Monday, 1 August 2011

‘The paedophile used a parrot to lure children to a secluded spot, where he’d molest them.’ – American News Reader.

The drive to LA was largely uneventful until we arrived. Then it quickly became a series of jump outs to enquire whether or not that particular Motel had any rooms. They did not. Until we arrived at a pleasant little place which was also sorry to inform me that they didn’t have any rooms but that they did know a place that had a vacancy. One phone call and an efficient series of wrong turns later we arrived. At $70 dollars a night, it was the most expensive place we had stayed so far in the US, but, needs must and we gratefully accepted the keys from the man in the open dressing gown, the vest and the boxers before dragging our bags into the room. It wasn’t the nicest place. For one, it had a colony of Ants leading onto and off of a large brown stain which was half in and half out of the stinking bathroom. The sheets were a different shade of brown than the stain on the floor, but brown nonetheless and there was a pane of glass missing from the window. Emma and I scanned the room, seeing everything at exactly the same time before looking at each other with horrified expressions. Not only that, but there was a fucking parrot in the room next door and it was making a bloody racket all night.

The next day, the screeching of the parrot still ringing in our ears, we moved to a hostel on Venice Beach, which was a lot better. We dumped our bags and went for a walk along the promenade. Oh the humanity. Rollerblading cats being dragged by their owners as they skateboard along in a pair of stonewashed hotpants past the stall owners who proclaimed themselves to be ‘Kush Doctors’ – this being California, the same rules apply here as in San Francisco where cannabis is concerned – people dressed in every conceivable get up are parading their individuality up and down Venice beach. The place has a horribly fascinating aspect to it, as well as good bars, hustlers, players, the world famous ‘Muscle Beach’ and highly competitive games of Basketball, Handball and ‘guess where the ball is when I move these three cups around’. In a lot of ways it looks like the recreation yard at Pelican Bay. You’ll only get that reference if you have watched ‘America’s Hardest Prisons’ but I make no apology for it. We spent a lot of time there and, barring certain places in India, is my number one spot for people watching in any of the countries we’ve visited so far.

On our return to the hostel we got a couple of beers and went to the common area to drink them. We came in as the news was starting and in between the post Oscars chatter there was a story regarding a paedophile, now thought to be in the Los Angeles area, who was easily recognisable by the fact that he often walked along nearby Long Beach with a parrot on his shoulder. We both thought back to the previous night’s sleeplessness. The co-incidence was too great, surely not? The story continued and in rip roaring American broadcasting style ‘The paedophile used a parrot to lure children to a secluded spot, where he’d molest them.’ Should we call the police? Na, fuck it. We’re off to Rio in two days, what we should do, is get more beers before the shops shut. So we did.

The next day we took two buses, the car was parked in a non paying zone and we didn’t dare move it for fear of losing the spot, to Hollywood and walked along looking at the stars with people’s names written in them. That was pretty much that in Hollywood. I don’t know exactly what we were expecting, but whatever it was, we thought it would be better than that. So back to Venice Beach for some more gawping at the weirdos , a good old fashioned American bar meal and then bed. My cousin Marianne lives in LA with her husband Jose and their son Romain, possibly one of the cutest kids in the whole American continent, not too far from Venice Beach and we went round to hers for a delicious meal, probably the healthiest thing we ate during the entirety of our trip around the states and some excellent chat and insight into the LA way of life. A good evening was had by all and if you’re reading this Marianne, Emma and I would like to thank you once again!

The next day, our last in the US, was spent rollerblading from Venice to Santa Monica. I bought a silver banana hammock for the journey but Emma stopped me from pairing it with my rented rollerblades for an ensemble that really wouldn’t have looked that out of place next to some of the get up these uber cool LA hipsters were wearing without any hint of shame or irony. We had a nice blade around until we saw a bar offering some crazy deals on giant, American sized Margheritas. We met some characters in that place. One gay 40 something took a shine to Emma’s front boobs whilst we watched one of the cheesiest men in the United States chat up a girl. “Are you spiritual at all?” He asked. I involuntarily laughed at this toe curling attempt at painting himself as some kind of guru in the pursuit of ‘tail’ as the Americans charmingly refer to fanny. Even the flamboyant gay guy raised an eyebrow, but I think his face may have been permanently frozen in that position.

