Driving off from Pacifica yesterday morning I got a warning notice on the dashboard of low pressure in the offside rear tyre. I assumed – hoped – it was an aberration and just pumped the pressure back up at a gas station before setting off down the PCH. I thought I’d better check it this morning even though I’m not planning to use the car today, just in case. And the problem has come back, so I must have a slow puncture. I obviously need to get it fixed because I’ve still got more than 1000 miles to go.
But first I grab breakfast in the motel, provided as part of the deal. It’s only cereals, yoghurt, breads and cakes plus drinks but it’s quite serviceable and fills me up. Back in my room I ring the roadside breakdown service whose cover I thankfully took out for the first time ever when renting a car in the US. It was $75 at the airport car rental desk and I took it on the advice of the server there. I was convinced that in all my previous trips that breakdown cover was included: the rental guy did not disagree but says that the state of the roads in the US has got so bad these days that no rental companies include it anymore, all of them now offering this additional, extra cost cover. Of course you don’t have to take it but he pointed out to me what the cost of calling out a breakdown truck and getting say – oh, the irony now of his choice of problem – a simple puncture fixed ($100s) and that for $75 everything would be covered – so I went ahead and took it. Thank heavens I did. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a problem on a rental car in over 30 years of travelling to the States, and now it’s happened, I’m covered!
The first option presented to me by the breakdown service is a car swap: there’s an Alamo depot at Monterey Peninsula Airport, just 3 miles away. But when he checks, they have no cars available until 4 pm. I’d like to get the problem resolved now though – it’s still only 10 am – so instead he finds me a tyre service depot just up the road in Pacific Grove. I get a Purchase Order number to cover the repair and off I go, driving carefully on a low tyre. I park up outside the depot and go into reception, explaining the issue and background. Whereupon the guy behind the counter refuses point-blank to serve me. He explains that he got so fed up with car rental companies taking up to 8 or 9 months or even longer to settle invoices for rental repairs that he now refuses to do business with them. Pity no-one told the breakdown service, or perhaps their system is out of date. Either way, there is no way he will budge. He tells me that all the other local repair depots also now refuse to do business with rentals because of the same lack of timely payment. In other words he telling me there’s no point in going elsewhere!
I drive back to the hotel and call up the breakdown service again. There’s apologies all round for my wasted trip and so I now ask for the car swap. He rings the airport depot again but he can’t get through. However because I don’t want to be constrained for the rest of the day in having to get to the airport for 4 pm, we agree that I will turn up in the morning and he will send a message to the airport depot to this effect. So all appears agreed, although his statement that the airport “should” have some cars according to the system is not the guarantee I’m looking for, but there’s not a lot else I can do at this moment. So having wasted a morning, around noon I finally head off (walking) into Monterey town. I’m not happy. But I do stop at a shop and buy a small bottle opener…
Into Monterey Town
Fisherman’s Wharf is tat shops galore with restaurants and a few whale watching tours. It’s small and unimpressive in my view. A couple of restaurants look OK so I make a mental note for dinner later. I take the coastal trail path up to Cannery Row, and there are some lovely views of the bay with lots of sea lions, pelicans, cormorants and other wildlife lounging around on the rocks near the shore. There’s a clear blue sky by now and it’s getting hot again, around 74/75 degrees I think. Cannery Row turns out to be mostly shops ranging from tat to posh, along with a smattering of restaurants. There’s a place I found on the internet that has live music later but I can’t see myself hanging round here until this evening as it’s only 1 pm and I’ve already seen everything. Again, there’s not much to this place for me given that I’m not a shop-a-holic. Even then it’s pretty small scale: others I’m sure could however
waste spend a few hours browsing the stores. I grab a turkey & Swiss roll for lunch, which is not cheap at $7-50, but it is good.
At the end of the street is the Monterey Bay Aquarium – with a $39-95 entry fee, wow! – but once inside it is pretty amazing. The exhibits are really well done plus there are 3 absolutely HUGE tanks with assorted marine life such as sharks, sea bass, rays and lots more. There are touch-pools for kids (and adults!) so they’ve made a real effort to appeal to all ages. The Open Sea tank is incredible, with massive shoals of Pacific sardines, bluefish tuna that are bigger than me, hammerhead sharks and sea turtles. It’s absolutely astonishing and well worth a visit.
But just over 2 hours later I’m outside on the street again and I’ve ‘done’ Monterey, at least everything I identified beforehand that was worth seeing. I’m slightly disappointed because I’m now wondering what to do at 3-30 pm. It’s way too early to stay here for dinner so I decide to head back to the hotel and see if I can go to the airport for a car swap after all. Whilst I was in the Aquarium the fog and cloud came over again but as I set off back to the hotel the skies clear in minutes and soon it’s boiling hot again with clear blue skies. The weather here is amazing in it’s ability to change so quickly.
