Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Pacific Coast Highway and Hearst Castle

The next leg of the journey comes courtesy of my new friend Bob Sarber, a longtime journalist and editor specializing in wildlife writing for hunting and fishing magazines. His passion at the moment however is a now-forgotten comedy writer named Wilkie Mahoney. Mahoney was a family friend of Sarber's when he was a child. It wasn't until Mahoney passed away that Sarber learned about his illustrious show biz background which including writing for such luminaries as Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and Jack Benny. Mahoney and Sarber both called the town of San Luis Obispo home, and so Bob arranged a tag team lecture at their local history center, where he could share some of the fruits of his research, and I could complement his Mahoney portrait with the bigger picture.

But first I had to get there. Bob graciously offered to drive me downstate, 230 miles away, so that we could look at the scenery along the way. Mind you, this was an overnight road trip with a total stranger, so I won't say there wasn't trepidation (probably mutual), but on the other hand, this was a publicized event, and it turns out Bob is well known in his hometown, not only on his account but because his father was a well regarded local journalist and newspaper editor. The sketchiest part of the trip turned out the train station in Oakland. Once that was out of the way it was smooth sailing. Or to be more accurate, smooth locomoting. Here's the view out my train window on "The Way to San Jose".

Bob picked me up in San Jose, we headed south. The journey proved to be almost too much stimulation for my excited brain to handle. Bob told fascinating show biz anecdotes the entire way down. Not only all the Wilkie Mahoney stuff (some of which we'll share on Travalanche in a few months, on Mahoney's birthday), but other famous people he's known. He knew Green Acres' Frank Cady (my distant cousin) when he lived in nearby Cambria from 1977 through 1991. His mother was good friends Colleen Moore.  And something about Arianna Huffington! As you can imagine, this was all deserving of my full attention. And yet, simultaneously, we were passing all these amazing sights out the window.  This was a side of California I had never seen before, non-urban, and all of it famous. So my ears and eyes were both trying to soak in these two different streams of exciting information, like trying to look at television and listen to radio simultaneously. Somehow I managed to pretty much register everything. I didn't manage to get pix of everything I saw, but here is a sampling. 

In the early stretch we passed lots of farm country and passed Steinbeck's home turf of Salinas. Then we hit the Pacific coast: 

Big Little Lies turf: 

Right after this came Carmel, where Clint Eastwood was Mayor, and which very much still looks like it did in Play Misty for Me. Occasionally after this we came across tourist cabins, motels and campgrounds, (and the Esalen Institute, haha!) but mostly it was several hours of vistas like this as we drove through Big Sur: 

As we approached San Simeon we saw elephant seals on the beach! And then came our primary destination for the day, Hearst Castle. It had always been on my bucket list for all the usual reasons, and I was grateful to get to see it, for I'd wanted to since I was a child. It goes without saying that it was extremely impressive, particularly in its scale, but I'm sure I'm speaking a heresy when I say that, aesthetically, it wasn't my cup of tea. I find the landscape around the castle depressing and forbidding. It's larger than Rhode Island, extends as far as the eye can see, and yet what you see is barren and desolate -- practically lunar. Also, I've never been a fan of Spanish or Mediterranean architecture (my sensibility is Northern and Gothic right down to the atomic level). And lastly, I am always dumbfounded at the impulse to hold parties amongst sacred artifacts. It's not that I don't want to look at them. But I want to contemplate them in their intended surroundings and with a certain amount of reverence. In the context of rich people's mansions, it's just so much commodified booty and plunder, unintentionally speaking volumes about American values. You know how the Nazi's face melts when he looks at the Ten Commandments in Raiders of the Lost Ark? That's what I half fear when I imagine profane merrymaking amongst all these church relics. (Like Howlin' Wolf sang, "I ain't superstitious...but a black cat crossed my path.") Anyway, my favorite features of the place (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) included the Roman style swimming pools, the long dinner table (where so many luminaries sat), and the private cinema. 

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