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American Road Trip part 10 – End of The Road and ‘The Big Finish’

Familiar Faces in Far Off Places.

For Lucie x

By Mandy.

Just north of Cambria is the town of San Simeon, the starting point of the “Big Sur”, a 90 mile section of coastline where the Santa Lucia mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. With its stunning scenery and dramatic twists and turns it’s incomparable to anywhere we had travelled previously. The 90 mile stretch ends in Carmel, a town known for its fairytale cottages and Clint Eastwood who served as Mayor from 1986 to 1988.

 

As I have said previously this part of the Californian coastline is a far cry from what I had imagined, we compared it to certain coastal roads in Cornwall, an almost Celtic feel to the whole experience. Hugging the coast with spectacular views of the ocean had a calming effect on both of us and we hadn’t spoken for over an hour.

 

The mixed feeling of wanting to do everything and nothing at all was ever prevailing. One simple but memorable moment for me was at Bixby Canyon Bridge, near the end of The Big Sur if you are heading North. We stopped at one of the many Vista’s to breath in its air and take advantage of the visuals. It’s one of the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world. Built in 1932 and at 360ft it also has the longest concrete arch span on the California State Highway System. It transports you from craggy rock to craggy rock over Bixby Creek and the Pacific Ocean.

 

We’d noticed there were a lot of younger people cycling the route and the road leading up to the bridge was arduous and winding.

“Hey, has anyone ever told you you look like the Dude?” Coming from a guy with thighs of steel, and the stamina and determination of The Hulk when things aren’t going his way.

“Yeah, well that’s just like your opinion man” Was Ian’s reply

“Ha ha cool, he looks like the Dude” and steel thigh Hulk man proceeded to high fine Ian before continuing up the slope.

“Well that’s just like your opinion man, where did that come from?” I asked

“The film”

“Which film?”

“The Big Lebowski”

“So what’s the bloody Dude?”

“No, who is the Dude?”

“You apparently”

“I’ll show you when we get some wifi”

Back in the car.

“So do you actually look like this Dude bloke?”

“It’s Jeff Bridges, kind of scruffy, lazy, long hair, dirty beard and a bit overweight with a cardigan”

“You don’t wear cardigans”

We booked ourselves into The Sea breeze motel in Pacifica at around 5.30pm, trying to come to terms with it being the last stay of our trip, it was bitter-sweet. The stunning location, right there on the beach was enough to keep us smiling. The guy at check in mentioned we were lucky, rooms were selling very quickly. There was a huge baseball game going on, National League champions San Francisco Giants and American League champions, Kansas City Royals.

I know not the first thing about Baseball, but got the impression that this was something big.

There were two double beds in our room and I felt it only right to tell the check in guy that our daughter would be joining us the next day..

“Would this be an extra charge” I enquired

“Excuse me?”

“An extra charge for our daughter, she’s arriving tomorrow?”

“I didn’t hear a thing, I know nothing”

Like this would happen in the UK.

Priorities, firstly check out this “Dude” guy and laugh hysterically, secondly upload some photos onto Facebook for my dad who had wanted to come with us but settled with my suggestion of keeping him updated about our roadtrip every step of the way in the form of photos. That way he could follow us on his map. He didn’t have a computer or phone so we settled for him borrowing the landlady’s on one of his many visits to the pub. I remained dedicated to this agreement every step of the way. He well, he forgot.

Trading at car shows and events up and down the country here in the UK for the last 16 years we have got to know a lot of people, some have become lifelong friends others we will recognise as being friends of friends .

As I’m flicking through my Facebook Newsfeed that evening I notice two guys that we see regularly at various events but had never spoken to. They were in the US and had been struggling to find accommodation in San Francisco for that evening, having only managed to find a place by the airport at a ridiculous price they were far from happy.

“Hey Ian you know the guy with the pink Mohican from the shows, he is in San Francisco with his mate, a bit pissed off at how much the prices have gone up because of the game”

“Pink mohican?”

“Yeah he used to go out with the girl with the legs. Hearses, they both have hearses”

“Oh him, that’s not pink it’s Purple!!”

“Ah ok, I’ve only ever seen him from a distance or at night, shall we mention to them that there are rooms here at a good price?”

“You could”

So I did and they thanked me and that was that, for then.

 

Lucie was on her way to us from Chicago, around a 4000km 50 hour train ride and we hadn’t had any contact from the point of her leaving.

Her travels across the eastern states  of the USA had made for a great story so far. Just over two months for her, it seemed strange that we were going to become part of that.

The last Facebook message from her  had told us where to be and when.

Just to mention how proud I am of this hippy child who has been travelling solo since around the age of 17, she’s 30 next month. Stories from her travels are told on her brief trips back to the UK. I’ve learnt that it’s not always the best idea to be aware of events as they are unfolding.

Next morning we headed 24 miles north to the Emeryville part of San Francisco and the Amtrak station. Being early we were able to check out a nearby Market. Maybe it doesn’t happen everywhere but the few markets we had encountered had been a great combination of wares, hot food, music and alcohol. Here in particular we also had a ‘Jenga’ of second-hand furniture, placed high on top of pick up beds, simulating precarious product placement and numerous possibilities to win the game. However on closer inspection there was an ingenious interlocking of chair and table legs creating an invisible force field holding all solidly in place.

 

The California Zephyr has been called one of the worlds greatest trains. I was feeling it to be an honour and a privilege to be in its presence, reason alone for a rise in emotion I wasn’t fully expecting. It slid gracefully into the station in the style of Jane Torvill just before she collapses triumphantly onto the ice. Gleaming stainless steel carriages featuring no fewer than four vista domes for sightseeing!

I’m usually fine up to that point, that moment when I see for the first time the mode of transport that is either taking Lucie away or bringing her back. Today there was a definite increase in my emotional instability. The train and its incredible journey together with Lucie’s own undeniably unique story, my own pride at the adventurer in her and her strength to never give up no matter what, were all contributing factors resulting in emotionally charged and irrational behaviour.

So there I was, holding Lucie’s little face to make sure it was still connected to her head properly. Checking out her tiny little body to see if she’d lost or gained weight, studying what she was she wearing, were these her own clothes or those of a moonshine runner named Troy from Tennessee?

“Where’s your luggage?”

I was bloody right, she didn’t want to worry us, she’s lost everything!

“Erm, I’m not sure”

“You look so tired”

“No haven’t slept much, the seats weren’t the best so slept on the floor under this guy’s seat”

“Which guy?”

“Just a guy, this guy”

And there he was , kindly placing her luggage at her feet, thanking her for her company over the last couple of days, brief hug, knowing nod, gone.

What was happening to me? I was once this cool!

 

Back in the car and she’s talking but the words were only being heard intermittently, “Horses, sun rise, sunset, viewing carriage, rivers, mountains, no food”

One sense at a time, I am still doing a full body scan with my eyes my ears will be available soon.

“No food, you haven’t eaten?”

“Well kind of, but the food on the train was really expensive!”

 

Our motel, as I’ve said, was in a great location, the building itself is set back from the ocean, rooms all on ground floor level opening up onto the car park which leads to the seafront. On that day some of the cars parked out front were taking on quite a bit of sea spray from the waves crashing up against the rocks. Pretty cool car park too, a good 50/50 balance of classics and modern.

 

 

 

 

The room was fine, basic but everything we needed although when Lucie arrived it was as if we were showing her around the luxury home of an overpaid footballer in Cheshire’s golden triangle!

“Is this mine?” Whilst gently stroking the “Retro” quilted finish of the double bed throw.

“Yes”

“All of it?”

“Unless you’ve got someone stashed away in your luggage”

“Wow!”

Her eyes lit up

“Do we have wifi ?”

“Yes”

“Free?”

“Yes”

“Oh and there’s a TV and a shower, does it work?”

“Luce where have you been staying?”

“Nowhere as luxurious as this”

I received a message of thanks from the guy with the purple hair and to say they had checked in and maybe we would meet up later.

Nick’s restaurant and bar is part of the Hotel complex and specialises in seafood, it reminded me of the large room where you would be served breakfast during your stay at a Bournemouth hotel in the seventies. Unintentionally retro, but classy at the same time with great food.

