If you live on the West Coast, it is probably just a matter of time before you make a trip from California to Washington or vice versa. If you have children, you may even be foolishly thinking of driving to save on airfare.
If you are one of this hapless group, you are in luck. Being a masochist myself and having driven up and down the West Coast several times, I have some expert advice to make your trip less eventful than mine have been.
There are three main areas to consider while on a West Coast road trip: speed limits, rest stops, and motels.
We can make this short and simple. Carefully obey the speed limit signs in Washington and Oregon, and ignore them completely in California.
Let me explain. Seldom do you get to see tax dollars at work as effectively as in the enforcement of speed limits in Washington and Oregon, assisted by state-of-the-art radar capable of determining your speed to a horrifying degree of accuracy.
Since I have personally and unsuccessfully tested the commonly accepted belief that “five miles over the speed limit is always okay,” I can confirm that the number 60 does indeed mean 60 in the Northwest.
However, in California the English language changes. Both 60 and 70 mean the same thing: 80. If you are not doing 80, you better be in the right lane. There, you might charitably be allowed to loaf along at seventy-five, so long as there are no other cars behind you. Just ignore the California Highway Patrol cars passing you in the left lane since you won’t get so much as a glance. That is, unless you’re doing less than 70 and then the look you’ll get will be because they think you’re obstructing traffic.
For those of you with children, the best advice here is to simply pull in at every rest stop, regardless of whether anyone feels the need. This will not prevent at least one of the kids from saying “I have to go,” when you’re forty miles from the next rest stop, but it will give you the pleasure of replying “Why didn’t you go at the last stop like I told you?”
If this doesn’t work, an absolutely guaranteed method is to loudly announce, “Okay, if you have to go that bad we’ll just pull off the road at the next clump of bushes.”
Then, hit your brakes suggestively and watch their faces, especially if you have teenagers. The look you’ll get will be exactly the same as if you told them to go to school in their underwear.
The disadvantage of the stop-at-every-rest-stop approach is that distances in between can vary widely, resulting in a sporadic travel schedule with corresponding periods of whining. For this reason, the stop-at-every-clump-of-bushes method is better but only works up to about age three. Or, when the truly desperate stage is reached.
The key item to remember here is that the odds you’ll need a reservation are inversely proportional to the nightly room rate. In other words, the cheaper the motel, the faster they fill up.
This makes sense because just who is the typical customer needing a motel room on Interstate 5? It’s a family with kids People without children can afford to fly. And families with children do not want to pay $150 a night for a motel room in which they will simply drop, exhausted, after twelve hours on the road, only to get up at six the next morning for another twelve hours.
This is why there is always room at the Ritz Motor Hotel, while at Motel Six the light they advertise they’ll leave on for you usually says “no vacancy.”
A word of caution, though. Once the room rate drops low enough, the quality is such that reservations are once again not needed. If the rate is under fifty dollars and there is plenty of room, you’d better continue looking unless you carry a can of Raid and a firearm.
Prepared with the above information, you stand a good chance of arriving at your destination, either north or south, with some bit of your sanity still intact. You’ll need it for the return trip. Just remember where the best clumps of bushes are located.