The time is something like 4am when a persisting nudge pulls me reluctantly from a weighty, drunken sleep. Forcing an eye open no more than absolutely necessary, focussing on the Chihuahua nestled against my shoulder, I conclude the little tike is passed out - as is Nick on the neighbouring sofa.
The time is something like 30 seconds later when the nudge returns, this time more forcibly, somehow I manage to open both eyes. In the darkness there’s a figure, and, dispelling it with an agitated mumble, I black out again.
LIGHT! BURNING LIGHT! The time is unforgiving dawn, daybreak, searing sunrise - at least I feel like it is. But it isn’t. The light is just for me, a burning torch (or flashlight) scorching my face like a laser, direct and deliberate. In my peripherals I see handcuffs, and a second figure. Shielding Paris from the digging spike of light, she digs her muzzle into my armpit.
'Excuse me Officer', my address; sarcastic, 'You're hurting the Chihuahua's eyes.'
It’s something like 4 in the morning, somewhere in Las Vegas, and it’s my 25th birthday.
Lorenzo is an exhibitionist. A towering glass cabinet display of lurid plasticine figures shooting guns and having sex amidst cardboard dioramas proudly commands attention in the corner of his Las Vegas Bachelor Pad. ‘Sculpture’ is just one string in his bow of many, for Lorenzo is a Renaissance man. He draws tits in pen and pencil, plays Jack Johnson songs on guitar, writes screenplays and all whilst being a model. It’s been 30 minutes since we arrived at our new couch surfing host’s apartment, and we’ve been subjected to an imposition of a variety concert. Our host is as much an audience as a performer; expectant in feeding off our reactions as he shows us his fireman costume, his terminator costume, his abs, his bar, his clapper lights and voice activated thermostat.
We politely make positive comments while flicking through the pages of a sketch book containing portraits of ex couch surfers - the majority of the drawings being topless and, somehow, each drawing more crass and infantile than the one before it. I feel like Jean rifling through the diary of Patrick Bateman. We’re living with an apparent American Psycho.
An hour earlier, high on the relief of getting a replica human skull past baffled airport security officers, we welcome Lorenzo’s thirst for life, and incidentally vodka, as he pulls up with a drunk girl and a boot full of Grey Goose. Throwing a party that seemingly never stops, his girlfriend explains to us that Lorenzo has guests almost every night of the year, and, in the past, has hosted one surfer for as long as six months. We’re not even the only people staying; we have French counterparts in the room next door.
Our host, it turns out, is a master mixologist - his generous concoctions soon run the home bar dry and we venture to the Las Vegas strip. We might have left Lorenzo’s lair, but we hadn’t escaped his jurisdiction. Pulling up at the MGM grand, the first bar we find is bizarrely an extension of the underground carpark, and one our Renaissance man seems to be a regular at. He orders us yard long plastic canteens of a potent and fast hitting potion, explaining proudly to a bemused bartender that he’s got new fish to show around. The rest of the night is a neon blur with short bursts of memory;
- Lorenzo screeches his soprano vocals into a karaoke machine.
- A tiger stares blankly at me from the inside of a glass cage.
- Sitting in an empty room, full of chandeliers.
- Getting propositioned by Lorenzo’s girlfriend every time he goes to the loo, or the bar, or out of earshot.
Before we know it, Nick and I are stumbling the streets alone, wondering when the others might have left, and how the hell we would get home. A kindly taxi driver, insistent that a now pale and incoherent Nick should wear a plastic bag like a bib, chauffeurs us home from the strip to the sprawling suburbs. Cutting through a pattern of identikit housing, we can just about scratch together some change and the vague memory of Lorenzo’s neighbourhood address. Tactically opting for a prone position on the grass next to our drop off pont, Nick is quickly drifting into an abstract world of the spins and pencil drawn tits while I thumb through my phone for anything that resembles a flat number. Despaired; Nick and I shout at each other to fill the silences between my distressed and repeated phone calls to our host. By the end of a particularly heated exchange Nick is unconscious, and I didn’t even have to lift a finger, surrendering him to the night, I set off on a long and frustrating expedition; knocking on strangers’ doors at three in the morning.
