One of the motivations for coming west was to explore California and the neighboring states. Naturally, Tarun and I were super excited about driving from SoCal to the Bay Area. The plan was to cut through a wide swath of the state, past cities we've heard of like Bakersfield, Modesto, and Merced. We set out, ready for an adventure and, boy, did we get one!
How should I summarize our experience in two words? How about mind numbing?
As we drove through East LA, the freeway was jam packed. It was irritating but we expected the congestion. The large number of tents under the highway overpasses left us frustrated at the state‘s utter failure on tackling homelessness.
After LA came the San Gabriel mountains with a peak elevation of 10,000+ feet. Endless brown mountains. Steeper than steep. I-5 was full of trucks that took up four lanes as they struggled to scale the heights. That left one lane for the cars. As our v4 car managed the steepness it felt like a jalopy with plumes of smoke come out of the back while it mumbled, "I think I can! I think I can!"
I was on a zoom call through most of this part and periodically looked over at Tarun to make sure he wasn’t dozing off, His eyes were glazed over from the unending brown terrain and the struggle to get across the mountains. There were no gas stations, no restrooms, no shoulder, NO TOWNS! If our car broke down or we ran out of gas, Lord help us.
On the other side of the San Gabriel, we went down a steep hill that lasted for six miles and then we dropped into the Central Valley. We breathed a sigh of relief for us and our car.
At the end of the free-fall, we entered the middle of nowhere in CA and right on top of the San Andreas Fault!
What followed was morbidly arid, flat and brown country. As if that wasn’t enough, on the east and west there were barren mountains in the distance. The sun was at full strength and the senses went from whoa! to seriously? to no way! to oh no how far to civilization?!
A few gas stations stuck out in the flatness like in the hitchhiker movies. Every few miles, there were angry anti-Newsom signs. He’s the Democrat Governor who is allegedly diverting water from the Central Valley to the ocean. There is water here??!
I told Tarun that if I lived here I’d be a really angry person too. Angry for living on THE fault, angry at what’s there, angry for what’s not, angry at the people doing well in the north and on the south. Just angry.
On a bright note, we did not see any homelessness in this part of CA, probably because being under the overpasses in East LA is preferable.
When Neil called to check on us, I said that the terrain reminded me of Richard Dreyfus driving toward the mountain looking for the aliens in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“. The music from the movie was ringing in my ears.
You’d think we would get sleepy, but we didn’t. It was too torturous to even sleep. Just boring as hell. Long story short, we made it to Silicon Valley and swore to take the longer and scenic route back to SoCal.
Now I know what driving through the Central Valley in CA on I-5 is like. It’s like driving on the moon…sans the gorgeous view of the earth.
Note to self: don’t do that again!