On the Road: Googleplex, Carmel and Big Sur

You know how every time I take a vacation, my body thinks, “Oh, great, Amber’s giving me some time off: I think I’ll fit in a quick illness?” and I spend the first few days of my trip coughing and wheezing and generally feeling like death warmed up?

That kicked in on our last day in San Francisco, during which I also got me a migraine. So I was REALLY happy to be getting up at the butt crack o’dawn in order to go and pick up our rental car and then drive down to L.A. That’s why I’m wearing jeans and a hoodie in all of these photos. I’m just going to get that out of the way upfront, so you can all start laughing at me. I WAS COMFORTABLE, OK? And ill. And, you know, keepin’ it real. Ahem.  Luckily, though, I didn’t have long to wait for our first stop, which was just outside the city:

The Googleplex. Yes, we did that. We went to an office complex and we posed outside it with our cameras while wearing tourist sweaters. (Well, one of us, anyway.) And at this point I’d just like to say a quick thank you to all of the Google employees who laughed, but did not jeer at us, as they walked by.

Now, my pet hate right now (and for quite a few months, actually) is when people declare themselves to be “geeks” just because they use Facebook, or like very mainstream movies or TV shows. (“I can’t wait for Eastenders tonight. I’m such a geek, lol!”) But I must confess, Terry and I did feel just a tad geeky* to be visiting the Googleplex, which is probably a little bit bigger than my hometown.


The thing is, though, Google basically OWNS me. They’ve been more or less paying my salary for the past few years. (Yes, Google, YOU paid for all those shoes!) So it seemed wrong to just drive by and not, you know, stop to say hello.


“Oh, hai Google! I can has Pagerank 7, yes?”

“They’re going to HATE it when they find out we were here,” I told Terry. “They will probably ban me from the internet or something. Especially after I steal that bike over there.”

Google provides these little bikes outside its buildings, which staff can borrow to get around the complex. I was slightly worried that I would, indeed, be banned from the internet or something when they found out about the two seconds I spent sitting on this one, but then I realised that THEY ALREADY KNOW. Because Google knows everything.

Anyway, having spent just a few minutes looking at the headquarters, we jumped back in the car and hit the road: specifically, the Pacific Coast Highway, or Big Sur.

Our original intention had been to take Highway 1 all the way to L.A. but in the same way that my decision to take a plane trip has the ability to make volcanoes erupt, my decision to take a road trip caused a section of the highway to become impassable due to a landslide. I should really just stay at home, huh?

We still managed to drive all but around 60 miles of Big Sur, however, and wow, is it beautiful. It’s also a really, really slow road to drive on, because every mile or so you have to pull over to look at the view:


Our next stop was  Carmel-by-the-Sea. (Actually, we stopped there before taking the photos above: I’ve got my photos out of order.) My mum has wanted to visit Carmel ever since Clint Eastwood was its mayor, and honestly, I thought we were going to have to leave her there. It’s one of those picture-perfect little towns which almost doesn’t seem real. If you told me Carmel was a Disney attraction, I’d probably believe you.

We had lunch in the famous Hog’s Breath Inn (once owned by Mr Eastwood himself), and then we were back on the road.

We took Highway 1 as far as we could, and then cut right across the mountains, in an act of lunacy that I still look back on with amazement. The views were breathtaking. I mean that literally, by the way: we actually thought we were going to die. However, we reached the valley beyond safely, and settled down for several long hours of driving.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with the American road, and the idea of the road trip. In fact, a large part of my dissertation at university focused on the symbolism of the road in American literature, so I always look forward to long road trips with no small amount of excitement, imagining that I will be just like Jack Kerouac, having crazy adventures, meeting tons of “characters”, and feeling the poetry of the road.

Which is stupid of me really, because, for the past few years now, I have been completely unable to spend any amount of time in a car AT ALL without falling instantly asleep:


This photo was actually taken the following week, on the way to Disneyland, but it could’ve been taken anywhere because this is how I roll, people. I fall into a doze leaning against the window, and then I suddenly jerk awake, convinced the car door is going to spring open, spilling me out onto the highway. Then I rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. And oh yeah, I’m wearing TWO hoodies in this one. We quickly discovered that our rental vehicle had ISSUES with the aircon in that, anywhere we went, the people in the front would be so hot they’d be starting to see mirages, while those in the back would be so cold they had to wear everyone’s sweaters at once. And by “those in the back” I mean “me”. And by “our rental vehicle” I mean “every car I’ve ever travelled in, ever.”

So, basically, this stage of the journey was less like On the Road, and more like being stuck in a car for hours with nothing to look at but a field of wheat. I tell a lie: there was actually plenty to look at. We saw oil fields. We saw military bases. We saw the most beautiful mountains and hills. We saw little one horse towns that looked like movie sets. We didn’t take photos of any of them, because by that stage we were all just staring straight ahead of us with glazed expressions, wondering when the hell the road would just END, already. My poor mum, meanwhile, had a killer headache, and had also started to feel car sick somewhere on those mountains, so she got to spend the rest of the journey trying not to throw up. Fun times!

It was all worth it, though. Because after almost 400 miles and many, many hours, we arrived at The Best Holiday Home in All the Land.

But that’s another post for another day.


“What’s your road, man?–holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”

- Jack Kerouac, On the Road


Note: not really.