When travel plans get a surprise
by Jan Wheatcroft
My friend Barbara and I decided that a country break was just what we needed; a good getaway to somewhere close enough so as not to spend too much time driving there. We just wanted to be in another place for a day or 2.
I had talked about Ojai so much that she wanted to explore those open rolling hills, oak-lined valleys and an “arty” town. For me, it was especially pleasant—she drove and I was chauffeured. We left at 6 a.m. hoping to beat the traffic. There is almost no time when one can just sail along our freeways anymore. If trucks aren’t gobbling up all of the lanes, the rest is being filled with others trying to get away, just as we were. It always ends up to be a lose-lose situation. And then it rained. It always seems to rain when we go away. The blue skies appeared as we got closer to Santa Barbara, and we relaxed.
We did our early morning traditional things. First, a gourmet breakfast at a Danish-style restaurant and then a few hours of trying on clothes and browsing at a favorite shop very much worth the drive. With these essentials out of the way, we could plan our afternoon of exploring the area. We drove out the back roads, through the rolling hills to Solvang, a very touristy, fake Danish community, that has a weaving store where I get my warping linen. With the linen bought, we wandered around until we found a place for a fishy snack of Danish-style creamed herring and rye bread. This is a sneaky treat for me, as it is not good for people with gouty feet. However, I love it and it was a “treat day.”
A leisurely drive brought us back to the Santa Barbara area and we hooked up with another back road and lovely scenery taking us to Ojai. I like Ojai. It is a small oasis nestled behind the hustle of the coast, where good schools exist in a rather up market town geared for tourists at a leisurely pace. As far as the locals go—besides the monied crowd—there is a layer of laid back ‘hippy’ types and a good arty set with quite a few opportunities to study and take art classes of all types. There are nice shops with good clothes and crafts and high prices. There are a few spas and some good restaurants all in a very relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed my stay there a few months ago when I came up to do a week’s printing class.
Barbara chose the inn/motel where we stayed, The Blue Iguana, a Spanish-style place slightly outside of the center of town with comfortable rooms and a lush garden of flowers. We put our feet up and talked for a while before heading out to Susanne’s, a fancy restaurant with really good food. It was lovely to sit on the patio with a glass of Prosecco, all bubbly, and enjoy the colorful spring flowers in the garden and eat well. Raw oysters to begin with, yum. We finished the meal by sharing a sinfully rich ice cream concoction, a fancy lady hairdo of dark coffee ice cream, Kaluha, chocolate sauce, crunchy bits and puffs of whipped cream.
The next morning began at an unrushed pace with lounging and chatting and then the breakfast offered by the hotel. We drove into town after packing up the car and had a latte at a local coffee house I had discovered before. Then a walk around the center of town and a meander over to the large open air bookstore, Bart’s Books. It is filled with an enormous selection of used books and we had fun browsing for a while. We then jumped into our chariot, the blue VW Beetle, determined to find the Beatrice Woods Center for the Arts. I had been there before for an art exhibit and remembered it was up the side road leading to the Happy Valley School. However, I didn’t know that the name of the school had been changed, so the road was now labeled differently. We passed it while driving on the Ojai/Santa Paula Road. It was a lovely drive through horse and alpaca properties, full of oaks and rolling hills, and although we enjoyed the ride, we realized we had gone too far. After searching through through a tourist magazine to find the address and driving there, we learned it was not open until the weekend. We turned around slowly in the driveway and, sticking the car’s nose out, began to inch our way out into the highway. A car came around the bend and Barbara stopped at the same time. The driver thought we would go forward. The car came aiming straight for our car. It felt like I was watching it in slow motion. I kept thinking he would surely stop. I could see his face—mouth opened—getting closer and closer and then there was a bang and crunch as he hit us, right at the driver’s door. It was a scary jolt. Luckily no one was hurt, just our car, really. Barbara was able to drive over to the side of the road, but once the car went into park, it would not move.
The man jumped out and he was concerned and kind. I rather thought he might be angry but that was not the case. After a lot of deep breaths, and some calming down we began the process of contacting the proper people: the police (9-1-1), and AAA. The police came, 2 nice gentlemen wearing protective vests who took down all the necessary information and checked out both cars. Barbara called AAA and it was good that she had a policy with towing for up to 200 miles. After an hour wait, the tow truck came from Santa Paula and the sadly crunched up blue Beetle was hauled up onto the back of the tow truck. The police stayed until we were safely perched in the truck’s cabin, not leaving us alone on the road.
We couldn’t have had a nicer driver. He drove us right to Barbara’s home via all back roads until we came to the 5 freeway, giving us a guided tour of Santa Paula, Lompoc and all the history of the area, mountains, water problems, changing agriculture over the years, his favorite Mexican restaurant, the best areas to live in, and tourist sites. We also learned about his family, as well as his own personal history. It was if we were in a foreign country and having a tourist experience while bumping along in a rattling tow truck that generously made bathroom stops as often as we needed them. Two hours later he dropped us at Barbara’s parking lot and gently unhinged the Beetle to its resting spot for the night.
This was, of course, an unplanned ending to such a relaxing 2 days where we had most enjoyably indulged ourselves. As accidents go, this one was not a horrible experience on the personal level. All of the people involved were kind, friendly and very helpful. Even though is was scary and potentially dangerous we were very lucky that the only sufferer was the car.
In the end, Barbara’s insurance felt the car was not worth fixing and so she will eventually get a replacement car. This experience causes one to be extra alert on the road and to make sure to wear seat belts (which we had been wearing). It also makes one aware of every day and to feel glad to be alive and enjoying the preciousness of life.