Different States, a short story by Zealey. Date added: 2011-04-28. Times viewed: 2647.
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- Intro: A travelog of my driving odyssey across the USA from New York to San Francisco, very long, very personal... very welcome ;)
An East to West Coast USA travel journal
by Michael G Zealey
“When you walk, WALK; and when you sit, SIT”. – (Henry Miller quoting the “Zen Masters”.)
By way of a brief introduction. It occurred to me in the desert, somewhere between a cactus and a pine tree that “Peace” is the place in our heads that we’re all trying to get to – even if we don’t realise that that’s what we’re looking for. Personal Peace. All of us have that room in our heads where peace lives. The little private, quiet space at the very centre of the house/castle/shithouse we build for ourselves everyday. The door is often times locked, and for me, sometimes I’ve got the key, othertimes I haven’t. When we haven’t got it, we run round trying to fill our days with constant noise and action in the hopeless attempt of distracting ourselves from the unavoidable reality that we are not at peace. Peace is not happiness. Peace is not an emptiness or cessation of thought, aggression, struggle or war. If anything, peace is surrender. In no way is peace a victory – unless surrendering can be seen as a victory. In my own life, the times when I have felt most at peace is when I’ve unfurled my white flag and waved it in the direction of the universe, above the parapet of my dug-out bunker. Surrendered, no shots fired!
The best way I’ve found, so far, to blag the keys off my uptight bouncer brain, has been through travel. To travel is to fall on the mercy of the universe and ask that she doesn’t fuck you up. I tested this theory against last month by travelling across the USA from New York to San Francisco trying to outrun my old job and the army of Estate Agents hounding me across the Atlantic. It’s only when I’m totally out of control in a strange country and relying on the good nature of strangers, that I feel free, and in feeling free feel like my real self. Who is the real me? Who is the real you? Do you really know? Have you ever had the guts to find out what hand you’ve been dealt?
Rimbaud said he had written thirty books under a “pseudonym” before he finally wrote something that he felt was true and real enough to call his own, something that really spoke with his own voice and wasn’t just him aping someone else’s style or trying to impress and be something he wasn’t. I don’t know if what I’ve written down here is of interest to anyone other than myself and closest or closet friends. But, I can say for sure that it’s the first thing I’ve written that I can put my real name to.
Here it is then...
[Written in real time between Monday 19th June and Thursday 13th July 2006. Unedited, with the exception of grammar / spelling / incriminating insanity. ]
Heathrow, State of London.
Dateline: Monday 19th July 2006.
The Time: 13:17…
The Place: Gate 20 Heathrow Terminal 3…
The Reality: Shitting it.
New York, State of New York.
New York Subway 18:50. Within 5mins, 2 people (a Mexican woman and traveller type) have separately come up to me to ask directions! – I guess I must just look like a natural New Yorker! Sitting on the E-Train because I thought it more funky than getting a taxi. Getting down and dirty with the real stink of underground NY’ers. Listening to “Will’s America Mix” on I-pod, constantly re-evaluating my surroundings making sure it’s safe to do so.
Well, here I am. Look Ma! I never thought it would happen. I’ve been chatting about this moment for years and years. Here I am, propping up a bar in Manhat! Checked into Sohotel, which reminded me of that fleapit hotel from “Highlander” that the Kurgan stays in! I feel I’ll definitely be doing battle with some roaches afore the day breaks! I feel shattered but refuse to sit in my hotel bed watching TV. I should eat really, but I’m enjoying the sedative affects of this Hoegarden. A very relaxing bar this – dark lighting, candles on table, soothing beats, quite empty. I didn’t fancy a lot of the “Sex and the City” style restaurants I walked past in my search for a drink. Feeling more Tom Waits than Bonfire of the Vanities at the moment – Wait Wolfe! Terry Waite! Waiting for the Barman. Kind Barman – my age, big with a moustache and Boxfresh T-Shirt, telling me about a block party their having on Saturday, he’s bringing the keg. He’s just introduced me to two girls who arrived and sat at the bar next to me. I bungled a terrible nervous answer to the first girl’s question of “So, what’s in London?” Idiots like me, apparently!
A great turnout though. Three Hoegardens and a great chat with a connected Taiwanese girl called Sandy. I couldn’t really tell if she was just being friendly or actually fancied me, but I felt so wasted after all things today that I kept it light and said good night and good luck!
I’m dying for some food, but the city that never sleeps is obviously just having a quick crafty nap coz there’s nothing doing. All the shops are shut and the hot-dog vendors are tucked up in bed dreaming of mustard and umbrellas.
Too knackered to write any more…need…sleep…must…stop… Pigsy, I’m mean Sandy, the Tiawanese girl, told me to go south of Wall Street for the best view of the Statue of Liberty and City Lights bookstore in Greenwich Village is a must too for any wannabe writer like myself!
(The secret is don’t try too hard to be friendly with people. It comes across as needy and insecure – both deeply unattractive traits! Goodnight).
WOW, WOW, FUCKING WOW! This is like being in a movie! Everything is so real yet totally unreal at the same time. I almost wished I still smoke dope just to see what kind of affect that had to the reality presented.
To write down what I've done this morning doesn’t do justice to what the experience was – and it’s still only 12pm!
I left the hotel and walked to Chinatown. I stopped in at a small coffee house to consult the Lonely Planet (LP) as to how to get to the Brooklyn Bridge. I resisted the urge to have aromatic crispy duck for breakfast. I walked to the bridge and crossed it in the burning sun with the great grey metal suspension rods either side of me like sparkling steel spaghetti, turning back every now and again to check the distance growing between me and the skyscrapers of Manhattan – such an iconic filmic image now real and incredible. Half way across I can see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty rising up out of the similarly coloured green wash.
“Give me your tired your hungry, your poor and I’ll shit on ‘em – that’s what the Statue of Liberty said” (Lou Reed, New York).
I hung around in an area they call DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Brooklyn Underpass). It’s supposed to be a hip hangout for ubertrendy hepcats like me (!) But all I could find were offices, warehouses, tramps and adverts for the worst looking film ever committed to celluloid – the Wayan Brothers “Little Man”. I pray it doesn’t make it across the Atlantic but capsizes halfway across under the weight of it’s own shitness and sinks like a coral turd encrusted with barnacles to the bottom of the slimy ocean.
Starving I went into a bagel shop in Williamsburg run by the Arabic Beastie Boys – they free-flowed me into having a cheese and egg bagel that tasted fantastic, the best I’ve ever eaten. It’s now put me into carbohydrate shock and I can barely keep awake as I hold the pen. I wasn’t sure if they were being genuinely friendly or just taking the piss! They couldn’t believe it when I told them I'd walked all the way from uptown Soho and looked at me with a mixture of awe and pity. The MCA looking guy directed me to go to Prospect Park and hangout, it’s on the F-Train near Coney Island (the end of the line). I was a bit worried he might be taking the piss knowing that this was THE bad-ass park of NY and a guaranteed arsefuck and mugging delight. But I’m sitting here now and it seems to be a world of rich brownstone houses, VW Golfs and rotund poor Hispanic women walking rich white babies, no doubt whilst their rich white mother(fucker)s sue each other over the water in Ally McBeal Manhat law firms.
It’s gently starting to rain here in the park and the ink of my pen is starting to dilute on the page. Think I’ll grab a sneaky beer somewhere. Sun’s over the Yardarm!
I envy the fact that Americans genuinely seem to be proud of their country and New Yorkers definitely LOVE their city. Maybe London and England would be a better, more friendly and integrated place if we felt the same way. There’s an innate pessimism in London that everything is always on the brink of fucking off, whereas I feel here an innate optimism that the phone is always about to ring inviting you to a killer party!
I’m sitting on a bench at the very tip bottom of Manhattan Island, staring out at the Statue of Liberty. I wonder why the 9/11 bombers didn’t allocate a plane for the statue – it would’ve been a much bigger statement than the Pentagon and possibly even the WTC?
I can’t be fucked with taking the Ellis Island Ferry – I’m looking at it now and it looks like a lifeboat from the Titanic, all crowded full of ratty Disney-style tourists. The statue does look surprisingly imposing, even from this distance. An actor is dressed as Spiderman to my right and is show-boating for the kids on the ferry. He’s being buzzed by a black Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair with the US flag sticking out the back. The old vet is trying to get the kids’ attention to tell them that HE is the real superhero not this ponce in the costume. The kids look singularly unimpressed and instead holler out for Spidey to climb a wall. Guy in wheelchair is metaphorically climbing his own wall, but it’s looking too steep for him.
To get here I’ve just walked all through Wall Street during its lunchbreak. Very impressive in its cool, calm, sleek and moneyed power. Designer suits with built-in air-conditioning units. A small part of me felt jealous and wistful that I never really played that game. The larger part of me breathed a sigh of relief.
(That ferry really is rammed. Overheard snippet of conversation from two people walking past: He has a heart of gold but no sense. Are you talking about me?)
[New York Truths – Less really is more. The less I say, the more intelligent and cool people think I am! I want to stop trying to be a writer, a film-maker, an artstar – BE it or don’t. A school kid rushes past the window clutching an A star report card. He beams from ear to ear clicking his fingers as he goes. He is happy, and that feeling, whether we are adult or child. That feeling is the same.]
I’m writing events in real time as much as possible, literally as I’m walking down the street, pausing in doorways or sitting curbside – trying not to look too weird. But New York seems a weirdness forgiving sort of place. I’m also writing down stream-of-consciousness thoughts as they occur resulting from these new experiences. To illustrate internal dialogue from factual events I’m using [….]. Just in case the flow seems illogical. It simply reflects the way things are going down inside my gourd!]
Whoa Nelly! I’m really pissed. Good night though! Started off a bit dodge but redeemed itself at the end. I moseyed on up to Times Square and took in Broadway. Times Square makes Piccadilly Circus look like an East End pub’s Christmas decorations. I found a reasonably cool bar just off Broadway and had a couple of warm-up Guinness. They were showing highlights of the England v. Ecuador world cup match, in which I’ve only really got a passing interest. I wondered off down Broadway and got invited to a live recording of some stand-up comedy show for “Comedy Central”, but it looked as funny as watching a whale being raped so I decided to pass and headed off on foot to Grand Central Station. So impressive, so filmic. I think they shot the climactic scene of “The Untouchables” here (even though it’s supposed to be set in Chicago!) If not, it’s certainly been used as a location for many other films. Took the subway back, which is perfectly air-conditioned and clean, compared with London’s sweat rat ride. I’d love to know why London Underground has to be 8 times more expensive than this one and 80 times more unreliable, hot, slow, stinking? Is there anything London does well?
[New York artstar Soho Trendies look just like Shoreditch Twats. To qualify for membership to this elitist group you must be male, do some sort of unpublished artform full of meaning and pretentious symbolism, have a trust fund to finance this because no other cunt will, and because how could someone as delicately creative be expected to hold down a job like the rest of us schmo’s? You must also never get too excited about anything, never smile at a stranger. Always role your eyes when you are forced to observe something unhip committed by a ‘normal’ person. The dress code in summer is wife-beater vest (preferably light blue), pirate style linen pantaloons to the ankles, open-toed sandals or flip-flops, some sort of flat-cap (ethnic or ironic) and a low slung bag over one shoulder hanging down to the arse in which is stored some fliers for an underground poetry slam and art installation, a bottle of water and the “How to be a twat” guide to ensure coolness is being adhered to at all times. Finally, you must be pencil thin, emaciated by the effort it takes to remain so trendy and aloof.]
There’s a lot of cannibalism in New York advertising. Huge swathes of ad campaigns revolve around the product eating itself. Pigs feasting on sausages. Cows eating hamburgers, bagels with eyes, legs and arms tucking greedily into bagels. It’s quite dirty if you really think it through.
It’s day two and of my Easy Rider inspired quest to find the real me through finding the real America! I’m now sitting in Central Park on a beautiful sunny day, eating a lox and cream cheese bagel the size of a car tyre. In fact if anyone gets into trouble out there on the lake, I could simply through them this bagel. For those of you who are interested, I’m in the process of selling my London flat and the projection that it will sell is financing this plastic fantastic trip. I’ve just called the Estate Agent at Next Move to find out if what’s happening, which was surreal. The 16yr old office twat answered the phone and seemed impressed when I told him I was calling from NY. Also got a call from those CUNTS at Smith Lawson, the collection agency of Scottish thugs and recovering Glasweigan crack addicts, working on behalf of the Student Loans Company. It was ridiculous to hear their cunty Glasweigan voices down the phone as I was walking through Chinatown. If only my phone wasn’t charged for receiving calls abroad, I would’ve loved to keep them talking for as long as possible, only mentioning right at the end that this has been an inter-continental call and cost them more than they are trying to inveigle off me!
[At the rate I’m getting through clothes, by the time I hit the West coast I’m gonna be one smelly Englishman. Fee-Fye-Foe-Fum! I smell the arse of an Englishman!
OK then. A brief recap of what’s occurred. Last night I wondered around three of four bars again until I finally hit upon one that suited my mood. I propped up the bar with a tomboy Turkish girl who reminded me of Sly Stallone in ‘Over the Top’. We had a three way rap with a really fun Irish barmaid who was suffering from a bad back and kept feeding me free Tequila as an excuse to indulge herself and help with the pain. With her insightful advice and friendly vibe she’s really helped ease me into this trip. Tipping bar staff, well, tipping everyone, really smoothes the creases of life here. I stumbled out round two feeling like Nick Nolte after a car crash and have got a terrible hangover to for my troubles. Today started with a bagel breakfast before a wonder-wander through TriBeCa and up to Central Park. I crashed out in the shade of a skyscraper for a couple of hours and then headed down 5th Avenue.
A problem with NY is that there are NO public ‘Comfort Stations’. Down 5th Avenue my intestine is feeling like an anaconda. I was getting so desperate for a leak that I was seriously thinking of offering a tramp 20$ to piss in his mouth. In the end I stumbled across Central Park Zoo and pissed up a Polar Bear’s back! Late afternoon I see the needle shape of the Empire State and feel obliged to do the tourist thing and check out the view. The speed of the express elevator is matched only by the speed at which the American tourist-machine tries to sell me things. EVERY angle and opportunity has been exploited, even down to the poor sod in the gibbon suit aping King Kong in the foyer, thrusting commentary headphones for 6$ at me. But, the true power of the view could never be packaged, reduced and sold. It was breathtaking. In the top 5 things my eyes have reflected. Wow! (that’s cool. It’s not often in these past few years when I can say that I’ve done something today that’s in the top 5!) The interior of the building had a real Batman Gotham City gothic vibe to it. In fact New York as a whole has a real super-hero vibe to it. I keep expecting to see a web-slinger swing over my head or a big spinning golden globe with “Daily Planet” written on it. It’s true what they say that “Ghostbusters” is one of the best films of place every made – it really does seem to sum up the spirit and look of New York.
I then checked my email to bring myself down from the sky to the reality at street level. I spent about an hour composing boring emails to Estate Agents / Lawyers / prospective employers. It kind of brought me down to be only two days into the trip, but already dwelling on the reality of returning. The estate agent (he no longer deserves capital letters) has told me we can’t even exchange contracts till 28th at least. Maybe if I can complete before 13th July, I’ll fly Will Squire out to Frisco for a few days to large it? (Ha! What a great guy I am!)
Finished off just now with a fatty 45$ steak served by a fatty 45 year old waitress and am now back in my hotel room getting packed up ready for flight tomorrow. I’m trying to formulate an overall impression of New York as I thrust T-Shirts into my bag. It’s without doubt one of the coolest, hippest cities on earth, but rather like the Shoreditch Twat, it can be a bit unrelaxing due to its unrelenting trendiness and treadmill of events. The cooler the bar I was in; the more it exposed my lack of coolness – mmm, something to analyse there I think! But not today. See you all in the new New... New Orleans, (via Atlanta).
City of Atlanta. State of Georgia.
I’m sitting in Atlanta airport, writing in a stolen moment between connecting flights. Connecting the dots in my brain. There’s a great freedom that comes from moments like this where you are in limbo – not where you are going, but neither where you were. It feels strangely good to be out of NY. I’m excited and optimistic about discovering what I hope will be the “real America”. New York was too much like London, cool and enjoyable but ultimately just like any big European city. I’m hearing snatched news reports of flooding down south in Louisiana and the National Guard being drafted in to deal with looters. This could be interesting!
[American TV is very similar to Greek TV in that the news is all about local parochial sweet stories – like ITV will be in a couple of years – pure condescending brain-fat, no meat or analysis. It’s also totally predictive – this may be going to happen, what would happen if this were to happen.]
[I can’t stop eating, but can’t shit. I’ve only had one small rat-like pellet since London. Something's gotta give! I’ve chowed down on a skip full of junk and can almost feel the waste tickling my tonsils. If they need a dam down there to stop the flooding… here I come!]
There’s posters everywhere for Superman Returns. It gets me to thinking how Superman is the Christ of the 20th/21st Century. Imagine that a group of people created the superhero Jesus 2,000 years ago as a moral symbol of hope for the people of the time (just like Superman was imagined by Jerry Siegel during the 2nd World War). Due to the oral tradition and a lot of speculation, it has now become a mythological fact. It would be hilarious if the same thing happened to Superman in another 2,000 years and he became thought of as a fact! Anyway, they’ve just called my flight. It’s amazing that for 35$ extra I can upgrade my flight to Business class. I suppose because US flying is much more the norm than in the UK. I’ve upgraded and am now going to swagger to the gate for some 1st class treatment. Excuse you Atlantan scum, clear the way, here I come!
New Orleans, State of Louisiana.
“How you doing?”
“Cooler than you, I think!”
Thus spake the barman.
New Orleans is cooler than a frozen cucumber that’s been stuck up Captain Scott’s arse after 100 years of freezing arctic winds. The ambient temperature is 100 degrees in the humid shade, sweatier than Toby Wagstaff’s arse crack on a Grecian wall, yet still cooler than anything. As the barman of the first joint I walk into says “New Orleans and New York are about as far away as you can get from each other in the US”
THIS is what I’ve been after – a holiday of contrasts. My one fly in the ointment (and there always has to be one, godammit!) is as I switched on my phone at New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport – a message from Next Move saying that Tom, the buyer of my flat, wants to visit it at 5 tomorrow to have another look around. I don’t know why and neither does the woman who left me the message, but it’s really put me on edge. It’s not the end of the world if he does decide that he no longer wants to buy it, but it would be a massive muthafucker of a blow if he did. I REALLY need to put it out of my head – coz I can’t believe I’m sitting in a crazy cool Jazz bar on Bourbon Street worrying about this warty flat.
[it’s now 05:03am and I’ve just called estate agent again. English time is 11:03am Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m out of my face on Bourbon Street speaking to those grey fuckers in rainy Stoke Newington. I AM DRUNK…]
What a night! I have a hangover this morning worthy of Lee Armstrong’s Austrian Stag do. I was out of my tiny mind. So much happened… phone numbers exchanged, impossibly great live music, beers and shots. Nawlins in heat!
Bourbon Street is just real enough to not slip into being a tacky tourist trap. Every bar has live music slamming out into the steamy night, drummers working hard to drown out the beat of the neighbouring bar. With the air conditioning on, the heat from outside causes waves of smoke to billow in to the bar. Very strange to watch. I bar-hopped like a beered-up Cricket from place to place until I found a killer bar called ‘Dungeon’ and holed-up there for the small hours. I gave Alexa, the beautiful Gothic barmaid my number at her request and she said she’d call. I feel so mortally fucked today that I actually hope she doesn’t! As the man said – “What happens on Bourbon Street, stays on Bourbon Street, son.”
I had a long interesting conversation with an ex-army long distance truck driver who’d lost everything and was now just killing time, and mainly himself, in Nawlins. He showed me the pictures of happier days carrying logs from Denver to the west coast. He stands in front of his logging truck, arms folded, proud. So different to the man now holding the photo in shaking whiskey claw. Some college kids on their first adventure away from their mum’s teat hassle the barmaid for drink after drink. They get rowdy and boring. I get talking to this big bruiser of a bloke from Detroit who says he knows a cooler bar on the edge of town. He seems like a cool cat and even though I’m out of my face, I get the sense that if it came to it I could have him in a fight, or at least outrun him!
We leave the Dungeon and walk off to this bar. It turns out he is incredibly racist. He looks and sounds like Mickey Rourke and is regaling me with tails of manufacturing cars in downtown Detroit. I’m so pissed that I’ve taken to saying everything in an John Lee Hooker style Cajun drawl. He can’t believe I’m really from London and thinks I’m spinning him a line. He’s worried that I’M taking him somewhere to get robbed! We stop and try and work out who’s leading who and who’s mugging who. Once more at the controls he takes me to the bar and fair play, it is alright. Young, hip crowd. 4am dance music. I order a Jamesons and fall into conversation with a weirdy-beardy student originally from Arkansas. He looks like something out of ZZ Top and seems in love with the fact he’s more intelligent than his peers. I have a chat with him about reality (or at least my understanding of reality at 4:30 on a Nawlins morn!) but soon grow bored of it and look round for the next thing. To tell the truth, that’s all I remember, except for this:
As I’m leaving the bar, an old emaciated black guy comes up to me trying to sell me a small red BMX bike. I ask him how much semi-jokingly as I’m seriously considering cycling back. Some guys who’ve been drinking in the bar and are now on the street shout out to me not to do it, that this old guy’s a crackhead. I look again. Of course he’s a crackhead!
I stumble off bike-less and clue-less towards the orange glow of the dawn sun.
I am now having a carbo-tastic Cajun breakfast that is digesting humanity back into my bones. I’m reading in the local paper that the National Guard has been drafted in. Apparently after Hurricane Katrina all the blacks were forced to move out of their ramshakled homes, but now with the help of FEMA (Federal EMergency Action) they are moving back and with them the inevitable new type of human hurricane, drugs, gangs, muggings, gun crime. A barman told me last night that, post-Katrina, there aren’t enough police to handle it anymore so they’ve called in the army. I feel safe, cocooned here in the French Quarter, but looking at photos of the surrounding Central City, Nawlins, I get the feeling I’d be swatted like a Louisiana housefly the second I stepped off the Quarter!
American TV is amazing! Amazingly frightening and shitty! All programs seem to be news related and aim to terrify its American viewers into subservience. The News is predictive not reactive or fact based. It all seems to be obsessed with what “might” happen. Primarily Al-Qai’da.
Even better than this are the adverts which are all for medications. Although for the hard-core ‘scrippies Americans still need a prescription from their doctor, there’s obviously a lot of competition out there and they can tell their doctor which one they want! Watching these adverts, it becomes clear that the US FDA has passed a law that forces drugs companies to mention possible side-affects in their advertising, resulting in a chirpy ad for arthritis tablets finishing up with a fast, low and sinister voiceover at the end rumbling through a list of possible complications including, (but not limited to) nausea, dihoerrea, vomiting, and psychotic episodes! Nice!
I had my first plate of Jambalaya for dinner, in a perfectly Cajun atmosphere restaurant. Sweet. There was a storm brewing outside and the odd rumble of thunder which perfectly complimented the humid dark crevices of the swampy restaurant. I needed somewhere dank and quiet for my self-conscious hangover. I’m sitting here at the table reading the biogs of the contributors to the Lonely Planet guide with growing envy. I’d like to be a travel writer (well, I guess I am, but what I mean is I’d like to be paid to do it!). I had my palm read last night by some old hippy dude and he told me pretty much the same as the Indian palm reader in Lachmanjula exactly ten years ago – two kids, stomach problems, living in two countries, three loves, can’t work for self, creatively minded, should be a writer. Oh and some minor problems with depression… tell me about it!
With this hangover I’m a bit moody about the future. What am I going to do with my life? I’m nearly 32 and still “drifting”. I’m no closer to having a focus or a long-term job that I even have the slightest interest in getting out of bed for. I can’t take that SFIA job that’s been offered to me – where’s that going to lead to? What would it be for? BUT, I can’t think how to make real money from writing. I need to think on…
The plan for tomorrow then is a hearty breakfast, check email, find out about a hotel in Lafayette (T’Frere’s sounds best), find out how to get the Greyhound bus from here to there. The cool girl from Dungeon told me that the real action is in Frenchman’s Street, on the far western edge of the French Quarter in an area known as Maringny. It’s where the locals go to hear and drink the good stuff, so that’s what I’ll do tomorrow night – I haven’t heard enough live music yet. Maybe I’ll even watch the England game at 11am on Sunday! I’ve been thinking a lot about New York today, and it already seems like part of another trip. Perhaps I should rent a car in Lafayette and drive up to Little Rock in Arkansas rather than my current plan of the gruesome Greyhound? Good night, dear reader!
No. I won’t be doing that! I had a revelation in bed last night that a far better plan is to fly to Oklahoma City, rent a car and drive cross-county to San Francisco. She’s a long drive through the desert, though! I’ve just booked the flight now, it’s non-stop, tomorrow at 12:10pm. I woke up this morning not really fancying Little Rock. There’s something about the Ozark Mountains that freaks me. It’s a real Hillbilly place and was actually where ‘Deliverance’ was set! “Squeal Damocles, Squeal!” This, in addition to the fact that the Lonely Planet only has three pages on the whole state of Arkansas! It basically says there’s NOTHING there! I checked my email this morning whilst chatting with the kid who was looking after the shop. A cool teenager who’s Louisiana drawl and southern vibe made him infinitely more relaxed and measured than his years. He told me a story about how that morning he’d been woken up by the National Guard kicking in the front door of his neighbour’s house researching a “domestic disturbance”! Guns and overkill. It just shows the different attitudes between hear and London (Forest Hill in particular!) No-one gives a shit here about police heavy-handedness. The American Media, as far as I can see, are 100% on the side of the police (who incidentally expect to be addressed as “Sir” in all conversations).
I’m sitting at the moment in Jackson Square, which is a lush green area making up the centre of the French Quarter. A live Rhythm & Blues band are playing to the right of me. The midday church bell chimes the hour from the brilliant white steeple on my left, whilst the burning hot sun scorches the damp humid grass and beams of sunlight dapple their way through the antebellum trees and onto this page, as I sit on a Parisian style bench. Very cool. Very Peaceful. I get the feeling from talking to locals and reading local newspapers that the French Quarter is an anomaly of safety, surrounded on all sides by things far more dangerous than Alligator swamps. Unbelievably laid-back and country as a chicken-coup, I reckon this is just a knowingly maintained image. Scratch the surface and the golden scab will crack to expose black pus underneath. Central City which envelopes French Quarter in a vampiric cloak sounds like something from Robo-Cop and is filled with dangerous and desperate people, battling the National Guard who try to keep them out in the waste-lands and away from the pearly tourist gates. Under advice, this is the main reason I’ve decided to fly out of Nawlins rather than dodge bullets on the bus. I’m too slow with my big bag! I stepped out into the edge of Central City last night and this old dude on a push bike almost ran me over. I jumped back onto the curb and as he went past he said “No, no son, don’t stop…better to be a moving target round here!” Reassuring.
It really hits me how down here Hurricane Katrina is real life not just a news report. I know that sounds like a kind of obvious thing to say, but news can sometimes feel like a film when watched from the comfort of an armchair: a feeling of “Oh, dear, that’s a shame. Poor people” rather than “ Fuck me! Something MUST be done about this situation NOW!”
I’m sitting here in a market café with the most exquisite live jazz being played in front of me by a Creole four-piece outfit, having the first beer of the day and dwelling on what I’ve just been told by a Tarot reader called Mike. He was a “good ole boy” from Canada, working here illegally on the sly. He was so good that I gave him 40$! Both he and the palm reader the night before said that I am a writer and need to progress this. With Jonathan just now, I kept on my impenetrable sunglasses and minimised all body language so as not to give him too many signs to feed off. I also kept conversation to a minimum for the same reason. Here’s the bullet points of what he told me:
I am in the right path but need to focus on one thing now. That thing is Writing. I should travel around the States working as a Stable-Hand, shovelling horse shit and writing about it. (Apparently the INS immigration service only care about you and deport you if you’re non-white. Although he did say I’d need to work on my American accent to avoid suspicion, y’all! He told me about the natural racism of the American Immigration system and Administration, who are currently building a massive wall along the US / Mexican border with the same gusto as the Israelis, using the catch-all excuse of the war-on terror. Tarot Jonathan said this was obvious bullshit, as all the 9/11 terrorists came across the Canadian border, but the chances of the US building a wall against Canada... It’s just more immigration, colour of skin, racism).
He said I should travel more and write about the bad things, the things that make me uncomfortable, like an alcoholic travelling up the Amazon!
He said I need to treat writing like a job now, with discipline, and to start finding out HOW to be a writer – go to conventions, send stuff to editors, etc.
He said if I took the job I’ve been offered with SFIA I would do it for approximately three months. He said that far better for me would be to stay in the US and write about it. To fund this, he recommended a bizarre cocktail of jobs (which I agreed would certainly give me something to write about) Male Stripper (!), Palm Reader, Stable-Hand. For Palm-Reader, he told me, all I’d need is a book on how to do it, a chair and the ability to sit still in a town square somewhere for hours waiting for passing trade, making a couple of dollars here and there. His soundbite to me, which I think is fantastic and will tell anyone who’s ever interested is:
DO WHAT YOU LOVE UNTIL SOMEONE PAYS YOU FOR IT!
What a fantastic piece of advice! How fucking amazing! Not just the advice, but the fact that for him it was logical, easy, and the right thing for me to do. I’m juxtaposing myself sitting with my old boss Debbie in some ‘hi-powered’ business meeting with HSBC on a rainy day in a grey Deathstar building in Haywards Heath, thinking about fishfingers and Eastenders ; with imagining myself as a palm reader by day and male stripper by night in a small town in Nebraska and writing articles for some small magazine about the experience! For me to actually do this will take amazing strength and letting go of so much conditioning; but for him it was just a sentence, as achievable and practical as going to the corner shop to buy a beer.
The Spotted Cat. A sublime bar in Maringny. I’m four beers down and it’s four pm Saturday. I’ve wondered off down the Frenchman street area as recommended by Jonathan and others. I’m now sojourning in the coolest bar imaginable. I mean TRULY cool. Not try-hard, wannabe, or post-modern knowingly cool. This ain’t Hoxton, baby! This is what cool truly is. This is the real deal. It’s just me, the stoned barman and three blokes in the corner playing the sweetest afternoon slow jazz. Cello, Sax and Guitar. The joint has a real Cajun feel to it – sparse knackered out furniture, dirty stained floors, bare wooden walls with flakey yellow paint stripping off in the condensed heat and an overhead fan which turns languidly with a clicking sound that almost makes it the fourth member of the band.
I thought New Yorkers were effortlessly cool, but Louisianians have got ‘em licked! This is where the real action be at. It’s a shame I can’t get really messy tonight, coz I booked the flight to Okie for tomorrow and got to be at the airport for 11:10 latest. Looking at the Lonely Planet guide, I think I’d be better off renting the car from Okie Airport. The city looks really big and if there’s a convention in town it could cost me a lot in taxis trying to work out where to stay. It’s coming up to peak season everywhere now and I guess what I’m planning to do could be a bit risky, the LP warns against not booking ahead in summer. Fuck it, though, I feel luck is with me.
