The Toyota Yaris and Other California Adventures
We took a jaunt to Las Gatos, California for Thanksgiving. Due to several factors I needn’t go into, we flew into Sacramento rather than San Jose. San Jose would have been much closer, but choosing Sacramento led to several fun adventures.
For the busiest travel day of the year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving proved to be much less of a trial than imagined. We splurged on a town car to get to SeaTac, and it arrived on time and got to the airport with little drama. Alaska Airlines had every man jack on duty, and baggage and ticket processing went smoothly and quickly. The TSA personnel were all friendly and efficient. Of course, it was 4am, and that might have helped.
The Sacramento airport, according to others, is never crowded, and that proved to be the case again. Soon we were on the road in our Hertz rental, a Toyota Yaris. The Yaris is the bottom feeder of the Toyota lineup, a very small four door sedan with an engine comprised of several eager hamsters spinning in a small cage. Perhaps. I never lifted the hood.
From Sacramento, I chose a longer way to Las Gatos, repeating the route I’d used last summer on my motorcycle. I remembered it as a fantastic ride, and wanted to repeat the experience in a car. Thus we found ourselves cruising South on I-5 – past Stockton and all the way down to Santa Nella, where a cut-off takes you to 152 and West to Gilroy.
I spent several minutes on I-5 trying to find the cruise control on the Yaris, as my arthritic and damaged right knee enjoys the rest that cruise control provides. I could not believe that a 2016 model car does not have cruise control. Finally, I asked Susan to open the glove compartment, on the slim chance that the owner’s manual was still in the car, which it often is not in a rental. Voila – an owner’s manual. But sure enough – no cruise control. Also no power mirrors, and I never remembered, in 5 days of trying, to adjust the right door mirror.
No matter, as the Yaris proved to be a fine highway machine. The hamsters were able to maintain the California freeway pace, which is an indicated 75-80mph. I am sure speeding tickets are given in California, but you must have to try pretty hard.
My original concept was to pause for lunch at the In ‘n Out burger emporium in Santa Fennel, as I had stopped there last summer, but it was soon obvious that we were both too hungry for that. Thanks to Susan’s phone, we located one in Stockton, and peeled off the freeway for lunch.
I’d heard of the In ‘n Out chain for years of course, as has any car or motorcycle enthusiast. The original owner focused on hot rods and motorcycles as his core demographic, which led to great success. I was astonished last summer to find that it more than lived up to the hype, as so often a first visit to a famed store brand results in disappointment. Susan had never been, and she was skeptical.
Our first clue was a line of cars through the parking lot and winding around to the street. This proved to be the line for the drive-through, with an employee taking orders and sending them ahead. We parked and walked inside to a combination party and chaos atmosphere. If you are new, there are three ordering options, labeled 1, 2, and 3. We found out later that there are other options, but you need to be “in the know” to select them. No matter, as a 1 for me and a 3 for Susan was fine. Then we stood and watched with others as a crew of about 1,000 employees filled orders from both inside and outside as fast as they could, which was pretty fast.
Susan noticed two Stockton police officers waiting, and as she does with all officers, she approached them and thanked them for their service. This always goes well, and led to a conversation about the crowd. The officers told her it was like this every day, and they usually did not stop at this hour, but like us, they were starving.
Soon we were outside in the sun enjoying fine dining. Susan was astonished. Lettuce and tomato that appeared to have been harvested as we arrived, and fries that were piping hot. Delicious burgers as well. It occurred to me and an “In ‘n Out” motorcycle tour of California would be a good idea.
Further South we cruised by the rest area where I’d injured myself tripping off the bike last summer, as well as an interesting chat with some people who’d just had their car broken into. Then we were off to the West on 152. Spectacular scenery and a highway with lots of elevation changes and hundreds of curves. A perfect motorcycle road, and my memory had served me well.
In due time we reached Gilroy and then Watsonville, where I got off-course last summer. We managed to mess up again, and found ourselves on a nice meandering country road outside of Watsonville that was clearly going in a wonderful direction. Just not the right one. Again to Susan’s phone, and we eventually got back on track and aimed toward Las Gatos.
After a very long drive, I was surprised to find that a Toyota Yaris also has fantastic seats, which was a fine bonus. If you need to rent a car, and prefer as we do the smallest car that will do the job, I recommend the Yaris. The steering was light, as was the throttle, which my knee appreciated. To be sure, on a winding road driven with gusto I think the front end traction would go away very quickly and you would understeer into a ditch, However, who in their right mind would want to try hard in a Yaris? The skinny tires and light weight also meant that laying off the gas as traffic slowed had almost no effect for a very long time. I have never driven a car that coasts that well!
Thanksgiving was a great pleasure, thanks to the hospitality of Susan’s sister Meghan and her husband Rich and sons Sam and Quinn. A mixed bag of a dozen relatives and friends dined sumptuously.
The day after Thanksgiving was hilarious. Rich and Meghan are both WSU graduates. Both of our children graduated from the U of W, and Susan and I have earned many post graduate credits there. I am not a big fan of UW (or any) football, but nevertheless, the game was on. Meghan had to work, so Susan and I lolled in a room with an enormous TV. Rich was cooking various things in the kitchen, where a second TV kept him up to speed. His bellowed anguish as things began poorly for the Cougars was amazing, and then things got worse. Added to this were text messages flying back and forth to Pullman, where Susan’s brother Denis is the county prosecutor. He was threatening to have the entire UW team arrested; particularly the guy that caught the first two touchdown passes. He was jesting. I think. I have never been so entertained by a football game, although it was a task trying to be polite and not laugh out loud too often as another pained cry came from the kitchen.
In between other events I spent time outside smoking my pipe and swapping tales with Steve, the boyfriend of Rich’s sister. Steve had more wild motorcycle stories than I do, all told with the gifts of a born story teller. Most of his tales from long ago involved combinations of high speed, alcohol, and drugs, whereas all of mine lack the latter two. In one of them he used a phrase I must save for the next novel. “Back then I was prone to cursing and wickedness.” What a great line!
On Friday night we went out to a country place with live music that started with lessons in two step country dancing. I had great misgivings about this, as I do not like to dance, particularly with women I’m not married to, and I seem utterly lacking in talent. Fortunately for me, my damaged knee sent me a memo that I needed to stop trying, and Meghan the physical therapist not only agreed but ordered me to stop.
Whew! I enjoyed sitting and watching much more, and took in the scene of line dancing, two-step, swing dancing, a variegated crowd, and even a mechanical bull back in the corner. All recorded in my head for possible future use, while Susan and the others danced for quite some time.
First time in my life I have ever functioned as the “designated driver,” and we drove back to Las Gatos in the Yaris. I never realized that people who have had some wine or beer and had a great time are so loud!
Saturday brought a new adventure. We drove two cars to Sacramento to a hotel, as Sam was visiting his girlfriend who lives there. We had a fantastic dinner with her parents and sister.
Here’s a bit of Seattle snobbery. We were told ahead of time that dinner would be salmon. Being from Seattle, we are used to access to great salmon, and we thought “Salmon? In Sacramento?” Shows what we know. The salmon in question had been caught by Dad in Alaska. Delicious.
We flew home on Sunday, and again it was not as crowded as feared. Good to be home.
Copyright 2016 David Preston