Myself and Ian at this time were in two completely different places in our heads, he was listening to the screaming coming from different locations around the building. We had concluded it could only be the result of the type of tension that exudes from men of a certain age who follow competitive sports.

I however had locked onto part of a conversation Lucie was having with her new boyfriend in the UK about travelling to San Diego in the next few days.

“Yeah San Diego, not sure how I’m getting there yet, doesn’t seem to be an affordable direct route via public transport”

“Ian, Ian” He was outside attempting his best impersonation of Inspector Clouseau whilst staring through motel windows striving to confirm the source of the riot.

“What?”

“Lucie is heading to San Diego in a day or two and she’s not sure how she’s going to get there”

Stepping away from the window he placed his back flat against the adjoining wall of the two rooms and invited me to do the same.

“How far is San Diego?”

I had already checked.

“500 miles!”

“She’ll work it out, these guys are watching the game, it’s mental!”

“Why is she going to San Diego?”

I hadn’t wanted to be too intrusive on her conversation but,

“I think it’s something to do with dogs”

“Dogs?”

“Dogs”

 

We headed over to the restaurant and the purple guy was nowhere to be seen or his mate, the place was busy. Dinner was outstanding, and as we finished up the crowd dispersed and I spotted his mate across the room. I smiled and he looked at me as if I was planning to steal his main course and down his pint.

Oh this isn’t going to be easy. Turns out it was probably the easiest 8 hours I have ever spent with virtual strangers. Ok it wasn’t 8 hours but it flowed great.

It’s interesting how much you can learn about a person by listening to their travel stories. I guess a person’s choice of road trip is a personal thing and there were so many similarities in choice and future plans it was a weird kind of comforting and helped to justify my life time need to just keep moving.

I learnt that the next day they were driving down to Los Angeles and my alcohol consumption was enough to instigate a cunning plan. I excused myself and made my way back to our room where Lucie had disappeared to speak to her boyfriend.

“We keep getting cut off mum”

“Luce you’ve got to come back in, purple guy and his mate are heading to LA tomorrow”

“OK?”

“Get back in there and seduce their butts off !”

“Mum!”

“I heard you were struggling to get to San Diego”

“Mum!”

“I know but if you can get to LA you’re nearly there, come on!”

She unwillingly came back into the restaurant and dropped a few hints about her struggle. My drunken mum intuition could still sense she was more than a little bit uncomfortable.

I bonded with purple man and his mate that evening in a way that only happens I think when you are sharing your experiences and dreams, I’m convinced it’s not something that would’ve happened over a drink in the UK. So on top of everything else thank you America for giving me the opportunity to hook up with a couple of genuine like-minded crazy folk.

Lucie didn’t get her lift to LA, she hadn’t asked outright but talking to these guys at a later date they knew exactly what she was hinting at. They had a loose itinerary but that definitely hadn’t involved the 24 year old blonde daughter of a couple of people they had only just met . I got that.

Next morning we said our goodbyes to purple guy and his mate, I was envious of what lay ahead for them, it was near the beginning of their trip and ours was drawing to an end.

It was another beautiful day in northern California, cooler than we had experienced in most other places but we were lucky to not have had the fog which is a common weather phenomena in the San Francisco bay area and has apparently acquired the nickname “Karl”. The name derives from a Twitter account set up my an anonymous user. For years the fog had received bad press taking the blame for ruining social gatherings, and generally setting a mood of indifference and lethargy.

Strangely giving the fog a name has helped residents embrace its presence. Karl has 400,000 followers on twitter, an instagram account and is a published author with a book of photos and wisdom!

 

Lucie was itching to drive the hire car so we headed down the coast road to Half Moon Bay with her at the wheel.

When did she ever get to be a grown up ? When did I ever think that I would be sitting in the back of a Mustang on the Pacific Highway with my daughter in charge of whether we stick to the tarmac or do a “Thelma and Louise” over the cliff into the ocean below.

 

 

People who had been following our trip on Facebook were realising that it all was coming to an end, some were asking for a big finish, others were insisting on it.

“Something mind blowing needs to happen today or tomorrow” I was starting to feel obliged to provide an entertaining finale.

“Let’s run naked on the beach!” This was Lucie

“Keep going to Mexico” Ian

“I’m up for that. I could really eat a meat pie” enthused Lucie

“A Mexican one?”

“No, one from the chippy in town”

“Oh yeah, with thick gravy and mushy peas”

I wasn’t sure if it was the drop in temperature where we were or our brains sending out signals to our bodies to start storing up the fat reserves as it was November and bloody cold in the UK.

We pulled over to take in some spectacular views of the ocean and contemplated food, lots of it.

The plan was to drive and pull over at the next visibly obvious place that would satisfy our ever-increasing need for stodge, chips and a pint of something dirty.

Back in the car, heading south and simultaneously we spotted something magical, however our level of surprise was expressed quite differently.

“Shut the front door !” This was Lucie and translates as; I can’t believe what I’m seeing/hearing.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha” This was me, quite hysterically if I remember.

“They’re flying the Union Jack!” Ian, the artist and observer of the finest visual detail, always.

Cameron’s Pub! Cameron’s British pub even! Cameron, a guy who had moved to the US when he was 10 years old. His family are well-travelled but their roots lie in Newcastle upon Tyne.

We were each as equally excited as the other, a little emotional even.

 

From an early age I would immerse my overactive imagination into various travel scenarios and as a child I would act them out, each one with a Lee Marvin “Wandering Star” ending. Cindy’s beach buggy heads west to the foot of the wardrobe, I’d look back and wave at Bungle, Pippa Doll and a small French style ornament I’d named Sabrina, all whilst planning my next adventure from the end of the bunk bed.

As an adult and way more sophisticated, no more Cindy beach buggies for me, I made a promise to never indulge in the obsession of searching for the comforts of home whilst exploring other cultures. We had been here for almost 6 weeks though so surely it was allowed, I reminded Ian of this as justification for what we were about to do.

“You were craving Christmas dinner in Vegas, stew in Utah, we had it for breakfast remember? And I thought you were going to pass out with excitement in Arizona when you spotted self-serve homemade soup!”

“Oh yeah, it must just be in my DNA then, you can’t mess with that”

Cameron’s pub is quintessential of all that a British Pub used to be before they turned into just glorified eating places where you can purchase an alcoholic drink. Somewhere where it’s still OK to sit at the bar on a tall stool passing the time of day. 19 beers on tap and an impressive display of empty cans from around the world, a collection that apparently exceeds over 2000!

 

A vast and eclectic mix of typically British memorabilia adorns the walls and ceilings inside, whilst outside in the garden sits their very own vintage double-decker bus. Without discussing we jointly decided that’s where we were headed, but first, of course, the menu.

“They have pasties!!”

“Sausage and Mash!”

“Shepherds Pie”

“Fish and Chips”

Sensibly and so much out of character we discussed the sourcing of the ingredients. Would they be English style sausages? Would the Shepherds Pie have gravy like your granny used to make ? And then the fish, we were on the coast it was a no brainer. Looking back that was such a sensationally impressive display of willpower considering the overwhelming inner pressure for shortcrust and Bisto!

 

So would that be my attempt at a “Mindblowing” end to the story for all who were asking and following our Trip? ……… Pfft, I don’t think so.

Did we have an adventure to end all adventures when we, on our last day had to drive Lucie to San Diego? ……….. Nope, not that either. She managed to piece together a trip that involved numerous trains and buses, all at times that meant she wouldn’t be hanging around in dark places for too long. Result! Result that happened at 3.30am after 3 exhausting hours of exploring hundreds of options.

I had tried to go to sleep about 1am, which was about as successful as trying to have just “Five more minutes” when your alarm has already gone off seven times!

Twice I had opened my eyes to her little furrowed brow twitching in the glow of her laptop screen.

In a whispered tone, “Mum I’ve done it, finally”

“Brilliant what about tickets and stuff”

“Sorted”

Immediately I felt a huge relief and then a weird emotion which comes with wondering if she’s going to be ok.

“When you leaving?”

“Tomorrow morning, same station you picked me up from. Are you OK to drop me off?”

