California


Why is the speed limit in Disneyland’s parking garage 14 miles per hour?

Why does the state of California fine carpool lane violators $341?

Why do graffiti “artists” cover freeway signs with their scrawls so that drivers can’t read them?

 Inquiring minds want to know.

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Returning once again to searches that bring readers to this blog, I’ve noticed that many people are looking for information about California (Route 1) and Italy (mountains, ancient Rome).  Since I grew up in one place and lived twice in the other, it’s only natural that they both occupy special places in my heart.  I got to thinking about their similarities, and here are some of my ideas.

California Italy
Mediterranean climate Mediterranean climate
Wine culture (brought from Spain) Wine culture (exported throughout Europe)
Famous highways (Route 1) Famous highways (Via Appia and other Roman roads)
Long history (when you consider the age of the USA) – native culture and Spanish exploration are only the beginning Amazingly long history, well worth reading about.  Documented by Caesar and his colleagues as well as contemporary historians
Volcanoes (fortunately inactive) Volcanoes (active…)
Famous for its automotive culture (traffic, driving habits) Famous for its automotive culture (Ferrari, driving habits)
Friendly people Friendly people
Food from everywhere Distinguished local cuisine
People from everywhere People who can trace ancestry back 2000 years
Huge variety of scenery, from natural wonders to mountains to beaches – try Yosemite, Big Sur, Death Valley Huge variety of scenery, from natural wonders to mountains to beaches – check out the Dolomites, Golfo di Gaeta and the unspoiled hills of Le Marche
Why not visit some day?  There’s more to California than Hollywood and the Golden Gate Bridge. Why not visit some day?  Rome, Venice and Florence are only the beginning.

The two places are more alike than you’d think, and vastly different as well.  It’s a matter of looking into things a bit more carefully, rather than just doing the guidebook glance-over.

Some day in the future I’ll compare Italy and West Virginia.  They, too, are more alike than you’d think.

PCH…the Pacific Coast Highway.  I’ve driven the Via Appia, explored Germany’s Rhine River gorge, and crossed the Arizona and New Mexico deserts.  They’re all stunningly beautiful, each in its own way.  Pacific Coast Highway, though, offers one of the most beautiful drives on Earth.

If you can bear to look down.

I’d done the PCH drive from San Diego northward, not all at once but in bits and pieces.  My cousins grew up along the coast, so I’d done the L. A. – Santa Barbara drive so often I could name the state beaches in order.  My family re-created my parents’ honeymoon one year, driving PCH between Santa Barbara and Carmel-by-the-Sea…gorgeous.  So, when my fiancé proposed we head north on PCH for our honeymoon, I agreed.

Little did I know.  North of San Francisco, California Route 1 becomes an alien life form surrounded by fabulous views.  It’s hard to imagine the up-and-down, roller-coaster feel of PCH when you look at a road map.  California hills slope right down to the ocean, and they take PCH with them.  The road twists and turns, crossing gulleys on impossibly high bridges. 

And then there are the log trucks.

Southern California natives don’t think much about industries in the northern part of the state.  Anything beyond Silicon Valley falls into the general categories of San Francisco, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe.  When they think about trees, they imagine Marin County redwoods.

Sorry, folks, but there’s a bit more to it than that.  Logging and paper milling are still important industries in northern California.  And to get the logs from the forests to the mills, you need log trucks.  Lots and lots of them.  They’re terrifyingly large and incredibly slow.  The giant logs they carry look as though they’ll slide off the truck at any moment and bounce right through your windshield.

I’m sure I don’t need to add that I spent most of this drive – which stretched out over several days – clutching the door handle, chicken handle, and my new husband, in sheer terror.

We did see some wonderful places, such as Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Fort Ross, and the Russian River valley.  It was a great road trip.  I don’t know if I could ever do it again.

Most people I know see driving as a dull chore.  They slog through traffic to work, pick up groceries, retrieve children from daycare, and collapse on the sofa, frozen into a driver’s seat position.

I don’t view driving this way at all.  I suppose it’s because I was born in southern California, where driving is both contact sport and art form.  Perhaps it’s due to the fact that both of my grandfathers loved road trips.  My dad’s father drove from the midwest to California with his buddies, breaking down approximately every half hour, and never forgot the trip or destination.  Many years later, he moved his family to California (hence my native status!).

At any rate, I have loved driving by myself for, well, decades.  As a teenager, my favorite drive was from my hometown to Santa Monica, Calif., the closest beach.  Part of this drive takes you up Pacific Coast Highway, which snakes along the California coastline.  Windows down, radio blasting, sunshine pouring in…total bliss.  Most times, I’d drive up to a rocky spot near Will Rogers State Beach, plop down with my book for an hour, and head home.  I spent more time driving than tanning.

That old ’70’s group, America, captured my feelings about PCH in the song “Ventura Highway.”  Even though the song is about another California road, it’s full of the wind-in-hair, free feeling I experienced long ago on California Route 1.

There’s more to say about PCH, the iconic California highway.  Stay tuned.