After returning the skates we inadvertently stumbled onto the set of the American Torchwood filming on the beach, we only realised when the director came round to tell people what position to sit in as the wind whistled around the goose pimpled extras. “Are you with us?” He shouted. “Na” I replied. “LOVE IIIIT!” he stated before carrying on back to the cameras for another take. It was about then that we took our leave. After all, we were heading to Rio de Janeiro the next day and the flight was by no means direct, so we headed on back and packed our bags in readiness for the next stage of the trip. South America and Carnivale.

‘California’s nice but I like seasons’ – ‘So do I, that’s why I live in a place that got rid of all the shitty ones’ – Daniel Tosh (Continued)

We left San Francisco in the rain and were able to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to view the full majesty of SF as well as Alcatraz in the blazing sunshine about a mile and a half away. Evidently, SF has its own meteorological prerogative and just refuses to fall into line with the rest of California like some kind of non conforming, LSD quaffing poet. I should point out that the view’s pretty nice once you’re over there.

We drove down the coast and gradually the built up areas thinned out and we were soon catching our first glimpses of the Pacific, and SF’s suburbs eventually became distinct towns and then we took our first stop. Santa Cruz. We were nearing the end of February and as such the normally bustling, college town of Santa Cruz was lacking its usual party spirit. An old wooden rollercoaster dominated it’s skyline and loomed imperiously over a rubbish beach which we went and sat on, almost out of a sense of duty, before wandering around its almost closed theme park. I say almost closed because we did stumble upon the most elaborate crazy golf course I’ve ever seen. With its Pirate theme and animatronic figures popping out from boxes it looked more like a Disney ride. It beats the UK ones hands down, where a badly made windmill with blades that don’t even turn pass for an activity worth £4.

The next day we drove into Monterey Bay, an upmarket resort town which we arrived, ascertained that we couldn’t stay there (even the Super 6 Motel was over $100, little in joke for all the American travelling salesmen reading this) and walked along the boardwalk before getting back in the car and driving to Big Sur National Park. We didn’t stay there long, I have to be honest. Drove in, looked for somewhere to swim, saw that the river looked like it would certainly take both of our lives should we be stupid enough to get in it and left before hitting the Pacific Highway, where the views suddenly got excellent.
Now that I’ve worked out how to put photos on I no longer have to bother describing anything anymore. Needless to say, we drove and round each bend came yet more breathtaking views.

We, or I should say, Emma, drove a long time that day, so far, that we had to kind of make an emergency stop a nightfall in an unapologetic college town, where the barmen in every bar we visited that night, looked and behaved like Stiffler from American Pie. The drinks were not cheap and the people, despite their perfectly straight, white, plastic teeth, weren’t really my cup of tea. But then most people aren’t. The next day, we went to the public library to use their internet and after ascertaining that there weren’t any rooms available, we didn’t let that phase us and battered on straight through to LA regardless.  The lack of accommodation would be an inconvenience, but would also lead us to within a hairs breadth of catching a wanted, Long Beach paedophile in a Motel just off Sunset Boulevard. Well, kind of.

‘California’s nice but I like seasons’ – ‘So do I, that’s why I live in a place that got rid of all the shitty ones’. - Daniel Tosh

After picking up a new and much worse hire car from the MGM Grand it was a long drive to Shoshone, a tiny hamlet with one motel, some trailers and a bar/diner that seemed only to sell Hash Browns. We arrived late after stopping in numerous other hamlets, each with fewer amenities than the last. Shoshone was the last stop off before entering the Death Valley National Park, a fact it seemed to be almost arrogant about, judging by the cost of the petrol, water and sandwiches available at the only store for 50 miles.

Death Valley, if you aren’t acquainted with it, is the hottest place on earth. It has the highest year round average temperature and was pipped by Libya for the highest ever recorded temperature (57°C if you’re wondering) as well as this inhospitable claim to fame it is also the lowest point on earth, 287m below sea level to be exact and within this hellish basin is contained impressive salt flats, cacti and various scurrying rodents and carnivorous birds who pick clean the skulls of deer and other unfortunate beasts who wander unaccompanied into a very bad time indeed. The park itself was massive, despite looking like the much quicker route to Bakersfield on the map the 30mph speed limits and exceptionally law abiding New Jersey and New England tourists made for another long days driving and we gratefully pulled into a crap Motel for some rest in Bakersfield before Emma steeled herself for the drive to the first major city we’d been to since New Orleans – San Francisco.

