Tag Archives: California

How NOT To Drive to Los Angeles

FinallycartoonDo any of you other married people have a random, sensitive topic you never bring up because you and your partner once had a huge fight about it and that weird fight came to symbolize all the ways you and your partner don’t see eye to eye?

Yeah, me too.

Only, it pertains to my first marriage. My husband John and I were both married before (no kids) and I think his trigger topic with his first wife was television medical dramas or home improvement shows or something because she was always buying sod in Tahoe and killing it.

My ex-husband and I, on the other hand, could never bring up:

The Best Freeway For Driving Between Northern And Southern California

A fact that my mischievous cousin Vanessa probably remembered, so when we were all siting in a hotel near Disneyland last week (more on that trip in future posts) and she casually mentions how her buddy Steve was arguing about why people shouldn’t take Interstate-5 to get to Los Angeles, I had to jump up and shout:

“WHAT?? I-5 is the ONLY sane way to get to Los Angeles and ONLY LUNATICS WOULD TAKE ANYTHING ELSE!”

Before launching into a history lecture about how I-5 was specifically built so the military could move weapons across the state and any other route takes forever… getting far too worked up about the best freeway to use because, well, this argument and I have a long history together.

Taboo Marriage Topics

See, I met my first husband in the Army during a youthful existential crisis where we were both learning Arabic. He was from Virginia whereas I’m a Northern California native who went to college in Los Angeles and therefore lived in Southern California for several years while regularly driving up north to visit family.


Well, imagine you’re a California native who is engaged to a Virginian who hasn’t set foot off the military base, yet keeps telling you Wrong Things About California. Like, that San Jose is part of San Francisco. Or that you should be calling it “Frisco.” (I had to refer him to Emperor Norton during that argument).

And further imagine that you’re getting ready to drive up north to your wedding rehearsal dinner, with your super-gay usher in the car (I’ll tell you more about him if you want), when said Virginian starts demanding you take US-101…

And you tell them NO, because you’ve made this drive a thousand times and truly know that I-5 is the better route. You keep pushing for I-5, yet they keep insisting on 101 and when you want to know why, you find out that their dad once had a business conference in California where someone told him that 101 is a prettier drive–a dad who never actually attempted I-5 but clearly must know better than you.

“Okay, so you know that I lived in Los Angeles and probably drove up north about once a month for several years, right? Don’t you think I’d have a better idea than someone who never even tried…”

“Well, my dad said it was better.”


And it was true.

See, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat. I have a HORRIBLE sense of direction and I completely accept that about myself.

People have different strengths and weaknesses, and finding my way around will NEVER be one of my strengths. My family tells funny stories about how I tried to drive to San Francisco in high school and ended up in a cornfield or whatever… in short, I know this and have made peace with it. My ego is completely disconnected from the art of knowing the best way to get to anywhere and I DO NOT BOAST about knowing any directions unless I’m 100% SURE.

But if I know any direction in the world, it’s that I-5 is the best way to drive to Southern California, because I’ve tried the other ways and have been stuck in a 21 hour-vs-6 in rush hour San Francisco traffic before.

I’ll probably be shouting as much to the convalescent home aids after Alzheimer’s has devastated 98 % of my brain: “TAKE I-5 TO GET TO LOS ANGELES BECAUSE IN ANYTHING ELSE, MADNESS LIES” as the nurses shake their heads: “She’s going off about Interstate 5 again…”

Because THAT fact may be the last one left standing.

No matter. My ex pulled out a map to show me how 101 parallels 5. He kept arguing about how his father’s casual overhearing of something should trump my actual, hands-on knowledge until I finally said:

“FINE. Let’s take 101.”

And of course, a more experienced man would’ve known that “fine” translates to a dare in the female universe. But we were kids at the time.

So the drive ended up taking twice as long.

We missed our wedding rehearsal.

We missed the rehearsal dinner.

I ended up in a hot tub in the middle of the night, drinking cheap wine out of paper cups with my gay friend, who kept asking me if I really planned to give up dating forever for a guy who kept insisting he could smell ozone and that San Jose was part of the greater San Francisco metropolitan area (allegedly mentioned in southern textbooks).


Yeah, he kept correcting my knowledge about California until I was forced to pretend that dividing by zero is possible (“You’re dividing it by nothing, so it doesn’t divide. Five divided by zero is five!”) just to watch him freak out (this is what happens when nerd marriages go wrong).

And that’s the thing with these weirdly-sensitive arguments that never make sense to outsiders–they always represent something deeper.  In this case, his lack of respect for what I brought to the table and my pleasure at letting his doomed plans blow up.

But here’s the thing… turns out Vanessa’s friend Steve was arguing that 99 was the best route. He made some compelling arguments.

Compelling enough that John and I actually tried it. We drove home from Los Angeles using California State Route 99 as Satan ordered his minions to shovel all the snow inexplicably blanketing his domain.

