For any man or woman, a road trip through California with three of your friends must be one of the most sought after life experiences around. It was most certainly for me, and although our journey was not without disagreement, I must admit that it was an incredibly beautiful and precious time, one I wish I could relive and give even more of myself to.
Firstly, before re-embarking on my adventure, I must introduce my allies! The first is my good friend Ben Wintour, a tall chestnut affair of rounded good looks and plentiful insulation. The second a man named Chris Rayment, a strawberry blonde smooth talker with a real love for BANTER. The third, a chap who goes by the name of Charles “Charlie” Forbes, although slightly more petite in stature than the rest of us, he is as strong as any and a born sportsman! All four of us had never been on holiday together, so I was unsure what to expect, but I had spent five years growing up with these boys at boarding school, so I knew they could be trusted. Ben and I would take an earlier flight into San Diego, which we would have to connect to in Washington DC, and this meant we would arrive one day earlier than Chris and Charlie. The corridors and lobbies of San Diego International Airport were passageways that lead us towards a place both familiar and also entirely new to us, California!
We emerged eagerly into the sunshine and hailed a cab sitting in wait outside the terminal. We gave the name of our hotel, which apparently was a famous one and well respected, and sat back buzzing with excitement as our taxi whisked us onto the first mile of our road trip. We were soon traveling over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, it snaked out from the mainland, rising high over the bay, linking downtown San Diego with Coronado Island. As we rounded into the hotel’s drop-off driveway, a smartly uniformed porter leaned towards the taxi, opening the door he exclaimed, “Welcome to the Hotel Coronado!” I reached towards the door and pulled it shut without explanation, calling to the driver, “Back to the airport and quick!” Ben must have looked at me very strangely and slightly confused. All I had to say to him, as I slumped back into my seat was, “We’ve left our bags at the airport!”
After settling nicely, if not a little tardily into our room, we swim suited up and went straight to the beach. It was lovely, a wide stretch of golden sand curved into the distance, its limits obscured by the haze of such a hot and cloudless day. We walked for a while, admiring the men and women who reveled in the Pacific Ocean. We came across a couple of Mexican men who were throwing an American football to each other, and we asked to join in. Wanting to show how two Englishmen could throw a pigskin, we engaged in some long passes up and down the beach, providing a spectacle and occasional plummeting hazard for the beachgoers. After we had tired ourselves out and cooled ourselves off in the water, our Mexican friends asked us back to their small beach camp to meet the rest of their family and to have a cold beer in the sun. One of our hosts reached into a cooler situated underneath an umbrella and handed us each a beer. We both understood at that moment that a cooler would be essential to fulfill the potential of our road trip. We talked for a while, exchanging stories and getting to know each other and then thanking them for their hospitality and kindness, we left them and strolled down the beach towards the hotel. Exhausted from the jet lag we soon fell asleep, only to awaken some hours later by a knocking at the door.
Chris and Charlie had finally arrived, so we decided to go out for breakfast and explore Coronado Island. We came across a quaint, authentic looking Mexican-style breakfast bar and ordered what I can only describe as the most massive breakfast burrito I have ever and most likely will never come across again. Suitably stuffed we explored the small, idyllic resort town of Coronado (thinking back on it now it quite reminds me of Seahaven Island, a place dreamed up by Christof, director of the Truman Show). We bought some beer from a liquor store and returned to the hotel where we holed up in our enclosed patio area and started playing drinking games. Chris and Charlie finally succumbed to jet lag and retreated to their room. This left Ben and me to our own devices. San Diego was our oyster.
We set out to take the bus downtown. As we took our seats on the bus, I noticed a grizzled man sitting opposite, stroking his chin with a hand missing the three middle fingers. He began to take an interest in us and started talking at us, both of us were quite uncomfortable, as he seemed slightly mad. He kept asking us questions, like where were we going? We told him we were going downtown to explore. This got him very excited indeed. “Don’t go downtown!” he warned us in a voice I can only describe as chilling. Don’t go downtown we thought, why? Maybe he had an accident downtown; maybe that’s where he lost his fingers? So after assuring him we would avoid downtown at all costs, we alighted in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. Ben and I explored with gusto, finding bars to drink in and a place to chow down at an all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet. Feeling fully Americanized, we returned home satisfied from our first night out. The next day we all went to pick up the car from the car rental place. I knew we were thinking about a 4x4, and I was on board, although I did have one or two conditions. Basically, please don’t let it be gaudy gold! At the end of it all, we set off in our shiny 4x4. Hey, it wasn’t that bad, at least it reflected the great state we’d be driving through.
