Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Trading sunrise for sunset

I remember reading a horoscope at the start of the year that promised a surprise romance in June. Six months on, that made-up prediction has come true. Mexican food, as you worked on stopping my heart, you won it over. This love was not evidenced more than in Phoenix, where I sat on a stool at 11PM putting on my shoes and getting ready for my overnight bus and managed to break one of the floorboards with my extra burrito weight. Still, that burrito wasn't enough to put me to sleep for my journey from the desert of Phoenix to the coast of San Diego.

I'd checked the forecasts and they all said San Diego was experiencing cool temperatures. I thought it could be some other San Diego, somewhere in South America or the arctic, but alas it wasn't. My view out the window as the sun came up was of fog and windfarms, confirming that my dream of sitting on a beach had been foiled by meteorologists and poor timing.

I was excited to see the Pacific again, as there is some comfort in knowing that my hometown lay on the other side of the waves. It might be California, but there is a sense of home that isn't shared with the East Coast of the USA. Those first glimpses of the water meant a lot of things beyond going home, it also marked the end of my coast-to-coast venture, and though I was chuffed to say I have done it, the significance didn't hit me immediately. When you uproot yourself every couple of days for a few hours on a bus, the journeys tend to gain a sense of monotony. I should have been cheering to be where I was, but all I wanted to do was get off the bus and check into my bed.

Eventually I did just that. With the knowledge that I had completed something I'd long set out to do, I let exhaustion take the better of me, and for a few hours I slept. I've been on the move since May 12, and those few hours of kip were a hangover of everyday since then.

The plan was to meet up with Sam in San Diego, it's his favourite city and the last leg of his stay in America. As 8PM ticked over, he and four of his friends checked into the same room as me, and the tiredness that had shackled me for the day had left.

Sam's mates are all completely sound, and before too long we went looking for a bar to spend some time and dollars in. Sam isn't officially 21, and his unofficial licence was not accepted in the bars near where we were staying. As a second choice, we all snuck a few beers into the room, and as quietly as we could, we slowly became acquainted.

It was late in the morning or early afternoon before I was able to touch the Pacific again. The East Coast had been cold, and save for a few days in Miami, swimming in the ocean was one thing I really missed about home. As rapidly as a hirsute white-boy can, I ripped off my clothing and ran straight into the water. Summer might be already be here, but the water temperature is stuck in the opposite season. Still, that chill wasn't going to stop me, and for the next 30 minutes the battle against the cold and current was more enjoyable than the same circumstances would have been at home.

As one of Sam's friends, Shaun, worked his English tan from white to a luminous red, Ali, Adam, Sam and I walked along the beach and up the pier as surfers rode waves and Mexicans caught fish. That forecast of terrible weather had long left us, and the afternoon turned into one that would make any Californian proud. As we left the beach to head for $5 pizzas, I could see why Sam had been banging on about this place for so long.

Morrissey fan

Having heard so much about the place, I was finally able to go to San Diego Zoo. We all made a beeline to the polar bear section, where the massive white creatures sit out in the unfamiliar sun for most of their life. As we sat looking at what was an empty water pool for a long time, one of the bears swam to the bottom of the surface to eat a waterlogged carrot that had been sitting there for some time. At its completion it resurfaced, walked along the rocks next to the water and took a giant crap in the same water it had just eaten from. It was animal majesty at its finest, and already the entrance fee for the zoo had seemed totally worth it. To make things better, one of his polar bear friends pissed in the same water from a different vantage. Hilarious.

It got even better as we saw two male zebras get overly friendly before crapping right next to their pile of food. However, the finest moment for the animal kingdom was saved for our jungle ancestors. The biggest silverback gorilla on exhibit did some digital inspecting of another chimp's behind in front of a crowd full of amused tourists. The animals may not have been at their finest, but they were definitely pushing for their funniest.

Not long after the zoo I had the pleasure of joining some family friends for dinner at Seaport Village. The Thomas family are the embodiment of hospitality and friendliness. A few years ago they were kind enough to host my sister on her first visit to the USA. After a returning visit to Australia, they again extended themselves and accommodated my sister and I in 2007. It was the first leg of my first year abroad, and it was absolutely wonderful. There aren't enough kind words to describe how generous they were to me then, and no doubt the experience of meeting people like them played a part in a return to the USA. Seeing them again four years on proved no different.

