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My 2019 Roadtrip Along the Pacific Coast of the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

2019 Roadtrip

In late July after visiting my kids at camp, I flew into LA, rented a car, and spent two weeks driving up the coast from there to Portland, OR. Along the way, I visited old friends and made some new ones, got to see how some of my favorite movie magic is performed, ate very well, spent some time in an old neighborhood, drove 1700 miles, communed with the tallest trees on Earth, and watched the ocean churn and swell and crash and froth for a very very long time. Here are some reflections and observations from the trip, from my vantage point a month later.

To start off the trip I spent a little less than three days in LA, essentially my first trip to the second largest city in the US (aside from 24 hours spent there in 2005). It was…fine? The food was good, beach was good, museums were good, but I guess I didn’t feel a whole lot of natural affinity for the place. Then again, three days isn’t a lot of time and I will go back to explore more for sure. I somehow didn’t even get tacos, an oversight I rectified once I got to Santa Barbara. But I was able to see a few friends, which trumped any possible attractions or sights I could have seen instead.

Aside from visiting friends, like 75% of the reason I wanted to go to LA was to see Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. I timed my visit for the weekend so it’d actually be running, and it did not disappoint. Could have watched it for hours:

Electric scooters (I used the ones from Lime and Lyft) made getting around LA a breeze. Cities need to figure out how to work these into their transportation infrastructure without clogging their sidewalks, keeping riders & pedestrians safe, theft/breakage, and not undermining other more accessible forms of public transportation.

2019 Roadtrip

Not much to say about Big Sur other than it’s gorgeous but crowded. Around each curve was a seemingly better view than the last.

The redwoods. Where do I even start? They were my absolute favorite part of the trip. I spent the better part of three days exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National and State Parks and even at the end of the third day, I was looking up at these 300-foot monsters and saying “wow!” It was like going to church. I can’t wait for my kids to spend some time exploring the redwood forests.

When I lived in SF from 2000-2002, my favorite place to visit was Muir Woods and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. When I swung by to visit on this trip, I was frustrated to learn from the friendly park ranger at the entrance that parking now requires advance reservations. So no Muir Woods for me this trip. Luckily there were many more redwoods to be had elsewhere…

Along almost the entire route of my trip (I stuck mostly to Highway 1 and the 101), I passed people working in fields. They were everywhere, toiling away to earn a hard living so their families could eat, so that they could pay their taxes, so that they could make a good life for their children. The news of ICE raids and the continued separation of children from their parents by the most inhumane administration in recent American history were never far from my mind.

Every summer when I was a kid, my dad, my sister, and I would take a roadtrip to a different part of the country: Florida, Virginia, Texas. Sometimes we took a car and camped along the way (with occasional motel stays) and other times we drove in a used motorhome my dad bought one year (approximately one of these). But the ocean was always a constant as a destination. My sister and I had grown up in Wisconsin but had never seen the ocean before, and after our first trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas, we were hooked. One year we drove out to California and up the coast to Oregon. I remember vividly the freezing cold ocean and the winding coastal roads — we almost got our camper stuck in a particularly tight hairpin curve. I loved those roadtrips…they are my absolute happiest memories from childhood. Driving some of those same curves in northern California this time around, I waved to pretty much any RV I saw, as if I were saying hello to my past teenaged self, who was getting a taste of what awaited him in this whole wide world.

2019 Roadtrip

When I was in the Bay Area, I got to fulfill a long-time dream of mine: visiting the Pixar campus in Emeryville. I gotta say, stepping into the main building, designed by Steve Jobs to foster collaboration among the company’s employees, gave me goosebumps. I could have spent hours looking at all of the sketches, storyboards, and ephemera from Incredibles II that they had hanging on the walls. I visited the recording studios, the screening rooms, the secret speakeasy, and saw a few of the animators’ wildly decorated cubicles. They told me how the process of making a movie at Pixar has changed from “laying down the track in front of a moving train” to “laying down the track in front of a moving train while also building the train”…it sounds like they’ve really worked hard on making their development process as asynchronous as possible. I was told that Pixar has an entire team just for making crowds now.

