Coast Highway to the Missions and Beyond


Most mornings I follow a routine.  The moment my eyes semi-open I reach for my glasses on the nightstand.  Getting out of bed I usually trip over something.  Then I pour my coffee, head to the shower, shave, and get dressed.  At least I think that’s the order.  It’s been a while since I’ve been home.  I could be entirely wrong.

This morning I completed a few of my morning checklist items.  Glasses, coffee…

Then I stumbled upon this.

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Let sleeping children lie.
As soon as they woke up (with a little help from Daddy) we tossed them in the car and headed out of town.  First, though, we attempted to drive north back into SF to ride the cable cars.  Bay Area traffic being what it is, we made it one exit before convincing my son that there would be other mass transit vehicles in his future.  On to our next stop.

DAY 44/She Be Straight-up Crazy

Leaving San Francisco marks a milestone of sorts for us.  For the first time we are heading dramatically south and not merely south and west.  This can only mean that eastbound and Dallas are not too far off in our future.  Also, this part of the trip promises to offer some of the most impressive natural scenery any of us has ever seen.  Our plan is to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (CA 1), taking in the sights over the next four days.  You might be asking why a normally 6 hour trip to Los Angeles would take 4 days.  Aside from the aforementioned scenery – the PCH is known to hug the coast – there are the 21 missions established by St. Junipero Serra as well as many other historic sights and points of interest.  Our goal is to see it all.

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They didn’t allow pictures inside.
Before we even got onto the PCH, however, we had a stopover in San Jose.  I turned on Youtube on my phone and streamed Dionne Warwick’s Do You Know the Way to San Jose through the car’s speakers.  My passengers were unappreciative.  So what?  It was only about an hour’s drive anyway.  I played it on a loop. If I’d really been feeling it I would’ve done an encore of Wives and Lovers.

In San Jose we stopped at a place I have long wanted to visit – the Winchester Mystery House!  In addition to Modern Marvels there was a show I used to enjoy watching called America’s Castles.  The show aired on A&E in the 1990’s and featured enormous homes around America, giving a history of each while showcasing stunning architecture.  Let me tell you about Mrs. Winchester and her bizarre but beautiful mansion.

Sarah Pardee married William Winchester, son of Oliver Winchester who had invented the Winchester Repeating Rifle – the gun that won the West – in 1862.  Sadly, the couple’s only child died at 6 weeks.  Then William died at age 43 of tuberculosis.  Remember Molly Brown and her phrenology head?  Messing with the occult must have been fashionable in the late nineteenth century.  Our friend Mrs. Winchester decided to consult psychic media who hosted seances for her.  According to medium after medium the spirits were telling Sarah that her life (and more importantly her house) were haunted by the spirits of those who had been killed by the Winchester rifle.  Yes, friends, gun control nuts have been around for a long time. The only way to keep them at bay was to “confuse them” by building.  Forever.

This is how the Winchester’s 8 room farmhouse eventually became a 160+ room Queen Anne Victorian.

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What a strange place…
It is also why a tour of the house is not unlike walking through the mind of a schizophrenic.  For maximal confusion there are doorways that lead to brick walls, stairwells that lead to ceilings, and perhaps most interesting a window in the floor.  Also, there is a door on the second floor that opens to the kitchen below.  No stairs.  No railing.  Hope you like falls, dumb spirits.  At one point after the 1906 earthquake – which Winchester also believed to be a curse from the evil spirits – she ordered that the top four floors of the mansion simply be removed.  Take that, spirits!

So I have a few problems with this.  1) Spirits?  She should have consulted a priest and an interior designer.  It was the 1880’s.  It’s not like there was a shortage of artists to choose from.  2) Seance? This woman must have been really grief-stricken to go along with all this.  Clearly the best way to consult the spirits is through a crystal ball; but either way she should have gotten several estimates first.  Our tour guide told us that Mrs. Winchester had not been schooled in architectural principles and that her main focus was having thirteen of everything throughout the house – 13 bathrooms, 13 bedrooms, etc.  I never would have guessed she wasn’t trained as an architect.  Not.  As we entered the seance room (some kids have to share a bedroom with a sibling and this lady had a seance room) the guide said “The spirits further instructed Mrs. Winchester to remove the old water tower and incorporate its base into a new wing…”  I raised my hand.  “Guide?” I asked, “Were the spirits trained in architecture or at least have a correspondence degree from Apex Tech?”  No answer.

