Monday, May 17, 1999
Soon after breakfast, we were back at the dog run. It seemed only fair: the hounds hadn’t been out to a slick restaurant the night before, and we didn’t even bring them leftovers. Besides, exercise would probably tire Tom’s mutt, and she’d sleep all day in the truck. Not that she’d done much else besides spin abstract tongue art on her window.
Soon leaving Lisa and Lexy, we quickly sped by San Quentin, grateful to be two of the unwanted. I couldn’t imagine that there were tours, though this was California. Slipping into nearby Muir Woods, we were surprised by the miles of hidden houses, along with a road twisting as inwardly as Freud’s. With no guardrails.
“You all right?” I asked Tom as we leaned hard left.
He nodded against the G-force.
“Tell me if you need a break.”
We slammed starboard. The dog, trying to hold her footing, slid into the storage well. “She okay?” Tom worried.
“Yeah,” I laughed.
“So am I,” he finally added. “This isn’t bad. And you can drive the East coast.”
He’d read somewhere about Boston.
So we spiraled on. Through Point Reyes Station and Tomales—where a small store advertised “Now! Tamales in Tomales!” And Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed some of The Birds. Then Jenner. Stewarts Point. Fortress. Some names went back to frontier days. Others were geographic. Or so said the historic signs.
And the road just kept twisting. Each time we started to relax, it re-coiled, shifting our view. Sometimes we edged cliffs. Then skirted lagoons. Or we were surrounded by trees, which instantly disappeared, leaving Grant Wood hills, with cows. Near five, I noticed we’d barely gone a hundred miles—and we still hadn’t picked a place to stay.
We tried Mendocino. “Almost cute,” one of our guidebooks warned. Still, it might have been Eden and we couldn’t have stayed: No Dogs Need Apply.
“You’re sure?” Tom asked, after my third refusal. The sun was beginning to set.
“You want to try?”
“No,” he admitted. So on Mendocino’s north border, I tried another inn. Dogs weren’t even discussed.
“We have a cage,” I tried to persuade the manager. “She’ll sleep in the truck.”
The woman show me the gate. White, with tulips.
Finally, Fort Bragg: it sounded military, but proved otherwise (the Army base I remembered was on the East coast). We had a dog book, a thick paperback Tom had bought on-line, which offered annotated lists of pet-friendly motels. But Mendocino’s were a bust. And the best of Fort Bragg’s were fourth rate.
Tom frowned at the sagging beds, and the ripening wallpaper. “At least, it’s clean,” I pointed out.
“I can always send her home.”
I say that a lot around Tom. Either he mumbles, or I can’t hear. Though shipping the dog home was the other reason we’d brought the cage: if she really started messing up our trip, she could be air-dropped to Tom’s waiting neighbor.
“It’s the first time we’ve had trouble,” I told Tom. “If there’d been a Motel 6 here, we’d be fine.”
“I don’t like Motel 6.”
“You’re not supposed to.”
Not that there were any around—or on many stretches of back road we were planning to drive. They mainly clumped around highways.
“We can try somewhere else,” I suggested. But Tom was already thousand-yard-staring out the door. “What do you want to eat?” I asked.
“What looks good?”
The motel manager had no thoughts—almost literally. I checked our books. “A couple of things look okay.”
I took the best, a restaurant with a four-fork salute, hoping to balance our motel. But I chose wrong.
It was the kind of place you’d take a married woman you were trying to seduce. Pink leather booths. Cafe-curtains. Shiny plants hanging from brass rods. And the food sucked.
As we ate, Tom studied a motorboat, circling the cove. The view was fine: wide, primal sea. But that won’t fill your stomach. To distract ourselves, we talked of better food. Before leaving L.A., we’d decided to have breakfast and dinner out, to give us a sense of the places we were driving through. We didn’t plan on lunch ’cause we figured we’d be pulling over all day.
At night, if we needed to, we’d use our reference books, the British Rough Guide and American Triple A series, to find decent restaurants. The latter clearly boosted advertisers, but no worse than local tourist newspapers, laden with coupons. I thought the best advice would be word-of-mouth, at least, it always worked for my mom—even in countries where she didn’t understand the language. But we were finding that people with jobs in motels didn’t eat out a lot.
Much later, as Tom slept, I studied our maps. Without going too far off back roads, we could easily stay at Motel 6’s the next three nights. That wouldn’t solve the food problem, but would stop our rushing around each evening looking for a room. And maybe that little extra time would give us a shot at better restaurants. As I slipped outside to make reservations—there was no long-distance phone line, either—the dog tagged along. So we ended up taking a walk.