November 24, 2017

California Dreaming

Posted on March 17, 2012 by in God's Country



“Go west young man” as the saying goes and it finally happened for us.  After many trips across this vast country, we finally got the call to make a hotshot load to California.  Visions of meeting movie stars danced around in the Boss’ head I’m sure. I went to California on a motorcycle vacation trip back in the late 90’s, but the Boss has never been and she has been asking for this trip for several years. We had about 45 minutes to pack our clothes, close up the house and make arrangements for our two dogs. Being a real trooper, the Boss pulled it all off within the allotted time.  We would have been at the pickup point on time if not for an 18 wheeler accident on I-45 near the South Loop that help up traffic flow for about 45 minutes.  Naturally nervous Nellie (the owner of the hotshot company) called checking up on us, but he had to deal with the Boss, so it all came out alright.  He is the type fellow who calls you every five minutes to see where you are, and when you’re going to be able to pick up the load.  He is always in a near panic every time he calls, thus the moniker “Nervous Nellie”.


After waiting for about 45 minutes, we finally got loaded about 1:30pm and set the GPS for Colton, CA, the delivery point. It showed that we had 1505 miles to travel in two and a half days to make the delivery at 7:00am Pacific time.  That Pacific Time requirement would come back to bite us in the behind several times before this adventure was over. We headed out west on I-10 and made it to within 80 miles of El Paso that first night before pulled over in a rest area to sleep. We figured that we’d save the cost on a hotel, since we were only going to sleep a few hours.  Now I’m 6’3 and the “wonder truck” is about 5’3 from one door to the other.  While the Boss is able to sleep comfortably in the back seat, I’m folded up like an accordion in the front.  When I’m exhausted I can actually sleep pretty good, but I pay for the cramped sleeping quarters in my arthritic knees and back later.


Since we are always under a time limit before the load gets delivered, we eat mostly what we can buy at truck stops when we stop for fuel. Despite the heavy tool box we had on the “wonder truck”, we managed to get just over 20 mpg on the highway. The new higher speed limits on IH-10 really helped us rack up the miles.  The speed limits ranged from 70 to 75 and then to 80 mph. Going through El Paso on the second morning we tried to stop at a place where they sold (allegedly) handmade Native American Indian (NAI) blankets.  Despite a valiant attempt to get to the place (we made three U-turns along the feeder road trying to get there), the time change had put us there one and a half hours before the place opened. Crunch… the first bite of the time change.  Too bad, it looked like a huge store with all kinds of things the Boss would be interested in spending my (I mean our) money on. But being a true driving partner, she said that we didn’t have that much time to kill if we wanted to stay on schedule, so off down the yellow brick, (err: I mean concrete highway) road we went.


We crossed over into Arizona and went through miles and miles of rural country side that really didn’t look much different than West Texas, except for the distant mountains and buttes. At about 11:00 am we pulled off the freeway into a small sleepy Arizona town and began looking for a place to eat lunch. It was lunchtime for us, but with the time change, the hometown folk were still eating breakfast. The Boss doesn’t really like chain restaurants, so we use the “who has the most cars in the parking lot rule” to determine where to eat. The streets were empty except for this one place. As I passed it I saw four pick-up trucks pull over and stop. I told the Boss that looks like a place we need to go. We walked into this café and we were the only gringo’s in the place. There were a lot of young and old Hispanic men in straw hats sitting at their tables eating some type of soup with large white spoons. This aroused the Boss’ curiosity.


