WELCOME TO MONTEREY: RICH GIRL (Bigger Than Both Of Us album) – Daryl Hall & John Oates
If you’ve ever had the ultimate privilege of observing at least one episode of Big Little Lies, you will understand the unquestionable necessity of spending an evening in Monterey, California.
A handful of extravagantly wealthy housewives, all irrevocably intertwined in each other’s shamefully repressive pasts; a welcomed recollection of how Reece Witherspoon isn’t always intolerable on screen; secretly wishing you were Nicole Kidman so you could be the one having simulated hate sex with Alexander Skarsgard even though you’re meant to hate him for portraying a terrible person. But you don’t. Because he’s just so pretty.
Though hardly in the same financial bracket as Nicole and Reese’s lavish characters, I decided to treat myself to a meager glimpse of the quaintly glamorous, coastal setting of the juiciest television drama since 90210.
Van Morrison and I rolled into the winsome, seaside town long after the sun had set. Glowing street lamps warmed the city centre making each shop and cafe irresistible. Well dressed couples sauntered carelessly hand in hand, delighting in each other’s laughter like some montage from the beginning of a Woody Allen film. This was not a town where Van and I could inconspicuously camp out street-side.
From rags to riches, campervans to boutique hotels
And so I decided to splurge on an adorably antique room in the historic Monterey Hotel. The hotel, with its Victorian influence, dates back to 1904 and cost me an arm and a leg. But it was vintage, pink, and utterly adorable, and above all else, it had plumbing.
Not being able to remember the last time I’d showered, I had become much like an old cheese; the kind you find in the back of your fridge and immediately dispose of, not one you’d pair with grilled pear and a fine prosciutto.
I came to this conclusion after the receptionist at the front desk tried, with little to no reticence, to keep as much distance between her and myself when handing me my room key. I officially fit the mold, or mould, of a girl who lives in a van.
But tonight, I was nothing of the sort. Tonight I would rejoin the likes of civilization with shaved legs and a floor length dress I was still paying interest on. After luxuriating in the most invigorating shower to the point of complete prunage, I applied makeup for the first time in over two weeks.
I stared at myself through the steamy mirror, alarmed at how much I actually resembled Pennywise the Clown; fascinated by how accustomed I’d grown to the natural face my momma gave me. What a floozy, I mocked aloud, then trotted down the stairs with a wad of American cash tucked in the deep-V of my unaffordable garment.
The receptionist looked up from her computer screen with zero recognition.
“I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of a restaurant with a good martini?”
“You’re in Monterey. What you want is good seafood.” Clocking my transformation, and realizing we’d already met, she continued with a slightly more familiar tone. “Old Fisherman’s Wharf is just a few blocks left from here. Tons of restaurants to choose from. All good martinis.”
“Here, take one of these.” She handed me a postcard sized flyer. “Any of the restaurants on the back will give you a free appetizer with your meal if you show them this.” She looked at me as if she knew I needed it.
The best seafood Monterey has to offer….
Walking through the Old Fisherman’s Wharf was like walking through a posh version of Amity Island. Tiny, multi-coloured structures were built along a stilted wharf, all aglow with fairy lights and dimly lit interiors. Red and white striped awnings covered rows of chilling seafood, while wooden pastel painted signs promised the world’s best sweets. Everything looked enticing. Everything smelt irresistible. Restaurant after restaurant beckoned me; how could just one prevail?
Chowder. That’s how. The Old Fisherman’s Grotto was one of the scads of brightly coloured restaurants at my disposal. A congenial yellow to be exact, with black and white checkered frontage and the ever popular striped awning shading not just an array of ocean bounty, but an alluring cauldron of fresh, homemade chowder; its tempting scent leading me, powerless, to the entrance.
“Would you like a sample?”
A man in a crisp, black suit stood amongst the steam of simmering, creamy clams.
“Do you even have to ask?”
He laughed and handed me what would from that moment forward forever be known as the most extraordinary liquid to ever touch my salivating chops.
“Table for one, please.”
Every night is date night when traveling alone…
When I entered the mahogany dusted interior, I quickly realized my table was the only table for one. It was date night. All around me were tables for two, their eyes resembling those of an emaciated cartoon character seeing a seven layer deli sandwich dripping with all the fixings; extended hearts pounding from blood shot retinas, drool exuding from wanton lips. And here I was, licking the very bottom of my complimentary chowder sample, oblivious of the empty chair opposite.
“Are we waiting on our plus one?’
A homely server in a crisp, white collared shirt and a long, black apron tied around his waist smiled sympathetically.
“My friend, we’d be waiting forever.” He looked unsure. “Just me. And the dirty gin martini you’re about to bring me.”
“I like your style.”
“Make it dry.”
My martini was shit. It’s shit exaggerated by the fact that it cost me a lot of American dollars. But it was booze that wasn’t being served from the makeshift oven-storage of my Van so I smiled, gratefully, and sang my satisfaction when the server returned.
