Adventures to the South (of Palo Alto)

It’s the freakin’ weekend; baby I’m about to have me some fun…


This weekend was all about exploring, seeing new places, and being spontaneous.  Originally my plan was to visit Big Sur on Saturday, but based on the recommendation of some local Palo Altans (new term?), I ended up in Carmel (pronounced car-MEL in Cali as opposed the CAR-mul in Indy) and along the famous 17-mile drive at the Pebble Beach Golf Course.  Carmel, CA is upscale sort of like Carmel, IN.  However, it is much more touristy.  Street after street of the business district in Carmel, CA are lined with art galleries, shops, and cafes.  Parts seemed more like a multilevel open air mall while other portions were little tourist-traps.  (At least that is the name I use when referencing shops that sell 100 different styles of t-shirts and hoodies and pens and postcards and mugs that all say the name of a town or beach on them.)  I walked through a few stores before stopping to get lunch at a little French-style Bistro.  There, I had a lovely salad and clams and mussels for lunch.  From there I proceeded to a little coffee shop for coffee to take with me on the 17-mile drive.  The weather was overcast, breezy, and about 63 degrees.  Coffee was a must-have.

The 17-mile drive was peculiar to me.  The drive itself reminded me a bit of driving though the winding roads of Osage Beach and Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, especially the Horseshoe Bend area.  At the entrance to the drive, motorists pay $10 to have access to the area much like you would at a state park.  Then inside, you follow a hilly, winding road past elite golf courses and multimillion (possibly billion) dollar homes.  What was so peculiar to me is that real people actually live along the 17-mile drive, which is a known tourist activity.  Yet people make that drive almost daily to get to their homes.  There is a certain degree of security in the area as there are multiple check-points where staff of the Pebble Beach Lodge or Tennis Club or Beach Club stop you and ask you intentions, especially if you detour off of the main stretch of the 17-mile drive.  (If you’re wondering, I totally did this.  Truthfully, I had to use the restroom from the coffee I drank, but I also wanted to scope out the lodge, etc.  I only made it as far as the nearest restroom that I was permitted to use, which was in the Beach Club/Fitness Center.  I don’t even want to know how much money it must cost to be a member of such a club.)

Walking on a stone path

Hike through the trees

At the end of the 17-mile drive, I headed back toward Palo Alto.  Along the drive, I saw a sign that said “Salinas” as in Salinas, CA.  Because that is one of the main cities in my current (re)read, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and also because I was in no hurry at all, I veered off the highway and toward Salinas.  I had no idea what I would find or if there would even be anything worth seeing there, but it was all part of my adventure.  As I arrived in Salinas, I began seeing signs for the National Steinbeck Center, which totally peaked my interest.  As a result, I wandered through town until I found the Center.  Unfortunately, I got there in just enough time to see them lock the doors and close because it was 5:00 PM, PST.  However, when you’re on a spontaneous adventure, no moment is wasted.  The National Steinbeck Center merely became my destination for the next day!

Sunday, I got up after a terrible night’s sleep and headed back to Salinas.  The National Steinbeck Center was interesting in more ways that one.  The museum portion was interesting in its own right, though museum learning is not my primary learning style.  The visual part works for me, but all the reading you can do does not.  While there were all sorts of facts about Steinbeck’s life, the parts I found most interesting were the connections to the places in California that Steinbeck most often references in his books and the context of migrant farmworkers to the area at large and Steinbeck’s work.  I took several pictures of things in the museum that I thought were interesting to me or East of Eden, which I am rereading with a whole new perspective and connection since I am in the very context of the book’s setting.  The second most interesting part was meeting the museum docent whose job was to inform visitors that the museum portion was self-guided but that there was also a 24-minute movie to watch in the theater as well as a photography exhibit in the rear of the building.  While the information she gave regarding the Center was helpful, the part I was most fascinated by was the conversation she was having with another museum visitor when I arrived.  As the other visitor, a male, was signing in, the visitor and docent began a conversation and found out that they were both Army Nurses.  The docent, who is now 91 years old, was stationed in Guam and another place in the Pacific just a few years before the end of WWII.  How crazy is that?!  She was telling stories about being in her early twenties, single, and on an adventure as an Army Nurse.  Because opportunities like this were not widely available to women at the time, the docent was saying how important it was for her to make the most of this time in her life, and she really did!  She explained how her alternatives at home would have been to meet a farmer and settle down/get married early and begin having children.  Instead, she was afforded a whole new set of opportunities that included traveling, meeting new people, and experiencing things unlike anything in the Midwest.  She talked about how they lived in Army tents and how nurses were always escorted by two armed soldiers because they were primarily women (and there weren’t many women around if you catch my drift).  She talked about how she took care of Army soldiers and Marines because the Marines didn’t have nurses (or at least not enough of them…I wasn’t quite clear).  Then she talked about going on dates with soldiers because she knew the likelihood of meeting her husband in Guam was rare, so she casually dated for the fun and social experience of it.  Nowthat is not something you hear much about in that generation!  She said she went to a boxing match with one date, and she ended up being the only female there!  It was such a curious thing that the press caught wind of it and published in a military paper that there was one woman among thousands of men/soldiers at this boxing match.  She said she thought nothing of it at the time until she saw herself in the paper the next morning.  I must’ve sat and listened to her stories about her experiences in WWII for over 30 minutes before I ever even entered the Steinbeck exhibit.  She was an exhibit all her own, and loved talking about her life.  She indicated in the conversation that she recently revisited many of these experiences herself by rereading letters she sent home from the war and looking through her old Army Nurse scrapbook of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other artifacts.  She was an amazing lady, and really quite progressive for her age.  Multiple times throughout the course of the conversation she relayed the importance of making the most of every experience and every opportunity given to you.  She reflected on how much different her life might have been given the generation and location in which she was born (rural Iowa).  She said that her experience as an Army Nurse was really the first that set her on a path of adventures and seizing the day.  Huge shout out to Helen, the docent at the NSC, for reminding me of one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in life: experience everything you can, make the most of every opportunity, and live life to the fullest.  (A bit cliché, but true nevertheless.)

When I left the Steinbeck Center, I headed down the street to find a place for lunch.  A gimmicky little sign that said, “Steinbeck ate here” caught my attention, and I entered a dirty little diner full of many locals and some tourists.  That’s when you know you’ve found a good place: where the locals eat too.  The diner, in true diner style, served breakfast all day, so instead of lunch I had breakfast (again).

I left Salinas on day two of my adventure feeling content about the day.  On the way back to Palo Alto, I stopped at an outlet mall to do a little shopping.  (And I mean very little since it all has to fit in luggage and fly back home.)  The most important purchase I made at the outlet mall was a fleece pullover because the temperature swings here from midday to midnight are so much more significant than summers at home.  I’ve been using my jackets and long-sleeved shirts faster than I can do laundry!  The coast is cooler during the day for sure, but even over “the hill” it may be 50 degrees at night even though it was 85 degrees during the day.  And without any humidity, those numbers feel like just that.  So I added a fleece to my wardrobe this weekend.  That’s right everyone, a fleece.  In June.  In NORTHERN California.  Tricky weather.  

I concluded my Sunday at a taqueria walking distance from my lodging this week.  Not quite as authentic as the taqueria in the gas station in Pescadero, but delicious nonetheless.  A little light Steinbeck reading, and then to bed to prepare for a busy week at Puente.

I can’t believe week 3 is here.  It is going WAY TOO FAST, and I don’t want to leave.