Furious whitecaps roar all the way to the horizon. The pine trees, which have been scattering massive doses of sinus-polluting pollen, whip in stiff wind gusts. If this keeps up a tree will crash into the wires up the road and we’ll be without juice for an hour or even a couple of days. Some poor unlucky soul will lose a roof, a car or a fence to a falling pine and the event will surely make the cover of the local newspaper as it does almost every year. Welcome to Cambria, California, population 6100. I’m watching the action from my makeshift office in the house we rent regularly when we hide out from the “real” world.
Tim has established his territory at the dining room table downstairs and from time to time I hear him chuckle as he invents the antics of Nick Vitale, the protagonist of his latest book project, a mystery set in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
We landed here after a two week road trip which included a drive trip between San Miguel Allende, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas. This time we weren’t too concerned about bandits in Mexico, but the notion of US Customs people sifting through our mountain of belongings was unsettling. No nosy border guards interfered, and we arrived at the same unlovely hotel where we stayed before. We were too tired to be insulted by the charm-free desk clerks and we raced out of there early, bound for better accommodations in Austin.
The heavy-duty diet we’d observed since Thanksgiving resulted in our looking as if we were wearing other people’s clothes, so we spent several days cruising super-size malls in search of duds to compliment our newly svelte selves. In Austin big hair, big jewelry, gorgeous boots and good food rule. We took full advantage of it all. Our car looked like Ma and Pa Kettle’s as we hit the road.
Driving through El Paso stopped our conversation. The city has a surreal sadness to it that surprised us both. On the US side an ultra-modern highway carries traffic at high speed past a metropolitan-looking city. A glance to the left reveals the river and thousands of shacks that tumble down to the pitiful fence which is supposed to divide our two countries. No comment. We got out of there without slowing down.
In Tucson we learned a new travel truth: do things the European way. Ask to see the room before you drag your gear inside. We paid too much for a Jr. Suite at the Valley View Hotel and Spa and were rewarded with a great big room with nowhere to sit. Seriously. The room was so pretty and large that we didn’t notice until we had hauled in our gear and kicked off our shoes that there was only one chair. No sofa, either. Two straight-backed dining chairs did not appeal, so we spent the evening propped up in bed watching a movie like denizens of Motel 6.
After a nice family visit in Phoenix, where we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and architecture school, we followed the cowboy trail to Yuma, Arizona.
Both Tim and I remember taking long, hot sticky trips across the United States when we were children. I suppose that everyone whose parents drove them from somewhere in the east to California in the 40’s and 50’s has similar memories. In those days, every town of any size along the highway boasted a street full of motels with big neon signs and fanciful names like The Stardust, The Tropicana, or The Colonial Inn. Towns like Tucumcari, Springfield and Flagstaff flash before me and I can remember leaping out of my lair in the backseat where I had rolled around reading, snacking and gawking at concrete dinosaurs built on the roadside to attract tourists, Burma Shave joke signs, concrete tee-pee motel units, and billboards advertising curio stands which invited travelers to see live snakes and armadillos while they slurped date shakes.
I pled to stop at Carlsbad Caverns and the hundreds of historical markers along the way. My folks must have wanted to strangle me. We would start out before dawn to “beat the heat,” and stopped at 3 PM or so to take advantage of the pools every motel had placed smack in the middle of the parking lot. Some of them had trees and a bit of green lawn, an oasis where I could swim with other kids and Mother and Daddy could indulge in their cocktail hour. Being a child who lived in an apartment in Chicago, I was beyond thrilled.
My darling Tim, travel agent supreme, surprised me that afternoon with reservations at for only suite at The Yuma Cabana Motel. Surrounded by other period motels and coffee shops, the Yuma had it all: a huge garish neon sign featuring a sputnik-looking star burst, a dinky pool crammed up against the building next to it, and a very blonde manager who had spent too much time in the Arizona sun.
It was perfect. I squealed (yes, I did) when we entered. The kitchen was a vintage 1960 electric job which included sink, stovetop, refrigerator, cabinets and oven in one gorgeous steel unit. Everything worked perfectly. The bathroom had vintage black and white tile and there was even a barcalounger in the living room. We were staying in a Smithsonian diorama! Dinner in a coffee shop rounded off the experience nicely and the next day we headed for the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego.
We each had fruitful meetings with knowledgeable publishing professionals and attended workshops where many of our questions were answered. Jeremy Lee James, the talented writer/computer-internet wizard who created this site, was in attendance. I was pleased to meet him in person and impressed that he would spend time with us, considering the extra time and effort I had required as we constructed the site. He is a patient man and even better, he was an amusing companion at post-conference gatherings.
We stepped right in to our California life the minute we turned off Highway 1 towards Cambria. Some things in this Brigadoon-like hamlet never seem to change. Its predictability is a great pleasure for us, especially since we have chosen a capricious path for the time being. One of my own predictions has just come true; somewhere up the road a tree has taken out the power line. I must shut down my computer, dig up some candles and flashlights, and consider what we can do about creating a dinner using only gas burners. But first I think I’ll open the freezer for the last time until the power returns, have a cocktail, enjoy the view and listen to the wind howl.