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US Tour Day 2, Part 2: California's Central Coast

After visiting my grandmother I took my time driving south—through Atascadero and winery studded towns—until my friend Ria phoned me. Ria lives in San Francisco, but she happened to be driving down the central coast as well! She used to live in Santa Barbara for four years, and she was heading down to see old friends and pick up some things there. What luck, a familiar face in a strange place!

She invited me to meet her and her old housemate, Kelly, at the winery where Kelly works in a touristy, country village dubbed Los Olivos. Who would turn down a chance to sit outside in a garden and drink free wine in the middle of a workday in the middle of a week in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley in the middle of California?

So we sat, we drank, and we talked. And it felt wonderful—I felt so alive. I don't usually like to gloat, but the thought that my boss and my boss' boss—the people who fired me from my job at Apple—were at work pretending to care about meetings and emails while I sipped expensive wine in a garden overflowing with sun–drenched hanging flowers and decorated ponds and even a happy, little turtle, well, the smugness of it all almost got me hard.

After that we drove our respective cars to nearby Solvang. My mission: obtain a 'danish' pastry. Solvang is a 'quaint' tourist town based vaguely on a Danish theme. I can't believe that the city's civil planners ever actually visited Denmark, or even ever saw pictures of Denmark. If they had, they didn't draw their inspiration from any place that I've ever seen, because Solvang's streets are lined with nothing but tacky, wasteful knick–knack shops that wouldn't last a second in Scandinavia. Each building's architecture mimicked stereotypical Northern European architecture from no one country in particular.

I had visited Solvang before. I could safely know there was nothing new for me to see there. I just wanted to get a danish to prove to myself I was there. So, we stayed just long enough to buy one 'danish' pastry—approximately 7 minutes, according to my watch.

There were so many choices at the Solvang Bakery. I like adventure, though, so I chose the one that the girl behind the counter called the 'danish surprise'. I asked her what the surprise was. She told me that she didn't know—and that's the surprise of it! From what I could gather there was some fruit filling or custard or something buried under a thick crust of sticky almond paste—a mystery just dying to be excavated with my well–honed chewing technology.

Ria and I did what I imagined good tourists should do: we took the 'danish surprise' outside and the three of us—two humans, one pastry—posed for a picture in front of a huge map of Denmark. Swedish country music—dansbandmusik—floated through the warm air, poured out from some unseen, outdoor PA system. I could understand about half the words, but the lyrics made little difference—the music would bring pain to even the deaf. But, it hardly mattered because our seven minutes in heaven were up—we were leaving anyways.

The sign on the bus stop bench reads, "Many thanks, come again!"

We then motored off to see Ria's friends Anu and Daniel. Boyfriend and girlfriend, they spent their time as nursing students. Somehow these two ended up with a quite alternative housing arrangement. They lived in a house situated in a national forest. I didn't know it was legal to live on land which was part of a national park. Ria assured me that it wasn't legal. Yet it somehow also wasn't exactly illegal, either, she explained. I wondered if this was what they meant when they said something was 'barely legal', and I chuckled of course, because, well, I said 'barely legal'.

Anu and Daniel brought new meaning to the word 'hospitable'. They treated us like the most special guests, and within minutes dishes of food began appearing in front of us. Apparently they had been experimenting with 'raw food'—a strange, new food–religion/eating disorder that extreme leftists use to make sure that unyielding dogma is no longer just for Christians. But, luckily Anu and Daniel weren't full–blown raw food fanatics like many others I have met. These two were only just dabbling with raw food—they hadn't been completely indoctrinated into the cult yet.

And it turned out that their interest in uncooked sustenance would be to my advantage in a big way. Eager to share the joy of raw food with others, they kept presenting plate after plate of snacks! They brought me home made energy bars then shredded raw zucchini with pesto. I ate fresh, home–made goat cheese on top of what they described as an uncooked cracker. Instead of being baked like a normal cracker, these were made by pressing grains into patties and then dehydrating them in low–heat convection ovens. The result was remarkably crunchy and cracker–like and miraculously not terrible and hippie tasting at all.

And, then there came the coconuts. Oh sweet god, the coconuts! Daniel brought me coconut after coconut. First we used plastic straws to suck the sweet water from inside. Then he pulled out a machete to crack them open so I could scrape the chewy, young coconut meat from the depleted shells into my insatiable coconut–hungry–mouth–hole.

I love the taste and smell of coconut. As a child I used to entertain daydreams where I would distract my mom long enough to steal her coconut suntan lotion and then drink it and smear into my eyes and nose so all my senses would be blinded with the glory of coconut. I never did it. But, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't think about every single time my mom took me to the beach.

Coconut's intoxicating effect on my taste buds only increased with time. So, Daniel and Anu's coconut fiesta had me worked up into a frenzy of joy, it was like someone had been popping quarters into me all day or something. Except, instead of quarters it was sweet, fleshy young coconuts.

I mean, I can't even remember what I was writing about now, I am so worked up about coconuts. Let me take a deep breath and get back on track here. Got to calm down, got to breathe.

Ok, after Anu and Daniel there was the drive to Santa Barbara, which involved cars and clutches and accelerator pedals and roads and stuff like that—nothing too exciting. We stayed with Ria's friend Kelly in the house that Ria lived in for four years. Ria had many memories of her college years living in that house. I, on the other hand, would leave that place with only the memory of how allergic I was to Kelly's cats.

Kelly claimed to only have two cats. This could not have been possible as far as I could tell. I saw cats everywhere I looked, like swarms of furry, twine–ball loving, cat–nip addicted feline locusts. And they tortured me. The cats were constantly rubbing up against me and strategically shedding mountains of hair directly into my sinuses. I felt like someone had taken one of those insulation blowers you use to shoot insulation into walls and replaced the insulation with cat dander and then shot pound of the allergen into my helpless, tender nose and eyes. I sneezed and coughed and snot started to drip out my nose without me even noticing it—which even for a pervert like myself is quite embarrassing, really. I looked like a junkie, eyes puffy with tears, snot dripping down my face. I thought about that song Aqualung by Jethro Tull. I was a wreck, defeated by the allergies. Note to self: do not accept a sleeping situation at any house with cats, not now, not ever again.

I had to get out of the cat house, so Ria took me on the walking tour of downtown Santa Barbara. At 9 at night this meant walking past an endless train of fancy storefronts, each one closed for the night, each one with a clever French–sounding name that was a play on words that would make sense to their shoppers. These stores catered to rich women who had nothing to do with their days except for the daily task of shopping for expensive things with the money of their past and present husbands. Viewed through the thin veil of ocean fog that hung all around us even the most obscene examples of unnecessary consumption were mysterious and lovely.

We ate at Ria's old restaurant job, visited her old favorite bar, and ran into some of her old friends. A stranger in a strange new town, it felt reassuring to see and hear and taste everything as if through the agile, prepared nervous system of a local.

My day was so long, I had seen many places and smelled so many new scents. I never even had time to sink my teeth into the mystery danish, even. But there was no time for that. My mind was heavy with sleep. Introduced by a play of the sort of sneezes that could be inspired by only the most Olympic cat allergies, sleep finally took the stage. I didn't even have time to wonder where the next day or days might carry me. I didn't even have time to think about what might be inside the mystery pastry. I guess I would have to just find out tomorrow.

If you hadn't noticed, I am traveling around the US. I am looking for nice, fun people who can put me up for a few nights and feed me (since I am broke) and show me a good time (since I like good times). If this sounds like fun for you, email me at justingrace AT mac DOT com with your info and address and phone number. I am especially looking for places to stay in the southwest. Right now I really need a place to stay in or around Flagstaff, AZ!