And… it was… ahem

(What passes for historical artifacts in California)

Roughly as good as taking I-5.

It took a little longer, but only about 20 minutes, and had more interesting shops and restaurants along the way.

In fact, we briefly fell into a time warp when the kids discovered old Coke machines and novelty soaps outside a unique antiques & snacks shop.

So… I was wrong. There IS another sane way to dive across California. 99 is a breath of fresh air after years of taking I-5.

But I’m STILL completely against 101 for interstate travel, despite the 40 minutes of prettier initial scenery before adding several hours to the trip.

And I won’t even talk about the Pacific Coast Highway.









What Happens to California Babies When the Temperature Plummets below 70

Temperature is a relative thing. I’ve heard tales about mailmen in upstate New York who walk around in shorts when it’s 50 degrees outside. For them, 50 degrees must seem positively balmy, accustomed as they are to Volkswagen-swallowing mounds of snow.

In California, that kind of behavior would make people wonder if you’re a couple sandwiches short of a picnic. We consider 50 degrees freakishly cold out here, though it depends on what part of the state you are from.

Whenever I travel, people picture sunny Baywatch beaches when they hear I’m from California. They think life here is one long kegger party, packed with bikinis and volleyballs. There’s an odd tendency to chuckle and mimic Valley girl accents.

“That’s Los Angeles,” I try to explain. “That’s about 400 miles from where I live. Like from Kentucky to Delaware.”

Yes, California is an enormous state. Not as big as Texas or Alaska, but still large enough to cover a huge range of weather patterns. Los Angeles is the land of constant sunniness, for example, whereas San Francisco lives in constant chilly fog.

I live in Sacramento, on the other hand, a place that would be Death Valley if it were’t for a couple of rivers running through it. This place’s 100+ degree days will blister the brains right out of your head during the summer months. It tops out around 114 (that’s 45.6 degrees celsius, if that’s how you roll).

Yes, it’s a dry heat, but 114 degrees is hot, no matter what kind of excuses you come up for it. No one wants to run a marathon in 114-degree heat. If global warming spikes the temperature out here much higher, the place will become downright uninhabitable.

When the Gold Rush hit, back in the days before air-conditioning, people pouring in from the northeast were in for a nasty surprise. Padded in petticoats, velvet, and other ridiculously stifling outfits, the wives of many gold miners wrote letters back home questioning why their husbands would bring them to Satan’s personal toaster oven.

I’m convinced that when no one was looking, these women locked the door, stripped down to their underwear, and spent their time fanning themselves while muttering under their breath. I picture them saying things like “Modesty, my left butt-cheek” or “Where’s that shovel so I can scrape my boots off the floor?”

We also get a lot of droughts. We’re in the middle of one now, in fact. It’s bad enough that the city has been paying people to rip out their lawns, since they require so much water, and that having a lush green front yard will get you some disapproving stares. You’re not considered a team player nowadays unless your lawn looks painted in napalm.

So when the temperature finally dipped under 70 degrees this past week, people were thrilled. It even misted a little rain for a couple days, which put everyone in a better mood. Since the kids weren’t in any danger of heat exhaustion any longer, John and I decided to round them up and take them to the park.

While we were getting ready to go, John dressed Bridget like this:

Ready for the Yukon.
Ready for the Yukon.

You can see the panic breaking out in her nervous eyes, peeking out from behind four layers of clothes. She’s wearing socks, mittens, a snow jacket, and has a thick blanket burrito-ing her toasty little body inside the stroller.

When I questioned the reasonableness of her attire, John insisted that he “didn’t want her to get cold.”

I figured there was a snowball’s chance of that happening, since she looked prepared for a winter in Minnesota.

Still, I didn’t want to question his parenting choices. It’s actually very sweet for him to worry about her like this. He was being a Papa Bear looking after his little one, worried about how babies get cold easily and the importance of keeping them warm. John tends to live on the cautious side, and wanted to make absolutely, positively, certain that our baby wasn’t uncomfortable.

So I decided to keep quiet as we strolled around the park, letting big sister Brontë run around the swings and tackle the monkey bars. But then Bridget started screaming and flailing her arms.

“Is she hungry?” John fretted, breaking out some of the carefully prepared snack rations she was about to smack out of his hands.

“is she tired?” he asked, while trying to hike down the back of the stroller as she flipped around in desperation, sweat pouring down her little forehead.

“She’s HOT,” I shouted, while scrambling to peel off a few layers of outerwear. I unrolled her damp socks, felt her forehead, and  tried to grab the poor thing some water. She choked it down.

As the breeze hit her drenched little body, she relaxed with a deep sigh. John hoisted her into his baby carrier and she smiled as the air hit her wet baby hair and the beads of sweat sprouting all over her plump legs.

Those are the kind of shenanigans that happen when California summers dip under 70. The Sacramento heat is boiling the sanity right out of us.

Happier now
Happier now