Woooh, lots to cram from our coastal trip up the Highway 1, so I’ll summarise:
Santa Barbara: gorgeous Pacific sunsets, squirrels who live in seaweed, jalapeno Martinis and snoring oafs who keep the whole dormitory awake with their incessant, slabbering inhalations. One time he did seven separate snores in one draught of breath. SEVEN. I struggle to list all Snow White’s dwarves in one breath, so in some ways the guys deserves respect.
Big Sur: not a headmaster, but a beautiful wooded wonderland; the scent of pine thick in the air, the roads twisting nauseatingly along the coastal ravines and the prospect of seeing a mountain lion round every corner (not that we saw any). And also where I succumbed to heat stroke owing to the beach trip 24 hours prior.
Carmel/Pebble Beach: reputedly one of the most serene driving locations on the planet – and don’t get me wrong, it was lovely, but a thick sea fog had by now set in, giving the cypress trees an ethereal, ghostly quality. (And as for the enormous 40-ft bulbous seaweed stalks that resembled nothing short of slippery maritime phalluses writhing in the mist – scary ain’t the word). Plus we saw an island saturated with sealions, another squirrel with sea legs, some otters, dolphins and hummingbirds. So that was nice.
And so on to our final destination: San Francisco, home of:
Hippies and other people who appreciate my penchant for ethnic beads
The San Francisco Giants
A lovely old tram
The hand that held the iPhone in the first commercial (belonging to a lovely chap called Uncle Bob)
The Golden GateBridge, engulfed by…
The finest ice cream I have ever eaten (frozen creme fraiche with pear and hazelnut caramel, since you ask – frozen in front of my very eyes)
A massive park with some bison in it
An astonishing array of ace beers
The HoFro – a sodding quart of Hoegaarden and raspberry beer. Bloody ace.
Some very steep hills
The FerryBuilding, housing some extraordinarily tempting fresh produce
Yet more fog
Some pretty spicy hot wings and insanely good Chinese food in the Castro district, where that Milk film was shot.
And all of the above were sampled with a smile on our collective, slightly burned and fog-ruddy faces.
If you’d like to hear some of my musings from my trip, listen to the audio update which will be up shortly! Hopefully that will whet your appetite for our next podcast.
What the hell am I doing drinking in LA at 26? (Or 32, for that matter.) So sang where-are-they-now pop-dance funsters Bran Van 3000 back in the late Nineties. We’ve not heard much from them since so I assume they’re still working it out, but with my two nights in the city, I decided to do a little investigating myself. Sure, there was a bit of drinking, primarily in the abundance of Irish bars near Hollywood Boulevard and doing the tourist classic of photoing the names inlaid in the glitzy paving (despite being none the wiser as to who 25% of them were) and getting a shot of the Hollywood sign. What was decidedly less touristy (or certainly more unique) was seeing said sign provide the backdrop for the final journey of the space shuttle Endeavour on its way to a museum. And being carried by a plane. Actually CARRIED by a plane. Getting a guitar case on a plane can be pricey enough, so I can only imagine the baggage fees for a thousand-tonne rocket will be (**rubbish pun alert**) “astronomical”. Ithangyoh, I’m here all week…
Except I’m not, and before long we were on the road in a stupidly big, stupidly clever car that didn’t need a key, a clutch, a handbrake, nor, it seems, hands with which to shut the boot (sorry, trunk). It has voice-activated everything, moves your chair when you’re done driving and presumably drinks your beverage for you if you’re struggling to finish it. And from the front, it looks like an angry Robocop. But still, it’s comfy and seats five, so it ticks the necessary boxes.
And onwards in comfort we went to San Diego, Mr Burgundy’s classy hometown and also pretty ruddy hot, given its proximity to the Mexican border. And so it was that we ate some mighty fine burritos before setting off for the trendy Gaslamp district, devoured the poshest surf and turf I’ve ever consumed (lobster and fillet steak? Don’t mind if I do) and returned to our apartment for some gratifyingly cold beers, a spot of cards and ringside seats to a somewhat damp neighbourly dispute (it ended safely, in case you’re wondering), much to the benign amusement of the resident cat Fatso. Ample preparation for a shift in direction northbound up the West Coast. To be continued…
So the Grand Canyon is named quite appropriately – unremittingly staggering vistas on such a stupendously large scale that you’d be forgiven for becoming blasé after a while. The sunset over Yaki Point didn’t disappoint either, and it seemed fitting to sleep in a reassuringly run-down motel situated on a busy road with an unclouded sky clustered with stars – and clusters of moths, which challenged the phobic tendencies of yours truly. But fear not – I was guarded by a string a Native American cedar beads round my neck. (Moths are apparently fierce opponents of ethnic handicrafts.)
After a night punctuated by slamming doors, whooshing trucks and strange howls we set off along Route 66 – or at least where it used to be – stopping in Kingman for some pulled pork and gasoline, a local speciality according to the guidebook but gratifyingly served separately. Just enough time to swing by the Hoover Dam to witness that concrete can occasionally be beautiful, before heading back to Vegas one more time. This second visit was a more typical SinCity itinerary, taking in a burlesque show (more Flashdance with tits than 40s retro but still surprisingly more tasteful than I expected, up until being showered in silly string from an enormous foam phallus. And lamentably only one tassel) and hitting the casinos, inasmuch as sticking to the cheap tables can be regarded as “hitting”. Still, actually finished 50 bucks up so there you go – Vegas: continuing to defy expectations.
I returned to my ridiculously cheap (owing to an unexpected upgrade) and palatial suite replete with guest bathroom, vestibule, jacuzzi bath, and a phone in the toilet (that’s right – an ACTUAL phone) and wallowed on the floor showering myself with my winnings (thoughtfully counted out in single dollar denominations to make it go further). Come the morning, I rid myself of the night’s booze and gambling excesses with a purgative trip to the gym and the hotel’s somewhat excessive four pools.
And so we head for the airport, having seen the craziness, vulgarity and opulence of Vegas; the scale and grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the sprawling heritage of Route 66, the splendour and variety of ZionNational Park and the feat that is Hoover Dam. Next stop – Los Angeles, where I intend to imbue every sentence with a lilting, showtime inflection. And jazz hands.
Thankfully, I’m not sharing the fate of Nic Cage’s character in the titular movie (ie drinking myself to death with Elizabeth Shue – although there has been relatively immodest amounts of drinking, and a Hispanic chap handed me a flyer with a scantily-clad jaunty-looking lady on it, so there are parallels.) Rather I’m road tripping the western side of the US and, to adopt the parlance of our Stateside brothers and sisters, “it’s ruddy awesome! Elections! I like baseball and generous portions!”
Yesterday was a high-octane day in Las Vegas; riding two rooftop rollercoasters (including one on a skyscraper), witnessing a simulated nuclear blast, learning about aliens, flying a zip wire over a massive crowd of gamblers, rocking out to an overhead projection of Queen down a whole street, and searching for a neon graveyard – sadly shut till October.
Today after leaving the hotel, we’ve traversed three states; starting in Nevada, we skirted into Arizona before ending up in Utah for some hearty fayre and the astonishing ZionNational Park where we strolled down a gorge, avoided being bitten by squirrels and tarantulas and generally enjoyed being visually overwhelmed. Just enough time to grab an authentic cowboy hat and wend our way back into Arizona for a kip in a lodge. Tomorrow – the Grand Canyon. Perhaps by then they’ll have finished it by filling in all the gaps.