burial here is that one must have been a French citizen OR have died in France (which is why Jim Morrison and Maria Callas are here.) WB and I spent several contemplative hours in the light rain contemplating the mortality of such immortals as Delacroix, whose masterpiece “The Raft of the Medusa” is harrowingly evoked in bas relief on his tomb.

Armed with a tour map, and assisted by an elfin elderly man whose mission in retirement was to guide tourists to the most remote celebrities, we did the [ghost] town, paying our respects to Heloise and Abelard side by side in death as they were denied in life, plus Colette, Modigliani, Edith Piaf,  Honore de Balzac, Maria Callas, and many others .

Somehow I ended up with no pictures of Jim Morrison’s grave site, but fortunately there are plenty of places on the web you can check out.  At present the site is cordoned off to prevent the vandalism which you can see documented at the link I provided.  Strange for fans to show their admiration by trashing the grave.

A whole section of the cemetery consists of memorials to French citizens deported by the Nazis during the World War II Occupation.  It seems as thought the French conscience is still uneasy at what was allowed to happen to its citizens during that fraught time.

And of course, there are a number of sites with memorable sculpture and meaningful inscriptions honoring people of whom one has never heard.  I would like passers-by to pause by my grave one day and wonder what sort of person chose my epitaph, as I wonder about Mssrs Kieffer, Percheron, and Maria.P1030370doc

“Nothing which does not fall, and does not decay!

Mysterious abyss where the spirit hides!

A few feet underground silence abides

And so much noise above in light of day!

-V. H. [could be Victor Hugo?]

 

 

 

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