Home Travel Stories Destinations DESERT OLDS - Part 4 Big Sur, CA
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Written by Magnus King
Sunday, 28 March 2010 15:31

DESERT OLDS - Part 4 Big Sur, CA



Writing and photography copyright Double Dragon One Owner Collector Car Ltd. Title transfer image copyright ICBC.



Nantucket Blue 1967 Cutlass Town Sedan built Dec 20, 1966 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. 330-2bbl 250 HP, 2 speed auto 2.78:1 axle. See the history of the Cutlass and its MPG in the GAS LOGS subsection of the TRAVEL STORIES drop down menu.

The Cutlass was sold by the first owner Sep 19, 1980 at 70,500 miles. The original transfer with private info blotted out shows that the car was now south of Penticton in the desert area of Osoyoos, BC. After a decade in Osoyoos deserts Magnus bought the Cutlass and took it to new deserts.






Laura and I had a great night. Life was perfect. As we drifted into sleep an insistent knocking on Laura’s door blocked unconsciousness. Her roommate hissed,

“Laura! Your MOTHER is coming up the walkway!”

Laura, who had been every inch the mature in control authority on all subjects and supreme seductress last night, began scrambling round giggling like a young kid. She ushered me upstairs, looking like a naughty five year old when she went to face the music. I stood on an inset balcony overlooking the living room which was fronted entirely in glass. I had a terrific view of the city and of the tops of Laura and her mother’s heads.

“Oh, Laura, why on earth are you still in bed? Don’t you have class? This is absolutely irresponsible of you!”

“Mother, please! I’m perfectly aware of my schedule. My first class isn’t until ten.”

“TEN!! Well it’s already nine fifteen! What on earth are you thinking! Do you just roll out of bed moments before a lecture? This will NOT do.”

“I will be on time, I assure you. Why did you come here today?”

Mother thrust a casserole dish into Laura’s hands, “I brought you some food. You can’t exist on an endless diet of takeout and instant food.”

Laura opened the top and groaned. “Mother, we have been through this before. I am a vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian for five years. I don’t eat meat casseroles.”

I felt tempted to call out that I would gladly eat the casserole, but went on the hunt for the kitchen instead. The kitchen was downstairs and too close to the danger zone to make a try for it. A tour upstairs revealed a huge telescope set up on a balcony. It had been positioned on the swivel tripod so that faces of students streaming along to classes way down on the UCB campus filled the eyepiece.

I went back to my spot at the upstairs railing to see if Mother had finished with Laura. Now she was insisting on driving Laura to the campus gates so she wouldn’t be late. After Laura was hustled out to the car, I left her a note on Laura's pillow with the phone number at Leslie’s place.


I dizzily went down the steep graded street to the Cutlass. Back at Leslie's house I was lying on the couch attempting sleep, but was too wide awake with hunger. The bright sun kept me revving with energy. Martin came shuffling downstairs,



After breakfast and an update about the funny little skit I witnessed between mother and daughter we went out into the garden to read. I was just starting to drift off while reading when the phone rang.

It was Selena. Women have some telekinetic ability to know about another woman. They also perversely seem to base a man's desirability on the fact that other women like him. Desire by committee. So despite me saying absolutely nothing about Laura, on some level Selena knew. She wanted me to come pick her up after work.

“I thought I wasn't supposed to call you.“

“Yes, but I'm calling you. That's different! I got a good sleep last night. Also I’m only working a half day today, and I realized that you guys may not be in town forever. I want to see you.”

We chatted for awhile before she had to leave for work. I managed to not say anything inflammatory.

Now I was wide awake again and had lunch, which boosted my energy.

“I’m going to the park to do some exercise.” Martin made a noise that suggested that he heard what I had said, but wasn’t interested. I left him reading his book.

After doing heavy exercise at People’s Park a massive wave of fatigue landed square on me. Following dinner I was winding down, on the verge of passing out. Selena was getting off work at nine. I couldn’t chance taking an hour nap. I probably wouldn't wake up in time to pick her up. I figured I’d go to San Fran, get Selena and have an early night.

Mission partying

Selena wanted to go out on the town for the evening, which meant her little strip of bars in The Mission. I said

“Last night you could have gone to two parties with us, but refused. Now that I’m totally bagged, you want to go out. One drink only.”