“I would kill for an order of this world famous chowder of yours. I’ll also do your octopus appetizer. And to finish, I’m undecided. Do I do the cioppino or the macadamia crusted halibut?”
“Sold! And a Grotto Mud Pie! Oh! And another mediocre martini good sir!”
My meal was delicious. So much so that I almost forgot I was alone in a sea of forever pairs, sharing spoons of whipped cream and delusional dreams of eternity.
When my bill was handed to me, I emptied the hotel’s appetizer flyer from a beaded vintage clutch I once managed to haggle for three Canadian dollars.
“Oh, sorry. That doesn’t apply to the appetizer you ordered.”
I looked blankly at the man in his white collared shirt.
“It literally says enjoy any complimentary appetizer from one of these locations. Yours is one of those locations.”
“Yes, but the octopus doesn’t count.”
“It doesn’t count?”
“It doesn’t count.”
“It doesn’t count. Got it.”
I handed him my plastic and reminded myself that there are millions of millennials out there in our ever exorbitant world up to their seminal ear piercings in debt. What was a little one off dinner splurge? Nada. (That’s nothing in Spanish).
When the merciless receipt came, the homely server handed with it, a single yellow rose. I looked around the opulent dining room to see the masses of belly filled, affianced women ogling over the fragrant gesture. I then looked at my homely server.
“I get it.”
I shrugged and made for the exit with a winning, romantic gesture sans the subpar male suitor that it is usually bound to.
The next morning I indulged in another shower simply because I could, stuffed my purse with as many continental breakfast items as I possibly could, and gaily reunited with Van Morrison.
Keeping yourself occupied on the lengthy 101…
As we continued south on the 101, the monotonously straight highway began to wear on my already frivolous attention span. I started playing games with myself that not so much relieved my boredom, but rather decreased the safety of those sharing the road with me.
Like speeding up to cars in the next lane, staring at the driver as intently as one could while still pretending to focus on the road, wagering how long it would take before they’d return my invasive stare, then smile and wave at them, delighting in their perplexed reaction. Or attempting to steer with various alternative parts of my body; thighs, elbows, chin…
I started to challenge myself by translating my favourite songs into Spanish, rather unsuccessfully. I spent hours counting to one hundred and back again en Espanol, then gave myself mini math problems to solve aloud, celebrating with my horn as my answers came mas rapido!
The beginning of a whirlwind affair with So-Cal wineries…
And then, like some divine mirage, a billboard advertising J. Lohr Winery saved my life, and no doubt the lives of many more. J Lohr’s Cabernet Sauvignon happens to be, and has been since the dawn of time, my purest and most unadulterated amor de vino.
When I pulled into the parking lot of the prestinely kept vineyard, I traded my nearly decaying daisy dukes and travel friendly tank top for a respectable floral dress and wine country-suitable shawl.
The tasting room was simply decorated with warm, wooden floors and marble counter tops. The rafters of the cozy, a-frame building were the colour of red wine, while the windows looked out over endless rolling hills of immaculately tended grape vines.
“I used to look at a view like that and feel serenity. Now I just look at it and see work.”
I sipped the third of six tastings offered by my favourable sommelier as we rambled between varietal facts and personable small talk.
“I take it you’re in the industry.”
“I work on an orchard. We grow grapes. In Canada.”
“Canada!” He poured a new glass. “Try this. It’s not on the list. I hear good things about Canadian wine. An area in the west somewhere…?”
“That one! Yes!”
“That’s me. This is ridiculous.” I held the glass upside down above my tilted head, refusing to let a single drop be wasted.
“It’s our reserve.”
Just then the doors of the winery flew open, flooding the room with blinding sunlight, leaving a short, slight man in a fedora to my right, and a woman to his.
“Julius! My friend!” He greeted my sommelier with a firm handshake and a pat on the shoulder.
“Roberto! Tammy. Always a pleasure!” Julius placed two empty glasses in front of them and immediately poured the reserve.
“You are well taken care of, my dear!” The fedora wearing fella allegedly called Roberto turned to me. “This guy’s the finest wine guy in all of California.”
“You say that to all the sommeliers.”
“And he’s clever, too!”
We all laughed, exchanged names and quickly became acquainted. Rob is half Mexican and half American. He and his wife, Tammy live in Orange County but are wine members of the area and frequent tasting trips as often as they can. They are what Julius would call staples in these parts.
While Julius, my new favourite human, continued to pour from bottles far surpassing the tasting list, my new friends learned of my travels and intentions and were spellbound.
“What are you doing now? I don’t want to deter you from the road ahead, but Tam and I still have a few wineries to hit and we’d love for you join us. There are some truly spectacular ones I’m certain you’ll love.”
I thought not a second before emphatically agreeing.
“Yes. One hundred percent yes.”
“Julius, let’s do a box of the Cuvee we like, and one of the Viogner for Tam. And throw in a bottle of that reserve for Chelsea before her eyes pop out of her head.” He winked at me from under the rim of his hat.
This was going to be good…