August 27, 2000
The Times Picayune

Our drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco had a theme song: “Road Trippin'” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It begins:

“Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies

Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies

It’s time to leave this town

Let’s go get lost

Anywhere in the U.S.A.”

And it was perfect, because that’s what we are, Jaqui, Susan and I. We have known each other since middle school. We graduated from the same high school. We went to the same college, where I shared an apartment with Susan at one point and with Jaqui at another. Over the years, we’ve come together as a trio for big events, like Susan’s wedding, but we had never had a chance to be together for any extended period of time and just be.

Last year, we decided we weren’t going to exchange gifts during the holidays. Instead, we decided to take a yearly trip together, creating another memory to mull over when we’re sitting in adjoining rocking chairs on the retirement home porch. Each year, one person would do all the planning and the other two would go along with it, no questions asked.

This year was Jaqui’s year. That’s how I came to spend five days in a convertible. Learn from our mistakes and benefit from our successes.

Day 1, Saturday

We meet in Los Angeles. Jaqui was already there for business, so she picked up me and Susan from the airport. First stop: Hugo’s, 8401 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, for breakfast. First celebrity sighting: actress Gina Gershon, of “Pretty in Pink,” “Sinatra” (she played Nancy), “Showgirls,” and “Bound.” She is sharing a table near us, sitting with a friend and the friend’s unpleasant toddler. The child doesn’t want to eat, but she does want to whine and hit. It’s no loss when they get up to leave, but this is Hollywood. Blatantly lying, the women at another table stammer, “What a cute kid.” Their suck-up attempt fails, however, and they do not receive any glamorous party invitations.

Hugo’s has a loyal group of followers, the aptly named “Hugo-nauts,” and it’s easy to see why. It offers good food at a good price, which is less than $10 for almost every meal. Many come for the breakfast pastas such as Pasta Mama, in which scrambled eggs and cheese meet pasta in a taste-tastic combination. Also recommended: Desayuno Fuerte, two poached eggs over potato pancakes with sauteed spinach, garlic, onions, tomato and parmesan cheese.

After eating, we stop by our hotel to drop off bags and freshen up. We’re staying at the Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, recently named on a “What’s Now” list by Los Angeles magazine. The hotel, modeled after a Loire Valley castle, is the place where John Belushi fatally overdosed. These days Keanu Reeves has a cottage here. Nightly rates range from $220 for a room with a queen-sized bed and a garden view to $1,950 for a two-bedroom penthouse with two beds, two bathrooms, kitchen, living room and dining room, plus a private terrace with “panoramic views of Hollywood.”

We leave the hotel and go shopping. First to Rodeo Drive, where we can’t afford anything. Then to Melrose Avenue, where our money is actually good. There’s lots to see and buy. We stop at funky thrift stores, large chains and independent boutiques.

We also stop at Fred Segal’s, 8100 Melrose Ave., a “shopping institution,” or so Jaqui tells us. I am appalled at the prices and the low quality: $175 for a skirt that looks like a child made it, and not a particularly gifted child. There are vintage concert T-shirts for $400, infant T-shirts for $50. Jaqui tells us that in Hollywood, one has to buy these things to be “cool.” I put forth an alternative definition of cool: wearing what you want when you want because it’s comfortable and you’re secure in yourself, and that’s why I can wear the same raggedy black short overalls I’ve been wearing since 1992. Jaqui tells me that’s an East Coast definition, and my overalls have a rip in them.

For a break, we grab Ice Blendeds at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, a California-based chain that’s been serving up gourmet coffee since 1963. These are fantastic drinks: coffee, mocha, vanilla or caramel flavored milkshakes that come in fat-filled or fat-free versions.

When it gets late, we head to a Persian restaurant for dinner. Do not underestimate the size of the portions at Shamshiri, 5229 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. One entree can easily feed two people. We enjoy the kebabs, chicken, beef and lamb, seasoned with a Persian mixture of coriander, garlic and other spices and served with basmati rice.

