“The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind” – Humphrey Bogart, quoted on a plaque behind the bar at the speakeasy. The bartender poured the Famous Grouse heavily, and always added a straw. Every single American bartender added a straw to my glasses of brown liquor and Coke. But wait, what the hell? Why was I back at the speakeasy so quickly? This must’ve been the next night. I swear these notes are barely chronological. I should have left LA for SF by now. Anyway. Ryan – I have no idea who that is – was nowhere to be seen on this night, so one more solitary drinking session was assured for the lonesome traveller. I’d done it a million times before. You should never depend on rambling stoners when it comes to companionship drinking. Now that’s confusing. I’ve just realised the itchy-footed Columbian-bound pothead who I originally named “Feddie” was actually “Ryan”. See kids: this is why alcohol is evil. Shit’ll ruin your brain. I overheard a strange but interesting passage of conversation, probably between James and Ryan, while rousing from sleep the next morning: “He was a strange guy. When he was at college we’d go out collecting bags. I saw him on the road years later and he asked ‘Would you like to sell your house?’
I said ‘I’m pretty good with it.’ Not so much as a ‘hello’.”
The owner of the Del Monte used to keep a bottle of good port behind the bar. Alas, no more? They don’t serve Black Douglas Scotch in LA. Possibly the entire US. My kind of place. Fires burned brightly above and behind the predictable if indecipherable coldness of Scandanavian women who couldn’t accommodate male urges beyond a “hi” or a “no”. I was clearly not making headway with the only girls staying at the hostel who I’d identified as even slightly attractive. “Share living is an excellent way of learning valuable life lessons, at the cost of your soul.” That one definitely makes sense in the context of staying in hostels. Not to mention when it came to some of the freaks I’d shared houses with. Another postcard perfect day in southern California – until the fog arrived, that is.
Up at 5am to go to the toilet. No going back now. Randomly surfing the net on my phone, but slow complimentary wifi. At least breakfast and dinner was free. Waited for noise from passing cars to tap banal words into my phone, so as to not wake up my roommates. Had a hot shower ’cause I’d finally figured the faucet, then wandered to the fishing pier while my phone charged. This was my final day in LA. Chatted with a Pom, a Yank and some Aussies in the hostel kitchen upon return. Did not see one convincingly attractive woman there in five days. Incredible. The cab I ordered didn’t show after almost half an hour. The alternative independent cab driver was very rude.
“Santa Monica,” I requested.
“Where?” he fired back curtly.
“1453 Second Street,” I replied, directing him to exactly where my San Francisco-bound coach was leaving from, while thinking “Yeah I’m getting to specifics, you miserable fucking bastard”. He quite obviously took the long route to Santa Monica, then when close drove around running up the meter and pretending he didn’t know where exactly my destination was. I still tipped his surprised mug $5. There were no pokies in non-Las Vegas located American bars, so tipping surly servants $5 seemed an acceptable trade off. And the payoff? Karma, hopefully. Though with hindsight I’d argue karma wasn’t greatly on my side during the rest of the trip. I grabbed a double pier burger and regular coke then enjoyed watching the bums’ activities as I munched my meagre meal. While struggling with a water fountain, some dirty bastard came along and aggressively used the exact one I was trying. An important tip for all you filthy, disgusting smokers out there: places you can’t smoke in California change with but a few steps, but several travel bags hanging from your emaciated frame and a dopey look on your face should save you from a fine.
Someone “spoke of my waking after only five hours like it was meant to be”, which is what I was thinking. I have little idea what that means. I guess it refers to something someone said back at the hostel, when I happened to wake up in time to get to the bus station and would have been late otherwise. “I caught him inspecting his hands. Checking for madness? Or hoping for however fleeting an indulgence of it?” I definitely have no idea what that’s about. “Reading is good because it allows you to be yourself while experiencing vicariously the innumerable experiences of others.” I yearned for the open road. “History is a diamond mine or sewer you can revisit at need and for whatever reason you like as long as you know when to go. Is it not miraculous that perfectly flat ground for many, many hectares exists anywhere in this world of random consequence?” I could vaguely recall a time in which it was not only forbidden, but ominous to ride or walk beyond the end of the cul-de-sac I called home as a child. It seems even for a journey such as this, some tens of thousands of kilometres beyond the end of that street and the comfortable old home it hosted, that the same rules of survival and enjoyment apply to the smallest or greatest journey: be wary, be open-minded, be polite and, above all else, keep moving when circumstance demands it and always consider lingering when it doesn’t. “Nature stands passive whether it elicits wondered gasps of appreciation or pained groans of fatal exposure. The people I meet will, too, until engaged with by me. And the manner of their treatment of me will be almost entirely dictated by mine of them.”