On a road trip from Northern California to Southern Arizona, the last night is always a let down. There’s not enough time to reach Tucson which means stopping somewhere on I-10 as it crosses the desert near Indio. Alan and I usually settle for a nondescript motel to rest our road-weary, baby boomer bodies for one more night, when all we really want to do is go home.
We had celebrated the end of a luxurious coastal California sports car road trip the night before at the poshest barn lodging you’ll ever see. Wearing plush robes, we stretched out on Adirondack chairs in front of a two-way fireplace on the patio in a barn suite at Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Sade’s smooth, sultry voice drifted from the DVD while we munched on crusty french bread topped with buttery tasting artisan cheese, toasting to the end of a beautiful trip until the bottle of Sonoma Pinot Noir was empty.
“I dread the drive down the interstate tomorrow,” Alan said.
“Why don’t we take a detour? I asked. “Couldn’t we stay in Tehachapi? It wouldn’t add that much time to the trip.”
And that’s why the next day, a gunmetal gray Porsche Carrera turns left towards Bakersfield on Highway 58 rather than continuing south to skirt the suburbs of Los Angeles on the way to Indio. Highway 58 travels beside green, agricultural fields and an oil well or two before arriving in the suburbia that is Bakersfield. Outside of town, the road begins to climb into the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains. Soon, the scenery changes from scrubby desert to grassy hills that look as soft as the brown suede of my old blazer. Winter rains have added patches of green, while spring contributes swaths of yellow wildflowers.
When the road approaches Tehachapi Loop, an historic train track, we crane our necks to catch a glimpse of a long train as it appears to cross over on itself in an engineering optical illusion. Soon the windmills of Tehachapi Pass appear on the horizon. California’s largest wind turbine farm coexists with apple orchards and a maximum security prison in a remote community that most travelers to the Golden State never see.
Taking the first exit into the town of Tehachapi, we begin our search for La Quinta Inn, which we had chosen the night before from an internet listing because it had everything, including a restaurant. Driving along Main Street, stop signs greet every crossroad, the equivalent of big city traffic lights. La Quinta finally appears at the far end of town, with a convenient restaurant that’s closed for business.
After checking in, Alan and I retrace the drive, this time looking left and right at the stop signs, checking out dining possibilities. The parking lot in the local honky-tonk is full. A block later, Alan gently edges the Carrera into a parallel space along Main Street in front of The Apple Shed, committing us to dinner. Avid sports car drivers do not choose their parking spaces lightly as I have learned on this trip.
Entering the restaurant means negotiating a large gift shop where knick-knacks compete with a rack of boy’s baby clothes on special. A glass case displays tempting baked goods near a Seat Yourself sign at the restaurant’s entrance.
As we choose our table, a blend of smoky alto voices rises from the noisy din, belting out a spirited rendition of Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in Paradise in 3-part harmony. It’s the 4th Saturday night of the month and The Pat Strong Trio Plus 1 entertains hungry patrons. The four-woman, mostly baby boomer, band plows through one oldie after another.
Alan and I order $4.50 glasses of wine from a happy-looking server who recommends the ribs. She brings a plate piled high with tender pork meat that falls from the bone. Licking the tomatoey sweet barbecue sauce from our fingers, we tap our feet as Pat and her ladies sing one favorite after another. First the twang of a country song, then the smooth blend of a cowboy ballad followed by 26 Miles (Santa Catalina) by the Four Preps.
Their musical instruments consist of a guitar, a bass, and a sort of combination bongo and snare drum. The women laugh at a missed word or faulty start to a song. Sheet music rests on stands in front of them. Wearing slacks and blouses, with a little gray hair showing, they could be the clerk at the grocery store or a nurse in the doctor’s office happily singing her favorite melodies. And they are. According to the group’s My Space page, Pat Strong is a nurse, while Bonnie Tosunian, Lisa Cosgrove and Casey Papac just love music.
Older members of the audience, including me, mouth the words to familiar tunes. In the center of the room, a long table filled with 20 and 30-something-year-old BMX bike racers joke about songs they’ve never heard of with the all-woman band that gently teases back.
And me? I can’t stop grinning. The night I have dreaded turns into one of those spur of the moment, you can’t anticipate experiences. The music makes me so happy that I have to restrain myself from boogieing across the old wooden floor of the Apple Shed and thoroughly embarrassing Alan. But the Pat Strong Trio Plus 1 wouldn’t have minded. The boomer women would have continued to laugh and sing Margaritaville or When I Fall in Love or an original song like Morning Train that makes you feel that train climbing the hills of Tehachapi.
This is why I travel, when timing and sheer luck lead to that serendipitous moment of sharing camaraderie with people I don’t know and who I’ll probably never see again. Tonight, music is our common denominator.
I can go home now.
Note to baby boomer readers: It’s rare that I publish travel narrative here at my Itchy Travel Feet. Let me know what you think.