“Yeah of course”

“You Ok?”

“Yeah where you off to after that?”

“I’m home for a while remember”

“Oh of course you are”, and at that I went to sleep.

We had already discussed the dogs. She would be working at a Dog rescue centre in San Diego. Like I shouldn’t have guessed that one.

“Do they put you up?”

“Yeah of course, I’ll be sleeping in the back of a Chevy Van”

“Chevy van, like a Dayvan you mean?”

“Yeah pretty much like the old one we used to have”

“Cool”.

 

The train was late the next morning, the guy at the Kiosk had, I thought, recognised Lucie from somewhere when looking at her travel papers he announced.

“Lucie!” ……….. proceeded by

“In the sky with diamonds” The station was small and old style, the guy was too.

“Bet you hear that all the time don’t you” he grinned back at her.

“Yeah quite a bit” whilst sending an approving grin right back at him.

“The train is going to be around 25 minutes late” says the guy, at the same time making an announcement over the speakers to the platform warning of the same delay

“Train is going to be late, don’t get on the next train that stops at the station, it’s not yours. You’ll end up somewhere ya don wanna be”

I wondered how he knew that all the people stood on the platform were waiting for the late train. What about the people who did want to get on the next train that was going to stop at the station?

He looked at us.

“Look at them, they aren’t listening” and at that he offered to escort Lucie to her place on the platform whilst advising her on connecting trains.

“You don’t need to go out there yet do you?” I asked

“Best to be safe” he advised.

I checked her face was safely on her head and she was gone.

 

That day we washed the car at an all American super efficient hand car wash in the city, it was covered in sea salt to the point of having that collapsed “M” mark on the windscreen where you have tried to clear the screen, entirely for driving visibility purposes. The mark that we get here in the UK from dust and grime. The interior had somehow managed to accumulate a few kilos of beach too.

We drove, we floundered, we drank some stuff, we ate some stuff, we floundered some more, discussed the possibility of stealing the hire car, drank some more and slept our last sleep in the USA.

 

The following morning, I removed the polystyrene cool box and its stinky contents from the back of the car and placed it in the hotel room.

The obvious and most sensible thing to have done with it would have been to break it into small pieces and stick it in the trash, but it had been with us since around day three so neither of us were ready to do that. We left it on the small dressing table at the side of the TV.

The weather was a very fitting 17 degrees, overcast with a dampness to the air, breaking us in slowly for the UK. Maybe we were going to get the chance to see Karl before we left?

We shut our last door on our last motel and headed for San Francisco, it was a quite a few hours before we needed to be at the airport so we had time. The Sea had danced a special dance on the car the previous night and had offered up an extra thick layer of Salt. We had reluctantly decided on one more wash and then maybe a quick tour around the city.

One shiny car later and we found ourselves on a 432 lane highway.

“Look Ian a plane landing, we’re near the airport”

We hadn’t really much idea of the protocol for returning the car, but guessed it was self explanatory.

“Oh yeah” Ian replied.

“There’s the signs”

“We need to get out of these lanes they’re heading for the airport”

The volume of traffic made it easier to go with the flow than go against it.

“This is no fun at all, what do I do?”

“There’s the sign for Avis rental return, shall we just do it?”

A nod later and we were on the second floor of a multi story car park. A far cry from the sparkle and glamour of collection. We actually felt as if we had made a wrong turn and accidentally come in the tradesman’s entrance.

“Ian there are cleaning ladies ready to pounce, look as soon as you drive over that mark on the ground they’re on you like those tiny ninjas that live under hotel receptions”

“Oh yeah”

It’s so undignified, you don’t even get the chance to make sure its little face is still attached to its head

Ian shot me a look, I knew he was traumatised through his silence, his eyes were a very clear reflection of the turmoil going on in the side of his brain that deals with stress and makes him good at drawing. He summoned up words of a reasoning nature. I have known him long enough to be sure in thinking that the reasoning is purely for the purpose of his own sanity.

“To be fair those ladies probably know this car better than we do”

“There’s bloody hundreds of them!”

“Cars or cleaning persons?”

“Both!”

“The person that gets to clean this car has probably never met it before, and if they have it won’t have been a moving experience”

“Mandy we’re over the mark” and at that a tiny lady with a long-handled brush and wheeled accessories was running her fingers over my wiper whilst staring at us through the windscreen.

I turned to Ian

“I’m not ready”

“Nor me”

As both our feet touched concrete it may as well have signified a signed declaration, a Decree Absolute. The mustang was gone, after six long weeks of bonding it was gone.

Signing for its return was more complicated than it should have been. There was a lot of looking at paperwork, looking at each other, then back at us.

“What do you think the problem is?” Ian was wearing his “I’ve run out of Naples Yellow” frown.

“Oh I don’t know, maybe turning off traction control and purposely landing us backwards in a ditch, driving on unpaved roads, the lingering smell of hot stale shoes?”

Turns out they didn’t know what to do with us because we had had the car for over a month!

 

So I could tell you about the flight being delayed and a bit of turbulence or how this was Ian’s first ever trip abroad on a plane and how he couldn’t sleep and was pretty much terrified for the whole flight. I could tell you that on landing our taxi driver was late, a huge part of the M25 was closed, our living room window had been smashed, but luckily nothing was taken.

I could tell you about the battery being completely dead on the truck so the central locking didn’t work and we couldn’t get into the house because Ian had put the house keys in the truck.

 

I’m not going to tell you any of that because it’s miserable, so let’s all get back on the plane. As I mentioned Ian didn’t sleep, he needs to be fully responsive, alert and prepared for all eventualities, especially the one where the plane plummets uncontrollably through the air. Personally I would prefer to be asleep for that one.

I’m really good at sleeping, I would say it was my specialty and would most probably exceed on Mastermind with it as my specialised subject.

Ian has his strangeness and I honour his needs to cope in the best way that I can, sometimes I will poke his weirdness for my own pleasure but in all I get it.

I have my own weirdness and rules, these mostly revolve around sleeping and the definite dos and don’ts

When we first got together and shared a bed, Ian was the first to get up the following morning leaving me to sleep in.

First rule, never ever think it’s then a good idea to come back into the room an hour later turn the light on, rip the covers off the bed and laugh hysterically. This will never be funny.

Secondly after learning the first rule never then return to the room an hour later, turn on light and hand me a cup of tea. I have never drunk tea in my life and before I can function I need to get rid of the sticky gloop that is predominantly gluing my eyelids and lips together, doing so sends an instant message to my bladder and I need a pee!

“So is there any instance at all where I can wake you up and it would be ok?” He had asked about 3 weeks into our relationship.

“Yes, only if it’s snowing or if Tom Jones is in the building”

 

So here we were 30,000 plus feet in the air. I’m in the most beautiful slumber and Ian had been preparing himself for every possible case scenario for the last couple of hours.

He knows not to wake me, it’s right in there deep.

I feel a slight prod on my elbow but it doesn’t compute, and then my name is spoken ever so quietly followed by another prod a few seconds later.

I was pretty sure Tom wouldn’t be taking a commercial flight to Heathrow with the rest of us riff raff, and if it was snowing it wasn’t as if we needed to go out and clear the drive. He didn’t seem to be in a state of panic so I feigned sleep until I was able to drop off once more. But the prodding was becoming more regular and insistent.

I turned to look at Ian, he didn’t speak just lifted a finger and pointed to the screen at the back of the headrest in front of me.

“Northern Lights to the left side of the plane”

What an incredible rush of emotions.

It was on our bucket list, Something we were both desperate to experience, but holidays that offer tours can’t always confirm a sighting, and they’re expensive. We had even compiled a list as to other things we could do in the blistering cold and snow in case of a “No Show” to make a “Northern Light” holiday worthwhile, we had ruled out skiing.

My head shot round to the left hand side of the plane and to all of the people sleeping and missing out.

“The crew have made a window available at the back”

A small queue had formed, I panicked that it would be gone soon. I didn’t fully understand the nature of this force.

I joined the back of the queue of just three people, the first person stepped aside leaving space for the German lady behind. She took her place at the window for just a couple of seconds before turning to me.

“Have you seen them before?”

