Gone to Look for America: An Epic Road Trip (Part 1)

So, I just moved back to Brooklyn after spending a year-and-a-half in San Francisco. When my day job graciously agreed to offer me a transfer, along with a month of unpaid time off to move and find new digs, I knew what I had to do: road trip!

Three factors dictated the route I chose to cross the continent: 1) I moved in February, the dead of winter, which meant I wasn’t driving through Montana, Chicago, etc.; 2) For those who don’t know, I’m a huge music nut (it’ll probably end up being the subject of like 50 percent of my posts on this blog regularly), and taking the southern route allowed me to go through a few cities that I hadn’t been to and that are home to some of America’s best live music scenes: Austin, Memphis, and Nashville; and 3) I would not only be able to visit one of my favorite cities in the world, New Orleans, but I’d be able to do my first Big Easy Mardi Gras.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some pictures and recounting the adventures I had in my travels across America. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Day 1: Good Bye, California

I left my mom’s house in Walnut Creek, California around 10 a.m. on Tuesday, February 5, saying goodbye to my sister and her two dogs. With my little Honda stuffed to the gills with boxes of clothes and books and my two guitars, I hit the road. The first album I listened to in the car was the Almost Famous soundtrack, mostly so I could hear Simon & Garfunkel’s America and the Allman Brothers’ One Way Out. (I won’t belabor this too much, but is there a better road band than the Allmans? Driving drums, incredible guitar solos, outlaw spirit, blues influence, the energy of the live performances—just perfect.)

The natural route from the East Bay to L.A., where I was stopping the first night to see three great friends, is to take the 580 east through the Altamont Pass and then head south on the 5. (Yes, I often do the L.A. thing where I refer to freeways using the definite article. What can I say, I went to college in SoCal, picked up the phrasing, and it stuck. There will be other instances of my syntax getting weird later in this journal, I’m sure.) However, driving the 5 sucks—there’s nothing to look at—and for a number of reasons, I wanted to stop off in Santa Barbara, where I went to college. So I took the 101, El Camino Real, a road I drove countless times in the early 2000s as a UCSB student. I passed through the CHP-infested stretch of the 101 between King City and San Luis Obispo (I saw a patrol car at least once every ten miles), and then swooped down through the beautiful stretch of highway that runs along the Pacific at Pismo Beach and then again around Gaviota, reaching Santa Barbara in the mid-afternoon. I headed through Isla Vista, the small beach town where the majority of UCSB students live, to Sands Beach. I parked at the end of the 6800 block of DP (that’s Del Playa Drive, for the uninitiated) and made the ten-minute walk along the cliff to Sands Beach. When I reached the bottom of the beach access I ran into a guy in an Oakland A’s cap chilling at the base of the cliff, drinking a forty of O-E.

“What up, man,” he said as I walked past him. “You smoke weed?”

“Nah, I’m good,” I said.

“You sure?”

I declined again, thanked him, and walked on, slipping my shoes off to feel the sand beneath my feet, knowing that I would end up with tar stuck to my soles, as everyone who frequents Santa Barbara beaches does. I had come to Sands in part because it’s a place I’ve always loved—my good friend Bhoj and I used to go there nearly every afternoon when we lived in IV—but mostly because of Lara. Many of you reading this will know this already, but I met my longtime former girlfriend at UCSB, and Sands was her favorite place in Santa Barbara. When she was in school she would go running along the cliff in the evenings and stop at the beach to watch the sun set over the ocean. I went out with Lara for six years, starting shortly after I graduated from UCSB. The relationship was beautiful and sad. She was a wonderfully kind person who suffered from Cystic Fibrosis, a devastating chronic illness. After six years together we broke up, and a year-and-a-half later she died from complications of the disease. Last March, per her wishes, a group of her close friends and family scattered her ashes at Sands Beach. So I stood with my feet in the cold ocean water where we’d performed the ceremony, softly singing In My Life and taking a few minutes for the only woman I’ve ever really loved, not knowing when I’d ever be back in SB to do so again.

Sands Beach

Sands Beach: Of course the one day I’m in Santa Barbara, it’s overcast and cold.

Afterwards I stopped in downtown Santa Barbara to make another pilgrimage, albeit a much less emotionally fraught one. I had a bite to eat and a drink—whiskey sour, of course—at my favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara, the Paradise Café. The Paradise is best known for its patio, a great place to enjoy brunch in always sunny Santa Barbara, but my favorite part of the restaurant has always been the bar downstairs, which looks something like the hotel bar in Key Largo.

The bar at The Paradise. Totally Key Largo, right?

The bar at The Paradise. Totally Key Largo, right?

The drinks aren’t even that good, but I enjoy the ambiance, and as always I sat at the bar, thinking that maybe I should have just stayed in Santa Barbara, been a bartender, lived a leisurely life in the land of milk and honey. But I know that would have gotten stale, so I finished my drink and hit the road again.

I reached L.A. about seven o’clock and had dinner at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Culver City with my aforementioned friends. A couple of margaritas and a couple of beers later I was feeling a little loopy. We went back to one of the guy’s houses to shoot the shit, and in the morning I reloaded my guitars into the car and headed off for Vegas.

Next Time: Prophylactic shower drains in Vegas, and what you see when you drive through 1,200 miles of desert.

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2 Responses to Gone to Look for America: An Epic Road Trip (Part 1)

  1. Ariel Goldman says:

    Also the grateful dead and Tom petty are equally good road trip music.

  2. Pingback: Desert Island Album #10: Eat a Peach | From a Brooklyn Basement

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