San Francisco is notorious in the rest of the US for the lack of kerbside parking, as well as the sheer expense of it, with space at a premium the cost of a days parking can be upwards of $9 an hour, a cost we could not accommodate given our limited budget so we set out with gritted teeth to look for one of the rarer than a Golden Eagle free spaces the woman at the front desk of our hostel had told us about. Although she did say ‘There’s so few of them they might as well not exist’ That’s good then. She told us where there was one and we went to look for it. ‘It should be painted green.’ She told us. We found the right street but each parking bay was of a depressing uniformity. Standard grey. I asked someone who looked like he may own a shop on the street. ‘Do you know if it’s OK to park here?’ I asked. He looked at me, blinked twice and without saying a word started dragging a motorcycle out of the way and gesturing for Emma to pull into the space it had left. ‘Thank you, thank you so much’ I said, he had after all, saved us about $250 dollars in parking over the three days we planned to stay there. He gave me a huge smile and waved his hand at me before scurrying back into his shop. ‘I think I just met the best man in the whole of the United States’ I told Emma as we took our bags up to the hostel.

Now, we’ve all seen the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and that twisty road that featured in Bullit (I think) but what you won’t have seen unless you’ve visited certain parts of California, is the extremely laid back view that Californians take towards Cannabis, The Chronic, Sweet Mary Jane, Ganja, The ‘Erb, Marijuana, Puff, Weed or whatever else you kids are calling it nowadays.

The thing that made it so surprising, was coming so recently from States like Texas and Nevada where possession results in instant chemical castration and over 500 years in prison. Everyone was smoking mad blunts -On the way to work, dropping off their kids at day care, bus drivers, hipsters, doctors and tourists all at it - So that’s an exaggeration, of course, and what, I hear you ask, can you expect from a place that basically spawned American counter culture – Ken Keasey, Jack Kerouack, the Merry Pranksters and LSD all originated here – but the smell of it permeates the city, it’s even more prevalent than Amsterdam. The reason for this is a legal grey area and a source of much debate for San Franciscans. It remains illegal at a Federal level, meaning the FBI could basically close San Francisco down should the need arise, but on a state level, it is absolutely legal as long as you can prove that you have Glaucoma or a bad back or bunions (that’s not even a joke) to a doctor who will then write you a legal, over the counter prescription to be filled at a state sanctioned Marijuana ‘facility’.

That there, is how they roll (pun) in San Fran. Apparently they hate it when you call it San Fran. A lesson I learned the hard way in a bar on South Progress Street, a bar with over 150 beers on tap, putting to bed once and for all the myth that Americans only drink Coors Light, Bud Light and in certain states (Alabama)exclusively a home brewed 96% distilled spirit called Hooch. The Micro Brewing scene is thriving, particularly on the West coast and we sampled a great deal of them whilst chatting to a restaurant manager and head chef about subjects ranging from gun control, the cannabis question and why it’s frowned upon to call their city ‘San Fran’.  Don’t ask me the reason, I’d forgotten a minute after they’d told me but the main thing is that I won’t make that mistake again. Even, if I don’t know why.

We spent a number of very enjoyable afternoon hours in that bar, due to the fact that San Francisco - once again bucking the trend set by the rest of California; 75°F and sunny, every, single, day – was under a slow moving sheet of grey drizzle, which, in one of the very few walking cities in the US, was a real pain. We persevered anyway trudging from landmark to landmark in the rain like arseholes until nightfall when we found ourselves in China Town.  There’s only so many Tsing Tao you can drink however and we eventually returned to our hostel, the Green Turtle, drunk as bastards and went to sleep. The next day was more of the same if I remember correctly except that we ended the evening listening to some pretty good live bands in a few bars with some people we’d met at our hostel. A good night was had by all and we slept soundly for the drive south, towards LA, via the spectacular Highway 1.