Tag Archives: California

On The Road #30 – Torture Box

So there I was, happy to be escaping The Way to San Jose. Settling into a respectful space between the legs of six or so other hitchhikers who had been lucky enough to scramble into  the back of an empty utility van that had been daring enough to pull over for a long line of desperate hippies. Exchanging howdy-dos and where-are-ya-headings. We petted the dog someone was traveling with and listened to where the driver and his buddy were headed.

To my delight they were headed all the way to Los Angeles and, sure, they’d be glad to pull off at the Sunset Boulevard exit to drop me off. Music to the ears of any hitch hiker with a destination — a ride straight through. 

But then came the two warnings. 

First, they were in a hurry. And second, they had never seen Big Sur so were headed down Highway 1.

Now, folks, I —and most every other soul who has seen it — LOVE Big Sur. A dramatic coast drive, California Highway 1 hugs a steep hillside far above where the sea is pounding the Continent. Arch bridges span gulches and provide the few relatively straight or gently curved stretches as the narrow two-lane road winds its way around rocky spines spiraling up from the Pacific Ocean and forming a coastal range. 

It is an enchanted drive, folks. Lit from the sun over the ocean, usually green and often sprinkled with seasonal flowers loving the constant sea breeze. Those 50 to 140 miles (depending on who is declaring what the “real” Big Sur is) are nothing less than a paradise of a drive. 

A paradise, that is, if you plan on spending most of the day lingering through it. One internet reviewer suggested five hours for a “leisurely pace.”

Leisurely pacing is the only option you have in the middle of the summer season, when super-sized RVs and their sometimes timid drivers negotiate the eternal corners that do not accommodate such large vehicles. Just relax. The traffic lines can be long, there is never room to pass, and the few spots to pull over are usually ignored. Roll down the window, breath the beautiful air, and celebrate the view.

On that day’s fortunate ride on the floor of an empty utility van with other hitchhikers it was not during the summer and there was little traffic. Utility vans have no glass in the cargo area so there were no sights to see. Being cold out there was no costal air wafting through the closed front windows and being in a hurry there was no stopping beside the road to drink in the moment. We made it through in one-and-a-half hours. Tops.

An hour and a half of trying to be courteous to other passengers while desperately trying to find hand holds and foot braces to keep from being thrown around a careening metal box.

I have never been so glad to get to a relatively straight highway.

With daylight left to spare, the driver pulled off on Sunset Boulevard and dropped me off. I carried my pack west on Sunset past Vine Street and Highland Avenue and La Brea Avenue and Ralph’s grocery and the Episcopal church and pushed open the door beneath a sign proclaiming, Drossies Russian & Continental Restaurant Cafe. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant’s distinct aroma of sour cream and onions and borsht greeted me. It was the second home I had stumbled into some seven years earlier. 

And that was the last step of my living on the road.

On The Road #29 – The Way From San Jose

I lit out hitch hiking from Twentynine Palms, California, in the late autumn of 1968. 

Earlier that year Dionne Warwick had released her first Grammy Award winning hit, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” It was a peppy little ditty opening with a beating drum and a satisfying cascade of “Woe Woe Woe”s. It made me want to check the place out. 

That was the reason three years later I found myself in San Jose while thumbing my way back to Southern California. 

Yes, I remember why I decided to go to San Jose, but I have no idea how I got from Boise to San Jose. It could have been my sister, who was raising a family in Freemont, giving me a ride after her family spent Christmas in Boise. But it seems I would remember some snippet of being crammed in a sedan with those five fine folks for a twelve hour drive.

Having completed what was obviously a completely forgettable journey to the southern edge of San Jose, I continued my quest to avoid freeways and found myself on US 101 headed south. Today I’m sure this, too, is a freeway but in 1971 it was a busy surface street. 

I figured any town with a cool song named after it would be good for getting a ride. And, yes, there were vehicles pulling over rather regularly to pick folks up. What I hadn’t counted on was being just another in a hoard of guys and gals and dogs all with the same idea. 

Well, folks, I’ve always been a rather meek soul, holding back and figuring it will all work out. But once I had seen three or four rides pull over and get swamped with desperate seekers I knew I had to jump into the fray. That or stand there for a week watching an endless line of other people getting rides.

About then a regular full-sized utility van pulled over close to where several of us were standing. The side door slid open and I was positioned to jump into the middle of this lucky batch. I lunged into a space toward the back of the empty cargo hold, figuring that might keep me from being tossed out if the driver and his buddy decided they didn’t want to transport a fully loaded van full of eager riders.

Yea. I had found the way to San Jose. And I was feeling real good about finding a way out.