So, update then. Fly to Okie tomorrow, rent car for nine days. Follow the mother road, Route 66 and get my kicks all the way to Albuquerque, then Santa Fe, Flagstaff and then it would appear, rather unexpectedly, ladies and gentleman…LA! Then a long lazy drive up to Frisco where I’ll hang out for a week. It could be incredible if the car breaks down in the deserts of New Mexico – even Ray Mears would shit himself at that one!
I think I’ll get me some Cajun cigars in a minute, the smell is wafting over the bar like spiced wood. What that palm reader said today has really struck a chord, more about the fact I’m drifting and need to focus and fix on one thing now. I like the fact, in his words, that my writing could help people learn and travel without moving. That I had a lot of wisdom in me, but wisdom itself is a journey and not a destination. Imagine my flat sold before my flight back and I decided to stay in the US and become a stripper! On a more personal note I’m also reflecting on what he said about me turning up the “Black Prince” card. Could he be right that I seek out sexual relationships with ‘wounded bird’ type women – not because I want to help them but because I feel I don’t deserve love unless I’ve earned it or struggled to win it. I fear there may be some truth in that if I look back with that in mind.
I’ve bought a picture in New York and just now another one from the stunning covered flea market on the edge of town. I think it’d be cool to buy a picture in every significant town I pass through and then maybe type up this journal and stick that picture as a heading for each town (with additional photos) as a travel journal for anybody interested. Would anyone other than my friends BE interested? Would my friends be interested!!!
I took in the best blues of my life tonight in Frenchman’s Street. Incredibly sexy barmaid pouring me drinks. I was loving watching the way she handled the drunks (excluding me) with powerful southern putdowns. Unflappable, slow body movements and graceful poise. I could have watched her all night if the music hadn’t been so exquisite as to draw my attention away. People would pay 50$ to hear this music at the Royal Festival Hall drinking their 100$ bottles of wine. Yet here am I in a ramshackle bar in a rundown, post-Katrina, part of town hearing it for free with an ice cold local beer for two bucks! Phil Pasera would LOVE it here. For once he wouldn’t need to leave in search of somewhere better!
I’ve just found a note I wrote to myself at the bar on Thursday night, a “memo to self” to write down Graffiti found in toilets around the world. You can measure how cool a bar is by the quality of its graffiti! A good website for this would be www.bogs.com (as opposed to blogs.com) See? Clever that, eh?!
I walked down to the Mississippi River before dinner this evening and saw the paddle steamers. Archetypal symbols of the gambling early 20th century, real Huckleberry Finn vibe. To get there I had to walk along the edge of the French Quarter and into the Robo-Cop depths of Century City. I caught a brief glimpse of the KFC bargain bucket of poverty that exists outside the lugubrious tourist trap. Slim pickens! On the corner of a Foot Locker store, the most energized street group I’ve ever heard. About six young black guys with trumpet, sax, trombone and bongos, slamming out the most powerful urgent music. Impossible energy in this heat. Best of all, they weren’t doing it for change or tourists (neither on offer) but totally for their own enjoyment. If I could have recorded it, it would’ve been legend.
I’m back in the Chateau Hotel in my air-conditioned bat-cave. The bat suit is hung-up in the bathroom and I’ve got a pot of coffee on the brew. This is a fantastic room in a fantastic hotel. A shame I didn’t get the chance to use the pool, but hey-ho, much better things to be a-seeing. I get the feeling that Oklahoma City will be Convention-al, but I must try not to pre-judge. I feel a bit foolish for not hanging round Nawlins a bit longer and taking a swamp tour or seeing some of the plantation houses and bayous, but I really can’t be fucked. The human alligators on Bourbon Street have snapped enough money off me!
Right then. That WAS New Orleans. See y’all in Okie!
“Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known!” (Yanni, Peter’s Fish Bar, Harrow).
I’m sitting in Louis Armstrong airport waiting to board my United Airlines flight to Ok City. There was trouble afoot at Check-in due to bad weather in Washington DC. They’d cancelled all flights into DC and all those people who’d flown down to Nawlins for a cheeky weekend are now stranded with some heavy explaining to do to their bosses tomorrow morning (Monday). England are currently playing Ecuador and the United airlines rep told me that the score stands at 0-0. If I were still in NY or at a loose end I might’ve watched it, but I’ve got a continent to explore! I’m writing this at the gate, sitting pressed up against the window and I can see the plane’s just turned up taxing out of the corner of my eye. SHE BE SMALL! Looks like a jazzy Learjet. I hope there’s no tornadoes over the great plains. Flight time is 1hr 48mins. Voodoo Hoodoo. No upgrades on this flight. I’ve taken a Xanax which the doc gave me last year for the fear of flying, they’re out of date, so I’m going to mix it immediately with some Southern Comfort and see if I can storm the cockpit!
There’s a beautiful looking girl right in front of me who has just chosen to sit down right in front me, despite there being free chairs all around. She’s yapping into her phone ; I’m listening to my I-pod, but I can tell she’s very conscious of me and keeps squirming around to catch my eye. She is barefoot and has very pretty petite feet. But, looking now, I reckon she can only be about 17. Her big bad-ass bruiser of a mum has just squelched down next to her – the Midwest mutha of Biffa Bacon! She seems interested in what I’m doing with this paper and sharp pointy stick in my hand. “In England, we call this W-r-it-in-g” Gur. Hold up. I need the “Restroom”.
We have a passenger of size here! Bring the special seat belt! THIS PLANE IS SMALL. REALLY SMALL. Just 34 seats, 1 and 2 either side 17 rows. I’ve just sat down and immediately want to get off. This could be tough. Best not to think about it.
Oklahoma City. State of Oklahoma.
This trip blows my mind, it really does! A few days ago I was on the New York subway, then this morning I was in New Orleans being driven to the airport in an old battered taxi by the most stoic old creole guy who’d lost everything in Katrina yet still maintained he was the luckiest guy on earth, and now I’m sitting in the great Midwest of America in a shitty Travelodge corporate chain hotel planning the next stage of the trip!
The Plane I flew in on was the smallest commercial jet the public can fly on without qualifying as a private flying lesson. I felt like Alan Sugar in the Apprentice mixed with Agent Will Graham from Manhunter!
[I really can’t work out how to shut these hotel room curtains, they’ve baffled me for a good hour on and off. I’ve just had to take a shit in full view of the hotel forecourt, whilst the Valet Parking guys walked past. I was tempted to lean out the window before I flushed and flicked them a dollar saying “Park this!”]
But I digress! I really should write the day’s events in sequential order so’s that I don’t lose you dear reader! so...
I checked out of the Chateau Hotel, New Orleans and got a taxi-ride, as I said, from this true old Molasses , Red-Dirt Marijuana southern gent. He told me, in his chocolatey southern drawl that he’d lost all his possessions in Katrina. He’d just paid off his house and the whole thing had been blown clean away from the face of the earth thanks to the little angry lady called Katrina. BUT, he was happy. He went on, it had been hard for him to start again from scratch at 70, but he woke up every morning glad to be alive and with a smile on his face. What a fucking genius! It really makes me think. Like the Palm Reader told me – Security and Control really are illusions –
“Katrina taught us that everything can be taken away from us in the snap of a finger. Don’t do that job at SFIA for security alone, it may give you the money which you’ll spend on a house and then that house could fall down! The Universe apparently seems to love yo arse, but she’ll soon lose patience with you and say “fuck this guy” if you don’ start taking advantage of the opportunities she throws your way.”
I told him I was worried that if I didn’t have a secure job, even though I’d hate that job, I would be scared I might go insane. He replied that insanity is doing something you know you hate, then doing it again!
I arrived in the little Lear Jet, convinced for most of the one hour flight that this weird guy in sunglasses sitting by the emergency exit was about to go insane and try to open the door at 35 thousand, shouting “Fuckaroo Banzai” and sucking us all out over the prairie below! Amazing view as we came in to land, which I think I’ve got a photo of – a flat enormous expanse of rolling green wheat fields. I’ve finally got a sense today of the scale of America – just how big it really is!
Oklahoma City airport is real workaday US, no tourists visible, all business. Went to the car hire place after collecting my massive Pilgrim’s Progress Bag and was told by four different companies that what I was asking for was called a “One-Way” and as rare as Hen’s Teeth. Bollocks! Finally, as a last resort, I went over to the Avis desk and met a lovely kind lady, visually reminiscent of the car-hire woman Steve Martin berates in Plane Trains & Automobiles - “Give me a fucking car, four fucking wheels and a fucking engine! Right fucking now!”
She gave me a smooth beast of a car – the Interceptor with air-con, it sounded like a dragon blowing out cedarwood smoke and looked like a silver bullet. She also dropped it down two price bands for me. BUT, with the insurance racking up at 40$ a day it works out at about 1500$ for 10 days – THAT’S A GRAND! Add into the mix my 300$ at the Chateau Hotel and 230$ Okie flight and the fact I’ve still got 14 days to go – this could work out even more expensive than I thought.
I composed another desperate begging email to my Estate Agent from New Orleans yesterday, asking him to call me tomorrow at 12 to put my mind at rest. So, long as we exchange in 48hrs then I’ll breathe easy with this enormous debt that I’m racking up!
Anyways, back to the business in hand: I rented the car and sat inside it’s cool leather interior for a full two minutes before I realised that I didn’t have a fucking clue how to drive it! The gear stick was in the steering column. A strange and mean looking pedal was where the clutch should’ve been AND it was an automatic. I hollered back to the kid who’d walked me across from the terminal and he came back and walked me round the workings of the car, his expression a mixture of bemusement and genuine concern that I wouldn’t make it out of the car park, let alone the 3,000 miles of desert to Frisco.
As I bunny-hopped out of the car park and shot onto the Expressway, the car bounced like I was in “Pimp My Ride”.
The Okie roads are wide, expansive and intimidating. With the exception of the time that I drove Toby to meet Kerry at Malaga airport, I think just now was the scariest bit of initial driving I’ve done. More incontinent than new continent.
Oklahoma city seems a soulless, bland, shopping centre of a place so far – although to be fair I’m staying on the outskirts. This hotel is accurately named the “Comfort Inn”. 68$ and clean, TV, big bed, free internet, comfortable. It does exactly what it says on the tin, but nothing more. The surrounding area is just one big empty world of hotel chains, petrol stations and concrete motorway service stations. Okie seems to be one long colourless sliproad off the road to boredom. In fact, I’m starting to feel grey just writing about what’s outside this window. I asked the girl at the hotel desk where was good to have a drink that didn’t involve taking the car and she raised her hand solemnly and pointed over my shoulder with a look that resembled Marley’s ghost. “Hooters”. I turn to look and see a building across the forecourt that looks like a “Little Chef” merged with a “Harvester”. Great. My heart sinks. I walk in. desperately needing a beer like a dog needs a bowl of water on a hot day.
Hooters is an American chain of burger sex. It is a fundamental example of the difference between US and Britain. Sex sells, Sex sells Burgers. Imagine Ronald Macdonald with tits and Hamburgular wearing pedal pushers and a push-up bra. Fast Food and Faster Women. All the waitresses are wearing micro-mini skirts and skin tight orange bikini tops with wonderbra’s where required. I found it very surreal and surprisingly uncomfortable to have a sexy Midwest girl leaning over me, pushing her tits in my face as ketchup and beef juice drip down my chin. I guess that’s maybe just one of my particular hang-ups though, finding eating a personal experience, perhaps because I’ve always been a little overweight and don’t want to be seen as greedy and therefore equate food with unsexiness? Who knows, frankly who cares! I was finding it interesting watching these waitresses serving food to Okie families – The dad leering from beneath his baseball cap at her arse, the wife scowling at the dad, secretly gutted that she’d never had an arse as good as that, and the young 8 year old daughter watching it all and building an idea of what society expects from women in Midwest America and how success is measured and approval gained.
It makes me laugh how I rush into things without really thinking them through! What I mean by this is that I now have a £1000 car in my possession for ten days and no idea where I’m going. Literally! I don’t even know where I am in relation to Oklahoma City! I have no map, no hotels booked and a journey across one of the world’s hottest deserts in the height of Summer. Hardcore! I LOVE IT! I’ve just looked on the free internet at the Route 66 map and luckily there is an Interstate road, (Interstate 40) that seems to do the job to Los Angeles and except for certain sections of desert desertedness, it’s more or less populated by small towns, in case of breakdown (mechanical or mental!) I must remember to go to the bookshop tomorrow and get a map. Even though I’ve written down a few town names as pointers, the reality is that the drive goes near Edwards Air force Base and Area 51 in New Mexico. I don’t want to be abducted by Aliens or shot at by some Marine grunt who thinks I’m an alien. Mmmmm, this is getting exciting. On the road tomorrow. I still fancy having that Greyhound experience though, so maybe I’ll go north from San Francisco once I’ve dropped the car off? Right. That’s enough for now. I went to the 7/11 and bought a couple of huge cans of Bud, more like the size of kegs than cans, once I realised that “Hooters” wasn’t going to go the distance. So now I’m going to sit back on my king sized bed, drink ‘em and try to find some porn on the TV.
Heavy. I’m sitting in the car at the “Cherokee Service Diner” off Interstate 40. (I-40). I’ve just eaten a dry sawdusty Buffalo steak washed down with dishwasher Pepsi and am slowly, painfully coming to terms with what a massive undertaking it actually is to drive to San Francisco. The landscape here on the Great Plains of Oklahoma is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It is SO OPEN AND VAST. SO FLAT that it’s actually freaking me out. I want to run and hide from the universe. Everything is TOO BIG and I am too small. For the first time on the trip, people in the diner couldn’t understand what I was saying. Everyone was obese. (including me!) I guess there’s just nothing to do out here in the middle of nowhere on Pa Kent’s farm except eat! I don’t really want to say anymore about the vast green emptiness of the land right now, because I honestly feel on the verge of an attack of anxiety. Driving just now, with nothing for hundreds of miles to my left right above below except endless wind and tornadoes, it feels like I am totally alone in a small metal boat adrift on an endless empty green sea. In Oklahoma, no-one can hear you scream! I’ve packed up the meat and am now heading off for the Texas border, I’m steaming it to Amarillo in the hope that the mountains will hide me from the relentless gaze of the heavens. One small little matchbox car driving across the huge green carpet of God’s lounge!
Amarillo. State of Texas.
Uneasy Rider! Reached Amarillo. Sitting now in a bar called “Spotted Pony” I’m not gonna write much coz this place has no windows and the locals are already looking at me funny for writing. “Is this the way to Amarillo?” or just a good kicking? To try and seem nonchalant and cowboyish I’ve just played myself at a game of pool, trying to feel like Paul Newman in “Color of Money”, resting my beer on the edge of the pool table and smacking up the balls like I just don’t care. But I do care! I’m now sitting back down at a far corner table trying to act Texan and fit in. This bar is REAL Redneck. I feel like a spastic version of Hugh Grant, apologising with a furred-up thick tongue for my own English existence! Those of you reading this probably think I’m acting over the top, but I’d like to see any of you sit here alone after the 350 miles I’ve just driven from Oklahoma City and not feel uncomfortable! This is the real cowboy deal. “Hang ‘em High!” So much occurred on the drive that I’d love to vomit out onto this page, but it’s all momentarily been erased from my brain. I think I need to chill out and get another beer.
TODAY WAS A TOUGH DAY.
A workingman’s day. An all business day. It started round 8 ironing shirts and phoning my Estate Agent. He told me through the crackle that I should prepare myself that it could take up to another two weeks just to exchange. CUNT. I printed off the contract which my lawyer had emailed to me on the hotel computer, signed it and drove round Okie trying to find a Post Office. I finally found a kind of Post place in the middle of a supermarket and sent it off for a dollar 70. It will take 7 – 11 working days to reach.
[I hope Texans aren’t the “UK Northerners” of the USA, because Northerners typically hate me, and I’m already picking up a bit of a “Public School Twat” vibe in here...]
I keep checking the clock on the wall as if I’m waiting for something to happen. Why is it that I always need to know what the time is, even when I don’t?! Very uptight. To reiterate, this bar has no windows – based on the assumption that if it did, bottles, chairs and Damocless would come smashing out through them! There’s Bull-Horns above my table and the hardest cattle-wrangling men (and women) you ever did see ranching round the bar. I feel like Jeremy Spake from Airport. There’s a Jukebox in the corner I’ve just checked. I’d love to get 10 bucks worth of quarters and stick on “Fragile” by Sting 50 times, picking up a bar stool and fending off the Rednecks who came near to try and switch it off. “No! Leave it! Get Back! Have some fucking respect for Sting!” I’d stand more chance if I were to wear a white hood in Compton.
They’ve just set up Poker tables in the corner of the room, right by where I’m sitting. I wish I knew how to play Texas Hold ‘Em. (or in fact any sort of Poker!) as it would be a great way to meet people tonight. Today is a wake up call for me. I romantically thought that if I could get to the real small untouristy rural towns of backstreet America then I could do what Hopper and Fonda failed to do – find the real America and impress them with my English sophistication. How arrogant! This is real life here! No-one gives a shit about the fact I’m from London. They’re just here after a hard day’s work, drinking and getting on with their lives. As I guess it should be. As it has to be.
An hour later. Three beers down now, the fourth on its way. The music has relaxed a bit and so have I. An old dude in classic Stetson and gingham shirt came over and asked if I’m playing in the poker, I told him the truth that I didn’t know how to play. He walks off.
[COME ON. GET WITH IT! THIS IS WHAT I WANTED! THE REAL REDNECK VIBE. DON’T MOAN NOW!
People are really finding it difficult to understand my accent in this place. I really want to try speaking in a Texan drawl to see if it helps (like I did with Roy, from Detroit on Thursday night in Nawlins, Roy the racist thug who’s dad gave him a gun when he turned 16 so he could “protect himself from the niggers”). But now they know I’m English, they’d just think I was taking the piss.
Americans on the whole, so far, and especially Texans have been very plain-speaking. (a good thing). They also seem animalistically aware of when I am looking at them, be it on the street, on trains or in bars, even when I’m wearing sunglasses. Perhaps the English are just as aware when someone is looking at them but fear confrontation more? Americans also have no fear of saying “Hello / Howdy” even though they can’t be 100% sure I’m even looking at them! ] They are initiating contact for a change, rather than me having to.
Anyway. Back to today. After the Post Office I had a morning coffee in Borders Bookshop and bought five maps, one for each of the states I’ll be travelling through. They’re great maps – 5$ fold out detailed. Real bonnet-covering headscratching style. It’s incredible to think that the I-40 stretches from Chicago in the north east to Los Angeles in the bottom south west! I’m starting to realise that distance really isn’t London to Brighton! [I ask the barmaid how big the bets get on these poker nights. She winks at me knowingly and tells me that gambling is illegal in the state of Texas! They electrocute people here in a big metal chair, but don’t let you place a $ on the Grand National!] I step outside to watch the fiery red Texan sunset. I’m on the border of Texas and New Mexico here for fuck’s sake! What’s going on?! This really isn’t Wealdstone!
I’m back in the Travelodge room that I’ve rented for the night. I’d got bored of driving round the tumbleweed streets of Amarillo, trying to find the place the LP recommended. I got that sense that if I didn’t pull over soon then I was surely going to have a prang. When I start to feel like that, I know it’s time to stop! The room is basic and very much “Leaving Las Vegas” style. It’s a motel in the shape of the letter C with a communal pool in the centre. 48$ a night. Fantastic price. Driving past all the motels on Route 40 today, they all say with a sense of pride that they have HBO channel on the banners that litter the freeway, as if this is a massive selling point over the rival motels. They never say they’ve got Fox, or CNN, or Movie Channel, or even just the fact they have cable at all. No. JUST HBO. Perhaps this is because HBO is such a cutting edge risk taking channel compared to the rest of middle-America programming that people actually stay here just to watch it? Angry Dad’s go to the fridge in their house down the road, swipe a 6 pack and shout out “That’s it Ronetta, I’ve had enough of your sass. I’m checking into the Motel to watch me some HBO!”
I’ve had enough of writing for the minute – I need to plan my route for tomorrow before I get too lagered up, to avoid another cock up like today. Too much driving and too intense.
HASTA MANANA BEAUTIFUL READER! May you stay with me till the end.
Dawn breaks through my window Texan style. Rednecks break through my door, chainsaw style. No, just the maid with the voice of a chainsaw. I’ve just time to tell y’all about a weird dream I had last night before I have to check out. I dreamt that I was watching the Rolling Stones play a ridiculously small gig at a church hall in St.Albans, England. People had paid a lot of money for the tickets, but Mick Jagger was making a very low effort. After only three songs they walked off stage and the small audience started moaning and booing. Then the band came back on and broke into “Vertigo” by U2 – the audience got very excited at this thinking that Jagger had invited Bono to come along as guest singer, but Jagger started singing himself and forgot the words and “The Edge” from U2 came out and started dancing like a prick pretending he was Bono. “Look at me, I’m Bono” he was shouting. The audience groaned and started leaving. Now what the fuck is that about? I must’ve had too much Texan cheese on that steak last night. Right. I’m outta here before they call the Sheriff on account of the stink in this room. Adios Texas. Hola New Mexico!
I-40 Tucumcari & Santa Rosa. State of New Mexico.
Rubee’s diner. She asks me how I want my eggs. I only know “over easy” or “sunny-side up”, so I go for sunny. I’m currently straddling the mother road herself at the moment, Route 66, as opposed to the I-40 which I’ve been clinging to since Okie. I suspect I might be missing a lot of the “Americana” and small town idiosyncrasies by doing the I-40, but in reality, even here in Tucumcari (the biggest town for 100 miles in any direction) there’s still no mobile signal on my phone. This is real life out here. No second chances. I’m trying not to dwell on it too much, but if my car were to break down, (or more likely get a flat) then there’s no-one I can call on to come help me on these desert phone-less roads. I don’t think many people do this type of drive alone and even those crazy-arses that do probably make sure they have satellite phones and kegs of water / oil / gas and at least a working knowledge of how to change a car tyre!
[The man is at the window...the man is at the window!]
I think the people in this diner reckon I must be from LA or Mars, the way they’re eye-balling me. I swung into New Mexico round 11am flipping the bird to Texas and blaring out a track from the Royal Trux on the exceptionally bassy stereo. Fantastic breakfast just been slapped down in front of me of eggs, grits, hash browns and an old trucker’s finger. I tell an old guy at the table next to me that I’m just passing through on my way to Albuquerque (so that he doesn’t need to run me out of town himself!) and if he knows somewhere good to have lunch in between. He recommends a small town called Moriarty. So that’s where I’m heading next.
A worrying development’s just occurred. My credit card has just been declined at the Gas station when I tried to buy some petrol. I think I need to check my email really soon. If those fuckers at Egg have cancelled the card due to “unusual activity” then I’m in deep. I was worried this might happen. If only I could get a phone signal I could text them.
Moriarty was a bit of a letdown. Like Sherlock Holmes nemesis with the same name, both have failed to deliver. A small town with nothing but KFC and Subway vibes. Where’s all the San Jacinto, Don Juan and Wild West Americana at? In defence of Moriarty though I did get to meet some fantastic characters in Subway. They, of course, would not consider themselves to be characters, but to an English boy like me, they are fantastic. They woman who made my chicken sub moved at the speed of light despite her thin old age. She knew all the customers except for me and called them by their first names. She had a pleasant relaxing way about her despite the kung-fu speed at which she assembled the subs. A couple of truckers in the corner were chowing down, grunting like wild boar and making eyes at the school girls who were behind me. A black guy could get himself hung in here, no problem.
Albuquerque – State of New Mexico.
I’ve just checked into the Blue Hotel, Albuquerque – the Posada Hotel, which the LP had recommended slightly more is closed for refurbishment. (That was a body blow after driving round for an age, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the massive LP, one eye on the shark-like traffic, one eye on the LP map.) I feel shattered. I’m going to catch 40 wanks then check out downtown. But just before I do, D’oh! I’ve just realised that I’ve driven through another time zone today without realising! (Another first for me!) So everything’s now gone back an hour. I should have twigged when I drove past the Highway sign saying “Entering Mountain Time”. How surreal that when I passed it, I got to repeat that last hour again! I need a Satellite Chavigation System!
Albuquerque is the Hot Air Ballooning capital of the world. I bet you didn’t know that you didn’t know that! The state bird is the Roadrunner. Meeep Meeep!
I’m looking at the detailed map I bought for New Mexico and I’m really getting a feeling of mystical atmosphere for all the Indian reservations that pepper the deserts, especially surrounding Albaq. The names of some of the natural features listed really whet my appetite for a spiritual experience – “Enchanted Mesa”, “Ice Cave”, “Very Large Array” “Navajo Reservation” – these all sound like perfect places to strip naked, cover myself in Coyote shit and howl a primal scream from the table-top mountains until an eagle flies down out of the night and reveals the mysteries of the Universe to me. (A more likely resolution would be the NM Police department revealing the mysteries of their night-sticks up my anus!)
I’m going to ask the Red Indian... I mean Native American at the hotel reception what the deal is with these Indian reservations. Can I visit and have a Pow-Wow?
Alrighty. Yes! This is the stuff I was after. This is the adventure I was dreaming about during all those dark days cramped in the office! The plan for tomorrow is to drive out of Albaq on the I-40 until I reach the small town of Paraje, then head south down what looks to be a tiny dirt track road until I reach “Sky City” (Acoma Pueblo in Spanish) – the oldest consistently inhabited town in North America. The village is thousands of feet above sea level at the top of the “Enchanted Mesa” (Mesa being Spanish for Table. Table-top mountains). I’m going to hang out with the Native Americans and then head on up to Grants on the I-40, where I can go off road again through the Cibola National Forest, taking in the Ice Cave, El Malpais monument, a few more Reservations, up to Thoreau and then finally on to the town of Gallup, which the LP tells me is an Indian trading town, really ruff n ready, but with a certain ole’ Hollywood magic.
By the time I reach Gallup I’ll be on the border with Arizona. I’ve got a mate called Brett Solinger from my primary school who moved out to Arizona – I must remember to check the local phone directory and see what / if he’s up to.
Gallup is known as the “Gateway to Indian Country” and between Albuq and there live twenty different tribes and nineteen inhabited Pueblos – a lot of them traversing the route that I’ll be taking tomorrow. Exciting stuff!
I’ve just realised as well, that when I hit Flagstaff on Thursday I’ll be about seventy miles south east of the Grand Canyon. I hadn’t felt that turned on by it before, imagining it would probably be a bit of a tourist trap, another opportunity for Uncle Ron MacDonald to take something natural and beautiful, corporatize it, rip out its heart, fence it off, shit on it, put in a massive concrete car park and then charge you 100$ to get back in. BUT. I think I’m wrong on this one, having just read more about it. So, I think I’ll do that Saturday. I hope that Flagstaff proves worthy of the two nights I have planned for it!
It’s the little pieces of knowledge that make the big differences between a good trip and a great trip! Back in London before I left for New York, I asked everyone I knew who’d ever been to the US for advice. BUT, the most useful singular piece of knowledge that no-one mentioned is to TIP. Tip the barman especially, the maid, the barista, the sun if it’s shining nice! If I hadn’t been told to leave that lil’ole dollar on the bar each time the amber nectar was poured then I wouldn’t have met half the people I have so far. I’d be viewed as the scum of the earth in every state from NY to pissed.
I’m holding court at a bar in downtown Albuquerque. “Maloney’s”. I can never escape these Oirish theme bars. What is it about these places? The Oirish bar seems to be Irelands biggest export and legacy to the world. “Pour me a fecking Guinness”. I haven’t travelled across oceans and deserts to feel like I’m sitting in O’Neill's in Harrow! (Go, Go Meldrew!)
To shake off the road, I’ve put on a freshly ironed shirt and had a shave for the first time since NY. I feel ready for “ a night”! Truth is though, I feel totally asexual tonight. A mixture of tiredness, belly-overhang and being in an unfamiliar town. (Meldrew becomes Woody!) “Come on, Mr. Allen, you ain’t in Manhattan now. Analyse this!”
From this point forward, acting on the advice of Jonathan Tarot Reader in Nawlins, if anyone asks me what I do for a living I’m going to reply “I’m a Writer”. It’s an interesting expression that, “...for a living”. To live. Not “to get by” or “to subsist” but “to live” Will Squire “gets by” with his driving job, but would “live” as a Filmmaker.
Albuq’s got a sophisticated feel to it. It’s the biggest city in New Mexico and the people here seem to be quite Chicago-esque in their presentation. (Not that I’ve ever been to Chicago, but it’s how I imagine the people to be). The music in this bar is quite Gonzo, as is the young hip crowd. I’m here way too early though. It’s more or less just me and ten bar staff who are being as attentive to my needs as the Queen Mother’s butlers. Leave me be, please!
I have moved on. I was beginning to have to swat the bar staff at Maloney’s like a horse swishes its tail to keep off flies. I’ve moved down the block to a happening “Micro-Brewery” pub, which Albuq is famous for. It’s the “Foundry” of Old Street transported to New Mexico. Great Music, atmosphere, and fine-looking locals. Their premier draft is called “Arrogant Bastard” ale with the tag line “You’re not worthy!” As I sit here drinking it, a beautiful lady of the desert comes up to me and asks how long I’m in town for. She wants to know if I’ll be here tomorrow night, because she really can’t drink tonight, see, but tomorrow we could have a laugh...Yeehaaawwww!
The rest of the night becomes a spinning kaleidoscope of colours and freeze-frame images in my mind, as the arrogant bastard reacts to the “Arrogant Bastard”. One of the most full-on and hi-jinx nights of the trip so far. I love the kindness and opportunities of American Bar culture, how you are welcome and expected to sit at the bar if you’ve come alone, and how the barkeep is usually interesting, open and intelligent, a perfect cocktail of comedian, therapist and if female, future lover! I wish English bars were like this. I’m imagining sitting at the bar of my local in London and trying to strike up an enlightening conversation with the spotty 19 year old geezer behind the bar – I don’t know who’d hate it more!
Anyways, I spend most the night chatting with this Mexican bloke who grew up in Roswell. He is the main course, with a side-dish being this mechanic guy who tells me that the only place to be on July 4th (next week) is down at Lake Havasu in Nevada. It’s where all the college freshman and cheerleaders go to do watersports and watersports! The Mexican guy is a revelation. He is probably late 40’s and clearly has a drink problem, He’s the slightly ostracized uncle of the young guy who’s behind the bar, and each time I offer to buy him a beer, the kid scowls at me, as if I’m throwing oil at a chip pan fire. I don’t care, I feel surprisingly powerful tonight. Even in New Mejico you’re not allowed to smoke in bars anymore, so I step outside to smoke a joint with the Mexican guy. He says his weed is so good that he’s the only guy he knows who smuggles it INTO Mexico! “In a cactus, coz it ain’t gonna get busted!”
