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Fresno

Fresno? Yeah, Fresno. At the last San Francisco party I attended, I foolishly promised Craig (in writing, mind you) that I would go to his upcoming housewarming party in that Godforsaken land. I’ve got absolutely nothing against Craig—even though he’s a lawyer—but Fresno, on the other hand….

Well, I thought, I’ve never been. How can I knock the place if I haven’t even tried it? So on April 4, I drove up for the housewarming.

Sometime between my RSVP and the actual party, Jonna invited me to stop in San Luis Obispo on my way up. To be perfectly honest, I thought she was nuts—what route between L.A. and Fresno goes up the coast?

That was before Inspiration hit. I would travel the entire weekend without my tires touching an interstate freeway.

Sure enough, I could travel up highway 101 to San Luis Obispo and a little beyond, to highway 41, which cut across western California right to Fresno. And for the way home, it looked like highway 99 to Bakersfield, then highway 58 east to the Barstow area, would work out just fine. The last leg, from Barstow over the mountains to L.A., was a little unclear—but that was just a minor detail. I could figure that out when I got there.

Bright and early Saturday morning, I drove Pacific Coast Highway out of Seal Beach, all the way to Malibu. Since it was showering that morning, I kept the top up. As it turned out, this was good for more than just keeping the rain off. Malibu had been punished recently by some heinous mudslides; PCH was open (which was by no means guaranteed), but coated in mud. And with the rains that morning, all the cars were spraying a fine mist of mud all over everything. My normally white car turned a nice shade of beige, which it remained for the rest of the trip. At least the top was up, or my normally white skin would’ve turned a nice shade of beige, too.

I took Malibu Canyon from PCH to highway 101, and the 101 all the way up beyond SLO to highway 41. I took the top down a couple of times along this part of the trip, but it promptly started to rain, at which point I put it back up, at which point it promptly stopped raining. Hmf.

Highway 101 was pretty uninteresting (well, better than I-5, but I’ve taken it several times), but the 41 was quite nice. It wound up through the coastal hills; the road had lots of curves and dips and that kind of fun stuff that my car was made for. The northern section of the 41 was kind of bland (through central California, there’s little reason for a road to do anything other than go straight), but I survived, and eventually arrived in Fresno, unscathed, after about eight hours of travel.

You may have heard, as I had, how suckful Fresno is. Well, it didn’t kill me, but on the other hand, I’m sure glad I don’t live there. Fresno has no soul. It consists almost entirely of straight, flat, indistinguishable suburban roads. Interestingly, I didn’t see anything other than suburbs, now that I think about it. What exactly do they do in Fresno? I’m still not sure. Hang out at Denny’s, I guess.

On the plus side, however, housing prices are astoundingly low to a former Portland/current Los Angeles resident. Craig’s pad was quite spacious for the price. I defy you to find a modern, well-kept, two-bedroom apartment with covered parking in a wealthy neighborhood in L.A. for under $600.

The housewarming party itself was cool. Plenty of fine beverages (Henry’s root beer and vanilla cream soda; Guinness and Fuller’s ESB; Southern Comfort and Parrot Bay) and plenty of fine company (the Bay Area usual suspects and some of Craig’s law school friends)—what more do you need?

Sunday morning, we went out for the finest in Fresno dining (Carrow’s—don’t ever order the chili cheese fries, no matter how attractive they look in the picture, by the way), after which I took off for L.A.

I left Fresno heading south on highway 99, and hung a left at Barkersfield to skirt the northern edge of the San Gabriel mountains along highway 58. (Stopped in Boron to buy a can of Boraxo soap and a lottery ticket worth $100 million. Nice lady working at the grocery store. Unfortunately, my ticket must have been defective, ‘cause I’m still not a millionaire.)

Disconcertingly, as I approached the point where I would have to turn south to head into the L.A. basin, the routes over the mountains were becoming no more clear. Sure, I could’ve taken I-15 over, but that would’ve been admitting defeat at the very moment of victory. Highway 2 was the obvious choice, but it was closed due to snow—and even if it was open, I’m not sure how well my car would do on a windy, snowy mountain road. Finally, I decided to take a windy mountain road past Lake Arrowhead and down into San Bernardino. I’d been up there once before, and it was pretty damn foggy, but hey, it’s not like that all the time, right?

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

When I was a kid, I had a book of Paul Bunyan stories. Paul Bunyan was a larger-than-life folk hero of the Northwest (perhaps of other forested American regions, too), a lumberjack of epic proportions. Well, one story told of how he was putting a roof on a house, only it was foggy—really, really foggy. So foggy, in fact, that when the fog cleared he found that he’d nailed the shingles into the fog 50 feet away from the house itself.

The fog over Arrowhead was worse.

Most of the time, I couldn’t see farther than a couple of yards in front of the car. Occasionally, I couldn’t even see that far; twice I opened my car door to look for the center line. I crossed over into the other lane more times than I care to admit. (Fortunately, as you can tell by the fact that I’m here writing this, my car didn’t go off the mountain, nor did I crash into a tree or the mountainside or other lost cars, though it was close a couple of times.)

I realized at that point that I really wanted someone else to be in the car, just for moral support, but then I realized that they’d just be freaking out, and that wouldn’t’ve been any good for either of us.

Finally, as the road just kept going up and up, I decided that enough was enough, and that I was going to be smart and turn back around. I pulled over to look at the map, and found that I’d missed a turn in the fog, and was heading in completely the opposite direction from where I wanted to be.

Once I discovered that, it was all good. I headed downhill, the fog started to lift, and I escaped the moutains with no harm done except to my nerves. (But let me tell you, that was the stupidest thing I’ve done in a very, very long time.) As a positive result of the experience, the surface street trip from San Bernardino to Seal Beach, which before that weekend I thought to be near-impossible, was no sweat at all.

About a week later, I received in the mail a cocktail napkin with my ill-conceived promise, marked “PAID 4/4/98”. So I’m in the clear—I officially have no more Fresno commitments. Hot damn.

[Note: As I’m reformatting this for the new-look site, almost eight (!) years later, I am proud to be able to say that I have not been back. And Craig has since moved away, to the throbbing metropolis of Sacramento.]

Recommendations

  • Definitely go some long distance without interstate freeways. It restores the soul.
  • Make sure you have a very good idea of where you’re going if you do so. “I’ll figure it out when I get there” sometimes isn’t good enough.
  • Don’t drive up Arrowhead at night in the fog.
  • And to get to the root of it all, don’t promise your friend to attend his housewarming in Fresno, no matter how much you’ve had to drink. Bakersfield? Well, now, that’s another story….