Monterey, California is a fairly short drive up the coast from Big Sur, which was good news. We were in no mood for a long drive. We were in no mood for really anything. We were dirty, hadn’t slept well at all, and were vexed by our inability to enjoy camping. We had bought camping gear specifically for this trip, hoping to enjoy nature and save some money on motel fare in the wash. But the hassle and the discomfort and the weird rain-outs were threatening the relative harmony of the rest of the trip.
Indeed, our first few hours in Monterey were bleak ones. We pulled into a McDonalds to get some free wi-fi and cheap breakfast so we could collect ourselves and arrange a room for the night. Naturally, Monterey being a big tourist draw meant that accommodations are uncommonly pricey. Even shitty dumps aspired to Ritz-Carlton fees, so we found maybe the shittiest dump of them all, the San Carlos Days Inn, and booked there.
Problem was, it was 11am, and we couldn’t check in until 3pm. We even went there and asked if we could come in earlier, and were told in no uncertain terms that we could NOT do that. Just after us, an old woman with medical issues was told much the same thing. More than anything, we wanted a shower and a nap, and these were the things we could not have. So even though the grey had finally given way for sunshine and blue skies, a cloud still hung over us as we cast about for something to do for four hours.
Complicating things further was that some genius city planner had decided to effectively divide Monterey in half, putting Downtown and Cannery Row on opposite sides of an inexplicable tunnel. As far as we could tell, there was no other way of getting back and forth, so we made more trips through that fucking tunnel than I’d care to remember. I still can’t even figure out why it was there. There were houses on top of it. It’s not like there was this Everest-sized mountain there. Whatever, Monterey. I hope you just love your stupid-ass tunnel.
We needed to do laundry. It’s just one of those unromantic things you still have to do, even on vacation. So we spent two cranky, hot hours in a cramped little laundromat, feeding quarters into whirling machines and trying not to snarl at anyone that came near. We even managed not to snarl too much at each other, realizing that it was simply not something that could be blamed. Obviously, if we were dipshits, we could have blamed it on Obama, but we are not dipshits.
And eventually, we were graciously allowed into our Days Inn hovel, which had a charming bathroom-window view of the street. Really, the room wasn’t bad as far as super-cheap motels go, but we were pretty sour at this point. The shower worked, and that was very, very good. Cleansed and slightly rested, we felt a lot better about where we were…about who we were.
So we drove back through that ridiculous tunnel and hit the super-touristy Cannery Row for shopping and dinner. Now, Cannery Row is the title character in John Steinbeck’s book, and you can still see the crumbling foundations of some of the original buildings, and some sense that long ago, someone actually labored there. In fact, they labored so hard that they found themselves out of labor; overfishing was one of the primary reasons the cannery industry collapsed in Monterey over 60 years ago. Fortunately, tourists have turned out to be a far more profitable catch than sardines, and Monterey prevails.
Cooper’s Pub, which advertised the “Best Fish and Chips in Town,” does not. Your fish and chips suck, and you should feel bad about yourself.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has nothing to be ashamed of, though. It is a great house of marine life, from otters to hammerhead sharks to turtles to puffins. The diversity of exhibits and within exhibits was humbling, considering it is but the tiniest of fractions of what lives in our oceans. There were also rude, pushy children galore, but we were finally in a positive mood, and weren’t about to let the folly of youth bother us. So what if some unfortunate child tried shoving us aside and ended up face-down in a trashcan? So what?
Stepping outside for a moment, I suddenly remembered that this was where they shot a few scenes of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where a pair of humpback whales hold the key to humanity’s survival. Much of the rest of that film was shot in San Francisco, which was our next stop. And I realized if I was thinking of dorky minutiae like that, then I was out of my funk. That tunnel still sucked, and children are still thoughtless creatures, but the Golden Gate was just over the horizon.
No luck getting the Honda Fit to warp speed, however.