I then proceeded to stay out for hours, drinking and debating with her friends.

Sometime around one in the morning the vodkas and fatigue were making me lightheaded. Once I am over the line, I just go all out. We proceeded to a party where I got crazy drunk on my ass. Selena had to drive us back to her place in my Cutlass at five in the morning. She was nervous trying to drive a big car and drove excruciatingly slowly. I passed out during the ride and just wanted to stumble into a stone deep sleep back at her place but she was too enticing to leave alone. After a good morning together we were drifting off to sleep at sun rise. Life was perfect again.

Exactly on schedule a pneumatic drill began hammering in the alley. Yesterday it was Early Morning Mother Casserole; today it was Early Morning Construction. Construction crews ALWAYS make the loudest noise possible during the first ten minutes or so of work the way a rooster has to announce the start of a new day. This is one of Murphy’s Laws.

I said good bye and drove to Oakland relishing the idea of sleep, even on that lousy couch in Leslie’s living room. The developing hangover and the sleep deprivation made the intense sun rays coming through the windshield seem to vibrate in a hallucinatory haze hammering into my head. I craved the floating motion of sleep.

Martin greeted me with the proposition,

“Do you want to go to Big Sur today?”

I really wanted to sleep but the car was on empty and I had exhausted all of my money meaning this was my one chance to go there and fill the tank. Martin's changeable moods meant I couldn't chance a rain check. I pounced on it.

I called Selena but there was no answer. She was probably going to be asleep until her night shift later on. Knowing that if I went to sleep now I would never wake up I just went straight back out to the car and hit the road with Martin.

We glided back through downtown San Fran, then dropped south on the Pacific hwy 1 through Daly City. The Highway quickly transformed into two lanes that wind around the coastal rocks often within feet of the ocean. This section of California number 1 is called The Cabrillo Highway.

Montara State Beach

At Montara State beach we stopped and ate sandwiches. The surf crashed rhythmically. Martin noticed that the waves were peaking in a predictable pattern. I was vibrating from lack of sleep. The counter vibrations of the thunderous waves seemed to travel right through me. It felt as if the sonic shocks of the waves were invigorating me.  We got back in the car.


Sun whitened towns comprised of houses on stilts fronted with small docks briefly interrupted the rock and sea. The ocean boomed through our open windows. Salt air and wind kept it cool inside the car despite the intense sunlight sparkling on the chrome trim of the Cutlass. Moss Beach plunged us into white vapors of fog. An old abandoned jetty and boat in the mist looked like a scene from the film “Carnival of Lost Souls”.


I explored, veering off the highway occasionally on little side roads. We took Verde Road, the original location of Highway Number One. Little towns like Lobitos and the ghost town of Purissima are inland from the modern highway as a result of this re alignment. Other detours brought us to a house on a cliff with a picket fence that suddenly stopped short of the abyss. Someone else’s steep gravel access road was barred by a gunshot scarred sign saying



We’d only gone a few more miles when I parked to explore the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. and a railway running parallel to the highway. Martin sensed that things were unraveling as usual.

“Are we going to get to Big Sure before midnight?” mused Martin almost rhetorically.

We entered Davenport Landing which was the original basis of a former whaling village. The town of Davenport is a bit further south, now a tourist locale basing its economy ironically on whale watching. On the outskirts of the Landing we passed an oddly named road, Bonny Doon.

Bonny Doon mystery

“Bonny Doon. That sounds familiar to me…”

Martin shrugged. It wasn’t until much later that we figured out the connection and realized how close we’d been to seeing the circular house that Robert A Heinlein built up in the hills on this road.

The desolate landscape gave way in the Monterey Bay to larger cities like Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Castroville. We were a bit inland and farming was the main deal here.  In fact, Del Monte promoted itself as artichoke central. The Del Monte Corporation used the name of a hotel in Del Monte as the inspiration for their company name.


Once we hit Monterey, we were back on the Ocean. We rolled through Cannery Row, a major street renamed in honor of John Steinbeck’s book about the fishing industry now gone.  Minutes later we entered Carmel by the Sea. This town is famous for all the artists, writers, photographers who had lived there over the years and of course, for Clint Eastwood's stint as mayor.