On our way out of San Diego, we stopped off at a supermarket to buy a big red cooler. We stocked it with beer, snacks, chips, dips, and blue Powerade in case we encountered any Crips. We also used it as a table when Ben and I fancied playing cards in the back seat. We set off down the open road and made good time, arriving in LA later that day. After a little trouble finding the hostel, we arrived at our destination. We were greeted by a tall, bubbly, smiling blonde who took us into the kitchen area for a briefing about rules and regulations. She showed us where we would be sleeping and told us a little about the area. I was quick to ask about the possibility of some medicinal marijuana as a pain in my knee spawned from the long flight was causing some discomfort. With a twinkle in her eye, she told me that there was a dispensary on the corner. After quickly locking away our luggage we set off for a walking tour of LA. Passing the dispensary, I casually purchased an eighth of OG Kush. The issue of my knee never came up. Stretching our legs towards the beach, we sat on the sand, rolled a joint, and marveled at how lucky we were.
The drug took effect and Charlie and I began discussing the possibilities that the seagulls were watching us. My brain formed an avian conspiracy theory positing that the birds were in fact an extremely intelligent race possessing of their own society. The pigeons were the proletariat, the seagulls were the coast guards, and the eagles and owls were masters over all. We strolled for a little while longer until we happened upon the Venice fishing pier. As we were admiring the ocean, I noticed a little ball in the ocean, about 25-30 meters from the shoreline. I began to wonder if maybe someone had drifted out but thought naively that one might well be able to swim out and then back in again with relative ease. How I was mistaken. I then noticed that there was a lifeguard on the beach, just like out of Baywatch, waving a strong arm deliberately from left to right, apparently signaling to the blob to see whether it was alright, or if maybe it was one of those pesky UFO’s. The blob sprouted an arm and started to wave back. Mr. Baywatch turned to one of his colleagues and shouted something at him. The shouter then jumped into an off-road vehicle and hightailed it down the beach. Then . . . it happened! Mr. Baywatch took his floatation device in hand, having quickly secured the tether around his midriff, and sprinted into the surf. Flinging his device in front of him he dove into the waves and began to swim towards the blob. We could not believe this was happening!
What an incredible coincidence that as we were passing by some poor sod had had to be rescued—by Baywatch! Needless to say, I was incredibly excited and extremely happy, the blob now beginning to flounder in the water, his knight in red Lycra swimming to the rescue. Mr. Baywatch reached the man and started gesturing towards him. Not far off, I spotted a large wave bearing down on them. Mr. Baywatch looked at the blob and signaled to it. They both ducked beneath the wave, letting the wave pass over them. As they were slowly making their way towards the shore, every few seconds ducking beneath a wave, I noticed that they were being drawn ever closer to the large concrete legs of the pier, coated in a deceiving moss-barnacle combination. We were literally in the middle of a Baywatch episode! This was real life suspense, better than anything you could see on- screen, big or small. They disappeared under the peer. We looked at each other with a mad light in our eyes and with a sort of shrill shout we ran to the other side of the peer, leaning over, eager to witness the outcome.
In retrospect, I do think it would have ruined our day if one or both of them had actually drowned. I have a heart! Luckily they reappeared after a few seconds and continued the wave-ducking tactic, making a slow passage to shore. Incredibly, yet another blob was now signaling for help. It was quite far out, on the side of the pier where Mr. Baywatch and Mr. Blob had just appeared. Luckily for “it,” the first blob, which turned out to be a man, could now make it to shore as he was sufficiently near to it. Mr. Baywatch then turned and courageously, if not a little sleepily, began swimming towards blob numero dos. When he reached the blob, he gave it the floatation device and started taking it slowly to shore. A speedboat turned up shortly afterwards to rescue them from the water and return them to shore. We may have cheered. After all that excitement we returned to the hostel to hang out for a while, to get to know our fellow cohabiters. We were amazed by one young man who was a champion Rubik’s cube solver, I filmed him on my phone and he solved the cube in about seven seconds. I must admit, I was mildly skeptical as to whether he could achieve that time if I had had my way with the cube before he made his attempt.
