Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 14: Reno, NV to San Francisco, CA
A man from Fresno quizzed me in the parking lot, not about the car, but about whether I'd come all that way by myself. "Courage…courage," he said. I hadn't thought of it that way…or not in terms that didn't have me bumbling over the line between "brave" and "foolhardy."
And I went from that heartening convo into some of the toughest driving yet — amazing views in the Tahoe National Forest, amazing turns and straightaways, the agricultural inspection stop, the Donner Pass, but then also the kind of bad driving that is unsystematic and maddening. My happiness to have arrived in the Golden State soon gave way to impatience: it's an interstate, and it has rules about lanes, a social contract, here ignored. A 45-minute traffic slinky in Vacaville revealed itself as the result of a merge from four lanes down to three. Four lanes…down to three. Jesus H. McGillicuddy — just zipper it up! Ever gotten off the Goethals on a summer Sunday? Sixteen lanes down to one and a half, I'll give you 45 minutes. (And have, many times.) This? Come on.
I used the time to catalog California's love affair with vanity plates. In the greater New York area, this is reliable indicator of douchey driving, but California has so many more of them, I don't know what it indicates — maybe that it's cheaper to get them than it is back east. All the BMWs seemed to have them: "K8EEZ," "SLWHND." …"SLWHND"? Congrats, buddy: you've become that Boomer everyone hates, with the parade-speed swanning from one lane to another and the gooby Clapton reference. "More like 'FCKWD,'" I grumbled aloud, just as yet another BMW zipped by me on the left with "DMITJIM" plates. "Ha! …Well played, Dr. Whoever You Are."
As usual, though, a morning of snottily categorizing other drivers and their trying inferiorities boomeranged on me when I got to a big old skyway that cost $5 to cross, and realized I didn't have any cash. Hey, here's an exit: Port Richmond, some kind of secret Navy installation that I got the increasing sense I shouldn't be seeing, never mind looking for an ATM in. Cool views of the water, though. I got us back on 580 East somehow and took care of the cash problem, then sailed over the giant skyway and into the headlands, then onto the Golden Gate Bridge with, apparently, everyone else in Northern California. The view off to the right was blinding, and it started to sink in: "That's the Pacific, buddy."
It got a little hairy coming down off the exit, trying to hook over to Fort Point, but I had it in my head that I wanted to go there, to take a picture of the car next to the bridge. I went through the same series of fruitless left turns about seven times before figuring out that Annie was confused on a street name, and almost gave up, but I could see the signage, so I punted, and it worked. I rumbled into the parking lot and snagged a spot right away.
The sea was right down there, hitting against the rocks and spraying up. Alcatraz glinted in the distance. Campbell's engine ticked. I looked down at the wreckage of the front seat — bottle caps, gas receipts, the corner of a five-dollar bill, the pen tops and cords and banana-peel tabs and tape bits and wrapper shreds, the smashed-flat package of Twin Bing from Nebraska, the lottery card from Indiana. I couldn't stop smiling. We did it. We drove it. The whole goddamn country.
I hopped out with my phone and crossed the access road to get a picture of Cam next to the bridge. She was coated in bugs and sandy grime, but she was there. She got all the way there. I crossed back and put the phone in my pocket and leaned on her passenger door to take in the view, and then, even though she was 1) encrusted in dirt and 2) a car, I spread my arms over her and gave her a hug and told her good job, little girl, good job, good for you. Thank you. A man, walking by: "Isn't that sweet!" You have no idea, friend.
One more labor for my little Miniscules: up up up Gough St. to the hotel. Annie didn't account for the topography of San Francisco, and sent us on an unnecessarily hilly and exciting route, and when we crested the last 50-degree hill and prepared to turn left, the guy in front of me, a Tahoe with New York plates, threw us a thumbs-up in the rearview. "Right?" I said, throwing a thumb back. "[Frr frr frrrrrr]," Campbell said.
The valet on duty can't believe it: "You drove that here? From New York?" Looks that way, doesn't it. Put a chocolate on her pillow, please.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour Campbell Congratulations: You're That Guy