Alas, in a nondescript Californian rest area we exchanged texts with a few Irish girls we had met previously on our travels and arranged to head to a house party somewhere in Santa Barbara. It had always been our intention to rendezvous with these girls if we headed back that way, although the impromptu nature of it all was somewhat of a pleasant surprise, especially having missed out on a night out in Santa Cruz the previous night.
Pulling into Santa Barbara (that makes it sound like a small village; it isn’t…) we headed to what can only be described as a floor-to-ceiling booze megastore that calmly and understatedly described itself as an off-licence. With spirits, beer and wine stacked twenty-feet high on a shelving system that puts Amazon warehouses to shame, it was hands down the most pervasively alcoholic environment I had ever been in.
There was even a pirate outside that somewhat “greeted” our arrival at this den of depravity. Regardless, we purchased. With gusto, I might add. We only had a few days remaining in the States so we intended on partying hard. Stocked up with enough beer and spirits to sink a Russian armada, we headed over to the party.
Catching up with the girls that we had met two months previously added a nice circularity to our trip – we regaled them with tales of our adventures whilst they informed us as to how they had tried to make a living the other side of the Atlantic. Drinking games and general levels of debauchery continued throughout the night until roughly 6am when things began to quieten down. Winty found solace in a brunette, I paired off with a blonde, whilst Ads – knowingly intoxicated to an impressive level found himself with a girl who would later end up dating a guy we both knew from university. Small world, as they say…
The next morning barely existed, although the early afternoon was one giant, elongated, prolonged, tormented, and diabolical hungover blur. A bit of baseball was watched, but no home runs were scored. God bless America. Ads and Winty took a trip to the nearby beach, before we bade farewell to this Irish corner of California that had provided such an entertaining evening. With the well wishes being offered, hands were unclasped as reluctantly as two sides of a coconut being split.
There was still time for an unknown dude to rock up to our “cool van” and invite us to his “house-party on Thursday bro,” which although we “digged” the idea of (being hip British travellers and all) we knew we would be somewhere over the Atlantic as it kicked off. It seemed a shame. Alas, we progressed, hitting the road southbound in search of further Californian dreams. God bless Katy Perry.
We paused at some point that afternoon to give our blessed and abused van some long overdue reparations. A new battery was fitted and a new lease of life given; PornStar drove again. We headed on to our RV site for the night, in desperate need of sleep and recovery. Around 10ish we pulled in, grabbed a hastily cooked meal and commenced our evening of, well, general nothingness. It was bliss. I checked my Facebook to discover one missed log-out had resulted in a monster rape and a lot of attention from those back home. And there was I getting excited about my forty-nine notifications. Fail.
The next morning we rose after great sleeps. Winty successfully negotiated a RV pass for our van (as opposed to just a general camper admission) which gave us a much better bay, certainly far better than what we had paid for. We headed into Huntingdon – well, to the beach – where we were greeted by a Ferrari and Porsche dealership, adjacent to a Taco Bell and a Pizza Hut. Such fine placement…
Just next to the beach were a set of what are best described as demonstrators; you get the gist of what I mean – casual chanting, marching together, placards and posters and all that jazz. Except that these folks were pro-religion; “Jesus Rules” and “God Judges Sin” were amongst the more prominent placards. Hilariously, barely five meters away from these God-loving / God-fearing amigos were a group of ten bikini-clad girls, resplendent in their next-to-nothingness and chanting “legalise cannabis” whilst holding their own “LEGALISE POT” placards. The irony and amusement was thoroughly enjoyed by us Brits.
The beach afternoon was cool. It was like being on holiday, which seems a silly statement in the context of what was essentially a glorified three-month vacation, but sometimes sitting around with a beer in the sand is all you actually crave. A few book pages were turned and a few Zs caught before early evening we meandered through town and took in the local Huntingdon market.
The streets were packed with sellers, buyers and general observers alike, absorbing the relentless offerings of food produce and bric-a-brac, not to mention the omnipresent sounds of amateur musicians and street entertainers, all equally enthused by the notion of catching your ears and your imagination. One gent, Erik Kuffs (possibly…), was particularly impressive with his enthusiastic and intriguing electro covers of classic American pop.
After we had ourselves wowed by the notion of balance-improving wrist-bands, we took advice from a few of the girls we had spoken to and made plans to head towards the “only place to be” on a Tuesdays in Huntingdon – Sharkeez. Flashbacks aplenty to our arrivals in Hermosa it seemed. We cooked dinner by the beach, itself a fun experience (and, surprisingly, an audience-drawing one too…) before genuinely getting changed into our going-out clothes for the night on a side-street, outer-wear that had almost become alien to us over the preceding months. Sharkeez was essentially a night of giant tequila shots and giant cocktail pitchers. The fun was good, the drunkenness even more significant, and the dancing thankfully – seeing as it is bad enough at the best of times – non-existent.
