What I’ll miss most about not being in Monterey

I know, there’s a virtual Monterey this year, but it won’t be the same as being there in person on the peninsula

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Last year Bentleys were featured at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, but this year it and other Monterey Car Week events have been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic | Photos by Larry Edsall

According to my calendar, I should be picking Bob Golfen up this morning at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport and then driving to Salinas, California, to check into a motel for the night. Then, on Monday morning, we’d drive past WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on our way to check in to our home for the next week, that week being Monterey Car Week.

But the coronavirus pandemic has forced cancelation of Monterey Car Week and our annual trek from the desert to Monterey Bay. Among other things, that cancelation means no banter as we drive along; no arguing about radio stations; no solving of the world’s problems; no tacos at the Twenty Mule Cafe in Boron, California; no drive through almond groves and vineyards; no mid-afternoon pit stop at Blackwells Corner, where James Dean stopped to buy cigarettes moments before his fatal collision just a few miles to the west that fateful day in September 1955.

And that list is just what I’ll miss from the drive just to get there. Here are some of the things I’ll miss about missing Monterey Car Week for the first time in recent memory:

Classic Motorsports Cruise-In in Pacific Grove (above and below)

The car shows in Pacific Grove — I’ve truly fallen for Pacific Grove, that delightful but overlooked community out of that tip of the peninsula, where author John Steinbeck had his residence. The town has a broad, boulevard-style main street, Lighthouse Avenue, lined with shops and cafes and ideal for strolling. On three occasions during the week, Lighthouse Avenue is closed to traffic and serves as a venue for car shows. And not just car shows but car shows you can attend without admission fees. And these shows — the Classic Motorsports Cruise-In, the Little Car Show and the Kiwanis concours and rally — are worth attending.

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Driving — I avoid Highway 1 and its congestion whenever possible, but I’ve been going to Monterey long enough to have learned some local alternatives routs. I’ve also learned the back way into Pebble Beach (I’m not sharing, but I will suggest that you drive Carmel Valley Road and its tributaries east of the intersection with the Laureles Grade). Speaking of The Laureles Grade, it is a Grade A drive, provided you don’t get stuck behind a motor home or delivery truck. Also, put the windows or top down and take in the sights and sounds and ocean smells of 17 Miles Drive, and if you haven’t done it before, you really do need to drive the coast highway to Big Sur and back. And, OK, I’ll admit it, I also enjoy driving by the big-top tent in the Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot and hearing Drew Alcazar’s voice over the PA system shouting “Sold! Sold! Sold!” as a car clears the Russo and Steele auction block.

Pebble Beach Classic Car Forum — Staged for the past few years at the Inn at Spanish Bay, the Forum presents panel discussions and interviews with key figures and on timely subjects of interest in the automotive and collector car worlds.

Tour d’Elegance puts concours cars on regular roads for anyone to appreciate | Tour photos by Howard Koby

The Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance — It will cost you a couple hundred dollars to crowd your way onto the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links for the concours d’elegance, but a few days earlier you can plop your folding chair along the route for the tour d’elegance and watch those same cars drive by as they tour the peninsula. That’s right, you can see them in motion, not parked. Not only is it free, but it’s the best show of the entire week.

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Food — Breakfast at Aliotti’s Victorian Corner in Pacific Grove, lunch at the Monterey Crepe Company, dinner at Monterey’s Fish House, and take-out sandwiches and desserts from Angelina’s Bakery in Seaside. And speaking of food, don’t tell Golfen or Andy Reid, but I’ll miss them knocking at my door and raiding my refrigerator and snack pile each evening. And this year, with Tom Stahler joining our Monterey coverage contingent, I’m sure he’d become a midnight raider as well.

In 2019 I covered the Porsche Werks Reunion for the first time, in 2020 I’d have made my debut at the Legends of the Autobahn show

Legends of the Autobahn — I’ll miss this event because I’ve never attended it. Each year the Journal staff rotates some of its coverage assignments, so last year was my first at the Porsche Werks Reunion and this would have been my year to cover the Legends of the Autobahn show. 

People — One thing you can count on during Monterey Car Week is meeting new people, seeing someone you hadn’t seen since the previous year’s Monterey Car Week, and seeing someone you hadn’t seen in at least the past decade. I doubt that it would feel the same with everyone wearing masks and trying to employ social distancing instead of welcoming hugs.

Serendipity — Each year at Monterey seems to present a special surprise, such as the time I spent part of an afternoon in Reggie Jackson’s garage, supposedly doing an interview but in the end helping him search for a set of wheels that needed to be mounted on a Corvette before it could be sold.

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Late nights writing and editing and posting — Hey, I’m a journalist, and there is a definite rush to being back in your motel room, writing and editing stories and photos and getting them posted to the website. And after all, those stories and photos are the reason we are at Monterey in the first place.

Let’s hope we can return to Monterey in 2021

I know the Petersen Automotive Museum will be doing its virtual car week this week, but I also know it won’t be the same as actually being in Monterey with real cars and people in person rather than as images on a screen. 

Anticipating that the pandemic will have run its course, I’ve just blocked off August 8-16 on my 2021 calendar. 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Gordon’s parties — at the Air Park and The Quail — are Monterey Car Week highlights, wonderful mixes of people and petroleum (and even electric-powered vehicles of late). Oh, and food, such food.

  2. Sigh, stings like the memory of a lost love. After going for years we learned our way around the back ways too. I once did a story on all of the FREE stuff you could do. A fair amount.

  3. I love the cars of Pebble Beach and Monterey week, but once I rode and showed my Ducati, I was even more addicted!
    Riding Hwy 1, participating at Concorso Italiano, and mixing it up on the tours had to be one of my most favorite experiences.

  4. Larry, you certainly aren’t alone in your lamenting. I adore Monterey car week, and it breaks my heart it won’t be held this year. It’s truly a car-lover’s paradise. As I descended onto the lawn years ago for the first time at Pebble Beach, I felt as if I’d stepped into my personal version of heaven…lest I neglect the spectacular other shows throughout the week, all of which were similarly mind-blowing.

    We hope to see you out and about soon – until then, take care of yourself!

    Muffy Bennett
    xo

  5. Larry, I always enjoy your messages.
    This will be only the second time in over 30 years we have missed Monterey week. The Pebble Beach Concours is always truly magical. The week itself should be on everyone’s bucket list for sure. Laguna Seca and Concorso are also ‘a must see’ as well.
    Tip: Carmel–walking to the end of Ocean Ave. and onto the beach is also a great experience. Walking on the beach and taking in the beauty is often missed by car lovers. Stay well and hope to see you next year.

  6. I think the thing I miss mostly about the Monterey/Pebble Beach weekend are the $80/night tiny motel rooms that are fetching $425/night-five night minimum! Oh, and the horrendous traffic, and parking etc. Really takes the enjoyment out of being with some of the finest automobiles and a lot of great people. Happy now to just visit the cruise on Woodward Blvd., in Michigan, except this year, that pleasure has been cancelled too! Alas!

  7. After only getting to Pebble Beach once while my father was Chief Judge, this would have been my fourth year in a row going. The highlight of my year. I refine my experience each year. A don’t miss weekend for the rest of my life as long as I am upright. The selection committee at least has most of their work done for 2021. It should be epic!

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