She ordered a stuffed chili relleno pepper wrapped in a flour tortilla and I ordered a bean and cheese burrito plate. We both ate what we ordered, but the Boss pointed out the soup that everyone in the place had ordered. She determined she wanted what they were having. I told her she didn’t even know what it was but to order it if she wanted it and I would help her finish it, if she couldn’t.  She asked the cashier to give her some of what everyone else was having. He asked her if she knew what it was and she said no. He told her it was menudo. She said ok and confirmed that she wanted some. I had heard of this Mexican delicacy before, but I did NOT know what it was made of or how it tasted. When she got her bowl, she took one sip and pronounced it was way too hot for her palate, but proceeded to add the fresh chopped onions and squeezed lime on top of it so she could eat it like they were. Being a “HE MAN” who is used to eating hot food, I told her that I would eat it for her. Little that I know that menudo is a very hot tomato based soup that conceals boiled cow intestine. I ate several spoonful’s before the sweat started pouring and I realized that the meat was chopped up cow gut. We didn’t finish the menudo and I wasn’t hungry for quite a while after this breakfast. This will be our first and last foray into menudo I think.


By now I have run out of cigars and the Boss just started using my new I-phone (given to me by my #1 son-in-law) to locate some stores. Once we finally found the place with the help of the I-phone GPS, the cigars were so expensive that the Boss only bought five. The leather couches in this place cost more than all of the furniture in our house. I know it’s funny that I let the Boss choose my cigars for me, but it’s because she has a better memory than I do, and she remembers the ones that I tell her that I like. She also has a better recollection of prices, and usually always stays within the budget I set for her. Thanks sweetie! We reset the GPS and it took us back to I-10 so fast the Boss didn’t really have the chance to look around Tucson very much. We did stop at one place for fuel and they had a plethora of allegedly NA Indian trinkets on sale. I checked the stickers on some of these things and saw they were made in China, so much for real  NA Indian artifacts! We got back in the truck and checked our watches and wallets to make sure we hadn’t been scalped at this tourist trap.


As we neared Phoenix the Boss spotted a roadside flea market. I needed to stretch my legs so we stopped. Apparently the flea market was winding down, because there were only five booths still open. The first little place was a semi-permanent rock sales place called Poor Man’s Rock Sales. Hundreds of rocks of all types and shapes were displayed on some wooden boxes set up on saw horses. The Boss loves rocks. She bought a piece of pink quartz and a sea shell that caught her eye. We were both confused on how the man’s display had so many sea shells in the middle of a desert.  Maybe he had them imported from China? Legs stretched and trinkets bought, we loaded up in the truck again headed to California.


We were stopped at the state line and we were grilled by a man at the checkpoint for fruit that all travelers must go through upon entering the State of California. Now I understand the reason for the checkpoint, because in the past decades someone brought in some type of insect (parasite) that devastated the California citrus crops. What I didn’t know was that they demanded to know if you had a dog of any kind in your vehicle and wanted to know where we were going and why we were going there. They also wanted to know where we were coming from.  I guess the next thing will be that you have to have travel papers to cross state lines, ala (Nazi Germany). Pretty stern for a fruit and vegetable inspection point in my opinion.


We travelled down I-10 through California just fine until we ran into a traffic jam just outside of Beaumont, CA. Traffic was stopped and it took us about three hours to travel twelve miles. As we sat waiting for the traffic to move, we saw motorcycles driving in between the stopped cars. I know this is illegal in Texas, but based on the number of motorcyclists doing it; it must be legal in California. They were also driving on the median lane on both the outside and inside portion of the road. We even saw an 18 wheeler gasoline tanker passing on the outside median. In one spot a woman and her friends pulled off the road and ran up under a tree to relieve themselves. I guess they couldn’t wait to get to the rest area. We finally got through this mess and got to our hotel in San Bernardino, CA. While checking in we asked the clerk for a good place to eat dinner and she recommended a restaurant named Coco’s just down the road from the hotel. Rachel Ray claims this is the best way to find good food in a strange town (ask the locals).  She is not always right, it wasn’t that great. We went back to the hotel and passed out. The load had to be delivered at 7:00am PCT, which meant I had to wake up at 4:00am CST to deliver it.  Needless to say the very tired Boss was not pleased being woke up at Pacific time (Crunch).


