Saturday, August 18, 2007

Highway 101: Nocturnal Reggae in the Redwoods

Alright! This posting about the west coast tour is becoming an exceptionally drawn-out regurgitation, which I believe is bad for the esophagus. So I'm posting these last two, about the beautiful strip of black known as Highway 101, and then we'll move on to the here and now, where I can be more ridiculous and less burdened by remembering facts and time tables.



From San Francisco we headed north up Highway 101, at the suggestion of Fantagraphics' publicist and all around nice guy, Eric Reynolds. Our main objective for the San Francisco to Seattle stretch was driving through the fabled redwood forests, a setting I've been planning on including in an upcoming book. I assumed we wouldn't get there before nightfall, which was fine, but I certainly didn't want to dart past all of that gargantuan beauty in the dark.

So the goal for the night – given that we were starting late and had a solid thirteen hours between us and our destination, Seattle – was just to get in a few hours driving, hopefully involving a nicer dinner and ending at a hotel devoid of creepiness either in bug or human form... and then explore the redwoods a bit the following day.

Dinner was procured easily enough, if tinged with that slight but unmistakable truck stop eeriness, in Petaluma, at the edge of Napa wine country. Our selection, Cattlemens, was based chiefly on the fact that it looked strange enough to be interesting. I had never heard of Cattlemens and wasn't sure what to expect, though something of the buffet or "endless 'tater bucket" variety wouldn't have surprised me.

It turned but to be a fairly decent steak house. And we were lucky enough to hear their blazingly fast, completely indecipherable version of the birthday chant (sounding here more like an auctioneer under duress) not once but twice. Though it was the sort of place in which I'd not have been entirely shocked had I been told I looked gay, it was a great meal. All in all, it was just the dinner we needed.

Filled with juicy carcass, potatoes, and other things soundly not in the "keep you awake behind the wheel" category, we bought a road atlas (that I did not already have one on hand during our drive up Highway 1 is only further testament to my stupidity) and headed north. And north.

And north.

I was ready to stop for the night. I think we both were. So we started looking for hotels. This proved far more frightening and desperate than I could have imagined.

We stopped at several motels and hotels, most of which had only one room and seemed like that room was reserved for serial killers, transients, or transient serial killers, or had no rooms, or the establishment itself looked like it was run by transient serial killers. One "motel" (that term has never been applied more loosely) was a cluster of shacks (so called "cabin motels") with residents (and I do mean residents: these people had put down roots) slumping outside in cracked plastic lawn chairs next to paramilitary vehicles. I wish I was exaggerating about the conditions, but the second we pulled into that lot and I surveyed the human wreckage and the dead, hungry eyes, I thought we would move on, preferably some place where we would both stand a decent chance of waking up.

So we drove on. We drove through some sort of traffic congestion involving police waving people through and an entire field of orange reflective cones. It seemed strange, and unlike any construction scene, but I was so focused on finding somewhere to collapse that I gave it little thought. We cleared the congestion and moved on. Dark trees and increasingly wide trunks were visible now. I was afraid we were going to drive right through the redwoods.

But after a few more failed attempts, and being depressed that we were passing a sign that said "Avenue of the Giants" (which either had to refer to the redwoods, actual giants, or some schlocky road side display with touting someone with an overactive pituitary gland and corresponding novelty item concepts, any of which would be a tragedy to miss), we located Myers Inn.

We pulled our luggage out of the car, and, despite how tired I was, I couldn't go inside without taking a few pictures. Everything surrounding us was too ideal to not attempt to record it in some way.

We walked in and were greeted by a pleasant woman, Robin, who was about our age and looked tired, but with kind eyes that let me know this wouldn't be a bad exchange, regardless of the answer to my opening question.

"Hi. Do you have any rooms?" I asked.

"We have one left."

"Great!... Umm.. how much is it?"

She paused. "Wait, are you two NOT here for Reggae on the River?"

"Ummm..." I invited an examination of myself and Juliane with my eyes. Our non-reggaeness could not have been any more clear. Robin seemed to get my unspoken meaning.

"Yeah, that's the problem... see the room's supposed to be $240 for one night..."

My mouth dropped open. We were in the middle of nowhere. $40 per night was understandable, but... $240?

"... but that's because of the festival. If you guys are just staying here for the night and... can you skip the included breakfast...?"

"Sure, no problem," we both responded, willing to forgo any frills to get this to work out. Broom closets were looking good at this point.

Robin cut us a massive break and briefly explained Reggae on the River, which turned out to be the congestion we'd driven through earlier and the subject of some controversy: cancelled according to main web site, but not as cancelled as one would think according to the police directing traffic and the people showing up for it. Who knew the world of reggae was so gripping? Who cares? Definitely not me, I just wanted a room.

We dumped all of our luggage – or what we thought, at that time, was all our luggage – on the floor of our room and, after killing a couple bugs, went to sleep, not knowing where we were, too tired to figure it out, and cursing Reggae a little more than usual.

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