Free Parking

I wake, breakfast, then leave. It’s time to go home. SFO here I come! I walk to the garage at 10.30 am, last check-out being at 11. 4 minutes later – is that worth paying the hotel $16 to park my car? – I find two payment stations at the garage entrance. I’m about to put my ticket in when a technician working on one of the machines says to me: “You don’t have to pay, all the barriers are up, you can just drive out.” WTF, I think.

There’s a car park employee nearby so I check with him: “Is this right? I can just drive out without paying?” “Yes” he replies. Triple jackpot!!! I get in the car and at the barriers they are indeed all up and I leave without having to pay. A minute later I’m parking up outside the hotel in the valet space. As I walk past the valet I have a wide smile on my face and think, “F*** you, Mr Valet.” Lying to me on arrival and then I get away with paying a cent.

Sometimes luck rolls your way and at other times – two punctures – it doesn’t. The joys and trials of a road trip, eh? I check out and drive up the street to fill up with gas. There are the usual vagrants hanging around outside the station and one approaches me but gets told to piss off.

Deja Vu, It’s Skyline Boulevard

Santa Cruz Hwy S near Los Gatos

Santa Cruz Hwy S near Los Gatos

I’m soon on I-280, then CA-17 S and then a turn off for yet another routing to get me to Skyline Boulevard. Black Road is a great, wild drive to arrive onto the Blvd. There are multiple 180º switchbacks often with a 45º uphill incline – at the same time! It’s not as scary as Summit Road – what is? – nor as ‘bad’ as Bear Creek Road but it hits the mark big-time for incredibly challenging driving. You could easily drive off the edge where there are no barriers in many places, and go crashing down the mountain. 🙁

Black Road #1Black Road #2Black Road #3Black Road #4Black Road #5Black Road #6

I drive up the tree-lined road, sunlight breaking through the canopy here and there, almost constantly climbing higher. All the way up the road is extremely narrow – don’t take an RV on this road – and in places, whilst not single track, you’d struggle to get two cars to pass side by side. Thankfully there is little traffic.

It is a great section of road to drive on. As an entry point to Skyline Blvd it’s the easiest, but still tough. Further on, Skyline Blvd is as magical as ever in the bright sunshine. I’ve come this way again to get to SFO because who wants to drive up Hwy 101 or I-280 when you can use this route? What a road and drive. This year I take it slower as I think I’ve got more time and it’s wonderful.

I stop again to buy lunch at the Skywood Trading Post & Deli. I get a huge, and somewhat expensive, beef sandwich. At a vista point a few miles down the road I pull over to eat. There’s a weird punk-y mountain biker sitting in his car singing along to some very loud heavy metal music pumping out of this car stereo. Very strange. So I can’t open my car door to get some air because of his music, nor enjoy the autumn day outside. About 10 minutes later he rides off on his bike, just as I’m about to drive off.

At the Silicon Valley Vista Point further down the road I pull over to have another look at the place I visited on business trips many, many times. There was another car pulled over with two young ladies, maybe late teenagers actually, inside. As I got out they started to look very suspicious and a bit dodgy. I’m sure they were up to ‘something’ as I came to a halt. I wonder what two teenage girls might be doing in a car in the middle of nowhere at 1 pm on a Tuesday? Hmmm…

Silicon Valley Vista Point

Silicon Valley Vista Point

The weather is again warm with completely clear blue skies again this year. Driving on, this means I can again see the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay from a few points on the road a couple of miles later – if you drive slowly enough. It’s a shame there aren’t any places to stop safely though.

Skyline Boulevard #1Skyline Boulevard #2Skyline Boulevard #3Skyline Boulevard #4Skyline Boulevard #5Skyline Boulevard #7Skyline Boulevard #8

Turning off Skyline – what a drive and views! – firstly onto Hwy 92 followed by I-280 and then I-380, the roadworks on the Car Rental approach road have gone and I can easily get into the Valero gas station for a final fill up of the gas tank. Remembering they don’t take UK credit cards, I learn from previous experiences with these clowns and pre-pay $20 cash. I then return when full to get my change of $13. Much easier and less hassle.

Arrival at SFO

Chevy Malibu at SFO

Chevy Malibu at SFO

At the rental return I know there’s going to be a bit of a hold-up as there will be admin to deal with given what’s happened to the car. I make a big point to the admin lady about the replacement wheel having done well over its recommended distance of 50 miles, so that they change it over. Hopefully they did.

Everything resolved I head towards the air train to get to SFO International Terminal A. Check-in and passport check re-confirmed, I go to security. I’ve commented on SFO Security before but it really is the worst on the planet. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. They are pedantic, slow, incompetent and a bunch of inconsistent idiots. I know airport security is vital and necessary but the staff at SFO Security are ass-holes.

The sanctuary of the newly refurbished BA Lounge is welcome, although I find the make-over a little underwhelming. There’s a First-only section that is not exactly ‘first class’ quality in my opinion. It’s OK. The main lounge is very busy when I arrive. They must let anyone in there these days. 😉

I comment on this to the waiter in the First section and he says that even with the new layout the Lounge gets full, and is even worse when the first flight to London is delayed and the second is on time. He says “It’s not pleasant.” Memo to self: always get the first flight, and fly First.

“And I’m going back home” *

The flight from SFO is on time today. The service is average again – I’m not served dinner at an early time as I requested, and when they finally come to serve me there’s a further 10 minute delay because they screwed up their cooking timings. The stewardess then loses my eye blinds when making my bed. And they run out of breakfast smoothies in the morning.

I sleep well and we land 35 minutes early. There’s no air bridge into the terminal but steps and a bus. Which is all right because it means you don’t bother with the underground railway, First passengers are ‘first off’ and the first bus is for us only, and we get dropped off right by Immigration. I have never seen Passport Control so empty. There’s hardly anyone in there, no queues anywhere.

All the e-gates are clear and even the non-EU lines have no-one in them. It’s 10.30 am on a Wednesday – where is everyone? I still can’t figure it out. Whatever, I’m glad to get through so quickly. I get picked up outside by a local taxi firm and am soon back home, where I am now already planning next year’s trip.

* Going Back Home by Dr Feelgood

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