Over the river and through the woods… — going to see grandma (and grandpa, on my dad’s side) was always one of those special things for me, because they lived so far away most of the time. Not all the time — for two years, they lived only about three, four hours’ drive to the south of us, as we were in Mare Island in North San Francisco Bay and they were down in Pebble Beach. But when I was in Coronado, that meant an all day haul to get there if we didn’t go by plane, and for the most part we didn’t — once or twice we did towards the end of the eighties but that was the extent of it, it was taking the car which sufficed for us. And that always meant a bit of a trip and a plan, because while you can drive pretty easily from LA to San Francisco in the space of a day with some time to spare thanks to the I-5, San Diego to Pebble Beach is a bit different.

Part of it was having to judge traffic so that way we didn’t get caught in LA, always a potential worry. Interestingly enough, for all that the past sixteen years has seen me become a denizen of the basin through and through, my memories of the LA part of the trip were always a bit fuzzy. Probably this was because it would take over two hours to get from San Diego to the main LA area itself, so by the time we were in the basin I was already either tired, asleep or lost in a book (or all three, a nice trick if you can manage it). At that time the development in San Diego and Orange County was nowhere the level it is now, so to my mind the trip would run: cross the Bay Bridge, get north of San Diego, look at a bunch of hills for a long long time and then at some point there was a city.

Getting through LA was as mentioned key — stopping there at any point was something to be avoided, presumably due to a fear that we’d never get back on the freeway again (who knows, maybe there was something appealing to a ring of car thieves who really wanted a pale yellow Datsun station wagon). And at some point we left the 5 and would switch over to the 101, and that would take us on our way north. The 101 is actually a very nice drive but it isn’t quite as quick and direct as the 5 in some respects — in others, though, it’s perfect, because while it isn’t the coastal freeway (except at a couple of points) it’s pretty close to it, so once we approached the Monterey area it wouldn’t be long to get over to Pebble Beach from there.

Santa Barbara, that I always remember, because we almost always had lunch there. And more than once, legendarily, at the extremely rude in retrospect Sambo’s. Thankfully I never remember my parents making jokes about that — in fact now that I think about it maybe I just wanted to eat there because I liked the whole tigers-chasing-around-trees-turning-into-butter story, I certainly don’t recall anything about the racist associations consciously settling in my brain, and perhaps my folks were more embarrassed than anything else.

Going up the long trawl of the Salinas valley is when I definitely would have faded or wanted to fade, and I would almost certainly be pretty cranky at that point. On a number of the trips we’d take our great dog Sally with us in the back of the wagon, and the set up of the car was such that, usually at this point in the trip, she could lean over my head, pant and drool, and therefore drool right on top of my head. My protests were enough after one bad incident of this that my folks installed a little grate in the new station wagon we got to replace the Datsun (a Volvo we still have, oddly enough), a grate that separated the back of the car from the passenger seats. A most welcome development when it came to future trips.

The final stretch along the 68 highway to Monterey and Carmel and Pebble Beach, man, I was wiped out by then, I just wanted to get out of the car, but it made more sense just to get there rather than stop anywhere along the way. It was almost always dark or near to it, and I couldn’t really sense all around me that I know so much more these days, the ridgeline leading down to the Pebble Beach peninsula, the way Highway 1 rises and moves around that area and so forth. I would just always remember the final turns past the Pebble Beach gate, the roads through the pines and tall trees, the turn onto Ronda Road and then that last rise up to the front of the house. A great feeling, one I’ll never be able to recapture now — both grandparents are dead, the house has long been sold, these days I just fly into Monterey. But I might take the train up there one of these days, it would be a near approximation, and it would be fun.