I have spent a non-negligible amount of time in this forum — and possibly a few others –bellyaching about having to drive a rental car through Italy and a heavily laden van through much of the rest of the civilized world. Someone listened. It was Jen.
For this trip, she informed me, she would be the one signing for the car. She’d be the one taking the wheel when we left San Francisco and headed for the Coastal Redwood wilds of central coastal California. And so it was; and I ate my crow pie. Because when one whines enough about driving rental cars, one puts one’s self in the position of being in the passenger seat in the southbound lane of the Pacific Coast Highway only a hair’s breadth from being thrown into free-fall, and then into the Pacific.
This is what happens when one fails to keep one’s mouth shut.
I was, therefore, prepared to take my medicine and suffer through the vertiginous twists of the PCH. It was me, after all, who did the driving during our last trip to these parts. The fact that we were going northward last time and were thus in the inside lane, a full car’s length – plus the shoulder – from the precipice, does not need to be mentioned here because I am too noble to do so.
Anyway, since spouses are able to share driving duties under Hertz policy, and since Jen didn’t seem to care either way, I wound up driving the last leg south from Tacos Moreno in Santa Cruz, through Monterey and into white knuckle territory. I could do this with a good conscience because it was full dark by the time we reached Carmel. Nobody could see the dizzying heights we encountered not far south from there. It was just a twisty road, like many we have at home in New Hampshire. The major diifficulty was that I still knew what was out there and I wanted to go slow, and most people in California have a lower regard for their own lives and/or a higher regard for their own driving abilities. So whenever I saw lights in my rearview, I sought shelter in one of the many pull-off spots provided for just such a purpose. We eventually made it where we needed to go.
And when we got there, aside from the pleasant experience of seeing huge mountains spring up around us that we had been totally unaware of the night before, I also felt it was my duty to return to the passenger seat for our sorties off the Big Sur Lodge grounds. I had blogged myself into this, I could suffer though the shotgun seat from hell for a few days.
How was I to remember that the much of the road between Julia Pfeiffer State Park and the Big Sur lighthouse is inland and relatively close to sea level? Was it my fault that on the day we travelled farther south it was extremely foggy, and thus the cliff faces seemed to blend into cottony clouds that I could imagine cushioning our fall should we jump the guardrails? It was hardly medicine at all. I mean, there were even guardrails this time. I don’t think there were any last time. It was terrifying in 1999. We all must’ve thought the Y2K thing was going to do us in anyway back then and not worried about our mortality. Jen is remarkably unscathed by the experience.
It was not until our last day in Big Sur – our last day in California – that we got to experience the PCH in all its breathtaking glory. Travelling north, with me at the wheel, we had wonderfully clear vistas of the coastline to our left — often to our left and very far down — and the brown and olive mountains to our right. Once more in the safety of the inside lane, we could enjoy the ride in a manner that would in no way suggest that there is anything I’d rather do than drive my family around in a rental car or any other form of vehicle.
Until we reached Monterrey and I had to find a place to park the damn thing and why are the signs so vague, and they should give you a gps with rental cars, and what’s with there not being any key anyway, and that guy in the white Hyundai with New Mexico plates, I finally figured out what I should have shouted at you as passed me back in no man’s land: you’re a horrible driver who tailgates and then waves his arms when someone goes onto a pull-off to let you pass and that makes you a real jerk in my book, pal. Go back to New Mexico and wave your arms around there.
In Central America, we take the bus.