Day One in the Wine Country: Sideways

  1. Driving from Palo Alto to Buellton on a sunny Saturday morning (250 miles south), I pulled off 101 to hunt breakfast in Salinas. I got very lucky and stumbled on Dudley's on Main St. Their eggs benedict was superb - crispy english muffins, perfectly poached eggs, good sauce - as long as you ignore the awful (if huge) slab of ham.

  2. Main St., downtown Salina. The ocean blue sky sets off the pastel buildings. You'll find more pick-up trucks here than SUVs. Salinas is one of the breadbaskets, has been since before Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath". For anyone keeping score, the workers labor under much the same conditions now as in Steinbeck's day. Without irony, the town has erected a costly and oddly dull Steinbeck Museum. (Well, what can you museum about a writer?) (Yes, I meant to use "museum" as a verb there. I figure it's all the rage, verbing nouns.) The museum has a mock-up the pickup Steinbeck drove across country with his dog, as documented in his book "Travels with Charley."

  3. I arrive at my home for the weekend: the Day's Inn in Beullton. Despite the quaint windmill and pseudo-Danish paint job, it is a miserable hotel. Not recommended. Not even a mini-fridge in the room, and that despite a $116/night charge on the weekends. Apparently our heros from the movie Sideways stayed here at some point. Oddly, the local management doesn't trumpet it. They don't mention it at all. I think the Santa Barbara Wine Country actually wants to distance itself from that movie.

  4. Incredible but true: my Day's Inn is across the street from the world-famous-since-1924 pea-soup maker Andersen's. If you doubt their world-famous status, just ask them. (I knew it was world-famous since I have been seeing their billboards along 101 for at least 15 years. They advertise for 200 miles, north and south.) The pea soup is acceptable but (I say without modesty) not as good as mine. I think they just open cans and heat it in the microwave. It's not like they have a battery of cooks up at 4 a.m. to fix up a vat of pea soup for the day's tourists. No, they have a factory somewhere that supplies supermarkets as well as this restaurant. Having said that, I had pea soup there two nights in a row. Hey, it's comfort food.

  5. The 50-foot sign beckons hungry travelers from the main drag - it may even be visible from 101, which is just over there. Pardon my going on about Andersen's - it's as much part of California kitsch as Disney is.
  6. Apparently splitting peas is a violent business. Testified by a mural around back of the restaurant. The same calm ocean blue California sky shines on.

  7. There is a cutout, so people can put their faces in the plywood, and have their pictures taken, as pea splitter and pea splitter helper. No stone (or pea) is left unturned in the transformation of the humble pea soup into tourist attraction.

  8. My gorgeous California. OK, I'll share it. But this is what I see when I close my eyes: an oak tree against the blue, the chapparel and dried-out summer grasses, the green and golden field.

  9. The fresh green supple leaves look good enough to eat. But this is not salad! These are leaves laboring for the vine! If you look closely, you can spy tiny green clusters of grapes near the bottom of the leaves.

  10. About 25 feet of cactus out front, and maybe 10 feet along the side. This is a serious cactus patch, outside of Foley Estates (I think.)

  11. The sun washed out my attempt at a close-up of one of the cactus plants.

  12. Little cactus flowers!

  13. The far-away foothills aren't so far away in real life, for some reason ... the camera makes them farther. The Santa Barbara Wine Country is planted all over these hills, 250 miles south of San Francisco.

Marianne Mueller
Last modified: June 21, 2005