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 f**king 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 f**king Vampire in sunlight. I can feel a real “f**k 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 on 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 sh*t. 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 sh*ttyest. (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 c**ts! 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 sh*t 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 un- American. 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 gal thinks she 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 sh*t.
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 shi**y 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 undies. About 20 minutes ago I’m driving through a small winding road lined with houses when the urge to sh*t 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 f**king 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 undies 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 undies! 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.
F**k 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 undies, 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 man 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.