As I feel the smoke creep into the dark crevices of my lungs like the whispey fingers of a skinny priest, I look up at the pink sky. I can tell from the unusual colour that behind the glass buildings there is desert and cacti. Hot grains of sand blow down pavemented streets and settle as a fine film on car windscreens. Suddenly there is a flash of lightening and out of no-where clouds roll in. Rain in the desert. Rain on Arrakis! I tell my new friend that I am a Rain God. Rain loves me and tries to follow me wherever I go. I should be employed by governments. The heavens drop down their spittle in hot globules – it feels like taking a shower fully clothed. This is very unusual for New Mexico, he tells me. Maybe only three days a year do they get rain. I’m here for one of them. He says I must be good luck and should stick around.
We move back into the bar and he tells me his theory on the Roswell incident of the 1950’s. Out here in the desert it is totally believable that aliens came down to earth to check out the place. The landscape feels so alien to me that I could be the visitor and they the true residents. He tells me that his mum was about 25 at the time of the crash landing but has no memory of anything unusual happening or even being reported at the time. The first she was aware of was in the 70’s reading reports and watching TV of townsfolk talking at the time. Yet SHE and her friends have no memory of it. This, he goes on to surmise, is clear evidence of the “Men in Black” and their nifty zapper, red light, that wipes your memory. I’m not convinced but keep my opinions to myself.
I pick up on the fierce rivalry between States, (with the exception of Texas – which all the states unanimously seem to think is fucked.) New Mexico is boxed in by Arizona to the left and Texas to the right. A cool wind blows in through the open door. The rain stops. My mate turns to me:
“Do you know why New Mexico has such strong wind..?”
“Because Arizona blows and Texas sucks!”
Back at the Blue Hotel. Soaked to the bone. Soaked to inside the bone, wet marrow like clay mud. Before I left, I started to philosophise with the Mexican guy, telling him my take on the meaning of life and how important for him it was to stop being so angry at the world. I remember having the strange sensation that I was channelling a higher force. That it was important that this guy heard this, but I was being used as a vessel to broadcast the message to him. I wasn’t originating it. We parted with him saying how great it was to meet people that are “real”. I told him that I thought we were all going to make it as a species, because there will always be enough “real” people to keep the idiots in order and because “real” is irrespective of country, race, religion, gender. Real is Real is Real.
WHAT A GROOVY NIGHT. I HAVE BROUGHT RAIN TO NEW MEXICO. I AM AT PEACE.
In this moment I feel free. I can smell Sarah Hipkiss cunt on my fingers. I am laying on a huge bed in an avant-garde hotel in Albuquerque, out of my face on a delicious micro-brew that I’ve convinced the brewer to let me exclusively export back to London and sell for £6 a pint! Maybe beyond the chat, I really should! It’s the best beer I’ve ever tasted and with the right marketing those City/Hoxton/Islington/Vegan sheep could be convinced that drinking it made them cooler than the Fonz!
On the advice of the guy from the bar last night, there are only two dishes worth eating in New Mexico: Huevos Rancheros and Smothered Tomalés. For breakfast I have opted for the Huevos Rancheros (a threatening looking plate of Ranch Eggs). I don’t think I’ll ever shit again...
Correction. A sudden uncontrollable urge to use the restroom grips me with vice-like urgency. I pull off the Interstate at an “Indian Village” shop, selling trinkets and ponchos. The road has been littered with them since entering New Mexico, selling trinkets, dreamcatchers and petrified wood. Touristcatchers!.
The shopkeeper says she loves my accent. She may well do, but she won’t love what I’ve left for her in restroom cubicle two! I’m out of here - people will think there’s been another atomic test in New Mexico when that smell begins to creep out. In fact, as I sit here in the car, out front of the shop, women and children are running out screaming and holding their noses. Grown men stagger out, weeping! Sorry ‘bout that, folks! Never again the Huevos Racheros.
I’ve just noticed a sign which tells me I’ve been sitting/shitting on the “Continental Divide”. This means that to the left of me, all rainwater and rivers flow to the Pacific Ocean; whilst to the right everything flows back to the Atlantic! Wow! I wonder which side my turd will fall down on, or perhaps it’ll just sink straight down through the earth’s core and trouble China?
What a crazy afternoon. When I’m settled in Gallup with a beer, I’ll tell you about Sky City and the closed road. Got to keep moving, it’s getting dark. Coyote’s howling.
City of Gallup. State of New Mexico.
Wow again! What a difference twenty minutes can make! This is the classiest hotel I’ve ever stayed in! Welcome to El Rancho, Gallup, the haunt of Hollywood movie stars in the 40’s and 50’s and now, for one night only Jonathan G Damocles! A real moody cunt at reception though. I filled in his little moody form with my details, leaving the car make and registration boxes blank. He pushed it back to me and said “fill it in”. There was just something in the way that he ordered it which put my back up. I replied that I thought this was a hotel and not a motel and why was it necessary to know what car I was driving? He shoots me a really menacing Reservation stare and swipes the key fob for the car out of my hand and fills it in himself. Relax yourself Geronimo! I’m the fucking customer!
For those of you still with me at this point, Gallup is the Indian Jewellery capital of the world. It sits on a crossroads for ALL the north American tribes. Surrounding me in all directions is the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. Mesa Mountains, Ice caves, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Joshua Trees jutting out from the bright red rocks into the azure blue sky. In fact, so many Westerns were being filmed here in the 1940’s that a Hollywood producer decided to open a swish hotel for actors and production crew to stay in whilst filming. Each of the rooms here at El Rancho is named after a Hollywood star. I’ve got Howard Newsom, whoever the fuck he was?! How dare they give me a fucking B-list movie star. I demand Nicholson at the very least!
I’m having a beer in the surreal hotel bar, all crushed velvet and faded paint. It has the flavour of the bar in Blue Velvet where Isabella Rossalini sings to Dennis Hopper’s Frank Boothe. In front of me are thick vaginal red curtains, slightly parted and caked with a thick dust from years of inaction. I made a film-stars entrance from my room, onto the landing, to the balcony and into the lobby. A lot of guests were seated in the lobby, being given a demonstration of the delights of Indian Jewellery with a view to being sold to. The hard sell was being led by a guy who looked like the Native American equivalent of Del Trotter. I was “revealed” at the top of the snaking dual staircase and coughed, unintentionally, causing everyone to look up as I slowly hi-kicked my way down the 40’s Hollywood staircase like Bruce Forsyth. I felt like each step was lighting up as I landed on it. Magic Moment!
This hotel has a lot in common with the French Quarter of Nawlins, not just in its romantic atmospheric attention to detail, but in its nature as a gilded cage for tourists, shielding them from the harsher, less palatable reality outside the gates. Looking around the hotel bar, the crowd is white middle-class Americans, nearer 60 than 30. I real RV rabble. “Oh look honey, a real Indian, if you poke him he laughs...look...look...look” Bang. This hotel (and their RV’s) allows these flabby burnouts to have the rough edges smoothed and their danger sanitized. It is the equivalent to someone giving you a glass of seawater from the Pacific ocean and saying you’ve “done” the Pacific! It allows them to say they’ve lived on the edge, but the reality is that this lions had its claws and teethed pulled and languishes behind a 12inch Perspex screen! Dangermouse! Where’s Frank Boothe, eh? Perhaps I’M Frank Boothe?
“Daddy wants to Fuck..!”
Two beers down and I’m hungry for stink. It’s one of the guest’s birthdays and a massive platter of cheese and ham has just been brought out and people in his party are starting to get excited. The clock ticks down to my exit. There’s two young Mexican lads shooting some pool to the left of my table and they both seem unbelievably pleased to be here! They whoop it up round the table, waving their cues like Zulu warriors. I’m listening to them rapping to each other in Spanish and am amazed at how little I understand! I did an intensive Spanish 4-week course at the Institute Cervantes in London prior to this trip, but just weeks later I can’t even remember how to say “ I bet I can beat you on the next game!”
OK Three beers down and the juice is starting to oil the brain and flick the switch, rusty as it is, that delineates between driving / doing; and creating / writing. Time to tell y’all about today, before the switch grooves on down to the final position of drunk / senseless!
Morning broke over the Blue Hotel, Albuquerque finding me with a mouth like a New Mexico Highway. On my way to check out, an old American Senator-looking guy holds the lift door for me as I stumble up with my weight on my back like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. I ask him if he got caught in the downpour last night, which soaked me to the skin. He ignores my question and instead looks me up and down:
“Where you from, son?”
“London, sir”. (Wanting to slip in “sir” like I’d seen in the movies.)
“London...” He let the word hang in the air, chewing on it like tobacco, exploring the different aspects of its flavour. Satisfied, he responded, nodding his head.
“...That’s a nice place to be from...”
Back on the road, I follow Route 66 for a bit and go across a really atmospheric metal suspension bridge that spans the Rio Grande. I felt like I was riding on a stolen Harley Davidson, my massive erection throbbing in tune with the engine like a compass point giving me my bearings. I’ve never felt so Masculine and hairy. I wanted to rip up the confederate flag and tie it around my head like a bandana. As I’ve given up smoking, I released the rebel in me by unwrapping THREE sticks of gum. (How Ian Botham is that? THREE Shredded Wheats!) I wish I still smoked!
I’ve taken to driving with my i-pod in my ears these past few days, which has proved to be fantastic news. The random “Shuffle” function puts my musical choices in the hands of the gods and spirits of the desert (whichever cares more) and so far it’s usually worked out with crazy relevance and enjoyment.
I turned off, making the sign of the cross, and the sign of the times, down a much smaller dirt track side road hoping to find Acoma – Sky City. Han Solo, in his Millennium Falcon searching out Landau Carlrisian. 15 minutes later I was beautifully, romantically, atmospherically, oceanically TOTALLY ALONE. Surrounded by the real Wild West that I’d been hanging out for: Mesa Mountain tops, Buffalo Skulls and fiery red earth. Above me eagles squawked out my insanity and the clear blue sky reflected the clear passage with which the universe and all of its complicated energy flowed through me.
I pulled the car over onto the hardly shoulder and ran up and down the empty track, whooping for joy. In front of me, the “Enchanted Mesa” rose up like Ayres Rock, fifty miles down the track, but already splendorous and as isolated and alone as I was. I took a photo of the moment, so inadequate and unexplanatory. The beauty lay in the scale and isolation of the moment. The same as in Oklahoma when I started driving and was on the knife edge of a panic attack due to the sheer expanse and flatness of the 1,000 miles vacuum around me. The photo I took in both moments, may as well have been taken on Hampstead Heath for all the power and sentiment it gets across!
It felt so fucking good to be so physically alone. I can’t explain truly why. I can lock the door in my small flat and turn off the phone and be alone. I can cycle off to the middle of a London park and feel alone. I can even watch a club full of friends dance the night away with pills stuck between their teeth like Gary Oldman in Leon... and feel alone. But. It has never felt so good, so powerful, so completing as it did in this desert deserted moment. I span round, faster and faster, arms outstretched, feeling the landscape enter into me and centrifugally speed me up, until all I could see was a swoosh of blue and red, all I could feel was the hot sand swirling up around me as I buried myself deeper into the scrub like a corkscrew. But above all, what sticks most in my mind, was the feeling of unboxed joy that emanated from deep within me from a place that didn’t seem to use any of the five senses as a reference point. It’s nature, truth and power originated from a place as old as the red rock bedrock that my trainers were spinning on, kicking up dust, creating friction, flint starting fire. A fire in my soul.
[I’m reading about sunset at the Grand Canyon. I want to get me some of that on Saturday night, and then I think I’ll haul arse through the Mojave desert Sunday. I was just looking at how to bypass L.A. from Barstow, to sort of ping off Barstow upwards across the desert rather than continuing the descending straight line into the sprawling extended mass of Los Angeles. It all looked do-able until I realised simple looking pen line on the map was actually taking me straight through Death Valley! In the newspaper USA Today, I read that it currently hits 120 degrees by breakfast].
I’ll not be doing that.
Back at the empty road, I gets back into the car and drive up to Acoma Pueblo, the highest elevation inhabited in the US of A. I turned up just as one of the organised tours was leaving so I paid my 10$ and rushed to the mini-bus. I didn’t have time to buy a photo permit, so the mean looking female bus driver told me I’d have to hand her over my camera – not coz the injans believed it stole their soul, but because they hadn’t stolen enough money off me! The tour was good, if a little sanitized, but for some reason right now it feels a bit too dry to recount it all here. Too formal and “Whicker’s World”.! The only thing I want to mention was the stunning mission church at the peak of the mesa. Apparently the Indians were wary of Catholics in the 17th Century and took to rolling them down the mountain when they turned up to preach their tales of guilt and suffering. Except for this one priest who whilst being rolled down the mountain inadvertently hit a young Indian girl who fell off instead. He went down to check if she was still alive and unbelievably she was! The Indians took this to mean that this priest's god was hardcore, so they let him stay and build the mission of San Juan. The church is still used today and really seemed still like a mission in the 17th century.
The village had no running water, electricity or gas. Or so they said. I kind of got the feeling that as soon as the tour group moved on, out came the mobile phones, satellite dishes and HBO. The Native Americans in this part of the US are really sticking it to the White Man at the moment, due to some favourable Arizonan / Nevada gambling laws especially for them. “Affirmative Action”. Virtually tax-free Casinos.
To get back to my car I chose to walk the Rattlesnake infested path cut through the rock rather than just get back on the bus. THIS WAS INCREDIBLE. The views, the steepness of the craggy naturally created footholds, the heat, the sweaty arse-crack of the dude in front of me who would’ve found it hard to negotiate his way up to the counter at KFC.
The Visitor Centre was a typically slick operation that seemed to have a nerdy white guy calling the shots. This always depresses me and makes me suspicious. It was the same in New Orleans: the two Voodoo places I went into had white guys in charge. I want my Voodoo hot strong and black, and my Navajo dreamtime full of Peyote and Coyote.
I’m after a “Doors of Perception”, Mescaline in the desert experience. I want to smoke the peace pipe at midnight in a sweat-lodge and take peyote buttons in the moonlight and be transformed into an eagle, then a wolf, and then return, filled with the secrets of the universe. Manimal! Instead, I bought a dollar stickerbook of Navajo symbols for my nephew, and a bottle of water.
[Hold up! I’m suddenly on my fourth beer and it’s only 18:30 Mountain Time. One more time zone to pass through before the end].
I then drove on to Grants – a real Hicksville town – and had a plate of Huevos Rancheros again to make sure I hadn’t just been unlucky the first time. I hadn’t. Shitty. Tasted like the puke bucket that the vomit mop is stored in after a redneck egg eating convention. Tasting notes: Sloppy, warm and snotty, with a back-taste of Play-Doh. Spurred on by the urge to get as far away from the Café as possible, I boomed it to where I figured the National Forest should be. Took wrong direction, turned back. Tried another route...no good. I’m flapping the map around as I’m driving, exploring different angles and ways to hold it. I stumble onto the right road and drive for about 40 minutes through some great secret scenery of sparkling blue lakes and shinning redrock and then at last to the edges of the great dark spidery Mirkwood Forest. I start to head in, the car dwarfed by forbidding towering pines. A think I can hear Ravens croaking out warnings,
The sign, so cavalier, so matter of fact! Nothing for it. After 50 minutes of single track east, I slam her into reverse and dodgem it back down the track till I can swing round. This is gutting. I was about a centimetre on the map from a larger connecting road that would’ve taken me to the Ice Cave and El Morro. I could always circumnavigate tomorrow, but it would be a long gnarly detour east and this trip is all about the west baby!
[That’s enough for now. This hotel bar is full of Florida retirees. I’m going to try to find a Red Indian bar and get some steak, beer and a good thrashing!]
But it never happened. Walked out into the dusty orange sunset and bowled down a long dusty road. I found myself walking alongside a native American bloke, early 20’s. He starts talking to me out the blue, without turning his head or acknowledging me. I ask him if he knows a good local bar within walking distance in which to get messy. He speaks in a high, almost girlish voice, telling me to follow him. He knows somewhere. We get to talking as we walking: He’s a Navajo from a reservation near Flagstaff. He asks me if I have a girlfriend. I say I have, suddenly paranoid that he might be trying to pick me up. He nods and asks if I am a “helpful person”. I say I am. Am I a “kind person?”, I say I hope so. Can he ask me a favour? I say how much does he need..! He seems surprised by this, but to me it’s obvious what he’s now building up to. 20 bucks. Fuelled by my 4 Coronas and the belief that nothing out here happens by chance, I offer him the 20$. He says his name is Kevin and he’ll take me round his reservation tomorrow, if I look him up. Apparently he’d been dropped off here with no money and was now waiting for his sister to arrive and take him home.
I don’t think he was drunk but possibly high. He had a vibe about him that really didn’t care whether I lent him the money or not. When I finally did, after quizzing him as to how honest HE was, he was just as indifferent as if I’d said no and told him to fuck off.. We carried on walking for a further half mile along empty dusky streets until he pointed to a doorway across the way and we parted company. I entered.
This was a REAL Indian bar. It reminded me of the Maori drinking bar in the film “Once Were Warriors”. No fucking about here with fruit machines and beer nuts, just solid heavy drinking. Maybe there is a connection between Red Indians, Maoris and Aborigines – they seem to have a similar vibe, are prone to alcoholism and an inability to access or adapt to modern life. (Hang on, that sounds like me!) In fact, my Aussie ex – Lisa told me that in about 50 years there’ll b no true aborigines left.
As I sat down at the metal bare bar on a squeaking metal bare stool, I wondered whether it was alright for me to be here. I soon got my answer when I ordered a can (no bottles) of Bud. The tattooed skull of a barwomen asked for some ID. I’d purposefully left my passport, cards and driving license in the hotel, so that in the likely event of getting into a fight, I could only lose my front teeth and a few dollars. Bollocks. Nothing for it but to leave: 20 bucks lighter and 20mins older. On the walk back I’m thinking maybe it was a blessing in disguise. It’s getting twilight and dark shapes are moving in the adobe shadows. This is a tough Red Indian trading post – a real “City of Thieves” atmosphere. Stern-faced youths drive past menacingly in a pick up, pony-tails shaking like wagging fingers of warning. For truth, if I’d stayed at the bar and walked back fucked in the unlit streets at 2am, I would without doubt find myself in a “situation”. The last time I felt a vibe like this on the streets was in a town called Jammu in Kashmir. It was the one and only time in India that I felt threatened and questioned the sanity of what I was doing.
Flagstaff tomorrow, and with it a new state. ArizonA.
I stop off at a cool edge of town diner for a breakfast of champions and to ensure my egg intake never drops below three a day. Like some weird take on the film “Speed”, if I were to drop below three yolks, I’d suddenly shit out the mutha-load! I ask the waitress where would be good for lunch on the road between here and Flagstaff (about 120miles). She looks at me with hollow fried-egg eyes and says she’s no idea coz she’s never left Gallup. Ever. She must have been early 40’s. NEVER LEFT! Man I love this place!
I pull off the road to get some credit on my phone so I can respond to a couple of texts which zapped through at this elevation, now suddenly I’ve got a slight signal. I look on the detailed map to find out where this turn off leads to. Even though the map shows the smallest of dirt tracks, this reasonably well-maintained road doesn’t exist. I’ve heard about New Mexico airforce bases and next level shit. I quickly turn round and decide to make my calls some place else! I’m outta here!
The Petrified Forest – It Rocks!
This is the most incredible view I have EVER seen in my 31 years. This even beats the view from the top of the Empire State. I’m sitting on a promontory outlook point as I write this, looking out over a 270 degree view of the Petrified Forest, on the border of New Mexico and Arizona. It is a Martian crater that stretches as far as the human eye can see. I wonder how far that actually is? I’m going to ask a scientist when I get back just how far our sight can go*. (*note to reader: 25miles, due to the curve of the earth!) The heat on the back of my neck as I crane forward to write this, is like pressing my naked back against a full on December radiator.
This is amazing. I wish I could share this with someone!
Ha-ha-ha-haha! I saw a sign off the motorway saying “Meteor Site”. I consulted my map and sure enough, just six miles from my current position is one of the largest meteor craters on God’s green – a full twenty thousand years old. There’s a dust storm picking up around me as I pull off the highway and onto another small gravely dirt road. Red rock Mesas gradually give way to a flatter and lighter landscape. Then I reach it, after 30mins down this lonely sandstorm road, not the Meteor crater but the fucking Meteor crater Visitor Centre. A large concreted parking area full of RV’s and Chevy Chase dads leading despondent kids up to the enormous grey centre. Only America could take an incredible natural phenomenon that almost wiped out mankind, concrete it over so massive RV’s that will almost wipe out mankind can park, stick a loud speaker on top, blaring out inanities and charge 20$ entrance. I tried. I started to walk up the outside staircase but felt like I was part of a school trip to the Science Museum. Retraced my steps back, knocking kids out the way like they were bowling pins and I was the meanest ball in town. Got back in the car, turned up the air con till I felt like an Eskimo was farting ice in my face and wheelspun out the parking lot. It’s not all bad. I needed to pull over anyhow. I could feel I was starting to get hypnotized by the road.
[I’ve been finding that the driving mixed with empty endless desert road replicate exactly the effects of a flotation tank, Sensory deprivation. In the absence of enough stimulation, the brain resorts inwards, playing with itself and dredging up things from the subconscious’s ocean floor. Memories and moments relived with incredible power. For instance, just now during the drive back, hypnotised by the road with nothing but the rhythmic sound of the engine and the visual zip, zip, zip of the yellow stripes demarking the central reservation, I was suddenly transported back to a coffee shop in Amsterdam I visited in ’94 with my mate Steve. It sold a weed I’d never had before called “Citral” with a distinctive smell. Mixed with the atmosphere of the coffee shop it had the affect on me like I was living inside a Van Gogh painting. I recalled how dust particles were suspended in beams of sunlight which cracked through ancient lace curtains as a cat languidly arched it’s back across the keys of an old piano. The dehydrated brown leaves of once lush Yucca plants, creaking wooden floorboards and an old wrought-iron bicycle resting against an unhung picture. Despite being on another continent in another century, in that moment I was there. Not reminiscing. I was there. I was engulfed in the five senses. I could smell and feel it in a way that a normal day dream couldn’t hope to match. The clarity of virtual reality versus a B&W TV. Weird!
Flagstaff. State of Arizona.
Hotel Weatherford. It feels like I’m having a lot of strange coincidences at the moment, or maybe I’m just aware of them, but the song I’ve been most into today was playing in the bar of the hotel I’ve just sat down at. It’s not even a common song (“In the Sun”). Weird scenes inside the goldmine!
Flagstaff is cool. Flagstaff is hip. Flagstaff has the most beautiful women on the street I’ve ever seen. A quick scout around like a rapist with a calculator reveals 4,5,6,7 gorgeous women. I mean the type that you’d like to eat, bones and all. The type you’d like to melt into and never have to worry about anything again. The type that if the devil looked like that, you’d sell your soul there and then just to taste his pussy. The type... alright, hold on, relax yourself here!
But, I’m prepared to go out on a limb here and say that the girl currently taking care of business at the reception desk of the Weatherford hotel is the most naturally beautiful package I’ve ever seen in real life. What must it be like to have someone like that hopelessly in love with you? What must it be like to BE that girl and have blokes like me continuously seeing you only as a prize? Ho-hum!
What a fresh place this is! The whole town feels air-conditioned. After the sweaty dirt of Gallup I have been elevated to the mountains, where everyone seems Brighton-hip and then some! My first impressions are of a bright, colourful, clean, fresh and happy town. Flagstaff knows it’s great and so doesn’t need to shout about it or rub your face in it.
“A man could live here!” (Peter Fonda, Easy Rider).
It makes me think of Canada in the summer (not that I’ve ever been to Canada mind, but you know what I mean!) After the desert-day drive, this town is like iced-mountain water trickling down the back of my neck whilst I’m getting blown by the girl on the reception desk downstairs! Wow, man, that is a fucking thought!
Flagstaff is a university town and it shows. People on the clean and wide streets are young, funky dress, and ooze the self-confidence and assurance that can only come from no job and a student loan! I haven’t felt this sort of “intelligence” vibe since Manhattan. That’s what I’m going to call Flagstaff... The Manhattan of the Mountains. It seems appropriate.
It’s monsoon season here at the moment and the pine forests surrounding the town are lush and green after the fresh rain. The National forest I’d been trying to reach earlier with the closed road was on account of devastating fires. Here, they’re only having rain! I found out later that even travelling 10 miles west can make a huge difference to the weather.
LP has come up trumps once again! The Weatherford hotel only had two rooms available for tonight and none for tomorrow. (It occurs to me that as July 4th approaches on Tuesday I may find it increasingly hard to get rooms.)
Like El Rancho last night, the Weatherford is a throwback to a bygone age. Both have “Historical Site” status, which is the US equivalent of the UK’s National Trust protection. The hotel resembles a New England style townhouse, all wood and white paint, beautiful against the greenness of the pine trees.
I’m installed in the bar of the hotel on the first floor, sitting out “on the veranda” with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The Balcony is wooden and decorated with white fairy lights, looking out onto the action below. At 2.75$ a pint, I can see an addiction forming here! I’m reflecting on the different landscapes and styles I’ve seen in these last ten days. My brain is almost chocked with new experiences and needs a long time to digest them all, like a stomach after a fantastic ten course meal.
From the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the Tornado flatness of Oklahoma, to the cattle-stink of Texas, to the red fiery mesas and Indians of New Mexico, to the desert bowl expanse of Arizona and her Petrified Forest, to now the Alpine sophistication of Flagstaff. My mind is still trying to process this backlog, but I keep throwing new, unique, amazing experiences at her on the hour, every hour. With the Grand Canyon tomorrow, she ain’t gonna get no rest. Come on brain, you my bitch. Work harder!
The long thirty mile drive through the Petrified Forest today was so awe-inspiring and impressive that it hit me in a deep place within and made me weep tears of joy. It was a combination of the view, the moment and a song on my i-pod that I wasn’t aware of ever downloading (a live version of “Red Rain” with Jonathan Stipe, Natalie Merchant and Peter Gabriel). You may laugh, dear reader (“He wept?”) but ask yourselves this – when was the last time you cried for pure joy rather than sadness or self-pity? Actually felt salty tears roll down your cheek because of the beauty and grace of what was passing in front of your eyes? More importantly – how many times will any of us do so again? 5 times, 10 if we’re lucky? Maybe not even that many? “Our endless numbered days!”
I’ve heard from the barkeep that there’s some great live Arizonan guitar going on in town tonight. I can’t sit here, sweet though it is, writing about the past. There’s a future out there waiting for me to jump in and splash about.
Here I am folks, in the future. Phew-wee! I certainly wouldn’t want to get messy in this bar. I feel really under-dressed and over-weight in here! “Edwards” Bar is all sleek black chrome, candles and wooden cocktail menus. The girl behind the bar looks like she’s been spat out by the Matrix and is staring at me like I’m the foulest smell she’s ever allowed up her pristine nostrils. Those beautiful tapered nostrils are used to smelling orchids and crisp 100$ bills. I seem to be the equivalent of a rotting pork chop covered in bleach to her, as she pours me a Marguerita. The background music is dub and despite a little light-weight Marley every now and again, the dub be heavy. The clientele is well-dressed “Aspen” studenté. This place, this town is so sophisticated to me after the desert that I’m feeling like a redneck, as if Mad Max had stumbled out of the desert and into 1000$ plate Republican fundraiser.
In fact, and without labouring the point, driving up to Flagstaff this afternoon, for the first time I saw the sign for Los Angeles. Right turn for Flagstaff; straight on for LA.
They’ve got a German beer here at this bar called Hefferweizen. I’ve just heard the barkeep mispronounce it. Right! I think I’ll order it next and pronounce it correct, show these people I’m no desert hick! Man been to Germany! I need to shake the sand out of my pants first though!
Bar #2. They’re playing JJ Cale’s Troubadour on the CD! It’s never sounded so fresh. I can’t remember exactly where Cale comes from, but in his music he’s always going on about Baton Rouge and Santa Cruz – another thing to find out about when I get back.
This place has got another Microbrewery beer treat called Fat Tire. To try and ingratiate myself with the Barkeep, I put on my “affable confused English guy” and ordered a Flat Tyre... if the wind had been blowing harder, the tumbleweed would’ve blown across my trainers!
There’s a shifty looking Vietnam Vet type at the bar, two stools down from me. As I write this, he’s eye-balling me deep into my left cheek. He resembles “Stringfellow Hawk” from AirWolf, but smaller and more vicious. He’s getting kind of twitchy. I’m sure he knows I’m writing about him..!
I stopped for lunch at a small Mexican Cantina café in Holbrook and had probably the 2nd best meal of the I’ve had in the US, (after that Bagel in Brooklyn on the first morning). It was called a shredded boiled beef burro and was like a showcase of meat in a green chilli and cheese sauce. It tasted as good as a last supper. If the Texan’s had caught me and put me on Death Row, for possessing the ability to write my own name in under three minutes, then this beef burro would be my last meal, flown in from New Mex.
The sign above the bar reads “20% Gratuity on Tabs left overnight!” Definitely a student town! (strange, though, that they use the English spelling of “night”.) I’ll ask the sexy cowgirl barkeep about this. Got to try to access some human interaction here!
Bar #3. Local hip students. All the men look like ski-bums. All the girls look like Tank Girl. I have a Vodka Red Bull but feel old and crumpled here.
Bar #4. Back on the balcony at the Weatherford hotel bar. The LP says it’s the best bar in Flagstaff – and I’d have to agree. I’ve also just discovered during my barhop that there’s a place down the road from here called Sedona. It’s the New Age capital of the world. Apparently, the four “Vortices” of energy in the world (lay lines) all cross at Sedona. As I am by my nature a seeker – I feel I owe it to myself to check it out. Breath in deeply of the vibe and see what my own energy can latch on to. Sedona is supposed to be quite pricey and rich – it could be that Santa Fe vibe of middle-age emaciated western woman with grey hair and black dresses moodying around with dream catchers sticking out their arses, trying to “commune in pleasantude”. Got to risk it and check it out though, just in case it’s the real deal. Further on down the road from Sedona is Jerome, a really small romantic vineleaf town. I think I’ll check them both and then swing up north to the Grand Canyon before the epic desert crossing to LA.
I’m looking across from the balcony in the dusk and through the soft neon lights that wrap around the balustrade to the street sign across the way. “Leroux Street”. I muse to myself how, until now, it was all just words on the page of the Lonely Planet that I’d study longingly at my shitty office desk at ISCis.
NOW I AM HERE! These places DO exist!
