The miles yawn by to the monotonous rhythm of tires pounding the pockmarked asphalt of Route 46 on the way to Bakersfield.
It is a 125-mile drive from San Luis Obispo, most of it on this undulating two-lane state highway that plays havoc with the human posterior.
But like it or not, this is where the Cal State Dominguez Hills Division II men's basketball team spends lots of time--on the road--traversing orchards and oil fields from one California Collegiate Athletic Assn. game to another.
On a recent trip, the team left Carson on a 3 1/2-hour drive north over the rolling hills of U. S. 101. That night it played at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and lost, 54-51. Twenty-four hours later the Toros had a Saturday night game here with Cal State Bakersfield, which it dropped, 69-61. The next morning they took Interstate 5 over the Grapevine on a two-hour drive home.
The trip, however, wasn't all driving and games. It was also motels and food and largely unfriendly crowds.
In San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, the Toros stayed at motor lodges. The larger Division I institutions generally seek hotels.
UCLA usually stays in trendier establishments like Hyatts or Marriotts. Last weekend, on a swing through Arizona, the Bruins stayed in the Double Tree Inn in Tucson for a Pac-10 game with top-ranked University of Arizona.
Unlike Dominguez Hills, which was playing and traveling on consecutive days, UCLA arrived in Tucson two days before its nationally televised meeting with the Wildcats. The Bruins began their trip, which was similar in logistics to that of Dominguez Hills, with a flight to Phoenix for a game at Arizona State. A chartered bus made the three-hour drive to Tucson the following morning.
In Division II, money is not plentiful at state universities like Dominguez Hills. This trip was not unlike others over the years. In fact, this was one of the shortest.
Earlier this season Coach Dave Yanai directed his team on a three-game, five-day van trip through Northern California. It included stops in San Francisco, Sacramento and Hayward.
Later, on its most luxurious road trip of the preseason, the Toros hopped a jet for a four-day, two-game stand in Arizona and Utah. Once on the ground, though, Yanai rented a pair of vans and shuttled his players between Grand Canyon College in Phoenix and Southern Utah State in Cedar City, a distance of 400 miles. The return trip of about 150 miles to Las Vegas was highlighted by a stop at the buffet line at Circus Circus Hotel and Casino. The cost of the meal is low and the food is plentiful, two keys to restaurant selection for financially strapped schools.
Tight budgets and Division II schedules also dictate travel by state vans when possible. They are not always reliable. In Hayward a school van broke down. Senior Roger Coleman, a 6-6 forward with a background in auto mechanics, checked under the hood. The van had run out of transmission fluid, Coleman discovered.
When the Dominguez Hills women's team drove to San Luis Obispo for a game Jan. 21, a water pump broke on a state van, leaving the team stranded.
But the troubles don't seem to affect the players much.
"It's better than going to practice," freshman guard Bryan Dell'Amico said of the road blues.
Yanai's teams have been traveling this way for 11 years. This season the road has been a particularly gruesome place for the Toros. The team is 2-8 away from home and struggling with a 8-10 mark overall.
Leonard (Sleepy) Eaton attacked the salad bar at the Happy Steak in San Luis Obispo. The fare was a variety of all-you-can-eat salads and entrees of steak, ham, chicken or fish, generally for less than $6. The reserve guard, five hours away from an 8 p.m. tip-off at Cal Poly, was making sure he got his money's worth.
"It's not enough," he said of the $12-a-day meal money allotted each Toro. "We bring our own money. Some guys bring their own food."
Anthony Blackmon, a veteran of three seasons, was one of them.
"I have my own food," he explained. "I made sandwiches, fried chicken."
Some players save their money for pizza or burgers after the game.
"When you are on the road your life revolves around when you eat," said sports information director Thomas Neff.
Seated at a table in the Happy Steak, Yanai was most concerned about the distractions of a road trip.
"Most of all we want them to remember we came here to play a basketball game, not take a vacation," he said.
He had expressed that thought at a shoot-around in the steamy San Luis Obispo gym that afternoon.
"I told them this is going to be fun," Yanai said. "But it will also be a learning experience."
Less than a year ago the Toros won the CCAA tournament title in San Luis Obispo by beating SLO.
"This place will be packed," he said of the 3,500-seat gym. "There are a lot of people here who have not forgotten what happened last year."