“No I haven’t, only TV footage”

“Here take my place, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them so many times”

“No really,”

“Come on in, I’m going back to my seat, enjoy”

And there we were after the most memorable six weeks, myself and Ian sharing a window at the back of a plane, 30,000ft up, somewhere around the Arctic Circle and the most epic display of ethereal magnificence. My eyes had been subjected to some extraordinary sights over the last few weeks, some which hadn’t made an immediate connection with my brain to decipher exactly what was going on.

This was an overwhelming mix of extremes, a visual and emotionally charging showcase, a finale to end all finales.

 

So that’s it……. The End……. I’m finding it difficult to stop typing so I will leave you with a short poem.

 

So I concluded with Aurora,

Determined not to bore ya,

But what were the chances,

Of ethereal dances,

Thanks for reading, I adore ya

 

 

I was surprised to learn it has taken me almost 3 years to complete the ten parts. If you have been following since part one you will know that Ian has nagged me continuously to do this and I procrastinated for as long as I could.

Coming back together 18 years ago after 20 years apart he had reminded me how I had always written as a kid.

“That was just for me though, messing about”

Back to the recent times and Ian’s website designer had created a blog on the website with the instruction to keep it updated to keep the website “Alive”.

Initially I started writing about our road trip for the purpose of the Website only, until I started to get feedback from all of you lovely folks who were actually taking the time out to read.

Feedback was coming in in the form of reviews, comments on the website, private messages and then people I had never spoken to before begging me for the next instalment whilst trading at the different events up and down the country through the Summer months!!

 

I was talking to a friend recently about what makes us happy in life. I remember saying that if I could live out my years knowing that I’d made some kind of difference at the end of it then I’d be done. Not long after that I received a message out of the blue from a friend neither myself nor Ian had spoken to for a while. He had thanked me for the blog and explained how it had inspired him to do a similar “Trip of a lifetime” with his son. It was a lovely message and a great feeling to have actually inspired someone.

It has been weird, exciting, humbling, and has helped bring back to me something that probably could have been lost forever. So thank you because seriously without the feedback I would’ve given up and probably kept the website alive with simple posts of where we would be trading next, any special offers or sneak previews of paintings in progress.

So, if I’ve managed to make you smile, capture you in a story, caused you to reminisce, inspired you to take your own first trip, excited you enough to take your 2nd, 3rd or 44th then that’s me happy.

I’m done. xxx


And if you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :

Fun, Stories

American Road Trip part 9 – From Dust Till Prawn. The Reunion: Into the Woods and Back.

End of the Mother Road.

By Mandy.

Dropping down out of Oatman feeling melancholy. Contemplating the limitations of time and feeling a kind of separation anxiety for all the things we would have to leave behind at the end of our trip. One of those things being the mostly inefficient polystyrene “Cool box” purchased from “Ten pound bag of ice lady” on the third or fourth day. It really didn’t serve a purpose but none the less we filled it daily and had a relationship with it the same as you would have with your laundry basket. We continued to fill it up regardless of what’s going on underneath, ignoring the constant and prevailing pungency of its contents with hope that one day we might reach down and a combination of science and magic will have worked in such a way to offer up something completely mind-blowing that has been sat on the bottom for weeks.

We were looking at just over 200 miles of Route 66 before turning North West at Barstow, heading for The Famoso Raceway Bakersfield and The Hot Rod Reunion. I was wondering if Ian was aware that our Route 66 journey could be over in less than a day. I contemplated breaking the news, a gentle reminder maybe of what lay ahead, but the consequences of my actions were too much to bear right then. I was having my own struggles with “Fridge Gate” at that point to wander over to the fluffy side and break the news. It could wait.

The desert is a stunning place at Sundown, the sun throws a light casting shadows fit only for cowboys and tumbleweed, I felt blessed to be able to share its space.

“Ian do you ever think that when no one else is around, when you’re alone in a place staring at the emptiness that you are the only person in the whole world enjoying the experience ?”

“I hadn’t but yeah”

“We’re the only people in the world experiencing this right now”

We “Wowed” simultaneously and continued silently into our very own space. The landscape was flat ahead and we were able to watch darkness arrive inadvertently taking us out of our comfort zone and into the unknown.

Ian stopped the car, staring blankly ahead.

“Road closed”

We had been travelling on the interstate for some miles hoping to rejoin Route 66 at Junction 115, the sign was telling us otherwise.

Further down the interstate all exits were displaying the same arrogant obstruction, we were unable to turn left and rejoin the mother road. It was catastrophic, a complete destruction of dreams! Ok yes a bit melodramatic, but I’m writing for your pleasure so feel obligated to provide tension and drama to heighten your reading experience. As it was we took the next left, drove around ten miles through a dark empty space, reached a T Junction and a process of elimination helped us make the decision to take a right turn and follow the light.

You know the films where a vehicle pulls into a gas station at night, the camera angle is very low and focuses on the car door and the feet of the person about to disembark , the guys boots are stained and well travelled, he is hesitant, there is a soft thud as he pushes the car door closed and the camera pans up from the floor.

“It’s Roy’s!” We were both already out of the car

“Roy’s?” Ian’s head was tilted so far back he looked as if he was having a moment with the lord himself!

We glanced at each other then back up at the sign, it stood in near darkness, had apparently done so since the mid 80’s.

Roy’s is in Amboy California, a Route 66 icon. It had in the past rightly claimed its place amongst others as an established gas station and cafe. Six cabins had provided a much needed stop over, an oasis in the stark dryness of the Mojave Desert. The interstate however removed it from the map in 1972 effectively cutting off Amboy from the traffic flow.

A shell of what it had been, the owner’s partner at the time took a bulldozer to the town and left little remaining. In 1995 the town was leased and later purchased as a filming location.

Today its future lays in the hands of conservationist Albert Okura, it’s struggle is still evident. One of the biggest challenges seems to be a constant supply of clean drinking water, a task in itself which keeps the cafe and motel non functioning to this day.

I headed for the toilet, Ian into the gas station to find drinks and possibly a snack or two. This was a world away from the bustling dust and sun-bleached scenes of many a travel book.

There was an urgency to my visit so walking straight out of the small dimly lit toilet block would never have been an option, it did however cross my mind at that point whether the hills really did have eyes and today was wash day.

I am going to come straight out and say that the walls were possibly bloodstained, or splattered!

I will now take a step back and say “Maybe it was something else” . A lack of running water lent itself perfectly to how the story was unfolding.

Back in the cafe, whispering.

“Ian” …….

“Ian” …….

“What, why are you whispering?”

“This place is weird, there are bloodstains over the walls”

“Bloodstains?”

“Sssshhhh”

“Where?”

“In the toilet, splattered all over the walls! Well to be honest I’m not sure what it is but it’s red and it’s running down the walls”

“Is it wet?”

“No”

“No, what are you suggesting then?” He’s sounding genuinely concerned, but before I could reply.

“The bridges are closed both ways too” Ahh so this is the cause of his concern he’s feeling trapped!

“And?” I asked, ready to play along but confused as to who had the trump card here.

“There is no way out on Route 66 ?” he stresses, or does he ?

“So we go back the way we came?”
“What if we can’t?”

“Where’s your info coming from anyway?” I enquired.

“Guy at the counter, they don’t serve food, I got you crisps”

“Thanks”

“And some soda thing”

“Thanks”

“So does guy at counter suggest we go back the way we came?”

“He didn’t say”

“Maybe he thought it was the common sense thing to do”

“Maybe”

A tiny part of me was ready to go outside and fight through a Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll put that down to possible dehydration!

Strangely at the time of writing this, Saturday November 16th 2019, Ian sent me a link to a Facebook page. Roy’s would be holding a relighting ceremony, and true to its word on that very day Roy’s iconic neon sign lit up the forecourt for the first time in over 30 years !

More research on my part showed that prior to this and an interesting addition to my own experience in the toilet block, Amboy had managed to get itself a reputation as a place of paranormal happenings. The screaming of children has been heard at the old school in the still of the night and in 2015 a photo taken by a traveller captivated the internet as it showed what appeared to be a bloodstain on an interior wall of one of the cabins! The Telegraph newspaper tells about “A photograph of an eerie ghost town” that is “Freaking out internet users”

Comments from readers pointed out that over the years Roy’s has been used as a location for many films, including the American thriller “Beneath the Dark” and 1986 horror“ The Hitcher”.