Henry Miller Memorial Library

The highway started to climb upwards through deep green trees, doubling back as it meandered to Big Sur. I leaped out to see The Henry Miller Memorial Library right alongside the highway. The rustic log building was closed. Henry Miller lived here in Big Sur for many years after he came back from France.


The view is astounding. We parked at the cliff’s edge. I was sliding down the steep drop, slowly negotiating precarious footing on loose shale and debris. I desperately gripped protruding plants and narrow ledges of rock as my feet slid downwards. Rocks and loose earth tumbled out in space. Martin was inching his way down behind me. I crept sideways across a breath stopping ledge. My fingers in narrow rock fissures were all that was keeping me attached to the cliff. Sweating through an Adrenalin wave that rivaled the ocean waves below I made my way down the rock face.

Martin was inching downwards at tortoise pace taking a less steep route which offered vegetation for handholds. I was out on bare rock and descending quickly. It dropped straight down for 500 feet. In reality the angle was not vertical. But no one could convince me of that when I was out there.

Half an hour later I found footing on a deeply cut trail leading down to the ocean. I started breathing again. I called out to Martin. My voice was lost in the roar of ocean and wind. I waved my arms. He was a mere speck, but he seemed as if he was moving his head in acknowledgement. He wasn’t going to use his arms for anything but holding on. But he made no move to cut across the bare rock face to get to the trail. Either he didn’t realize that I’d found an easy way down or he wasn’t feeling intensely suicidal, and stuck with his merely partially suicidal route.

The waves smashing the rocks below blotted out everything. Stalactites of black rock jutted upwards out of waves swirling around leaving white foam and spray that lept up 100 feet in its wake. Sea otters poked up above the waves further out. It was cool down here as the ocean air crept into my bones. Way up on the cliff face I could see the diminutive figure of Martin still inching downwards.  In an hour he might be close enough to be able to understand hand gestures.

I was sweaty and caked in dirt. I got into the ocean. The waves and rocks everywhere precluded anything but treading water and using my feet to brace against hitting rocks as the water hurled me in every direction. It was ice cold anyways; after getting sucked underwater and swallowing half the ocean I fell back on the beach out of breath. I’d used every muscle fighting the ocean and felt invigorated. Lack of sleep made me want to pass out right there on the cold hard sand. Silhouettes with the sun haloed around them blanked out the sky.

I looked up into the black shadows and discerned the astonished faces of a pair of surfers in wet suits who were coming down the trail. One asked me if I’d ever heard of hypothermia while the other lectured about the currents and undertows.

“Are you nuts? You were swimming in the absolute worst area possible. It’s a miracle you didn’t drown or get crushed on the rocks.”

The other one piped in, “Luck! The odds against staying alive out there even in a wet suit are a million to one. Sheer dumb luck!”

They explained that the trail followed the ocean and eventually led to the roadside and surfing areas further along. Both shook their heads as they spotted Martin attached precariously to the cliff face way above us. “How the hell did YOU get down here?” I pointed to the rock face I’d used. They both shuddered.

“You should go out and buy a lottery ticket.”

I called out to Martin who still couldn’t hear me, but understood my gestures. He made his way across to the trail using a less treacherous rock face than the crazy one I’d gone across. He made it down to the ocean just in time to get back to the car as the sun faded away.

“I’m starving.” I announced.

“What’s new about that? You are after all, The Stomach That Walks like a Man.”

Carmel antics

We drove back into Carmel looking for somewhere to eat. Having not slept for about 40 hours or eaten anything but a peanut butter sandwich all day made my mood ferocious. Add in getting lost. I screamed at Martin as we crisscrossed streets in futility. Carmel has a unique layout. The artists who originally lived here named their houses in lieu of numbers. To this day residents have to pick up their mail from the post office, which can’t deliver mail without a street address.

That wasn’t the main problem we faced, though. Carmel shuts down at night and the quest for food was looking bleak. I was in full on maniac mode as I screamed and pounded the steering wheel. Martin admonished me,

"You'd better cool it. They aren't set up to deal with madmen like you here."

"Fuck it! This is an artist place. Shit, Hunter S Thompson lived up in Big Sur for awhile. Me getting a bit pissed off is nothing compared to him setting off guns..."

