“Ride the highway west, baby” *
The end approaches. It’s the last big day on the road, to San Jose. Breakfast in-room is good and I’m on my way around 10.15 am. There’s a short trip south on US-395 before turning right onto NV-88 W. The state line comes into view and I’m then on CA-88 W. The road starts to climb towards the summit at Carson Pass and the scenery becomes breathtaking – the towering mountains of the Sierra Nevada, kaleidoscopes of colours from the trees and shrubs as Fall approaches, and a road that is constantly twisty and turning.
All too quickly it seems and I’m over the Carson Pass, at just under 8,500 feet high. Carson City was at 4,500 feet elevation but it still seems a quick rise to get this high. There are quite a lot of cars about as it’s the weekend. It’s obviously a popular spot for walkers as the roadsides are covered in parked cars.
It’s a bit different coming over the Sierra Nevada than the last time. The weather today is glorious with blue skies and 65º, and I get to see the mountains in all their splendour. The drive up to the summit is stunning in its beauty, and the road makes for a brilliant driving experience. I stop a few times for photos but there aren’t as many turnouts as I wanted, and almost all are on the other side of the road. This makes it tricky to stop as I have to cross the other lane and often there is a car behind me, plus one coming towards me, and all at 50-60 mph. There are many times I want to stop but can’t as I consider it unsafe to try.
Over the summit of Carson Pass the road becomes more densely lined with trees, only affording glimpses of the scenery below every now and again. I start to drop down and then climb again, crossing the Carson Spur summit at about 8,000 feet. The real descent now begins.
And what a drive it is. The gradient is a lot more shallow over a greater distance than the route up was. The road surface is superb, the width of each lane not too narrow, but the road hugs the mountainside closely. It follows all contours with hardly a straight section anywhere. It’s almost all sweeping curves, some tight, others long. There are up and down parts on the road but mostly downhill – obviously! Such is the quality of the road I’m averaging about 60 mph most of the time. Incredible.
The sun sends shafts of light through the over-arching tree canopy, creating an ever-changing patchwork of shadows and light on the road surface. Road signs show the elevation dropping all the time but this must be a long old drag coming up on this side. I think I could probably put the car in neutral and just coast down for miles and miles. But, obviously, don’t.
Towards Caples Lake
Back From The Wilderness
A few houses start to appear by the roadside. Civilisation beckons again. Then a couple of small settlements have shops and gas, the road gradient gently flattens out, and the forest starts to thin. Soon I find myself in Jackson. On Highway 49. I have been here before I recognise. Hwys 88 and 49 then run together north for a while before I, and Hwy 88, peel off left.
I’m soon in farming country, with vines and fruit trees, but I can’t quite make out what fruits they are. I remember a similar landscape on the way to Yosemite a couple of years ago. Progress is good but there’s still a long way to go. The route even takes me back onto Hwy 99 – south this time – for a while at Stockton. I can’t seem to keep away from that road. A short section on Hwy 4 and then it’s various Interstates all the way to San Jose.
The Maps route brings me into the city on I-680, a road I’ve not driven before, so something new. The traffic is heavy, and I come to a standstill a couple of times. But the other side is even worse with miles and miles of stationary bumper-to-bumper cars. Where are all these people going on Saturday mid-afternoon?
I get to the Four Points by Sheraton San Jose, my usual haunt, around 3.20 pm. I did research other hotels but nothing of note came up that was near a VTA stop. It’s so convenient for the Safeway for breakfast and getting to Levi’s Stadium. Plus with Uber and Lyft these days I can get to any bar I want, within reason. And this year I found a new bar for the evening!
Once checked in I re-pack my dirty clothes into my suitcase then check over the details for the rest of the time in the USA. I head off to Safeway to buy breakfast. It all works like clockwork, I’ve done it so many times now. This year however the VTA has developed an app and I can buy my train ticket via my phone, which is cool. Very nice and convenient.
Blues At The Poor House Bistro
Around 6.30 pm I dial-up fares to the Poor House Bistro on Uber and Lyft, opting for Lyft again. Within seconds my driver is 3 minutes away, and by the time I get downstairs and outside, he’s literally pulling up to a stop. In contrast to my previous Lyfts, this driver does not appear to understand English, as my attempts to talk to him get nowhere, so I give up. 10 minutes later he drops me off at the Bistro.
The Poor House Bistro is a Blues club and Kyle Rowland and his band are playing tonight. The place styles itself as “San Jose’s New Orleans Joint”. It’s a great shame I never found this place before in San Jose. Later, the barman Kennedy tells me they upped their marketing a couple of years ago. I tell him I did find them last year but the event was ticket-only and was sold out. When I enquired about the night this year by email from the UK, just to ensure I didn’t miss out again, I was told ticket-only gigs are rare and unusual – and got an apology – but I got confirmation that tonight’s event is free entry, as most are.
What a great place. It’s a bit run down and ramshackle but I guess that is deliberate to give it a true juke joint vibe in the middle of San Jose. Kennedy is a very friendly barman and we even high-five when I tell about my trip. It’s all very relaxed.
The music is very good as well. The food menu is New Orleans-based and I am not that impressed. But I have a cup of Shrimp Gumbo and the Poor House Po’ Boy sandwich. Both are good, and the sandwich is that huge I don’t finish it.
I chat with a lady about my age who came to the end of the bar where I’m sitting. I think she’s looking for ‘company’, as they say, because she keeps standing in front of me but she’s not attractive, physically or mentally, when we talk. Not that I’d be ‘interested’ anyway even if she was attractive. I bemoan the lack of music clubs in San Jose but she implies there are some, further out, and why don’t I just Uber there? Maybe there are other clubs – I’m pretty certain I’ve found all there is downtown – and I could have a re-think for next year. Ditto for the hotel.
The music was advertised as being from 6 until 10 pm, which I thought very early. I commented on this and the lady tells me it’s a curfew because the club is in a residential area. The lady eventually leaves, and as she does, she says she just wants to dance. It obviously dawned on her eventually that I’m not going to ask her, given that a number of folks have got up and are dancing in front of the stage by now.
Kyle Rowland and his band are very good, and Kyle is an excellent harp player. I only recognise one or two songs so assume the majority are originals. If so, they are also good. The set comes to a close at the allotted time. I bid farewell to Kennedy and order another Lyft, which again appears outside within a couple of minutes. The young lady driver also does not speak on the way back to the hotel.
The hotel gave me a couple of complimentary drinks vouchers at check-in so I acquire a Jim Beam on my return and retire to my room to write some diary before settling down to bed. What a great day! Absolutely superb drive, great scenery and some blues to close the evening. Magic!
* The End by The Doors
Videos below of the set that night