This story begins nearly 20 years ago. Jim (my then-writing partner) and I, flush with the sale of our first script, had acquired an agent. Two agents, actually -- partners named Mitch and Elliott, who specialized in representing sitcom writers from their offices in a high-rise in Beverly Hills.
I used to joke that all agents in Hollywood were named either Elliott or Mitch -- and I'd thought I'd hit the jackpot when we got both. I was especially excited about the long list of successful clients already on their agency's roster... including a writer who'd just departed "Cheers" to work on a new show that was yet to air. Mitch and Elliott suggested we come up with a spec for the new show, and they handed us the script for the pilot, which took place in a tiny airport in Nantucket. (Yes, that show was "Wings," and this gives you an idea of how really long ago this was).
As we started throwing out story ideas, Jim suggested we do some first-hand research by visiting an actual tiny airport -- and the nearest one with the small town flavor we needed was in the sleepy burg of Santa Paula, located off route 126, midway between the bustle of Santa Clarita and the beach communities in Ventura... only about an hour's drive from my apartment in Studio City.
We didn't get much inspiration from the airport, and the script we ended up writing never got to the producers of "Wings." In fact, Mitch and Elliott didn't do anything for us, other than take the 10% commission for the script we'd sold by ourselves. (That's not entirely true -- they offered us lots of really good advice on making our material more saleable; advice I'm afraid we were too stupid to take to heart. We ended up parting ways -- both with our agents and with each other as writing partners, and neither of us sold another script again. But that's not what this post is about.)
The airport may not have made a lasting impression on me, but the charming little Main Street did. One interesting find was the California Oil Museum, located in the original offices of the Union Oil Company, and featuring all kinds of artifacts -- from old gas pumps to 50's-style TV commercials. There were a lot of exhibits illustrating how petroleum came to be and how it was discovered and produced. Gareth and I had only been dating for a few months at this time, but I already knew that this place would be dear to his little geologist's heart.
Fast forward five years: Gareth and I were now married, and we found ourselves in the mood for a road trip on a hot July Sunday. Remembering the Oil Museum, I suggested we head out to Santa Paula. We decided to explore a backroads route in the baby-SUV he drove at the time. It didn't have air conditioning, but it did have a removable top, and so we wended our way through the winding roads in the open air, and I will always remember the moment we hit the Santa Clara Valley, because the fragrance of the fruit ripening in the orange and lemon groves was so enchanting. It was one of many times when we set out on a drive without a plan and everything fell into place. After enjoying the Oil Museum, we saw from the headline on the local paper that the Ventura County Fair had just opened, so we got onto the 126 and finished the day at the fair.
Gareth and I recalled that perfect day as we drove to Santa Paula once again last evening. We've passed through the town several times over the years (the 126 is a favorite route to Ventura Beach, allowing us to bypass all the traffic on the 101). We have even stopped a few times, especially when Megan was little (there is a historic locomotive that travels between Santa Paula and nearby Fillmore, and it offers kid-friendly pumpkin patch and Christmas tree excursions in October and December).
But we have never had an occasion to spend the night... after all, it's only about a 45 minute drive from our home. The opportunity came up when we decided to send Megan to a sleepaway camp in Santa Barbara. Dropoff yesterday was between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m., which meant that we would have to drive back in some nasty traffic. I suggested we use the camp as an excuse to spend the night in SB.
What I had in mind was the Four Seasons...
...but Gareth has been doing business recently in Santa Paula, and had to be there at 7:00 a.m. this morning for a meeting. With Megan at camp, my schedule is now totally flexible -- so that's where we decided to go.m Gareth reserved us a Jacuzzi room at the Glen Tavern Inn, which he had seen on one of his visits there. He couldnt believe that the rate was just $79. On Sunday morning, they emailed us to confirm that the King bed we'd requested would be available.
Sunday afternoons are brutal on the stretch between Santa Barbara and Ventura, when PCH narrows to just two lanes each way, and unfortunately, we were unable to avoid it. At least, the scenery is beautiful -- but the 50 mile drive took us close to two hours. Gareth was getting frustrated.
The drive reminded him of our last trip to Britain, when a jack knifed lorry on the M4 (where exits are few and far between) backed up traffic so badly that it took us four hours to travel a similar distance to a little village called Speen. Obviously, that trip was a lot worse -- especially as my husband had just gotten off a long transatlantic flight and had been awake for something like 36 hours. When we were finally able to get off the road and immediately discovered a bed and breakfast in a 17th-century coach house, it felt like a miracle.
"Maybe the Glen Tavern Inn will be our Speen," he said. "I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep."
"You were jet lagged and exhausted in Speen," I reminded him. "And hotels in old buildings tend to have really thin walls." I thought I should mention this to him, as he's a really light sleeper, but he didn't pay attention. My husband will always remember Speen as an old-fashioned paradise, one he would love to recreate here.
And at first glance, the Glen Tavern Inn filled the bill. The antique-filled lobby of the 1911 building is a bit of Craftsman perfection, and the woman behind the desk gave us a friendly welcome. "You're in the Honeymoon suite," she told us as she handed us the old-fashioned key (no plastic cardkeys here).
And the bedroom was indeed charming -- although the four-poster bed seemed a lot smaller than the King we'd requested. (I think it was merely a double). The bathroom, however, was decidedly spartan, with a tiny basin, no counterspace and a standard tub.
The Jacuzzi tub was located on the opposite end of the bedroom -- and when I saw it, I burst out laughing. It was one of those heart-shaped tubs you see in tacky ads for honeymoon trips to the Poconos... and it was bright red, to boot. On top of that, the Glen Tavern owners appear to have taken the Inn's history as a former bordello to heart, because the lamp fixture in that room was lit by a red bulb.
Definitely NOT the Four Seasons.
After a nice dinner at the hotel's Grove restaurant, we returned to our room with the intention of trying out the tub -- only to discover that it had no stopper. So we decided to call the front desk. The only problem with that was that the room had no telephone! ("How can they have free wi-fi here and no telephone?" my husband mused.)
I was glad I hadn't yet undressed, because I needed to march back out to the lobby to ask for a bathtub stopper. It took the hotel staff some time to find one... and it only worked passably well, meaning we had to keep refilling the tub once we'd turned the jets on. (The control for the jets was inconveniently located just outside the room.)
The place was beginning to feel like Fawlty Towers.
The bedroom was really stuffy, and another truism about old hotels is that they tend not to have central air conditioning. We turned on the window unit, which not only didn't work well but was really noisy. So we opened the windows, accomplishing our goal of cooling off the room. But it also let in the noise of the street and the neighbors' loud TV... and the hotel rooms were indeed thin, which meant we heard the conversations of everyone who passed by our room in the hallway.
I couldn't sleep. I dragged my iPod into the bathroom (the one without the heart-shaped Jacuzzi) and watched an old episode of Grey's Anatomy, before returning to the bed. The noise from our neighbors eventually stopped... but it wasn't long before we got an earful of a crowing rooster.
Bet you don't hear THAT at the Four Seasons.
But you don't get a $79 rate, either. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for, and the Glen Tavern Inn is a perfectly nice place for an overnight to a charming part of SoCal. And if you visit in the winter, you might even get to keep your windows closed.
I have nothing but good things to say about the Santa Paula Coffee Company, where I've spent the last three hours surfing the web while I've written this report. Good atmostphere, great coffee, friendly proprietors and free wi-fi. Free refills, too. You can't get any better than that.