Amazingly, and notably without a beating, Nick and I eventually get back to our cherished sofas. Paris, Lorenzo’s trophy Chihuahua, crawls up and passes out on my shoulder, and this is the last thing I remember before the cops woke me.
'Sir, we're going to need you to cooperate. Wake up. This is the Las Vegas Police Department'.
Beginning to suspect that the figure in front of me isn’t Lorenzo in one of his many ‘dress up’ guises, I find sobriety almost instantly, and with it - a pulsing headache.
'Have you been drinking tonight sir?'
'Yes, a little', I pretty much belch in the officer's direction. He sweeps his flashlight over to Nick.
'Is he okay?'
'I think so.'
The torch is once again burning into my face as the man who holds it says nothing but…. Inspects…
'It's my birthda-'
'You get a taxi home tonight sir?'
'No. The two guys in the room next to this are though-'
The room becomes dark again. And by the time I wake up my headache is still very much around, but the French guys aren’t. We never really found out what happened. I do like to imagine a jury pawing through Lorenzo’s sketch book, finding drawings in biro of two terrified naked French guys.
With a fair dose of our host’s extravagance and perhaps Rohypnol, Nick and I made a break for the Grand Canyon. A dream of mine since the Land before time, (the animated film, not in a literal sense) I could barely contain my excitement, or any food, on our way to the tourism office to book our car for the big adventure. Things didn’t turn out quite to plan, however, arriving at the desk it quickly became apparent we hadn’t budgeted the trip properly into our agenda, and the option of getting a car now was pretty close to impossible. We’d have to settle for the next best thing, a nice long coach journey that snakes through more gift shops than a child on a school trip. Arriving, finally, at the enormous gorge, somehow dripping with canyon branded merchandise, we were struck with the spectacle, and pelted with hail. The dinosaurs in the ‘Land before time’ would have me believe, and expect, that this landscape was a relentlessly arid one, where a kindly Diplodocus could die from heat exhaustion - we were more in danger of catching cold. Smugly adorning my mistakenly packed jacket, I watched Nick hurriedly take in all the sights as quickly as possible, hunching his shoulders, crossing his arms and photo-bombing the backgrounds of smiley tourist’s photos. Later, and at the second viewing site, the storm subsided and a rainbow shone apologetically across the great expanse, which admittedly took the edge off our stage 2 hypothermia.
A bird learns from Nick’s photo-bombing.
The land before time.
I added Nick for scale purposes.
Knowing ClingFilms’ record, it’s a miracle we didn’t at least almost die on this short visit.
The trip became a hail swept, freezing metaphor for our time in Las Vegas; it just wasn’t how we imagined or planned it. Aside from bagging a $10 hotel room in downtown Vegas for a luxurious night on my birthday, the rest of the week (an inhuman length of stay) was spent skulking through casinos in an all-you-can-eat buffet induced haze. We yelled curse words into the fountains outside the Bellagio, cried into burgers on the strip, and sulkily ate wings at Hooters. We’d been defeated, taking small victory in crashing the pool at Caesar’s Palace, taking it in turns to do laps whilst the other watches our possessions near a cabana. Oh they’ll rue the day they never caught us crashing their hotel and swimming near the cabanas. I suppose we had the last laugh after all.
The last laugh.
Returning from the highlight of our journey that was Yosemite, I became aware of just how quickly fortunes change on a long trip away. Travelling is a collection of unbelievable highs, brief moments of clarity you envision that motivates you to go in the first place, and devastating lows. The lows, however, tend to make for the best anecdotes (by those standards, this post is the best of the worst). But at the time they can be fairly difficult to stomach, especially when they’re placed side by side, the visual equivalent of an off the Richter earthquake. Welcome to rock bottom. Welcome to our week in Las Vegas.
