6 – California South to North

Colleen’s House, Los Angeles (1/10/11)

On the train were two Welsh girls, Rachel and Beth, playing Angry Birds on an iPad. They were on their way to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, having spent only a few hours in Tokyo. We parted at the airport and I found my check-in desk, where I snagged an emergency exit seat. The flight though was delayed two hours, for which Singapore Air gave me a 2,000 yen voucher for food. I went up to the observation lounge and ate Thai crab and rice as I watched the sunset and planes taking off.

Afterwards, I mooched around for a while, spending the last of my yen on books, gifts, and snacks. I also checked in online, using the free wifi. Eventually I boarded the massive A380, where I had more legroom than god. Apart from a few moments of turbulence, it was a smooth flight with good food, and I dozed and watched movies as we crossed the Pacific and the International Date Line. Plus, the flight attendant, Zheng Liyan, was one of the most beautiful women I’d seen on my trip.

The immigration line in LAX was not fun, but eventually I got out, to be met by the effusive Colleen. We were soon back at her place, where I shucked my bags and had a glass of wine before heading to her sister Lisa’s place, where we met her brother-in-law, John, and their dogs. A very warm welcome, plus a rainbow sunset over LA and a visit to the newborn baby next door.

We drove off with the dog Annie, delivering her to Colleen’s boyfriend Ken, who then went out with us to Father’s Office for burgers and beer. Another move later we were joined in a bar by John and Lisa. Eventually, Colleen, Ken, John and I headed to Colleen’s place for more wine. When I finally went to sleep, I was out before I hit the pillow. A long sleep followed, with strange dreams of of massive fake houses and D_____ being evasive and dismissive.

I got up at 11.30am and showered in time to meet Colleen and head to a nearby shop and the Good Pizza outlet for breakfast pizza taco, orange juice, and pomegranate tea. After that, I was dropped back to the house with cereal, where I unpacked and where I not sit writing.

Sandpiper Lodge, Santa Barbara (5/10/11)

When Colleen reappeared, we headed out in her car to Manhattan Beach, where we visited the aquarium, had a slice of pizza, wandered along the pier, and, in my case, gorged on ice cream at the Coldstone Creamery. The plan for the evening was to hang out and drink, so we met up with two of Colleen’s friends at a Speakeasy in Culver City, but as it was too loud and dark there, we instead headed to another place nearby, where we were joined by Davan and Paul, two more of Colleen’s friends. More drinking ensued, and eventually we headed home by means that remain somewhat unclear to me, but it was via Dave’s place.

The next morning, I was in pretty good shape and got up early enough, but no one else was up for moving. When Paul arose, he and I went off to fetch some smoothies and his car. Eventually, Colleen arose too and put together some instructions for me—the time had come to take her car and explore. I headed out north and arrived at the Getty Center without too much trouble, enjoying both the spectacular art and the spectacular setting. A big launch was being set up—Pacific Standard Time—and I managed to stay until closing.

Next up was the Griffith Observatory, where I arrived at sunset and had to park way down the hill. Still, the view was again well worth it, and I spent as much time as I could there, roaming around the exhibits, looking through the 12-inch refractor, and viewing the planetarium show. Falling asleep during the latter was a sign that my evening was coming to an end, so I headed down the hill in darkness to retrieve the car and drove off.

There were several missed route adventures on the way back to Colleen’s, and I had to turn to KFC for sustenance, but she and I arrived back at the same time, and after some chatting we both headed to bed. The next day, she was up early and off to work, whereas I was up late and mooched around the house, sorting out travel plans and generally getting ready for moving on. It wasn’t until the evening that I headed out in the company of Dave, having met Colleen’s housemate Eric, picking up a chimichanga at Hacienda, and then heading to Dave’s place, where his brother and Davan also were. We watched UFC and Davan left before Colleen arrived wrecked from a long day. We had a bit more rest, then headed home once more.

