h i g h w a y 1

[ 11:10 monday 3 march – garden street inn, san luis obispo, california ]

sun streams through stained glass, splattering abstract patterns across bookcases, rugs and a huge old upright piano. i don’t like staying in hotels but when it’s necessary i do my best to find somewhere like this. the garden street inn is a late nineteenth- century house carefully converted into a small hotel of thirteen rooms and furnished with a hotch-potch of antiques. it’s not part of a chain and the people who work here aren’t robots. i found it completely by chance. this was the hotel with the least depressing name when i arrived in the small town of san luis obispo last night and asked my satellite navigation gadget for a list of nearby possibilities. lucky me.

since my despatch from san francisco last weekend i’ve driven six hundred miles, done a dozen meetings up and down silicon valley, found my way to several noisily experimental music events and caught up with most of my friends in town. on saturday i set off from san francisco to make the epic drive down the cost to san diego at the opposite end of california. san luis obispo (“slo” in the local parlance) is about midway so i’ve got another few hundred miles ahead of me today.

rather than the faster north-south freeways further inland i chose to take highway 1, the narrow and wiggly road etched into the cliffs running down the coast of california. the driving is somewhat more demanding but it’s amply repaid by one of the most beautiful coasts anywhere in the world. the pacific crashes onto craggy rocks and sandy beaches with tranquil forests of redwood and beach rising up the hills behind the coast. on saturday evening i stopped in monterey to reunite with quinn and dip into the bil conference, a loosely structured gathering of non-conformist thinkers from a boggling array of fields. i set off again early yesterday morning and spent most of the day exploring big sur and the central coast, taking time for a long hike in julia pfeiffer state park and stops to explore various coves and beaches that intrigued me driving past. i was sitting on one of these watching the waves when i started noticing fragments of green translucent stone in the sand and suddenly twigged why it was called jade cove. at another place where i stopped to watch the sunset i was startled by a honking sound and looked down to find the beach covered with dozing sea lions.

as i continue south from san luis obispo the wilderness will increasingly give way to smog and sprawl. around tea time i’ll pass through the gravity field of los angeles, the apogee of everything i like least about california. i should reach san diego around seven this evening, just in time for the kick-off of the emerging technology conference. unlike the past two years i’m not speaking this time so i hope to hear more sessions rather than furiously tinkering with my own.

this whole trip has been something of a rite of passage. on previous visits i’ve studiously taken public transport to get to all my meetings around the bay area. most people looked at me in horror when i told them, an effect that only encouraged me. however this time there were so many appointments to keep it was simply impossible to do it without… a car. so i rented an anonymous silver-coloured korean machine and spent the week hammering up and down five-lane roads and learning the peculiar etiquette of american road-culture. there are two main highways running south down the peninsular from san francisco, 101 and 280. these quickly established themselves as poles in my sentiments towards california. 101 is the most convenient route for valley commuters, running straight through the soulless unending development on the east side of the peninsular. it always seems to be congested and packed with ill-mannered drivers in porches or range rovers. 280 on the other hand runs through the spectacular countryside on the west side of the peninsular. traffic generally seems to move more freely and the drivers are more courteous. within days i was doing everything possible to avoid 101, though this involved playing a variety of tricks on my satellite navigation gadget to quell it’s increasingly curt admonitions to get back on the shorter route. i started the week totally dependent on the thing and slavishly followed every instruction it snapped at me, obeying even when it decided that the best way to get out of san francisco was to drive right through the centre of chinatown. it felt like an accelerated teenage rebellion when i progressively started to ignore instructions i didn’t like and finally turn the volume down to zero when it really got irritating.

i’m ashamed to admit it but having the car did give me a tremendous sense of liberty and independence. i feel as though i’ve been corrupted in some unspeakable way.

: c :

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