The restaurant they took me to overlooked the water, and the vegetarian pizza I ordered was brilliant. However, the finest part about the evening was the company. I mentioned how the Pacific reminds me of home, but the way the family spoke about my sister and the last time I visited gave me another remind to feel at ease in Southern California. A waiter came around offering desserts to the table, my initial decline was shot down by Joe, the patriarch of the family, and on his insistence I ordered the creme brulee, the smallest option available. It didn't matter how it tasted, it could hardly have been sweeter. The whole meal turned into one of my favourites from my time here, I just hope I don't have to wait another four years to experience it again.

In my absence the boys had hatched a plan to grab some drinks, a football and sit by a firepit at the beach. With some other hostel guests we stopped by the liquor store and I picked up some rum for the evening. Knowing very little about the stuff, I took the clerk's recommendation and grabbed some Bacardi 151. It was brutal when mixed with soft drink, and drinking it straight felt like I had been kissing an angle-grinder. With the night rolling on, Sam and I worked our way through the bottle and eventually realised the alcohol content was over 75%. It was not long after a walk up the jetty at night that the night took a bit of a turn.

I don't really recall a lot of what happened, but at midday the next day I was woken up by Shaun saying "Lewis, you legend". I was feeling rough, and had no idea what he was talking about, but as the day rolled on so did the stories - none of which I recall.

It started with some post-modern photobombing and moved to cigars. Drinking in public is a crime in the USA, but that wasn't a problem on the walk home. Nor was climbing a tree for more bombing. Abusing passers-by was a bit of laugh, so was trying to fight Sam's friend Adam after I spilled his beer. There was vomiting in two different sinks, and numerous times where I snuck off to bed only to return five minutes later. When I did eventually crash I left both doors of the room wide open, such was the concern for security of all of my belongings that were strewn across the room.

By all reports it was a shocking effort, but worst of all, the night beat out the next day, and we missed out on seeing killer whales at Sea World. With the gloom of a well-earned hangover, we all went to the Gaslamp area of downtown for the afternoon. It was another brilliant side to what was quickly becoming one of my favourite places in the states, and was topped off when the vending machine gave me two drinks for one.

Eventually, the hour of saying goodbye to the boys rolled around, and the four lads I'd just met and I went our separate ways. It had been a great few days, and it was a blessing that they were all such sound people. Seeing them off also meant saying bye to Sam, the smartest hobo you'll ever meet. The two semesters with him were nothing but a pleasure, and though there was a bit of an age gap between us, his maturity and my lack-of placed us somewhere in the middle. We parted at a Greyhound station, and he eventually flew back to London before immediately heading to Glastonbury for days of music and camping. I'm hoping it's only a short good-bye, and that for whatever reason either of us end up on the other side of the world before too long.

My final Greyhound trip was typical agony, and with a major traffic delay and the prospect of another 150 minutes of public transport, I bit the bullet and paid for a taxi in the ridiculously expansive city. Once I made it to the hostel, ate more Mexican food and watched the sun set into the sea I had no regrets for that bit of spending. With only 8 days left, time has become a commodity more important than money.

I came to San Pedro because of a Mogwai song and the fact that Charles Bukowski took his final breaths there. As is typical of Los Angeles, it has surprised me with what it has to offer. Downtown is 30 minutes away, and in between is Inglewood and Compton, famous through hip-hop songs, yet San Pedro is a beautiful seaport that feels worlds away. The old fortified hill that the hostel sits on is surrounded by the Pacific, and every vantage is one that invites beauty. Hollywood strip clubs aside, it could be the best $22 view this city has to offer.

J Mascis and the Fog - Same Day
I've written about how much I love the West Coast, but I still love the East. Already, there are plenty of people living there who I miss dearly. On top of that, Northampton's Calvin Theater is hosting Dinosaur Jr, Thurston Moore and Henry Rollins and I would absolutely love to be there for that. Alas, I can't, but I've still got some solo J Mascis to comfort myself with. It's not Dinosaur Jr, but it is definitely one of his best songs.

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