I’ve driven from Phoenix to Northern California too many times. As a Phoenix resident and former Santa Rosa, Ca kid it is a familiar drive that I take a couple of times of year to visit family and friends in my hometown.
Truthfully it’s a very dull drive that I don’t look forward to. It starts with boring flat desert for the first five hours until you get past Indio and then you drive north through Bakersfield and miles of flat agrarian fields. For someone with A.D.D. this can be unsettling, but I use the drive to catch up on listening to my favorite podcasts. With Monterey Car Week 2022 as the beacon I would take a bus to get here, or most other means or safe travel, but I draw a line at hitchhiking.
With expansive fields on a flat plain, driving on the 5 north feels like it takes forever to make progress on my usual trips but eventually I reach Tracey and I know I am in the Bay Area with a semblance of suburban civilization. But going to Monterey is a different trip from my normal cruise to Santa Rosa. (Side note: I’m not sure if this a regional thing, but I refer to highways as “The #”)
While on the 5 north Google Maps advises me to exit and head west on the 46. I’ve never driven on the 46, but Google Maps knows more than me and oblige. The 46 is a two-lane highway and I head west but an ominous sign make me pause.
A casual glance to my right and I see “James Dean Memorial Junction” on a large highway sign. It wasn’t an impromptu sign, but looks like it was installed by Caltrans as an official beacon for the tragic loss of an iconic actor.
I was familiar with the passing of James Dean, a car accident in his Little Bastard Porsche somewhere in California, but I didn’t know where and my geography knowledge is non-existent in this part of the Golden State. He was an actor, but like many folks his passion was cars and racing. An apt reminder of the dangers of speed as a cruised in my Mini Cooper towards a week long festival for those of us that love cars and are passionate race fans.
(It’s well documented that I drive slow. This choice is two fold: I was in a bad car accident in high school, I hydroplaned while driving too fast but walked away with a totaled Dodge Lancer and sore ribs. Also, I was a claims adjuster for seven years and I observed that most of the claims were from speed, inattentive driving, or riding someone’s bumper. Yes, I am an automotive writer that drives below the speed limit, but that’s DPC. Best to err on the side of caution, be mindful of your fellow drivers and get home safely. I will now get off my soapbox.)
Back to the drive. I was shook by rolling past the James Dean Memorial Junction but cruised on. I was tired from being in the car since 5:30 a.m., coffee wasn’t perking me up like it should and my reactions were not as sharp, but i was getting closer to Monterey.
Even without Google Maps offering me a play-by-play synopsis it was apparent that I was closer, due to the drop in weather and the fog rolling in from the coast. I don’t drive well in the snow or rain, or I’m uncomfortable cruising in inclement weather, but I’m good in the fog.
Learning to drive in Northern California makes this a necessary skill to survive on the roads, especially near the coast. I am often in a mental fog but I can drive without a concern in literal fog. Put me on a foggy road at night in Bodega Bay and I come alive behind the wheel.
The sun was retiring for the night and I needed some rest. I had spent more than 12-hours on the road and fatigue was catching up to me, but I was in Monterey and near my hotel. Discovering the charm of the seaside town would be for another day as I parked and grabbed my luggage. The front desk clerk was a friendly face and gave me the low down about parking in downtown without getting hit with major fees.
Tired with a stiff body I made it to my room and relaxed. A quick dinner from Chipotle and I was asleep within two-hours of checking in. Rest is a necessary commodity that is in short supply during car auction road trips, and I try to grab as much as I can when it’s available.
I would be back up at 6 a.m. to begin this funky adventure at Monterey Car Week 2022. As I dozed off I had feelings of anticipation like tomorrow was Christmas morning.