Now everyone we’ve since told this story to usually stops us as this point and asks incredulously why we would think a week in Las Vegas would be a good idea, four days is already far more than you need, hell one day there will kill you etc. etc. blah blah blah. The first thing I say to them is WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU 17 MONTHS AGO?! The second thing, once I’ve calmed both them and myself down and apologised repeatedly for trying to scratch their retinas whilst sobbing, is to explain that we’d wanted to take three days camping in the Grand Canyon, hiring a car in the process. Smartly, we’d booked the flights and the hire car shortly after arriving in Berkeley. This was a first for Greg and myself on the trip, thinking ahead, rationalising that it’s smarter doing it now before we run out of money, and we were proud of our growth at the time. The only slight, slight problem/oversight with that plan was thepossibility inevitability of turning up in Las Vegas with literally no money. But to be honest, there should be plenty of things to do in Vegas for free, right? RIGHT?!?! Besides, that was a problem for future Greg and Nick!
Met by our couchsurfing host at the airport, Lorenzo (with a look to match the name) he proudly displayed the large bottle of vodka in his trunk and proclaimed that tonight was going to be a good night. He even blasted ‘Pumped up kicks’ (it was still cool back then, promise) all the way home to prove his point. Things were looking up. We remembered on the way that this guy had a rather…charismatic profile, and we’d selected him more for novelty than dependency. We had begun playing it more fast and loose with our choices of who we’d spend the night with, pushing future Nick and Greg into situations they’d been hitherto unexposed to, thinking of the anecdotes, not necessarily for our health/sanity/safety.
This is LITERALLY the only photo I took in Las Vegas yet it says more about our stay than these words ever could. Except that we did not go in there.
Upon entering his home, it seemed Lorenzo had hosted a large amount of surfers for months at a time, one even as long as sixth months, and tonight we had a couple of French guys who would be sharing the floor with us. Lorenzo seemed to be a man with endless jobs and talents, and our first hour in the house we were shown all of them in detail. First; Lorenzo the artist. He brought over his sketchbook which comprised of pencil sketches, mainly of past couchsurfers, predominantly of them with their tits out (he flicked through slowly, one by one, gauging our reactions each time, so we had to nod seriously and make appreciative ‘hmms’ as each pair of tits became grotesquely larger until the entire page was filled with barely quarter of a nipple). He then took us all into his bedroom to ‘show something off’. Now this guy was built, so even though there were four guys and one girl in total, when he switches off the lights and plunges us darkness with no explanation, I’m thinking rape. As in we’re going to get raped by him, I’m not the sick fuck who sees this as an opportunity. Well, actually, clearly I am as he just wants to show off his sentient alarm clock that will light up the room to a certain percentage upon his visual command. Which I actually thought was pretty awesome. I misjudged this guy. If I’m not mistaken, he also did magic.
But then it was a night on the strip, mainly Lorenzo taking us to these oversized novelty alcoholic slushy bars dotted outdoors that for a ridiculous price presents you with a giant plastic cup filled with fruity alcoholic ice (and you can keep the cup!). It seemed Lorenzo knew the people behind each bar, he claimed this was his famous strip tour for first timers, Greg and I suspected he was on commission at these places. I’m pretty sure my last dollars were spent on this night, on that beautiful plastic green contraption that I treasured over the next 80 minutes. It was the eve before Greg’s 25th, so when it came to midnight and we were dancing outdoors near some terrible karaoke, little did we know this would be the absolute highlight of his birthday. It would probably have been an enormous comedown.
