We spent a short time on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz; the wind was bitter and we still had a long trip ahead. We drove down to Monterey, past vast fields of artichokes, checked into a hotel and had time to wander along Cannery Row and grab dinner before all the shops closed.
We devoted most of the following day to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The fee is quite high but for good reason once you think about how much attention it requires to feed and maintain so many wild and quite delicate marine organisms.
Of course, the highlight for me was the room full of floating jellyfish. So many beautiful, majestic angels; their grace somehow makes me feel the hope I have inside myself. It’s a rather unexplainable experience but even before seeing them in person, they have represented that part of my being. To combine their delicate innocence with, in some cases, a dangerous defense, reminds me of the true state of the natural world. I find myself in awe and appreciation for something so authentic and unadulterated.
My mother’s favorite exhibit was undoubtedly the sea otters. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to get a decent photo through the water-splattered glass. But she remained quite amused as we stood in the tight crowd, the glass fenced in by boisterous children, watching the surrogate mother and the pup twirl around one another. They stopped only for feeding time, during which the pup would gobble up her food as fast as she could so she could take more from her mother.
It was probably mid-afternoon when we felt we had adequately absorbed everything we could from the aquarium. Mom bought a couple expensive fridge magnets from the gift shop and we headed back to the car.
There were several hours of daylight left so we continued along Route 1 through the long awaited Big Sur area. The road along the cliffs was especially curvy here and instead of taking in the breathtaking ocean views and mountains that she was so excited to see earlier, Mom was completely preoccupied with the treacherous road. With her white-knuckled hands firmly gripping the seat cushion, she stared rigidly ahead, occasionally snapping at me to slow down. I have to admit I was a little surprised as I didn’t feel I was driving abnormally fast or unsafely by any means but she is a far more cautious driver than myself. She’s a nervous person, I know this, and when it comes to driving and many other things, she has control issues. She’s not the only one in the car with these tendencies but I’ve acknowledged this intense nervousness as an issue for myself and have spent a number of years teaching myself to relax. Nevertheless, I’m prone to absorbing her anxiety and by this point, I was irritated that she couldn’t relax enough to enjoy the amazing scene that I was partially missing because I was keeping my attention on the road, where her attention didn’t need to be. The horns were metaphorically growing out of our heads and we were giving each other the stubborn goat stink-eye.
I understood that driving was her life for over three decades, so it’s well comprehended that being a passenger in a moving vehicle is unavoidably difficult for my mother. I highly doubt she’d deny that. As a FedEx delivery driver, you have to maintain an impeccable safety record so caution is key. Since retiring, that hypersensitivity hasn’t diminished.
So I took a breath and succumbed to her desires, slowing down to a crawl at each turn. Despite my irritation, I wanted her to be at ease as much as possible, she may not get to do this again, whereas there is a chance I may if I choose. Regardless, she still couldn’t help reading aloud the speed limit signs at every curve.
That evening, we made it as far as San Simeon. We stopped for dinner just before sunset in Gorda, a nearly nonexistent town on Route 1 that consisted only of that small outpost- a hotel, restaurant, gas station and convenience store clustered together between the road and the mountains overlooking the ocean. The restaurant was pleasantly empty, probably because it was so expensive. We did see other travelers come in and sit down only to leave again. But the place had a wonderful energy. The sun had reached a level were it shined in just faintly. Of course, the place was decorated in a nautical theme though not heavy-handed by any means. I admired the whale jaw that hung above us and the numerous antique painted wooden maidens that headed ships long past. The waitress was a lovely Hispanic woman who I presume also owned the establishment. She was very generous and easy going. She let us split a meal which was quite large as the cook made us extra, and on occasion as we ate, she would point out the group of whales splashing just north of us. The food was mediocre but the price ended up averaging out and the place had such a warm-hearted atmosphere, it turned out to be a perfect oasis on what had been a particularly difficult road.