Devil’s Slide

May 29th, 2019

From our house in Pedro Point, we could look across the bay, along the beach and across a fertile valley where Portuguese farmers grew artichokes. Just beyond was a hill where sheep grazed on wild grasses. Our house faced north and looked down on the two-lanehighway that connected the little coast towns to San Francisco twenty miles away. To the south, the road cut through the mountain behind us to reach Montara and Half Moon Bay. The narrow road was close to the edge of Devil’s Slide, a rocky cliff that dropped straight down to the open ocean.

One Sunday afternoon after a few drinks, my Dad decided it was time to teach me to drive. He told my little brothers Joe and Pete and my sister Mary to climb in the car. He opened the door on the driver’s side and told me to sit behind the wheel. In those days, there was no need for a learner’s permit. I climbed in and sat down.

I remembered a few things Dad had shown me the week before; so, I did some practice exercises, going through the five gears from neutral and low to high. With a few directions I was, able to back up and shift into low for the short distance to the corner where I stopped. We were high on the hill with a steep road down to the cross-road below. Dad said, “Go ahead. Keep it in low. You’ll be all right.”

I gripped the wheel and headed slowly down. I wanted to close my eyes but knew I had to keep them open as the road was narrow with ditches on either side.  When we reached the bottom, I stepped hard on the brake and let out a loud sigh. The kids began to laugh; they didn’t realize how close they were to disaster; Dad never should have put them in the car with me.

When we reached the main road, Dad said, “Turn right,” and I wanted to argue because that was the way to Devil’s Slide. He said it again, so I turned the car onto the highway. Suddenly cars were honking as they passed me. The kids were yelling and Dad had fallen asleep. I kept my eyes glued to the white line on the road; I didn’t want to see the steep drop-off close to the pavement on the right side.  I knew there was no place to stop and say, “I don’t want to drive.”

Finally, I reached a safe place to park. Dad was still asleep. I needed to find the courage to get back on the road and go home. The lane going north was next to the mountain and the car wouldn’t be near the deep cliff by the ocean. If I stayed in low gear and tried not to listen to the honking cars and screaming kids; if I tried to put Devil’s Slide out of my mind; I might be all right.  After all these years, I don’t remember what happened next or how we got home. Probably when Dad realized the situation and sobered up enough, he drove us home. I don’t know, but somehow, we did get home.

Patricia Hernan Grube
March 6, 2017; May 21, 2019