Posts Tagged 'Freeway traffic'

I need to pee

My friend Ralph moved to Santa Barbara about a year ago when the attraction of a senior living facility finally outweighed the charms of Ojai.

In Ojai, Ralph lived near Vons, about a five-minute drive for me. Before his Santa Barbara departure we often met at his home around 5:30 for drinks and lively conversation. Ralph made an excellent martini. Glasses chilled in the freezer, respectable gin, a whisper of vermouth, and two or three olives depending on their size impaled on a toothpick made specially for the task. He was a master at mixing just the right drink proportions including the ice cubes that chilled the ubiquitous stainless-steel container that cradled the solution.

I often stood next to him in his kitchen where he deftly shook the container until the drink was at its proper temperature, avoiding excessive ice melt that could overwhelm the drink if mixed by someone less experienced. He poured the liquid slowly without any trembling. He carefully measured the pour so that we each had precisely half of what had been prepared. Occasionally, I received a tiny bit more than half while Ralph, like a proper host, never had more than I did.

Sitting on his couch while Ralph occupied a matching easy chair, we mostly talked politics, movies, and the latest absurdities imposed by the City Council on its citizens. We spoke slowly while savoring the occasional sips we took when there was a break in the conversation. I tended to drink more quickly than Ralph did, and I made a special effort to keep from getting too far ahead. It took about thirty minutes to consume the drink, nibble on the olives and run out of things to talk about. A bit light-headed, we always had dinner while allowing my alcohol level to decrease to where I hoped it did not exceed the legal limit.

Things changed with Ralph’s move to Santa Barbara. The five-minute in-town ride became, on a good traffic day, an hour’s freeway race. My declining night vision made it impossible to make the drive at night, so lunch visits became the norm. While I love Ralph’s company, I felt like I was on the clock, checking to make sure that I got back on the road before Santa Barbara’s rush hour that usually began at two and didn’t end before midnight.

To maintain this schedule, I would leave Ojai at 10:30, begin lunch with Ralph at 12:30, and get back in my car at two. Martinis fell by the wayside. Drinking one around noon seemed obscene. Even if I could stomach it, my alcohol level would make me a prime target for the Highway Patrol, I’d fail the breathalyzer test, be unable to walk a straight line, and spend my remaining years in solitary at San Quentin.

Adding to my misery is Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara which has been under repair or adding more lanes since well before the last ice age. Few projects have lasted as long, with the possible exception of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona which has been under construction since 1883.

Even the Great Wall of China still struggles to keep pace with the 101-highway project. Begun in 217 BC, the wall stretched over four thousand miles and endured three major renovations. Although largely abandoned, it is still under continuing maintenance.  There’s even speculation that some unlucky workers were entombed in the wall…as possible punishment imposed by travelers like me who were late to lunch with friends.

Most of us hardy travelers have acclimated to what seems like a highway project without end. Expectations of up to 75 minutes to traverse the gauntlet of dozers, articulated trucks, asphalt pavers, boom lifts, and backhoes was the norm…until last Wednesday.

Half-way through the odyssey, traffic ground to halt. Probably a fender-bender I thought. After due consideration the skies parted, and we began to move. Hope that’s the big one for today, I wished. But it was just the beginning.

When we did move, it was at an intergalactic pace averaging five miles an hour. At that speed, and with nothing better to do, I calculated an arrival time at Ralph’s of 2pm, just in time to pee and hop back in the car for the trip home.

Peeing became a focal point and I wondered about my bladder’s ability to outlast the remainder of the trip. Never one to unnecessarily test my bladder control proficiency, I began to think of ways that I might get some relief when the time demanded it. The more I thought about it, the tighter my bladder became. My brain was in control and it began the inescapable signaling of the need for relief.

Exiting the freeway to find a friendly urinal was not an option. Like my bladder, those roads were filled with cars whose unlucky owners were there for the duration.

I thought, wouldn’t it have been nice if I’d kept a plastic water bottle in the car like Jackie had suggested. Not for peeing, but for drinking. I could have opened the window, dumped the useless drinking water, and filled the empty bottle with the despised urine. I visualized inventing a new yoga pose to accomplish such a transfer.

Another option was to stop the car on the shoulder to relieve myself. This would involve walking around the front of the car, moving to the passenger side, and sort of angling my body back towards the front. This would prevent people behind me from seeing my frontal performance, leaving such a delight to several dozen construction workers including some burly women who would surely pummel me if the concrete buttress didn’t stop them.

Trying to pee after staunching the flow for too long is often a time-consuming affair, giving lots of onlookers the opportunity to view the show. At least with my gray hair and wrinkles, they could always write off the act by saying it was just some old guy who couldn’t hold it any longer, bless his heart.

I was excited each time the traffic moved. Maybe this was the end of the beginning. I thought, you’ve waited a long time but just hold on a bit longer. This nightmare is sure to end.

And it did. Two and a half hours after I began, I pulled up to the curb outside Ralph’s condo. He had promised me a vacant parking space, but that was long ago. There were none. Instead, I drove five hundred feet and parked the car on an adjoining street. I sat for what seemed like an eternity wondering if I could stand up and walk to Ralph’s before the heavens opened and my pants revealed the unthinkable.