I realise walking along that I’d really like to get the car sorted and in fact I’m pretty down about it all, so I tell myself this is the best course of action and hope my luck’s in. Heading back I take a different route and pass through Old Downtown but again there’s not much to see apart from a small museum, which I decide to bypass given my new mission. I do however walk up a street with lots of bars and restaurants, including an ‘English pub’, many of which look like better options than Fisherman’s Wharf for later. Back at the hotel I call the Breakdown Assistance line again but again the guy can’t get through to the Alamo desk at the airport but he tells me his computer says they’ve got cars and he suggests I just turn up now and get a swap.
To The Airport
It’s just 10 minutes to Monterey Peninsula Airport but when I enter the terminal building the Alamo desk is closed. A guy hanging around says to go to the Enterprise desk opposite, which I do and the 2 guys there are very helpful but tell me the Alamo manager has gone home for the day – because she’s got no cars left… I explain my problem and one guy checks the system – it turns out Enterprise own Alamo and have access to their system – and he tells me Alamo do have cars coming in tomorrow but suggests I call the desk first thing to check what time and to arrange a reservation. However, he also suggests I could take the car to Midas, a car repair depot, because they will service Alamo cars. I tell him the Assistance Centre didn’t mention that, to which he replies that they don’t know anything and are always giving out incorrect information. Great. He gives me the Midas phone number and he’s sure that they’ll service me.
So it looks like I might have another solution if there are no cars at the airport tomorrow, so it’s not been a wasted trip. Either a swap tomorrow or Midas to the rescue! I decide however to call Midas now as Enterprise man says they’re open until 6 and it’s only 5-15 pm so I might get some service tonight. I call up and speak to the manager but unfortunately he’s sent all his mechanics home early and is about to close up. He does however confirm, after I tell him my tale of woe, that he will repair the tyre if I can’t get a car swap tomorrow. Yippee! I resolve to call Alamo early – they open at 7 am – and if I can’t get a guarantee of another car I’ll go to Midas straight away.
Back at the hotel I research some of the joints on Alvarado Street that I walked past earlier and decide on the Bull and Bear Bar and Taphouse. TripAdvisor reviews seem OK so I’ll give it a try. But it’s approaching sundown, and the sky is still bright blue, but I regrettably decide I’d better not risk taking the car out again up to Asilomar State Beach. It’s not that far but I don’t want to get stranded – the airport trip was a bit of a necessity – and when I talked to Midas man earlier he told me the tyre could blow out at any time if it was a slow puncture, so I shouldn’t use the car if at all possible. Shame.
The Bull and Bear
A while later I head out to the Bull and Bear. I get a seat at the bar and the place is packed out with early diners, including many kids, plus the bar seems populated by quite a few local ‘characters’. Out back on the patio there’s a band playing but after a few minutes listening I decide that their dirge is terrible and retreat to the bar to watch baseball and college football. It’s a good evening so far, I engage in a bit of chat with the barman about sports but overall I’m quiet and keep myself to myself. I have an excellent rack of ribs with different whisky flavoured sauces, great fries and coleslaw. The sports on TV is ending, and then… the staff start taking all the chairs and tables out of the place. “What’s going on?” I ask. It turns out the place switches itself into a club/disco from about 10-30 pm when all the youth of Monterey descend on the joint.
There’s already house music booming out of the sound system and then a young-ish couple appear next to me at the bar. A few minutes later all 3 of us are asked to get off our bar stools by a staff member as they need to be “put away”. I argue politely that we should be able to keep them but I am firmly told “no” because the dance floor – as it has become, where all the tables were – needs to be completely cleared. The couple then tell me that they were sitting at a table eating and waiting to order their dessert when they were told to leave the table immediately! No dessert was offered, just “we need to take the tables now.” Unbelievable attitude. And what crap customer service. This whole approach took the edge off a pleasant evening so far.
Anyhow, we 3 customers start chatting and it transpires they are on their honeymoon and doing the PCH: she’s British, he’s Irish and they live in London. They’re driving a Mustang convertible, and we discuss routes, stopovers, US driving habits and we have a real good chat. But by now the disco kids are starting to arrive and fill the place up plus the music has gone up a notch to the extent that we’re now shouting at each other in order to be heard. So I decide to leave, we shake hands and say we’ll probably see each out on the road (unlikely, but you never know).
It’s been a so-so day overall given the car trouble although if I’d been able to go into town at normal time, that is if I hadn’t spent time on the phone and driving to Pacific Heights in the morning, I’m not sure what I’d have done for most of the afternoon because I’d have been finished up really early. I maybe allocated too much time to Monterey, I thought the town was bigger than it is and had more to see. Even with the Aquarium, I ‘did’ the town in half a day (though as noted, I didn’t spend any time in the shops). Checking at home after the trip I found that I did see everything there was in Monterey except the Path of History in Old Monterey but I suspect that wouldn’t have taken more than an hour or so. Back at the hotel I channel surf on TV to catch up some news and then it’s time for bed.