It was the late Fall of 1972 and I desperately needed to escape my “political pressure cooker” that was the University of California at Berkeley; home of student riots, anti-war protests, and the “hippie” counterculture of that era. Also, I had never fully adapted to the raucous life of a “frat boy”, and my chaotic world at Theta Delta Chi was quickly driving me stone-cold crazy. Yes, it was time for a solo motorcycle getaway aboard my trusty 1971 Kawasaki 350 A7SS.
The counties of Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino in Northern California offer among the most spectacular twisting roads and panoramic vistas of anywhere I have ever ridden in my 67 years. Paved logging roads curve and meander throughout the damp coastal redwood groves from inland rolling pastures and vineyards to the craggy mountains along the incredibly picturesque and misty Pacific Highway 1. Seasonal lulls in the tourism industry left roads less traveled and it was that time of year to best view the blazing spectrum of California’s Fall colors: rich golds, brilliant reds, and shimmering oranges, all amid the lush evergreen backdrops.
As my weekend ride progressed, I steadily felt the stresses and strains of my life ease into the deeper recesses of my mind. I was far away and free to explore the vast wilderness and forested coastline that was Northern California. But in time the warm Sunday afternoon passed into the crisp darkness of evening. I now found myself engulfed in a thick blanket of soggy, coastal fog as I traveled south on Highway 1 into the rocky, coastal hamlet of Bodega Bay, the filming location of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”. California’s fickle coastal fog can appear out of nowhere and immediately place a dense layer of cold gray dampness on both body and spirit.
Weary, cold, and damp I cruised into town. With all my soaked gear in hand I soon pushed through the swinging front door of the Bodega Bay Inn. I was greeted with the open arms of overstuffed chairs atop bear skin rugs all encircled around a warm and crackling fireplace. Savory kitchen aromas wafted throughout and Ravi Shankar’s tinny sitar background music felt eerily soothing as it payed proper homage to the counterculture of that era. And there was Autumn, my saucy and spirited waitress. “Be right with you, Hon”, were her first words to me as she darted about with coffee pot in hand and an ever-present dimpled smile. “I’ll have a hot coffee and the patty melt with fries, Autumn, and be extra nice to me cuz I’m cold and wet!”
My attention was quickly captured by sultry Autumn as she effortlessly scooted about chatting it up with regular customers. I had no choice but to keep gazing and asking for “just one more cup”.
“You look to me like one really wet dude who doesn’t have the common sense to use a car instead of a motorcycle on a real damp day” sniped Autumn, while still wearing a broad smile.
“Not a good idea to insult your needy and vulnerable customers, especially the wet ones,” I chimed back with a wink and a nod. “I’m not insulting you, I’m flirting with you, dummy” quipped Autumn. “Well, you better step it up if you want a decent tip!” I retorted.
I was just a bit smitten by Autumn, with her thick auburn hair cascading well past her shoulders in the “hippie girl” style. I guessed she was about my age but had chosen a small-town path because of her compelling desire to connect with people rather than to chase the almighty dollar.
As the inn emptied further, Autumn came by often, each time offering up a fresh coffee refill with just the right touches of sass and endearment. She did earn herself a decent tip, but home was beckoning. Regrettably, I had to leave. As I was exiting the restaurant into the cool and damp evening, I soon felt a gentle tap on my left shoulder and a soft wisp of that auburn hair brushing against my cheek. “Please come see me again. Please?” she whispered softly in my ear. Then she vanished into the dark.
Sadly, I never did see Autumn again, but I have often and warmly recalled her beaming smile. There is just something so special about those unique people we meet along our paths who are so welcoming to us when we make ourselves vulnerable to their abundant kindness.
I will treasure the warmth and hospitality of the Bodega Bay Inn that crisp “Autumn” evening. That experience always reminds me of how exciting and personable travel can be when we open ourselves to the people and wonders along our routes without being held within the cocoon and safety of an automobile. Yes, motorcycles make us more vulnerable to the uncertainties of travel, but they also make the world more accessible to us. We seek the solace of warm fireplaces, kindly people, and hot coffee because we are the ones exposed to the harsh elements. We seek the blast of the wind, the aromas of the Earth, and the changing textures of the open road so that we might break free from the comforts and mundaneness of modern life in America. As we all know, nothing can compare with the uniqueness of experiencing our amazing world while traveling on two wheels.