The GPS got me to the location where the delivery was supposed to be located, but it wasn’t there. The location was a business park. Finally, I found someone coming into work and they told me to go the other direction. Sure enough the address I needed to go to was almost a mile from where the GPS told me to go. Load delivered, finally. We have an agreement (the Boss and I) that once the load is delivered, she is in charge of the route and the fun begins. She wanted to see the (PCH) Pacific Coast Highway. I had extolled the virtues of the scenic beauty I had seen when I took my motorcycle vacation and had driven the PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles. So she selected a route that would place us on PCH near Laguna Beach, Aliso beach, Dana Point, etc. At Laguna Beach the City of Laguna Beach provides a covered parking area for the small sum of $1.50. The concrete walkway down to the beach was beautifully adorned with flowers and plants and was expertly manicured. We took many pictures of the rock formations, the pristine beaches, the flowers, etc. Trekking through the deep sand and the numerous steps down to the sand wore out these two old flatlanders, but it was beautiful. See the photos?


Just a few miles further down the PCH we came to the Aliso Beach facility. While not as elaborately adorned as Laguna Beach it had great waves. That morning they ran about three feet, but they were perfectly formed and loud. The photos can’t show the crashing noise they make, but we are going to try to upload the video we took. It was a little too cool for surfing, but I can only imagine how crowded this beach is in the warmer months. We got lost a few times because in this portion of the PCH is highly populated and in some spots it’s an eight lane highway. You have to look down the alleys between the houses in some of the towns to even see the Pacific Ocean. The Boss was very disappointed at this turn of events, but we still had a good time. All went well until the Boss chose a scenic highway called CA-74. This turned out to be about thirty miles of sharp turns, switchbacks, and ignorant people driving through this dangerous area like their pants were on fire. The Boss had a touch of motion sickness due to this mountainous road, and it wasn’t pleasant.


The Boss wanted to see the Pacific Ocean on this trip, and I wanted to see the Grand Canyon. We headed that way, and as the elevation of the highway rose, the weather turned colder. Then it started lightly snowing. Now I do most of the driving on these trips, but I do NOT like driving on snowy pavement. It never got heavy enough that I felt it necessary to turn the driving over to the Boss though. She has more experience driving on snow and ice and I gladly let her have it when necessary. The Boss had procured us a pamphlet that explained that the North Rim portion of the Grand Canyon National Park was closed during the winter months due to snow, but the South Rim portion was open to visitors year round. We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the temperature display on the “wonder truck’s” computer said that it was 22 degrees outside.  The parking lot and the walkways had been swept, but there was about eight inches of snow on the ground. I don’t really know the elevation of the parking lot, but I can assume that it’s high, because the Boss and I both had trouble catching our breath in the thin air.


We went to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and the Boss spoke to one of the helpful U.S. park rangers.  He directed us to Mather Point, that’s just to the right of the building. Now remember we had been driving all day, we were exhausted and hurting from walking in the deep sand of the beaches, and were having trouble breathing. We finally made it over to Mather’s point after a few stops to rest and were treated to an exquisite wintertime view of the Grand Canyon (that’s one of them on the cover).  Now I’ve seen many pictures of the Grand Canyon and they all show a summertime landscape. I’ve never seen snow pictures of the canyon, so I shot photographs as fast and furiously as I could. This was a location I wanted to see on my lifetime bucket list and I was not disappointed. We stayed for about an hour and we were both freezing to death. On the way out we saw some of the wildlife of Grand Canyon National Park. We were driving along towards the exit gate when we saw several cars stopped ahead. Being seasoned park travelers we knew that this usually means some type of wildlife has stopped to pose for pictures. I used my cell phone camera to take several pictures of some adolescent mule deer as they pawed through the snow to forage on the grasses underneath. Really pretty deer!