The next day we met up with some of Chris’s relatives. It was decided that we would go and do a little surfing, so we followed their massive six-wheel pick-up truck and hit the beach. We only had boogie boards, but we made the most of it. There were great floating banks of seaweed that we had to traverse first before reaching the open water, and this was by no means easy, but we made it through and started paddling frantically forward against the waves. I really couldn’t see myself making any progress, but after a while I made it out and proceeded to bob around as Ben taught me how to catch a wave. I was absolutely hopeless. I think my spindly arms might have had something to do with that. Try as I might I never caught a wave. I did, however, see Ben whizz past me towards the shore. I also almost got my head split open by the shark-like head of a quickly diverted surfboard. We finally left the surf to go and dry off on the beach. Feeling hungry after all the surfing, Chris’s relatives took us to a famous Californian burger bar, In-N-Out Burger. We had no idea what we were in for. It feels slightly strange bigging up a burger bar as I am now vegetarian, but speaking for omnivore Ed, I must admit that those burgers were some of the best he has had in his life. We would frequent In-N-Out Burger throughout the great state of California, it becoming one of our staple foods. After that bounty of succulent beef, there was nothing for it but to go and walk it all off at the mall! Again, I was extremely happy to go and fulfill that which I had seen done on in so many films and TV series by so many of my favorite actors. There were corn dogs and big gulps of pink lemonade, and I reveled in the sights and sounds of a proper American mall.
That night we went to meet those same family friends at a luxury bar in downtown LA. The bar was situated on one of the upper floors in a hotel. It was not what I had had in mind when imagining our night out, but Chris’ family friends had been very generous with their time and had even invited us over for a lovely dinner the night after. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and chatted about that which you chat about looking out over Los Angeles: the sea and the setting sun. After a while, we made our goodbyes and our way out into a night so full of promise.
We walked through the buzzing streets looking for a fun looking place where we could kick the night off and came across what looked to be a Mexican bar with a commercial vibe. We approached the bar and ordered some margaritas. These margaritas were made in a fashion different to the puny ones I’d had elsewhere. They were served in huge margarita glasses, the diameter from lip to lip outrageous, about as wide as a dinner plate. They then plonked a bottle of Corona in upside down so that as you drank there was a spare bottle of alcohol, which replenished your glass as it simultaneously mixed with your drink. Around the rim there was an ungodly amount of salt. So we hung out and chatted, danced in a way that only we knew how, and eventually found ourselves cheering to the sound of a boy and a girl kicking off some karaoke.
By this point in time, I think the various alcohols which we had ingested must have all made their way to our heads, mixed with much of the salt that slipped into the drink. It was really quite disgusting, and dangerous as we were about to find out. Charlie and Chris decided to sing a song for the Karaoke, it must have been a duet. Anyway, at the last minute, Chris chickened out and left Charlie standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by people about to start the duet solo. I had had some Karaoke experience before, so I decided to jump in and help a brother out. A few seconds into the song I noticed that young Charlie swaying beside me was not singing a word. So there I was singing both parts of the duet, and what should happen next but people start to throw things at me! Not great big things like watermelons and bottles of Tequila, but small things such as pieces of balled up paper and ice. Dodging missiles, trying to read the lyrics on the screen, and coming to terms with the fact that I was not hitting the right notes meant that I was becoming steadily more embarrassed and angry, especially upon seeing that the people throwing things were, in fact, Ben and Chris. I did not know that Ben had been throwing things initially, and as the last few notes of the song mercifully played me out, a young woman walked by sarcastically stated, “Some friends you have!”
I couldn’t have agreed more. I was fuming. I have thought to this day that maybe the way I reacted was down to me being bullied at school, which as a result meant that I was slightly more sensitive to what I associated as ridicule. In any case, Chris and I had a massive argument. I remember feeling strongly like punching Chris in the face, but we didn’t come to blows. The only blows we ended up dishing out were to each other’s feelings. Ben and I went back to the hostel and Chris and Charlie went to a strip club. The next morning I met Chris outside the hostel to exchange apologies. Chris brought up past occurrences that he had apparently held against me, and I found myself apologizing for them more than he did for the night before. I had had the whole situation turned against me. Some people are just better at arguing face to face.
With this occurrence, I must admit that I was rather pessimistic as to whether the rest of the trip would be a success.
Stay tuned for Part 2...