The new plan then, (for those of you that have bothered to read this far) is to phone up the car-rental co. and tell them I’m going to drop the car in LA (but check before I rent another local one, that it would be cheaper to do that). This means that I’m alright to see Sedona, Jerome, GC, LA, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Monterey, AND still have 4 ½ days in Frisco. If the flat sells before I leave then maybe I’ll stay a few years longer. But, this would mean missing Ed’s wedding – which would be a real shame, but in the long run, if he were experiencing the things I am on this trip, I know he’d forgive me!
“You caaaan’t always git wat yu warnt!”
Christy Arnold. Christy you sexy woman, with your Indiana thirty-one years and your three young kids that you wanted to stick in the trunk of my car so you could drive to ‘Frisco with me! All I remember of you right now is the taste of your orange-zest saliva on my tongue and the email/phone you scrawled on the napkin thrust into my sweating hand. My redneck queen! You, happy in yourself girl! You could teach the girls I’ve hanged with in London a thing or two! All those blind dates I’ve endured with girls who really just wanted someone to listen to them or at worst, heal them! You go girl. You read ‘em the news! And here’s a glass raised to you too John. “The dude abides”. Old (probably gay) geezer who’s invited me to dinner tomorrow night in Jerome with his mates to discuss how I can do the marketing for his weaving business.
GOD BLESS BOTH OF Y’ALL.
Man I’m fucking pissed. I’ve got a clear view of Maloney’s Irish bar from this balcony. It certainly looks like where the action be originating from. I must’ve got there too early before. I’ve been to 4 bars since then and had some killer conversations and loving from Christy. I’ve also drunk more nuclear Red Bull and Brandy (yuk indeed!) than is natural. Come on, dear reader, I need your love in this moment. I need to feel you believing in me. In my ability to go out once more and raise hell! To put down this book, stow it back in my amazing room, resist the urge to stick on my i-pod and reminisce, and return to the fight like a Whiskey’d William Wallace.
Thank you. I did. Two more bars. Two more hours. I now feel SO shattered... from the ride, from the effort, from the booze, from me...
“It’s a bruising shattering ride, but I cannot deny myself this luxury!” (Julian Cope)
I still feel like a lightweight though, coz it’s only 2 and around my ears are the sounds of live music, the laughter and chatter of drunk girls, the clink of empty tills ringing up beers I should be buying! So why am I now lying on this small iron-frame bed?
COZ I’M PISSED OUT MY HEAD
COZ I’VE DRIVEN 1,000+ MILES IN 96 HOURS
I think I’ll text Christy tomorrow for the sheer fuckoffnessofitall.
God, I’m starving. But I’m kind of punishing myself for eating so much crap this last week – three square fatty meals a day, most of them involving eggs or eggy bi-products, and with the amount of bloat-juice beer I drunk, I can’t NOW go out and get another sausage/steak/chips/egg/etc combo!
[I wonder what I’ll be doing when I hear the news that Paul Simon has died?]
Laters. I’m fucked. Arrgh. But the girls downstairs whooping and yee-haawing at the live music in the lounge sound SO sexy and available. Naw. I’m too fucked to even bash one out here. Good night. (Although by this point I reckon I’m only talking to myself?)
I’m in Flagstaff, Arizona. I want to say that again to myself. I’m in Flagstaff Arizona. The Santa Fe express train rolls past my hotel window 7am with a hoot-hoot, all 120 carriages of it, heading towards the Pacific coast, the same as me. The next time I read this entry I’ll probably be in a lot less interesting moment than this one. But right now, as the ink touches the paper and dries in the moonlight. I’m here. It’s real. I’m holding onto the moment with the strength of a man on a cliff edge.
BUENOS NOCHES HUEVOS RANCHEROS
The day after. The night was spent pissing into plastic cups, as the toilet was too far off down lab-rat maze corridors to risk running naked in my crazed and dazed yeti state. I could imagine being cornered and shot with a tranquiliser dart, the hotel staff thinking there was a loose ape on the premises. It was a very noisy night of trains rumbling past my window, the Santa Fe express hurtling to the pacific and back again.
Great morning though. A clear blue sky. I buy a breakfast bagel and eat it by the side of the railtracks, kicking up clumps of soil from the gravel and feeling like a hobo. The girl in the Bagel shop confirms that I’ve crossed into the final timezone. To my great confusion and hangover it’s now 9am not 10! I spent the whole of my time in Flagstaff an hour (and three pints) ahead of everyone else!
It’s not often you find yourself in a Bagel shop asking what timezone you’re in.
I’m alone in the Cocino National Forest. Around me is a view to surpass yesterday’s. Huge Majestic Pine Trees soar into the distance around me, off into distant valley’s and mountain tops. From this elevated point I’m watching three eagles swoop on the valley thermals below me.
THIS IS AMERICA. THIS IS THE REAL AMERICA THAT THE NATIVE INDIANS ONCE HAD.
I’VE DONE IT! I’VE FOUND IT!
The road to where I’m sitting is closed due to extreme fire risk, before last night’s rain, fire’s have been raging round these valleys. The only way for me to get here was to walk it. That’s not allowed either. I’ve had to pull over on the highway and leg it through closed barriers. As I write this my car is probably being towed away. But it’s worth it!
A small lizard gecko has just run over my shoe. Perhaps it senses the fire danger too? I am totally and naughtily alone here with this stupendous view. I feel a sense of peace in this moment that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. It’s like standing before God and remembering.
For the people of Arizona who are truly sophisticates there is Jerome, a cultured and “European” town perched on a hillside between a ghost town and disused ore mine. It is a sanctuary of cool mountain air and air conditioned art galleries. Loads of art galleries in fact. The town is tiny – maybe only fifty cottage-style buildings along narrow streets. The place has a vibe that reminds me of both the Cornish town of Fowey and the mountain town of Mijas in Spain.
I’ve got a coffee and water, waiting on a warm chicken salad, on the outside patio of a real relaxed café cathedral called “English Kitchen”. I can tell this place is educated by the way the waitresses leave me alone to eat and don’t hover with coffee pots asking me how each mouthful of food is working out for ya?! The iced glass of spring water wit the zest of real lemon squeezed in cuts perfectly through the grease of my chip fat hangover.
City of Prescott. State of Arizona.
Another hour’s ambient drive and I’m installed in Prescott. Welcome to white conservative small town America with white picket fence and apple pie incest behind closed doors, no doubt!
The hotel I’ve just checked into has it’s own named soap! No wonder it’s 120$ a night! Hold on, can’t write anymore now as my marble claw-foot standalone bath is about to overflow. Man, I’m treating myself right on this trip!
An idea comes to me in the bath like Archimedes and his massive Eureka. Website www.mywriting.co.uk (linked to all the other domain names I own). Opening Home Page a brain with the different parts of the brain segmented into areas of writing (eg Screenplays, Travelogues, Short Stories, Contact, Feedback, etc). Upload everything I’ve ever written, (including the India travelogue currently residing somewhere in Adam Penny’s bookshelf!). Build the site and like the man said “ Send off things to magazines / film companies – the Balance thing would have worked out. Do bar work and manual driving to keep the money coming in and flat sale dosh intact as much as possible, and also to actually have something to write about!. Nothing is not an option. Only writing is not an option. Locked away with the typewriter 24/7 I would have nothing to write about! The richest most interesting stuff comes from experiencing.
Great American bath! I feel shattered from the road and last night, so going to get a couple of hours shut-eye. It hit me in the bath that I’m on the fulcrum of the adventure, exactly on the halfway point. Everything I’ve experienced so far is only half the complete story! How fucking splendid! I’ve got enough money for the moment, a car and a continent and TIME. I can GO anywhere and DO anything right now.
IN THIS MOMENT I AM FREE.
Lying naked on the bed, the fan spinning above me like Saigon helicopter blades, a loud rumbling of thunder crackles through the outside air like giants are rolling huge red boulders down the distant mesa mountains. It’s strange to see no clouds in the sky whilst thunder booms round the plains.
Thunderbolts and lightening. Electric storm. The heavens open over Prescott. Rain as thick and constant as if the Earth had been flipped upside down and the sea was falling back down through the sky. Monsoon Bedroom. The thunder is so vicious and focused that the very glass in the window visibly vibrates. I feel very snug and safe inside this gingerbread house. The Hotel Vendome has the feel of “Grandmother’s House” from the Neil Jordan film “The Company of Wolves”.
That thunder really is loud. The four books on the bedside table are all religious in theme, as I turn my head and focus my eyes - “Conversations with God”, “Cardinal Sins”, etc. This is bible-belt US. The guy who owns this place is a god-fearing man for sure. But so am I. I’m a God... fearing man!
Power cut. God punches out the electrics. Lights out. Strange noises of things falling down. I think, joking aside, this is a storm to be reckoned with.
BOOM. BOOM. Akalakalaka BOOM.
An excited American man runs down the hallway telling his wife there’s a flash flood sweeping past the hotel. If I weren’t lying here wrapped in my towel I’d go and check it out.
I think it must’ve past now. Over excited American guy runs back down the hall to listen to loud women discussing what her Miami plastic surgeon has planned for her hangdog face, next week after July 4th. She’s “having her eyelids done” – whatever the fuck that means.
Time to get some scran and meet the good people of Prescott...
In the last three minutes on the walk from the hotel into town, I’ve seen a woman walking a ferret on a lead. Eight old women in a circle all dressed in black, barefoot, keeping a silent feminist vigil against the oppression of women around the world, and a whole town setting up speaker systems, stalls and barricades in preparation for the July 4th Parade tomorrow. There’s such an atmosphere of expectation on the streets tonight and it’s not just coz I’m in town and up for a drink!
Tried sitting at the bar, but really not feeling it tonight. I’m skulking in the corner of yet another Oirish bar, but this time it’s pretty much the real McCoy, these people are Irish. There’s a live band of acoustic Mick’s on the stage behind the bar, banging away on washboards, slapping cello’s and whistling through potatoes. The crowd is old school cowboys and...well... just cowboys really.
Fuck me! I look up to see a massive bearded Jugganaut of a man marching towards me wearing a full kilt! He tells me tonight is a Scottish Kaeli. I smile a weak grimace at the Highlander. He don’t return it.
The folks in this bar aren’t playing at cowboys, they ARE cowboys. Prescott used to be the territorial state capital of Arizona in the 19th Century and the hardest drinking and whoring goddamn street in this hardest drinking and whoring goddamn town in the Wild West is called Whiskey Row – a vomit-paved avenue of bars, smelling like a Rodeo. That’s where I’m at right now.
A couple of beautiful cowgirls in gingham and Stetson's brush past my table and tilt their hats to me on their way out. Way out. Shame they’re leaving. The rear view of their tight denim jeans stretched taught over their sweet firm Arizonan arses makes me want to jump on their backs and ride them round the bar, whooping and hollering with one of their Stetsons waving above my head. Yeee-haw! Rodeo Romantic.
The stirring reminds me that I bought some Viagra this morning from a Petrol station in Cottonwood. Not that I need it of course, dear Reader, but because I couldn’t believe it was there, just hanging next to the fir-tree car fresheners and chewing gum. Nothing’s ever simple though, and as I put the blister pack of blue pills face down on the counter, the women raised them above her head and shouted out to the gorgeous supervisor making coffee at the other end of the station.
“ Yo Gloria... How much are the hard-on pills, hon?”
Tight arse little moment that was. Stand on me!
By way of a brief explanation of today’s events... My hangover impaired all human connections and I simply got in the car and zoned out listening to those two blinding Digitonal tracks on “Will’s America Mix”. The hair-pinned mountain roads were taken with glazed eyes and a low warm foggy hum in my brain. I’m only here now to write this due to the universe “loving my arse” and not through good driving skills. I came to Sedona (the town where all the world’s energy vortexes are supposed to cross). Full of cunts. No vibe. Tourist hell. I drove on straight through, flipping the bird to all the millionaire plastic hippies. I slammed on the brakes forty miles later and found myself in Jerome. Lunch and inspection. Carried on to Prescott, at which point I had to pull over and get a room because I was starting to feel like I was playing a computer game instead of real driving. “Watch those barriers, they’ll only slow you down!”
Back in the bar, I’ve just this second taken a photo of the band on the stage. Blinding white flash envelopes the lead singer. The bloke in the kilt doesn’t look very happy. RAAAAPPE!
I’ve got to be out of Prescott quite early tomorrow as there’s a big July 4th parade passing through right in front of the hotel and all the roads are blocked off in anticipation. (Either that or the townsfolk have put together a lynching posse for me!) This weekend is the busiest and most expensive of the year for hotels in the US. I haven’t made any reservations. Great! Man reckons that Grand Canyon / Williams could be tricky. I have to risk it though. I can’t be a hundred miles from the GC and not check it.
All around me in the town on the walk home, families are celebrating the beating of the English and are coming together from all over the States to be together. It almost makes me feel a bit lonely... almost!
Now THIS is what I’m talking about! Welcome to the “Cattleman’s Steak House”. It’s taken me a 15 minute walk through the pissing rain to reach it but I could smell that beef-a-cookin’ way before I saw the smoke puffing out of the chimney stack on the wooden shack slightly set back from the main road and partially obscured by dark rainy pine trees. I’m waiting to be served at the smallest table in Prescott. It’s a Friday night though and really busy. I just KNOW this is going to be one of the best meals of the trip. This place is raw cowboy. Posters above my table inform me this week is Rodeo week in Prescott. (Coupled with 4th July – I think I’m incredibly lucky to have got a room and a table tonight). I’d love to check this Rodeo and maybe even take part, but the pull of the Grand Canyon is just too strong in me.
I woke up to the sound of the parade MC speaking over the tannoy in the street below. All of America seems obsessed with “Safety”. Being safe. Keeping Safe. Feeling Safe. I think behind the confidence and relaxed demeanour most Americans ooze, is a permanent state of unease, of mild maintained anxiety. Maintained by the media, by government and by Diner waitresses across the US! Just like a duck seems calm and graceful above water, so are Americans, but below the water, furious little flippers splash away like a washing machine drum.
“Keep safe in the parade folks. Thanks to all the volunteers who have made this parade so safe. Thanks to the Prescott Fire department who are ensuring our safety today. Thanks Guys. Now. Give me a Yeee-haaaw! Folks I can’t hear you...” I was removed from the microphone.
Thus kicked off the July 4th Parade. I packed up my bags and realising I was trapped by the barriers resigned myself to sitting on the stoop with all the other hotel guests. To a man they were all American and from the surrounding area. The MC asked if there was anyone from out of town here to celebrate Independence Day. When one person got up the guts to say he was from Tuscon the crowd starting muttering. Fuck that. Tuscon is the same state! Especially considering the anti-English meaning behind the parade, I decide to resist the urge to let them know I’m here.
The parade is big, well executed and colourful. Float after decorated float whirls past, whilst impossibly beautiful jailbait girls throw out sweets to the kids lining the path of the parade and shaking their bubblegum arses. All American life is represented here. All aspects of American life honoured. I think that because they are only two hundred or so years old as a country Americans need to have parades like this to affirm their identity and to feel they have a unified history. A back story. As a human I am well aware of the importance of the soft cushion a “history” gives to me – and what else is a country in essence except a collective human?
It’s also really enviable the way Americans respect and honour everyone in their community (or at least seem to on the surface). Floats full of Vietnam Veterans go past to deep emotional applause from certain sections of the crowd. Another for Gulf, another for Korea. Soon it will be for Iraq and then Iran and then for the blasted dead Earth itself. It was explained to me a couple of nights ago about the general feeling of the Iraq war on the American people. I think they get a rough ride in UK. I haven’t found Americans to be thick or basic at all. They seem, and of course I’m only dealing in the broadest generalisations here, well aware of how they’re perceived on the world stage and although of course they are insular they say that whilst we don’t think we should be in Iraq, as long as our troops are there we’ll support them. The troops not the Government. I agree.
Jeeps with Senators hoping to be re-elected get a more muted response from the crowd, seemingly savvy to the photo-opportunistic nature of the moment.
One particularly Charlton Heston looking senator has a film crew with him and despite a little indifference from the crowd, he still waves with the fury of a man in the World Trade Centre trying to attract a rescue worker. I start to feel like John Malkovich in “In the Line of Fire” or Lee Harvey Oswald, as I raise my camera up to my right eye, scroll past the G-men running alongside the Jeep and fix the Senator in my crosshairs!
Another float saying “Support our Troops” zips past, whilst behind it a selection of cowboys whoop with lassoes spinning above their heads. Women in traditional dress sit on haystacks as barefoot hillbillies pluck at cello’s and violins. I want to break into a chorus of “Come on Eileen”. The fire department goes past, with the sons of the fireman sitting on the back of the trucks, waving with such pride at their daddies job. I ponder if my son would ever feel such pride for me (if I were to have one).
Grand Canyon. State of Wonder.
America is a land of massive contradictions. I know, I know. What a fucking cliché, but it is so true. Forget what I said about America’s preoccupation with safety earlier. I am now sitting at the Grand Canyon and it is anything but safe.
YES PEOPLE ! I AM SITTING ON THE MUTHAFUCKIN’ EDGE OF THE GC!
It’s like looking out at the deepest oceanic abyss with all the water drained out! It looks like Mars. The sheer scale. The sheer fucking SIZE of it! (As Christy said to me in Flagstaff!) It’s so vast I can only just get the sense that it’s a canyon at all and doesn’t just go on for ever and ever. I can’t fit it all in my line of vision. My brain has never seen anything like it and doesn’t quite now how to feed what the eye’s picking up into my cortex.
It’s crazy how each view I see on this journey just keeps getting bigger and better. I thought the view from the Empire State was mad enough, but then I saw the Petrified Forest which blew it away. But then I saw the Cocino National Forest yesterday, which took my breath away and added an irreplaceable extra little spark to my soul. BUT NOW THIS! The last time I felt this scared and exposed, yet still fascinated and energised was right at the very top of the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona.
Based on my experience of America so far, I can’t believe there are no safety barriers here (or a big fucking Perspex screen round the edge!) I can walk right up to the crumbling chalk edge with a thousand feet drop sheer down. Check it out:
It was still 25$ to get in, so at least the US has continued to meet my expectations on that score!
I’ve taken a photo of where I’m sitting because it looks so fucking crazy and sometimes words, no matter how expressive, just aren’t enough...
I’m on a small white rocky outcrop jutting out from the main canyon wall. If I stretch my legs out horizontally as far as they’ll go, left to right, then the tips of my trainers can touch the edges of the promontory. I AM TOTALLY EXPOSED! There’s only rock behind me and nothing either side. One big gust of canyon wind and I’m gone, flying like a fat eagle thousands upon thousands of unmissable feet onto the red rock below.
In fact, I’m moving back now away from the edge because my head is starting to spin and the muscles in my legs are tightening as if ready to pounce. For some reason I don’t trust myself not to throw myself off. That’s where my fear comes from. That’s the source I’m tapping into now. The primal root and cause of my fear – the extraordinary sensational fear of not being in control of my actions: That deep within me there is a darker, stronger, primeval force which could break free from it’s prison and come to the surface and black me out, so that when I come to, I’m covered in blood and everyone’s dead! Ha! Am I insane?! Does anyone reading this know what I’m talking about or should I actually jump for the benefit of Mr Kite?
A fat Camp America kid comes up to where I’m sitting, moaning for a Hershey bar and a slap. The moment has passed.
Everyone I’m passing on the Canyon trail has their faces turned to the incredible view, mouths hanging open, silent in speechless wonder. It’s a strange eerie un-American silence!
This view has inspired me to go from the sublime to the ridiculous – I’m going to make the long drive right now to Vegas. Yeah, that’s right you Muthas! Saturday night in Las Vegas!
But first, more of this view. I must try to stop always thinking about the next thing, especially when the present thing is a once-in-a-lifetime amazement! I shouldn’t be in such a hurry! Next time I read this I won’t be looking up from the page at this killer view that’s for sure* (yep!*) I’ve noticed in myself a strange flattening or negation of emotion when faced with a truly spectacular sight. I don’t mean like standing at the top of St Paul’s Cathedral kind of view, but a view like Grand C. It was the same when I was trekking in the Himalayas. I can always tell when a view is +10/10 because the music I’m listening to will sound tinny and superfluous. For example, on the last tube home after a Friday night the opening soundtrack to “Blade Runner” can lift me out of the carriage and send me flying over industrial Tokyo dreams. But here at the Grand Canyon it just sounds irritating – like a small fly buzzing in my eardrum. The view is too big for music. It demands to be seen alone, unedited, it’s too epic. My subconscious is perhaps trying to keep me “flat” because otherwise it would be too much and I’d freak? The “Reducing Valve” in operation?
Ye Gods! To think I’m going from this view to the view of Sunset Strip, Las Vegas in one day! The ultimate effort of God, followed by the ultimate effort of man, I won’t have many days in my life like this one, I’m sure!
WHAT A LUCKY CUNT I AM!!!
Tempt fate and she will always rise to the challenge like a moody porpoise after Tuna. I spoke too soon!
It’s now 18:49 and I’m sitting in a car park outside of a small town in the middle of the desert called Kingman. EVERYTHING in Las Vegas is booked up, “Coz of the holiday, hon”. This is the busiest night of the year! D’Oh! The only place available was Caesar’s Palace at 700$ a night. FUCK THAT! I’ve just spent the last twenty minutes shovelling quarters into the phone box on the forecourt of this petrol station in the gathering dark trying to make myself heard over the roar of the desert trucks filling up with diesel.
If I could be sure of winning big at the Roulette table then I might be tempted to splash out on Caesar’s Palace!
Well dear Reader, I have a problem. I’m pulled over in a lay-by in Kingman. Kingman is a shit hole. Worse than this, Kingman is full. The whole cunting town is full. Even the rattiest roachy motel is full. I’m fucked. No room at the inn. So what do I do?
A) Sleep in the car
B) Drive to Vegas and pay 700$ for a room at Caesar’s
C) Drive to Vegas and stay up drinking all night so I don’t need a room?
I’ve test driven option A by hanging out in an empty car park, but the police in this town look mean, like the drill Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. A police car, not sure if it is the same one, has already buzzed me twice patrolling the edges of the car park. There’s no way I could get away with it for a whole night. This isn’t England, this is a tough desert town. So, God have mercy on my soul, I’m going for option C. Into the boot to fish out a good shirt – the only clean one I have left and then fill up the car and fill up me with Red Bull.
20:30: Fuck me, I’m actually a bit scared.
Right. I’ve changed into the shirt at the road side. Splashed on some aftershave to take away the stink of the road and I’m now ready to drive the 100 or so miles through empty, uninhabited, bleak desert (Death Valley country). Wish me luck...
THESE ARE THE MOMENTS THAT MAKE A MAN.
That was real! I think the guy in New Orleans was right – the Universe does seem to love my lazy arse! Just as I turned on to the pitch black Interstate 93 for Vegas, I saw a little stable door open and a candle burning in the darkness. The Frontier Motel. It’s run by a young Indian man, all smiles and humble eyes. God bless little Indian men! He speaks with a thick Bengali accent and says “Vacancy”. So now I’m lying on a 27$ bed with a bag of Beef Jerky and two huge cans of Budweiser, on full alert for any roach action. Although, to be honest, I am so grateful and relieved to have found this room that I could fuck a roach in the arse whilst whistling the theme to Flash Gordon.
When I pulled over to get the petrol and Red Bull for the massive dangerous drive through the uninhabited Mojave desert the kindly women behind the counter smiled at me and said I looked uptight. I was praying she wouldn’t be too nice to me in case I started blubbing like a chubby English baby! She told me she had liver disease brought on by drinking too much. A bottle blonde gone to seed twenty years ago and now resigned to her fate of whiling away the days in this petrol station.
Today’s been a strange day. (I’m standing in the doorway looking out over dark desert, reminiscing like Arkright at the end of “Open all Hours”!) It started so well with the all-American parade in Prescott, but for some reason I developed a real funk on the way to the Grand Canyon that’s stayed with me until now. I’ve felt moody and aggressive since I left Prescott. Fuck it. Tomorrow is another day and of all the places I could be right now, outside of Las Vegas with a cool car and money in my pocket, is pretty near the top. Ungrateful moaning bastard!
I’m gonna make like a grimy truck driver and sit here in my pants in this shithole watching porn on the cable and drinking beer in my pants, sharing my jerky with the roaches. Night y’all.
Las Vegas – State of Nevada.
The Wheel of Fortune spins again and this time she drops me off right at the top! What a difference a day makes. Even though I only took four photos of the Grand Canyon and two of the Hoover Dam which I drove past just now, I still going to take six of this beautiful room! It is without doubt the best looking room I’ve stayed in my life... and guess what folks, it only costs 55$ a night. It’s got a living room with sofa and chairs, a huge TV, a kitchen with fridge freezer, cooker, microwave, a MASSIVE bed that Barry White could get lost in and a marble bathroom and shower. All this on the second floor of the Blair Suites Inn overlooking a swimming pool and lush green courtyard. Best of all, it’s just off the Strip where all the action and Casinos be.
I can’t believe my luck. After the fear and anger of last night, and a nervous drive this morning wondering what I’d find available on this July 4th weekend, and thinking for each of those hundred miles that I’d have to pay 700$ and then head back the way I came!
The air con in this room is so powerful I can spit water at it and the stream will freeze before it hits the vent!
“Ice to see you!”
There’s two massive TV’s. (Not that I intend to watch any. I’ve got Sin City to explore!) It’s probably fortunate that I haven’t got the money from the flat sale yet, or I could wake up tomorrow morning with a bill for forty grand and a very sore dick. Which reminds me... I think the time has come to check out those little blue Viagra pills. I’m going to take one now and wander the Strip until I feel my cock acting like a divining rod pointing me towards the cookiepuss! I need to remind myself that this is a villainous city though and not get too affable and careless.
The drive here was powerful. It’s easy to see how gangsters got away with burying people in the desert – it’s a red hot yellow bumpy expanse of nothing. But then just as I thought it was eternal nothingness, I rounded a corner and BAM, Las Vegas comes into view like Landau Carlrisiens Cloud City. All shiny metal and glass against the natural blank canvas. Very impressive. Very expensive. Bartertown after the nuclear holocaust.
As it came into view my i-pod selected “What Goes On” by Velvet Underground and the moment was upon me! The track never sounded better and sublimed the moment. Really atmospheric and as sparkling fresh as a wank with a handful of chilled diamonds! So different to the stormy drive from GC to Kingman yesterday with the lightening bolts scratching across the wide grey sky and single rain drops like whale-gobs of spittle exploding onto the windshield, so denting that the wipers couldn’t keep up and I had to slow right down to 30mph. The clouds had little wisps of smokey trails hanging down from them like Jellyfish tendrils and it was these fine ringlets that the lightening seemed to snake down earthwards. Very intense. Monsoon moody. But by contrast, today is blue skies over my head. Blue skies and blue pills. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Beer and Clothing! Right let’s see where those pills at...
Just back from a walk down the Strip. Exactly as I’d expected it to be but more spread out. It seems like there’s only one Casino every ¼ mile, I had imagined it more tightly packed together. I stopped in at a massive shopping Mall and bought some exquisite shirts and cheap chinos from Banana Republic. Neither Diesel nor Sara had any sizes that fit me! Christ! Am I even too fat now for Americans! I looked at myself in the changing room mirror and without sucking my guts in, Geoff Capes grimaced back at me. Not good. Not good at all! But then, I’m not going to be one of these moaning women who bitch about putting on weight whilst wiping away traces of cream bun from their mouth! These last two weeks I’ve eaten nothing but shit, on the hour! What did I expect to happen? I ain’t going out like Mavis the fairy from Willo the Wisp!
What actually brought me down more than this was the Mall itself. For a minute I thought I was in Brent Cross Shopping Centre on a busy Saturday. For a moment I was stripped of the magic of New Mexico and the sonorous Jazz of New Orleans. I get the same thing with watching TV and fast food. Ultimately it leaves me a little depressed! Hanging around the shopping centre also brought into focus how much money I’ve spent. If the flat falls through I will have to declare bankruptcy. [Positive thinking He-Man!] The Mall also signals the return to civilization for me. Except for the desert between here and Los Angeles, my adventure is now all business and London-esque. L.A. San Fran, Monterey – all rich intellectual places. I’m actually feeling nostalgic for the Spotted Pony bar in Texas! My Redneck Romance!
Nothing yet to report from the blue pill, captain. Nothing is standing to attention or saluting! It’s now about 16:30. I’m gonna hang tuff till 8ish then drop another pill and hit the Casinos to do some real financial damage!
A thought occurs to me as I lie on the king-sized bed. I can’t remember the last time I was hungry. I always eat at the expected times – on waking, round 1pm, round 7pm. I do this, not because I’m hungry, but out of habit. I might experiment tomorrow how long it takes for me to actually feel really hungry and NEED food. It may take a while though as outside this room the ground sweats like a furnace. A smelting heat I’ve never experienced before, even in the deserts.
WHO IS GOD’S GOD?
[The meaning of life is to feel good about yourself, oneself, MYSELF. However, it takes many years to truly feel good about yourself. Buying things, eating things, meeting people, doing things – all these are worthwhile and give short-term boosts, but all meaningless and empty actions in the face of a man who doesn’t feel good about himself. I don’t mean happy with yourself – this is unsustainable and ultimately impossible, as we never stop or reach a fixed point where we cease to grow or develop anymore. But to feel good about yourself IS sustainable. If I could learn to feel good about myself like I do in THIS moment, back in London, then it TRULY doesn’t matter where I live, who I hang out with, how big my girlfriend’s tits are! But without this personal peace it won’t matter whether I’m on 100k a year and living in Chelsea Harbour getting my willy kissed by Scarlet Johansen – I’ll still be an anxious dissatisfied empty husk.
THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE.
It’s not love. It’s not spirituality. It’s not success. It is acceptance of the self and learning who I am and what makes me tick, and then armed with this knowledge, feeling worthy, at peace and good about myself as a valid 3 dimensional person. We are like the ultimate computer game (probably why we like designing and playing them so much, as we are made in God’s image!) and we have to learn how to play ourselves individually. The first few levels are easy because they are general and hold true for all humans (heat, love, job, food, roof, etc) I know a lot of people who are happy to stop at this level and wobble on. The people I value most are those who choose to go on to the next level, and get beyond the generalisations and really start investigating how THEY as individuals work. The end of these levels offer the key to feeling good about who you are and in doing so find peace and fulfilment. Some of us are easier to play than others with fewer levels. I’m probably somewhere in the middle! ]
Got to get up off this philosopher’s bed. All dressed up in my new gear, looking pretty fly if I do say so. Keys, cash, cock. I’m off to win me a million..! Here I go. What it is!
Where’s the strippers? Where’s the hustlers? Where’s the seedy underbelly of the American dream..?
WHERE’S MY FUCKING MONEY?
I dropped around 500 clams, bones, greenbacks across the strip like I was handing out club fliers with the American Presidents as the DJ’s! It’s put me in a medieval dark mood. I could slay a fucking dragon right now!
