We hadn’t planned any activities for Monday, and with a 6pm departure we had all day to get to LAX. So we avoided the interstate where we could, and stuck to the coast.
We hit the road after a leisurely breakfast and spent some quality time in SoCal traffic. It must be soul crushing to endure this every day. Even with the cost of living so much higher there, people seem to be able to spend a bit more on their cars. Perhaps that’s a strategy that helps deal with that traffic. We had a Tesla S behind us for quite a while, a nice Bentley passed us, two or three brand new Jags. I caught a quick glimpse of an Alfa 4C and wished I’d gotten a better look. I hadn’t seen one in the flesh before. Very pretty car.
We abandoned the interstate and exited rush hour traffic at Torrey Pines. From here to Oceanside, where Camp Pendleton forces us back onto I-5, the road varies from divided four lane to busy two lane as it rises and falls at each of a half dozen estuaries. Commuter rail runs alongside the road for long stretches as well. For the most part, there isn’t much ocean view except when descending into the estuaries where you get a good view of the beach. It was all very nice, clean, and pretty much all high-rent district.
You have to take the interstate for a while but we wanted off as quickly as possible. Our desire to avoid the interstate led us to a dead end at a beach before we finally got exited into San Clemente on El Camino Real, the Royal Road. In Dana Point, we finally get to the southern end of Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. We got a kick out of the street names here – Golden Lantern, Street of the Violet Lantern, Amber Lantern, Ruby Lantern, Blue Lantern.
After Dana Point, it’s Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, Long Beach. (Fun note: the spell checker doesn’t like “Laguna” and suggests “gulag”.) The farther south you are, the more unique the businesses are. For a long time, we didn’t see any chain fast food restaurants, very few Starbucks, a couple 7-11’s. Lots of little boutiques, antique shops, surf shops.
There were quite a few places where we remarked we couldn’t imagine living in. Not just because of the high-dollar nature of the place, but the houses themselves. Particularly the houses perched at the top of cliffs. It wouldn’t take an earthquake to bring one down, a big rain like we had here recently could do it. Along great stretches, the houses between the road and the beach were jammed side by side, separated by a single gated walkway. Every couple blocks there’d be a gap for beach access. Very similar to Malibu from what I recall.
We stopped in Newport Beach for lunch, at the Newport Beach Brew Co. I had a Cobb salad and a Belgian golden ale but I forget what they called it. Insane Monkey or Crazy Monkey, something like that.
I think it’s Sunset Beach where we got a nice extended stretch with a nice ocean view. The notable feature of the view today was all the container ships standing between Santa Catalina Island and Long Beach. Genae counted 23, but she probably missed a few. And I understand there are others farther from the port. I stopped to shoot a couple pictures and chatted with a guy there. He said it wasn’t as bad as it was last time, back in 2004 or so.
At Long Beach we’re back to heavy traffic and more than a few blocks from the water. The pleasant drive beside the ocean was over now; welcome to the megalapolis. There are a lot of lane closures and in places oncoming traffic was stopped for blocks. I know the way to LAX from here. We went the entire distance without navigational assistance except when we decided to find somewhere to eat lunch. I’m not sure whether to feel proud or sad that I know my way around LA as well as I do.
The rental car place was on Century, a couple blocks west of the 405. I went east to find gas. The six block detour saved twenty cents a gallon at 2.89 (much more than we’re paying here). The rental car place is not exactly a well-oiled machine. The office is a bit on the dodgy side but that’s not a big deal – quite a few of the LAX car rental offices could use an upgrade. More telling is that they basically operate out of the alley. There’s an entrance to a multi-story garage where they also do airport parking. When you pick up the car, you have to turn it around in the alley.
We had to when we picked up the car, and when returning it had to wait for somebody else to do it. The guy that recorded the car’s mileage and fuel asked if we needed a lift to the airport. When we said “Yes”, he said he’d probably take us in the car we just returned. Instead, as there was another couple as well, he took a minivan which was obviously one of their rental fleet. I’m guessing they can’t pick us up at the airport because they lack the proper licensing. So how can they legally drop us off?
As of today, by my count, I’ve flown in and out of LAX 190 times, which is the same number as Phoenix, which blows my mind. And in all those times, this trip was my first time for both terminals 4 and 5. I was pretty impressed with terminal 4 for a while. But we were out of gate 44H. There are about a dozen gates out of 44. Here you go down a flight of stairs to a door. Shuttle buses run from here to another terminal for the little CRJs. Signs you don’t see every day: “Stop for Aircraft”.
I had my sweater in one bag and my jacket in the other. The overhead bins in the CRJ are pretty small, so they took the small rollerboard and I volunteered the duffel. I didn’t know if we’d have to go to baggage claim to fetch them. If that was the case, they might as well take both. So when the pilot announced it was 13 degrees in Denver I hoped we’d have to get them from baggage claim. But no, this was valet service, so I had to wait for them at the end of the jetway.
By now it was down to 10. The jetway isn’t heated and by the time everyone is off the plane, about fifteen of us line each side. The guy across from me says I’m about two months early to be wearing a Hawaiian shirt. He says he’ll be the last one to get his bag. I disagree, it’ll be me. The bags appear two at a time. A woman closely inspects the tag on a dull gray one but a man from up the jetway gets it. A bright green bag comes soon, the woman take it. Was she really confused which bag was hers? We’re down to six of us and the guy says “Told you I was going to be last” just before his bag arrives. I get the first one with 4 people left and the other is one of the last two. Tied for last bag! I can now put my sweater and jacket on.
Icicles broke from the bottom of the car when we got in. The snow was hard, and the ice beneath it was harder and a quarter inch thick. But it was brittle from the cold and came off the windshield quite easily. There was ice on the inside of the windshield, along the darker band at the top. That never thawed on the thirty five minute drive home.
All in all, not a bad way to spend the weekend. We traded a few days of cold and snow for, well, not exactly sunny southern California weather, but mid-60’s anyway. And we had a whale of a good time.