There were some farewells that night and more the next morning, before she headed to early work. I was off a little later, taking a taxi to Alamo to pick up my hire car, a Nissan Versa. The GPS brought me to Santa Monica, where I watched the surf and the Baywatch hits before meeting Dave for an abortive Mac-buying effort.

After that I headed across town to the La Brea tar pits for an afternoon of bones, recreations, hydrogen sulphide, and burgers in the nearby Counter Bar. Next door was the LA County Museum of Art, which had a fine collection of Pop Art, a Tim Burton exhibition, an exhibition of California design, and some Japanese art.

I headed back to Santa Monica beach to try and fail again at buying a laptop—damn credit card—and eventually drove off, heading north on Highway 1. The sun had set by the time I reached Malibu, where I found no cheap accommodation, and eventually I had to sneak Internet access off a motel to book a room at the Sandpiper Lodge, a long drive away in Santa Barbara. I got there around 10.30pm and barely bothered to unpack, watching Doctor Who before sleep.

Morning brought a cheap breakfast, a shower, and a plan for the day. Also some steady rain, which has the Californians panicking. Hope it doesn’t cause too many problems.

Grover Beach Inn, Grover Beach (6/10/11)

Started out early from Santa Barbara, following the U.S. 101 east to Topanga. The rain was steady, and at times heavy. The traffic wasn’t too much of a problem, but I did see a couple of crashes on the way. The greyness started to beak in the Topanga Canyon, which was beautiful in the mist, and there were some sublime views as I followed the 1 back along the coast.

It was well after lunch when I stopped at the Gaviota State Beach, which was all but abandoned and didn’t seem too safe for swimming, overshadowed as it was by a rail bridge, rusty and old. From there I headed north through the hills, then west on 1, ignoring the GPS’s chirping as I reached Lompoc and refuelled. From there I headed north, passing Vandenberg AFB. Not quite as much to see as the fine houses I drove past at Santa Barbara but interesting nonetheless.

From there I rejoined the 101 for the short run to Grover Beach. The inn is somewhat scuzzier than the previous night’s one, but it was more than bearable, even if I had to change room to get a decent wifi signal. I did explore nearby Pismo, having fish tacos at Hoagies and a pumpkin frozen yogurt with Graham Crackers and caramel as I walked on the beach.

No more for the evening though. I returned to my room, read, planned, and absorbed the death of Steve Jobs. Watched some Vampire Diaries too. Then sleep, and this morning brought a shop in the nearby 7-11. The long drive today, along 1—I hope to see Hearst Castle and enjoy a rest for lunch amid coastal beauty. We’ll see.

Hitching Post Motel, Santa Cruz (7/10/11)

Started out from Grover Beach in the sun, driving through Pismo before joining the 101 for as long as it took to reach San Luis Obispo, where the 1 split off. The first part of the trip was smoother and quicker than expected, and it didn’t take long at all before I reached Hearst Castle. A short wait and a bus ride and I was at the top of the hill where Hearst built his Xanadu. A short stroll, a quick tour, and a wander around the grounds in the rain and I was back down to the welcome centre for a BBQ beef sandwich, an IMAX movie, and a dash through the rain to the car.

My camera died a few miles down the road, as I watched the elephant seals sunbathe, but as the sun started to peek out I kept on stopping to take photos of the coastline, with mountains clawed at by clouds and bridges reaching out across valleys. It made the trip longer than it would have been, and by the time I stopped in Nepenthe on the Big Sur, the sun was dipping. It wasn’t until a rainbow later and a stop at Marina Beach that sunset happened. After that, I headed straight to Salinas and the Good Nite Inn for a quiet evening under the sheets.

Up early once more and grabbing a tea, juice, and muffin breakfast before eventually rolling out, all set for a fun day. First up was Carmel Beach, where I finally played with the surf, getting battered as bikini babes sunbathed. When I pulled myself together, I drove through quiet Carmel itself to Cannery Row in Monterey, where I had lunch in Bubba Gump. Tasty and swift, but although I drove around a little, the time had come to head to Santa Cruz.