I went out around eight just as it was bruising at dusk. Fantastic light. Magic hour. The Strip looked big and corporate – like a dark Disney for adults, but it wasn’t until the sun set behind the mountains that I really saw what Vegas was about. The neon lights zapped on everywhere and the true dirty power of Las Vegas kicked off. The Casinos are brash, huge tourist traps. No surprises there. But not for real gamblers. The majority of people are just human traffic passing through hoping to rubberneck an accident at the Craps table. The rest are hopeless lost souls, robotically feeding the house-keeping into the metal bandits, in a smooth endless motion like they are making pasta with dollar bills.
Rows upon rows of dead-eyed, sallow, fat Ameri-caners lost in their addiction, not even sure anymore why they are there or who they were in their previous lives.
I guess I am taking a particularly negative spin on all this, but for some reason that’s the way I feel about it. The whole thing depressed me really. Vegas is like the cocky salesman, the school bully, the drama student, who feel they have to constantly shout and show off, make noise, impress, cajole and hustle, because... behind the opulent screen dream there's nothing there. NOTHING. At it’s core, Vegas has a crushing emptiness and soullessness that would have the punters running to the desert in terror if they glimpsed it. Behind the biggest fake smile on earth lie the coldest dead eyes.
I’ve got nothing against Orientals! Let me say that from the start. Some of my favourite meals have been Chinese! To say the Chinese are multiplying like a virus would be racist, but all of New York seemed to be Chinese, as is the whole of hi-rolling Vegas. 90% of all dealers, croupiers and pit managers last night were oriental and around 60% of all players were too! This is across the eight or nine Casinos I went into, so I think I’m fair in my statement.
The Casinos are laid out like this: Imagine a circle, or better still an onion with its many layers moving inwards. The outermost layer is the façade, the impressive exterior, with each one getting more adventurous and spectacular as you move down the strip. The faded glory of the Stardust and Frontier casinos – mere 40 watt light bulbs compared to the laser-beams further down (and this goes for the has-been clientele as well!). Next is the Wynn – the new kid on the block, just opened for 2.1billion $ - the outside is bronze glass and looks like the most powerful credit card in the world. Slick plasma screens outside the size of houses, burning my eyes with their dazzling crystal sharpness. Then I come to Caesar’s Palace, where I nearly had to spend an expensive night yesterday. Passing it’s marble gates at sunset, I took my favourite photo so far...
The clouds say desert; the ground says neon. Next is the Bellagio, probably the classiest Casino in town, with its massive water spout display crackling across the lake to a Phantom of the Opera soundtrack on the hour. The Venetian, all marble pillars gondolas and rivers, Roman columns and pillars cooling the punters under the atriums. Casino Paris – a life size Eiffel tower piercing the night sky, golden and proud next to a huge neon blue ball of light. Beneath the huge vaulted ceiling they’ve “recreated the streets of Paris” (If Paris were filled with Chinese and slot machines!) The roof of the huge dome has been painted and cleverly lit to resemble a permanent sunset. Walking through the lanes of stools, I really did feel I was outside in the evening dusk. This has the psychological effect of making the patrons feel relaxed, happy and with that “on holiday” vibe – who cares of you drop 6 months mortgage payments into the vaginal metal holes of the bandits, sans orgasm, sans satisfaction?
The Mirage, The MGM Grand, New York New York, Excalibur, Treasure Island (a casino seemingly designed to scam kids out of their pocket money), The casinos roll on heading south, terminating with Mandalay Bay and the captivating Luxor with it’s enormous black shiny pyramid – a gamblers air-conditioned sarcophagus.
By the time I’d battled my way through the human zoo to the corner of Flamingo and Blvd, I was shell-shocked by the overkill to the senses. The Strip is a true campaign of “Shock & Awe”.
I guess it has to be seen once. Once. If you have limitless money then this is the town for you my friend, as it will offer you limitless possibilities. If the devil needed somewhere to crash after a hard day’s eviling, he’d come to Vegas. The only limits here (heading downwards to depravity) are those enforced by available bank balance and imagination. But this is all unspoken and behind closed doors. Only the free sex magazines on every street corner in their glass crates give away the dark potential. For the most part, Vegas is anodyne, disinfected and full of Kids! It was 2am and still parents were pushing their screaming / sleeping brats through the streets bars and casinos! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? The only nappy I want to see at 2am in Vegas is the one worn by the fat businessman being whipped to within an inch of his life by topless dwarves! I wanted to feel like James Bond at the Blackjack table, instead I felt like Supernanny.
I did sit down though at the Roulette table in the Mirage, flipping a 100$ bill to the croupier and said 10$ bitch. The college kids around the table looked at me nervously as they clutched their 1$ chips.
My first bet, to show them I meant business, was the classic “square” of chips around the corners of the 5. I sat back, feeling like the big man, and eyed my new mates around the table. Frat kid, Chinky, Jackie Brown, Danny Devito, another Frat kid who sups on a bottle of Bud and proceeds to throw a stack of chips onto the 5 just as the croupier releases the ball. No more bets. He turns to me sincerely and respectfully:
“When someone like you sits at the table and covers something I haven’t, then I just gotta go with it too.”
Yes! THIS is more like it. This is me getting my Bond groove on. Pretty soon I’ll have a crowd of buxom babes circling round me and I’ll be flipping them 50$ chips with the ease of a monkey handling his nuts! One of the scantily dressed waitresses who hover around the tables comes over (obviously at the request of the croupier who’s let her know Mr Damocles has arrived and needs taking care of).
“Would you like a drink, sir?”
“Whiskey Mac, my dear”
I flip her a chip for her trouble. She hands it back.
“No sir. All drinks are free when you’re gambling!”
WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE TELL ME THIS SOONER!
I’ll drink this muthafucker dry! Do you realise what I could do in a place like this?!
The ball clinks round the shiny wooden circle and my attention is brought back to the business in hand.
Frat kid looks at me gutted. His eyes search mine for some sort of explanation as to what went wrong. My warm, watered down whiskey piskey arrives. Any buxom girls approaching stop in their tracks and spin round in search of a better Bond.
I repeat this pattern in about four other casinos until even an idiot savant with autism would have to concede it wasn’t their night. There’s a feeling I get when I’m on a gambling loosing streak like this, where logic is subjugated to the crazed sweaty panic of needing to win. Bad money is thrown after bad and I no longer care if I win. In fact I WANT to lose, to compound the problem and masochistically punish myself for being such a reckless dick.
By this point I’m now in such a bad mood that I sit at the bar, flicking peanuts at my reflection á la Superman 3. Enough. I stumble out of the Stardust and into the night, stopping off at a 24hr shop to pick up a large can of Bud. She sells it to me in a brown paper bag! Christ! Am I a tramp now? Bond to Broken in two hours!
I continue to walk the streets, as crowded now as at 8pm- truly a 24hr city. You can gamble and drink Rum at 7:30 am or pm, waste whole days, weeks, lifetimes in the womblike casinos, surprised when you finally emerge that it’s light / dark outside. Time-trapped. Pissed and angry I wander, safe in the knowledge that if one more pushchair wheel clicks the backs of my ankles I’ll bite the face off the little cunt inside it!
A tramp, sensing a brother, hangs with me for a bit as I walk. He offers to sell me some coke – the last thing I need in this mood; probably the last thing he’d sell me anyway!
Again. I digress.
Back to the Onion. Outermost layer inwards. Next layer is the shops. Merchandising branding, T-shirts, dice cards – first thing to go through when you enter most of the larger casinos. Then the Food. Restaurants, Cafés, Bars. Then the Slot Machines: Whizz, bang, clatter, crunk. Dsh-Dsh noise of quarters spilling into plastic cups. Plastic grins. Then the green baize tables: What is your pleasure? 3 card Poker, Baccarat, Craps, Blackjack, Roulette, Chinese Take-away?
Then “The Big Vegas Show!” All casinos have a spectacle, a show with which they all try and outdo each other. You can judge the status of a casino by the calibre of its show. For example, as far as I can tell, the king of the neon anthill at the moment is the Mirage with Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” featuring all the Beatles hits (for the first time). MGM Grand’s got Copperfield. Caesar’s Palace got Celine Dion. Venetian got Wayne Newton (who played the evangelist in “Licence to Kill” back in’89 but looks younger now than then!) New York New York got Rita Rudner (who?). This goes on into a downward spiral until you get to the poor old Stardust who was representing with “After Eight” and the bloke from “My Two Dads”!
Celebs who’ve gone to seed and off the boil are “put out to grass” in Vegas. When they stop being cutting edge or can’t get a hit record or face on TV anymore, they console themselves with “at least there’s still Vegas”. It’s the Blackpool Summer Season, the Panto at Wolverhampton Civic Centre. Glitzier and better paid for sure, but look carefully into the eyes of the acts, see the pained expressions of these once lauded stars as they glare out from the unforgiving plasma screens. They know it’s now just a matter of time. It’s over!
Finally, the last layer, the heart of the onion. Inner sanctum. Invite only. The high roller’s lounge. Baccarat and high stakes poker. High limits in private shadowy rooms. This is where the real money is made and lost. Here the whiskey is not watered down. I poked my head in. Chinatown.
Right. I’ve rapped for long enough. Time for a shower. Check email (come on you cunt of an estate agent). Breakfast. Tonight I want to check out a strip joint. LP says the cream of the crop is “Olympic Garden” up near Frewton. Last night I walked past a killa looking club called “Tangerine”, pumping out some great sounding beats, but the crowd looked so O.C. / MTV college kids that I think I’m genuinely too fucking old now. I don’t feel hip enough to actually enjoy being in there. So why force it? A mug of cocoa and a wank instead. NO!
“DO NOT GO GENITALLY INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT, RAGE, RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT!”
I remembered to call Avis and change the drop off for my metal road warrior to Downtown LA instead of SF and also arranged to pick up the new car the day after that, to drive to Frisco over four days (Thurs to Mon). It works out much cheaper at around 230$ + insurance. But I can’t stop dwelling on how much money I spent last night. I could’ve paid for the car hire and petrol with the fucking dollars dropped. Ho-Hum!
I don’t like Las Vegas! Can’t quite put my finger on why. I should be electrified to be here, but all I’m feeling is a mild sense of boredom! I’ve just had brunch at a Denny’s diner. (A chain of Wimpy style waitress restaurants – the Easyjet of the diner world, eat yo food, then fuck off). Eating some particularly vicious waffles, I drop a large greasy dollop of cream on my new trouser, right by the groin. Light chinos, grey fatty stain. I walk back through the streets paranoid trying to hold this book over the stain without it making me lurch to one side and look worse. Anyway, no-one gives a shit about that. I’ve just been on the phone and checked into a hotel in Beverly Hills for tomorrow night. (I love saying it so matter-of-factly!) LP says it’s the only place to stay in Beverley Hills that’s realistically priced. The Maitre ‘d sounded Ameri-French and snooty. It made me feel like Eddie Murphy in BH Cop! (“Go on, you have those Bananas!”)
Las Vegas tonight; Beverly Hills tomorrow! This whole trip has been incessantly mind-blowing! Day after day. Upping the ante and piling on the pleasure. My head feels like it’s coming down from a pill, because I can’t sustain this level of wonder indefinitely. I think I’ve got pleasure fatigue, if there’s such a thing?!
Yet still, in the back of my mind is the silent spectre of this FUCKING CUNTING flat sale. Email from the estate agent this morning saying that the searches from Hackney council still not returned. It’s so fucking boring I can’t believe I’m actually wasting energy writing it down, but unfortunately it is part of this trip irrefutably. If I could be sure that it’ll all go through then I could really do some damage here! I also got an email from Christy, the blonde bombshell I got together with in Flagstaff. She was jokingly ordering me back to Flag for Saturday night, promising she’d “make it worth my while” (trouble is, she’s got three kids – so I reckon she’s been making it worth a fair few people’s “whiles”!)
I jokingly replied that she should come up to Vegas. Vrump! Immediate reply. “OK. Let me make a few phone calls for babysitters...” Damn, girl. She called my bluff. I limped back a weak response about having to be in Frisco by Wednesday. She hasn’t replied by the time I logged out!
It’s 16:20 now. I’m going to head downtown to check Fremont Street and the original old Strip before hitting Olympic Garden. I’m sensing that I’m losing you, dear reader, with my talk of flats. You deserve a bit of action for sticking with me this far! I’ll see what I can do for ya..!
Came up trumps, so I did!
HAPPY 4th JULY Y’ALL!
Happy Independence Day to all of you who’ve travelled this far with me. A massive wet fart noise to all of you who bailed out round Texas!
I’ve just woken from a terrible nightmare. SO unsavoury and cloying that I’m not going to write it down and commit it to paper, because I don’t want to be reminded of it when I come to read this again in a different moment to now. I’m mentioning it here only because I think last night’s action dislodged something / accessed something / forced my subconscious to look at something I’d been avoiding. So I actually see it as a positive thing that’s cleared out the drains. Mr Muscle for the soul. I do feel strangely refreshed for it.
I’m working against the hotel check-out deadline here, so I’ll have to be brief, but I want to write it all down before I hit Hollywood and get caught up in talking about all that. So. About last night...
I took the bus downtown to see what trouble I could get into and if Vegas could redeem herself. The bus, when it came, was a London Double-Decker. (Not Routemaster, but the current ones). It was the same in every respect, except for the fantastic air-con, friendly driver, and the people travelling didn’t look as if they wished they were dead! Something WAS different though and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, until I realised that everything was a mirror reflection due to the different side of the road driven on. The door opened to the right, Driver’s cab was on the left, stairwell to upstairs on the left. It made it feel familiar yet strangely surreal. I was laughing to myself, imagining this bus was in fact the 476 to Euston at 7:30am, transporting pissed-off workers to their pissed-off jobs and freeze-dried bosses. I imagined how these workers would react if they suddenly looked up from their morning coffee / paper / daydream to see the neon casinos of Vegas roll past as I was. I guess you had to be there for that one...
I got off at Fremont Street and found the real Vegas. (LP says the area around it is a bit tasty and rough, so I travelled light, no camera, no phone. No pictures!) It’s called the “Fremont Street Experience” and is basically four blocks of the original Las Vegas casinos and bars. It’s recently been granted Historical Site Accreditation which has resulted in extra money leading to the whole four blocks being covered with a plastic multi-coloured roof. Very impressive and quite claustrophobic! Images are projected onto this huge transparent roof over the heads of the casinos and rooftops. Here is the Vegas of “Diamonds are Forever” The 4 Queens Casino, Golden Nugget, Frontier and the iconic image of the neon cowboy lifting his hat to ya. The vibe was seedy, stinky, mildew carpet and cunt. People who clearly felt they didn’t deserve to be on the main Strip punished themselves by languishing at the 25 cent slot machines of Fremont. It was as if everything on the main strip had been zapped back thirty years but everyone aged twenty. All the croupiers were in their forties and from Brooklyn. The waitresses all fade peroxide blondes with grey ashen roots and lines over their lips from sucking on too many fags and cocks. The beer was warm, the welcome cold. Great! This is the vibe I was after. I stayed around long enough to drop another 300$ on slots and Roulette but decided not to sweat about it this time. All gamblers secretly want to lose and I reconciled myself to the fact that the money was lost before I even put it in. Spurred on by this grittier Vegas I hailed a taxi for Olympic Garden – the darker of the two premier strip clubs recommended by the LP. The Korean taxi driver agreed too. No cover for the tables. In like Flynn! I lurked at a corner table on me jack jones and waited for the parade of pussy like a teenage boy who’s just located his dad’s porn collection. And waited...
The place was dead. A solitary topless dancer grinded her bones to the left of me on a small circular stage three tables away to a sole, lost soul, fat guy who’s little chubby arms were so short and encased in fat that he could hardly lift them to slip a dollar into her skin tight thong. She danced languidly, bored and slow, for herself, like a lizard unable to find the sun to warm it to action. A waitress comes over and takes my order – beer with whiskey back for Dutch courage. 16 bucks. I give her 20, keep the change. Wolfed back the whiskey and was cracking on with the Corona when this petite blonde girl, all tits and tan, with an impossibly thin waist and tight ten year old boy’s arse comes over and asks if I want some “entertainment”. Argh! Panic! I do, but I don’t, my Englishness envelopes me like a smothering suffocating woollen blanket.
“I’m alright for the moment, thanks” (clearly not!)
She looks hurt, because I must be here for a lapdance, but obviously just not with her! I’ve misread the joint. I’d imagined it to be a sit at the bar with fellow perverts and feel like Bruce Springsteen knocking back brews and watching an endless parade of blart on stage. I hadn’t expected it to be private dances only, one-on-one. It’s thrown me and I can’t recover.
Using the excuse to the bemused doorman that the place is too dead, I leave. But he’s not going to let me off so lightly.
“Hey buddy, why you going?
“Well, I can’t take the excitement, Jack!”
Outside, I look back at the club and feel mildly gutless. I hop the bus down to “Sapphire” Las Vegas’s largest sex club off Industrial Road. It’s a long walk off the Strip and tough to find through seedy underpasses and huge unlit wastelands. Tramps watch me through beery eyes in disbelief, muggers are stunned into inaction at this leary Englishman-dude, so desperate to see a pair of tits that he’s willing to run the gauntlet!
By the time I get there I feel so dehydrated, knackered and hungry that I can’t face going in. The building is a big dark blue windowless monolith – warehouse style with a single blue neon sign spelling out the word “Sapphire”. Fuck it. It would be ridiculous to turn round now. I pay the 20$ cover charge and enter the belly of the beast.
Vast, dimly lit, also pretty empty. I sit down at where I judge a free table to be, like entering a cinema after the movie’s started, but before your eyes have adjusted, the dark blue chairs and tables looking like buoys bobbing on the night-time sea. Damn, I wish I’d worn my glasses! Especially when a topless cutie wafts over to me and I ask if she can bring me a beer.
“Do you see a tray here, honey? I’m a dancer not a fucking waitress!”
She motions to a plump, covered up waitress to take my order. Beer comes, I don’t. She starts to talk to me, shooting the breeze, trying to put me at ease.
She tells me her name is Crystyle (Kris-Style). It’s her stage name. She’s originally from Washington. (Not DC but Washington state, on the west coast near Canada). For whatever reason, she doesn’t seem keen to talk about her past too much. She has a fantastic natural figure and asks if I’d like to see it through the medium of dance for 20$.
“I’m just enjoying being here at the moment.”
“Hey... you’re really sweating aren’t you! Here, have this napkin. “
She dabs at the waterfall of perspiration pissing down my face, making me feel like Timothy Spall or that bloke from “My Left Foot”.
“Go on. Please let me dance for you. I’m very good”
“I’m English. I’m intimidated by beautiful women. I think I’d honestly find it quite unrelaxing.”
I offer her 20$ to stop the hard sell and just sit with me for a while, talking, which she accepts gracefully.
“OK, but I’d really like to dance for you – especially as you’ve never had a lapdance before. Look – don’t you want to see my tits”
She jiggles her impressive rack from side to side under my nose. OK Fuck it. Go on then!
She puts her hands on my legs and gently spreads them at the knees, making a cradle for herself in which to operate.
She dances around me, on me, through me. It’s very erotic, but I’m still very unrelaxed. I’m more concerned about making sure I seem to be enjoying it than actually relaxing and REALLY enjoying it.
As she grinds me, I find myself abstracting and analysing the situation. I think, no, I’m sure, I have a fear of beautiful women! How does the fat guy at Olympic Garden do it? How does he suspend his disbelief and convince himself that the girl on his dick is doing it for ANY reason other than money. Does she see my face or only Benjamin Franklyn’s on the 100$ bills as she works it? Maybe Benjamin comes; I don’t.
I also know that every woman I’ve ever been with hates something about her figure. Boobs too big or too small, cellulite on the outer thigh, Buddha belly, visible rib-cage, fat ears, etc! Therefore this girl in front of me, currently shaking her toned peachy arse in my face must also have a part of her (which is definitely under lock and key at the moment) that makes her feel insecure. I find myself starting to feel slightly embarrassed for her.
She asks if I want to go to the VIP room for a further 100$. It’s an “anything goes” private dance that’s on offer. I decline, feeling I’ve already pushed my own envelope enough with the booty shake. She sighs and leaves, saying she’ll be back throughout the night to “keep an eye on you babe...”. Crystyle exits right. The pussy production line whirrs and another enters out of the shadows to my left. A young, too young, Hispanic girl. HISpanic MYpanic...
“You wanna dance, baby?”
So this is how it works, constant attention. I felt a connection with Crystyle and genuinely enjoyed talking with her. Although I was never really able to let go of the fact she was just a professional doing a job and part of her skill lay in making me feel special and connected.
[It turned out that my credit card was cloned around this time and £1400 worth of exotic lingerie bought from a German website. I can’t prove it was her, but it wouldn’t take the skills of Poirot to see a connection!]
How can I now be expected to go through all that with another girl straight away and continually thereafter until I leave, come, pass out or go bankrupt! It’s actually hard work for me! AND I’m paying THEM! I can’t just refuse to make an effort and avoid all conversation with them, beating them into submission with my erect manhood like a monk with a ruler beating a novice who’s broken his vow of silence. Rightly so, I can’t just view these women as pieces of sexual meat. I find it hard to see Sex as a power trip. Coming in a girl’s face, for example, holds no real thrill for me. It’s almost a violent assertion of dominance. I’m feeling the lapdance in a similar vein. Perhaps that’s why I’m not really involved and unselfconscious with it all.
A stunning girl is on the front desk passing the evening with the bouncer. She is all boobs and sequins. Her long left leg is resting on the counter and she stretches like a ballerina warming up. She winks at me as I pass.
“Hey. You wanna wrestle me?”
“No thanks. I’ve just had a dance from Krystyle... and after that everything just seems second best.”
“...But can she do this...?”
She grabs her left leg, lifting it off the counter and straight up to the side of her face, opening her whole geometry up like a set of compasses fully extended.
“No...” I admit, turning to leave. “...and neither can I...”
Los Angeles. State of California.
I’m in Beverley Hills – at last. Where I belong! It’s taken me 31 years to get here. Come on agents, come on casting directors, here I am!
I’ve found a fantastic hotel right off Wiltshire Boulevard and looking on to Rodeo Drive. I couldn’t be more central if I squatted on the sidewalk outside the Beverley Wiltshire in a cardboard box. It’s costing me about the same too – only 124 clams a night, which for BH is a restaurant tip! I feel so much love for the Lonely Planet (LP), every hotel they’ve recommended so far has been tip top killa. In fact, I think I’ll insert the name and number of each place I’ve stayed in and sell this as a guide to how to cross the states!
California in July is high season, especially on the coast road area up to San Fran. So mindful of this, I’ve just sat on the phone for the past half hour, making reservations at all the hotels recommended by LP between here and SF. I’m most excited about the “Redwood Room” I’ve reserved in this hippy hotel in Haight Ashbury - a dream come true for me. But before that, I’ve booked an idyllic beachfront hotel in San Luis Obispo for Wednesday night, another in Monterey for Thursday and Cale’s favourite in Santa Cruz for Friday. I’m so excited I could shit myself! But, once again I’m looking beyond the moment and forgetting about the beauty in the present!
I’M IN FUCKING BEVERLEY HILLS!!!!!
Time to explore...
I’m sitting in a top-end restaurant which I entered in error and am now trapped! I’m the centre of attention at a shining white table cloth, refusing to be intimidated by the waiting staff. I’m being shot the shit-eye for writing at the table, but easy now Carlos- I’m the fucking customer here, and besides, you mispronounced “Merlot” when you gave me the wine list, so go fuck yourself! Uh-huh, yes, that’s right, my snidey little cuntling, quit staring at me. Everytime I look up and see your piggy little eyes squinting at me, I’m knocking a dollar off your tip.
It’s goodly fresh to be drinking red wine for a change. If these Beverley Hills diners, quaffing fine wines in their elegant suits and designer dresses, could have seen me three nights ago, caning that massive can of Bud in my stinking boxers, ramming beef jerky into my gob and watching porn on filthy sheets in the rattiest motel in the US, I don’t think they’d be so willing to shake my hand!
I’m definitely looking down the barrel of 100+ dollars for this meal. Any menu that doesn’t even mention the price of things is sure not going to be a 5$ all you can eat benefit buffet! The meal is the same price as my hotel room! Maybe I’ll cancel the room and just lay this steak out like a beefy blanket and sleep on that?
The craziest thing – and the reason I sat down here before realising quite how expensive it is – was that I was in a mild state of shock having opened the restaurant door and been bowled over by a fast exiting Jack Nicholson. Now I don’t expect you to believe me, but it is Beverley Hills and a top restaurant at that, so... But I hear you cry – either it was or it wasn’t. Truth is, I was so stunned that I’m really not sure. If someone held a gun to my head and said call it, I’d have to say no. It would be a 48% / 52% call though.
Two thirty-something media execs at the table to my left are discussing movie business. It’s one of the most insincere and bullshitty conversations I’ve ever listened in on. The guy at the table behind me is on his cellphone discussing a callback for an audition, presumably to his agent. The Sommelier looks like Ben Affleck...
Beverley Hills is a living cliché. A pastiche of itself. My first impression of Beverley Hills is green and white. Clean and tropical. Spacious and breezy. I was surprised on the drive through Hollywood how Spanish / Mexican the place seemed in terms of its architecture. It felt very much a southern Mediterranean city compared to the austere greyness of northern New York.
Bill comes. 108$ including a healthy tip. I have a chat with the waiter. He is a struggling writer (ooh aren’t we all darling!) who’s just returned from Paddington. He wants to live in London – “to help his writing”. Good luck, mate! I tell him I’m a writer too, and because I’m dressed well tonight and on the expensive side of the table, whilst he serves me, he takes me for a successful writer without my having to say anything. He seems mildly irritated that I’m obviously making the writing thing work. I’m not going to disillusion him and tell him that most of my best writing so far has been cheques and my Job Seekers Allowance forms.
On the walk back fireworks go off all around me as the 4th July celebrations reach a visual crescendo. I veer off down some side roads to work off the steak and check out some residential streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nick Nolte drink driving. All I see are shell-suited perma-tanned grannies walking little yappy dogs. I’ve never felt safer in my life! The mere whiff of fried chicken would bring a SWAT team absailing down here faster than a monkey on skiis, and these houses aren’t even the massive gated film star houses of the Osbornes etc, just regular millionaire’s mansions. It reminds me strongly of Moor Park where Lisa Lewis, my first girlfriend lived. Magical Summer evenings with the smell of barbeques and money sweetening the air. I guess Rich people are Rich people the world over.
I realise as I walk that I haven’t had a shit for two days. Unlike last week, where I’d eaten so much Chinese I thought my shit would come out doing Karate chops. Why I feel the need to mention this is because I find it amazing when I consider what I’ve stuffed my face with in the last 72 hours. A 24 ounce steak just now. 3 pieces of KFC in Barstow (served by the most obnoxious “whatever” type teenage girl). A further 16 ounce steak last night in Vegas, served amid neon blue palm trees after my lapdance by a stunning Polish waitress on rollerskates. All that flesh is now lost in transit somewhere between my belly and anus, yet still I have no urge to give flight to the brown goose. There must be a meat bottleneck somewhere in my lower intestine, a rush hour traffic jam of shit, horns beeping, voices raised. If I leave it much longer then my immune system may get confused between which flesh belongs to me and which to the cow, so that when I finally go, my body begins to expel my innards inside out until all that’s left of me are two eyeballs floating in a Beverley Hills toilet bowl! Think on.
Driving up the coast now. Through Vineyards and rolling green hills. Californ-i-a! Leaving LA proved a pain in the arse. For those of you reading this who know me – and let’s keep it real – who the fuck else will be, it’ll come as no surprise where I ended up this morning. Yep. South Central. More specifically the city of Compton. I accessed it quite by accident trying to find where to drop off the hire car. Like when I was 13 and had just started secondary school, trying to find the sports ground, I couldn’t accept that the direction I was going in was the wrong one so rather than stopping to ask directions, I kept on going until the streets resembled New Orleans’ Central City. The houses became more plasterboard and shanty, with crack heads pushing shopping trolleys across the road in front of me, without even looking what was coming. I pulled over to check my map not really thinking where I was, wearing 300$ sunglasses and driving a car with tourist Arizona plates. A mean looking brother limps across to my car clicking his fingers. I ask him where I am. He looks at me quizzically – “This Compton. What you need?”
I ask him if he knows where 2110 Avis is. He points back to where I’ve come from. I thank him, and swing the silver bullet round, narrowly missing a Catweasle bag lady. I drive off feeling supremely pleased with myself that I have a story to tell about Compton, even though it’s still only 11am so I imagine all the rude boys are still safely tucked up in bed dreaming of 50 Cent.
At Avis, Eric is taking care of business. Badly. He is a 19 year old who looks like he’s been up smoking the rocks all night. An angry Frenchman is busting his shrivelling balls trying to pick up a non-existent car. Backing up the rear are a grinning Chinese couple, fast losing their grins at being kept waiting so long. Eric doesn’t care. Eric is cool. Eric is no use to me. I leave after 15mins telling him I’m going to extend the hire on the silver bullet for a further three days and drop it in Frisco. This works out much more expensive, but fuck it. A man who can drop a grand in Vegas cares nothing for an additional 300$. I stupidly leave all the car’s documents and my rental agreement on the counter. I doubt Eric will process this, but conversely I don’t think he’ll call the police either when he can’t find the car!
I hit the coastal highway. Route 1. This road leads meanderingly to San Fran. I leave LA with mixed feelings. Amazed at how much of it I feel I know due to the movies I’ve seen, yet disappointed at how spread out and essentially boring it seems.
San Luis Obispo – State of California.
I’m now sitting on a pier in San Luis Obispo harbour. It reminds me of Amity in Jaws. There’s a real Captain Ahab vibe. Took a Moby Dick just now as well – I was overcome with a sudden woolly mammoth of a bum-rush and ran wailing like a scared ape to the nearest wooden beachfront latrine. Two of the smallest cubicles you ever did see, right next to each other. There’s clearance at the bottom of the connecting wall of about ½ a meter, almost allowing you to see into the next cubicle. Just as I sit down and about to open the bomb doors, a massive naked foot in a flip-flop flaps across through the clearance space and into my side of the cubicle. Fisherman’s big yellow toe-nail skidding around my side like a fungal hammerhead shark. He becomes aware of me in the silence and I painfully of him. There we both sit, in a Mexican stand-off, wondering who’ll fire first!
On this trip I’ve come to love that brief moment just after I’ve checked in and been given the room keys in a hotel that looks swell. It’s a great second, when the key goes in the lock and I turn the handle, wondering what the room will look like. I’ve not been disappointed yet! Los Padres Motel in San Luis Obispo is no exception. It’s the first place I’ve stayed in that hasn’t had a TV. GOOD! The room is very California – plush real Redwood doors and furniture. The pillows and sheets are so white and brilliant they could’ve been blessed by a priest. Los Padres motel is like a hacienda – all the rooms wrap around a courtyard with a gushing fountain at its centre and an old Mexican guy in a sombrero tending the shrubs.