Utterly baffled and laughing to ourselves to the chagrin of the other tourists, Wilma and I exited into the gift shop.  Karla and the kids had declined to spend $40 a piece to visit.  “I could just read your blog,” she said.

Why I’ll Never Be A Polar Bear

We continued back onto Route 1 and down the coast.  After an while we came to the town of Monterey.  After a brief lunch we took the 17 Mile Drive – a tolled, two lane road encircling the Monterey Peninsula, home to Pebble Beach.  None of us golf so I suppose the history of this place was a bit lost on us.  We did, however, get out at several spots to climb rocks and look out at the sea.  At a few places we were treated to a display of California sea lions.  Sadly, none of them climbing the rocks were hungry.  I would have paid good money to see one take out a pelican.  It’s fun to witness nature play out in a pace known for its rabid environmentalism.

Next it was on to Carmel, the neighboring town and home to Mission San Carlo Borromeo.  This mission church, what many consider the jewel of the California mission system, was the favorite of St. Junipero Serra, father of the missions.  This is where he is buried.  This is where I discovered that apparently one sometimes has to pay cash to enter a Catholic church.  I was shocked but I laid down my $20 for the family to enter.  Was it worth it?  Yes and no.  It was worth the cost to tour the grounds and visit the little museum.  It was a rip off when I learned that the mission was currently being “rented” by a Hollywood production company.  We approached the main alter and were stopped a few pews short by a production assistant.  I asked where exactly Fr. Serra’s grave was.  For the record he’s under the high alter.  This kid looked at me like I was crazy.  I cringed as this crew walked throughout the sanctuary with the reckless abandon of a troupe of liturgical dancers.  They erected a wrought iron screen across the sanctuary.  Apparently the church, still quite original in its design, didn’t look “mission-y” enough for whatever they were filming.  We prayed a rosary in the free side chapel and moved on.

Our stopping point tonight, thanks to our friends on Priceline, was a motel.  Yes, a motel.  I shouldn’t blame Priceline for this one.  Benedict, ever since he heard the word motel recently and we explained that it was a 1950’s concept where cars could drive up to the front of the rooms, has been obsessed with staying in one.  Also, Carmel doesn’t have many options.  This place was quite interesting though…  As we drove up all I could think was that we had found our way onto the set of The Parent Trap and not the lovely townhouse in Boston where the snotty sister lived.  This place resembled the best of 1950’s California nouveau riche.  They even had a… wait for it… heated outdoor pool!  On that front, the four of us decided to take a dip around sunset.  So you know, the average July temperature in Carmel Valley, CA is 55 degrees.  Also, this swingin’ motel did not have any complimentary towels available by the pool as ALL hotels do.  I checked in the office.  A young man named Skip went to fetch some.  “Be right back,” he said as he opened a door behind him.  On the other side of that door was a stackable washer/dryer in a closet.  He opened the dryer door and quickly shut it.  “Not dry yet.  Sorry,” he said.  I ran to the car and got some of our own.

After about twenty minutes of remembering why men and cold water don’t get along I then realized why I was never good at math.  There were four of us and I only brought three towels.  Like the good dad I am I gave them to Karla and the kids.  Karla and I huddled in the deep end and devised our plan of escape.  “One at a time,” I said, “you three will emerge from the pool via the steps.  You will grab the first towel you see and NOT waste time searching for your towel. You hear me, Rita? So NOT search for the princess towel.  Then you will wrap the towel around yourself and run, not walk, to the room.”  “What will you do, Daddy?” my daughter asked.  A few minutes later she learned the answer when, seated nice and dry on the edge of the bed in our room, she witnessed her old man run his fastest sprint ever, dripping wet, slowly forming icicles at the tip of my nose.  “COOOOOLD!” I screamed as I ran past her trying to grab a towel from the bathroom.

She laughed.  Karla laughed.  Skip laughed from the office window.  Today we traveled 100 miles and it took us all day.  Tomorrow will bring a new adventure!

 


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