We knew three things: we needed to travel 117 kilometres from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, this guy from Craiglist was definitely weird, and he was maybe our best bet in getting down there.
We had one day to figure it out. The hostel was only booked for two nights and everything else was booked. Plus Frisco was foggy as hell and we were after sun. The original plan was to rent a car, but our options seemed less promising than what we’d researched back home. If you could call a few quick google searched real planning. Two weeks ago Kal and I had ticked the last exam of our undergrad off our list. We were as fresh out of university as you could get and our bank accounts were good proof.
So we had to get creative, which is why we found ourselves texting random numbers off of craigslist ads offering rides down south. An ad of our own was floating up on the San Francisco wanted pages. The photo we used was from a hike we’d taken a few months before. The message we hoped it get across was; “we’re adventurous and fun, yet safe enough that you don’t have to worry we’ll mug you”. Looking back, the whole thing probably looked like one big juicy worm hanging on a dull hook. Just two young Canadian girls in desperate need of a ride.
This guy—whose named I can’t remember so let’s call him Carl—seemed promising at first. He was willing to leave whenever and take us wherever we needed to go. It was maybe a little too promising. We decided to meet him the night before to make sure he wasn’t crazy.
The boardwalk on Fisherman’s wharf was crowded. Signs blinked outside of stores and tourists bumped into each other. Carl said he was outside some burger place and it wasn’t long before we spotted a lone guy checking his phone. If we were hoping for a cute guy to charm us down to Santa Cruz we would have been greatly disappointed. But Kal had just gotten out of a long relationship and I was in love with my boyfriend.
He looked kind of dumb to be honest. It was something about the expression on his face. The blank stare of his eyes, and the way his mouth was always slightly open like a door someone forgot to shut. Carl reminded me of this guy I went to school with. I’d gone to preschool with him all the way to high school graduation. As a little kid he looked just like an old man. Funny thing was, by the time he got to high school he’d gotten the name Babyface. A real live Benjamin Button. Babyface was the sweetest guy you’d ever meet, but no one was going to him for help with their homework if you know what I mean.
That’s what Carl was like. He genuinely seemed happy to help us if we paid a small fee. We asked if he was willing to take the 101 even though it was slower because we’d always wanted to see the Californian coast. He said we could go any way we wanted. It was like talking to a taxi driver. I was a little suspicious so I asked him why he was headed there. Apparently driving people from A to B was just what he did. I don’t know if you can make much money off of it, but since Carl we came across a bunch of other people doing the same thing.
Before parting ways he said that we should check out the 420 celebration on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park the next day. That’s where he’d be.
We felt fine immediately after the meeting but the more distance we put between us the worse we felt about it. It was like buying a great pair of shoes that are a size too small; you know it’s not going to work out but you want it to so badly. By the time we got back to the hostel we knew we couldn’t drive an hour and a half with Carl.
We ended up taking the Bart and two buses to Santa Cruz. Double the time it takes to drive, but if something went wrong we could only blame ourselves. I had a knife on me, but the trip had just started and I was hoping not to have to use it yet.
Santa Cruz was cloudy. The young girl at the front desk of our hostel told us just the day before it had been so sunny she burned her arms. She lifted up her sweater sleeve for proof as though we wouldn’t believe her.
We only had one full day in this town, and before we let ourselves get antsy about finding a way further down the coast we thought we’d have a little fun. The boardwalk is exactly what it looks like in the movies, except there aren’t as many blonde babes skateboarding by in bikini tops. The ocean provides the perfect backdrop to the pastel rainbow of rides that zoom above your head and the flashing lights of each arcade sign beckoning you to feed it your coins. Bored kids sell churros at little booths. Volleyball players grunt and dive in the sand below.
If you ever want to clear your mind of something, I recommend getting on a roller coaster. The sheer velocity of the ride seemed to shake all my worries until they flew out of my ears. Any stress I’d had was flipped upside down every time we suddenly dropped. If only there was a roller coaster in every town we visited to help us laugh and scream at our fears.
