Land of the Free-Loaders

Approaching Santa Barbara today, avoiding the chill of the rest of the continent like we planned it.  There’s a thin envelope of sunshine following us down the coast so we’re not deviating.  I’ve been going down memory lane since San Francisco, revisiting all my old stomping grounds from when I worked in summer camp back in ’05 and ’06.  The camp was in the rather well-heeled Carmel Valley (I say “was” as it’s closed down now sadly), which is all yellow grass, assorted trees and quirky mansions.  We located the Cachagua General Store, which opens as a restaurant on only Monday night and Sunday brunch.  This operation is run by mate Dylan’s dad, Mike.  Mike runs a pretty smooth operation out there in the woods.  We rocked up in the dark to find a buzzing little shack, all fairy lights and live music, and went on to eat what was quite easily the best meal of the trip so far, and will take some topping.  Lamb shank, rabbit, crab cakes, washed down with great wine and an atmosphere not seen since I worked in the Volcano back in Lyttelton.  The couple on the table next to us had got married two days previously, and the newly wed husband had demanded their first stop on their honeymoon be the Monday Night Restaurant as he hadn’t been in four years and he still remembered the rabbit.  High acclaim indeed!  Mike regaled us with war stories and let us sleep on the floor that night, even leaving a little breakfast out for us in the morning.  Tremendous.

We then got the pleasure of taking Highway 1 south, which Gina enjoyed almost as much as us, until we took a wee detour that Mike had suggested – along the old highway that existed before all the concrete bridges were erected in the 30s.  This stretch of “road” was ten miles of pot holes that took over an hour to navigate.  At one point we had to give Gina a rest at the crest of a hill, her engine melting like a T1000.  The road to Mordor was better maintained. We got to Big Sur and climbed up the river gorge, which due to years of drought was a fair bit shallower than when I used to go there last decade.

The number of hitchhikers has gone up though, and we’ve had 5 in the car since entering CA.  A mixed bag to be fair, the first guy had clearly wet himself and we had to fumigate Gina after he’d gone.  The third guy immediately asked us for money, which was bloody cheeky and the final two we dropped off yesterday, one of whom was called Brodie and fought fires in the summer and hunted for jade during the other months.  I’m not sure who jade is but I hope she’s ok.

We’ve been very guilty of free-loading ourselves of course, kindly letting Griffin host us in San Francisco.  I used to work with Griffin back at camp and apart from his super mario moustache he hasn’t changed a bit, which is all at once refreshing and deeply, deeply disturbing.  He took us out for BBQ and burritos and spent the rest of the time insulting me, which I could see he had sorely missed doing.  We took Gina over the Golden Gate Bridge, somehow avoiding the tolls by driving through the wrong check-point and paid a visit to Arhoolie Records, which featured in a movie we watched back in Homer, Alaska.  The store features stuff recorded by the owner from the past 5o years, all over America and Mexico, all out in the open or at gigs and all reassuringly bluesy, jazzy or folksy.  Imagine the shop in High Fidelity staffed by ZZ Top and you’re getting there.

Final shout out to the Santa Cruz Warriors, a D-League basketball team we caught by chance, playing some other team from somewhere else that produces 8 foot monsters.  The most amazing thing about the match was that even during a 20 second time-out there was entertainment lined up to fill the gaps.  “Oh look everybody, Alan McClusky from Row 12, Seat 5 is going to kick a ball through the mascot’s legs for FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!”  I genuinely enjoyed these parts more.  When they ran out of games the mascot just did a break dance in the centre circle.

So by our clock, we’ll be in Mexico in a week or less.  Those drive-time Spanish CDs will be on repeat!

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