On the Road Again

SEBASTOPOL, Calif. — A good vacation can almost be whistled, to paraphrase Margaret Wise Brown, an author best known for “Goodnight Moon.”

From all accounts, Brown was a beautiful yet quirky woman who one day, while dancing, kicked up a leg like a chorus girl, dislodged a blood clot in her leg. Suddenly, her heart froze.

Good night stars. Good night air. Good night noises everywhere…

That is not an argument against dancing. For, vacations are a form of dance as well. And I’m all about vacations. In the course of a spartan middle-class life, we didn’t take enough road trips. Now, with the kids mostly grown, I am able to sneak off a little more.

Last week, I was back in Sonoma to visit Safari West, an African-styled wildlife camp in Santa Rosa, where you can hand-feed the giraffes and wink at the ostriches, who apparently are big flirts, despite their awkward appearances.

Ostriches have heads like hardballs, and big Kardashian rumps. Their feathers don’t fit, and I don’t think they’ve shaved their legs in 10 years.

Yet, ostriches are bold and fearless in that way that always appeals to us. John Wayne. Joan Rivers. My buddy Ulf. I think it’s biological.

Anyway, turns out that giraffes drool, and quite heavily: “Our juicy giraffes,” as our guide Dano describes them.

To my mind, “juicy” is an underused word, and generally positive. A juicy steak, a juicy novel, a juicy giraffe…though the giraffes’ saliva — their nectar and their lubricant — is a little green and slightly off-putting. Like a sour pesto.

Please don’t let that stop you from hand-feeding bundles of cottonwood leaves to a giraffe the next time you’re in Santa Rosa. Or, perhaps, skip the leaves and give this elegant creature a Creamsicle. Or a martini in a very long-stemmed glass.

While you’re at it, a spritz of Binaca breath spray wouldn’t hurt.

(Binaca? You’re now wondering: “Just how old is this dude?” The answer: “Even I don’t know.”)

FYI, a giraffe’s tongue is about 60 feet long and purple-black, loaded with melanin to protect it from a wicked African sunburn. These beautiful creatures seem to be mostly gentle. If you buy one, be sure you own a convertible.

I would like to drive around LA with a giraffe in the backseat. At lights, he’d munch the eucalyptus leaves along Sunset, and lean down to slurp an ice cream cone on Pico. Small dogs. Hair extensions. Toupees. Nothing would be safe.

In addition to eager tongues, giraffes have these glorious Barbie Benton lashes. Their wide eyes are like tunnels to the soul. I’m really, by the end of this trip, quite smitten with your basic, garden-variety giraffe.

I suppose I’m just smitten with travel in general. Ironically, as I pack, I’m never sure I want to leave the house. I make my checklist: Do I have enough cash? Did I set the thermostat? Who will take in the paper?

Then, once on the road, a fresh breeze blows. First stop was a vintage inn in Lodi, with a wrap-around porch. Nearby, an old bank they turned into a handsome craft beer bar.

There is something about the care and commitment of a small town, the way they flower the yards and varnish the library. On Lodi’s main street, there are no empty storefronts. Drivers pause to let you cross. The community center is a castle.

The next night, we stayed in a tent cabin at Safari West. The two lodgings – the inn, the tent – are both remarkable, both distinct.

Then we crashed, for a night, with Suzanne’s daughter, who has a chateau in the vineyards of Sebastopol, where they coax the most-incredible grapes from the worst soil God ever tossed us. Where’d He find this stuff, the moon?

Good night, kittens. Good night, mittens. Good night, clocks. Good night, socks. 

But what a region, full of farmstands, tasting rooms and ma-n-pa diners (don’t miss the polenta at Willow Wood on Graton Road).

In Santa Rosa, there’s the leafy Charles M. Schulz Museum. Psychiatric advice: 5 cents.

What a brilliant literary figure Charlie Brown was, in many ways an American archetype, the thoughtful Quixotic wanderer. You see a bit of him in Gary Cooper, Miles Davis, Lou Gehrig, Garrison Keillor, Gilda Radner. Certainly, he inspired Forrest Gump.

We all know life can wear you down a little. Well, road trips pump you back up, with their curvy country lanes…saggy barns…burger stands…sheep.

What’s that, an emu? Know what I need right now, Suzanne? A milkshake!!!

And doesn’t your playlist always sound better in your car? I think it’s the way the mind processes it — the focus, the appreciation. And, of course, the acoustics…the way the warm air swirls with Billy Joel’s Bronx brogue:


Yep, a good road trip rests deliciously on your tongue a while.

Like a silky pinot. Like cottonwood leaves.


Saturday night’s Gin & Tonic Society bash is a sellout. More summer fun on the way, though. Stay tuned for info on hikes and happy hours. In the meantime, please check out ChrisErskineLA.com for books, t-shirts and past columns. Cheers!

10 thoughts on “On the Road Again

  1. Reading your silky, juicy descriptions is almost as good as a road trip itself. Thanks for the mental getaway so needed right now. And the pics are fabulous roo. I love that part of California. Happy for your happiness.

  2. It’s so fitting that this column (blog? post? I’m still not sure what we call these things now) starts off with a nod to Ms. Brown and her children’s book, because the wonderful section on you and giraffes feels like it could easily be turned into a best-selling book I would love to read to the grandchildren I would love to have someday. The image of you and your juicy giraffe (Juicy Lucy? I’m just pitching) driving down Sunset in a convertible makes me smile more than that weird guy in the yellow hat with Curious George. Think about it. We could write it (hey, my idea) once you finish the Bear book. In the meantime, keep taking those road trips. They’re a vicarious thrill for us and a reminder that it’s something my Susan and I can do spur of the moment without making complicated air and hotel plans in distant places. And I’m sure the citizens of Lodi thank you for offering a nice corrective to a great Creedence Clearwater Revival song that did portray them in a somewhat negative light.

  3. If you’re into giraffes, a fun read is West With Giraffes based on a true story of bringing a pair of giraffes from the east coast to the San Diego Zoo.

  4. don’t forget the little chocolate donuts and diet cokes at pit stops !
    your on your best behavior with new gal , will be fun to read in 4 months

  5. It has been said that to travel with someone is to know them well. Traveling in a steel cuccoon doubles down on that premise. The new girl and guy loose on the landscape in May seems iconic in its exploration of this dynamic, with enough distraction along the way to develop the shared experiences that build common emotional memory, and the resultant chemistry of intimacy. And they will come back changed. The cliche is,”refreshed and broadened”, but there is more opportunity in it than this, for lovers….

    Liking ostriches, you should seek to know Bob The Emu, who resides at a farm down the Ferndale beach road about a half mile before it drops to the beach. While staying there, I once fed Bob an apple, which he most delicately took from my hand. Emus love apples, and are frenetic yet gentle creatures with a distinct persona. Bob pogoed back and forth outside our bedroom at the farm in a long run, 24/7. In the field beyond, three alpacas fitfully zigged and zagged at full speed as they grazed in one place, and then another. Motion seemed a virtue in this environ, so I hiked to the beach and here and there whils at the farm. Want to stay fit? Get an Emu.

  6. Something about the road is freeing, you know. Scott Mulvahill (great base player) puts it this way in “Begin Againers”:

    there’s nothing like a full tank
    and an open road
    cause every destination is between somewhere
    and somewhere else in this great nation
    and it’s your world
    it’s a good thing for a traveler
    a good thing for a traveler
    like cash in the bank
    a full tank

    12 hours each way to San Diego from San Antonio two weeks ago and 8 hours each way to New Orleans (just got back…) Road trips are cathartic…

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