Sideways Forever

The thrilling conclusion to Lizzie and Kaitlyn’s three-part wine tour in Santa Barbara

A collage: images of the front window of Danish Mill Bakery, a candy store, and a woman holding a "Forever Sideways" sweatshirt.
The Atlantic

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This is the final installment of a special three-part Famous People series about a single weekend in California. If you missed parts one and two, you can read them here.

Kaitlyn: Here we are, at the end of a trip you have been hearing about for days now.

As our 36 hours in Sideways country were winding down, we made a second stop at the Hitching Post II. Our favorite place in California, possibly the nation! Lizzie and Frank needed to purchase matching Forever Sideways sweatshirts, and the hostess very generously helped them select their sizes while people waiting for tables lined up behind us. It was pouring rain, so again we were tempted to stay put in the romantic, cozy, gorgeous, meat-scented Hitching Post II, but again we were pushed on by our absurd list of movie-fandom-related tasks.

We were picked up by a man in a Tesla who told us that, in addition to driving for Uber, he has a private-car service. He said that one of the celebrities he used to drive was Michael Jackson, and that Neverland Ranch was actually not far from where we were at the moment. (Fact check: This was apparently true.) He had driven Jackson there many times, he claimed. “Oh,” I said.

Lizzie: “Put it this way: I used to deliver pizza to Michael Jackson,” was actually his response to the question “Are you from here?,” which felt to us like he had skipped a few steps. Then, when I asked him if he’d met any other celebrities, he responded, “You name one, I’ve been to their house.” I didn’t really want to start naming celebrities, but he rattled them off anyway: Jeff Bridges, Orlando Bloom, “Caddy” Perry, Pink. He told us that Pink was really nice and that Michael Jackson was always dressed “as Spider-Man or Peter Pan, or in his pajamas.”

Our driver (who, by the way, was barefoot) dropped us off in—I guess—what you would consider “downtown Solvang.” It felt like a New Jersey beach town except with windmills instead of Ferris wheels. Most of the stores were touristy souvenir shops where you could buy a miniature Dutch clog or a big T-shirt gown for sleeping in. We wandered from shop to shop, dodging the rain and making pointless purchases for our loved ones. Frank bought some kind of Dutch Santa Claus figurine, Kaitlyn bought green-army-men gummy candy, and I bought a toylike object called “Suddenly! Giant Fish Eggs” that allows you, the owner of this object, to “Create Mounds of Clear Spheres Instantly!” It “Makes 6 Full Cups!” I haven’t created the six full cups of mounds of clear spheres yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Kaitlyn: The gummy army guys were for Nathan—I also got him a postcard with some sliced barbecued pork and a California landscape on it. Our next stop was the Red Viking Restaurant, which only real Sideways-heads will recognize, as it appears in the movie for less than one second, when the guys pass by it on their way to Solvang Restaurant, which was closed by the time we were ready for dinner. We shared an order of aebleskiver and I had a piece of bread with pork and cabbage on it. I also ordered a Diet Coke and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and poured one into the other. I said I felt ready to stay up all night. I said I would go to a club, but not literally.

When we got back to our room, Lizzie put on the Japanese remake of Sideways from 2009 and I fell asleep almost instantly.

A laptop sitting on a hotel bed, playing the Japanese remake of Sideways.
The Japanese remake of Sideways, which wasn't great. (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Lizzie: I found Japanese Sideways, or Saidoweizu, when I was trying to download Sideways for the plane ride home. The premise is essentially the same (two old friends letting loose before one of them gets married) except they go to Napa instead of Santa Barbara and there’s like seven additional plotlines. I recognize that Sideways is not the most thrilling movie of all time, but that’s part of its charm. You’re wine-drunk! You move slowly! It seems like the team behind Saidoweizu attempted to compensate for the leisurely plot pace by adding in elements such as a lady-cop ball-gag scene, a wild goose chase to find rare wine, and a running joke that everyone assumes the Miles character and the Jack character are dating.

Throughout this somewhat confusing experience, Frank was trying to make his way through a bottle of local Chardonnay he’d had delivered to his room. He kept telling me how bad it tasted, then asking me if I wanted some. With each new pour, he would say something like, “I think it’s poison,” or “It’s starting to burn my lips,” and inhale deeply before going in for another sip.

At one point, he was trying to determine what opera the Saidoweizu soundtrack reminded him of, and started singing loudly into his Shazam app, “BUM BUM BUM BUMMMM,” punctuated by yelling Kaitlyn’s name in an attempt to wake her up and make her drink more gas-station Chard. Kaitlyn, amazingly, kept sleeping.

Kaitlyn: Apparently, while he was suffering from self-inflicted poisoning, Frank was also sending me and Lizzie a bunch of links to haunting TikTok videos. So the first thing I laid eyes on in the morning was a short clip of a pink-haired middle-aged woman stepping slowly but confidently into a decorative fountain at a mall while Rihanna’s “Umbrella” played.

