I knew its name before I knew what it looked like. It was this mythical road, with its sands and bluffs and palisades. I knew it from The Mamas & the Papas, who played from the TV speakers as I huddled in a woolen sweater atop our hearth, dragged my frozen fingertips across the fireplace screen, a winter’s day. What is California? What is–hummin’ thumbin’ hitchin’ and wishin’? What is the Pacific Coast Highway?
It is, quite possibly, my favorite part of the Golden State.
I like to trace the dawns and dusks of the world while driving along it. The West Coast horizon, brilliantly blue, swallows up the day until I can map out the constellations of the night. The ocean becomes a void, blinking streetlamps and cities on one side and pitch black on the other. Yawning emptiness and yawning driver, sleepy and hypnotized by this world of absence. I would spend ages driving circles on the highway.
And with friends! Is there anything better in the world? We roll the car windows down. The wind scuttles in and tugs at our hair, muffles our karaoke and turns our cheeks so pink we match the blushing skyline, sun-kissed and warm-blooded. I am flushed with joy. Laughter comes easy in this vehicle. We are friends directionless and destinationless. We sing to the sound of neon. This is my perfect Friday night.
And time! It passes slowly on the PCH. The highway knows we are not there to stay, knows we would do anything to stay, and strives to keep us. ETAs last longer, lyrics stretch endlessly and sunsets linger in mercury for hours and hours. How can we leave this highway, when the light has not left the day? We must drive onward. We must queue another song. We must let the windows down, invite the briny air in and drive drive drive.
I love the way the flute spills into our laps, where we clutch water bottles and sweatshirts and each other, basking in our gratitude for not needing dreams. We are in California. We are on the Pacific Coast Highway. Safe and warm, where we will stay.
After midterms my roommate asks if I want to rent a Zipcar, to “go wherever.”
“Of course,” I say. “Drive until we end up someplace.”
We end up at a gas station. Then In-N-Out. Then the Pacific Coast Highway.
“Well,” my roommate says, “Where else?”
And I reply, buoyant, “Where else.”