The Coastal Highway
San Diego to Los Angeles
May 27-30, 2005
With a need to get away, but not ready for the Mexican playa due to my wife's limited ambulatory ability with her ankle still in recovery from a severe injury, we're intent upon renewing our acquaintance with the coastal highway between San Diego and Los Angeles. In particular, we hope to re-absorb the magnificent views we remember of the coastline some twenty years prior, and stroll along the malicon that crests a manicured bluff overlooking a gorgeous sea in Laguna Beach. To this end, we make a first night reservation for late arrival in La Mesa and proceed across Interstate 8 immediately after work on Friday.
Arriving in La Mesa, California, at about half past midnight we follow the signs through a maze of loops from the interstate to Fletcher Parkway and find the Motel 6 perched on a narrow strip squeezed between a sharp embankment and the street, directly beneath an elevated tramway. We unload our suitcases and valuables to a room hidden under a staircase in the rear of the motel and resign ourselves as expediently as possible to the deluxe bucket bed, our first ever in a Motel 6. Despite having to sleep on the roll, we manage to doze off after an hour or so, and pass the night with only minor discomfort.
Saturday morning we drive out Catalina Boulevard to Point Loma, tour the lighthouse grounds, and immerse ourselves in the heavy atmosphere of the Naval graveyard. Heading north, we anticipate at least visual interaction with the coastline; but instead, Camp Pendleton manages to capture us in its entrance maze. Single-mindedly, we turn around and do it three more times before breaking free of the Pendleton maelstrom, apparently the only vehicle on the road with a blind navigator.
Continuing up the coast we come to realize that our memory of the coastline is just that -- nothing but memory. There is no trace of ocean visible, nor the manicured bluff in Laguna Beach; but we do enjoy watching the traffic congestion and looking at the infinite variety of garage doors between ourselves and the view.
That evening we find a nice motel on the coastal highway in Harbor City, near Torrance. The grounds and parking, reminiscent of Mexican architecture, are completely enclosed except for an entrance archway to the street. It seems a little unusual to find the clerk behind two-inch thick counter-to-ceiling plate glass. It also seems a bit strange that the plate glass is darkly smoked and the lady uses no lights within to allow us to see her. I put my ear to the chest level two-inch hole through the glass in order to hear the price. We check out the room and return to fill out the form she shoves through the tiny tray-like slot -- a form which demands "the full names of all adults staying in the room." I am a little surprised at the wording, but quickly turn my attention to the business of paying. It's cash only -- no credit cards, and I have to ask for a receipt1 and washcloths. As we proceed to our room hidden behind a stairway in the very rear of the compound we take no notice of the empty parking lot.
We do, however, begin to pay attention as the noise increases with the lateness of the hour. At one point we are affronted by a loud, foul-mouthed man screaming at a woman outside our room, until she finally slams the car door and squeals tires all the way to the street. We spin the TV tuner, desperately looking for something to drown out the noise -- anything besides the porn movie that seems to come up about every five channels, the same close-up orgasm going on for at least fifteen minutes. Sometime after midnight I peek out the window to find the parking lot as loaded as most of the guests. We bed down, dozing fitfully to the banging and stomping, and the rhythmic squeaking of bedsprings.
"Somehow," my wife observes the next morning, "it never dawned on me what it was when you mentioned the plate glass at the counter."
The parking lot is still full as we prepare to leave at 11:00 am. I return the key for the $5.00 deposit, and we're on our way.
Venice Beach is definitely where it's hap'nin, but the congestion isn't to our taste. After a short visit we move on to Santa Monica. It is a beautiful afternoon in the largest metropolitan area in the world, and the surf and sand are nice; but it isn't the Mexican playa -- there are too many people even if they aren't paying any attention to us, and the water is cold and not nearly as clear. We drive up the coastal highway a few miles past Malibu until we're clear of the city and the endless garage doors shielding us from the surf, then turn around. On the way back we pull over to the edge of the highway along Las Tunas State Beach -- at a narrow spot where the coastline has cut so close to the road that there is no room even for very thin garage doors. We park and get out to stretch. There are only a few people here on this bluff, where no one goes except God and the four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic assaulting our eardrums from behind.
It is more peaceful here than one might expect. For a while we stare into the surf from our perch, wishing we were on some remote Mexican playa. I step to the very edge and idly look straight down. There is a solitary tent directly below us pitched on the only ten feet of visible sand anywhere in sight, a man and woman lounging on cots beside the tent and three children playing in the surf. My heart leaps in one gigantic throb. They have found the reasonable essence, for Los Angeles, of what we are addicted to in Mexico -- the closest thing to solitude to be found anywhere along the California coast. I want to join them, but that would be a grotesque invasion of their privacy. I motion to my soul mate. She steals a longing peek over the edge, and we reluctantly get back into the car and move on. Their secret is safe with us.
We head up Wilshire Boulevard to the La Brea Tar Pits, then retrace our path to Sepulveda and turn south looking for another hotel. It isn't long before we're holed up in the beautiful and luxurious Sunburst Motel with a delicious Japanese food-to-go supper. The Sunburst, just off Venice Blvd., features well-appointed, spacious rooms and a complimentary breakfast. After I express concern over my wife having to negotiate the stairway to the second floor we are generously offered an oversized ground-level handicapped room complete with refrigerator. The cost? Only $10 more than the bordello of the night before.
"How much did you pay for that room," the clerk asks me after I tell him about the previous night.
"I had no idea," he responds, a look of incredulity coming over his face.
After filling our stomachs and our fuel tank we reluctantly turn down Interstate 10 and head for home. It is as much a relief to us as we usually feel heading out of our own city toward Mexico2. All in all, we should have gone to the playa.
May 27-30, 2005
1As our minds have already been flushed, and the receipt quite unsurprisingly does not identify the name or address of the motel, this splendid palace will have to stay anonymous for all posterity.
2Wednesday after our return there is a landslide reported in Laguna Beach: Eighteen houses lost and 43 more in danger.
Copyright (c) 2005-2011
Larry K. Fox
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