As one of the recently transplanted inhabitants of the glorious Rogue Valley, one of the things that has allowed me to remain here, is the fact that I return to my city of origin, Los Angeles, to conduct business. Yes, I'm just going to come out and say it: I'm "bi-state-al."
In order to conduct that business, I dismissed the idea of air travel about four years ago, opting for the allure of the road, or more specifically, the "5."
So having traveled the "5" more than 100 times in the last four years, (I swear even the truck drivers are starting to recognize me), I've decided to point out some of the more offbeat places along the way.
As my vehicle glides onto the highway, heading south past Mount Ashland to Mount Shasta, I begin to experience what I can only express as a sense of boundless possibility.
I punch the radio dials with abandon, grasping the intermittent sounds of talk and country radio. The connections are faint. It doesn't matter. I am free! I am one with Willie Nelson. I'm on the road again. Actually what I really am is stuck. The Voyager didn't come with a CD player.
My dog, Princess Muki or "the Mookster," as my husband prefers to call her, is my constant companion, as we sail through the wide open spaces, ever mindful that the California Highway Patrol could pounce upon us at any moment.
I sail past Mount Shasta, looking like a gigantic bowl of vanilla ice cream. But the journey really begins for me in Redding, with a slight detour off the "5" to the 244. Yes, I am driving up to one of the better In-N-Out Burgers in California. Ahhh, comfort food! I continue down the "5", popping freshly fried Idaho potatoes into my mouth, throwing them to the dog in the back seat. I am happy. My dog is even happier.
I used to stop in Sacramento on the way down, but it meant less business time in Los Angeles. Now I drive as far as Santa Nella (about 60 miles south of Stockton). And there, like a pea soup beacon in the night (windmill and all), is the traveler's haven, Andersen's Pea Soup. I think to myself "how did this place get started anyway? How many people driving the interstate suddenly say to themselves: 'Gee, if I could only have some pea soup right now?'"
It is the second day of my trip. I'm singing to an oldies station. In the distance lie the rolling Tehachapi mountains; blond and bold in the summer, green and seductive in the spring. And on the horizon are Ikea's warehouses and Starbucks, dropped right in the middle of the grand plain called Tejon Ranch.
I fly past 18-wheelers over the Grape Vine, descending into the fog that covers the San Fernando Valley. Days pass quickly as I see clients and eat my way through Los Angeles. A week later I'm back on the "5" going north. It is like the movie, Groundhog Day, I have to keep doing this over and over to get it right.
Just above Sacramento in Woodland, you must experience Ludy's Main St. BBQ and Catering, if only to view the Sistine Chapel knock-off on their ceiling and order their "Plate O'Stuff."
About 80 miles north of Sacramento sits Granzella's Restaurant, an odd combination of western inn, sports bar, ice cream parlor and Jewish deli, nestled in an old farming town, Williams. And should you suddenly get an urge to get some glass blown or eat olives, downtown Corning is the place for you. Some of the stores boast over 15 different kinds of pickled olives.
My trip north takes me to Jelly's Ferry Road, which has always sounded as romantic to me as "Ball's Ferry Road" hasn't. So intrigued have I been with Jelly's Ferry, the last time I was through, I detoured for about 20 miles. It is a beautiful ride that takes one past the farms and pastures.
There's an Australian hat outlet in Andersen, on the edge of Red Bluff. I don't know how it got here. It is literally off a beaten railroad track. If you can find it, you'll find Crocodile Dundee hats for $50 and up.
I'm almost home. I gaze over to the seat next to me and notice I have a jar of olives, a blown-glass hummingbird, a can of pea soup and an Australian hat and I haven't the slightest idea why.
All in all, it's been a good trip. However, I think I may take a few more detours, the next time I venture down this beautiful, familiar, yet ever-changing highway.