THIS IS WHAT you need to know before planning an automobile trip in our beloved state: it can be a long tedious drive between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Of course it can be an even longer but much less tedious trip. There are five basic approaches to the problem, as far as I know:
•The very long way across the desert, up the east side of the Sierra, and then west across one of the passesThere's another route, but I'll keep that to myself for the moment. We like Highway 101, because we like a few towns, cafés, and restaurants along the way, but that turns it into a two-day drive. Today we're in a hurry, so we take Highway 5, leaving Los Angeles about 12:30 in the afternoon, arriving home nine hours later. (We live a good hour north of San Francisco.)
•Across the dread Grapevine to the bleak Central Valley, then up Highway 99 toward Sacramento, then west
•The same, but the much faster Highway 5 to the storied Altamont Pass, then through the suburbs
•Over to the coast and up Highway 101, perhaps stopping at the old Spanish Missions along the way
•Over to the coast and up Highway 1, which can be a spectacular road, the blue Pacific to your left the entire distance
The main problem with Highway 5, apart from the tedium of its 300 miles of flat straight two-lane asphalt, is that it offers no rewarding food or beverage. On this trip, though, we tried a little harder, and lowered our requirements a bit. There is a Starbuck's in Lebec, where Highways 5 and 99 diverge — in fact there are two: and while they do not consistently serve my very favorite coffee their product is better than the stuff you get from vending machines at highway rest stops.
And lo and behold there is an In-N-Out Burger in Kettleman City. We do not often eat hamburgers. We have never been in a DQ or a Denny's or a Jack In The Box, and the only Big Mac I've ever had was from the Macdonalds on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. But we do make an exception, in trying times, for this chain, whose beef has never been frozen, whose buns are made of flour, and whose lettuce and onions and tomatoes seem like food.
We ordered identically, my contessa and I: an ordinary hamburger, yes sliced onion please, and that small basket of French fries. I'm told this added up to about 700 calories. It kept us alive until we got home, when we had some fruit and a whisky.
•In-N-Out Burger, 33464 Bernard Drive, Kettleman City; 800-786-2149 (but there's an app for it)