Cut to later on and Greg and I are wondering through endless casinos, with their ostentatious facades but identical awful carpets and interiors. Wondering around here drunk is nauseating; no matter where you are you feel you’ve been sucked up by a beast and lost forever to endless meaningless shiny corridors. For some strange reason, when the others had decided to call it a night, we had decided to go on, despite limited funds and the knowledge that Lorenzo’s place had been a twenty odd minute drive from the strip. I’m not sure how we got his address but having come to our sense we hopped in a cab and headed straight there. There was a minor detour whilst the driver forced me outside to puke on the street after several ‘warning urges’ in the back. Once we’d reached the gates of Lorenzo’s ‘estate’, four hundred odd faceless and identical apartments stared back, and with Lorenzo not answering his phone, our couchsurfing turned quickly to well-manicured-recently-sprinlked-lawn-surfing. As I collapsed gratefully onto something soft, Greg and I had a rather drunken and frankly embarrassingly heated argument as to whose fault this was. Greg was more keen on finding a bed, whilst I wasn’t in much state to look, so whilst I passed out, Greg went on a several hour mission ringing Lorenzo countless times as well as knocking and ringing on random doors (at about 4am). Eventually his patience paid off, and thankfully he remembered to pick up the unconscious baby on the way to a real bed. Well a floor. Which probably wasn’t as soft.
The drama of the evening wasn’t over yet for Greg, it involved French thieves, police, and Chihuahuas (sounds like a Pink Panther film), but too much Raspberry-ice schnapps has killed my involvement on this particular adventure, so I’ll let him recount that one.
Rock bottom, your name is the 29th of September 2011. Why is the date so memorable? It was Greg’s sweet, sweet 25th. We left Lorenzo’s place feeling atrocious, with little sleep, as we had an appointment at the hire car centre. In the desert heat, in the middle of nowhere, this place had nowhere to hide. Even more so when all of our cards, debit or credit, were rejected for the hire (it seems we hadn’t paid for it as earlier hoped, just booked). There was no Grand Canyon, or camping. Reality bites, but we had it coming (particularly me. My not checking my bank balance game because I’m worried I’ll have no money had finally bit me in the ass, in fact, this would be the last time I ever played it). Lorenzo was now fully booked with couchsurfers, so there was no turning back (everybody only gets one tour). We tried to walk to the strip, but hungover in 30 degree desert heat through four miles of ENDLESS NOTHINGNESS proved fruitless, so precious resources went to a cab. We tracked down a 7-11, bought us the biggest Big Gulps we could find, and sat in an air-conditioned mall, searching with free wifi a hotel we could afford for the night. Greg not only managed that, but also scrimped together enough for us to go on a bus tour to see the Grand Canyon. The dream was faded, battered, bruised and coated in a thin layer of shit, malnourished (you get the point) but it wasn’t quite dead. Although it had probably been raped and left for dead.
The next few days were a strange, hobo-like experience of Las Vegas I assume not many people have had. No excessive drinking, drugs or gambling, just wondering from casino to casino, sneaking into the occasional pool, taking it in turns to bob about whilst the other kept an eye on our meagre possessions (the idea in hindsight that any of the other lucrative pool guests would want anything we had is now laughable but we were over-sunned and under-fed).
We occasionally paused our ramblings for the cheapest fast-food burger and soda money could buy, our choice had become our prison, we both felt death and scurvy circle us. I decided to gamble my burger money so that I could have two burgers, and so on. One of Will’s friends had discussed the ‘Martingale’ method on quarter roulette machines, doubling every time you lose, and keeping the bet low when you win, so you always recoup money. At first I did well, winning a few dollars and walking away before the stakes got too high. Then I spent all my money, and asked Greg for some of his, claiming I could get it all back and more. At least one of us stayed grounded, as he saw the glint in my eye and smartly cut me off. My gambling addiction lasted 3 hours and although I only lost 10 dollars, that was three meals. And five away from an all you can eat buffet, our readjusted idea of heaven.
After living in this purgatory zombie-like state for days (it kind of felt like we had been there for years as lost angels as it seemed we were invisible to everyone), it was time for our bus tour! Which lasted 14 hours and gave us about 2 at the Grand Canyon. I think if we worked it out we spent more time at souvenir stores. And it rained, most of the day. We hadn’t realised how cold it could get, so on an overly air conditioned bus and in the freeing rain, I shivered incessantly for an entire day in t-shirt and shorts. It was completely awe-inspiring, but at one point so cold I headed into the warmth of a visitors centre to watch a film about the Grand Canyon. When it was metres away. That still makes me laugh. At the time it made me cry.
