I 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.
For 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.