The Road Not Taken

I know it may be politically incorrect and probably downright sacrilegious to confess in these days of $3.99-a-gallon for gasoline, but I still love the tradition of a Sunday drive.

         It is a ritual passed down from my parents, who could rarely ever afford a true vacation. They learned to often settle for a two or three hour drive somewhere, anywhere, just to get away for a while. Dad loved to explore new roads, always curious about what might be waiting around the next curve.

         In 21 years on the Central Coast, I’ve hit most of the back roads at least once. My favorites would include taking Prefumo Canyon Road up and over into See Canyon, the dizzying drive from Old Creek Road near Cambria down into Adelaide, and heading out Hwy. 58 towards Carrizo Plain.

         Moving to Nipomo gave me new roads to explore. I had never been along Hwy. 1 as it slopes down off the Mesa and cuts through Guadalupe towards Vandenberg. I’m not sure there’s much to recommend about the one-street town that is Casmalia, but at least I can say I’ve been there. I know where that road goes.

         I attended college in rural Illinois and was a member of the speech team. Our coach was married with a couple children, but I never sensed he was particularly happy. One night a week, he would finish dinner with the family, slide behind the wheel of his Lincoln Continental and hit the road. 

         Any road. He’d pick an interstate highway and drive somewhere for two hours before turning around and coming home. The Muzak would be full blast on the radio—Sinatra, Mathis, Montovani. He always talked about how relaxing these solitary drives were. They were his escape. His quiet time. More than thirty years later, I still think of him as being out there somewhere, driving the highways. 

         I’ve been to 49 out of 50 states, mostly as a young man who had incurable wanderlust. Like my dad and my speech coach, I was always drawn to the open road, the rhythm of driving long distances, and the promise of what might lie ahead. If I passed a road, I had to follow it. I had to know where it went.

         Today, it is not as easy to get away. I seem to be trapped inside this imaginary bubble that stretches from the Bay Area, south to Los Angeles, east over to Fresno. This is where I spend 99% of my time. I know most of these roads.

         Still the curiosity remains. The open road calls. I felt it on a recent Sunday in Nipomo. I poked my head in my wife’s office, where she was staring blankly at her computer.

         “Let’s take a ride,” I suggested. She didn’t need convincing.

         I took the wheel of our SUV and we headed south down Hwy. 101, taking the Betteravia exit in Santa Maria. Normally, we turn right, towards Big Box Bargains, but this time I headed left into the open fields. Like so many times before, this is a road I had to follow.

         Five, six, miles we drove, due east towards the hills, before the road curved south and Betteravia Road magically became Foxen Canyon Road. Traffic was light. The road twisted and turned. 

         Garey literally went by in a blink of an eye. A few minutes later, we found ourselves in Sisquoc. Look at all the houses. They have a quarry? They have a winery? I had no idea.

         More twists and turns and we started heading up through rolling green hills as the valley stretched out below us to the right. We stopped more than once to get out and enjoy the view. This was better than I expected. 

         Then the parade of wineries began, including the giant Fess Parker operation. The wealthy, as evidenced by the immaculate designer front gates, dominate Foxen Canyon Road. Merv Griffin and Michael Jackson used to live along here. You could smell the money.

         It took us under an hour to reach the end of the road near Maddie’s Tavern. A late lunch in Santa Ynez at the Vineyard House. Dessert in Solvang. Home to Nipomo. Total time away was only three hours and fifteen minutes, but the drive did not disappoint.

         Cross Foxen Canyon Road off my list. The perfect Sunday drive if you’re so inclined. I know that gas is expensive, but the road is calling and I have miles to go before I sleep.

SLO City News (May 2007)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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