"A BIT pissed off? You just drove right over a divided highway median without even slowing down! We went completely airborne over the last hill we crested!"

I spotted a sign, “Family Restaurant” in the rear view mirror at the far end of a little mall. “AH HA!”

I came to a screeching halt, slammed the car in reverse, going backwards through the parking lot at 60 mph. The Cutlass halted in a four wheel skid as I whirled the steering wheel jackknifing the car 180 degrees to face the front doors of the restaurant.

“It’s open!”

My mood switched to exultation. Martin couldn’t handle my rollercoaster moods and retreated to the backseat to sleep while I went in for a meal.

What a luxury to eat a hamburger and pumpkin pie with real whipping cream for dessert. At Leslies’ I had been surviving on the usual money saving plain spaghetti noodles, cereal and peanut butter sandwiches. I felt supercharged after eating meat again. The energizing meal perpetuated the whole cycle of staying up late all over again. After bringing Martin back to Leslie’s I was hyper in the extreme. I drove straight back to the Mission district ready for another all night adventure.


After another night out in The Mission with Selena I left before the morning construction began and collapsed on the couch in Oakland. No construction noise, no household noise intruded into the armor of my exhaustion. There was no reason to wake up after three hours; but I did, brimming with energy.  It was amazing and mystifying how fast my regenerative powers were racing. What if one day the minimal sleep triggered a complete collapse like the Blues Brothers car disintegrating after the wild car chase through the streets of Chicago?

I contemplated trying to go back to bed and make up sleep that I theoretically owed, but I felt so completely rejuvenated it seemed senseless to waste the time. My strength seemed inexhaustible despite weeks of barely sleeping. The energy just kept replenishing itself. It felt as if it flowed from the mystical powerful California sun, but who knew where it was coming from, just so long as it never stopped.

Climbing and swimming in Big Sur yesterday gave me a pass to skip my exercise session in the park. Selena was probably still asleep, and had once again given me the "I need some time off" lecture after I couldn't help antagonizing one of her roommates during breakfast. I was free of any obligations today.

Oakland Disaster Area

I hadn’t heard from Laura since her Mother had whisked her away. I called but got a roommate. I went out for a stroll around the neighborhood in a disaster area. A huge fire had wiped out the houses in the hills.


At the very top of the hill, a blackened foundation of a house provided a fantastic view of miles of Oakland. Two skateboard guys catching air rolled up and down the breadth of the now empty swimming pool. They took a break and explained skateboarding stuff to me, and then we took in the view.

“It must be so weird to lose everything in a fire.” The first one said.

I agreed, “Yeah, its one thing to temporarily not have your stuff, but to be cut off forever would really rip your moorings out.”

“You have to appreciate what you have left. Everyone is lucky to be alive, to have your health.”

“Maybe. But imagine not having a concrete connection to your past ever again. I got rid of lots of my stuff for this trip, but I saved personal papers and special books and things like that. It's all in a friend's attic. Not being weighed down with all your stuff gives you a fresh take on life... you're free and unencumbered. But that’s by choice and it’s temporary. These people have no remnants left, no source of memory, no way back. ”

“You’ve got to hold your special moments in your head.”

“Yeah, but your mind plays tricks. Memory is a different form of consciousness than what happens when you experience stuff in real time. It’s based on narratives and concepts. A piece of paper or photo is the real thing. Your memory is a distortion that changes more and more each time you retrieve it.”

“But if you think about it, throughout history most people didn’t have stuff. They only had their memory or stories. People handed down stories. You’re saying they are living lives based on distortions?”

“Yeah. All of human history is a distortion, a trick of memory.” I laughed.

They both grinned. We sat in the sun looking out at Oakland way down there. Concrete and steel remained. Anything wood was gone. New vegetation was growing overtop of old house foundations.

desert olds oakland ca disaster area gate

They got back in the pool and started skateboarding again.




Back home, Martin was reading and not interested in doing anything. I took the Cutlass round Oakland south through a tunnel that comes out in Alameda on the other side. That tunnel through time led to a world of diners and neon sign small businesses. It was the 1950s. The buildings and sense of the place seemed so innocent; the streets were wide and lightly traveled. Serenity. Old people still owned pristine 1960s classics with black plates that served as their daily drivers. The sedate traffic and lack of congestion preserved the cars through decades. Someone quipped to me that Alameda is "The City that Rust Forgot".

