It’s a beautiful morning in Ojai California and my girlfriend and I are sipping almond milk and coffee smoothies, from a local farmer’s co-op, as we wait in a line of traffic at the beginning of the mountainous Route 33.
The road crew ahead is clearing debris from a recent rock slide, though any apprehension about our forthcoming drive is massaged away by the sweet purr of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Cabriolet’s engine.
I have been waiting for this day for months and the thought of opening up this bi-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 in sport mode has me inching forward with anticipation.
The clouds part, the road opens, and it becomes the sunny California day of which I have dreamt.
She's right; no use in blowing out these poor construction workers’ ears. Best to take it slow and wait for the road to open up.
The beginning of the drive is a scenic set of winding valley roads that slice through the mountains by way of picturesque tunnels. Traffic is light and the altitude begins to climb.
Ahead, a few cars; behind me, none. As we climb the mountain the views become gargantuan in scale.
To thwart the traffic, I pull to the side of the road to soak in the scenery.
I look over at the beautiful redhead sitting in the passenger seat and she gives an approving nod.
We fire off. The exhaust roars and the car feels excitable. Down goes the throttle.
All 503 horses in the engine rear up and kick us forward. The speed limit is 55 but even with the bends and ascent I can push it to 60 without propelling us off the side of the shear cliffs that surround us.
Cresting the speed limit, I now notice the responsiveness of the steering and the kinetic feeling of the road that the suspension is giving me.
The wind gusts through the valley and right over our windshield as we hit 60. This sprint has come in 4.0 seconds. Goddam impressive acceleration for a convertible carrying all the extra weight of its drop top.
Dopamine courses through my veins. I cannot believe that this road exists, and that on a beautiful Sunday like today, there is not a soul in sight.
The drive through the mountains will take another couple of hours—little less if I keep this blurry pace—but I know that there will be at least one important stop we have to make along the way.
Out to Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding, we had decided that we would take the opportunity to visit more family in Napa.
My girlfriend and I had originally planned to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and reminisce about our college days, when—before we knew each other—we had each separately taken in the historically scenic route.
But recent mud slides and other poor conditions had left most of Big Sur cut off from the rest of California.
We rerouted our trip through Ojai and onto Route 33, a lesser known road that promised some decidedly different views of Los Padres National Forest.
All we needed was the right car, a convertible, no doubt. A performance Mercedes-AMG would take it from the "right car" to the "ideal" one.
It needed to have class and comfort for the long road ahead, but most importantly it needed to eat up these roads and give off the type of roar that can be heard echoing off the valley’s cliffs from miles away.
Our future needed to hear us coming. I knew that a tri-star would not disappoint.
My girlfriend looks stunning riding next to me, with her hair up in that scarf, and I wonder if she googled a picture of Grace Kelly this morning in order to get her hair to look just so.
We had received a lot of admiring glances as we were driving around Los Angeles, and suddenly I’m not so sure that it was the cabriolet’s brilliant blue metallic paint that was drawing the eyes.
The sides of the cliffs surround us, if there was a spot that brought rock-slide treachery, this would be it. The adrenaline seems to propel us forward, faster still.
I push myself and the car, and it feels like a game of chicken, and my ride shows no signs of letting up. I wonder who will break first: my nerve or the traction control.
Beyonce croons, “We gon’ take it to the moon, take it to the stars… I’m supercharged”. (Close, Ms. Knowles. The C63 S is twin-turbocharged.)
The beat hits hard and I can feel the subwoofer pulse under the front dash.
We round the corner and see the depth of the canyon open up around us.
I pull to the side of the road and as we sit in the still silence of the mountains overlooking a most breathtaking site, I want to make this moment last forever.
My girlfriend doesn’t ask any questions when I begin to setup my camera on a tripod; I've told her as part of this trip I will be shooting video for work. I ask for her to come pose for a picture.
As I set the timer on my camera and prepare to hop into the frame, I instinctively tap the ring box burning a hole in my pocket.
We’ve been together almost three years, and while we had known for a while that we wanted to get hitched, I wanted the moment to come at the right time.
Right now I feel as though there is no time like the present. The camera beeps, counting down the seconds. Nine more until the shutter triggers.
I run to take my place next to the only women I ever want by my side. She goes to put her hand around my waist, but I pull away. She gives me a bewildered look as I drop to one knee. The ring box is out in my trembling hand. The shutter fires.
An hour later, we have left the mountains and reached the edge of California’s oil fields.
I wait by the car, parked in front of the only building around for miles, a small pistachio farm.
The creaky screen door slams and I look up to see my beloved betrothed walk towards me holding a small sack of lemon zest nuts. They taste good, but a little sweeter on this day.
There is just one more thing to do. Ahead of us the road pierces straight on into the horizon.
No one is around and I haven’t seen a speed limit sign for miles. I can feel the floor under the brushed aluminum gas pedal.
It amazes me how smooth the road feels and how quickly the speedometer climbs. 100… 110… 120… and on.
We took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.