Whatever the explanation it has got us all talking. Roy’s has thrown out a noose and pulled us right in. Maybe the intention wasn’t there, maybe it was? The newly lit neon sign however gives the impression of a new beginning, a “Sign” of things to come maybe.

Back in the car,

“So did the guy at the counter explain why the bridges are down?”

“Floods apparently”

“But the guy at Hackberry Stores blessed me for bringing the rain ? They’ve been in a drought for months, further west is worse?”

“Aliens?”

We left it at that.

It was only around 30 miles until we reached our stop for the night. Described as the “Almost Ghost Town” of Ludlow, the town which refuses to die. As far as I was concerned Ludlow seemed to be doing just fine. Little did I know at the time but in pulling off the interstate and stopping at the very first sign of civilisation meant we were actually in “New Ludlow” If you can’t entice the travellers on the Interstate to the town then take the town to the travellers and that is just what they did . In the 1970’s a small motel, interestingly designed cafe and two gas stations were built and still thrive to this day.

It was dark, we were hungry and there was no visible place to check in, turns out the guy for the job is also the guy that works the shop and gas station over the main road. You exchange cash for keys as simple as that. It was very basic, we ate potato wedges that had been sat under a heat lamp for all of their wedgey life, the bed was fragile and the shelf holding the TV was just about ready to end its relationship with whatever had been holding it to the wall, it ended the story of that particular day perfectly !

The one thing I am noticing looking back on all of this now is by this point we were floundering, we had just over a week to go until the end of our trip and we were wanting to do everything and nothing at the same time. There were so many places we hadn’t been, so much more to see and so many roads untraveled. Death Valley was calling us back and Vegas seemed so close yet too exhausting at that point to even contemplate. Our minds were racing, our bodies wanted a beer a wash and a decent night’s sleep!

One thing was sure for now, we were heading for Famoso Raceway and the Hot Rod Reunion. Just over two hundred miles with no plans to stop. We hadn’t discussed it, it was just known and understood. We would be leaving Route 66 at Barstow and I was yet to break the news to Ian.

In the light of day we were able to see the other side of the road block on 66 a few hundreds yards from our motel, we tried not to think about the section of the road we had been unable to access and focus instead on the road ahead.

The next 50 miles of Route 66 survive as a kind of frontage road, running almost parallel to the interstate. I was noticing a different kind of heat, a particular dryness to the air and the landscape was visibly parched.

We had picked up a CD, the sound track from Quentin Tarrantino’s 1996 film “ From Dusk Till Dawn” at a gas station in Arizona , the same place I had discovered self-service hot and thick chunky soup in a cup. I was crazed like a kid without his mum at the pick and Mix counter!

Dirty blues and sleaze coming through the speakers was undeniably a fitting soundtrack to these last few miles, which I also remember as the road of revelations

“Ohhh we’re here” I used this gas station as reference for   …….   painting, and before we both knew it Ian was out of the car reacquainting himself with one of a number of abandoned buildings like they were old friends.

I remained, basking in the sounds of ingenious magnificence.

Whilst Ian had been researching his dream over the years, recreating his escape on paper and canvas he had become well acquainted with just a few of these buildings that had served as a release from what was going on in his own mind. He had been unaware of their place on the map, but each one had held its own story. Now here he was, a meeting of troubled mind and abandoned matter.

  

“How does it feel?” I’m a woman we need to know these things. Ian was back in the car.

“Yeah, good, nice, shame isn’t it” and at that we drove into the ever increasing heat sharing the mike with Tito and Tarantula “ Angry cockroaches” which meant making up the words and a lot of screaming!

Newberry Springs also forced us to an unintentional halt. Bagdad Cafe from the 1987 movie of the same name has brought notoriety to this particular area. It remains open for business and doing very well. We both briefly made contact with its walls, but neither of us were tempted to go inside.

It was the end of our Route 66 Journey and I can only compare it to waving goodbye to someone you love on a train when you know you’re not going to see them for a while. You don’t want them to go but it’s going to happen so you just want it over with. That’s the only way I can explain our lacklustre attempt at interested.

Looking at the map and just a few miles from Barstow I filled Ian in on the road ahead, and he kind of yelped like a dog in a running dream. I checked out his face to distinguish the level of trauma.

“Oh look a train !” these were his words and a perfectly timed distraction !

Around 1934 the worst drought in living memory drove hundreds of people from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl west along Route 66 in search of work on the fruit farms that filled the Southern Californian Valleys. Eight decades later California’s Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. California was having its own struggle, the driest year on record, effecting a 400 mile long agricultural basin of four million people and hitting those with the least the hardest.

I was shocked to learn that wells supplying some of the smaller communities had dried up months before. Some were in the position to pay for new wells to be drilled up to four times as deep, in the first instance the costs were lower and the waiting list shorter but over time with increased demand things started to get out of hand.

We were driving through a vast area traditionally rich in agriculture, the normally irrigated fields ripe with crops had given away to hard-baked soil, parched and barren. The impact as a whole was catastrophic, we learnt about certain relief efforts that were in place but hardship and frustration were clearly visible amongst the farming communities, we passed placard after placard pleading for help from the Government. No Water = No Food, No Water = No Jobs, No Water = No Future.

One thing I had learnt from our trip was a diversity that I wasn’t expecting. The variance in temperature and weather conditions over a few miles, kitsch and bubblegum a stone’s throw away from nature and the ceremonies and rituals of the tribal nations. Route 66 had played out in front of us, a story unfolding with every right or wrong turn, it provides you with the props and within reason you are able to make it whatever you want it to be. Turning the page however right then and the story was undeniably real.

It was around this time that I received a message from my daughter. She had been traveling the Eastern States for just over two months and having the time of her life. The message was to say she would meet us in San Francisco in just less than a week before we caught the plane back home.

She had mentioned this before leaving the UK, but I had taken on board her Facebook posts and photos and considered why the hell she would want to spend time with her parents with only a few weeks left of her trip.

The messages went something like this.

“So where are you travelling from ?”

“Chicago”

“Chicago wow, that’s some trip”

“Around 4000km I think. Can you pick me up from the train station in San Francisco?”

“Yes no problem, do you know when? How long does it take?”

“About 50 hours I think, will let you know, Thank you”

Don’t know about any of you folks but if your grown up child is travelling 4000km to see you and you know they’re on a limited budget would you start to wonder if there was possibly something else going on?

“Ian do you think she’s ok?”

“Yeah she’s having the time of her life”

“What if she’s lost her passport or something, money or ……. ?”

“Or what?”

“I don’t know, maybe she’s being stalked by a madman”

“Yeah maybe it’s that”

I did a quick Google of the California Zephyr, a passenger train operated by Amtrak and everything fell into place very quickly.

The journey from Chicago to San Francisco is considered to be one of the most scenic in North America, climbing through the heart of the Rockies and snow capped Sierra Nevadas, through Salt Lake city and the plains of Nebraska into Denver, Reno and Sacramento.

I read this to Ian and we both agreed it’s a journey we would love to take ourselves.

Cruising into Bakersfield and another example of believing one thing and it being another. Famoso Raceway is actually north of the city by around twenty miles. Looking for somewhere to stay for a couple of nights we sailed past the track and into the town of Wasco around 10 miles to the West.

We were spoilt for choice of accommodation in that there was a lot of choice.

It had become a kind of ritual just to park up, without discussion, and book a room in the first half decent motel we could find. The only part of a trip where we’d had difficulty with this was Zion National Park and now this was proving to be the second. Three try’s down and I was standing behind a small bar like area in a box of a foyer.

“Hi do you have any vacancies?” spoken to the tiniest of Chinese looking ladies on the other side of the bar.

She shortened her stance with a bend of the knees, and addressed the underneath of the bar.

“ Have we got spare woom ?” followed by ‘Chinese’? banter and waving of arms on her part and some serious death stares before she resumed normal height made her way around to our side of the bar and proceeded to leave the building !

