A Perilous Visit to Santa Cruz

Since Dave had a long weekend and we didn’t plan far enough in advance to take a flight anywhere, we decided to go to Santa Cruz last week, Martin Luther King Jr Day, to commemorate the civil rights movement properly. We celebrated our right as an inter-racial couple to drive through the mountains to the ocean and enjoy a nice seafood dinner. Apparently, the powers-that-be wanted us to work for it.

Our journey started out with a near-empty tank of gas and an overwhelming confidence that we’d make it to the Costco in Santa Cruz, for the cheapest gas around, before it ran dry. It wasn’t that we didn’t realize that Santa Cruz was nearly a full hour away or that the needle on our gas gauge goes from a quarter tank to the abyss beneath the E line in record time, but I think our ignorance stemmed from an urban-ingrained assumption that gas is to be found everywhere. In our ethereal fantasies, gas stations lined the gold-paved roads that branched from the well-traveled mountain pass, helpful strangers carried full gas cans in the backs of their hybrids and Smart cars, and the twisting turning freeway that crossed the mountain with a 50 MPH speed limit was not at all dangerous for a couple in a stalled car stuck in the middle of the road.

As we climbed further and further up the mountain, and the needle inched closer and closer to empty I rehearsed the moment of momentum loss, constantly searching the side of the road for turn-offs. Dave urged the GPS to find the closest station and successfully tracked one down…seven miles away. We might make it, we both reassured each other glancing hesitantly at the falling rain we’d have to brave for continuous miles if our hope turned out to be in vain.

Suddenly, we came upon our worst gas-guzzling fear incarnate. No, not a Hummer. A traffic jam. I suppressed a fit of panic and told myself that if the car killed now we were less likely to be pummeled from behind by an unsuspecting motorist and it would be in the interest of everyone stuck behind our lifeless engine to either donate some gas or give us a push. Pulling myself out of the hypothetical, I made note that we had not, in fact, moved an inch for quite a while. That’s when I got smart and cut the gas.

The two lines of traffic began inching to their respective sides of the road like giant meandering snakes to allow one emergency vehicle after the other to pass swiftly along the middle of the two-lane road. Fifteen minutes later the ambulances, fire engines, and police cruisers were still creeping up behind us sporadically until there must have been a total of nearly a dozen emergency crews working to sort out the ordeal. That’s when we realized this was more than just a fender-bender, we were going to be stuck here for a while, the guy in front of us was wandering off in the rainy woods to relieve himself, and I had a great line of site to the line of traffic weaving it’s way through the summit of the mountain.

IMGP8108.JPG

*Can you spot the Porsches? I found two.

About an hour after traffic slowed to a halt, the last of the cop cars pulled away and the line of cars starting moving again. Remembering my nearly bone-dry tank of gas, I waited patiently until the U-Haul in front of me was clearly moving before starting my engine. Winding back up from the hour-long pit stop, I once again began to freak thinking I may potentially cause yet another traffic-blocking accident. As luck would have it, we had already reached the summit, which meant it was nearly downhill from there. I spent almost all of the next 15-20 minutes in neutral, overjoyed by the obsoleteness of my gas pedal and amazed at the quarter tank of gas suddenly swelling in my tank from our new downward orientation. Risk-takers that we are, we decided our newfound gas meant that we could skip the closest gas station and swing the long haul to Costco after all.

Once in Santa Cruz, we settled in to a relatively calm seafood dinner at Miramar Fish Grotto on the wharf where we were seated next to an overzealous seagull and its starfish dinner that just wouldn’t give up!

Never give up!.JPG

Despite my newly realized fear of driving in the dark when it’s raining, the drive home was fairly uneventful save for our first brush with snowfall since moving to California. Unlike the photo from the previous link, the snow we encountered was of the slushier variety that melted upon contact with our windshield. Nevertheless, I felt a slight nervousness at being surrounded by cold-weather greenhorns and slowed to a more cautious pace to alleviate any erratic driving from my fair-weather highway companions.

In the end, we made it home safely with full bellies and yet another story to tell.

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