The place appears to be run by an old Asian guy with the skin complaint that turns it as white as his sheets. On the reception desk are pictures of his guru and Hindu gods. For some reason I trust Hindus implicitly. I know this is as foolish as hypothesising that all blacks love fried chicken, but once I saw this guy and his gurus I knew he’d be straight down the line and his rooms would be fragrant for this old vagrant. So far so good. Only 68$ to boot! This being so, why are all the other hotels I’ve booked up the coast 150$ a night?
I’ve noticed myself becoming more American over these past three weeks, in terms of my impatience and expectation of good service. I’ll need to keep that in check once I’m back in England!
It’s a perfect sunny day and I have it on good authority that downtown has fresh cracked crab and incredible locally produced wine for me. I’ve not had any fruits of the sea this trip! Too much beef in my bank accounts. My colon cries for mercy with an anguished Moooo! I’m off to explore this town that I can’t pronounce.
It’s such an empowering feeling to drive like this, to make things happen like this, to call the shots on where to go and when to do it. Looking at the map in the Lonely Planet back in my London flat before the trip, all the places I’ve been to were just names on a page. In a philosophical moment I would even question whether they existed at all. But now I know. I look at the map in front of me now and say “Big Sur. Mmmm, that sounds good, I’ll go there tomorrow. And sure enough. Bam! I’m sampling Big Sur! Outstanding! I wish all my days could be lived like this – perhaps they will be from now on?!* (*update: No.)
This is the very heart of California’s wine producing dynasties. I walk the leafy streets of San Luis Obispo in the tanned yellow evening sun. Even though I’ve only travelled 100 miles or so from LA today, already the sidewalks have Oak trees and a European vibe. I love Californians! Them ‘Fornians that I’ve greeted so far have been so relaxed and effortlessly cheerful that the sun actually seems to get warmer when they smile. I don’t care what people back in England say about American fake sincerity. With only a handful of exceptions I’ve found all my interactions to be genuinely sincere. I envy ‘Fornians’ their peacefulness. New Yorker’s are certainly powerfully confident and able to kick in any door to metaphorically get to where they need to go ; but Californians would rather wait for the guy with the key to open the door and then effortlessly walk through!
I’m sitting on the veranda of my room looking out at the evening action below, feeling like a tired emperor. Beyond the white adobe houses are more green trees and, rising above them, silhouetted mountains. The sun is dusky and at eye level. Any minute now it’ll burst on the tip of the mountain like a balloon and the orangey juice will run through the valley, ushering in what we in Hollywood call “The Magic Hour”! In anticipation of this (and because I realised within five minutes of walking down the street that I can’t be fucked with the whole rigmarole of bars and restaurants tonight), I found a superb small winery that lets you taste and buy. If anyone reading this has seen the film “Sideways” you’ll know what I’m talking about (and those of you that haven’t, stop reading this and immediately rent it – if you don’t like it I’ll personally refund you the cost of the rental). It’s brilliant.
I walked in and a charming George Lucas-esque man greeted me. I found myself talking to him as if I actually knew a fuck of what I was talking about! I asked for a red – nothing too heavy like Zifandel can be, something light like Chianti or along the lines of a Rioja. It must also be as locally produced as possible.
“I want to be able to SEE the vineyard from my hotel window, dig George?”
(When I visit my Sister in Spain, I love the idea that I’m drinking gorgeous wine for pennies that would cost $$$ more in London). He recommended me a “Niner Wine Estates, 2003 Bangiouese, Bootjack Ranch, Paso Robles”. (I’m reading off the label now). She treats me right...
Paso Robles is three miles north east of here and represents the very centre of California wine producing country. If I didn’t have to drive to Monterey tomorrow, or if I had a co-pilot like in “Sideways” then I’d wind my way through all the free tastings. This time next week I’ll be boarding the flight back home and all this will just be photos in a camera and sterile words on a page, but in this moment I AM HERE! I can taste the Tannins in the wine on the back of my tonsils, hear the fan whiz above my head, smell the bourganvilla on the dusky breeze and feel the golden orb of the dying sun’s parting kiss. Insert photo here!
I opened up the large Amish replica wooden wardrobe that faces my bed, out of curiosity and revealed a TV after all. A big sleek screen dream. On top of the box is a flier for Dominos Pizza offering delivery to my hotel room. TO MY VERY ROOM! Old habits die hard and the urge to stay in, order a pizza and get wasted on grease and grapes grabs me. Rude not to. Like a good capitalist I pick up the phone and dial 9 for an outside line. The guy at Dominos sounds like Clint Eastwood. I order some sort of festival of meat, feeling a very real twinge in my colon at the sound of “meat”. It’s letting me know that it’s doing all it can to clear the current backlog. Well sorry mate but nice to Meat you. This sunset is going to be atmospheric and my room is perfectly positioned to catch every last drop. I’m signing off to enjoy the moment uninterrupted. Sorry.
[Las Vegas just goes to show how truly empty, depressing and pointless decadence is in the end. Alright, granted, in this moment I’m still spending money on the hotel, the wine, the car that brought me here. But it’s all pretty humble. None of them are particularly expensive (About 160$ all together), yet this moment is giving me an immeasurable sense of peace and pleasure. All Vegas gave me for its two days at 700$ a night, was dehydration, a headache and mild depression! There’s a true lesson for me to learn in there somewhere if I’m able to see it and use it!]
I’m really excited about this week that’s coming up, more than any other part of the trip. Seeing the Henry Miller Museum in Big Sur tomorrow has been a dream of mine since I first got in to serious literature. Then getting to stay in an original Beat hotel in San Fran where Kesey and the Merry Pranksters hung out. On top of all this, the drive along the coast road is supposed to be one of the most breathtaking drives in the world.
Hold up! Time for pizza. I’ve just spied the Domino Hummer pull into the courtyard. Tim Westwood style! In London you get delivery via a whiney 50cc moped driven by a whiney Arabic guy. Here I have a 4x4 Hummer! Oh, I can see why now. It takes two people to carry the enormous disk of meat up here. A foreman has been drafted in to oversee the winching of the pizza up to my second floor. Upon delivery, I order a crane and operator to remove me from the room tomorrow morning. Unless I’m gripped by the booze later, I imagine this is probably goodnight, dear reader.
Hasselhoff, Piers Morgan, Barbie woman. Three judges on a terrible American sub-X Factor program I’m watching. What the fuck is Piers Morgan doing judging this shit? He is an ABSOLUTE CUNT. I’m listening to him talking up how close he used to be to Princess Diana. Urghh, shudder. He was the editor of Daily Mirror when she died and it could be argued was indirectly responsible (or at least a contributing factor) for her death. I hope this road trip travelogue gets published. Sue me you CUNT!
The old adage is that people drink to forget. It occurs to me in this moment, that I drink to remember. To remember who I am, what is important to me (drinking!) and the feelings and moments from past times that have made me who I am. Happy, powerful, peaceful, poignant. The older I get the more I enjoy sitting by myself with a bottle of wine, a typewriter, music, take-out, and writing about the past, present and future.
Who says the past is gone and set in stone?
I think the past can be just as fluid as the future.
The only thing immovable is the present.
You can never change the fact that you’re in the moment – even if I remove myself from the situation I’m in, it will only be to find myself in another situation. I can never escape reality and being. If you’re lucky enough, why would you want to anyway?
This recent love of being alone and remembering / writing that I’ve developed, gives me an insight into how old folk must be. When I was 18 it was certainly incomprehensible to me how my grandparents could be so content sitting and just being for days at a time – in some cases without any human interaction – and not go end of the road insane. The more memories you have, the more easy it becomes to just BE and not feel the need to experience with the fierce energy of a teenager, I guess. Reading this back now, I guess what I’m saying is pretty obvious. But for some reason I feel it keenly now as a revelation.
[With the safety and abstraction of the moment I start to muse. In terms of my London life, because I’m here now, I feel like I’ve stepped off the Waltzer and am watching the past London me spin round and round objectively.
So... What has been behind my anxiety attacks in the last year? Touch wood I haven’t had one in a while and not on this trip – with the exception of a close call in Oklahoma when I first rented the car, but that could be easily explained away and was probably quite a natural reaction to an intense situation!
No, obviously my brain is trying to tell me something about the way I’m living my life. I would really, really love to know whether these anxiety attacks are a direct result of all the E’s, Acid, Dope, Coke I’ve done in the last 14 years, or whether I would have had the same problem irrespectively? I also find it interesting that the palm reader in Lachmanjula, India, said to me that I would have some “mental health issues” around 28 to 30. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy?
For those of you who are lucky enough to never have experienced a panic attack it goes something like this: Imagine being trapped in a small room on a submarine that’s sinking and filling up with water, even though the cold sea-water is still only up to your chest, the air is running out in this small trapped chamber. Because you are deep under the sea, even if you were to get out of this room, there’s still nowhere to escape to. Imagine that sense of panic, like a killer centipede crawling up the inside of your thigh and you are paralysed. A sudden sense of “unreality” hits you, animalistic, that you are totally not in control of your present/situation/mind. Every sense becomes intolerably sharp like the come-up on acid, like the “whitey” fear on dope – only I know I’m not on drugs when it happens, which makes it a much more frightening prospect as there’s no reason for it. It feels like the brakes failing in a lift and a dark rush to the first floor, stomach in mouth. What makes the sensation worse is that it is totally uncalled for in the eyes of everyone watching you. A panic attack comes out of the blue, like your subconscious has caught something out of the corner of it’s eye that you are totally unaware of and is climbing the wall with the primeval “Fight or Flight” response. A surge of massive adrenalin is being shot into your heart in anticipation for you to either escape or punch the problem to the death – but it’s an inappropriate response. Why is this ancient evolutionary response necessary just because your mate has knocked at the door asking if you want a drink!? By definition, it is unnecessary and uncalled for, which makes it all the more frightening. Therefore it’s not a disease but simply a bad way of thinking which leads to an unhealthy mindset.
[Wow! I’m pretty fucked, sitting here reading the book of Revelations from the Gideon’s bible I found in the hotel drawer. It’s the most avant-garde thing I’ve read. In the same vein as Burroughs. Needle vein.
WHY DOESN’T SOMEONE MAKE IT INTO A SHORT FILM?
With CGI as advanced as it is Revelations would be awesome to watch and would help visualise just how ridiculous it is for Bush and the Creationists to try to say the Bible is verbatim truth, word for word.
I CAN’T BELEVE NO-ONE’S DONE THIS YET!
Something I find interesting is that Jesus never calls himself the “Son of God” in any of the gospels, preferring to use the nom de plume “Son of Man”, and you best believe Jesus knew the Old Testament scriptures intimately. Yet flicking through the Bible now, (believing nothing is found by chance), I come across Psalms 146, verse 3 which says – “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a Son of Man in whom there is no help...” Perhaps Jesus had a sense of humour. Sense of tumour! ]
Big Sur. State of California.
GOOD MORNING AMERICA! I’m balancing on the edge of an impossibly white pier that juts out in the crisp morning air into an impossibly turquoise sea. The Pacific Ocean is calm this morning, despite a cooling breeze which belies the heat of the sun pumping down from it’s boiler room in the crystal clear azure blue sky. If it weren’t for the trees and sand in the periphery of my vision I wouldn’t be able to judge where the sea ended and the sky begins. Paradise. I feel like Will Graham in “Manhunter” saving turtles on the beach.
“They’re all gonna make it!”
We’re all gonna make it!
I woke up this morning in sheets of white cotton to sunlight slating through the blinds and heard the gentle gurgling of the fountain in the courtyard below. (The gentle gurgling of the baby I’d trapped in the refrigerator!)
Now the family of Mexican tourists have wandered off I’m alone on the end of the pier. It’s so fucking beautiful and tranquil here, I wish I could hold this moment forever. I wish I was stoned right now so that I could really bring to the boil the exceptional concert of flavours spices and scents in this moment and let them explode in Technicolor across my 6 senses.
In front of me there is no landfall till Tokyo, behind me are the rolling vineyards of Hearst Castle (built by an eccentric billionaire – ooh amazing... can’t be bothered). As I walk back down this skinny long wooden pier (about a ¼ mile long but only 9ft wide), small birds flutter around me. Magical..! Three people walk past me looking like Biffa Bacon and his Ma / Pa. I hear the unmistakable scrapping tones of a Scouse accent! That’s killed the moment!
Further down, a lone Californian surfer chick is fishing languidly over the edge of the pier. She’s just caught what looks like a small tuna and it flaps against her bare feet. She’s getting some hassle from a fat teenager from Chicago-way, who pokes the squirming fish with a podgy digit, whilst no doubt dreaming of poking the surfer chick with his equally flaccid podgy...
The quality of life here beats that of any place I’ve ever been. How showstoppingly awesome it would be to meet my soulmate in a bar or on a sunset beach in Monterey tonight and to stay here. Stay with her, writing and doing whatever to pay the bills! Man gotta have a dream and this is mine. I’m going to “actualise it” and ask the Cosmos for it (like Noel Edmonds did to get his villa in the south of France!)
I wonder if there are any works of Shakespeare we don’t know about because he left them in an alehouse or at an inn when he was pissed?]
I FEEL LIKE I’M ON AN E. NATURALLY.
A prehistoric promontory cuts out from the cliff edge where I’m hurtling round the most curvaceous roads in the west. The promontory is long, wide and holds my attention even from miles away. I see a wicket fence. Pull over. Climb over. I’m now walking through green corn – I know it’s not really corn but can’t think how else to describe it. The promontory is like a fat V going out from the land to the raging sea below. Again, there’s no one around for miles. As I walk further out I sense movement in the undergrowth to the left and right of me. Strange movements causing the corn to shake faster than the breeze would warrant. I can hear noises other than the squawk of Eagles and Gulls and the water crashing relentlessly on ancient craggy rocks below.
A good twenty minutes later and I’m nearly at the edge, far far out to sea. I’m writing this in real time as I walk, feeling myself tiny and insignificant like a drop of water that, once mingled with the endless ocean below me, will become indistinguishable. There’s a large rock sticking out of the undergrowth ahead, right at the cliff’s edge and I’m getting a really strong Merlin vibe from it. Ancient, Powerful – neither good nor evil – too old even for that. It’s too old for human values to be applied to it. It just IS. A brutal fact. I must touch it! Even though I’m inexplicably wary of it, I’m drawn to it. It’s still a fair way off.
Here goes... the undergrowth rises up around me. I’m treading in maggoty piles of shit – but I’ve no idea what animal laid it (hopefully animal and not ancient hippy!) Almost within touching distance of the mythical rock the bracken just gets too high and dense for me to comfortably get through. I take a photo as consolation and retreat.
I drive past the Eslen Institute, a “by invitation only” New Age Centre. A bare-chested hippy dude in an orange hat and face paint urges all the passing traffic to slow down and chill out by rather condescendingly moving his hands up and down, palms outstretched. As I drive past, I see a troop of sarong-clad girls with headscarves and crystals walking up the road.
I don’t know why all this New Age stuff makes me so aggressive... BUT IT DOES! I had a real urge to slow down like he suggested and drive over his open-toed vegan sandals! I think it annoys me because I reckon it to be false and deep down in their own damaged way I think THEY do too. That style of New Age woman who always gets migraines, eats only vegetables frequently feels “fragile and vulnerable”, suffers from bouts of self indulgent depression but takes St. Johns Wort and a cheque every month from daddy for it and believes in “Colour Therapy” as a way of curing cancer. Dangle a crystal over my head to expunge these negative thoughts, whilst I shove a joystick up your twat. I want to primal scream “CUNT” in her face! Even worse than her is the bearded freak-brother who wants me to slow down so he can “commune in pleasantude”. I have a strong urge to poke him repeatedly in the chest with my finger until he finally admits he’s full of shit and lands one on me... And breathe! Wow! I feel better already! The negative energy flows out of me and off across to the Eslen finance department where all these fools are being ripped off!
WRITTEN AT THE HENRY MILLER LIBRARY, BIG SUR, CA, WITH A CUP OF TEA: It’s strange how the things I expect to be great seldom are ; whilst the things I discount and pay no heed to reveal themselves to be hiding a diamond at their centre. The plaque outside the ramshackle gates that lead up to the small wooden shack reads:
“Henry Miller didn’t believe in memorials, he said the best way to honour someone is to make the most of YOUR life and live it to the full.”
I WANT THAT TO BE ON MY GRAVESTONE. I FUCKING LOVE THAT QUOTE!
The museum itself was a bit of a letdown. It was being run by three girls in their early twenties who were clearly just there as a holiday job for the money and had no real interest or knowledge of Miller. It made me feel a bit foolish to eulogise about the great man.
I drive on to discover a secret beach and a rocky descent to find a secluded smugglers’ lagoon. I take the rocks with all the skill of Spiderman’s mum. I’m sure that toddlers have come down stairs with more grace than I’m managing this rock face! Strong wind, big waves breaking hard rocks. At last – I touch the Pacific Ocean and close the circle. My i-pod is on random shuffle again and Donna Summer “ I Feel Love” plays. As I stare out, writing to another top 10 view, I agree.
City of Monterey. State of California.
CRAZY! I know I keep saying it but everyday things just get bigger and better. I’ve just checked into the Bide-a-Wee Hotel, Monterey. I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS SPACE THEY’VE GIVEN ME! It’s not a room, it’s my own beach front house! I’m not joking. The woman at the desk said it was the best chalet they had. It may be 112$ a night, but it’s got it’s own garden with table and chairs overlooking the sea. A lounge with black leather sofas and a real fireplace already made up with fragrant pine logs. Through the double doors is a marble bathroom and through the other set of doors is a bed straight out of Henry VIII’s brain! I’d take a photo, but I’m all out shots until I can pick up a new memory card.
On the dark side of the force, I made the mistake of checking my emails just now and my lazy arse lawyer has hit me with the news that it could take another three weeks for the fucking flat sale to go through. Cunts. Hackney Council holding things up again. How dare these pathetic Ratzoid Cuntfucks infect my head on a day like today. I refuse to let it. I’ve just cracked another bottle of “Sideways” wine from the boot of my car. I bought it in Big Sur this afternoon and am toasting Henry Miller.
A big shiny black dog barges past my back door and tries to get into the lounge. It’s name’s Jack and a grey haired lady in a billowing white dress follows with it, apologising and trying to unsuccessfully grab the lolloping hound. I make a feeble joke about the dog being Monterey Jack, but this woman obviously ain’t up on the latest cheese craze.
I’m waiting for my i-pod to charge some, so I can have me a sunset down the beach. See you on the beach in 10!
Waiting for the sun to set. A strong chilly wind finds its way off the sea and zig-zags through the rat runs of slimy rocks around me to hit my sunburnt arms and face. I’ve carried some of the excellent wine down here in a plastic beaker (class act!) and a cigarillo bought from the local petrol station hangs from my mouth. Despite the beauty in the moment, I’m not really feeling this. I’m angry about this fucking flat sale. I just need to know that it’ll all turn out alright in the end – whether that’s next week or next month I don’t care. It’s the dangling on someone else’s string that’s getting me all riled up. The uncertainty – it’s like waiting for the results of a fucking AIDS test! I’m going to take a photo of this sunset and get some Lobster - to match the left side of my face that’s been hanging out of the car window all day.
Clint Eastwood ain’t half a clever bastard! Not only did he forge a mega movie career from minimal acting talent, but he also got to be mayor of Carmel, which I drove through late afternoon today. Carmel is a very secluded, cultured and peaceful place. It felt pretty intelligent as I passed through – the little village shop had a red BT phone box outside and I saw posters on the local church which read “ Bring our Troops Home.” and “Talk. Think. Exit Iraq.” – All stuff that would be at odds with the flag waving people of Prescott, for example. The town had a similar vibe to Box in Wiltshire, where Real World Studios is based. I don’t know if it’s the hangover, the flat sale or my diet, but I’m starting to feel the road. I’m missing the joie de vivre that I had at the start of the quest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling ever minute and would rather be here than any other place on earth right now, but somehow I feel too safe in California. I feel that I know the place too well. I can’t really explain it any better than that, except to say that I don’t feel an edge here. I wouldn’t be writing a journal about my travels round Harrow for example, because it would be predictable. The scenery here may be fucking spectacular but the people are known to me. Understood and work-a-day.
I find myself to be starving, so walked about half a mile to find a place to eat. No such fun, but it was a pretty ambient walk. No street lights or pavement, just country roads and large houses behind salty sea-breeze fir trees. It was pitch black by the time I got back to the chalet. Stupidly starving and pissed I take the car keys and drive back out of the motel, narrowly missing a white postbox as I reverse. Hooning around the darkened roads I stumble across the “Fish Wife” seafood restaurant and have a great mariscos pasta with an overpriced bottle of killa wine. Yes, I know, I know. By the time I came to leave I was pretty much out of my fish-filled face. A thick pea-souper fog had rolled in off the midnight sea. I drive, my headlamps illuminating only fog, not knowing where I’m going and pissed. I’m so used to driving in England where pretty much anywhere, streetlights offer some guidance. Two shaggy white spotlights appear in my rearview mirror like distant moons in the foggy night. Please god not the police, not the police. I swerve a vicious right, over steering. So brutal is the turn that if it were to be America’s finest behind me then I’m surely fucked. Two minutes pass and the road remains black in my mirror. With another clip of the white post-box I find the picket fence of the motel and slide in to my space like a thief in the night. Nicely done.
I’m reading up on San Fran. I’m howling to get there and aching to check the City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Café where Ginsburg, Ferlingetti and the beats used to hold court over a whiskey and reefer. I love it that Kerouac finished his On the Road journey across America in Frisco. Not that this twee little travelogue has anything in common with On the Road, but man gotta start somewhere. There’s a story that Kerouac drank away his chance to meet Henry Miller by staying in Vesuvio. (Reminds me of when I was in Macleod Gange and smoked away my chance of meeting the Dalai Lama! Choosing an old bit of Red Seal instead of enlightenment! Still, I’m sure the old Lama-rama would’ve approved.)
I need some sex...
Ha! Just read that back. “Some sex!” – “Excuse me Madam, I shall be requiring some sex off you this evening.”
I haven’t got a room booked for Saturday night because the Red Victorian in Haight could only fit me in from Sunday onwards, so I might yet get to do my Vegas plan in Frisco of clubbing through the night until I can check in round 12ish, negating the need for a room at all. Frisco hotels seem pretty pricey compared to what I’m used to. I’m reading the Time Out guide to San Francisco which I bought way back in 1998 whilst at Artstart, dreaming that I’d be there asap. 8 years later and I’m doing it. It bigs up the Red Victorian saying all the rooms are themed and exquisite. It’s the only hotel in the Haight. I finally feel after 6 years in the office/classroom wilderness that I’m back on track, doing what I was meant to be doing all along. Hallelujah!
I wake up thinking there’s something really dutch about this chalet. Maybe it’s the high wooden beams on the ceiling. I sit stiring my morning coffee and stare at the microwave oven through sleep stained eyes. It looks as if there’s a setting for “revenge”?! Six buttons on the face – Popcorn, Potato, Autocook, Autoheat, Pizza, Revenge. I’m still lost in the dream I was having, caught half way across the bridge between fantasy and reality. The troll that guards this bridge to the subconscious has me by the leg and wont let go! I look more closely at the microwave and rub my eyes. Revenge becomes Beverage. An easy mistake to make I guess. Both are best served cold on a hot day like this.
Not to bore you with the inside of my dilapidated cranium, but I had a dream last night so surreal and intense that I think it’s worth recounting. I can only retrieve shards of it as it is fading fast. I was with undefined friends in America and we were all in this redwood forest trying to find breakfast. We were looking for newly laid eggs, but it was a well known fact that these damn chickens hadn’t been laying recently and eggs were hard to come by. Searching the forest floor I move some dried bracken and find one. But as I pick it up I get the idea to put it in my mouth in an attempt to incubate it. Gently using my tongue and lips I hold the egg in place safely away from my dangerously hard teeth. Holding the little blue egg there, I can feel the fragility of the shell in my mouth and sense my measured warm breath heating the insides. I hear a quiet cracking sound and remove the egg to see a small yellow chicklet covered in mucus trying to peck it’s way out of the shell. I aid its escape, carefully pulling away bits of the light blue shell. Then it’s born! I clean off the remainder of the plasticey sack from it’s head and hold it up to my eyes to make contact so it knows I’m it’s mother/father. That’s it. Now what the fuck is that about?!
The fog that kicked in last night has enveloped the land this morning like clogging green algae suffocating the air. Everything is obscured beyond fifteen feet. It’s really atmospheric. I’m at the beach, and breathing in my life and meditating. Somewhere out in the fog offshore a lone bell tolls. I let my imagination guess what it is – a seaweed encrusted buoy. A lost fisherman’s boat about to crash on the rocks? A drowning leper?
Surrounded by pine trees behind me in the fog, it’s easy to see where George Lucas got his inspiration for the forest moon of Endor in Jedi. I’m off for breakfast and to find an Ewok to sodomise!
The fog clears quickly as I move away from the shoreline. Two blocks back and I’m suddenly driving in blue sky. Breakfasted in the Mexican influenced Monté Carlo café in Monterey downtown. I swear to god that the person sitting in the corner is Larry David. The café is empty save for me, Larry and two fisherman chowing down on chowder. I keep trying to steal furtive glances at Larry to really decide, but it’s like looking into a mirror – no matter how sneakily I creep up on him, his eyes match mine. I’ll have to stop. That’s five times now. The jury’s still out. Six times... it’s not.
City of Santa Cruz, State of California.
As I swing the car off Highway 1 to take the Santa Cruz exit, my i-pod shuffle kicks in with JJ Cale’s Santa Cruz! On my word! No bullshit or word of lie. I’ve got 1500 tunes on the i-pod and of all the random choices! Good omen.
Nope. I spoke too soon. I understand what Cale means when he wails “ohh-eeh, how’d I lose? Talking bout that night in Santa Cruz”.
I thought I’d check out the giant Redwood forest 23 miles north, but took the wrong road and ended up nearly twenty miles off course. Had to retrace my drive and then spent a further two hours driving round in fucking circles trying to find the hotel which was on West Cliff Drive. I eventually tracked down East Cliff Drive, but no joy with West. My left arm, sleeveless and exposed has been scorching up in the sun as I’ve been driving. Whichever way I hold it it’s always in the sun because I’ve been travelling north. I meant to put a long sleeve shirt on today but forgot, and by the time my arm started blistering up I was back on the road again. So I’m driving in circles with a rupturing bladder, nowhere to piss and an arm that’s smoking like a fucking Vampire in sunlight. I can feel a real “fuck you” mood coming on. The tension builds as holding on to the stinging piss gets so bad I start to cry tears of pure urine. It makes me think of the time when I was a kid and the pain of a loose tooth. There’s a perverse pleasure in twisting the offending tooth, punishing it for causing a dull delicious pain. Masochistic tendencies!
I have no choice but to pull into the harbour and relieve myself against the harbour wall, fighting off swooping seagulls and fishermen. With a renewed energy I find the Seaway Inn once it dawns on me that I’ve been looking for the road that last night’s hotel was on! I pull into the car park and head to the moody college girl behind the reception desk. It had to happen sooner or later: The LP had to steer me a wrong’un. It’s shit. No way could they call this place the Sea View Inn. Sea Way is just about accurate, it being on the WAY to the sea, way away across a skate park, freeway and building site! To add insult to injury, the room is 195$ - the most expensive yet and definitely the shittest. (There’s a sort of inverse logic there). It is a squat portaloo of a room, just off the main arterial road of Santa Cruz. Ground floor chalet style and very basic. I feel like I’m a labourer on his tea-break and in a minute I’ll have to go back to work. The room is noisy, unimaginative and reminiscent of a school-room. It is the Birmingham of hotel rooms. A welcome flier sits on the bed –
“Welcome to the Seaway Inn. Our classic seaside hotel is at the hub of a vacationer’s paradise.”
It’s at the hub of the interchange of Highways 9 and 1. The only smell on the breeze is petrol, you cunts! It’s now 16:47 and I’m straight out to get pissed, I want to have an early one so that I can crash and get up for 6am to catch an atmospheric dawn in a Redwood Forest. Spiritual and Pagan.
An African-American beggar woman on the street, walking to the bar:
“How ya doin', sweetie’?”
I smile. “Good thanks. How you doing?”
“You got that full smile goin’ on and that good for me!”
Santa Cruz is the Brighton of California. Students mix effortlessly with the rich and with the older counter-culture. Went to first bar. Succulent barmaid giving me the eye whilst I chatted to a couple of 21 year olds from Leeds Uni travelling through the states on a climbing trip. They each had 1000$ for the whole four weeks, which certainly puts into perspective how I’ve been living on my trip, dropping grands in Vegas and renting silver bullet cars! I blew their whole budget in two days.
The friendlier of the two guys asks me how old I am.
“Wicked! So you’ve had the midlife crisis and decided to come out to the states to re-evaluate?”
But I reckon he’s probably got a point. Pretty perceptive lad for 21.
I love the atmosphere and clientele in the second bar I go into. It’s a real “Moe’s Tavern” Simpson’s vibe. Downtown. Four local yokels sit at the bar bemoaning their fate. Very friendly. They tell me that the east side of town is no-go. It has a massive gang problem. Mexican banditos rather than black idiots. They tell me to be very careful if I venture that side. I tell them I’m a man who’s been hanging round Compton, so a few excitable Mexicans aren’t going to make me shit my pants!
As I’m a man who’s only in town for one night, I ask them where the action is. Apparently there’s a free party on the beach with live music from Rose Royce and the remaining members of Family Stone. Supporting is a band called “The English Beats”.
I stop off at the portacabin room for a piss and am now heading off down the seafront for a boogie.
The bands are great. All for free. There’s a no alcohol rule on the streets and beach which I obviously flout being English. I hear a classic quote from a family man walking with his wife as he passes me looking at my beer can
“Hey, where does this guy think he is...Las Vegas?”
I am surrounded by tanned tight blonde sexy Californian girls. Truly drop-dead gorgeous. So natural and stunning. Totally unforced. If just one of these girls were to walk into a Harrow bar, they’d be mobbed by an army of Burberry Terries all night long.
Everything here is so clean and well ordered. For example some of the temporary toilets have become backed up and although the door remains open and sign says “Please don’t use”, everyone graciously queues at alternativeness patiently and with good humour. At a festival like this in England the sign would be ripped down and the cubicle pounced on to shoot-up in and fill with turds.
Sly and the Family Stone (minus Sly) sound funky fantastic against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. The coolest guy on stage being the hippy Sesame Street dude in his fifties with long grey hair, clad in black leather standing at the edge of the stage and “Signing” all the lyrics and chat from the band for the deaf in the crowd. So advanced. So Californian.
All the crowd around me are so free and unselfconscious. They seem genuinely happy and into the moment. Not like in England where everyone seems to never truly let go without chemicals, and even then it’s still looking round with attitude to make sure coolness is being observed. At a gig like this in Brighton people would be being all post-modern and aware of themselves. So “knowing” yet knowing nothing.