Back in Rockridge I laughed at my life. I was just like some gentleman of leisure meandering my way through the days. I knew the bottom would fall out of this eventually just as sure as exhaustion would have to find me one day, too. But for now I was riding the wave wide awake, energized and free.

As I entered Leslie’s house for dinner I walked in on a crisis. Martin said,

"Leslie can't breathe. If it's a food allergy it could escalate. Her throat could close up completely!"

Berkeley hospital

Martin loaded her in the Cutlass for the drive to the hospital. Martin consoled her in the back seat and then sat with her in the hospital waiting room.

I drove around Berkeley for a few hours. I climbed up into the disaster area again to see the view at night. The city lights were amazing. The wind rustled through the bare foundations.

It was after midnight when I got back to the hospital; Leslie still hadn’t been admitted yet. Sometime later that night they looked at her and the verdict was anxiety. Once we got her home I immediately took off for San Fran to see Selena. She reluctantly answered the door. Thus began another long passionate night with her, but the next day she was firm about slowing down the crazy train.

Around dawn as I was getting ready to leave Selena said

“I can’t keep up with this pace anymore.”

“But your shifts aren’t starting till noon this week and you told me a few days ago that you were worried about us leaving town.”

Selena laughed. “I’m not worried anymore. You aren’t ever going to leave town. You just float through your days and they turn into weeks. You keep saying ‘We’re leaving this weekend’ and then you’re still here. It’s a good way to pick up girls! I'm leaving and this is your last chance to ever see me again!”

She snorted in derision at that farce.

I laughed with her. She got serious again, “I just can’t handle staying awake until sunrise every day, and this stupid construction is making matters worse.  I need to be alone for awhile. I feel like I'm losing myself. You are so overwhelming it makes me wonder: where am I in all this? What is so wrong with my identity that you have to try and brainwash me all the time? And I need to sleep. I have to be up at eleven, which is only five hours from now!”

This time she really meant it. Don't come knocking on my door, give me space. I cruised around San Fran awhile and headed back to Oakland as the morning traffic started to get heavy.


Back at the house, I called Laura. A roommate answered. Here we go again. But this time Laura was home. We arranged to meet later in the day between her classes. I still hadn’t gone to sleep but reasoned that since I had made it this long with no problems, then it didn’t really matter anymore. Why worry if I feel this good? Ride the wave now and worry about falling off when I actually lose my balance. For now I was on top.

Berkeley University crowd

We had some kind of vegetarian hippy stuff for lunch in an ambiance laden café. The Berkeley area is jammed with sixties themed hole in the wall food places and head shops. University of California at Berkeley was notorious for its radical politics back in the day and somehow retains that universal hippy mindset which is reflected in the businesses surrounding it. Laura was into the food, but not the laissez faire attitude of the servers. I walked her back to the gates of the campus and we agreed to catch up again soon.

I went to People’s Park to do my impromptu workout in the sun and then headed home. Leslie and Martin invited me along for dinner.

The dinner was in an inexpensive little place in Berkeley with some of Leslie's’ friends, city planners. They were in their early twenties but exuded middle age energy: very responsible and serious. They made interesting talk about socially conscious issues, but were lacking in humor. It was kind of like being out for dinner with a kindly Uncle and unmarried nervous over earnest Aunties. It was a stretch to find common ground while shielding them from 90% of my viewpoints and activities. Martin also strained to reach them. Then it occurred to me, it wasn’t just them. It was also Leslie. She had moved in new directions while she and Martin were apart. The rift was daily becoming increasingly evident.

Martin and I had gotten along better with Leslie's filmmaker friend last week in San Francisco. We could relate to the artistic stuff and that had created a bridge for Martin and Leslie to meet halfway on. But tonight we were way out in the wilderness. Leslie and her colleagues were moving up while we were drifting sideways.  Despite liking one another and trying to find common ground, there was a massive vacuum.

Neither Leslie nor any of her friends would ramble around the country on a whim with no money.  Martin is verging on antisocial at the best of times and he put them off. My cavalier attitude bulldozed right through the earnest speeches and muted serious dinner discussion. I can't take officious gibberish seriously. By dessert it was obvious that we wouldn’t be rising up any corporate ladders anytime soon. I could almost see some sort of bleak depressive cloud settling over Martin at one point. The word futility entered my mind. I was debating something with one of the girls when I realized that I was going to offend her any second if I didn't stop. None of this was doing Martin's case with Leslie any good.

