LOMPOC — The headline in The Times said, "Lonely Lompoc Looking for a Lift."
What then must we do? Ride to the rescue, of course, as would any real American. Forget the Arizona vacation, I told the wife. Forget the Grand Canyon and Sedona--they can wait.
So off we went, heading up U.S. 101 rather than across the Mojave. I got a nagging thought, as we pushed beyond Santa Barbara after lunch. What would the gang at the office say when we announced that we had vacationed in Lompoc?
"Lompoc? You went to Lompoc?" is what they would say.
How would that stack up against Bill's vacation? Braving the terrorists, he flew to London for a royal tour.
And how about Ed, heading for Paris without so much as a covering letter from the Moujahedeen?
To say nothing of Don, who did his summer rock climbing on the Great Wall of China. Or the guy, our acknowledged master tourist, who cruised Alaska and then--imagine!--complained about it.
Well, there were no complaints from us on our arrival in the "valley of the flowers" (about 140 miles north of Los Angeles), even though there might be a long wait before we could view the shuttle launch at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base.
To begin with, there are all those lovely new motels, built in part for the shuttle crowds expected for the launch that was scrubbed because of the Challenger disaster in January.
The first night, for $65, we had a suite with a combined kitchen-living room that contained a refrigerator and a microwave and a couch for watching the second TV set. Also, there was a free breakfast, including eggs and bacon, and a free beer in the evening.
Perfect, except for the free perfume our hosts (Embassy Suites) had left in the room. My wife, who happens to be allergic to perfume, quickly decided that one night was enough of that, and we headed down the street, stopping at another gorgeous, bargain-rate motel (Raffles).
This one was cheaper by $17, although there was, admittedly, only one room instead of a suite. And with the free breakfast, there were no eggs and bacon but just coffee, juice, sweet rolls and cereal. What the heck--we can rough it when we have to.
In the Hospitality Room, however, there was free beer in the evening, served by the pitcher by a hostess with a nice smile. There, we joined crew members from a weather satellite launch--also delayed--in not watching a college football game. The satellite later was launched successfully.
It was good to be there. It was rather lonely in the motel hallways. The crowds wouldn't be showing up until the summer of '92.
With accommodations like that, we didn't need a lot of other attractions. But there are attractions, nonetheless.
To begin with, the Lompoc Valley is still a placid, restful place, with more flowers than cars, with lots of farmland, with scenic hills on either side. And our motel was a good base for expeditions afield:
--Just outside of town is La Purisima Mission, another in the chain built in the 1700s in the northward march by Father Serra. This one was restored by workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Feeling of Solitude
With only a handful of visitors around, the tour buses evidently not making Purisima a regular stop, we were able to capture something of the feeling of solitude--the dusty grounds brushed by gentle winds--that must have been there in the original.
The ranger advised us that we should allow two hours for our visit, and it took us nearly that long. Perhaps you can say that seeing one mission is seeing them all, but, away from the freeways and the roar of the motors, this one, in its rural setting, was different. We didn't spend nearly that much time at the next mission up the road.
--Less than a 20-minute drive away is Solvang and its Danish delights. Yet, after a trendy afternoon in the Solvang sun, we were more than happy to get back to Lompoc and toast the incoming fog from the Hospitality Room.
--For joggers, there are long stretches of hassle-free roadsides for cool morning runs in smog-free air blessed with a generous supply of real oxygen. Swimmers, however, may find the comfortable pool hours shortened by the morning coolness and the evening fog.
--Looking for the beach, we encountered a sentry station marked "Strategic Air Command." Not wanting an argument with a sentry, we quickly reversed course. We found out later that there is an access road to a beach called Ocean Park, but swimming is discouraged because of the undertow.
One Beach Stop
Our one beach stop came up the coast at Avila Bay, a beautiful spot indeed. Our time on the beach was cut short there, however, by an incursion of bees that seemed to think we were picnickers bringing them hors d'oeuvres.
--For Lompoc dining, there seemed to be a more than adequate supply of good restaurants. We found excellent seafood on the pier at Avila Bay, after fleeing the beach, and at Morro Bay. Much closer at hand is Buellton, pea-soup capital of the world, where Pea Soup Andersen's began its restaurant business 60 years ago, and where hordes of hungry tourists are still drawn off U.S. 101 every day.
With all that, when we headed back south on California 1 through scenic hills to rejoin 101 above Santa Barbara, we felt suitably rested and recuperated for a return to work. And we said so long to a small town that will not be small much longer, no matter when the next shuttle takes off.