Try to look like you’re happy even though it’s fucking freezing.
Just needed five seconds of looking like I’m loving the Grand Canyon before running off for shelter.
Exactly. Totally overrated, right?
I mean at least put some American flags up or fireworks or SOMETHING.
I’m sorry, last one, you totally get the point.
Did we say we went to the Grand Canyon?
Because we totally f***ing did.
There were many things we couldn’t achieve within our three months of America. You’ll always feel when you leave a country, no matter how much time you stayed there that you’re selling it short somehow, that we didn’t see the ‘Real’ America. Its easy to focus on the long, long list of things we didn’t do, but if we look at the 10,000 odd miles we covered, the places we saw and the stories we have, in hindsight we did a damn, damn fine job of it.
But enough was enough, and the last week had made me more determined than ever to work like a dog. We unfortunately would not be bumming our way through Portland or Seattle, those places would have to wait for another time. It was time to put those work visas to use, time for Canada, and we booked our tickets from San Francisco straight to Vancouver. America done, time for B squad America. Expect everything to be slightly less exciting and interesting from hereon in. Chapter one was done. Chapter two was only just beginning. (Spoiler alert, chapter two lasts like a week, so don’t worry, there’s only like one of these to go).
Slumped uncomfortably and full of caution, I’m regretting my squash shoes and the blisters they contain, finding some calm in unfocused clouds of green ahead and far away. There are traces of dread in a lump of relief, panting thin air like a razor that grazes the roof of my mouth. The green clouds focus up and the view is a postcard; firs unfurl from splints of sprawling rock edges, and climb, patterned to their peaks. The beauty of it all feels dangerous, like a parting reward for an ancient and intrepid climber - surely no man could survive this in the advent of trail mix and gatorade.
Which is a worrying thought, our mix barely made the start of the trail, and the gatorade was gator-raided hours ago. There are seven p’s in the old army adage; ‘Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance’, and the closest I’d come to anything resembling a ‘p’ was a flourescent and alarming response to a morning’s consumption of energy drinks.
Nick performs a textbook photo-bomb.
Will surveys his kingdom, whilst sleeping.
Exhausted and reclined, with spines like staircases against a baking stone slope there’s little surprise that we’ve fucked another expedition.
The night before we’d arrived at ‘base-camp’, a site loaded with modern amenities, designed by some American conspiracy to lure you into a state of surprising comfort despite the elements - a self worth that inspires some absurd sentiment that you are ‘at one with nature’. Haplessly you can pitch your tent in an allotted space where the soil has been softened, and conveniently warmed, by the young family who had slept there the night previous. The shower block a couple dozen meters away, provides hot water, which to any hardened adventurer is a real relief after learning their pool policy requires all swimmers to rinse before and after a dip. Needless to say, it did little to prepare us for the leisurely stroll we’d so naively expected.
Needless to say I slept under a towel for lack of a sleeping bag.
I didn’t bring a sleeping bag, to a camping expedition.
Who goes camping without a sleeping bag? What’s even the point of a hiking pack?
With a long exhale, something worryingly clicks in my lower back and I’m once again with my comrades on a rock with a view. The sight is obnoxiously breathtaking for three men in short supply, and I need to document it. With a couple clicks and spinal whimpers my heavy hike pack is retrieved; a torturous, purple, canvas freeloader. Sifting through it’s contents and pushing aside an apparition of a sleeping bag, a mirage Desani and enough imaginary trail mix to keep a bear at bay, I find my biggest challenge yet; which camera?
An except of Super 8mm.
How did I find such a fitting soundtrack? I went to YouTube and searched; Yosemite Song. I found this, which is a must watch.
The hike pack, that I piggy backed miles on an incline, didn’t contain water, or food, or even basic camping equipment, it contained a DSLR, (about the weight of a small bowl of pasta), a 35mm rangefinder, (about the weight of a good serving of pasta) and a Super 8mm camera (about the weight of a big bowl of pasta topped with steak, and a side of sweet potato fries).
God I’m hungry.
