LOMPOC-LOS ALAMOS - SANTA MARIA - SAN LUIS OBISPO
“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I want to live here.”
It was a sentence I uttered in one form or another in every town we investigated. As we drove meandering highways through the rolling hills of the Central Coast, the seashores got more rugged, the towns smaller, the open space larger; palm trees were fewer and farther between. This was the California I’d always imagined, what had been peddled to tourists back East. L.A. suddenly seemed tacky and fake, and the prospect of returning home to asphalt, palm trees, and a lush, tropical “paradise” that was, in actuality, an unsustainable desert region that must go on a quest to find water every quarter of a century, seemed unappealing.
“We should move out here,” I said.
“Uh huh. And what would we do out here?”
“You’re the doctor...you can find work anywhere.”
“And what about you?”
“I’d be happy to work in an antique store down by the water, or that bakery back in Los Alamos.”
Brianna said nothing for awhile, the beautiful countryside whizzing past the window. “No concerts, no clubs, no gay-friendly enclaves, no coffee shops where you can go and chat with artists, debutantes, or other writers. We’re citified. It’s a beautiful place to visit”--she gestured vaguely at a valley in the distance--”but we’re not cut out to live here.”
I knew she was right, but I didn’t want her to be. I wanted to be the type of person who would be content to live in these small towns nestled in the valleys of wine country, or cradled in the tiny spots of land between the hills and the ocean. But, perhaps I had been citified, and that thought distressed me.
We were on our way to the small city of Santa Maria--which was only on our itinerary because I’d confused it with the town of Santa Mira from the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’d always had a penchant for old black and white horror films. Something I inherited from my mom. I remember her showing me the original Dracula and Frankenstein movies when I was little. I wasn’t scared. Something about the naivety and innocence of the Frankenstein monster resembled a child and when you watch that movie as a child, it makes a lifelong impression on any child. But, I digress…
Not only was Santa Maria not Santa Mira, Santa Mira turned out to be completely fictional. The town I thought I was going to see didn’t exist. I don’t know what emotion consumed me more: embarrassment or disappointment. The town--the real one, Santa Maria that is--had one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in the country, and for some reason, I had assumed they would show Invasion of the Body Snatchers every night, and that I’d roll into town and end up lying in the back of our car--hatchback open, seats folded down, blankets spread out--with my beloved, hand and hand, the way we spent many a date back in high school.
When we were growing up, the drive-in was the place. Brianna’s dad had a truck, so did my mom, so most dates were spent spooning in the back of a truck bed on a pile of blankets. We had the opportunity recreate our high school experience. It seemed as if fate were playing a role here. It all came together so perfectly. It seemed...right. All the planets had aligned.
Yeah, except they were showing some kid’s movie--a Pixar something-or-other--and we were just too “grown up” for that.
Thanks but no thanks, Santa Maria!
When we first coasted into town, we had no idea where we were going or what we were going to do. We pulled into a restaurant to use as a kind of basecamp, and had coffee while we figured out what the area had to offer. A local guy at the counter overheard us and offered some suggestions--lighthouse tours and museums, hiking trails, a certain bed and breakfast in Morro Bay, camping on Pismo Beach. Turns out he was from San Diego and came up to the Central Coast with his wife, fell in love with the place, and basically never went back to SoCal.
So camping on the beach would be our next big adventure. But first, walls of gum awaited us in San Luis Obispo…
No, that’s not a typo. There is an alleyway covered in old chewed up bubblegum. I didn’t know why; I didn’t care to know why. But for some reason, my wife desperately needed to see this.
After we couldn’t get a room at the quirky and world-famous Madonna Inn--a motel known for its insane architecture, amazing breakfast, and wildly creative themed rooms--SLO was kind of off the table. But since Santa Mira--er, Maria--had been a bust, we had nothing else to do, so we were on our way to see old bubblegum.
I didn’t know what to expect. A sculpture perhaps? What kind of “attraction” was old chewed up gum? Well, Bubblegum Alley, as it is known, is pretty much what it sounds like: a narrow alleyway, the walls on either side of which, are covered with years and years worth of old gum. People at the far end of the alley were sticking their own gum to the walls as I stood there dumbfounded, trying not to gag. There must have been germs from a thousand gallons of saliva lurking down there.
Brianna wanted to walk down the alley--I don’t know, just to say she did it, I guess. But she was going solo. No way in hell I was setting foot in that life-size petri dish.
So yes, we’d seen the world’s largest fig tree, a wall smeared with old gum, and a potential murder crime scene in a cave. Who needs Rome or Paris for a honeymoon?
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