I probably would have rode a roller coaster all the way down Big Sur if I could have. Car rentals were still too expensive and so we found ourselves emailing strangers off Craigslist once again. This time, two very promising people messaged back.
The first was actually two brothers. That night they would be arriving in Santa Cruz and taking off down the coast the next day.
The second was a young woman and her baby. The fact that she was a mother gave her big points on the non-threatening scale. The only thing that was perhaps off-putting was her spacey vibe, but we figured sage and moon stones was better than the pro-gun American type any day.
Still, we couldn’t decide. Anyone could turn out to be psycho.
The morning we had to leave was spent wandering the farmer’s market and texting potential rides. It felt like home browsing stalls of greens and fresh fruit, except so much more was in season. We skipped between offerings of ripe strawberries, shamelessly gorging ourselves on the stuff we were too cheap to buy until there were seeds stuck between each tooth.
Angelina, the mother, said she would be standing by the street outside the market. If we decided to ride with her she would be there until 11 o’clock. After we’d had our fill of the produce we discreetly cruised by to see if we could catch a glimpse.
The town bustled with people flowing in and out of the market, but one girl just stood there. She gazed at nothing in particular, comfortable with stillness. A colourful piece of fabric was wrapped around her small frame and in nestled into the nook on her chest was a baby. Every once and a while she looked down to smile at it with her cool green eyes. She looked up at us and into Kal’s eyes. We kept on walking.
We stopped as soon as we got around the corner. There was no doubt this was Angelina. She stood on that sidewalk like she was waiting for a bus that might never come—expectant, but in no way anxious. She was beautiful and seemed sweet and we knew we’d found our ride.
She said she thought it had been us when we walked by. Of course she had. She probably knew what phase the moon was currently in and what our greatest fear was. We felt bashful that we had to do a walk-by but knew she’d understand.
The other potential ride did not. After bailing on the other boys’ offer we received a fair amount of digital abuse. Because of us they’d made a detour they wouldn’t have otherwise made. if they got that mad about a slight change in plans who knew what else would have made them blow up.
Two young boys from San Louis Obispo were joining us in Angelina’s van. They were about twenty years old, and had thick dark hair and skin so tanned you knew it stuck all year long. There was a boyish excitement about them that you couldn’t help but be charmed by. For a month the two had been hitching rides in their home state, bathing in the freedom of the road. Some nights, they told us, were spent sleeping by dumpsters but even this was said with a grin.
The four of us piled into the back of Angelina’s van. Instead of a row of backseats we settled onto the mattress she’d thrown back there. Out of the group, she had the surest place to sleep that night. None of us minded of course. The setup was actually perfect for a long car ride. Sheer fabric covered the windows and the sunlight filtered in easily.
Her baby cried often, but we were all so pleased to have a trustworthy driver it didn’t matter she had to keep on pulling over to feed her or coo comfort to her. I remember fields and fields of iceberg lettuce. To this day when I eat the stuff I imagine I’m on the side of the road in the back of a van listening to a girl breastfeed.
Me and Kal’s last chance to rent a car was in Monterey. Big Sur was getting close, and we were going to need our own vehicle to enjoy it. Angelina dropped us off and we bid farewell to her and the boys.
After a quick bathroom break in an empty bakery we began our mission. The car rental shop next door was fully booked for the weekend. Two blocks down the other one was also completely full. We grudgingly spent the money on a taxi to the airport where six other rental places also told us we were shit out of luck.
That night was meant to be spent under the stars in front of the crashing waves of Big sur. Thanks to a big marathon that was happening that weekend in Big Sur, we found ourselves laying on a floral duvet in a motel in a town that sounds like a type of cheese.
Our one saving grace was a cheap bottle of white wine I’d kept from San Francisco. I almost didn’t hold on to it because of the weight. The damn thing had a cork and the room didn’t have a bottle opener so I finally found a use for my knife. The vino was too sweet and warm and had little bits of cork floating in it and was so good we could cry.