Tuesday, 16 March 2004

AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY - PART 10







I'm up early. I take advantage of the fact and write a few postcards, post them, and look around town for a travel agent. It has been decided that it makes good sense for Nathan and I to fly back from Las Vegas to San Francisco, as opposed to riding a bus. It is for the same reason that we deigned not to drive from straight from Yosemite to Las Vegas: Death Valley stands in our way (there may be a way around it but it would be a long an arduous passage and we don’t have the time). I find a travel agent, make enquiries and then walk back to the hotel to confirm these arrangements with Nathan. The flight will cost us a little over $90 each, to be paid for on my credit card.
            Back at the motel and my hangover is starting to kick in. The others are in a similar state of befuddlement and to exacerbate matters it is shaping up to be another very hot day. We return our keys and climb aboard The Beast, which is almost on fire, but then realise we’re missing something. Where’s our liquor? What did we do with our stash? Who had it last? Flashbacks to the night before, in our room where we carried on partying until the early hours. A picture forms in my mind, a revelation that we placed our cache in one of the drawers for safekeeping. The owner of the motel has since gone to lunch, so we plead with one of the cleaners to let us back into our room so we can search for what it is we have left behind. She acquiesces, and after much frantic searching we finally find what we’re looking for.
            By the time we've returned to the travel agents I'm feeling really rather sick. The lady who takes my booking is very helpful, which makes me all the more aware of how awful I must appear. If she can smell last night’s booze, she does a good job of not letting on, but the whole procedure takes far too long. I find myself distracted by the waste paper basket down by the side of the desk, possibly because I can envisage using it for something entirely inappropriate.

The local mart, somewhere near the slip road that will take us onto the Cabrillo Highway, is a wonderful place to be. It is a large supermarket with plenty of room for manoeuvre, is air-conditioned, has a comprehensive selection of potato chips, fruits and soft drinks that shall make our journey that little more comfortable. Needless to say, we’re running late.
“Think I'll pack it in, and buy a pick-up, take it down to L.A. Find a place to call my own, and try to fix up, start a brand new day,” sings Neil Young, as we kick things off with his album Harvest. We don’t actually know where we’re travelling to, it very much depends on how much mileage our sole driver, Nathan, thinks he can handle. He’s already warned us that he doesn't really fancy driving another 250 plus miles (it was just under 200 from San Francisco to Yosemite) but will see how he feels. At the very least, we would like to make it as far as Bakersfield, although Santa Barbara would be preferable. (There’s not really very much between them but at the time we imagined Bakersfield to be a lot closer.) If we’re really pushed then there’s always Santa Maria, although that would leave us with a very long haul to Vegas. But hey, we've got an open-top car and miles of Pacific road ahead of us, which is something to savour.
It's a great old drive. Refractions of light flicker off the Pacific Ocean blue, and the sun warms us the whole way. The Byrds, The Beatles and The Beach Boys provide our soundtrack: it’s as if heaven has fallen upon the earth in the form of the open road and the right sort of music. We stop somewhere to eat and ask Nathan how he’s holding up. Not too badly – he likes the winding roads because they keep him focussed. We are making good time so we decide to press on as far as Santa Barbara.
The last 50 or so miles, after Highway 1/the Cabrillo Highway peels off from its coast-hugging tract, aren't quite so much fun. At one point the road takes us into a depression and a horrible mist descends upon us, freezing us to our bones. We've had no reason to put the roof up and now it’s too late to do anything about it. But we actually make our destination before it is dark, and find a motel – opposite Pershing Park – without too much bother, and are standing on the waterfront in time to watch the sun set.






We know that tomorrow is going to be the hardest day’s driving yet – something like 350 miles, bypassing Los Angeles and then on through the Mojave Desert toward Las Vegas – so we’re going to have an early night. In the meantime there’s enough left of the day to see a little of what Santa Barbara is all about. Just as soon as we've washed our smalls in the sink – laundry has become problematic.
We find an Irish bar somewhere on or off State Street. We consume French-fries and force down a beer. It must be getting to us because nobody’s suggesting we eat anything more than this (although it’s probably no more than three hours since we stopped off for lunch on the drive down). We try another bar – possibly the Wildcat on Ortega – which is a slight improvement. A couple of more beers later and the consensus is that we’ll call it a day.
Charlie and I are talking our way down State Street, and Max and Nathan are following behind doing the same. “Charlie, James!” They have stopped following behind. A bar has been observed that shows some potential, called ‘Qs’ or something. I am wary, as is Charlie, but we defer to the wishes of our driver, who’s on the lookout for bars with a high female body count. Not that he has designs on following up on anything, but he’d at least like to take a look.
The place is heaving. It’s a ‘student night’, and students in America – and especially Santa Barbara, it appears – can afford to drink whenever they want. There is a yard out back which is even busier. We engage with the locals and people keep going to the bar and it gets quite messy and we don’t leave until quite late. When we finally do, Charlie suddenly recedes into the night, Max is seen chasing two girls down the high street, Nathan is stuffing his face with the food he’s found from somewhere, and I'm doing press-ups on the side-walk. It has been agreed we need to be up for eight in the morning.


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