The clock is ticking here at the San Luis Obispo public library. For 26 minutes, I have Internet access. Then it’s back to getting directions, checking my email, and Googling “cheap, shitty motels” on my phone. Why? Well, because my laptop is in San Francisco. And I am at least five hours south of it in San Luis Obispo.
That time calculation might be a little off. You see, time has unraveled these past 24 hours.
A savvier traveler might have a plan for traveling down the coast. A savvier traveler, for instance, might have checked things like road conditions and weather and packed something slightly warmer for those gusty coastal winds. A savvier traveler might also have, for instance, checked to see if Route 1 was blocked due a massive rock slide. She might also have believed the sign when it said in Monterrey “Road Ends 75 miles”.
Ends? How does a road just END? Surely there would be a detour, no? Surely there would be something besides a gas station, a restaurant, and three burly contractors nursing tallboys of beer? Surely the Universe would not expect one to squint at a ragged map and know that “G14” was a forest road and that one would have to wend one’s way, on a single lane road for 20 excruciating miles at 7 miles an hour, through the Los Padres National Forest as the sun was setting and then drive through a goddamned Army base to get back to Highway 101, right? And surely, surely, the Universe would not have planted Jake at the end of the bar run his ragged fingers through the back of your cute, asymmetrical haircut while you were looking away, offer you some of his shrimp tortellini, and ask you why you had to be going so soon.
Because nothing would light up your face after finding out that the road, WAS, in fact, closed, and that the “detour” you dreamed of was 50 long miles through dense woods, like a guy who was paying for his meal in weed, and knew those woods like the back of his hand because he lived somewhere in them off the grid. And nothing would make you feel better after pumping thirty six cents worth of gas into your car (because all the other pumps were dry, the other hundred or so drivers that day having panicked in exactly the same way you did and topped off their tanks) than his pet Chihuahua, Bella, who sat in your lap for a picture.
And nothing would make that day more complete than figuring out you’d left your phone, your only effing connection to the outside world, on the paper towel dispenser in that bathroom in the gas station, after driving five miles down the road.
Well, nothing except using that phone, after an hour of driving like a bat out of hell down 101, to find a motel, booking it, and then driving there – only to find out that the only room vacant is the handicapped room. There will be no bathtub, the power button on the TV will be broken, and your blackout shades will have a ping pong ball sized hole in them. You don’t care much because you are exhausted. You will pull the plug for the TV out of the wall, you will bunch up the shades to cover the hole, you will turn on the heater (whose knobs are broken/reversed so instead of blowing hot air all night, blows COLD air) and you will dream of a more dignified, more planned vacation. One that does not involve holes in the wallboard, and rock slides, and not eating dinner, and definitely includes more guys eating pasta in a restaurant at the end of the world.
*Not his real name. I’m protecting his innocence from the Feds.