The following morning’s hangovers were sadly anything but non-existent. We began dealing with said hangovers with a traditional dose of coffee, followed swiftly by a less-traditional dose of van tidying and cleaning. We had put it off long enough after all. We hit up a few shop and grabbed ourselves some sale bargains (again, Levis jeans for $9 (yes, nine!) instead of £80… what a steal!) before purchasing our evenings pre-drinks and strangely tucking into two dinners back at the campsite. I do not recall why we ate twice; perhaps because we were hungry, perhaps as we would only have binned the food. Strange…
Regardless, beers and wines were consumed, including a Rolling Rock or two – fitting given that I had just purchased a Rolling Rock tshirt of my own. Sipping the beer that branded my chest, I was the living embodiment of a walking, talking clichéd advert. ~Funnily enough, I quite liked it…
We took a taxi into Newport, thereby allowing all of us to drink on the final night of our epic American adventure. The taxi driver himself was nothing short of mental; it was almost as if he wanted to give us a goodbye journey to remember. The rants he careered off on were as dazzling as they were confusing. Eventually it reached the point whereby we could no longer stifle our laughter.
The bar of choice, once again, was a Sharkeez, albeit the Newport version of the chain we had seen in Huntingdon and Hermosa. This one, thankfully, was not only larger, but considerably busier too. And so was the plastic in our wallets. We comfortably cleared $200 as we blew out in style, at one point separately returning from the bar with fish-bowls to discover each other had already done the deed and bought a fish-bowl apiece. Ahh, great minds, as they say…
It was an entertaining night to say the least. We made a number of new friends, danced like total dickheads, got started on by a deranged lunatic (not just your standard lunatic…), and drunk more Jägerbombs then you could shake a hastily arranged army of German fists at. Unsurprisingly we were surrounded by yet more Australian and Irish girls; it was almost as if a pattern was emerging. When we finally met some genuine Californians we were shocked almost to the point of disbelief…
We surged on and took an endless array of final-night photos together. We could all feel a tinge of sadness that this epic adventure was drawing to a close but were determined not to let it put a downer on our last evening out – party hard and party happy was the motto. And sure we did…
The following morning was a sombre affair. Hangovers and the reality of departures took over as we began packing up our things and discarding three months’ worth of accumulated rubbish. We laughed when recalling how Winty had been told off by a neighbouring camper for firing up his bed’s motorised air-pump at 3am, and then laughed further when we chose to clean down the van with an assortment of soon-to-be-dispensed-with towels and clothes. Poor old PornStar had been in desperate need of a wash it seemed.
After coffees and breakfast we made tracks across Los Angeles towards LAX, a highlight being when Adam negotiated six lanes of bustling interstate traffic in under thirty seconds as we squeezed into the car pool lane with barely a metre to spare. Tight, but as amusing as ever. Our final meal was taken at In-N-Out Burger, tucking into an animal-style burger and animal-style fries off the secret menu – my God it was tasty.
From here we proceeded to the base of Escape Campervans and returned our beloved van to her owners. We had racked up an extra seven-hundred dollars’ worth of surplus mileage charges, unsurprising seeing as we had clocked up 10,300miles in the space of three months. Shaun, the Escape rep on duty, dropped us off at the airport, us regaling him with tales from our travels and him doing the same about his time on the road.
At check-in for the flight we realised we were still in possession of our beloved guitar, Barbara. We had tried to sell her to folks on the beach but with no joy, and were consequently adamant that we would not just leave her on the side. By quirk of fate the French couple in front of us had a spare cardboard box, so with us less than three people from the front of a massive check-in queue I proceeded to dismantle the box and Gaffa-tape it around the outside of Barbara, much to the disbelieving amusement of those behind us in the queue. Our turn was called, and with our bags being checked by the now-frustrated attendant I was still scrawling the word FRAGILE in giant letters across the impromptu guitar “case” as he demanded my passport for the third time. I proudly stood up, eventually, presented my passport and requested to check an extra baggage item. The dishevelled and hastily-arranged mess of guitar and cardboard cost me an extra sixty bucks to get home, two-thirds the cost of Barbara herself, so I began praying the scribbled FRAGILE warnings were heeded.
We checked-in, just about passed security (the air-pump and mass of cameras and wiring in Winty’s bag set off all manner of alarms), waited for our flight in the lounge area, eventually boarded after an hour’s wait, and then, before we knew it, we were in the air. For a final memento we all signed a dollar bill for each other, and that, as they say, was pretty much that. With a quiet tear in the eye and a glance out over the plane’s wing, our enthralling and eye-opening American road-trip had come to a close.
In America, his travel diary from his time in the States, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard stated: ‘Drive ten thousand miles across America and you will know more about the country than all the institutes of sociology and political science put together.’ We had racked up 10,300miles and consequently felt we had given his line more than our money’s worth.
We had been fortunate enough to be repeatedly blown away by the stunning power and beauty of nature in some of America’s finest National Parks, experienced some of the country’s most iconic cities, seen myths and stereotypes both confirmed and dispelled, lived a life on the road that both Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson would have been proud of, and made a number of friendships – especially on Lummi Island – that, four years later, we still hold to this day. And, of course, we had managed to find our way to ‘The Most Photographed Barn in America.’
‘If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right,’ says Raoul Duke in reference to his ensuing cross-American adventure in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was a maxim we had applied to our travels in the western half of America, and boy did we think we had done a cracking job of it. It was quite simply a trip of a lifetime, and I cannot thank my fellow travellers enough for making it such an incredibly memorable experience. Ads, Winty, Sandy, Hugh & Jez – I salute you all.
Now where’s that garlic salt…