Life is good ILLUSTRATION: Roll n’ Press Studio

Life is good

… except when you run into drivers who can’t keep their eyes on the road

By Ellen Snortland 02/10/2011

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Road trips in California this time of year … ah, life is good here. If you haven’t been out and about in our luscious state since your college days, pack up the car and go north on Highway One. What a state! We’re a country unto ourselves, and we have it all: a wild coastline, pungent — or is it repugnant? — elephant seal colonies, verdant green hillsides and, wait for it … hostile drivers.
I took the wrong exit as we looked for the San Marcos Pass so I could show my sister the Santa Ynez Valley. I made a safe and legal U-turn, but a driver behind me decided I had done something really bad. I did nothing wrong or remotely unsafe. The other driver swung by us screaming and honking like she was on some weird reality program that required dramatization. If only she could channel that type of rage toward the chipping away of her civil liberties. Her face was purple and contorted in a Medusa-like mask. In fact, I might have seen a few snakes splaying out of her hairline, a vivid reminder that the goddess of jerks is completely equal opportunity; men have no corner on that market.
My sister Alane and I took a week to amble up the coast and visit her grandsons (and my grand-nephews), Nico and Mikey. The first night we stayed at the Inn at Avila Beach. In many ways, time has stopped there; there’s no overdevelopment or feeling that it’s so commercialized it’s hard to feel “away.” Here, we were away.
Then it was on to Santa Cruz, where even the mascot for the University of California at Santa Cruz is laid back: the banana slug. Santa Cruz is famous for its hippies, leftish politics and “whatever” approach to life. Oh, really? We got a glimpse of the dark underbelly of Santa Crucians.
Santa Cruz is a maze of streets and turns that are completely puzzling. I like puzzles. However, in this case, I needed a map to figure out how to get to our hotel. Aptly enough, my iPhone has a map app. Still, I missed the street I was supposed to take. I went one block past, got into the left hand turn lane and was waiting for my red turn arrow to change to green; meanwhile, the right lane going my way had a green light.
Picture this: my sister and I are Midwestern looking; middle-class, middle-aged, middle everything. I drive a Prius. The man to our right stops his gas guzzling, if-Rush-Limbaugh-were-a-car-looking super-sized SUV in his lane, which has a green light and shakes his fist and yells, “Put down the phone and drive, you bitch!” My dignified sister, who is already put out that Santa Cruz is so annoyingly difficult to get around in, yells back, “Oh, shut up!” Then I yell, “Fuck you! I’m not using a phone — it’s a vibrator!” Kidding. I didn’t really say that, I just wish I had. I did drop the F bomb on him and I wasn’t talking on the phone; I was looking at the MAP on my phone.
So is it just me, or does anyone else realize that the same device that enables the dreaded texting and/or talking while driving also has GPS? I want to have an electronic sign on my car that says, “I’m not texting; I’m GPS-ing!”
I think Mr. Santa Cruz Gas Bag, Gas Guzzler guy had a classic case of hurt feelings. Prominent on the bumper of my car is a sticker that says “Mean People Suck,” and he probably felt crushed to be criticized so publicly. Plus, my Obama, Hillary and assorted progressive bumper stickers may have been like a red flag to a bull; he just couldn’t keep his horns to himself.
Nonetheless, despite hostile drivers and impossible geography, we had a cozy stay in Santa Cruz at the Sea & Sand, overlooking a beach lousy with surfers. Nico, my nephew, showed us his idyllic workplace; a YMCA camp outside of Santa Cruz where he teaches ecology to kids. There is nothing like the smell and majesty of a redwood forest. It was hard to believe that my once-tiny nephew is now a young man I can look up to, not only physically, but as a person.
On to San Francisco and my equally admirable other nephew, Michael. Alane had picked out the best places to stay during our trip, and San Francisco was no exception. Our lodging there was the first motel in San Francisco: the Ocean Park Motel. The art deco detail in the Sunset District-based property is perfect, and the owners are committed to keeping the Ocean Park both as comfortable and historically relevant as possible.
Of course, returning to the Pasadena area drives home the realization that we’ve got perfect weather and are indeed a major gem in the crown of this state. It’s hard not to gloat when we got reports of sub-zero weather, tons of snow on the East Coast and, undoubtedly, veritable herds of hostile drivers. Ahh, life is good here.

Ellen teaches writing in Altadena.


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