No disrespect to my So Cal friends, and definitely not to guys who wear red or blue and pose for pictures while making arthritic hand signs, but what I find most enjoyable about going to Los Angeles is leaving Los Angeles. I mean…I can’t talk about anyone’s city being that I reside in the comfortable boredom of Pickerington, Ohio, but there’s just too much-too much going on in L.A. So as soon as our cramped Spirit Airlines flight landed at LAX, we went to Pasadena for the night, before continuing on our road trip to Paso Robles.
Pasadena is largely a residential area lined with homes that may have been intended for the middle class but are now worth millions. I figured I could drop my wife, Amber, off at the hotel, park on the street, and walk a couple blocks back to avoid paying the Hilton an extra $23. That’s romance.
But there’s a city law against overnight street parking. Wealthy homeowners don’t want unidentified driving objects ruining their views of suburbia. So the trick, which took me 20 minutes circling around the city to find out, was to park near an apartment building, which are not subject to the law. I parked in front of that sum-a-bitch all night.
By the time we got settled in the hotel, it was already 11 p.m., or 2 a.m. in flyover country. We grabbed some tacos from a food truck and beer from the grocery store. Hello Pasadena. Goodbye Pasadena.
We took the inland route to Paso Robles. It was a lazy drive, a bunch of agriculture and Amber asking “I wonder what grows on that?” I don’t know…food!
We stopped in Bakersfield at a taco truck parked at a gas station. No matter the cost of living increases in California, the price of tacos mostly stays the same. Usually around $2 each. The more authentic, the cheaper. But this taco truck was somehow out of tacos. So we had subpar Clamato-soaked ceviche.
After more than three hours on the road, we arrived in Paso Robles and went straight to Croad Vineyards. We had the whole place to ourselves. Man, it was extravagant. Amber thought I chose this winery for its romantic views. That’s partly true. But they also had half off wine from 2pm to 3pm. I made sure we were at the counter at exactly 1:59:59.
Next up was Sculpterra. It’s a winery with a sculpture garden, staffed by a host who’s a bit cold until she finds out you’re also from Ohio, at which point she gives you a discount. We shared a bottle with friends, which I actually have in California, and then left to check into our Airbnb.
I couldn’t get the apartment’s screen door latch to open and had a panicked overreaction akin to that time I yelled “I’m drowning! I’m drowning!” in ninth grade swim class. I thought I was in the deep end, but I was actually in only five feet of water and could have just stood up. This was part of the reason why I remained a virgin until college.
Anyhow, I called Airbnb support, like, “Is this a scam or something! I can’t get the gate open to put the code in!” They assured me it was not. The apartment owner messaged me, “You have to move the door handle to the side to open the latch.” Oops.
We invited old and new friends over steak, margaritas, and wine. I started cooking, but my friend took over the kitchen. He wanted to impress a young tenderoni whom he brought to wine country for the weekend. Go ‘head, hoss. Do your thing. He saved me the struggle and the food turned out damn good.
The crew left to get ready to bar hop. Amber got dressed and made up. I had planned to get clean, too, but I’m 40 and when that sleep hits, it hits. Next thing you know, it was morning and I woke up in my jeans. Amber had a bit more trouble waking up than I did, but nothing that a cold rag and Excedrin Extra Strength couldn’t take care of.
We spent the following morning at Avila Beach in nearby San Luis Obispo. There was ass tanning and white cliffs and Miami Vice-esque homes, a lonely crab, and exactly one Negro in the entire area. Me. Matter of fact, there was only one brown person, too. The pizza maker. It’s easy to forget how monocultural California can be in certain pricey areas.
After a power nap, we headed out for our reason for visiting Paso Robles in the first place: my friends’ wedding. It was outdoors, as all weddings in California should be. They did it up with with decorations hanging in trees and lil’ drummers representing the groom’s Ghanaian heritage. And the porta potties? Man! Luxurious. I felt like I was a celebrity on set with my own private facilities. Matter of fact, outside of the men’s room in Bloomingdales at San Diego’s Fashion Valley Mall, the wedding portas were easily the best public bathroom I’ve used.
As for the ceremony itself? Elegant, stunning, touching. I cried, but only on the inside of course. Being raised in such a hyper-masculine environment has stunted by ability to express deep emotions, at least outside of writing.
We woke up the next morning with eight hours to kill before our flight home. We stopped at Pismo Beach on our drive back to LAX. Amber ran into an old friend and colleague who is now working in Monterey. She mentioned a job opening in Amber’s field.
I’ve never been to Monterey, and only know the city from HBO’s Big Little Lies. Apparently it has great ocean views, along with infidelity and suspicious deaths among the one percent. Sounds a bit more intriguing than Pickerington, Ohio. We joked about trying Monterey out for two years. Then we filled up our Bug convertible with gas at almost five dollars a gallon. Ohio ain’t so bad.