Trip tip: Before you go to L.A., make sure all of the important celebrities know you’re going to be in town. Before we leave for dinner, Caroline, Jaqui’s sister who is also in town on business, tells us she met actor Matthew McConnaughey poolside. He and his friends talk about a party at “Leo’s” that evening, but shockingly do not invite Caroline, or the rest of us, to join them. We express shock at the oversight, then realize McConnaughey probably didn’t know Caroline was with us. In fact, he probably didn’t even know we were there. That won’t happen next time.

Day 2, Sunday

We start the day at the Farmer’s Market, Fairfax and Third Street. Open every day, it’s the typical array of places to eat and places to buy postcards. Celebrities are known to dawdle here, but we don’t see anyone. I do overhear a conversation between an unidentified soap opera actress and her friends.

Actress: They haven’t killed me off yet.

Friends: Great! Great!

Next stop: Santa Monica Pier, but soon, it’s back in the car and on for a short tour of Hollywood crime scenes. We’re already sleeping within yards of where Belushi breathed his last. We slow down in front of the Viper Room, 8853 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Actor River Phoenix, 25, died of a drug overdose on the sidewalk in front of this club in 1993.

We next pass the intersection of Sunset and Courtney, where Hugh Grant was arrested for “lewd conduct” in 1995. Down the block, near Sunset and Beverly Drive, is the public bathroom where singer George Michael was arrested for exposing himself to a police officer in 1998.

Then, it’s on to the big time: the condominium on South Bundy Drive where Nicole Simpson and Ron Brown were murdered. Unlike the days when the O.J. mess was going full throttle, there are no gawkers here besides us. The condo looks shockingly ordinary and sad.

We end our day with leisurely drives and a search for the “Hollywood” sign. Built in the 1920s as part of a developer’s gimmick, the sign that originally read “Hollywoodland” has become synonymous with movie-making.

But seeing it isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s illegal to hike here. In 1932 a failing starlet jumped off the “H” to her death; dozens of copycats followed. Although this hasn’t stopped everyone from risking a visit here, we chose to see it from the car. Despite the fact that each letter is 50 feet tall, it took us about a half-hour to find a good vantage point for viewing.

For the night owl: Bar Marmont, right next to our hotel. From the outside, Bar Marmont looks like a shack, complete with a white wooden fence with peeling paint. Inside, it’s decidedly cooler, with red light fixtures casting an alien-glow on everything, hundreds of butterflies stuck on the ceiling and paper lanterns everywhere. A Cosmopolitan is the best drink to order here. It’s automatically served as a double, with one half served neat in a martini glass and the rest placed in a glass jar that rests in a glass bowl filled with ice. Tastes good, looks almost better.

Celebrity sighting at the bar: Chloe Sevigny, the misled girlfriend in “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Trip tip: Go to Rexall. It’s more than just a drugstore. It has cheesy photo booths where you can make postcards with greetings in five languages. We spent about an hour laughing and posing in the photo booths. We also stocked up on snacks and water for the ride ahead.

Day 3, Monday

The driving begins.

We’re doing it right, taking California 1, also known as Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. We could take a faster way and get to San Francisco in seven hours. We choose the scenic way, hugging the coast.

We’re in the car for hours, with the occasional stops. As the sun gets lower in the sky, we begin our search for the perfect vista to watch the sun set. Jaqui, a PCH road trip veteran, has been telling us for months how amazing it is to see the sun disappear into the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

So we drive, and search, and pass up numerous stopping points for one reason or another until the pressure is on. Just before 8 p.m., we stop the car and step outside, where it’s cold and windy. But in a few minutes, we stop complaining as the sun goes down. It’s as beautiful as we’ve been told, and we’re really glad we’re together.

However, the PCH isn’t the best road to drive in the dark, especially the stretch where we are. It’s hard to see. Each curve is a new adventure. We plan on getting to a town, settling into a hotel and going out for a big, fancy dinner. “I’m not talking Taco Bell here,” Jaqui says at one point.