I willed my brain to think “empty”. I rose from my seat, closed the door, and began the march to my coveted destination…slowly like Alec Guinness did in The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I made it to Ralph’s, pushed aside his welcoming hand, nearly tore the screen door off its hinges and raced to the guest bath.

Relieved, I ate lunch while silently visualizing what the return trip might look like. We finished and I gave Ralph a hug, filled all my pockets with his thick four ply Kleenex and began my way home.

The gods were kind, there was minimal traffic, and I got home in less than an hour…without a pee break.

Pismo-Part 1

My grandsons, Morey and Isaac, invited me and my credit card to a weekend in Pismo Beach.

A city of about 8,000 permanent residents on California’s central coast, summer visitors swell the population to more than triple that number.  The name Pismo is Chumash for tar, a natural substance that has diminished over the years, as has the once famous Pismo Clam. Monarch butterflies now take center stage in winter as they hang out in a grove of eucalyptus trees, escaping colder weather in the north.

Clamming was a serious business until the 20th century. Like most of our natural resources, humans believed that the Pismo Clam was indestructible and that its many millions of offspring would quench the hunger of future generations of clam diggers. Photographs of horse drawn multi-pronged rakes churning up the sand and collecting boatloads of clams can be found in the Pismo archives.

When I was a young man, my family took up the tools of clamming and spent a weekend in Pismo. All that we needed was a common pitchfork and a pail. Jamming the pitchfork beneath the surface of the wet sand often resounded with a tell-tale clink announcing the presence of a clam about six inches below. A scooping action sometimes produced a clam; more often it produced a lot of wet sand.

A measuring device in the shape of the letter C was taped to the pitchfork. The lucky clammer would slide the clam through the device. If it passed through, the clam was deemed a juvenile and required careful replacement from where it came to wait for adulthood. Park rangers with binoculars were often found in the surrounding hills spying on the diggers hoping that a hefty fine might result. There are still clams in the surf, but their fate is mostly in the hands, or the flippers, of the resident otters.

Help may be on the way. Due to the laziness of the X generation and the seeding of juvenile clams, the clam is making a hard-fought comeback. Yet too small for harvesting, and with increased Clam Ranger surveillance, we may once again see the mighty Pismo Clam filling our buckets.

My Pismo trip began Friday afternoon on the 101 Freeway heading to grandson Morey’s digs in Santa Barbara. Road construction on this monster has been in progress for the last two generations, resulting in Caltrans jobs being passed from father to son with no completion date in sight. I hope that the workers will maintain their virility so that the work can go on.

An alternative approach would be to hire 300 Amish men and women who would surely complete the project in a single weekend…without power tools.

From Casitas Pass to Montecito, about 25 miles, the 101 creeps along. Creep is an overstatement of the speed of the traffic as it passes by father/son Caltrans workers who seem unaware of our presence. Squirm, wriggle and writhe are more appropriate considering the agony that is prominently displayed on my fellow drivers’ faces.

Even Siri was confused. Periodic messages spewed forth from my iPhone. “Accident two miles ahead. You are still on the fastest route.” There was no accident, and I was on a route with no viable alternative.

Five minutes later, “Accident a quarter mile ahead. You are still on the fastest route.” No visible accident and no other route available other than circumnavigation of the globe. And on it went, repeating the mantra every mile or so.

Earlier in the day I had filled my tank at my neighbor’s Chevron station in midtown Ojai; normally enough gas to make the round trip to Pismo and back. But schizophrenia kicked in as I was bombarded by Siri who insisted that I was on the fastest route. I was sure that my tank would empty in California’s first permanent gridlock. I visualized a place of honor on the freeway with a plaque that announced, “On this spot Fred ran out of gas because he foolishly trusted Siri and refused to find an alternate route.”

Construction had narrowed the normally spacious passage by closing the shoulders on both sides of the road with tall concrete barriers. It was like going through a tunnel without a roof. Drivers moved from one lane to another as they sought the faster one. There was no faster one. I often met the same driver coming and going as we alternated our search for the holy grail.

Aging by the moment, I awaited nature’s call to empty my bladder. Exiting the freeway and seeking a place to do so is a challenge even in good traffic conditions. At 4 on a Friday afternoon, it was a challenge of the seventh magnitude. Focusing on the pressure in my groin, I evaluated my options. Leave the freeway in an uncharted realm and seek a depository only to be informed of its unavailability due to Covid was one option. Gutting it out until reaching Morey’s digs was another. Feeling no pressing need, I calculated the approximate time when one might occur. Twelve miles to Morey at an average speed of ten miles per hour was doable. I relaxed and listened to Siri. 

I stared at drivers who sometimes stared back. A young man driving a shiny black Tesla pulled alongside me. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders like comrades in arms. I thought I could read the expression on his face which seemed to say, “This is getting serious. I think my batteries are about to give up their last few watts.” Maybe he was thinking about a plaque too.



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