Five hours into their record-setting slow drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park, Nancy Silverton and Suzanne Goin came to a stop sign in the methamphetamine-addled town of Traver, 27 miles south of Fresno.
"That guy from Yemen at the gas station said 'Don't turn right'," said Goin from the backseat of the works Honda..
"No,' said Mozza chef LIz "Go Go": Hong, also in the back seat. "He said 'What ever you do, don't turn right. He said even the sheriff's don't turn right."
I was driving. You know which way I turned
Two blocks later, I passed a market that rang a bell. I had covered a homicide there 16 years ago for the Fresno Bee. Two more blocks and we came to Baker Drive. In all my travels - and I had traveled looking for methamphetamine hot spots, even to Apatzingan,Michoacan - I have never seen a more stereotypical crank street. This was Breaking Bad gone crazy.
Aptly named Baker Drive is line with rusted trailers, a RV so dilapidated it made us laugh, foil on most windows, tarps on others, weeds as high as Badger, milk crates for days, a scruffy white kid - who looked like that boy Jesse tried to help - running around in the backyard littered with a titling refrigerator and sideways washer machine .
"If David could see me now," Suzanne said, referring to her husband, chef David Lentz.
"Oh, my fuckin' god," said Go Go.
Nancy just stared.
The street was short, So was our tour.
We - Nancy, Suzanne, Go Go, four boxes of food, four suitcases and myself - had left the back parking lot of Mozza at 11:30 bound for beauty; Yosemite and their Chefs' Holiday event at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Our first stop was in Bakersfield for lunch at the Basque restaurant Wool Growers. Food was solid and we'd all go there again if the timing was right. Oxtail stew, fried chicken, sausage sandwich, lamb chops. Very good fries.
Plus, a block down, across the street was a Hells Angel clubhouse. Can't beat that for local color. .
We got back on 99 North and drove past, Tulare and the beloved B-17 of my youth, past the Visalia cut off and, when Nancy saw signs for Bravo Farms - known for their cheddar - we pulled off in Traver. We were at the Bravo Farms um, complex, for at least an hour.
Suzanne bought a 3.5 cord for us to listen to a podcast, a sack of (allegedly) "fartless" bean soup, and climbed a 7-story treehouse. Go Go got ice cream. Nancy got coffee, shot a replica .45, and played slots. I got caramel marshmallow and three root beers from their impressive selection Thirty pounds of un-attended tri tip grilled not far from a petting zoo.. This is not the normal cheese stop
All of us highly recommend the stop.
But, when you head back to the freeway, don't turn right at the stop sign.
Back on Highway 99 to Highway 41 and a Fresno rush hour traffic jam. Then to Oakhurst for coffee. Suzanne, at Nancy's request. put on that podcast "Serial". Five people had raved to me of this podcast about a guy in a Maryland prison for 15 years for the killing of his ex-girlfriend
We entered the Park late, so there was one at the entrance gate. Serial came on. It was boring the fuck out of me. The best part for all of us was about Mr. S, some streaker. No, the best part was when Suzanne said she had only up loaded three episodes and couldn't get service to get more. Good. .
I took over telling them my own podcast; a story I had covered about the killing of three tourists outside of Yosemite by a motel handyman (Cary Stayner) who went on to kill another woman in Yosemite before he was captured and eventually sent to Death Row. All, even Nancy, agreed my story was better.
By the time my story was done, we were about to enter the tunnel that leads to the magical Tunnel View. It was dark, but I exited the Honda and gazed at the stars and silhouette of El Capitan. You can have all the other views.
Nine hours, seven minutes and 47 seconds*, after we left Mozza, I parked at the Ahwahnee Hotel. .
Heaven I'm in Heaven.
* Note - The record is for driving in "good" weather conditions. Slower drives have been record, but in Tule fog conditions.
Website for the Bakersfield restaurant. http://woolgrowers.net/
Baker Drive, Traver. Technically, Traver is not even a town, but rather a "Census designated place" with a pop of 713. Two of the population were accused of beating that guy in the bathroom during a 49ers game last year.