Day 20 from sunny and smoky California, where the hills are alive with the sounds of fire fighting helicopters in the rain-starved mountains north of Los Angeles. If you saw how hard these people work to prevent a potential disaster and then get caught in a five-mile long traffic jam on the San Diego Freeway, you can only imagine how hard it would be to get Los Angelinos to leave this city.
The ground is SO dry (despite living on the ocean) that a casually cigarette, tossed carelessly out of a moving car, could bring unmentionable tragedy. It was distressing to see people smoking in the open air at Yosemite National Park, which listed its fire danger as “extremely high.” I guess huffin’ and puffin’ is a hard addiction to kick, even at the expense of such beauty and other people’s lives.
It’s THAT kind of situation.
The straight up on “Sideways” Country
As we drove northward through Northern California less than a week ago, and down from Oakhurst, through the San Joaquin Valley, all we saw were vineyards (and fruit trees and strawberry and lettuce patches and you name it). It was definitely “Sideways” Country, made popular by last year’s Academy Award-winning movie about two men touring and tasting their way through the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
There are two things I know absolutely nothing about – the stock market and wine. One keeps you poor. The other makes you an outcast. Apparently.
I had no interest in doing any kind of wine tasting; being a diabetic and a heart-surgery patient, I must avoid the alcohol and sugar content of vino. Besides, to be honest, I never enjoyed the taste. My knowledge of wines is three-fold (based on actual usage from college). Back in the day, I either drank Ripple, Annie Greensprings or Boone’s Farm. Each of which cost around a buck. Hey, a poor college student couldn’t afford much more and it usually did the job.
If I wanted to go high-tone, it was Mateus (mainly to get an empty bottle to melt candles on it for some sort of hippie ambience). But most of the time, we wanted a vintage of at least two months and smelling the twist top was out of the question.
I was raised on two brands – Mogen David and Manischewitz kosher Concord grape wines. And to me, ALL wines smelled like Manischewitz (and still do) and I never knew the difference between a Pinot Noir and film noir. So watching “Sideways” meant concentrating on the comedy and personal relationships, although the “wine” humor escaped me.
Which, these days, makes me something of a fossil. I always made it a point to ask for a fine vintage of Diet Coke when ordering at fancy restaurants and one brought my beverage in a wine goblet. Yes, it was a fine crop of carbonation. Tuesday, I believe.
My wife, Jodie, thinks California wines are over-populating the market and making what was once a special item now run-of-the-mill. But we could have our choice of hundreds of wineries in almost every region of California. Mountainsides are laden with thousands of acres of hanging vines – neatly arranged in perfectly linear rows.
Fruit and veggie basket to the world
We have driven nearly the entire length of California (more than 850 miles) and have seen each of its various regions, from the High Desert to the Coastal Redwoods to San Francisco to San Diego to San Bernardino and all points (including some incredibly small ones) in between.
Aside from the incredible scenery (mountains everywhere and stunning mountain lakes abounding), you are struck by the amount of land dedicated to growing food. While I prefer the taste of Texas sweet onions, Ruby Red grapefruit and Fredericksburg peaches, their output pales in comparison with California. If you look at your grocery store’s produce shelves, most of it comes from California – lettuce, fruit, greens, onions, etc. Vast sections of the Golden State are dedicated and sustained by farmers and you begin to realize how important it is (and they are) to the entire nation.
There is more to California than bikinis (didn’t see enough of those), beaches (lots of them, too) and weirdoes (lots of them, too).
Odd Sightings of the Trip
So far, it’s a tie between the field mouse that literally jumped onto the axle of a Honda Accord in front of us on the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles, and the picture of a motorcycle, parked at the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite … with a handicap placard hanging from the handlebars.
I am still trying to figure out what handicapped person would travel 5,000 feet into the thin air on a motorcycle. Any thoughts?
It’s a Small World …You can travel to the ends of the earth but remnants of your hometown will always follow you.
First, as we exited Yosemite National Park, we had to stop at the Rangers post for “questioning,” I guess. The Ranger in the tiny booth wished us a good night and asked us what part of Texas we were from, having seen our out-of-state plates.
“Dallas” is our standard answer because Plano is far too specific or unknown … so we thought.
“I’m here from Richardson on a four-month stay,” he said.
“This is a lot different from the George Bush (Turnpike),” I casually mentioned and Mister Ranger agreed.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the Ol’ Kettle in Oakhurst, Calif., and upon checkout, the owner asked us where we were from.
“I could lie and say we were from Houston and came to Yosemite to get high enough from the water, but we’re from Dallas,” I answered.
“Oh yeah?” she said, with her voice suddenly perked up. “My son lives in Plano.”
Funny, so do we, I noted.
“He works for Texas Instruments as does his wife,” the lady added.
Funny, so does my wife, I noted.
“They live on Round Rock Trail,” she added.
Funny, that’s two miles from our house, I noted.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Getting away from Plano,” I noted. “And after being here, I’m not sure we can go back.”
Funny, neither does my family, she noted.
As I said, it’s a small world.