Two hours later, we’re still driving and there’s no sign of civilization. Taco Bell, once dismissed, is now being sought as a sign of salvation. When we reach Big Sur, we find a hotel with vacancies: The Fernwood Inn, an establishment that’s proud to say it’s “biker friendly.” It’s also, apparently, spider friendly, as our $100 room is filled with them.

As for our dreams of a big dinner, we have to make do with crackers, cheese and salami from the ultra-expensive convenience store attached to our hotel. After a few drinks at the hotel bar, a few games of “Miss Pac Man” and a few rounds of jukebox songs, we go to bed. And double lock the door.

Trip tip: If you desperately need to go to the bathroom and you’re on a long stretch of empty road at night, with no bushes in sight, choose to mark your territory on the side of the stopped car, not in the back. If, for some dumb reason, you choose the rear of the vehicle, your so-called “friends” may repeatedly step on the brake pedal, creating a strobe light effect better suited for a strip club. I speak from experience.

Day 4, Tuesday

We head for San Francisco, but first, a stop for lunch and sightseeing at Carmel-by-the Sea, which most people simply call Carmel. It’s hard to believe that Carmel was known as a “bohemian” refuge at the turn of the century. It’s very upscale, a place where street numbers are considered d eclass e, homes are classified by what streets they’re near and mail goes straight to post office boxes. It’s also, in my opinion, boring. We leave after lunch.

More time in the car and then we hit Santa Cruz. We’re all instant fans. Beautiful beach. We settle on large rocks to watch surfers skirt death near the rocks. We’re told that Santa Cruz is a surfing hotbed, featuring a Surfing Museum and a bronze statue in honor of America’s favorite dudes of summer. We don’t try out the waves, but it’s sunny, we have ice cold smoothies and honey-flavored gummi bears, and we’re very happy. We hit the road a little worried about time, but pretty satisfied with our day.

Finally, San Francisco. First stop: our hotel, the Mosser Victorian on Fourth Street. Built in 1915 for the Pan American Exposition, the plain outside belies the funky interior, which features stained glass windows, ornate wood moldings and multiple chandeliers.

But overall, this isn’t the most comfortable place to stay. Substandard beds, no air conditioning. Two things that work for the hotel: price and the location. Rooms range from $89 to $179. The hotel is within easy walking distance of Union Square, cable car stops and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Trip tip: Stop at Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria in Capitola for a snack. A stranger pointed us there, and we ate great chicken salad sandwiches: roasted chicken, celery, almonds and scallions with homemade mayonnaise on whole wheat bread. The pastries are also tasty, with really rich, really good cream filling. Don’t worry about how well the cream will “keep” because it won’t be around that long.

Day 5, Wednesday

We spend the morning riding cable cars up and down the hills, one of the cheapest, most fun things to do in the city. After a few hours, Jaqui and Susan drop me off in Menlo Park, where I’ll be spending a few days with a friend. They head back to Los Angeles so they can fly out the next morning. Our road trip is over.

So what did we do for those hours in the car? We talked, about serious things, such as our families and our future plans, and unserious things, such as where our crushes from South Plainfield High School are now.

We listened to the radio or compact discs. Having graduated in 1988, we gave special attention to the complete oeuvres of Def Leppard, U2 and Erasure. More than one life was changed by the sight and sound of three women in a white convertible screaming the words to “Pour some sugar on me” and “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

And we played games, ranging from “The-next-song-that-comes-on-the- radio-describes-your-life” to “Discover your porn star name,” which requires mixing the name of your first pet and your mother’s maiden name for a scintillating combination. (This is how Charlie Vassal, Bonnie Ostrowski and Pepe Rocco came into being.)

But the best part was just being together.

Trip tip: Take a road trip with your two favorite allies.


  1. Jaqui
    April 17, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Reading this again was the best! We are overdue for another trip!

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