A bit concerned about voicing an opinion to each other for fear of upsetting the tiny ninja that lived under “Reception” Ian made a jerky head movement to suggest we should leave. but she was back with a key on a key ring that resembled a child’s sock.

“Woom 27, take it” and she forced the sock into my hand.

We did take it but just to give us time enough to plan an escape.

“Ok thank you, we’ll check it out” words that could suggest it was possible we could disapprove and leave. The look on her face was enough to suggest that wasn’t an option, the state of the room was more than enough to suggest that we leave.

“Oh so here’s a plan, we’ve had a phone call from friends they’re lost a few miles out of town and we need to go and help them, they will want to stay too so we’ll be back soon, force key into hand take a sneaky peak under the bar and run” and that’s what we did but she didn’t make it bloody easy!

Half a mile down the road, a contrast so extreme it was as if we had traveled through space and time, The Best Western Plus Hotel and Suites.

“That’s not going to be cheap”

“They’ve got trees”

“Green trees”

“And one of those fancy in and out drives. Look! Pillars! And shady areas!”

I had flashbacks to previous overnight stays along the way some which were memorable in the best possible way, others not quite so and some that I was struggling to remember at all.

So what was common ground? What was the deciding factor for a memorable stay? Turns out it’s cabins, we like wooden shacks and rustic cabins, so why was Wasco’s attempt at a Disney Hotel looking so appealing?

“I think we might need some pampering” I winced and recoiled at my own profanity, then as if by magic the portal fairy arrived and we were inside the building, and the air changed instantly.

“Ian”

“Yeah?”

“Air conditioning”

People were drifting and floating across shiny floor spaces, some lounging on over sized sofas and then there were teeth, lots of teeth, brilliant white and smiling at us across the highly polished sweeping surface of the check in area.

“Can I help you sir” and unlike the Travelodge in Farnborough where we had once asked at the desk for a room for the night and were told they only accept online bookings, the place where we had sat in reception, very close to said desk and booked our nights stay on our phone only to be greeted once more minutes later as complete strangers. This place had us checked in in the glint of an eye and the wink of a tooth.

I can’t think of a word to explain what we did next so am going to make one up and I think it should be added to the urban dictionary with the definition of being to able to relax oneself in slovenly sophistication. The word is to poshslob. We poshslobbed in bed with takeaway Chinese food, I tried to unposhslob in the bathroom but was very conscious of the water situation.

Unlike room 13 in the dodgy motel near the start of our journey, room 13 that had been vacated for the very purpose to serve a “Breakfast” of many colours, the same Breakfast that blew away as I tried to eat it sitting on a bench at the side of the road. The Best Western had a dedication Breakfast room offering up a wide selection of freshly cooked fare to bust your gut and send you back to bed in a food coma.

I have mentioned before about the things we weren’t told before we took our first trip out to the US. We had asked the question to so many of our well travelled friends,

“So what advice can you give, what should we know before we leave?” and the answer was mostly

“Ahh, nothing to know really, they drive on the other side, you’ll never be stuck for a burger and it’s a game of dare at any crossroads”

No! No! No! There was so much more we needed to know ! And this very morning was a prime example. Stood at the entrance to our fine dining experience we looked on in awe at the queue of Americans waiting, all cool and confident to use what we discovered to be the Waffle Maker!

I’m not sure at that point if I had even seen a real waffle or its maker, it was just about as alien to me as the dishwasher I was shown in my first pub job in the UK after spending 10 years living in a small Hungarian village.

We stood silent for a while observing the protocol of the whole affair, the room was busy and a far cry from anything else we had experienced previously in the breakfast area.

“Ian……..Ian”

Sometimes the name Ian when spoken can sound just like a noise so Ian tends to not answer straight away.

“Ian mate, fancy seeing you here” and within minutes we were amongst friends, all off to the reunion and all staying at the Best Western in Wasco, who would have thought.

Our whole trip had been just like Christmas week in that we were often unaware of what day it was. During breakfast we learnt that it was in fact Sunday and a particularly quiet day at the track.

We had apparently missed a sensational cacklefest on Saturday night, 60 vintage dragsters and fuel altereds lined up diagonally on the strip blipping their engines sending huge columns of flames into the air. It was described as soul stirring and tears were shed throughout the crowd.

The Reunion is an end of season affair, a classic event established for 28 years, surviving through good and bad economical times. It attracts the best in cars and their drivers.

On the Friday night six veterans had been awarded with trophies, Saturday had seen racing and qualifying, racing how it used to be.

Arriving at the event we very quickly realised that we should have possibly skipped breakfast and headed straight for the track, parking was already rammed and people were starting to claim their space on the side of the freeway. A not so quiet Sunday after all.

We were experiencing one of the hottest days so far of our trip, with the exception of Death Valley and a couple of days in Monument Valley, it helped add to that nostalgic feel of bygone days when the sun shone brighter and days were longer.

It was an unexpectedly emotional day for us for many reasons, not only did we meet up with friends from the UK, but we also had the pleasure of coming face to face with like minded folk we had only had the pleasure of knowing through social media. Max Grundy for example, an automotive artist with a very distinct style, someone Ian had admired for years. Ian was in awe and we both imagined a time in the not too distant future where we could somehow uproot our mobile studio and transport it or part of it over the water to that very place.

  

 

  

 

 

 

The stands were quieter than I had anticipated and the racing to me seemed a little sporadic but maybe I wasn’t paying too much attention, my senses were on overload on realising that this isn’t just a drag racing event. There is a huge swap meet which focuses heavily on vintage speed parts and even the odd race car. At that time this area was buzzing with folks, some last attempt efforts at end of show bartering taking place, and then silence as the National Anthem sounded out over the speakers. It was a level of patriotism I had never experienced before, hats were removed and placed across chests, others sang along their faces raised to the sky. I’m not totally sure what induces this level of respect in a country, whatever it maybe it was a refreshing change and powerful enough to emotionally charge my tear ducts.

The Grove is a really attractive tree lined area that gave me a rush of a feeling as if I had been there before. The feeling stayed with me, it was kind of comforting and I wondered if it had reminded me of somewhere I could have possibly visited in my childhood. This area is just behind the grandstands and for this event in particular it is known for the incredible diversity of car and trucks parked up for your pleasure. It’s also a great place to grab a beer and sit in a shady area watching the world go by whilst contemplating starting a new life as a hobo.

For all you car racing, spectating, general followers of the drag racing, vintage/classic car scene in the UK can you relate to this ? You attend a weekend event desperate to arrive as soon as commitment and time allows. If you’re lucky you find yourself in a queue of equally enthusiastic individuals around Midday on a Thursday. You’ve brought enough alcohol, sausages and spare car parts etc to see you through to Monday when you unwillingly vacate the premises, and things start to get weird, as if you want to wind down the car window and shout “ You don’t understand man, you weren’t there!”. As we left Famoso Raceway that evening I anticipated that same sinking feeling but it didn’t happen. Great weather, some good friends old and new, a selection of cool cars, beer and enough fried food to knock a donkey off its legs, all contributed to a much needed extension to the end of racing.

 

The next morning after some serious waffling, we’re back on the road.

“Ian, so what’s the plan?”

“Not sure, just heading west”

“Ah OK”

I checked out where we were on the map and this happened.

“Let’s head back to the coast”

Just over 100 miles later and we were back on California’s Highway one, back to where we started and what better place to revisit but Cayucos. A place we had stayed briefly at the start of our trip but hadn’t ventured out much because I had been ill.

Cayucos is a world away from my other favourite place, Beatty in Death Valley, they both call out for me to give up my life in the UK and get on the first plane out. My life in Cayucos would involve baking pie and wandering around cool antique stores, in Beatty I would squat in an old abandoned trailer change my name to Rooster and learn how to play Rock Gee-tar.

One of the things we had been wrongly advised about was the amount of good old classic vehicles on the road.