It wasn’t just the three of us on the trip - we were an under prepared splinter cell within a youthful, energetic crowd of people from Will’s workplace. Everyone appeared to be bouncing up the mountain trails like cartoon baby goats, they were sun-beams radiating love and vitality. I walked for some time with a girl who used the word, ‘fabulous’ to describe everything, eventually deciding to push ahead so I could grumble in private. If only I’d packed maybe one, or two more rations of beef jerky. Maybe then I’d have been more… fabulous.
Poorly framed photo of Will’s friend Astro. Rubbish.
Despite the pain in my back from lugging a photo studio to Half Dome, the rapid dehydration and the deep-set hunger, there were moments when Yosemite became the most natural alternative to painkillers. It wasn’t long after it had dawned on me that this wasn’t a short amble through the woods that dawn itself served some remedy. Climbing the last few steps in what felt like thousands, through the ink black cover of night, the sun began to rise, revealing an enormous waterfall that before could only be heard. It was the ultimate spur in the fight for momentum. These sights were so impressive and unreal, but Yosemite was full of them - the promise of another waterfall, or a Giant Sequoia, or a glimpse of a violent bear attack was enough to put one blistered foot in front of the other.
Big friendly giant.
In good company.
Reaching Half Dome was a euphoric experience. The reward has to be one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. Minutes felt like hours as I sat within a trance, only breaking my stare to now and again make a polite retort to any passerby who wanted to comment on my squash shoes. In the completion of our journey every discomfort had transformed into a welcome battle scar, the pain was good because you knew it achieved something.
Sadly my squash shoes didn’t feature in any photos.
Will was crying under those glasses.
Say this to the beat ‘We are, we are interchangeable’.
Of course, at the top of Half Dome you’re only really halfway, for you have to return to the bottom. Finding a new energy in discussing, in detail, what the swimming pool at base camp would feel like, we made a comparatively speedy descent (when compared to our painstaking ascent). By the time we’d reached the water fountain near the end of the trail, my legs were beginning to tremble with each step, and I comforted myself with the knowledge that I’ve never been good at using them whilst swimming anyway…
Nick and Will before attacking a group of kindly hikers for water and jerky.
The evening was perfect relief for our adventure. If ClingFilms knows nothing about the 7 ‘P’s, it knows everything about the 7 ‘S’s, which are the 3 ‘S’s plus, ‘Swimming, S’mores and Sleeping’. After a leisurely dip in the pool (Will did not rinse before and after (I have sent repeated emails to the establishment and they have chosen not to prosecute but he was lucky and shouldn’t take that as a typicality)) we gathered around a campfire.
Will, having dodged a stint in prison for flippant disregard of swimming pool regulations, versed us in the art of making S’mores - an American dish that I have grown very fond of. Nick proceeded to get drunk on half a glass of wine before pouring an entire glass over myself. A distressing turn of events for, being the camp genius that I am (camp genius is the correct term right?) I had only packed one pair of shorts. My frankly demented packing skills reminded me that I’d probably be sleeping under a towel again, but it was ok; finding sleep wouldn’t be an issue that night. Plus if I got to our site first I could steal one of the guys sleeping bags and pass out before they came back.
Wistful. Pensive. Sleeping under a towel.
And so, climbing into Nick’s sleeping bag, the thought of imminent sleep had me pitching a tent for the second time in 24hrs.
Leaving LA wasn’t a particularly emotional affair. The disconnected feeling of its streets was amplified in the industrial swampland of the bus station. With the homeless and their trolleys circling it’s fenced perimeter like guards with dogs, leaving the station on foot would be nothing short of suicide. One tatty, wheezing Greyhound later and we were back in colourful, bustling Berkeley, our West Coast base camp where we’d probably by now acquired some sort of squatters rights at Will and Cate’s. We would have to fly the coop eventually – get jobs, find the right girl, settle down…and also give them a chance to hose down their spare room and burn some bedcovers, but before that, we had two more adventures in mind.