My tour guides showed me some of the company’s favorite misrendered scenes culled from an internal mailing list, including an amazing rain tornado around a car in Toy Story 4. I saw in action the AI spiders that were designed to weave the cobwebs in TS4.

Typically, cobwebs must be made by hand, but, because of the number of cobwebs which the crew wanted to include, Hosuk Chang (Sets Extensions Technical Director) wrote a program to create a group of artificial intelligence spiders to weave the cobwebs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

They showed me a scene from TS4 and how it was made — the different layers of shading and lighting, storyboards, effects, the different cameras and lenses that were available for the director’s use. One cool tidbit: the virtual cameras used in the Toy Story movies are human-scale and shot from human height so that the toys actually look like toys. Ok, another cool tidbit: the virtual cameras & lenses are based on actual cameras and actual lenses so the directors know what sort of depth of field, angle, and views they’re going to get with a given setup. The software is incredible — they showed me a screen with like 30 different camera/angle/lens/focus combinations so that a director can simultaneously watch a single scene “filmed” all those different ways and choose which shot they want to go with. I mean…

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera. I MEAN…

I also heard a few Steve Jobs stories that I’m going to keep to myself for now…they are not mine to tell. Thanks to Tom, Ralph, and Bob for showing me around and being so generous with their time. Ok, </pixar>

I had forgotten that driving though the groves of eucalyptus just north of San Francisco was so wonderfully fragrant. Way better than one of those Muji aroma diffusers. But I’ll tell you: I do not miss living in SF. I spent a lovely afternoon walking around my old neighborhood, wandering in Golden Gate Park, and stopping in to check out the Dahlia Garden (my favorite place in SF), but that was enough for another few years.

While driving, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird on audiobook; I’d never read or listened to it before. A favorite line: “Delete the adjectives and you’ll find the facts.” I’m not sure I’ve been successful in curbing my adjective use in this post.

2019 Roadtrip

At dinner one night, I asked an LA pal about work and she said she’d quit her bartending job to deliver weed — better schedule and pay. There were cannabis dispensaries everywhere in California and Oregon. The one I visited in central CA had a security guard outside checking for IDs and weapons, a double door system in the reception area, and once you got into the retail space, you could find out more about a product by placing it on a sensor and the info would appear on a nearby touchscreen. But at other dispensaries, like the one I walked past in Arcata, the door was wide open and you could just mosey on in. Let’s just say I slept pretty well on this trip.

After seeing the 45-minute-long line for lunch at the Tillamook Creamery (and a 20-minute-long line just for cheese samples), I decamped to a local Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper for the first time. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef.

2019 Roadtrip

A few small towns caught my attention. Cambria, CA was a cool little place I would gladly spend more time in — Moonstone Beach was beautiful. Los Alamos, CA is possibly the quaintest town I have ever seen — ate a great breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. I breezed through Arcata, CA and explored the downtown a bit, but it had such a cool vibe that I’d definitely go back for another look.

Sometimes the problem with going on vacation is that you have to take yourself along with you. No matter how astounding the sights, how engaging the catchups with friends, how relaxing it is, and how far away the rest of the world seems, your thoughts and anxieties and hang-ups come with you everywhere you go. Near the end of my trip, I splurged on a nice hotel room for two nights in Yachats, OR and mainly sat on the rocks and watched the waves crash. It was perfect. The ocean remains my ultimate happy place and I need to find a way to spend more (or perhaps all) of my time closer to it.

2019 Roadtrip

And then it was time to head home. You can check out a bunch of my photos from the trip on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. Thanks to my friends Alex, Michael, and Matt for the accommodations & fellowship along the way. This trip was not the once-in-a-lifetime experience that last year’s western roadtrip was, but I did feel similarly at its conclusion:

Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Thanks for following along with my journey.