I’m starting to miss my apartment. It’s been four and a half days since I drove out of the L.A. area to do some regional reporting, and I haven’t spoken to a soul who wasn’t a source or a server since.
There is a lonely, exquisite joy to hitting the road. It was quiet, no matter how loudly I played music or sang along to the words. Spinning wheels swallowed miles as the land rolled by: first the great concrete sprawls of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, then the Pacific Ocean winking in the sun as the highway hugged the coast. It was terribly American, and even more Californian. I considered putting on Phantom Planet just to tweet about it. I didn’t.
North on Route 1, up past places called Lompoc and Vandenberg and Guadalupe, where I stopped for a pee and a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. The server’s name was Rosa.
On a belated suggestion via Instagram comment, I took a detour. Sections of Route 1 were closed due to parts falling into the sea or something, so I went the long way to Pebble Beach. The 17-mile drive, right by the shoreline, is magnificent. It features – among other icons noted in a brochure handed to me by the man who took my $10 at the gate – a cypress tree that has teetered for 250 years on the edge of a cliff off the shore. My photos are grand, but it had nothing to do with my skill. The sun was setting and everything I snapped was magic, even with fingers numbing from the cold.
I found a new favorite podcast, Crimetown. It kept me company through the last leg of my leisurely drive into San Francisco. Crimetown is a Serial–type show about a former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and his relationship with the mob. I’m now convinced that Italian gangsters out of New England have the most legit accents. Throw in names like Vinny Vespia and Raymond Patriarca and how could anyone not want to hear about that?
Later, after I spent a day asking questions of busy people, I turned to Crimetown again to get me through the dark and winding drive to the city of Chico, far to the north. Thank you, Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. Your voices have carried me far.
Since then, it’s been walnut orchards and almond trees and almost too much information shoved into my brain. Shifting gears in the course of four days from tech startups to higher education to agriculture has been an interesting new challenge. My conversations with people have jumped from recruitment software to drip irrigation. Two-thirds of my recorded interviews, numbering nearly a dozen or more, sit waiting to be transcribed. The wine I bought from some unnamed liquor store halfway between San Francisco and Chico is beginning to turn. (Serves me right; it was the only screw-top I could find.)
I’ve met a woman who knew Bradley Cooper in college and two cashiers who were shocked that I was born in the ’80s. I have a story I’ll save for another time about cameras and technology and why sometimes being a reporter means needing to get your shit together even when the odds and your own stupidity stand against you.
I’ve eaten too much fast food.
When I get to my room at the end of the day it’s all I can do not to fall into bed and pass out from the thinking and the driving. Then I think about great reporters – the ones who embody words like “dogged” and “intrepid,” who infused those words with meaning – and wonder if they ever stopped to rest. Probably not.
Sometimes I’m glad I’m just me. I can drive and write and be happy, and occasionally sleep for eight hours.
Two more days on the road. Tomorrow the agenda includes a farm and a food pantry and my grandmother. She lives about 20 miles outside of Fresno, where I’m doing the last interviews on this long, wonderful, mildly insane trip.
*By the way: No one from Gimlet media paid me to promote Crimetown, unfortunately. Although if they wanted to, I mean, hey.