On the Road: The Meal Not Taken

I never thought pea soup would feature prominently among my biggest unfulfilled travel regrets, but life is strange and full of surprises. Also, I am very susceptible to the power of suggestion.
Richard and I were taking our first road trip down Highway 1. I had completed the Big Sur Half Marathon in Monterey the day before, and we were on our way to Los Angeles. It was mid-November, but warm enough to have the top down on our rented Mustang convertible.
As the landscape changed from sandy beachfronts to spacious vineyards and farmland of the 101, we saw the first billboard: 110 miles to the home of split pea soup.
“Did you just see that sign?” I asked the hubby.
“Pea soup? Yeah, that’s random.”
But the billboards continued—one, then another and another counting down the miles to supposed culinary bliss. The conversation understandably turned pea-centric, both of us drunk with conjecture about the nature of this unassuming and usually dull soup… And the nature of a region that would prioritize pureed legumes that much.
The anticipation built until the moment of truth: an “Exit Now” command that if followed, would take us straight to Andersen’s in the little town of Buellton and a steaming hot bowl of pea green delight.
That morning I didn’t want split pea soup. In fact, I wasn’t interested in soup of any sort. But suddenly, we were in crisis. Should we take the detour and satisfy our curiosity? We weren’t even hungry, but this had to be one hell of a soup to warrant not one, but several, billboards.
As you can probably guess, we didn’t take the road to split pea nirvana, and we had good enough reasons. Responsible reasons. Most importantly, we were meeting friends for dinner in Venice and were already running way behind schedule.
That didn’t stop us both from giving the cartoon chef on the Andersen’s sign one last wistful look as we continued on to Santa Barbara.
My thoughts remained back in Buellton for the next hour afterward, and my regret only intensified when I finally googled Andersen’s, which has been “splitting peas since 1924.”
“We’ll be back,” Richard said, consoling me. “We’ll go next time.”
Next time hasn’t happened yet, but I have to wonder if the soup would live up to the hype if we planned a visit to the roadside restaurant. I believe the magic of the inspired road trip detour is that you have to act on your intuition the moment you feel it. If you ignore it, that moment is gone and can never be recreated.

Can planned pea soup be magical? I don’t know, but I doubt it. No, the magic of the next detour is unknown, but next time, I’ll take it.

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