After we left the park we took a scenic highway towards Flagstaff, AZ. Then the light snow started. It was dark, so I slowed way down and managed ok until I came to a stop sign in town. I stopped completely I thought, I had my foot on the brake, and I felt the truck still moving forward. I looked over at the Boss and exclaimed, what in the heck caused that? Then we both realized that we were on pavement that had a layer of ice on it, and the tires did not have any traction. We made it through the stop sign and got further into town. We were going very slowly, and the truck was sliding around, and so I pulled into the first hotel I found. We stopped and checked with the clerk and everything was looking good till I asked for a smoking room. That’s when she told me that there were NO smoking rooms at the inn. Thankfully, the Boss had taken it upon herself to get behind the wheel, and I was regulated to the passenger side. I climbed in, quietly relieved, pulled my seatbelt tight, said a few quick prayers and we were off.


Now the “wonder truck” as I call it because it’s a wonder that the Boss let me buy it, (long story) is a 2008 Dodge Ram diesel that has a great deal of torque when it comes from the factory and I have installed a power adder that develops a great deal more torque. To put it bluntly the accelerator is very touchy. Immediately after pulling out onto the street the back tires started losing traction and it made the back end of the truck start sliding sideways. The Boss started complaining about the tires and saying that they should do better on this icy road. I explained that they were street tires and were not designed to handle icy roads or snow. This went on for a few minutes until we finally we found another hotel that had smoking rooms. It was a few dollars more expensive than I wanted to pay, but it had an attached restaurant, so I didn’t argue. They red-lined us to a room in the back of the hotel where the undesirable portion of the populace who smoke are sent. The Boss had a great deal of trouble getting the truck through the parking lot because it hadn’t been plowed, but we finally got into the room and we walked down to the lobby of the hotel that led to the attached restaurant.


It was Valentine’s Day, so the Boss ordered a steak, (medium well) and I had a Cajun Alfredo dish with shrimp. The Boss decided that due to all of the stress of the icy road driving that she would have a cocktail and ordered a margarita on the rocks. We waited, and we waited, and we waited some more and about twenty minutes later the waitress finally came over with the Boss’s cocktail. She had one sip of the concoction and said it was terrible and too tart to drink. She wanted to tell the waitress to take it back, but she never came around again until she walked up with our meals. First thing out of the box, the Boss cuts into her steak and it was almost raw. It had a nice char on the outside, but the inside was blood red. The chef must have thought we ordered it medium rare. By that time we were starving, so the Boss gamely proceeded to eat this slightly heated piece of bovine. My dish was prepared with some type of round macaroni that you buy for children to decorate their artwork with. I managed to eat it, but it was NOT good.


When the waitress came around a few minutes later, the Boss politely mentioned that her steak was undercooked and tough as boot leather. The waitress apologized and flittered away. We both understood that the waitress had NOT cooked the steak herself, so getting mad at her was pointless. Much to our surprise the manager came over a little while later and asked about our meal, and after the Boss explained about her steak and drink, she said that she would comp our meal. We told her it wasn’t necessary because we ate the meal and rightly should pay for it, but she insisted that the establishment would absorb the cost. That was a first for us. Never in all of the meals that we have eaten in our travels has a business ever comped a meal that we didn’t like. I must say I was impressed. We were so impressed, we went back there for breakfast the next morning. It was great and we didn’t mind paying for that meal.


We managed to get out of the snow and into the casino area of Arizona. We stopped at Sky City, AZ and the Boss fed the one armed bandits, while I slept in the adjoining hotel. She didn’t win anything, but she had a good time and I caught up on my rest for the drive back to Texas. If you have ever had a hankering to drive to California, I hope this little story helps you out. There really is a lot to see “out west” and it’s a beautiful place. The people were polite, although they are in a mighty big hurry. The hotel and food costs were mostly reasonable, which surprised us. Diesel and gasoline fuel prices are between fifty and sixty cents higher than in Texas, but I think it’s a state tax that causes that difference. And you always hear about how strict the gun laws are in California, but in almost every small town we saw a gun shop or a pawn shop with a “guns for sale” sign.  I was flabbergasted.  Come to find out California has a CCW law just like forty eight other states.  It’s only Illinois that still hasn’t really read the 2nd amendment to the constitution yet. All in all it was a great trip, and it’s one that I’m glad we took.



The Working Tourist

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