I finish the night in a Mexican tapas bar. I ask for a Burro – the fantastic dish I had in New Mexico, but the guy on the counter has to call over his old grandmother working away at the grill. She gives me respect for ordering it. It comes and I bite into it pissed and joyous. Unfortunately it tastes like shit.
The alarm screams at 06:15 like I’m off to work. Memory percolates down like fresh roast coffee – I don’t work anymore!” I’m down and out in California and New York. An East coast / West coast journeyman, paying his dues as he goes, living on his luck, his good looks (and two massively dented credit cards!)
I’m determined to have my morning Raga in the Giant Redwood forests and set of hungover and cold at 7am, leaving behind the shitty chalet, keys on the table, doors pulled to. The morning dew is still wet on my windscreen as I pull out the driveway.
I’m now having grits and eggs in Scottsville, at a small diner called “Chubbies” which I seemed to be drawn to (can’t imagine why!”) The breakfast is aptly named “Soldier Boy” and is being served to me with coffee by an unconventionally beautiful native American waitress in her late teens. She has the tight rounded figure of someone who’s naturally large but still young enough and working out hard enough to keep it sleeker than nature would have her.
On the drive up here I came across a fantastic radio station (101.1fm in case anyone reading this finds themselves near Santa Cruz). It came from the university campus and played some of the most eclectic and advanced tunes with NO commercials. Made the morning mountain drive!
Ouch! Deep in the hidden depths of the “Big Basin” Redwood state park, the giant trees close ranks to protect a dirty secret... My grey boxers. About 20 minutes ago I’m driving through a small winding road lined with houses when the urge to shit hits me like the Boxing Day Tsunami. Unprepared, violent. Alarum! I only mention it because it’s never happened to me in adult life and I wonder how anyone reading this would have dealt with it. The urge is so thunderously sudden that a bead of sweat breaks out on my forehead and starts to roll down my eyebrow. I know for certain that by the time it reaches the curl of my lip and I taste its salt, it will be too late. The bead of sweat travels down like the fuse on a cartoon bomb and I swing the car round corner after corner of residential streets. What to do? It is just too fucking extreme to shit myself where I sit in the hire car seat. Images of the Avis guy shaking his head as I return the suspiciously stained car. Unacceptable! But to pull over now and take a dump on someone’s lawn, with people walking their dogs, all-American mothers baking pies as they look out of their beautiful lace kitchen windows to see...
I see a hedge across the road from the houses that seems to offer some small hope. I swerve the car into the curb as if I’m under fire and hurl myself out and over the hedge in one fluid motion, “Dukes of Hazzard style” praying that whatever is over the hedge is soft and obscured. My arse wails like a banshee. An exorcism of excrement. A car comes into view. I don’t know who is more genuinely freaked. Pants akimbo I leapfrog off the brown lily pad and back into the driver’s seat. 0-60 in 10 seconds. The road opens up as my sphincter closes and I race off to safety.
The strangest thing though, is that once I enter the privacy of the Redwood forest half an hour later, I retreat into the dense undergrowth and dump my boxers in a particularly deserted area. I look at where they have landed to make sure it’s not too visible to any hikers who might venture this far in – what do I see but another pair of pants! Nothing else around for miles! You couldn’t make it up!
Freshened and fighting the mild sense of guilt and shame, I’m now driving through this massive state park with a growing sense of wonder. Redwood Trees spike the sky like enormous natural skyscrapers either side of this small road which snakes narrow and winding through the very heart of the forest. Empty and Majestic on this Saturday morning. 09:05am.
Absolute silence accept for the trees breathing with me. I have really seen what this amazing Earth has to offer on this trip. Mama Nature’s different styles. From Canyons to Deserts to Oceans to Forests. I’M LOVING THIS FOREST!
I’m loving it’s size. It’s dark mellow peace grounding me in my very soul with a sense of calm and gravitas. I’m slap bang in the heart of this enormous state park. It’s like Middle Earth or a time before Man and his anti-magic logic. A forest moon. I can’t sit here for too long though because the midges locate me after each brief sojourn.
My i-pod has shuffled itself to Aphex Twin Ambient Works and I’m driving slowly through the trees. My god is this atmospheric! With the enveloping, dream-like warmth of the day under the green canopy, I feel naturally sedated and high. There is deep magic here. Ancient peace. Solid oak minds interconnected. These Coastal Redwoods are the oldest living organisms on earth. At the campsite I stop at they’ve got the cross section of one tree that’s 1,984 years old. It could’ve been pissed on as a sapling by Christ (if he’d been caught short).
I’m in trouble. I’m used to English size and distance. I presumed there’d be a petrol station before long, but it’s become clear that I really am on Endor the forest moon. I’m running out of gas! I always think things are smaller than they are: like the time I walked off into the jungle in Rishekesh, India, thinking I’d just keep going till I came to another road, not realising that the direction I was heading in was unbroken jungle for 300 miles of tigers and crazy ape agitation!
I hope to god there’s a petrol station in front of me on this road – because I sure as hellfire haven’t got enough juice to go back the way I’ve just come. Consulting my basic map I can see this is a vast state park.
Fuck it. Twenty minutes later. Nothing but deeper forest. This is actually getting serious. There’s no signal on my mobile either and no-one’s driven past in the last half hour. It’s Karma for the boxer shorts, I just know it..!
Thank god for Boulder Creek and it’s little petrol station. I am so relieved I take a photo. The woman on the counter makes a few jokes in my direction and tells me “to take ‘em back to the UK to show them Brits that Americans got a sense of humour”. Before I think it through my mouth opens and says “ Don’t worry, we know you must have to vote George W in.”
If California had tumbleweed it would now be rolling, rolling, rolling over my cheap trainers. As I push open the glass exit door, too late I see the Republican sticker.
Renewed, I drive on to San Francisco. I re-enter the Redwood forest and am surprised to see a collection of old wooden post-boxes at the side of the road. This is obviously a central point of collection for all the people who live disparately all over this enormous park. I reckon these people living down the hobbit style tracks must be the most peaceful people on the planet. To live here with my woman for 6 months a year, writing and screwing would be paradise. How can I make this happen?!
The long drive to Frisco passes without event, except for a cavalcade of 1920’s Rolls Royce passing me on the high mountain road, which was very surreal. As I come down off the valley and into the Bay Area I catch a glimpse of Silicon Valley and the lake from the Bond film View to a Kill that Max Zorin planned to use to flood his mine. I feel a twinge of megalomania as I pass.
City of San Francisco, State of California.
End of the road. San Francisco. Summer of Love. Summer of Damocles.
I’m sitting in a “sports bar” as one of the first places I could find that serves alcohol. I’ve got lots I want to say but Prince is screaming about Purple Rain and he’s never sounded worse. It’s loud, it’s tinny, it’s infecting every corner of my knackered brain and rattling around like a penny round a toilet bowl. Prince and his purple sweaty bollocks is leaping uninvited through the dusty palace of my mind like a prancing gaylord! He’s banging on my doors like a rowdy drunk that’s lost his keys.. Give it up mate, you ain’t coming in!
An Italian American jock schleps past me with a bottle of suds, Racing paper under his arm. I’ve got issues with men wearing flip-flops. I find girl’s feet can be very sexy and I always look at them when they walk past to see what style of feet they’ve got – long and slender, short and stubby, polish or no polish, webbed toes? BUT. I can help but subconsciously apply the same morbid curiosity to men’s feet and it gives me a mild sense of revulsion. Stupid big pale and hairy plates of meat. Fuck off! Cover ‘em up! Go walk some place else!
CHRIST ALMIGHTY! THIS MUSIC IS INTOLERABLE!
I can tell already that San Fran is the coolest place on earth and I must have chosen the only shite bar! For the record it’s called “Union” and it’s off Union Square, n case anyone reading this finds themselves in SF, it’s one to be avoided. I’m starting to feel like I’m in Guantanemo Bay being subjected to sound torture. Fuck it. I’m off. It’s against my religion to leave a pint undrunk but on this occasion I must. Forgive me beer lord...
Ah. Chelsea’s Place, Sutter Street. Much, much better. Dark smooth blues and smooth booze adds up to smooth news for me! I choose to fuse my blues with booze to write the news from my shoes that have wondered across this continent. Beat always. Beaten never!
When I checked the car back to m-Avis, the invoice slip the Chinese valet gave me showed that I’d done a total of 2,487 miles in 13 days. No wonder I feel shattered. I can hardly keep my eyes open. I feel queasy in the pit of my guts, but it’s a Saturday night in Frisco and I can’t just quit at 7pm.
I’m excited about seeing all the city has to offer tomorrow and know that if I “take it to the bridge” tonight then “Ladies & Gentleman, we have a Rollover!” and tomorrow I’ll feel like shit too. Moan, Moan, Bloody Groan! I feel like Morgan Spurlock with the amount of crap I’ve eaten over the last three weeks. To be fair, it’s not totally my fault. I defy ANYONE to eat healthily outside of NY or California. Small Town America is one big gluttonous fast food counter. It’s just grease all the way in different shapes and forms. Burgers, Tacos, Hot Dogs, Fried Chicken, Turd-on-a-stick, etc.
Oh crap. Everyone’s left and the music’s stopped. It’s just me and the barmaid. I guess I’d better say something... the silence is deafening and she’s starting to take an interest in what I’m writing...
...Tough conversation, wish I hadn’t bothered! She’s Chinese, (Isn’t everyone?), late 30’s, in possession of bad teeth and worse English, yet has the body of Denise Richards, sadly complimented by the face of Wendy Richards.
“So... I’ve come from London, driven from Oklahoma City to here...”
“...Have you been living in SF long?” (Subtext being that her English is so fucking bad I can’t believe she has).
“No, not long”
“OK. Any music?”
“DJ come later. I’m watching TV”
“Great. Glad we had this chat”
I finish my Sierra Nevada pale ale and am about to haul arse out when the DJ rocks up and begins to spin some of the driest dad rock since Phil Collins was given a drum-kit. Just for me. No-one else is in the bar. I nod approvingly, trying to make a connection. I’m getting good at this US bar business!
What I was starting to say earlier, was that I’ve driven 2,487 in 13 days, BUT I could’ve done without the last 20 of them this afternoon.
I entered Frisco triumphant and directionless. I decided I had a better chance of finding an Avis office to drop off the car in the Civic Centre area of town rather than Downtown. So I took that exit off the freeway. I remember being aware that SF drivers are a lot more antsy and aggressive than any other I’d come across so far in the states. VERY unforgiving of errors or split second delays in my pulling off from lights because I was looking at the map. It’s an interesting and novel experience to know where you ARE on a map, but to have no idea where you need to BE! I had this Jedi sense that I’d just stumble across the Avis place and then smile to myself at the beautiful simplicity of the universe. NO SUCH FUN! Now, instead of running out of petrol like I almost did this morning; I was running out of time. 14:30 is the cut off or I’ll get stung another 130$ day’s hire of the car. As I haven’t yet even worked out where I’m staying tonight, that 130$ counts. I tasted the sudden metallic jolt of reality on my tongue like when I used to lick the top of an alkali battery as a child to check if it still worked.
[This DJ is killing me! The bar is perfect for my mood but the music is tough. Imagine Morrissey came from Texas and had just had his pick-up truck repossessed. Three men have entered the bar and shut the windowless door behind them. The barmaid dims the lights. What’s going on here?!]
Back to this afternoon. So I have to admit to myself that I’m lost and there’s no point driving round indefinitely like some prick. I find the only parking space in SF and reverse into it, carefully avoiding the trams, trannies, and treacherous hills. I stick thirty minutes into the meter and head off to find a phone, thinking that it’ll only take five minutes to make connection with Avis. I’m looking forward to driving off with twenty-five minutes left in the meter as good karma for the next guy that pulls up. Chalk up a few points with the captain of the world. Very peace ‘n love!
Forty minutes later I’m still looking for a public phone. (My mobile wouldn’t allow calls to the Avis emergency number on the key fob for some irritating and inexplicable reason. I muse as I search for a public call box that it’s fucking lucky I never did break down in the desert!) The first phone I find has been ripped out of the wall. The second has no tone. With the third phone I get lucky. The cheerful Avis woman on the other end batters me with her negative friendliness. It turns out that “Eric” the guy from the Compton branch of Avis hasn’t extended my rental after all. So I’ve been basically driving round in a stolen car for the last three days. The woman on the phone assumes a grating pseudo-friendly tone.
“Sir, that car was returned on 5th July”
“No. No it wasn’t. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I’m in SF and need to know where you’d like me to return it in time for the 14:30 deadline.”
“Sir. I understand that. All of our offices are shut in SF. You’ll have to return it to the airport.”
It’s important to know at this point that the airport is about 25 miles outside the Bay Area, past where I’ve just driven from. I tell her this.
“Sir. That’s not my problem. That’s the concern of the Rentor”
“Thank you. You’ve been VERY helpful” I slam down the phone and scream SHIT, inadvertently straight into the face of a ten year old boy who’s walking past.
I run back up the hill and jump into the car, ready to hurtle back to the airport. (Or at least, in the general direction of where I judge the airport to be).
The countdown. These streets, This car, The reckless speed and Tram-dodging – this is all starting to feel familiar. But I’ve never been here before. Or have I? Then it hits me... DRIVER – the Sony Playstation game, with its gameplay architecture mapped exactly to the streets of San Francisco!
Each time I bump down a hill scraping the exhaust, or pass a stationary police car, I instinctively look in my mirror to check its lights haven’t come on and its sirens start wailing spinning round in pursuit like the game.
I’m driving with the wrath of Khan and miss the exit for the hire car depot at the airport. So charged up am I that I actually consider slamming on the brakes and reversing back up down the freeway.
Captain Beefheart tells me I’m a man on my i-pod. I slamdunk the car into the Avis depot, making sure the valet punches the seconds into his hand-held crapometer and sit on the Bay Area Region Transport (BART) train back to where I’d been about an hour ago.
“I’m a Cowboy. On a steel horse I sat.”
I slugged my huge heavy bag round the streets of San Fran until I thought the strap was going to lacerate my shoulder and slice straight down in one flesh-ripping motion to my hips like a hot cheese wire. Off Union Square I find the Park Hotel at 79 bucks a night. It looks clean and possible. I drop my bag, my load and have a fantastic cold shower before heading out refreshed into the evening sun.
The rest you know... except for this mad Texan dude sitting at the bar next to me now, who’s making like he’s everyone’s mate but mine. I think he’s threatened by my Englishness and seems totally unimpressed when I tell him that I’ve been to his beloved Texas. He’s on my left side RIGHT NOW, as I’m writing this and getting a bit rowdy. He reaches behind the bar and rips the soft drinks shower head device out of the barmaid’s hand and sprays her with the coca-cola sugar mix. The guy’s a prick. Yep. YOU! Prick! The barmaid seems to have him under control, but for how long? Hero’s are thin on the ground in this bar and I’d hate to have to step in and “read him the news”!
He’d rip me in half.
Something has just occurred to me. It’s an obvious fact that NY, LA, Frisco are all world class cities like London and so its citizens meet a hotch-potch melting pot of people. But for most of America outside these cities (a prime example being this Texan testicle next to me) their only experience of English folk is probably through the movies. The Villains: Jeremy Irons, Hopkins, Fiennes, Rickman. It’s their only access point to English men – the cold calculating intelligent Villain! Techno bad guys. So this is how the Texan scroat is taking me. Maybe I should play up to it? This is why American TV is so dangerous, because it fosters the belief that all Muslims probably ARE terrorists and all Mexicans will clean your toilet or work your garden. Media stereotypes are funny unless you never meet the real thing; in which case they’re dangerous!
My favourite advert comes on the TV above the bar. It’s one that’s been following me from coast to coast: Ford Motors. A 40 something business dad is on a computerised stage, surrounded by suburbia’s best motor cars – he is singing with Jonathan Bolton style rock sincerity screaming into the microphone – “I get what I want, I go where I choose...” More shots of Fords going through waterfalls. The dad spins round in the spotlight straight-faced and ecstatic: “That’s what works for me, possibility!”
I gently come to and become aware of my surroundings. 9:30am Sunday Morning. The brown nicotine stained walls hold me like a particle of cancer in a smoker’s lung. My head throbs with a hard earned hangover. I twitch, shaking off the night and my dehydrated brain deprived of its cushioning juice, rattles in my skull like a stone in a metal tin.
Outside my window a young guy is having a conversation on his phone about the benefits of buying real estate in New Jersey. His tone is condescending even though he’s making a very poor argument. Further away, a saxophone wails out the morning blues. The notes mingle with the guy’s phone conversation and float in through the window.
Last night was great. I was great. San Francisco is great!
I went to two fantastic bars and a stunning club. Got a stunning sexy girl’s email and number, and had some very funny interactions with an insane black guy who had TB and a tramp hell-bent on recycling everything in sight.
I’m lying on the bed in the Park Hotel recalling it all as I write. I took my camera out with me for a change, as I felt SF was safe enough to get away with it drunk. So I have an aide memoire for once.
The whole vibe of SF is cool, forward-looking and accepting. For me this vibe is personified in Alisha Amnesia, the barmaid from Bar Azul. She was the spit of Gwen Stefani crossed with Mira Sorvino. Killer. She was around 24 years old, a writer punk chick who was working nights so she could keep her day’s free for writing and fucking (her words not mine!) She encapsulated perfectly the style of girl that represents to me the possibilities of the future and the reality of the present – that I’m actually quite straight and verging on boring! Some people – people like her, are born with freedom for blood running through their veins and creation on their minds. They seem to be devoid of the fear of failure or the pressure of expectation to succeed (from family as well as self) manacled to their hands and feet. I have to work at this!
“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains!”
Car horns start beeping and loud cheering can be heard from somewhere outside. I wonder what’s occurring now? It sounds far off, over a mile away I reckon. That really is a LOT of people cheering!
Anyways, I need to get washed, check out of this hotel and haul my massively heavy sack over to the Haight.
The Real Estate kid I’ve been listening to on the phone has totally lost his argument and is now resorting to insults.
I’m going to send Alisha an email from the hotel computer downstairs, thanking her for last night. I don’t think I’d be cool enough for her long term, but a man can dream!
She writes reviews for a website called coolchicks.com which reviews the state of the music scene in the different cities of the contributors - currently London, New York, San Fran, Tokyo and Barcelona. She’s got a “boyfriend” in Barnet, London (which she endearingly keeps pronouncing Barné!) She’s been to London four times and loves it. I’ve been to London too, but don’t really love it. Can we swap, love?!
I prop up the bar and have an easy conversation with her in between her having to zip of to perform barkeeping duties. It’s still early though so the bar isn’t too crowded yet. I tell her I’m after some club action later and she recommends three venues for me to check out – all with something worthwhile going on. The first choice had Tommy Lee (from Motley Crue and Pammy fame) in residency doing his DJ house slot. But she reckons this club has a strict “no sneaker” policy. Natch! The second choice was too far from where I was. So I decided on the third choice – Club Crash, on the corner of Mason and that’s where I sit now!
The layout is very similar to KOKO in Camden with crazy cutting-edge video projections against the back wall. I drink, I dance, I write, I watch, I drink some more!
I get talking to a Chinese guy who gives me a private ticket for an after show party Sunday night at Club2. It’s on one of the piers at Fisherman’s Wharf and looks rocking. I think I may check it out depending on how far it is from the Haight and how far my head is from relaxed tomorrow!
I’m really feeling the end of this odyssey approaching now, and intend to squeeze the last drops of precious juice from it! Stick around – the best may be yet to come!
One final note on the night: As I looked over the balcony at the club and onto the dance floor below, watching and waiting as you do for “something” or “someone” to happen. I get this really strong peaceful feeling that I now have all the skills I need to fulfil my life! To start living my life. I don’t need to study anymore, I don’t need to wait anymore. There are no more pieces of the jigsaw left in the box waiting to fall out when I give it a shake. It’s all on the table, completed. It’s now TOTALLY DOWN TO ME!
MAN I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO!
I took the tram up to Haight Street and sat with a happily mad old African woman who asked me if I wanted to get stoned because she knew the best coffee shop in town. She also told me to take the ferry across the bay to Treasure Island for the best views of the city. In retrospect, once I’d established that she was indeed mad, I’m not sure if Treasure Island is a real place!
The collection of people in this cable car are fascinating enough to keep a writer in characters indefinitely:
The impossibly fat man wearing a house-dress (no, not me, bastards!) The crazy African American woman in her white hospital sneakers who eventually shows me her “mental pass” which allows her free passage on the SF’s transportation system. The wizened old black dude on sticks wearing killer reflective shades. Another similarly dressed dude gets on and they seem to know each other. They speak in fantastically laid-back, molasses and golden syrup voices. I catch little snippets of conversation from my seat three rows back:
“Hey brother, how’s it been going?”
“None too bad, none too bad”
“...I felt dizzy in the head last week...”
“Uh-huh. They took me up the hospital...”
“They hit me with a laser beam.”
The street car rattles on, up those famous steep hills through districts that have until now just been cool names in movies to me – Mission, Battery, The Castro, Fillmore.
The bus pulls over at the bottom of Divisidero and a fragile looking Filipino girl gets on. She sits to the side of me and out of nowhere starts talking to me asking where I’m from, what I’ve seen. It gradually creeps up on me that She is a He. He reads me and seems aware that I’ve twigged and asks me if I’ve ever met a trans-sexual before? He/She is very friendly and asks if I fancy a smoke. She seems disappointed when I tell her I gave up the weed almost ten years ago. I ask her if she’ll let me know when we reach Buena Vista Park, because I’d like to chill there until I can check into my Haight hotel. She studies my face extra hard before saying that the park is the number one cruising spot for gays so “Don’t get weirded out by it”. I think the implication was that because I was clearly not gay, why the fuck was I planning to hang around bum-rape central? I say goodbye at the stop after the park and get off at the corner of Haight and Ashbury and BAM it hits me!
The full psychedelic crazy hip twisted colourful stunning bumming gorgeous funky street cool laid back summer of total fucking love and awe that is the Haight!
This is my favourite street on earth. It is the real deal.
So much that I’ve seen in America is a cliché of itself or a carefully marketed pastiche of what it once was. The “Disney” factor.
Haight Ashbury achieves the near impossible in that it clearly knows what it is and plays up to its image but manages to keep it real and maintain its credibility. The mix of diverse people is seamless: original 60’s hippy, frazzled on life sits against a painted doorway, mind blown, clutching a pack of tarot cards and cheroot. Corporate pencil women in Prada chat on pencil mobiles, neatly stepping over the brain blown, all sharp angles and sunglasses. The white Crustafarian with dreadlocks and obligatory yappy dog sits in tye-dye pants (mercifully without his fucking didgeridoo). The tourist, the local, the student, the CalTech hippy scientist, Ben and Gerry Garcia and ME! All momentarily in the tableau inexorably connected and interdependent, co-existing through simply having open minds and a joy of being who and where they are. Non-judgmental and accepting of different vibes. Not trying to force their own “more correct” way of living onto the others. How very un-Islamic!
I’m not joking with you. This street, this area, this mindset is awesome. It’s what Camden market dreams of being and what Brighton on a hot August day reckons it is. To even try and compare them though is like comparing a tramp’s straw yellow piss with Napoleonic brandy.
The buildings are all brightly painted with lettering in that “summer of love” Grateful Dead font. Every shop is creating something fresh and original, from music to food to clothes to art galleries to head shop. My, how it works! It all has a deeply anchored integrity, never feeling like it’s sold out. I imagine if some corporate cunt tried to open a Starfucks coffee store or some sort of fast food branded “psychadelicatessen” (just made that up, actually quite catchy. I must remember to see if the website is available to buy), then they’d be beaten with the stalks of giant magic mushrooms and forced to drink boiling patchouli oil from the potted pixies tea pots
At the centre of all this spinning swirl of multi-coloured energy is the Red Victorian, the only hotel in the Haight. It’s a stunning old wooden building created by the “social innovator” and “Peace arts practitioner” Sami Sunchild in the early 70’s. Each of the eighteen rooms has been designed to a theme – Golden Gate room, Rainbow room, Aquarium room. Of these atmospheric and exquisitely designed vestibules the most prized by Sami is the Giant Redwood Room. Guess where I’m sitting now! Yep. Man has scored the gold run again. I’m reclining on a four-poster bed surrounded by images of Giant Redwoods and ferns in a 360 degree life-like photo-painting, with wooden oak tables and chairs and a ceiling of green canopy with the blue sunlight of a crisp Californian morning poking through. Without a seconds hesitation, this will be the last and undoubtedly the best room of the quest. I’m here for the final three nights and what a creamy way to end it! (And if you’ve read this far, you must certainly agree with me that there’s been a lot of cream! Full Fat!)
I go downstairs to check out the “Peace Café & Gallery” on the first floor of the hotel. It’s a salon for chatting surrounded by life affirming statements on the wall like “The best place I know is wherever you are”. I can feel my internal dialogue plotting against me. I wonder as I wander. I’d like to understand about myself why I feel so uncomfortable around “cool” or “hippy-freedom, positive energy” young hepcats! The more people are encouraging me to be open and share my feelings to relax and let go the negative energy, reflectively the more uptight, on-edge and threatened I feel. But why should this be? I’d genuinely like to know!
Brown paper bag time again! Booze hound sniffs out the beer bone. There’s a strong wind blowing through Golden Gate Park and the smoke-like clouds whip across the sky like papal fire burning across the bay. I’m looking around, drinking in the scene and the beer. It’s not just the heat or the trees or even the strange wispy clouds that tell me for sure I’m not in England. It’s something in the vibe. The clothes people are wearing, the looseness and ease with which everyone moves. Golden Gate Park sits like a peaceful fat smiling Buddha at the end of Haight Street. On the stroll down I buy a punnet of juicy strawberries for a dollar from a Mexican trader who’s impromptu set-up at the back of his truck is the perfect embodiment of the American Dream. From the liquor store I get another large can of Bud in the hobo brown bag (no alcohol allowed in the park) and here I sit, letting the overwhelming atmosphere of this crazy city wash through me.
There’s more homelessness and begging in SF than in any other place in the states I’ve been through. It’s visible and obvious – certainly more so than London. They’re not avoided though.
In front of me is a drumming collective of about 40 people, beating an almighty tribal rhythm, an assortment of locals: hip and parental are dotted around the grass enjoying the Sunday heat and beat.
I’m honestly not writing to an expected stereotype here. I ain’t got no agenda, gov. I’m just calling it as it’s presented to me, but I swear to god, on the walk down here from Haight I don’t think I saw one boring looking person. Here the idiots are NOT winning. It seemed to me that I was the straightest guy on the block! Everyone looks so damn interesting and creative! I’m actually finding it quite intimidating, like I’m somehow a fake – a wannabe straight looking in through the window onto their world. An imposter posing as a “head” but really working for the Conservative party! I feel like Sid James at the end of Carry on Camping when he and Bernard Bresselaw have to dress up as hippies to escape!
It’s amazing how one country can have so many different flavours. Imagine Haight Street in downtown Gallup!
Looking back on the trip, a yardstick of how great a moment is seems to be whether I texted someone. I’ve known that what I’m seeing is 10+ because I’ve HAD to share it with someone in real time!
Uh-oh. There’s always one! Out of the undergrowth, the bleery eyed crustafarian cometh. 40 drummers and one cunt with a didgeridoo! The Rolf Harris fart noise creeps in, to the disapproval of the crowd.
“Begone, ye crusty and thou foul noise. I send thee back to thy squat in Brighton!”
I can imagine being a parent in San Francisco. I can imagine having a picnic in the park with my woman and child. I can see myself pushing the buggy through the streets of a summer Sunday and not resenting the loss of freedom, but actually finding a new type of freedom, the freedom from selfishly always analysing the self due to a lack of any other purpose!
There are supposed to be seven ages of men. I think at least two of those ages should be spent living here in SF with another in Big Sur. I haven’t stopped and just sat like this since Central Park almost three weeks ago. I can’t believe that was part of the same trip, it seems so long ago. San Fran is like a child’s version of New York – brighter, softer, more colourful, smaller. It feels made of colourful Play-Doh. There’s a certain “toy factory” unreality about the streets, I feel I’m inside the imagination of a 12th century philosopher dreaming of a utopian future. London should wash it’s filthy arse and scrub-up more like Frisco.
Beautiful girl with a face that could be marketed as the pure spirit of summer rushes past me in light blue dungarees, barefoot and giggling.
“Hey, guys! You started without me?!”
She rushes into the trees behind me and I hear a smashing noise. I take off my sunglasses and peer into the undergrowth. A group of guys, standing in a circle, are smashing up their guitars against a tree with symbolic gestures. I hope one of them belongs to Jack Johnson!
I’ve dug deep and fought the implacable knackerer that has me in its thrall and ventured out to Lower Haight. It’s a brisk walk down a steep hill. The fog rolls in off the bay, obscuring the tops of trees. It’s a really unusual sight, advancing with the speed of a dry-ice smoke machine.
With every descending metre away from Upper Haight, the weirdness quotient drops. From the supremely fucking bizarre of Ashbury, I’m now looking at a more straightforwardly hip crowd.
A sweet moment on the descent is walking behind two fifty-something gay men, really soaked on booze, talking about needing to let their cat out and change the flowers when they got home. I’m within spitting distance (or should that be swallowing distance) of The Castro – SF’s gay core. I descend past Buena Vista park, which also has more cruising than P&O. The park steps are winding off into the lowering fog – or is it just a blanket of descending semen gushing into the streets below?
I find a bar and order a Sierra Nevada ale. Within minutes I realise the bar ain’t doing it for me. There’s a really drunk English Estate Agent at the bar with his HR flabby girlfriend and they’re both bringing me down. Gnarls Barkley tells us we’re “Crazy”, the Estate Agent yells “Yeah!” and starts dancing like a turkey with its throat cut. Life’s too short.
There’s a character in Milos Foreman’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, a small beaten fat guy with black horn-rimmed glasses, one of the patients at the mental hospital – and I’ve just been trapped by his doppelganger at the next bar I go to. It’s a Sports bar and I catch the closing minutes of the World Cup final between France & Italy. It goes to penalties and this cuckoo guy befriends me and is clearly absorbed in the match in a way only the mentally ill can be. He wears a dirty grey towelling jump suit covered in yellow stains and his thinning black hair falls in oily streaks over the sickly white bald patch. He tells me about the incident between Zidane and an Italian player, where Zidane gets sent off for headbutting the defender in the chest ten minutes before penalties. Cuckoo guy is SO incensed by this altercation that he flails his arms, rolls his eyes and starts eating his own tongue. Froth and spittle form in the corner of his mouth and fly out across our table mixing with the white froth of my pint. I look round the bar with a look that lets everyone know this fruit loop is not with me. He must be autistic and this incident has really upset his equilibrium. For the second time tonight I’m feeling life is too short and leave.