“ Don’t expect to see cars and trucks on the road like you see here at the show’s, yeah maybe 15/20 years ago but it doesn’t happen these days they’re all mostly Japanese” We were told

Now I am not sure where these people had been travelling but I would say where we had been it was a good 50/50 balance, in Cayucos in particular it was more like 60/40, the larger number being classics. Like the Wild West by sea, Cayucos has its old saloons, it steps back in time to a more relaxed pace. Beautiful surfer dudes stretch out over the sun-bleached patina hoods of their mid seventies pick ups, quietly contemplating the horizon and the next wave.

Everyone displays happiness and they are eternally thankful, for your time, money, or sharing a story with them.

We checked into the small Dolphin Motel, clean simple rooms with doors opening out onto a small patio and central courtyard, palm trees in abundance and a serenity similar to eating a light chocolate cake whist floating on a lily pad.

We chilled on the beach, in the pie shop and at the saloon, I was even given a small puppy to hold to add to the pleasantries, the guy went to the rest room and arrived over an hour later through the front door.

“Thank you” he said

“No thank you, it’s been a pleasure. The little guy is adorable”

“Well thank you for saying that”

“He really was no problem”

“Thank you, have a great day”

“Thank you” and that’s how it starts. I think the exception was the strangeness of the artist’s studio, which drew Ian in like an artist to an artist studio. As we chatted and looked at the various pieces.

“Hi, so am I right in thinking you’re from the UK?”

“Hi, yes, quite often mistaken for Australian, great work by the way”

“Thank you so much, what brings you in here?”

“I’m an artist, just intrigued, glad I did”

“You know that Banksy’s dead right ?”

We turned to each other then back at the guy who had been joined by his work colleague.

“No we had no idea, we haven’t been keeping up with the news much, that’s shocking what happened?”

“He died” First guy

“Think he was murdered or something” New guy on the scene

I briefly wondered what the “Or something” could be.

Turns out it meant they weren’t sure how he died. They continued into the devastation caused by the drought and the last time they had seen rain.

Not watching the news for 5 weeks and only using Facebook to contact family and post photos, it was weird but quite believable that Banksy was actually dead. One of those people who makes a massive impact then are gone before their time. We chatted about it whilst eating the best Tacos I’ve had in my life. Ruddell’s Smokehouse is the place and if you ever get the chance to go to Cayucos you cannot give it a miss, a sensory fiesta on your taste buds that will turn your palate inside out. We had noticed a plume of smoke rising into the air earlier in the day, a sweet BBQ aroma that lured us to the corner of the street on the seafront like a couple of Bisto kids. Well established and family owned its over the counter service emulates a bygone era, unspoilt and thriving.

Back at the motel and checking the news, Banksy of course was very much alive, my immediate reaction was to pop down the road.

“Hey don’t worry, Banksy he’s alive!” and then it struck me that they probably already knew that.

I hadn’t done a massive amount of research on anything before our trip. I had booked a few motels in places that I thought could be busy, stared at the map a lot and looked at possible places to visit around areas where we could be staying for longer than a day. Initially Cayucos was one of those places, but with me sleeping for the first few days Ian had made the decision to drive. This time around, and back where we started I was remembering some of my research.

“Ian there is a town just south of here that has an amazing street party every Thursday night”

“Yeah I remember you saying”

We asked around for details and learnt that to the locals this “Street Party” is actually their weekly farmers market !

San Luis Obispo is the place to go and we arrived early, 5pm for a 6pm start. I had seen the photos and the streets were packed. If it could be compared to an indoor event in the UK it would be full capacity and a stern looking door man would be beaming internally at the power of his, “Sorry we’re full”.

We were concerned about parking hence the early start. We needn’t have worried.

“Have we got the wrong day?” The streets were empty and there was nothing vaguely to suggest any evidence of a good time.

“It is Thursday?”

We asked a passerby.

“Yeah no worries, you got the right day, it’s only 5.30 it starts at 6.00.

“OK Ian, I don’t get it. There has got to be loads of vendors with stalls, what about the traffic chaos when they all arrive at the same time, parking up etc, setting up stalls, and there are massive BBQ’s too”

We all know in the UK that you light the BBQ, wait a few bloody hours for the coals to get hot and the smoke to die down, then you can proceed to place the meat on the grill, not before then!! There is, without doubt, always someone ready to jump down your throat for premature placing of meat.

So as you can imagine there was confusion, on both our parts to be fair, as to how it was going to work, it had also been a few hours since the Taco.

Needn’t have worried, I can only describe the way they worked as antula, definition: Thinking and working in an ant like way. Huge BBQ’s were set up off the back of hefty pick up trucks and in no time they were serving up perfectly cooked ribs, steaks, chicken and corn. Vendors selling fresh and cooked produce lined both sides of the street, a rhythm of Jazz and Blues filled the air, street performers freaked out young children, and this was a Farmers Market !

 

If a similar event was to happen here in the UK it definitely couldn’t be on a weekly basis. It would take a week for the council to close down the street putting all health and safety procedures back into place. Fences around offending trees etc, disagreements over who was going to patrol the road closure that week. Dave’s Cat is at the vet and Alan said weeks before that he wanted to watch that special episode of “ I hate where I live, find me somewhere else”, and the parking ! There would definitely be parking rage.

When sober us British are really good at stopping just short of having too much fun, we need a good crank up to silliness that can take a couple of hours.

These guys were wasting no time at all, the fun was had the food was served and a little guy in brown baggy pants offered me strawberries and we danced around some fresh dairy produce.

A really tall guy in a top hat took our attention and we followed him into a dimly lit bar, strangely losing him in the crowd. They were selling Newcastle Brown Ale of all things, would never dream of drinking it in the UK but we weren’t in the UK so of course I had to have one.

The rest of the night we spent listening to a solo artist on his guitar, kind of Kid Rocky with a bluesy twist.

 

Floundering, floundering, panicking, our days were running out. Have I mentioned that I loved California more than I anticipated? It’s rugged coastline hadn’t been in my mind’s eye or the friendly laid back approach to life. We hadn’t seen half of it so I’m aware that the larger towns and cities may be something else entirely.

It was around the end of October and houses, stores, bars and small businesses were showing fascinating displays of what I can only describe as scarecrows but in every shape and form, some represented a kind of Halloween theme whilst others seem to be based around the harvest. We visited Cambria a nearby town, where an abundance of very creative designs had each stopped us in our tracks.

We had the pleasure of meeting Baxter a homeless guy and his celebrity 28 pound cat Sunshine. Baxter had lived on the streets for quite some time and had become acquainted with Sunshine on Venice Beach in LA. He was feral but Baxter remained persistent with his care and a bond development from an understanding of each other’s needs, a bond developed through trust.

Baxter was I’m guessing in his mid forties at that time, a friendly, interesting and well educated guy who told a good story packed with a wealth of information. Sunshine however is the one that draws in the crowds and is always available for a photo opportunity. Baxter explained how he fell in love with Cambria, yes the larger cities have more facilities to cater for the homeless but he feels at one where he is and maintains how people have been so kind towards him, there has never been a cross word and as he understands it there are no obvious bad feelings. He was happy with his lot.

 

 

 

The next day we packed our bags and travelled 170 miles North East to the Sequoia National Park, on the edge of which we ran into “Roadworks?”. I can remember it happening only once before on our trip, halfway up a mountain just outside Vegas. We were through it in no time. This occasion was different in that all we knew of the delay was a man in a hard hat with a stop sign. We were the front of the queue and waiting.

“He’s your side ask him what the hold up is” This was Ian

“No he’s not! You ask him he’s not smiling much”

It was far from clear what was going on, I wound down my window.

“Are there any bears in this forest?”

“Yeah plenty, black bears”

“Black bears wow”

“Yeah they’re not all black though some are blonde”

“Blonde black bears ?”

“Yeah and brown”

“Do you see many whilst you’re stood out here with your sign?”

“Yeah on a regular basis”

“And you’re OK with that?”

“Sure, share my lunch with ’em sometimes”

“Nice, so what’s the hold up?”

“We’ll have you through in no time”

“It’s not bears is it?”

“No it’s definitely not bears this time”

And at that he turned his little sign to go and waved us through.