The first is an exotic word that has often conjured up abstract images in my daydreams of America over the last decade or so, despite having remained relatively ignorant of it’s actual make up – Yosemite. Yosemite. The word itself gives the impression of an alluring legend, a myth, a forested fabrication completing the holy trinity alongside the Himalayan Shangri-La and the Atlantic’s Atlantis. If there was a top three of places I had to visit on our trip, ONLY three, Yosemite would have unquestionably have been one of them, despite my complete and utter ignorance of the place. I knew it only as a national park and a place of astonishing natural beauty. And where Sam comes from. And Yogi bear. Or so I thought - turns out Jellystone is more Yellowstone than Yosemite. Crushing. And it’s where that volcano might explo- nope. Yellowstone again. Damnit. This ignorance proved to stand me in good stead. I hate going to see a film I’ve obsessively watched the trailer for endlessly, it rarely delivers as I fill in too many blanks myself. I like going in clean, although it seemed impossible it wouldn’t live up to expectations.
So, a weekend in the wilderness it was. Three men, two erections, one tent (Will and Greg have a will they/won’t they thing going on). WILL. NICK. GREG. Monosyllabic, macho names (unless we’re going with full names but Gregory Robert Barnes, William Grant Hunter and Nicholas Andrew James Wilkinson all going into the woods together sounds a little…friendly). A roadtrip, camping, hiking, foraging, hunting, bonding. If ever there was a better recipe for disaster, we’d like to hear it. Bearing in mind Clingfilms, as a team unit, had almost died of dehydration TWICE in three months. Not in the wilderness mind you, but in the suburbs of Florida and a park in Los Angles. Sounds like a classic tee up.
The first forage stop was at Target. We bought Gatorade and some beef jerky. Then we drove for an hour, got bored, and went to Chili’s. I had Ribs. The great outdoors was a wonderful place! Wide American freeways soon made way for uncharacteristically European, unlit, windy roads. Gaining altitude turned up the silence; only Ronda’s groans pierced through the night as she heaved three rib-laden gentlemen upwards into the thinning air. The stars twinkled faintly as the edge of the road disappeared down into the abyss, our beams a laughable defence from the dark. All the smells and sounds hinted at a stunning view we were unable to see. The air was cut-throat chilled, invigorating and menthol. Arriving under this enshrouding pine-thick night was indescribably exciting, the spirits in the car high and unspoken, eager for the light to come back and reveal this new and alien setting. As I had done throughout our trip, I repeated where I was in my head. ‘You’re HERE, you’re IN Yosemite’. But I didn’t believe it, much as I still failed to grasp that I’d been to Wall street or Miami beach.
We arrived to a full yet dark and deserted campsite, everyone in their tents for an early rise. We stumbled our way up a dirt track to a clearing, where three idiots began to set up a tent in a deep rural blackout. With our alarms set to 4am, we tried to get some rest, a task fairly fruitless when full of the same excitement you get waiting for Christmas as kids (and maybe still now).
There’s something about waking when it’s still dark in the summer, at some ungodly hour, that reeks of adventure. It’s being up at that very unusual time which usually would cause you to curse, toss and turn, yet in this case fills you with a burst of physics-defying pure energy you struggle to understand, butterflies that explode from nothing.
We shower, drive and meet Will’s friends, with whom we are tagging along on this adventure. It’s a greeting that’s as surreal as it gets. Fifteen odd people, in a heavily wooded car park, crammed with cars yet otherwise deserted. A list of names reels past too quickly to catch, an introduction carried out in otherwise pitch darkness were it not for everyone’s head torches, resulting in a sort of friendly Spanish inquisition contradiction. I find it hard to comprehend how fifteen similar looking lights all have such different names, but I’m sure I’ll catch on.
