Coastal Commuter

The Coastal Commuter

I’ve lost my way station, and it’s going to hurt. My brother has taken on a new job that required him and his family to move from lovely Monterey, Calif. — author John Steinbeck’s old stomping grounds, site of Cannery Row, and home to one of the world’s great aquariums — to the foot of the Bavarian Alps, also a place of great scenic splendor. I always wish my brother well, but I’m pissed!

Although I really shouldn’t get too bent out of shape, my regular trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles — the last five years of road-work — were made immeasurably better, easier and more gracious by the presence of my relatives at their cozy Monterey digs. What this meant for me was more than just the opportunity to see my nieces growing up (which has happened so fast) or to share common cultural interests with my sibling/fellow Anglophile (Doctor Who, Peep Show, The Belles of St Trinian’s, etc.) or to get a dose of home-cooking — the latter particularly appealing to a guy who dines out seven nights a week. The familial bonding (and the presence of a washer and dryer in the garage, rather than the tedium of dragging my clothes to my local Laundromat) made for a pleasurable respite, despite the occasional parent-child conflicts and marital tension that are surely found in most clans. But a major positive was the sheer beauty of the journey to and from my destinations.

Sure, it takes a little longer to get from the sprawling L.A. metroplex to the homey hills of our fair City by the Bay if you take the tree-and-sea-lined coastal route, 101, rather than the drab, dusty brown stretches of I-5. It’s not just that I-5 dulls the senses and often splatters your grill and windshield with bug viscera, even as it gets you to and from SoCal in roughly 5 hours 30 minutes, as the Google maps. For the record, the total time from L.A. to S.F. via 101 (without the Monterey detour) is about 6 hours 45 minutes. But getting from the City of Angels to the Golden Gate is so much more idyllic when the sights include the glory of the Pacific from Ventura up to Pismo Beach, the forests of the Central Coast, and the missions that dot what amounts to the historic byway known as El Camino Real.

Mission Santa Barbara, for instance, is a beauty, and it’s open for worshipper and tourist alike. Plus, when you’re done slaking your spiritual or sightseeing thirst, Santa Barbara has quite a few microbreweries with tasting rooms such as the Telegraph Brewing Company and brew pubs including the Santa Barbara Brewing Company to quench your thirst for a finely crafted “oat soda.” And of course, if you’re traveling with your sweetie, you can take a rollicking rest stop at the legendary Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo where no rooms are alike and every night can be a honeymoon in a strange- and marvelous-themed suite.

Maybe you’re an old-fashioned type — a creature of questionable habit who can’t imagine a drive between Cali’s big cities without a stop at Andersen’s on I-5 for a bowl of the house specialty: pea soup. I believe that some people who speed down the Interstate aren’t so much in a hurry to get where they’re going as they’re craving a bowl of green comfort glop, and a gander at Andersen’s jocular cartoon chef mascots Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee. Well, guess what? There’s an Andersen’s in the small town of Buellton right off 101, and instead of whiffing the scent of cattle and fertilizer on your way there past I-5’s agribusinesses, you get the smell sea air and verdant foliage. That’s right. Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee — the Laurel & Hardy, the Mutt & Jeff, or better yet, the Bert & Ernie of pea soup — have a woodland getaway that’s far more tantalizing to the appetite than their sun-baked spread on I-5.

To be fair, it’s not always a great thing for me to dawdle when in transit on business in the entertainment capital. And with those relaxing stop-offs for the night (or two) in Monterey, I’d actually be driving a total of 7 hours 30 minutes. But even when bypassing Monterey, the pleasures of 101 far outweigh the piddling 1 hour 15 minutes one would save by taking I-5. And don’t get me started about the treacherous nature of the Grapevine in the winter: an elevated stretch of I-5 that actually closes down at times due to ice and snow — an hour out of L.A.!

So, yes, I’ll miss my brother and his brood and the maritime charms of Monterey, but I’ll still be taking the road less traveled when I’m doing my commute. And I’ll be getting there quicker than usual — just minus a little filial love, two adorable nieces, clean underwear, and a spaghetti dinner featuring a spectacular sauce prepared according to a decades-old Snyder family recipe.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture every week on Sirius/XM's Alex Bennett Program and KPFK/Public Radio's David Feldman Show, and on Michael Snyder's Culture Blast, available online at YouTube and Digidev TV.