The stark contrast between landscapes from a few days earlier was undeniably noticeable. The barren hard baked soil of the farmland just a few hundred miles south was a far cry from what we were experiencing here. We knew the shortage of water was widespread and over 62 million trees had perished, so it begged the question why the Sequoia trees, these Giants of nature didn’t seem to be suffering . They can reach heights of 300 feet, trunks spanning 30 feet, so what was happening? Sequoia National Park has 5 of the 10 largest specimens in the world.

 

At that point I had no idea and right now I’m re reading an article which explains how the bark of the Sequoia is soft and fibrous making it very resistant to fire, they also have the ability to withstand disease and drought, can live for a few thousand years and rarely die standing upright. Root rot apparently can deprive a tree of a solid anchor and fire can undermine its base but rarely will this kill the tree. It’s the persistent tug of gravity that will eventually pull an unbalanced tree to the floor.

The article is long and a difficult read at 1.30am, but in conclusion it was an insight into how little we still know about the world, we’re all still learning. Ambrose, a forest ecologist explains that Sequoias are some of the most spectacular organisms on the planet, they force you to think about life and our place in it.

On a lighter note, although it must have sent reverberations through neighbouring towns, in 1937 a giant Sequoia fell on its side over the road in the park, by 1938 a hole had been cut through the centre forming a tunnel which you are able to drive through to this day. I had read about this years before and was intrigued, it didn’t disappoint.

So not having had enough of the trees we headed 180 miles north to Yosemite, an hour in and we were in darkness on an empty road.

“Shall we pull over and stop somewhere for the night” I asked

“Yeah, hope we can get food”

There was nowhere for miles and then a light, it could’ve been anything but experience was telling us that on a road like that it was most probably a motel, we weren’t wrong. It was basic, very basic. It was kind of clean but the selling point was the pizza place next door. On checking in however we were informed that it was now closed, and there was unfortunately nowhere else around for miles.

“Ian the light’s still on inside” and at that we made our way with sheepish confidence to the door, trying to ignore the guy heading towards us with a key and that obvious sorry but we’re closing look on his face.

“Soooorry we’re closing”

“Ah ok, do you have anything ready cooked that we can take back to our room, we’ve been travelling for miles”

“Oh you’re British, hi, I have a great aunt living in Bright-on, do you know Bright-on?”

“Yes we do, other side of the country to us though, great place”

“Oh have you been?”

“Well no” At which point I wondered which middle aged person residing in the UK for most of their life has never been to Brighton. In a matter of seconds I had questioned myself, been embarrassed, reminded myself it has a pebble beach and was over it. We were also over the threshold, the door was locked and we were on the inside. Now to get man to cook pizza, biggest pizza that we can also enjoy as a staple breakfast.

Ian was on it like the crazy charmer that he is. I held that pizza box tight, it wasn’t going to go anywhere, we entered our room for the night, Ian went to the loo and I collapsed onto the bed fully clothed clutching the box. I pushed my back against the wall to assume a more favourable seating position and the bed shot across the room on the vinyl floor and parked up on the opposite wall.

  

“ What happened, what did you do ? ” Ian had a worried look that turned into a grin evolving into a weird kind of manic laughter where he seemed to be struggling to breath.

“The bed has wheels! You don’t put bloody wheels on a bed unless you’re being sponsored!……. I quite like it over here”

We slept very still that night, ate cold pizza for breakfast and contemplated the implications of more trees.

“So about the trees”

“Yep I know what you’re thinking” and at that we headed back south, we had both separately concluded that this was the wrong time for more trees. We live in a forest, a beautiful forest, there’s time for trees and it wasn’t then, we will visit Yosemite another time. With just a few days to go we headed towards San Francisco and a place called Pacifica, a few miles north of Half Moon Bay.

Checking the map it was obligatory that we took the long route, it was the last leg of our journey so we took the road south 240 miles inland finally dropping back onto Highway 1, The Pacific Coast Highway, between Cayucos and Cambria. The plan was to drive back up the Coastal Road to Pacifica a further 200 miles …

Here’s part 10 – End of The Road and ‘The Big Finish’

American Road Trip part 10 – End of The Road and ‘The Big Finish’

 

And if you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :

We’ll be trading at Santa Pod this weekend for their Flame and Thunder extravaganza.

Exhibitions, News, Shows

Flame & Thunder

No photo description available.

We’ll be trading at Santa Pod this weekend for their Flame and Thunder extravaganza.

Drag Racing, Stunts and Family Firework Spectacular

Flame & Thunder is an action packed day for all the family featuring Motorsport Stunts and Drag Racing. Witness a huge gathering of jet vehicles and experience 300mph Nitro guzzling Top Fuel dragster along with cars and bikes from various classes of Drag Racing. Watch stunt displays including Monster Trucks, Drifting and Stunt Riders. The climax of the day will be a firework display and bonfire.

Terry GrantFireForceLee BowersTitanFireFliesBike BattlePodzillaEAWDrift RidesFireFliesMAximum LockRed Dragon

Exhibitions, News, Shows

Pistons and Props

We’ll be at Sywell Aerodrome again this weekend to trade at Pistons & Props, a motoring festival, combining historic racers, hot rods and motorbikes with classic planes and vintage music to create a fantastic two-day event, celebrating classic motoring on the ground and in the air.

 Watch amazing live action on the transformed ‘Racing Runway’ and ‘Sprint Strip’ with iconic Formula 1 cars, Hot Rods, Dragsters and Motorcycles all in action throughout the weekend.

 Up in the skies; expect to see a variety of breath taking aerial displays & acrobatics from a variety of display teams.

 Live Music will be played throughout the weekend with a superb line of bands performing in the Scarf & Goggles bar

 With a vintage fun fair and shopping village, make a weekend of it as camping packages are available. It’s a great weekend for all the family.

Exhibitions, News, Shows

NSRA Hot Rod Drags

We’ll be back at Santa Pod this weekend for The Original 31st HOT ROD DRAGS.

Organised by the NSRA in conjunction with Santa Pod Raceway, a hot rod meet rolled up into a weekend of nostalgia style drag racing. Run what ya brung for pre-1973 cars. Hot rods, customs, Outlaw Anglias, dragsters, altereds, and the Gasser Circus! There’s fireworks, live music and much much more

It’s a hot rod show at the race track!

See you behind the Grandstand!

Tom Pugh’s event T Shirts

We’ll be trading again this weekend at the 2nd Hot Rod Hop run by The Cannibals Car Club, 23 -26 August 2019

Exhibitions, Fun, News, Shows

The Hot Rod Hop

We’ll be trading again this weekend at the 2nd Hot Rod Hop run by The Cannibals Car Club

The weather is looking good, so jump in your car and head on over to the Hop.

Live entertainment all weekend and the now famous silly games on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday show and shine!

Admission is £30 pp for the Weekend including camping. Day entry price for Sunday is just £5 pp.

All profits will be donated to the Air Ambulance.

See you there!

Scald End Farm, Mill Road, Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, MK44 2DP

Exhibitions, News, Shows

The Mopar Euro Nationals

Image may contain: car and outdoor

We’ll be trading for the first time at the Mopar Nats, Santa Pod.   2-4 August

“The Best Muscle Car Event in England”

1994 seems a long time ago, but that’s when a bunch of muscle car minded folks came together which saw the birth of the Mopar Euro Nationals at Santapod Raceway, England. 70 cars turned up and around 300 participants all came together under the one common cause: The Pentastar. As the years rolled by the show grew in stature, 1996 saw drag racing hall of fame inductee Al “The Lawman” Ekstrand from America reunited with his treasured 1966 Hemi Charger. Other big names from the States graced the show, including Dave Jones, and original member of the Mopar EuroNationals committee. In 1997 Tony Oksien joined Mopar EuroNationals as its fourth organizer to complete the current team. The show stayed at Santapod for four years until a change in policy resulted in a switch to Shakespeare County Raceway near Stratford-on-Avon, England. The Mopar EuroNationals returned to “The Pod” in 2001 and has been there ever since, it is now considered to be the biggest Mopar show outside of the USA and Canada. With many thousands of visitors and over 550 mighty Mopars and muscle cars, the show with go can only continue to grow

This is a first for us and we’re really looking forward to it!

But tell me, will we see you there?

To see what’s on check out the official website:

www.mopareuronats.co.uk

RWYB

Live Music

Superstock