Monday, 15 March 2004

AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY - PART 9







I have slept well, and maybe even made inroads into the sleep deficit that has been building up over the past week. If it wasn’t for Nathan I might have gotten completely on top of it. He’s been very active this morning, doing nothing much in particular, exiting then entering the room again and fiddling with the curtains in a concerted effort to get us all out of bed. Resistance is futile, so I commandeer the shower before the thought occurs to either Max or Charlie.
            I can see the thinking behind Nathan’s provocation. What a place to find oneself. Yosemite National Park is truly beautiful, the sun is shining and there air is pure – an opportunity not to be missed. Bring on breakfast.
            The ‘Three Brothers’ baguette is the culinary highlight of my trip thus far. We all indulge but each employ subtle variations on the theme, such is the nature of the Three Brothers experience. The numerical value of this delight refers to the three meats involved: ham, salami and pepperoni. You can then choose your style of bread, the salad contents, the sort of cheese you’d like, and your condiments. This, coupled with a cup of coffee, is the perfect way to start a day playing in the great outdoors.
            We estimate that we have about three hours to spare to survey our environment. It has been decided that our next destination shall be Monterey, a distance of over 250 miles and something like 5 hours away. In terms of getting closer to Las Vegas this journey will not make massive inroads. However, it should be a more pleasant driving experience, taking us toward Big Sur and along the Pacific coast thereafter, before we are then required to head inland in the direction of Vegas itself.
            It’s the perfect time of year to visit Yosemite. Our difficulty in procuring lodgings the previous night had nothing to do with an influx of visitors: there simply weren't the rooms ready and waiting. Fresh snow lies piled up against the side of the roads, proof that Curry Village is still in the process of preparing itself for the tourists that are sure to descend before the month’s end. We are to be freed from the commercial permutations that would ordinarily tarnish this most tranquil of settings, and only occasionally pass visitors on our three hour hike through the valley.
            It would be nice to stay another night. In hindsight, we should have left San Francisco a day earlier – maybe even two. As it stands, we need to have the car back in Vegas for Wednesday, and it is now Monday. There is no margin for spontaneity.
Before we leave there is the small matter of ‘gas’ to deal with. It can be procured locally but is slightly frowned upon: it is kept mainly for the vehicles that tend the area. We are made very aware of this by the local garage attendant who goes on to explain that the price of petrol is significantly higher than it would ordinarily be – hence the warning signs on the drive in – to deter people from buying it here. But we’re on holiday and couldn't really care less about this extra expense; we’re just relieved we can buy enough fuel to get us on our way. Moreover, compared to the cost of such things back in our own country this elevated tariff still seems rather reasonable, as evinced by the manner in which Max deals out the dollar bills. Our nonchalance is not lost on the attendant and he appears slightly irritated that his lecture as fallen on such indifferent ears. (We’re only permitted enough petrol to get us on the road and as far as the next gas station, where we will stop and fill our tank to its brim.)






We’re on the road again. We don’t necessarily want to be, but we are. It is a long drive through pleasant countryside, pretty uneventful save for an innocent encounter with a policeman curious to know what we’re doing pulled over by the roadside about two hours south-west of Yosemite. “Are you okay boys? I'm curious to know why you’re pulled up by the roadside here, in the middle of nowhere,” says the grey-haired, moustachioed gentleman of the law. “Just stretching our legs, officer.”
In fact, we've stopped for a cigarette break and to reorganise the contents of our boot, which is mostly filled with crates of beer and things. It’s hard to tell if he minds, or whether our English accents nullify any latent suspicion, but he takes us at our word and is quickly on his way.
It’s an epic journey along Highway 140 and we pass through a number of faceless towns – Merced, Los Banos – stopping just the once to purchase victuals to tide us over. It is dark when we finally run into Monterey. After stopping off at roadside diner, we find a motel and then walk down to the quayside in search of somewhere to drink.
There doesn't seem to be much going on in Monterey tonight. The only bar displaying even a modicum of life is some English themed ‘pub’ down on the quay, which actually turns out to be quite animated. Copies of the satirical publication The Onion are pasted to the walls of the toilet, there is a wide selection of beers, and the locals are very communicative. We end up in conversation with a US Marine who thinks that, “Tony Blair’s got balls, man!” Despite his misplaced admiration for our Prime Minister, this military man is polite, articulate and good company.
Perhaps because we've spent much of the day sitting down, we find the time and the energy to get almost as drunk as we were in Delirium and stumble back through the empty streets of Monterey in high spirits.







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