250 miles down and 250 miles back up, all in one long day. Throw in a client meeting on a construction site, perched above the pretty valley of Los Olivos, and a buffet lunch with an interior designer, in an Indian Casino near Santa Ynez, and you'd be surprised we still had energy and an appetite for a late dinner in a restaurant near home, before falling into bed last night. Today we are a bit road-stunned. My knees are stiff from sitting in the same position for hours and I regret that second carafe of wine we shared, but not for one minute the escargot. Any dish that requires one to dip crusty French bread in garlic flavored melted butter is top of my "can I have some more" list.
We hit the road early'ish yesterday morning and passed south, through Steinbeck Country swathed in skeins of mist. Newly furrowed arable land stretched out on either side of the highway. There were richer pockets punctuating the scenery with white post and rail fences and horses, and scrubby bad-lands animated only by the nodding heads of the occasional oil-well pump, watched over by a couple of tanks at the entrance to the National Guard training camp.
The Madonna Inn, garish pink, rococo landmark, marking passage towards Southern California, and all things tasteful (?) flashed by and we were soon driving in sight of the Pacific Ocean. Although the day had warmed to T-shirt weather and the hills were greener than ours, the grape vines covering the rolling landscape were still dormant, holding the hills in place with row after endless row of perfectly spaced brown stitches.
Signs for Santa Maria meant it was time to watch for our turn-off. The infestation of giant toadstools ahead morphed into the rotund silhouettes of citrus trees, as we drew closer. Squat forms, densely packed with glossy green foliage and peppered with day-glow orange orbs.
We like Los Olivos, a small town north of Santa Barbara. There is an affluent community with many who dabble in wine growing and horse breeding and they've been good clients. We were saddened that almost all of the art galleries have been pushed out by wine tasting establishments, attracted by the exposure given in the movie Sideways, and willing to bid higher for rents than more bohemian businesses can afford.
After our construction site meeting, the designer proposed that we go to lunch together. We had planned to treat ourselves to a nice restaurant on our travels and the "all you can eat" buffet in the bowels of an Indian Casino, was not quite what we had in mind. It was interesting, if you like pasty faced retirees indoors on a beautiful afternoon. In a windowless atmosphere, grey with cigarette smoke and churning with the noise of the slot machines, there was certainly no shortage of food. It was cheap too, which may have been her main motivation, although she was very familiar with the molten chocolate brownie dessert.
It wouldn't be right to leave out news of our new foster dog. Emma is a Collie/Labrador mix who was found running along the side of a busy road. One of the shelter employees sent these sad photos to collie rescue in November and we posted her on the web and all crossed our fingers that she would be adopted. Emma's time was up between Christmas and New Year but they agreed to hold her for us until we could organize transportation. Naturally she was miles from anywhere.