El Camino Real and Pulling a Gus

The royal road, stripped of it’s original name “El Camino Real”, and designated 101, route 1, the Coastal Highway, made virtually obsolete except for the towns and communities that still dot its’ route, mostly catering for tourists and hippies, it’s job taken over by the staid, dull, ugly, boring 5. I don’t care if I never see that old 5 again, it is dull dull dull. Four lanes of playing chicken with semis and drunks, sunday drivers, and liars who amble along at 80mph with their blinkers perpetually indicating they are changing lanes, whilst only doing so at the most inopportune moment, sending you for the brakes or the gas to get out of their dumbass way. The scenery passes by major towns that merge into much of a muchess after a while. The 101 is another road, a different matter, another proposition entirely.

The old El Camino Real, 101, Oregon. Photo by The Paltry Sum. Do not use without permission

The Californian portion I have written about already in earlier posts, and the crossing from Astoria to Washington State, but neglected the part of it I know best. Oregon and I have a love hate relationship. I did not gel with it’s fiercely pioneer attitude, and they hardly opened their arms to me, unlike California or Washington when I was up there. Oregon wanted to keep me as outsider, and I was happy enough to stay there looking in. I knew I was in for a treat, driving the southern portion of the 101, stopping for ice coffee and freezees, or whatever they call ice cream in whatever dairy queen type parlor we had stopped at. It was early enough in the trip, Pre Stroke, that we had a bit of cash for treats and fun. I lined up behind a man with dark bronze skin and dark hair. The hard faced blonde, of which there are many in Oregon’s more country areas, asked him for his name. He gave an unremarkable name, in an unremarkable accent I recognized from Billy’s friends on the Rez. What was remarkable was her reply. She asked him where HE was from. I stood there aghast. She was treating him like a foreigner in his own land. Gus, as he introduced himself, with considerable grace, told her he was born not far from there, was an Oregonian himself. She dug her hole deeper and deeper. He was considered alien, foreign to this woman and she made it clear. I wanted to grab her by her nylon uniform, scream at her “You are the interloper, it’s HIS fucking land, woman!” I didn’t…it isn’t me. I just stood and gawped goldfish uselessly waiting to ask this women to make me an ice coffee and three strawberry banana icecreams, one without cream. I wanted to apologize to Gus. I just threw him a look that I hoped said sorry or something like it. Gus waited for his order, as I ordered. Of course I opened my mouth and spoke and she was astounded. Two! Two foreigners, two outsiders in her establishment, oh she reassured me, she just Loved how I spoke, it was such a trip, where was I from? I asked her to guess. Gus smirked. Australia? United Kingdom? South Africa? Oh oh…she had it she had it….French Canadian! I just smiled, gave her cash, took my order and bade good afternoon to the restrained Gus. From then on, on the road being restrained in the face of ignorance was to be known as “Pulling a Gus.” I hope this would please him. I Gus’d my way up the highway, all the way from Cresent City to Astoria. I longed for a conversation that was just a conversation and not a demand for my history, my life story, my reasons for my feet being on the bit of land they happened to be standing on. I longed for an easy exchange. I would not get it until fucking Washington State.

Tsunami Gallery, Oregon Coast running statue

Pirate themed coffee houses, stunted trees shaped by the wind and the rain, dunes and swamps, pools and beaches, sea and surf and devil’s cauldrons. Statues exchanging books running outside art galleries in a perpetual rush. Shops selling surfboards, shops selling weed, shops selling kites and pancakes and hiring out ATV’s for the day. Antiques and gas stands, taffy and sea salt, mushroom buyers and vape shops. Road that is good, road that is safe, road that is crumbling, road that is twisted and slanted, none of it with enough room for two lanes of traffic, semis and campers and bicycles who take up three quarters of the road with no regard for their future life or yours.

The Brookings southern portion of the 101 is pretty boring, a heavily south of the border flavored town, with a few large shops and a drier, warmer climate. It boasts one of the most hair-raising sections of road, that seems continually to be in a state of repair, reduced to one crumbling narrow lane, bordered by angry seas, potholes and cliff faces seeking to push you over the edge into oblivion. This section makes your heartrate rise, you stomach sink with adrenaline and fear, it is not fit for large vehicles, but there you are, driving it anyway. Once you get to Coos Bay, things get more industrial, bridges and shipping and lumber yards ahoy. It is this part between here and Florence that I love. Shady trees, the nicest state parks, alien sand dunes, and windswept mild summers with wet winters that go on forever.

I thought it would never end, but it was over before I realized it was dying in the late fall cool, by a lake in Oregon, the old 1 pushing me back to the South, to San Francisco that sits on the 101, it’s the road’s crowning glory, and artery opening up to the city of the Giants and the Warriors and the beats and the hippies. I didn’t even have a flower for my hair.


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