We had a subdued morning, post-whirlwind-wine-tour day. Sort of like at the end of Sideways, when the boys are wrapping the trip up in silent understanding of each other’s hangovers and general fatigue and character flaws. The rolling hills of California, covered with those “not too useful” California oaks, were, I said sleepily, probably full of militias. I wanted to be back in New York, as I always do. We picked up Starbucks and stopped for one minute on the side of the road outside of the ostrich farm mentioned in Sideways. The ostriches were, I don’t know, huge? You could pay to feed them, but we didn’t have time. We had to drive back down the coast to Los Angeles in reflective silence, broken only by Lizzie reciting the monologue from Jerry Maguire and then by Lizzie reciting two Robert Frost poems she had memorized.

Lizzie: Just so we’re clear, I didn’t memorize the poems for entertainment purposes. It was one of those pointless tasks they make you do in junior high or whatever, and the poems, I guess, will remain lodged in my head for the rest of my life. I did memorize the “Who’s coming with me?” monologue from Jerry Maguire for fun, but I missed some parts, probably due to the lingering Gamay haze.

As we drove back along the cow-studded coast, I settled back to take in the local landmarks. My last note of the trip is “San Lucas Breeding Facility,” I suppose in reference to some kind of breeding facility in San Lucas.

When we got to L.A., we had to first get rid of Frank. We unceremoniously dropped him off on the side of the road somewhere in Culver City, hugged goodbye, and waved out the back window as he stood there, hungover with all of his luggage, watching us drive away, like in a movie. “Go! You’re better off without me!” From there, it was the usual scramble to the airport, a crawling journey on the Hertz bus, and a brisk, sweaty walk through three terminals while trying to keep my pants up (I had left my belt at home since I didn’t want to go through the process of taking it off at security).

Kaitlyn: Another time, on the way to the airport, I happened upon a tweet that said “I really don’t think JFK would like this airport.” It was funny timing, since I was going there, so it stuck with me. And it’s also kind of an interesting thought experiment. Would JFK like it? You could argue it in either direction I think. It doesn’t matter. I’m only bringing this up so I can say that it’s good that LAX doesn’t have a namesake. There’s no way they would like it. It’s crowded and ugly and a visual insult to the very idea of coastal elitism. There’s a big glass wall that says The Los Angeles Times, but you cannot buy a newspaper?

While we waited to board, Lizzie and I ate potato burritos and downloaded Sideways, finally, onto our devices. I flipped through my notes and research materials and tried to decide if I had learned anything. In the 1998 version of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course—the classic wine text I had purchased to prepare for this trip, which was based on Zraly’s time running the wine program at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center (which was destroyed on 9/11), I underlined the part where he shares that he likes his wines “bright, rich, mature, developed, seductive, and with nice legs!!” He also noted that America did not really have much of a wine culture at that time. Just 5 percent of Americans were drinking 95 percent of the wine—that’s different now because of Sideways! Reportedly, the movie shamed Americans into feeling that they were idiots if they didn’t know about Pinot Noir, and that is, in a roundabout way, how Lizzie and I ended up at Red Viking Restaurant, mixing soda with an $8 Cab. Yet I never figured out what it would mean for a wine to have nice legs. And I thought the Chardonnay that poisoned Frank tasted pretty much fine.

So what about the other stuff? In advance of this trip, many people asked Lizzie and me if we were going to have sexual affairs in California, betraying our romantic partners but solidifying our bond through shared secrets. We didn’t bother with that.

Lizzie: There truly wasn’t enough time! And as for the learning-more-about-wine part, I think we needed a real-life Miles to lead us, when unfortunately we just had ourselves.

On the flight back, we both watched Sideways. I was struck by how insufferable and boring Miles was—his only redeeming quality is that he sort of, vaguely, silently, disapproves of Jack cheating on his fiancée the week before their wedding. Makes you think that Maya’s marbles weren’t all there, since she seems to find Miles intriguing solely because he’s a writer, and because he wrote a book that was too long for anyone but her to want to read it. Don’t read anything a man hands you from the back of his Saab!

Kaitlyn: I have always said that it would make me so sad to be Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways: Thomas Haden Church using me, ignoring me, ruining my favorite restaurant, then crashing my car on purpose to cover up his own misdeeds. But watching Sideways again on the plane, I realized that Jack is not that bad of a friend after all. He is awful to most women but he is supportive of Miles’s writing career, he was nice to Miles’s mom, and he is really funny when he chases those guys on the golf course. And Miles is a poor sport for most of Jack’s bachelor trip, making everything about himself—his failed marriage and his snobby opinions.

I guess if I learned anything by going “sideways,” it’s that I would rather be a Jack than a Miles. Also, I am actually very young, even though I tend to feel old. It will be so many years until my first divorce. And then? Who knows, maybe it will be time for me and Lizzie to “do” Sideways again.

Lizzie: I’ll find my scratch-and-sniff book by then.