There are some things that are certain about a family road trip. There is always going to be a big argument, the immature ones are bound to throw their toys out of the car.
The problem this time was that it was me.
We had spent a few hours wandering the streets of Los Angeles on foot, and the hills of Hollywood in the car. Everyone was bored and irritable, but I was generous – ”so young Ben, what would you like to do with the rest of the day?” “The beach? Your wish is my command, I know just the place”.
The problem was the usual Los Angeles problem, appalling traffic. So 1.5 hours later we had covered the 15 miles to the beach, and they all started moaning about the time it had taken.
I did calm down after a couple of beers.
In my book the best road trip in the world is the Pacific Coast Highway South from San Francisco, so we flew to one of my favourite cities to start with 3 days of immersion in local culture. And that is certainly what we got, loads and loads of local culture. I should explain that money is not exactly flush at the moment, and being the idiot I am, there is no way I would rent that strange American institution, the Recreational Vehicle. For goodness sake, it might be posher, but it is still a caravan.
So we had to avoid my usual work funded SF haunts, the lovely Marriott or the enormous Hilton, and we booked in to the very special sounding Bel Air.
I am well aware of the issues in SF having wandered around it many times, and I knew the hotel was in the Tenderloin area, only 2 blocks from the Hilton, 3 from the JW Marriott, but still a dubious area. This is mainly down to the number of people sleeping on the streets, and the “soup kitchens”, or “missions” as they are called here. Not particularly dangerous in my view, but you wouldn’t let a female walk it on their own, at day or night.
This was a shock to the 3 kids, we had gained an extra one for the trip, the lovely Jasmine having joined us from back home in Deddington. She and Jake were very affronted by the street people, SF has a lot of very extreme cases, they emptied their homes for people with mental problems some years ago. The ones that have survived haven’t gone very far.
At one point we caught the trolley car back from my spiritual hippie home, Haight Ashbury, and found ourselves alighting onto the pavement in central SF with a very troubled lady. As if her drug and sanity issues, she was also blind. So for 40 minutes Jake and I wandered the Tenderloin with this lady attached to my arm trying to find her food and a bed for the night. Quite a lesson for us all, but the street people were very helpful, and eventually we found her a home, and stuffing $20 into her hand I tried to salve my middle class guilt.
But the real problem was the hotel, whose interior should have been gutted years ago. Or demolished possibly. There was a hole in one bedroom wall the size of a football, or maybe a skull. Another room had bullet holes in the window, and the plumbing was, er basic. But, and there are some that know me who will be amazed, we stuck it out……the sheets were clean. I think. As I said, a good learning experience for young people, made me wonder about RVs though.
Then we drove down the coast road through Monterey, stopping at Carmel, and then a night at the fabulous Madonna Inn at San Luis Obispo, which is blessed with unique and individually themed rooms. We occupied the Sky Suite, last time Heather and I had the Rock Room. We ate in the most kitsch restaurant in the world, dressed up in Pink, with glorious Gents toilets modelled like a waterfall. I will say that it is very disturbing trying to pass water into a fountain, not best suited to my renowned prostrate problems.
Every Ward holiday includes a game, sometimes cards, this time it was Pit. A great game for waking up a restaurant at the end of a quiet day. The classic Mexican restaurant in the wild outskirts of Santa Monica lit up as the waiters tried to work out why we kept shouting “trading two, anyone trading two”. The food was excellent.
Our location in LA was a classic road motel, but clean and cheap. Then the “worlds’ best road trip” headed due East into the desert, and a stop at Joshua Tree National Park. I must say one of the things I love about the US is their National Parks, very well managed, and such extreme beauty. Unfortunately neither of the musical allusions of the area, Gram Parsons’ illegal funeral pyre, or the U2 album cover, could get the kids out of the hotel pool. Can I blame them? Yes, it is an unreal sight, hundreds of thousands of those strange trees, well worth the trip.
They just wanted to pretend their Dad had brought them on a beach holiday after all.
Then onwards to the dramatic state of Arizona, and firstly Sedona. Red Rocks, kids moaning about no pools, they insisted in sitting in the hotel room after a 6 hour drive while the grown-ups toured the town (and the bars). I will say that the 400 mile drive across the Mojave Desert is one of the most boring journeys in the world, at one point dead straight for 100 miles with no habitation at all, and 102°F outside. You don’t want to run out of petrol or breakdown, and many of these roads are falling apart, infrastructure investment is not a priority right now in the US of A.
And then on to the Grand Canyon. Always wanted to do this trick, we led the kids to the edge with their eyes closed. “Wow”. “It’s a big hole”. Out of the mouths of……
So we finish up in Las Vegas, 150,000 hotel rooms in the middle of the desert. The kids are amazed – “why?”
And what were their highlights? Jake – “the Bel Air, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas”. Jazmino – “SF and Grand Canyon”. Ben – “the English sweet shop in Santa Monica”.
Heather – “the Vortex in Sedona”, its best you ask her for details. It’s a strangely wonderful place, full of psychics and magic stones.
For me, after 1626 miles and 915 photographs, I just wanted to ask Ben why the detour to find an “In N Out Burger” was not a highlite, but in reality it was a disappointment. Jake spending $20 to get his picture taken with Darth Vader in Hollywood? Luckily his own money…..really? Jasmine and Heather buying CDs off “musicians” on Sunset Strip…..want a laugh, ask them for a critique on the quality of local LA rap music.
And that classic image that can only happen in America, a man pushing his dog in a pushchair. Why wouldn’t you bring your best pal to see one of the wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon?
Finally, well I have to admit to two episodes of toys and prams. Upon reaching the airport at Denver to start the mammoth journey, I asked Heather to give me the kids’ passports, only to find she hadn’t brought them…..how would we get on the plane? Heather quietly reminded me I told her the day before not to bring them. My excuse? I am an old man. And luckily you don’t need to provide proof of identity for under 18’s.
The classic American Road trip……..I thoroughly recommend it. Probably best to take a younger driver though.
Brings back fond memories of the Trek America trip I took with my sister in the early nineties. I also think the RV might not have been a bad idea after all.
I did my first US trip with Trek America in 1976…….you are right, but dont tell Heather I said so x
Hey Mike, great read, brings back happy memories driving all over the Us looking for the right boat and attending all those crazy Las Vagas computer shows way back in time, keep blogging and having fun, my regards to Heather and the children. Hope to catch up with you sometime.
Mike – nice to hear from you, hope you and yours are well. All the best.