Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'm About to Turn Purple With Rage Because I'm Seeing Red on the Green Thing

We're doing a lot of driving in California. I love to drive, so that is not necessarily a bad thing. Put me behind the wheel of a hot car and I'm happy. Even a rental van, like the one we have from Hertz, will do if there is beautiful scenery to be seen or a suitable reward at the end of a long and winding road.

The problem is that we're doing a lot of unnecessary driving. I like to 'wing it,' to turn down unknown avenues, to see what might be found around the next corner. That means that we often don't plan ahead to reserve hotel rooms because we never know exactly where we will be at the end of the day.

Years ago, I used to complain about the lack of proper road signs in Ontario, Canada, where we live. I got spoiled by having travelled the highways of the eastern United States. At every interchange, on major highways, there would be signs telling me what I could expect if I were to take the off ramp, any or all of accommodation, fuel, food or shopping. More recently, signs became more specific, telling me which gas stations I might expect to find, which hotel chains were represented and which restaurants were waiting to refresh me. Some years later, Ontario finally got smart and, along its major highways, at least, I will always know where to turn off to get what I am looking for.

There is a dearth of useful signage in California. On our trip, we find hotels basically by hoping that providence will smile on us. Sometimes, we call telephone numbers gleaned from coupon books, available for tourists at every rest stop or information centre. Occasionally, we will stumble on something acceptable quite by accident. With the exception of our first night's accommodation which we booked while still in Ontario, we have yet to approach a Californian city and know exactly where to turn to find hotels , restaurants or service stations.

Why is this? Is it a 'green' thing, where Californians simply don't want the beautiful scenery polluted by too many ugly road signs?

What about the air pollution caused by all the unnecessary driving while trying to find a place to pee, to get a taco, or to rest your weary head?

I estimate that in the 15 days we have now been in California, I have driven at least 200 completely unnecessary miles while trying to find amenities of some kind. Yesterday was a good example. We wanted a place to have a quick lunch along the highway. Every time we approached a new interchange, I would watch for some indication of what we might expect to find if I took the off ramp. Nothing. Just street names. Thinking there is nothing suitable at that interchange, I drive on. In the rear-view mirror, I see a Denny's or a Carl's Jr. sign that wasn't visible in the approach. When I finally decided to take a chance and pull off at the next exit, there was nothing there but car dealerships and offices. I drove for about 10 miles before I turned around in disgust and re-entered the main highway. How much gas was wasted? How much pollution was discharged into the air? Wouldn't some simple signs make sense? This sort of thing is a daily occurrence.

Wise up, California. You have a beautiful place here and perhaps more of us would get to see more of it if we knew where the hell we were going.

Tonight, we decided to drive from Chula Vista where we are staying for several nights, back north into San Diego so we could see the Gaslight area after dark. We ended up somewhere else, down by the waterfront, instead. You guessed it: no damn signs pointing the way. We decided to take a walk anyway, to enjoy the sea air and look at the historic ships which are part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego. As we walked along the waterfront, enjoying the sights, a fortyish, well-groomed man approached us and said that he was a tourist from Calgary, Alberta. He told us that he was stranded in a parking lot just down the street, with an empty gas tank and no money. His wallet was in his hotel room. He asked for $17.00 so he could get enough gasoline to make it back to the hotel where his wife was waiting for him. $7.00 was to be for fuel and $10.00 was for the deposit required by the service station for a fuel container.

I don't mind helping people. $17.00 is a trivial amount of money. Still, I hate it when someone lies to me. I also hate that people become shysters and panhandlers instead of earning an honest living.

I gave the man $20.00 because I didn't have any smaller bills.

Was I a fool, yet again? Remember when, just a few days ago, two young women wouldn't give me a ride when I was stranded alone near Stinson Beach? I could have used a good Samaritan then. I decided to take a chance that the man was actually telling us the truth.

Besides, when my wife asked him who the premier of Alberta was, he answered correctly: Ralph Klein. Either the guy was telling the truth or he had spent a lot of time and energy on building his story.

Along with the money, I gave him a business card because he insisted that he would return the money to me. I really don't care about the few dollars involved but I do wonder if he was telling the truth. Should we ever have to wonder about that?

I don't think so.