Splintered: Nausea on the California Coast
by Jon Groover

Fourteen months ago, my girlfriend abruptly ended our relationship of three years. Thankfully, I did not panic. Instead, I shaved my head, quit my job, packed a bag, and headed for the coast. I was in need of wisdom and experience. I wanted the relief of a cool ocean breeze. Not in Arizona, I decided, not in this forsaken desert. Surely, I would find what I needed in the natural beauty of California. What followed was not to be the proudest moment of my life, nor the most lucid, but I plowed into those California Redwoods a hopeful loser and returned a broken man.

I had never been alone on a trip before, but circumstances as they were I had an overwhelming need to leave the comforts of Tempe. It was midnight, but I was awake. I eagerly watched for the signs – LOS ANGELES 342 LAS VEGAS 247 BLYTHE 89. As the numbers decreased, my tobacco usage spiked to its highest level. I smoked cigarette after cigar after cigarette, hoping a bold nicotine infusion might assuage my weary, overextended nerves. I talked aloud over the rumble of the classic rock radio station and reassured myself that I had no need for a plan.

I settled in for the long haul around Quartzite, and before I knew it, I had hit the outskirts of San Bernardino. Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Bakersfield soon followed. By 10 a.m. I was nearing my target: San Simeon, a tiny beach town about 100 miles south of Monterey. I checked into the first hotel on the beach and with head to pillow, I slept.

In fact, I slept for 22 hours. An entire day lost, but I awoke refreshed. Out of bed, I showered and dressed for another day of driving. Climbing once more behind the wheel of my 2003 Honda Civic, I maneuvered the car around the parking lot and came to a stop before the road. A flash of metal streamed down my windshield and was followed by a dull /thwukk /as the object collided with the hood of my car. I jumped on the brakes and the car came to a sudden halt. My nicotine-crusted heart thumped loudly in my chest as I slid the car into park. I lit a cigarette and got out of the car to discover that my cell phone was the culprit. I had left my overpriced, bleeding edge (at the time), and brand new iPhone on the roof of my car. I quickly re-parked my car and finished my cigarette, all the while contemplating this next leg of my journey. The adrenaline and nicotine co-mingled and my mind was set: to the aquarium.

The restart proved much more successful. California Highway-1 winds alongside the Pacific coast for 136 miles from San Luis Obispo to Monterey; from San Simeon I would be driving 100 treacherous miles north. I drove past the entrance to Hearst Castle, making a mental note to return for a visit, and not long after, the golden hills of the central coast gave way to the majestic and ancient California Redwood trees. With the change in scenery came a change in terrain; suddenly the road was a mélange of twists and turns, ascents and free-falls, and the occasional unruly driver. I barreled onwards, deftly angling my car along cliffs, around 180 degree turns, and past apathetic cops, content that their presence was enough to slow any wayward speedster.

Arriving in Monterey, I decided that 10 a.m. was a reasonable time for a drink and procured a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s from a liquor store downtown. Bottle safely stowed in the seat of my pants, I paid for my ticket and prepared to enter the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium for the third time in my life. I had not returned since the age of 9, over a decade ago. The aquarium, in those days, had fascinated and excited me. My previous aquatic encounters were during school field-trips and even the nearly two-hour bus ride felt magical. The ticket-taker stamped my hand; I was on my way.

Luckily, I had arrived on a Wednesday during summer vacation, and as such, the aquarium was fairly empty. Japanese tourists boldly embraced stereotype and snapped pictures of relatives with ocean predator and prey. Children raced each other the length of the blue whale skeleton hanging in the entry way to the chagrin of parents and security alike. As the other patrons admired docile tiger sharks and colorful reef fish, I stole furtive swigs from my bottle. Jack Daniel and I reintroduced ourselves and by all accounts, we were getting along swimmingly. My fascination with the aquarium was reignited with every new attraction and as I stumbled to-and-fro, I ignored the collective disapproval in my disheveled appearance and horrid, alcoholic breath. Soon, my bottle was spent. I visited the stingray exhibit on my way out and reveled at the juxtaposition of the animal’s silky but leathery skin. Fulfilled and dizzy, I left.

I had exceeded half-cocked and my stomach heaved as I headed south out of the city. The highway wound past Pebble Beach and off the peninsula, plunging me headlong back into the twists and turns of the coast. On my right, I faced a 200-foot drop into the ocean; to the left, the massive redwoods pushed me farther and farther off the coast. The various stimulants and depressants of the day (mostly the depressants) collided as I took each sharp corner and flew down every hill. The concoction was soon too much and as the vomit hit my lap, I missed a right turn.

My car pummeled the makeshift wire barrier but it held enough to keep me alive. The initial impact against the tension of the wire and posts sent the rear of my car careening into a tree and then quickly into a second. By some miracle, I walked away nearly unscathed, with only a few bruises and a concussion to show for my misdeeds. I was hastily handcuffed and spent the night in jail. Four days later my car was fixed. I raced for the safety of the desert.

Jon:  I am a 23-year old student working on my Bachelor's degree in Education. I live in Tempe, Arizona.
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