The tense meal left me wanting to expunge energy. I hit a highway and drove fast, shooting west to the Interstate flashing past cars at tremendous invigorating speed. I was hyped and supercharged when I took the off ramp back into my neighborhood to revisit the top of the disaster area to watch the lights. I ran up to the top and fell down panting. Up top looking down, cleansed of tension and repression and political correctness, freed from the endless spinning intellects that push us away from being grounded in feelings and the sensual tactile world I breathed sweet air.

It was only about 11 P.M. and I was wide awake. When I got back to the house Martin was in his bathrobe ready to retire for the evening. I asked if he wanted to go out cruising in the car,


I knew I wasn't allowed to call Selena and Laura was in bed early for classes. I jumped in the car and just let the roads take me where they wanted, roaming around San Fran listening to the radio discovering new streets, trying to assimilate how they connected into the patterns I had already mastered. I passed crowds on the streets... first the somber black street people who just stood there, no smiles, just the whites of their eyes boring holes in the landscape, then the bar hoppers smoking and talking on the sidewalks. Drifting away from The Mission area past the Haight... ripples of activity caught my eye on a side street. I parked and walked, following the current like a fish finding the cold clear water running through a murky motionless muddy river. Down the street, past open doors, voices, music and up a flight of stairs lined with people beers in hand talking. A warehouse loft party and I was in the thick of it.

Pacific Heights

Cute girls kept talking to me drawing guys over to try and befriend me in the hopes that I would prove to be a conduit to the girls. Soon I seemed to know everyone. I always had a new drink in my hand, listening to all sorts of stories about this area named Pacific Heights. Pacific Heights was amidst massive scale renovation and achieving an exclusive image. I heard about insane rents and absurd house prices and wondered,

"Who has this kind of money? Where does it come from?"

One guy flatly stated,

"Parents. No one can earn this kind of money. I don't care how well your career is going; you just can't do it without a cash infusion of old money."

The Victorian homes in San Fran are really something. The renovation mania surging through this area sought to preserve the originality of the materials and styles, but not the colors. The bright colors of these homes which gave them the name 'painted ladies' didn't start until the 1970s. The original color schemes were muted back when the houses were built.

I said, "This area is sort of like a great big national park dedicated to preserving the architectural heritage, only it's all privately funded."

Caroline said, "And obviously not intentionally coordinated. But the end result is the same."

I wished Selena was here to see this. I wondered what position she would take regarding the restoration wave sweeping through the area. Probably the same reaction she had to the Haight rejuvenation. Thinking about that led my thoughts to her, but I blocked them. Just give her the space she wants, forget it. I returned to the conversation then realized I was getting very drunk and it was late. The room was spinning, crowd thinning... time to leave.

The Pacific Heights party drained away and washed me up into the Cutlass which magically drifted over to Selena’s house. I knew she would be really pissed if I woke her up yet again.

“I won’t stop, I’ll just roll past.” I told myself. "This is stupid… a waste of time and gas. If I’m not going in, then why go past?”

The car was on autopilot going there anyways.

A jolt shot through me. Selena was supposedly trying to catch up on her sleep. The main room of her house had a small party going. Logically I knew Selena kept me away from the party to avoid me antagonizing her radical friends. But she could have told me. I took my foot off the brake before the car could come to a complete stop. I could see her talking animatedly with some people in the front room. I refused to indulge myself in the stupidity of getting out and knocking on Selena's front door.

“To hell with it.”

I watched streets unroll before me, climbing hills and soaring back down drop-offs, randomly turning up and down various streets. The car was a perpetual motion machine, an extension of my distracted mind as it swallowed up dozens of miles of territory, engine burbling quietly.

Wired awake I let the Cutlass roam the streets pointlessly wasting time and gas, radio playing and sun rising. Stirrings of activity as trucks and businesses started their morning routines prompted me to hit the bridge before the commute began. Back to Oakland, forget the Mission. Forget Selena forget the whole thing.


> Chapter 5

Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 August 2021 21:37 )