Third time is the charm. I find a fantastic bar and toast my good fortune. “Tornado” 480, corner of Haight and Divisidero – certainly one you should know! It has a local relaxed crowd and a killer jukebox. No world cup. A punk vibe and 50, yes count dem numbers, 50 beers on draft. It also has the coolest barman to ever serve me a beer, and you best believe I been in enough bars to know the difference! He is the quintessential American barman in the Ted Danson “Cheers” mould. The smartest guy in the room – part philosopher, part therapist, part punk rocker, part best mate, certainly the only guy getting paid! I’m overwhelmed by the 50 brews on display and ask him to select something for me. I tell him I fall down on the side of the Weisse beer over Stout. He pours a 7% “Farmhouse Saison 7”. It doesn’t disappoint. There is a very strong smell of opium in here. Unmistakable, but I’ll leave it a few more pints before bringing up the subject.
Time to stop writing and burying my face in this book. Engage charm drive... let’s see what’s out there...
I discovered where the smell of brown was originating from. Pliny the Elder IPA lurks behind a line of respectable beers, pretending to be nuffink. Masquerading as an innocent lager when in fact he is a dangerous old geezer who’ll steal your wallet, then your brain and feed it back to you in soused chunks of his choosing. Pliny weighs in at 8.5%. An old Dreyfuss looking dude on the seat next to me, shoots me a glance and nods respectfully when I order it. It comes with a little walking stick and tastes like tree sap on my tonsils.
It occurs to me that California is as far west as I can go before I start heading east again hitting Japan. California and SF in particular is the most avant garde progressive place on the planet. Leave the shores and head west, you’ll end up in the far east and have to begin the long slow process of building up again from scratch back to open-mindedness of the far west.
“Opiates are the religion of the masses!
Monday morning. I’ve got a strange headache in the centre of my brain. Not really a hangover type pain, more inside the head rather than around the edges. A hangover is like an old mate who’s always touching you for a loan, or a relative who you’ve got t see at Christmas. There’s a familiarity with a hangover, a certain safe resignation. I neck two Advil dry and look in the mirror. I notice three big zits on my face, A bacterial trinity brought on now doubt by my piss-poor diet. As I stare at my unshaven vizog I recall the dream I had last night about scraping the tongue of a girl I used to work with using a blunt school dinner knife in gentle rhythmical strokes. There was something very sexual about it. Obviously Freudian. Isn’t everything?
I also had a revelation about what I would like to do as of Thursday when I return to the UK. Obviously to sell my flat is top of the pops, then to find cheap digs round Stoke Newington, swim and jog every day to shift the weight I’ve put on with gay abandon since quitting smoking (and healthy eating) and find an mentally untaxing job part-time – driving / bar / TEFL – the job is unimportant BECAUSE:
I’m going to write a book about my efforts to become a writer over exactly one year. Less a vanity project or self indulgence, but a beacon of hope to all those people out there round the age of 30 who have become disillusioned with their lives, stuck in a rut, lost the initial optimism, confidence and momentum of their teens / early 20’s and know emphatically if they don’t jump now, they’ll forever be trapped with their suit welded to their bodies.
I come to bring hope that if I can do it; they can too:
Step 1: Sort the basics as above.
Step 2: Type up this journal and begin the 365 journal of writing hope.
Step 3: Build my website.
Step 4: Adapt portions of this journal and send off to travel mags.
Step 5: Write a review of Mountain Edge for Rob and send off to travel mags.
Step 6: Develop “IDEAS 2006”
Step 7: Send off to production comps – shooting people docu guide / writers guide.
Step 8: Write in all rejection letters until one says “yes”
One of the wisest things anyone has ever said to me came from Dave Abalard (how the fuck I should remember his name now confounds me!) After finishing university I eventually had an interview with City Financial Partners, a firm of freelance IFA’s based near the top floor of the Centrepoint building in Tottenham Court Road. ( I digress, but it would’ve been hilarious if I HAD taken the job and was still doing it now 12 years later! Oh the choices we make when we’re fresh out of the egg! If I stopped to really think about it I’d freak. I just HAVE to believe there’s a universal force guiding us all, along the lines of the Beatles – “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be”.) Anyway, back to Dave at the top of the Centrepoint building and his advice. He said to me:
“Confidence is on a floating scale within the individual – it’s never fixed. One day you’re maxing, the next you’re shy as hell. Enjoy the difference and go with it.”
Well, today I’m shy.
I feel very antisocial and don’t want to talk with anyone. In the Haight, this constitutes a problem! People here seem to use their good mood and openness as a weapon, literally beating me into a submissive position with their positivity!
I’m having my breakfast in “All You Knead” for the second day running. That’s also one you should know – the best omelettes and hash browns in town. My breakfast of champions. Best lunch goes to the smothered burro in Tucumcari, best dinner (that’s supper if you’re northern) was the (mis)steak in Beverley Hills, but hey, there’s still 72 hours to go so it could all change!
“Bruce Springsteen appeals to blue collar Americans because they genuinely believe that between writing songs and touring, he actually goes back to work in a carwash in Boise, Idaho!” (Chuck Klosterman).
Old Texan proverb – “Gun’s don’t kill people, people with moustaches kill people.”
I’m having another personal paradise moment and fulfilling a long-held personal ambition. I’m sitting in City Lights Bookstore flicking through some great books. The store is still owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti – one of the original Beat poets and contemporary of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. With the help of City Lights some of my literary hero’s got their first break – Bukowski (with Black Sparrow Press), Kesey, Fanté, Kerouac, etc. I’m surrounded by a wordy wall of giants. My soul soars.
Next door to City Lights is Vesuvio Café – another original Beat hangout. This is where Kerouac finished his road and Neil Cassidy pulled over the wheel to rap to anyone who’d listen about the stars, cars and bars. The jazz jammed all hours of the day and night making the thick cigarette smoke vibrate like it was living music. It’s 2pm and I’m cradling a Sierra Nevada ale, which has become my drink of choice from coast to coast. The Best Bar of this trip award is proudly bestowed upon this place. The music is piano freeform jazz making a perfect aural accompaniment to the dark wood, smokey stained glass and killer contemporary art.
That’s the vibe of City Lights and Vesuvio – Contemporary. Proud and celebratory of its famous and influential past, but not trapped by it or living off it. Both places keep it fresh and real with the moment.
In addition to the books I picked up at the Henry Miller Library, I’ve just bought some beauts from City Lights. That’s enough 5 star literature to keep me enthralled for a year. I got a John Fanté reader, A collection of short stories by Ken Kesey “Demon Box”, and the best short stories of Sam Shepherd – a guy who’s always been flying low on my radar.
I’M HERE! I’M REALLY HERE! As the ink dries on the page, I’m sitting in Vesuvio looking at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco!
The “Weird” is embraced as counter-culture and interestingly hip in SF. So many acid casualties from the 60’s stumble around bearded and crazy eyed amongst the suits and next generation, but they are embraced like white blood cells ignore red blood cells in this corporal city, both co-existing in the plasma stream. The city is like a living organism and everything has a symbiotic relationship with everything else. Never before have I felt this cliché to be so true, so tangible. It’s so different to London where difference is frowned upon and “madness”, homelessness, “alternative lifestyles” are like diseases the DFS IKEA Shopping Centre masses cross over the street to avoid in case they get infected and lose the keys to their Mondeo.
This area is called North Beach and to get here I walked through Chinatown, but I’ve not much to say about that now I’m here. Chinatown is Chinatown is Chinatown. I bought a little Jade Monkey pendant for a girl I used to have a crush on. I ask the friendly seller how to say thank you in Chinese – “Say-Sar”. Armed with this knowledge, I begin a Jonathan Palin charm offensive to any Chinaman that will listen. My effort is met with blank expressions and it’s not until I start to think that the kindly women in the Jade shop has taken the piss that a herbalist tells me that I’m using Mandarin, whilst most people in SF Chinatown speak Hong Kong style Cantonese! Hey-ho. Stick to English.
Man I’m loving this bar and could stay here all day getting verbal and slaughtered. I just now that I would meet an endless stream of vital interesting giving people. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the position before where I could say that with honesty. It’s a new sensation. The vibe and ambience is just right, but it’s only just gone 2pm and I’ll be on my arse by 6 and write-off the whole evening. Patience young Jedi. Patience.
I head back to my personal Redwood forest in the Haight, stopping in at a Micro-Brewery on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, more because I need a piss than a pint. I perch at the bar and ask the barman to recommend me something. He recommends I leave! I work on him a bit more and as it’s just the two of us, we start shooting the breeze. He is a whale of a man. The strain on his heart must be phenomenal, as the desperate organ tries to pump blood around the equivalent of five men. He’s from Dublin originally, but has lived in Bow East London. I chew the fat, not his fat, and ask him why he hates Boston so much.
“Coz there’s too many fucking Irish in Boston”.
I take my piss and leave to walk up a steep, steep hill to Coit Tower. (I talk to an old boy born in SF who told me it used to be called Coitus Tower in the 40’s for all the fucking that went on up there!) I can see why – the view must be incredible. A true 360 of the Bay area. All I can see is a thick blanket of fog. I can make out the dark oppressive shape of Alcatraz with its tiny lighthouse flashing away like a restaurant table lamp reflecting in a bowl of pea soup. “The Rock” don’t look too scary from up here! I reckon I could easily swim the distance to land, but perhaps it is the currents that are deadly or the cold? One thing is for sure, it must’ve been soul crushing for the inmates to look out of their windows and see the hep happenings and joys of SF across the glistening bay, as they languished in their cells.
On the walk back to Market Street for the bus, I find a small ornate church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. I stop in and light a candle, praying for the courage and strength to be a writer and not to bottle it and take another office job out of fear of being seen as a social failure and to not hear that whining voice in my head saying “Come on, Jonathan, you’ve had your bit of fun, time to get a proper job. Writing was just a fantasy. Now you’re back in London stop being silly. You are not one of the cool people. You must work in Sales and be a creature of habit.” ARRRRRGGGHHHHHH!
In my primary school there was a small chapel which was also dedicated to St. Francis and I feel an edifying sense of benevolence and peace as I sit contemplative in this small wooden pew.
I get crazy-arse lost on the walk back and hack across the rough Tenderloin area. A district the Lonely Planet advises is SF’s Compton. It’s daytime though so I figure I’m safe to risk it. But there is a real sense of menace about the place and the rundown boarded up shop fronts don’t help to dispel it. The vibe here is incongruous to the rest of SF. A few black street hustlers and pan-handlers try to get my attention using differing degrees of hassle – eyes front keep walking. I’m carrying 300$ in my back pocket and a bright sparkling bag of goodies at my side. I don’t even acknowledge them. Bad atmosphere round these here parts and I quickly hop on a passing streetcar.
I’m sitting at the back of the streetcar when three teenage rudeboys get on, Each is sporting the lowest, rudest jeans possible. Each is trying to defy gravity more than the next, with the third pair of jeans being SO low that the back pockets actually scrap the ground. Sitting next to me is a black guy called Andre in his late 20’s. I know this because he starts jiving with the lead rude boy who’s been caught up trying to play the loudest shittest hip hop on his phone for us all. Andre has obviously spotted Gus Rude with some blo and wants to buy some because he’s off to the park. Gus Rude tells he only got 10$ worth to sell, so the deal goes down cutting across me as if I’m not even there. At one point I almost feel like I should help pass it over. Don’t mind me! The second rude boy meanwhile has got our a large purple marker pen and is tagging the ceiling of the streetcar in big sweeping strokes.
What I found really interesting about this little scene was the difference between the SF and London rude boy. (I know I shouldn’t generalise based on one encounter, but...) There was no sense of menace with these kids, no obsession with “respect” or looking for confrontation, no “what you looking at?” vibe. Even though they were clearly wearing gang colours, they seemed quite cheerful dealing their ratweed and tagging their name, happy to just mind their own business – a little rudeboy outing on the streetcar! I didn’t feel threatened like I secretly would if the same thing were to take place on the Peckham 176. The taking of Peckham 123!
It is 6pm now and I’m thirsty. I checked my email at a café in Union Square and got an email from Alisha Amnesia, the bargirl from Azul. She wanted to know if I made it to Club Crash and to let me know that she was working tomorrow at some new place if I was still around. I replied that I’d try to look her up. I’m going to have a shower and then hit those bars of North Beach. Club Milk looks expansive tonight in Haight, so I aim to finish up there much much later. Wish me luck!
[5am MY DREAM: My dream is to be unselfconscious. To just BE and not be concerned with how I’m BEING. To be me. To feel good about myself. To stop chasing the “hard work” girls because I don’t feel I deserve love unless I’ve had to struggle to earn it. To write well and make enough money to do nothing else work-wise. Modest wishes.]
OK. So here’s how it went down. Factually like a police report:
Bussed it back to Vesuvio for about 9 and got totally caught up in the excitement of the North Beach scene. Everything happened at double the speed and frenetic. I was hooked, I was on fire. It kicked off with me chatting with this incredible 93 year old poet called Charles. I bought him a whiskey and he regaled me with stories of how he’d been hopping the tracks since he was 17. He had been in this café when it’d opened in 1948 and had lived through all it’s incarnations and met all it’s players. He had also lived in Greenwich Village and had met all of the Beats at one time or another, with the exception of Charles Bukowski. He told me he still writes poetry but “only for himself now”.
All of this was verified by Jack, the coolest barman in SF. (Blows the barman from Tornado out the weather report!) I’d been listening in on his conversation with this bookshop owner sitting on the barstool next to me, so I knew that Jack was a writer. He showed the guy next to me his book and it looked quite Kurt Vonnegut in style with drawings and all. I used this as a way of prizing open the oyster to get to the pearly conversation. When the bookshop owner leaves, I start talking with Jack and told him he reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson in his style of dress and hat. He laughed and told me of the time a few years ago when he’d been working at the bar and Sean Penn had come in with some friends. Jack had been about to finish his shift but he’d overheard someone tell Sean that Thompson was on his way down and wanted to meet him for the first time. Jack thought this could potentially be an epic meeting so stuck around. But, in his own words, it transpired that Hunter was a bit of a prick. He sat down next to Jack and took out a skullcap saying “See this, it’s an unborn wolf”. Jack looks him in the eye and replies
“No, man... it’s just a woollen cap.”
Hunter pushes him out the way as if he’s nothing saying “You talk too loud”.
Jack pours me a Jameson’s “So, like I say. The guy’s just an arrogant prick. Penn was a stand up guy though”.
Helping Jack out is a sultry barmaid who’s eye I keep catching. She finishes her shift whilst I’m still talking to Charles and tells me that she’s heading across the road to “Specs” for a friends leaving party. I follow her over about an hour later and the party is in full swing. Free buffet. Another perfectly constructed bar. EVERYTHING is just so.
I pull up a stool at the bar and find an ally in the barman when two moody French guys sit next to me and start throwing their weight around. Desolate that France lost the World Cup final that morning they are drinking heavily and at odds with the party vibe around them. As their English is bad enough to keep it safe, the barman and I start gently taking the piss out of them to their faces. They get the hint and sod off. Barman thrusts a free beer in my hand.
A group of English girls enters, about six or seven of them, very London looking and well dressed. They are part of a tour-guided group travelling in a circle from SF to the Grand Canyon then back up again. I make friends with Liz and Jackie. Liz is a tall and elegant 24. She is the spit of Elizabeth Hurley and looks like she’s had a horse between her legs since she could walk to her parents’ stables. Jackie is a bit more down to earth and it’s her I’m getting the nice vibe from. She tells me that they all only met last week when the touring holiday began, but so far they’re disappointed with the laziness of the guide. Jackie invites me over to join the rest of the group. I’m feeling very powerful tonight on account of my travelling alone through the wastes of Oklahoma whilst this lot seem to be getting afeared at being driven round California in a big luxury coach. I’ll never understand the attraction of tour guided trips. I sit at the round table staring into nine dejected European faces, all rueing the day they signed up for this two week trip. Two Austrian school teachers, nibble nervously at the free buffet. I’m starting to sense that I may be Jackie’s get outta jail card for the night and am pleased about it. One zappy confident Italian guy is giving me jip. He seems to be into Jackie too and isn’t rolling over at my tales of Red Indian bars and electric storms. He asks where I recommend they go next for the evening. I say Ruby Skye, a club Alisha recommended to me. Do I know where it is? Sort of.
Before my beer has even reached the bottom of my oesophagus, I’m out on the street with these nine lost souls, all looking at me for where to go and what to do. They really seem in need of leadership and I’m just drunk enough to take the reins. I masterfully stand in the road and organise two taxis whilst fighting off panhandlers and traffic cops. I’m starting to feel like I’m an ex-pat in San Fran – a man worth knowing. Jackie looks up at me with dilated pupils and diminishing scruples.
The taxi door slams shut with an air tight wump and the air con shits in my face.
Asian taxi driver “Where to...?”
“Ruby Skye, my man...”
“Where is it..?”
The cruel nuts of fate are being shaved before my very eyes. I’ve found the only taxi driver in SF who doesn’t know shit. I leap out and back to the second taxi behind us. No. He doesn’t know either.
I get back in the first taxi and look back to the disappointed passengers. We decide to just drive around till we find somewhere that looks good.
After about ten minutes, it’s depressingly obvious that nothing is happening at 1am on this Tuesday night. A mobile phone rings the news, the other taxi are swinging round back to their hotel and calling it a night. My taxi decides the same thing. I look hopefully at Jackie, but she doesn’t return the stare. Fuck it. I suddenly feel desperate and drunk. The Italian guy, secretly smirking I’m sure, offers to pick up the taxi fare and I get off on the nearest corner to nowhere, pretending I’ve got places to be. Fuck knows where I am and the only thing I’m sure of is the knowledge that bad luck has stymied a good nights loving!
I walk for a while, but it’s an aimless drunken stumble and the kind of travelling that ends in trouble, so I hail a taxi and have a resurrecting conversation with the Chinese driver who reminds me of Mr. Sulu from Star Trek. He is third generation SF and has just the right “give a fuck” attitude about life to help me get my mojo back. I finish off at a bar back in the Haight, but the real driving force has left me for the night and I’m just going through the motions. I head back to my Redwood forest via Vietnam for some noodles.
I wake up thinking about that old geezer Charlie from Vesuvio and his tales of hobo-ing down to New Orleans when he was 17, but being too young to really enjoy the scene. I asked him what he thought the secret to life was after his 93 years. He liked the question and pointed his slender bony finger at me and said
“The key to living a peaceful life is never hate anybody and don’t hold grudges”
He went on to tell me he’d more or less always been poor, and so I asked him which of his ten decades had been the happiest for him. Without missing a beat he says “This one”. What a genius! It inspired me to go out and spark up the conversation with Liz and Jackie last night. The barman was digging my styles and kept pouring me free beer! I’ve never had that before! I was on fire with beat energy. Even Mr Sulu, the taxi driver who warped me home gave me a great conversation. Some nights just work. Others ARE work!
But all this is now blending back into my memory along with pets and kebabs of the past. Today is my last full day in the States!
I’m going to rent a bike and cycle the northern edge of the city through Crissy Fields, Fort Mason, Presidio (scene of the crime!), and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Writing in bed, my mind floats back to last night. I see myself in disco lights and flares hot-stepping through the bars with Machine Gun by Commodores accompanying me! I wish I’d taken my camera last night to help separate reality from real hilarity. That barmaid from Vesuvio was my dream woman, but once I’d followed her across to Specs, I saw her sitting with this mean looking guy that I took to be her boyfriend.
Jack, the hippest barman in town, a cross between the dude Lebowski and Hunter S, moving round the bar having deep literary conversations whilst knocking back the boss’s whiskey. It’s good to know the dude abides! That he is out there right now living that lifestyle. I hope I can find the strength to emulate. That has been the biggest eye-opener of the trip for me, that people like Jack really exist in reality and are content with life, not just in well written fictional screenplays. Outstanding!
Time for breakfast.
I forgot to eat yesterday (now there’s a fucking first!) I picked up a bag of Beef Jerky last thing and chowed down on the dog chew meat, until I read the side of the bag and gagged:
“The meat contained herein is for personal use only and not for sale. It is derived from animals that received post-mortem inspection and were found sound.”
Straight into the fucking bin.
Woah, that was almost a breakfast breakdown! I thought I’d try a new place to break the fast. The Lonely Planet says that the “Pork Store Café” is by far the best bet on the Haight, but warns that it’s always rammo. I go in and sure enough there’s no tables but manage to squeeze in at the bar and squat, almost having to share the barstool with a beardy weirdy cat and another Chinese taxi driver. I sit looking at the menu, feeling I could be in it as the sardine special. Just as the waitress approaches I look both the guys next to me up and down and realise a man cannot eat under these conditions. I slam the menu shut with a grand gesture making the yolks in the beardy guy’s eggs shake and retire to my original breakfast place (which is strangely always deserted!)
Shitting hell I feel rough. I’m sitting here shaking, holding my knife and fork, feeling like Melvin Udall in “As Good as it Gets” Very fucking special!
An hour later. All change.
“Jonathan Damocles’s on the move, Jonathan Damocles’s loose!”
I pick up a rad BMX from the hire shop and want to fix a BMW grill on the handle bars and style it round the Tenderloin! I had to do something to clear the breakfast head. I’ve just pulled over to write this at the top of Buena Vista Park – a spectacular view that’s really testing the brakes.
This time last month I was cycling through the Tyrolean Alps with Rob, Lee, Jonathan and Ed. This month I’m cycling the hills of SF. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – WHAT A LUCKY CUNT I AM!
This park is the cruising capital of SF and my current position with one leg over the handlebars and the other Can-Can style over the bench is asking for trouble. My arse is now in the air like a well lit runway for cocks to land in. I’m off!
The trouble with cycling whilst listening to my i-pod is that I can’t hear when people are shouting at me. I’ve inadvertently cycled into the Presidio – a US army base. The guard turns me round with a wave of his gun.
There’s no hill like a San Francisco hill. Too steep to cycle up without the legs of Lance Armstrong; too steep to freewheel down without the balls of Lee Armstrong! Brake mechanics must have it made here. Handbrakes must be suped-up and checked every week. It’s crazy fun though and seems to represent the mindset of a lot of Friscans.
...And there she is. San Fran gives me one last beautiful gift. The Golden Gate Bride on a perfectly sunny day. I’m sitting in the best seat of the house – a bench on a grassy knoll next to the water, with the bridge at an angle to my left. I’m looking up and seeing the red majesty of the newly painted metal. Joggers zip past me, yachts skim past, all of us enthralled by the span of this orange spiderweb structure. Too my right is an unobstructed view of Alcatraz across a blue morning bay. Man, that bridge looks great. So iconic. So Mechano toy-like, I can imagine picking up the toy cars on the bridge right now between my thumb and forefinger. I do this now, with one eye shut, pinching the little vehicles pootling across. I’ve got to be on the bridge myself. Here I go...
The wind on the Golden Gate Bridge is a force to be reckoned with. I’m totally exposed, with the orange guide rail only up to waist height. Apparently over a thousand people commit suicide off the bridge each year. I reckon about half of that number didn’t intend to, they just got blown off trying to get across! A father and 5 year old son cycle past on a tandem bike the father is talking roughly and staring out at the incredible view of the harbour, he can’t see his son, whose eyes are transfixed with abject fear onto the pavement away from the precipitous drop. He’s trying to back-pedal back to safety but the father’s furious furry legs don’t even notice this small resistance. There’s a case of therapy in the making for about 25 year’s time!
I’m sitting on an old oak tree trunk in an elevated conservation area. It’s hot, green and tranquil. The view is breathtaking. Another top 10. Having cycled all round this side of the bay, I reckon this is the most ambient position from which to view the bridge. Enough writing, already! Savour the view, numbskull! In 48 hours time I’ll be in the Quadrant Harrow! I can’t get my head around that, so I’m choosing to ignore it completely!
[Unexplainably it pops into my head as I stare at the view, that I’m 31 years old and I can’t think of anyone who’s ever been in love with me. How sad! How strange!]
To make the most of the dying embers of the cycling experience I move it through the Golden Gate Park to the west of the Haight. The park is vast with museums, Redwood groves, lakes and crusties all in abundance. (Is that a didgeridoo I can hear gently wailing?) It was a perfectly ambient cycle and really reminded me of cycling through Hyde Park in early September – just as the leaves and the sky begin to turn amber. I really want to make the most of the summer and people in London when I get back. I don’t want to sink back in to that isolationist vibe of my last flat, with bottle of red wine and DVD every night, the phone switched to divert save for texts. It’s too damn easy and empty. I demand late summer evening walks with sweet girls and Californian rosé chilling on a piece of string in the Serpentine!
It’s late evening and I wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf. California at it’s worst. Garish amusement arcades and shite restaurants. Plastic pirates and kids screaming / laughing / crying as fits their fits. I needed a piss (which has kind of been a motif this trip!) so went into a terrible bar and duelled with a cunt of a barmaid, really sarcastic (or perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood?) I tried to leave with my beer that she insisted I bought to use her toilet, and the maitre d looking like Condoleezza Rice but twice as mean chases after me shouting. “Sir...Sir...we’re not liable for drinks taken outside”
What the fuck does that mean? I’ll be liable for them then! No. Back in I go. I stand there sourley eyeballing her and finish the beer in two big gulps without breaking her stare.
I’m now looking at a fantastic sunset though which burns through any bitter braindrops. I’m on the pier overlooking all the main attractions and the bay is alive with birds. Pelicans, Gulls, Terns all swooping and heading home, like I must soon do.
I walk back through the more cultured restaurants of North Beach, but they all look too swanky and romantic for a man that’s been wearing the same pants for three weeks. I get a taxi back to the Haight and find a sublimely atmospheric Algerian restaurant that’s all dark red and black’s, tiny booths and alcoves lit only by small candlelight, like being inside a blood vessel.
As I come back to the hotel, an old frail lady is trying to open the outer gate I know instantly it must be Sami Sunchild – the owner. She’s pretty famous globally in her own right as an artist and “social innovator”. We have the briefest of exchanges:
“What’s your name?”
“Well, hello Jonathan Jonathan!”
Her eyes twinkle at me in the moonlight half the age the rest of her seems to be. I go up to the room thinking how happy and connected she seemed. I feel a bit of a cunt for taking the piss out of her in my mind for the last couple of days. I’ve been reading a lot about her from all the literature around the hotel and I thought she sounded a tad pretentious and full of her own self importance. She also seemed to be taking herself incredibly seriously. I wanted to say – you’ve only opened a hotel and drawn a few pictures, love, “Social Innovator and Peace Arts Facilitator” is a little grand, ne c’est pas? But having met her now, I think I was wrong. The lesson being to not be too quick to judge.
Anyway, I feel totally shattered and am now laying like a Roman emperor on my massive bed with a bottle of red which I bought from the late night liquor store. As I’m choosing the wine, this old hippy guy walks in, all frazzled grey hair and Tye-dye, he’s sporting a small gash above the eye which is leaking. The cashier obviously knows him and shouts across through the rows of pretzels – “What happened?”
“What happened, man?” he replies, “Woodstock happened..!”
I’m going to crash out now. Bedways is bestways. I want to be fresh in preparation for being shot off this continent at 600mph tomorrow. The Virgin flight plan takes us close to the Arctic Circle over Newfoundland and Greenland. It makes me laugh that the air stewards still feel it necessary to show us how to operate the life jackets, bearing in mind that if we were to crash we’d all last about 4 minutes in water of that temperature. Sweet dreams, eh?!
I wake up in the night at exactly 4-30am. I’ll explain why this is interesting. First of all, I was more tired than a dog after a night in a butcher’s shop so by rights I shouldn’t have woken up till 10ish. But my flight is at 4-30pm and exactly the same thing happened to me when I was in India. I got the times mixed up and my flight left without me at 2:10am. I only realised this when I rocked up with only the shirt on my back at 2:10pm the day after! The weirdest thing though was that I also woke up at exactly 2:10am (as the flight was taking off). That was 1996. I hope ten years later I haven’t made the same mistake!
The hotel / commune staff are banging around downstairs. The ethos of this place is that everyone who stays here meets over breakfast in the salon and has a good ole’ chinwag about who they are and where they come from. FUCK THAT. Breakfast finishes at 9-30 and I’ve been lurching out of my pit round 11 and straight out into the street. I think they resent me for that and I’m sure things have been said about my absence, along the lines of:
“Hey Moonflower Gravyface, who’s that uptight dude skulking round in the Redwood room?”
Oh well. Can’t please everyone. I just have to accept it that my personality is not designed for Californian New Age caring sharing.
OK. The Game is afoot. Endgame. Packing my monstrous bags and shipping out. Engage the hyperdrive and jump forward 8 hours. See you across the pond for tea with the vicar and imam.
Part of my heart will remain in SF. It’s a city that loves and encourages idiosyn-crazies! There’s no need for me to hide them. In SF, I could nonchalantly drop into a random bar conversation something like - “I had a fantastic wank in the shower this morning and came the stars from the US flag. In the afterglow I felt the universe pass through me,” without fear of being perceived as insane!
Try to say that in an average bar in London and Alsatian dogs with the face of Margaret Thatcher would be released to drag me off to the Conformance Centre!
As I sit here in “All you Knead” having my final Lox breakfast, I reach into my wallet to pull out change and what falls out, but a flier for Ruby Skye, the club I couldn’t find with Jackie on Tuesday! On the back of the flier is a map. Fate personified. Believe in a universal guiding force! Even if the why isn’t always obvious.
I’m flying over Greenland, chasing the sunrise. They’ve asked us all to put down the blinds so we feel we’re actually getting a night, but I keep peeking and it seems that the sky has gone straight from sunset to sunrise without ever going down. Perhaps because we are flying so far north? I’m sitting here reminiscing on the trip, letting my sub-conscious shuffle all the experiences like a deck of cards ready to deal them to their rightful place in my memory palace. SF Airport was like an extension of SF itself: cool, relaxed, calm and futuristic. I tried to smuggle the corkscrew I bought in San Luis Obispo but got rumbled and hauled off to a special area and questioned. The soft voice over the airport tannoy is so silky and friendly, it could tell you that your plane is delayed indefinitely and you’d thank them for it. Sexy computer future.
Virgin is the Atlantic auteur, the best in the air. This Boeing 747 is a plane for adults, not like the Lear jet that flew me to Oklahoma City. I’m watching V for Vendetta on the seat TV and it’s pretty good, but near the knuckle after the 7/7 bombings, some might even say irresponsible with it’s references to the Koran and Guy Fawkes theme. Perhaps I’m just getting old. I certainly feel a lot older than four weeks ago when I was flying in the other direction and that’s a good thing. I’ve lost all idea of time at the moment, all I know for sure is that we’re on the final approach to Heathrow so it must be Thursday morning. We’ve chased the dawn all the way.
I offer up a final silent prayer to the goddess of love that I may keep the faith and realise my goals and I wish the same for anyone reading this. The undercarriage goes down. London comes up.
© Michael G Zealey. 2006
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