SHE stood soaked by Eureka, northern California’s winter rain, watching the dislocated Australian trying to use an instrument handed to him by a Negro jazz man. Upon being whirled around, it was meant to sound similar to an Aboriginal didgeridoo. I mentioned to her and her friend Aboriginal custom dictated women could not play the didgeridoo, but that they could play it till their lips were sore, for all I cared. She maintained her gaze as the cold wet came relentlessly down. After managing a sound, if not a tune, I discovered her name was Sarah and resolved to offer her a drink. That thing led to those other things and several hours and drinks later I woke miles away north in Arcata, at a biology student share house resplendent with pet bugs, worm-filled jars in the kitchen and ducks in the backyard. Events could and were meant to have turned out vastly different. Had my Wicked Camper hire-van decided to move that morning instead of ending up overnight in a mechanic’s shop open Saturdays, I could by then have been in Oregon, or even Washington, within the United States of America’s edgy, wet, freezing Pacific north-west. Innumerable similar events altered the journey’s course in weird and wonderful ways control freaks will never come to know the pleasure of. At the very least, I could have had a much less enjoyable Friday night.
“Could you please do me a favour?” I breathlessly asked the tired insurance company receptionist, somewhere south-east of the Las Vegas Strip, beside the airport’s impenetrable razor wire fences.
“Depends what it is,” she replied.
“Could you please call me a cab?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” she acquiesced, which left me sitting, hungover, outside a building cab drivers apparently “found hard to find”, waiting for one I wasn’t sure would arrive in time for my flight. The lesson is: under few circumstances walk to Las Vegas’ airport from its northern side, and never from its south. As I took to the air in the direction of New Orleans, Louisiana, I realised since I’d arrived at Yosemite National Park in a wildly painted Chevrolet camper van, about a month earlier, how much things – not to mention I – had changed. After my own drug-free and largely solo, but alcohol and gambling compensated, version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was certainly a few hundred dollars and brain cells lighter, if nothing else.
Wicked’s Sacramento (California’s odd capitol (sic)) depot manager handed me the keys to the Dragon, and said he’d expected me there sooner than about 3pm. I instantly realised catching a coach from San Francisco then taxi to the city’s outskirts in one day was ill-advised compared to staying locally overnight. But of course it was immediately too late. And it had also been achingly difficult to depart San Fran’s timeless physical and cultural beauty. The van was so-named because it was painted with a Chinese dragon and tiger menacing each other from either side of a yin and yang symbol on one side, and another larger lone dragon on the other. Typical of Wicked vans, an irreverent quote on its rear in this case read “Don’t fly Virgin Atlantic, they never go all the way”. The mission was simple: get it to Vancouver, British Columbia, within two weeks – a timeframe that was extended not least because of the unexpectedly long stay in Eureka, a town rarely given much attention by international travellers. The Dragon simply needed a bashed in door-handle repaired in its native Canada, where its BC plates indicated it was from. Nothing went to plan; which is fine, because there never really was one.