Not without one little break though—I was getting drowsy at the wheel, so I pulled off 1 at Seacliff Beach, where they were setting up fireworks. When I’d rested, I headed into town and the Hitching Post Motel, and I’ve been there more or less ever since; it’s a cosy place, even if it does cost a pretty packet. Rugby tonight, but first some exploration.

Hitching Post Motel, Santa Cruz (9/10/11)

After I managed to rouse myself on Friday evening, I drove around Santa Cruz, inspecting its wharfside before heading down to Capitola and back to the motel. The place has a real small-town feel, with dark and quiet streets even on a Friday night.

Back in the motel, struggling with dodgy Internet, I decided to head to Capitola by bus before walking the rest of the way to the Britannia Arms. There I was assailed by some scavenger hunters and met up with some pro-golf caddies from Pebble Beach to watch the rugby. Not a fun game, as Ireland went out with a whimper, but it was nice to see it, and I had a peaceful walk home.

Next morning, Kalin picked me up at the motel and we headed to a nearby spot for crepe breakfasts. Afterwards, we headed into the forest to trek through the redwoods, then sat at an overlook before heading to a Mexican spot for lunch—where I spent most of the afternoon showing off my photos.

We headed to the Boardwalk amusement park after, then spent our time riding the attractions until sunset, including the dipper twice. It got dark as we grabbed ice creams and walked out on the pier, where we heard but couldn’t see the sealions. That was about it though, and Kalin took me back to the motel, on a search for a laundry and a more successful search for beer. Then she was gone and I was off on an evening of beer and TV.

Next morning, up early and packing. Off to Cupertino, then San Francisco. All good fun. Hope I make it in time.

California Zephyr Lounge Car, East of San Francisco (10/10/11)

The weather was changeable north of Santa Cruz, diving between sunshine and mist-shrouded valleys, but I made good time all the way to Cupertino, on the outskirts of San Jose. I battled with the satnav and parked near the Steve Jobs memorial, which had a few attendees, then circled the Infinite Loop before heading on to San Francisco.

South San Francisco was topped with clouds, but by the time I drove around and into the city, the sun was coming out. I dropped the car back to Alamo near Union Square, then walked the few blocks to the Globetrotters Inn. It was early, but I dropped off my bulky luggage and headed east out into the sun, down Market to the wharf. There, the rail tickets were swiftly sorted and I continued north around the docks, following the crowd.

A climb the long way up Telegraph Hill brought me to Coit Tower in time to see an aerobatics display over the bay. I climbed the tower, which was barely worth it with its narrow windows, then descended and headed for Chinatown.

Pre-Columbus Day Parades were all over, but I dodged them and had an iffy noodles-and-dumplings lunch in Dim Sum House. Some more walking took me back to Market and the Apple Store, where I reoriented myself. A long walk down Market and Fell brought me to Isotope Comics and a longer one still to Haight and Masonic, via Buena Vista Park, where I had a pint of Prescription Pale Ale in Magnolia.

Walking brought me back to Globetrotters around sunset, and I hung around for a few hours to do laundry. Chatting with my roommates was cool—two German girls with the same name and an Indian guy from Detroit. After laundry, I had a burger and Dr Pepper at Carls Jr., then returned to the hostel (after a pint of Steam Beer) for a chat with the German girls, a Dutch pair and, and some South Africans before washing and sleeping.

Up before anyone save the Indian guy, I dressed and packed in the dark and headed out into the grey morning. At the bus stop, I met a couple of girls also headed east, from Denver and Somerset, and we hung together until we were on board. As the train set off and the rain came down, we gathered in the Sky Lounge car, where I am now, east of Koufax, crossing the Sierra Nevada in the mist and rain.

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