The interminable stretch of interstate between Southern and Northern California is the definition of monotony. The poorly equipped rest stops are few and far between, leaving mile after mile of golden farm fields, almond orchards, dried up almond orchards, smelly cows, disturbing scenes of smelly cows, trucks, and many more trucks.
I’ve driven this stretch countless times, sometimes there and back in one day, to help my daughter who attended school in L.A. and stayed there to live. I’ve wrestled with sleepiness and boredom with packs of gum, Twizzler packs, book tapes, country music stations, and carafes of coffee.
Yes, to have any excitement on this road is unusual. Guess I should consider myself lucky.
On one of my latest trips, I traveled with Sarah’s boyfriend Joel with the mission of getting to her place by 2 pm in order to drive her to the hospital for a minor procedure. We left at 6 am with plenty of time to make the six-hour trip.
It wasn’t long before we were far from any signs of civilization and the tire blew. Not a large pop or blow out, just that uneven, jagged, bumpty-bump-bump on asphalt at high speeds.
My first thought was “great, we are in the middle of nowhere,” only to realize (gratefully) that the middle of nowhere no longer exists if you have cell phone reception.
In the old days, this really would have been an adventure as we would have had to walk to a call box, or try to flag down a sympathetic ( not pscyopathic) trucker. But, in the days of smart phones, there wasn’t much danger. Within seconds I was on my phone calling AAA while Joel was on his, determining our exact location on his navigation app. Simultaneously, my husband John was at home photographing the AAA card that I had left behind and texting it to me.
Not impressed by this adventure? I know, the phones kind of killed it. But this adventure isn’t about being stranded on Highway 5, it’s about what we found off Highway 5.
Within 30 minutes AAA found us, put on the dinky spare, and directed us towards Big O Tires in Los Banos, 40 miles away with a 15-mile detour off the highway. At this point, we had only lost forty-five minutes and felt confident we could still make it. Our hopes sank when we got to Big O and a For Sale sign was in the front window. While I went in a gas station to ask for advice, Joel searched on his phone. The line was long, and by the time I came back Joel had already found Bruce’s Tires, a few blocks away with a five star Yelp rating.
As soon as we walked into Bruce’s, I asked, “What happened to Big O?” Bruce just smiled and said, “Well, we are the best tire place in town.” I explained our time crunch and he said, “Go get some grubbage at the best breakfast place in California and I’ll have you ready to go in 25 minutes.”
That’s when I realized it was only 8 am, I had been up 3 hours and was starving. Could it be that I was about to experience two bests of California in Los Banos?
We walked a block or two, and the sign said it all:
It was as though we had stepped back in time. Brown vinyl booths with value-sized bottles of ketchup and mustard on laminate tabletops. The walls told the story of Eddie’s family in large 8×10 frames: family of four with 80’s clothes and hairstyles in a Sears photo by a fake tree; wedding photo of that daughter now grown-up smiling with her dad; Eddie, now a grandfather with glasses, gray hair and a baby girl.
The two waitresses were in their mid-50’s, and–no kidding–they wore short denim shorts, their hair in buns, and sported a mouthful of “honeys” and “don’t you worry, love,” and “Yes dear, the Southwest Scramble with Homefries is one of the best items on the menu.” They kept the coffee pouring non-stop and hot in my cup, with a nice oil-slick film on top. Heavenly.
Thirty minutes later we were out the door, our bellies full, and Bruce was true to his word…the tire was on the car and came with a 12-month guarantee.
So, if you ever find yourself in Los Banos with an empty belly, by all means get off that tiresome highway 5 with its chain restaurants and go find Eddie’s. Hopefully you won’t need Bruce.
We made it to Claremont on time, but then had a 3-hour wait in the hospital because the doctors were behind schedule.