a drive up interstate 5 to danville, california

Sunday, January 5: This morning, Steph drives me to Enterprise Rental Car at Burbank Airport, where I rent a Hyundai Elantra for the rest of my time in California.  She encourages me to drive up Highway 101, but when I put my friend Jayne’s Danville address in my GPS, I’m led to Interstate 5, which takes me a fast shot (6 hours) through the dust bowl of California.

Hyundai Elantra ~ mine for 8 days
Hyundai Elantra ~ mine for 8 days

Near Fresno, I pass the Harris Cattle Ranch, California’s largest beef producer and the largest ranch on the West Coast of the USA, producing 150 million pounds of beef per year in 2010 (Wikipedia: Harris Ranch).  Cows stand in mucky holding pens and open shelters in a sprawling complex sitting on brittle and arid landscape as far as the eye can see.  The smells of manure and stinky cow’s breath permeate the air as I drive past.

On this long drive along California’s dusty inland route, I pass diagonal rows of spindly trees, fallow almond and orange orchards; the pathways between the trees are swept clean except for sprinklings of yellowed blossoms.  To the west, beige fields dotted with cactus and star thistle weed stretch out to a horizon ending at naked rumpled mountains.  Corrugated metal industrial buildings periodically punctuate the monotony of the landscape.  Driving through, I can’t help think of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

Debates about water rights rage on billboards along the road: Congress created the Dust Bowl! – Higher Food Cost! – Farm Water Cut: 50% 2010. – Water=Jobs.

Water and water rights are among the state’s divisive political issues. Lacking reliable dry season rainfall, water is limited in the most populous U.S. state. An ongoing debate is whether the state should increase the redistribution of water to its large agricultural and urban sectors, or increase conservation and preserve the natural ecosystems of the water sources (Wikipedia: Water in California).

As I pass a baby blue silo, Pink Floyd sings “Teacher, leave those kids alone” on my radio.  Later I pass orange and mandarin groves beside the San Luis Canal of the California Aqueduct, part of the state’s interconnected water system that serves over 30 million people and irrigates over 5 million acres of farmland. The canals remind me of Oman’s falaj system, except these canals are wide enough and big enough to be boat-worthy.

Jimmy Buffett sings “The Russians had plutonium, the sailors wanted beer,” as I drive past more orchards of white barked trees, bordered by signs: Apricot Wine. – Corn Maze.

Much like the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, I can imagine the California farmers along Route 5 having dozens of words for brown: khaki, umber, burnt sienna, tawny, toast, coffee, chestnut, beige, amber.

As the sun drops in the sky, the fields and orchards take on a lavender hue, and I can see wind farms on ridge tops, windmills in frozen cartwheels, asleep for today.  Electrical towers and industrial plants, including the Safeway headquarters in Pleasanton, show me I’m getting close to my destination, the Town of Danville, one of the wealthiest suburbs of Oakland and San Francisco.

Downton Abbey!
Downton Abbey!

I make my way to Jayne’s condo, where we reunite for the first time since our trip to India in March of 2011 (catbird in south asia). Though we are best of friends, we don’t see much of each other face-to-face, though we talk by phone several times a week and have done so for the last 10 years. We catch up, have some dinner, then head to the lovely home of one of her British friends to watch the opening episode of the new season of Downton Abbey.  What fun to watch the quintessentially British show with a bunch of Brits. 🙂

Downton Abbey :-)
Downton Abbey 🙂

Tomorrow, we’ll head to Monterey.


32 thoughts on “a drive up interstate 5 to danville, california

  1. I like the descriptive prose of your drive along Interstate 5 // naked rumpled mountains // one road I didn’t drive on except south of LA into San Diego. I do hope you drove back along Highway 101 or better still Highway 1 – the quintessential American Road Trip 🙂
    Jude xx

    1. Thanks so much, Jude. I’m glad you like my prose; since I didn’t have any pics (driving like crazy!), I worked a little harder to observe and take notes (while driving – haha)! I did drive down Highway 101 and some of 1 on the way back down. I’ve been on all of Hwy 1 about 30+ years ago, but sadly didn’t have time on this trip to do it as I would have liked to. Posts will follow, eventually. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Suzanne. Since my goal going up was to get to San Francisco as quickly as possible and since I was on a major highway, it would have been counterproductive to stop and take pics. Instead, I took notes (while driving!!) and worked hard to use just words to tell the story. Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Carol. Like I said in another comment, it would have been too much trouble to stop for pictures, so instead I did as the travel writing course recommended and took notes (while driving!). I’ve been reading a lot from other travel writers lately; Paul Theroux recommends a travel writer NEVER take a camera, only a notebook. I can see how I get lazy when I have a camera along; I rely on the camera to see and remember things for me. You’ll find in my other California posts that I relied on the camera too much, and I didn’t take notes, so many details are lost. I never did pitch an article to anyone about this trip because I could never come up with an angle, sadly. 🙂

      1. Yes, I hope so. I was getting ready to pitch to Washington Post Travel Section, but they get so many submissions they only want completed manuscripts!! And no story on a trip over a year old. That cuts out almost all of my travel. So disappointing! I’m trying to debate whether to go ahead and write it and send it anyway, despite the odds being against me.

      2. Thanks, Carol. I’ll probably take you up on that soon. I have a story in mind from my trip to India; from my blog I have 12,000 words!! Washington Post would only want a 1900 word story. A lot of condensing and rewriting to do!

      3. I’ve already got the hook in mind. I like it a lot; that was a crazy trip with lots of local color; I’m hoping someone will think it’s good enough that they’ll be willing the waive the “trip within the last year” rule. Besides, some places really are timeless. I think a story in India from 3 years ago would be the same as what could happen there today, at least in Varanasi and Rishikesh. 🙂

      4. I just had another thought. When you finished your course were you invited to join the Facebook group of graduates. If you did and you haven’t, you really should because there is always information about writing opportunities, particularly for Australian publications. You would have a whole set of American stories that people here don’t.

  2. Lovely writing! And I hat chuckle at your observation that folks in that part of California must have so many words for brown. We felt that way on our recent trip onto some of Ecuador’s highest volcanic peaks. Wonderful to have friends with whom to travel. Enjoy your visit!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    1. Thanks so much, Kathy. I’m glad you got a chuckle out of my “brown words” and that you found something you could relate to on the volcanic peaks of Ecuador. Planning to read your post right now! 🙂 Hugs back to you! xxx

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