Normally I consider taste first and foremost when it comes to eating. But there is one exception: when I am on the road, I am usually looking for quick above all. I am driving to a destination, and knowing me, I already have a good dinner idea planned, so I want to get where I am going as expeditiously as possible, and at these times I am willing to eat crap just so long as it is fast crap. I am aware that this attitude may get me stripped of my chowish epaulets, but that's the way I am.
Anyway, on my recent trip along Highway 101, I was heading back to San Diego with visions of sushi dancing in my head. Of course I would have to drive through the hell that is the L.A. freeway system, but until they build an overpass from Ventura to Irvine, what choice did I have? So I wanted to keep going quickly so as to miss the joys of the L.A. freeway system during rush hour. (rush hour? in L.A.?-now that's a misnomer). Anyway, as I neared Santa Barbara, I was getting hungry and I started looking for some quick roadside attraction to hold me until I could be savoring maguro and miragai and uni and other cool fishy morsels. At this point, the last thing I was looking for is a gourmet 4-course 3-hour meal. All I wanted was some simple non-poisonous food. While I'd rather eat at Jose's Tacos than Taco Bell or at Betty's Burgers than McDonalds, on the road I will even resort to mass-market fast food swill ('hounds forgive me my folly). But as I get to Santa Barbara, what does the roadside sign tell me? It reads: "Food Next 15 Miles." Now that is one helpful sign. Here I'd thought everyone in Santa Barbara lived on air and water. And that was the only foodish information available on the freeway. In addition, the freeway is so screened by trees that it is utterly impossible to see what lurks at any exit. For locals, I'm sure this lack of signage and information is no problem, but as a passer-through, it effectively meant that any exit I took would be a step into the dark. Quick food might be there--or not. Easy return to the freeway might be there--or not. Visions of waiting for hours on back streets undergoing street repair or wandering for the rest of the afternoon through little traveled neighborhoods, which would force me to deal with L.A. at rush hour, kept my car and me on the freeway heading out of Santa Barbara. While I appreciate highway beautification as much as the next person, I am not zooming on Highway 101 for the scenery. How much of a desecration would it be to at least list the restaurants at each upcoming exit? How could a dozen signs make a 40-foot wide swath of asphalt any more ugly than it is? Am I the only person who has been frustrated by the lack of helpful signage on this stretch of 101?