The adventure begins all too quickly, and it is on this initial phase of the walk, which mainly involves staring at the rocky, earthy ground three feet in front of you at a time (as the surrounding darkness implies we might as well be on a cliff edge) that Greg and I discover that our ‘walk in the park’ is certainly no walk in the park. Will had hitherto been a little vague about the exact details of the hike, in fact I’m not sure he knew himself, but it seems we were about to undertake Yosemite’s infamous half dome hike. If like me, you previously had not heard of half dome, it is an icon of Yosemite. In fact if you look at The North Face’s logo, which I’m sure most of you will recognise, that’s half dome. Now it may look all rainbow-slide like and unintimidating in it’s white stitched Gore-Tex form, but it rises nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level (Wikipedia gave the height in feet and, if like me, you’re far too lazy to convert this into understandable dimensions then I applaud you, as it sounds far more intimidating in this format.) The hike itself is a 16 mile round trip and takes around 12 hours, or more, to complete. And a total elevation of 4,800 feet. Ok I’ll convert that. It’s 1,463,040 mm.
Based on the fact that we were woefully under prepared, and under supplied for a ‘walk’ of this magnitude, you’d think we would see the classic Clingfilms pattern emerging and begin to panic. But no, for this is step one of the classic Clingfilms disaster handbook, and we were running it, play by play. Step one: If you think you foresee impending doom, don’t panic! Because it’s not your problem, in fact, it’s a problem for future Nick and Greg. And seeming as those guys are probably dicks, let them deal with it!
The excitement of the moment had stifled any fears, the re-assuring rhythmic thuds of marching single file in a large group, the potential of a journey yet unseen in the darkness, shaking torches flashing sneak previews of rocks and ears assailed with rushing streams, the imagination runs riot. The hint of light as we began to climb steep stone steps carved roughly out of the mountainside. As we ascended, slowly and steadily, our collective panting echoed into nothingness. As the light wavered blue to red, it revealed the most stunning narrow valley. Two stone giants towered above us, casting us in shadow. Below was the green patchwork that marked our humble beginnings, above us infinite rock, the waterfall that framed these infinite cliffs provided the blind soundtrack from just a few minutes ago. The sun climbed as we did, bursting out only when we reached the top, walking across a natural stone bridge between the mountained twins, able to gaze down as the waterfall cascaded under and down far, far below, the acoustics thundering through the valley.
Will enjoying some precious water. Greg looks on hatefully.
The walk itself is still incredibly clear in my mind, as clear as anything will ever be and the words simply don’t do it justice, nor do the pictures for that matter. It was a day of sensory overload, and only going there can replicate it. It’s an overused and lazy saying, of having to have been there, but I’m just telling you to go there.
Our path reminded me of levels of a video game. It astounded me that in a relatively short amount of miles we could keep moving through wildly different landscapes. After another rocky forest, it gave way to another frighteningly steep stone staircase framing another waterfall, giant boulders littering the paths. This then led to the flat level, open meadows, pine trees, and the clearest, stillest river I’ve ever seen, providing an impossibly stark contrast to the falls just a few metres back. Then we had the deep, dense forest level, with switchbacks giving way to more and more astounding views. It was rare to feel this kind of mental clarity, but the sheer clarity of the landscape seeped in. Air has never tasted so good, neither had Gatorade and beef jerky. That, however, was the worrying thing. It was all starting to wear a little thin, and we had yet to reach the halfway point. That turn in my stomach suggested the way down may be a little more purposeful than the meditative climb.
The stillest waters. See? It’s not moving.
Tree with lens flare. Everyone like lens flare.
Greg dwarfed by tree. This upset Greg.
Our time at the base of Half Dome, sitting on jutting out rocks, knowing if we slipped that was it, gazing at the surrounding valley…
This picture, taken by Greg, is one of my favourite; it’s one I had to get printed. I can gaze at it and remember exactly what I was thinking and feeling, and wishing I can get that back. All I know is, I’m returning to that exact spot. And that’s a promise.
Despite the hikers multiplying the later it got, the trail itself felt incredibly…natural. There’s no better way to put that, despite it being well maintained. It also meant no drinkable water until the very bottom. Passing by the points we’d crossed just a few hours earlier, I felt in a trance, a daze, the only thing I thought of were those water fountains we’d passed just a few hundred metres into our walk. I’d never felt so thirsty, and drinking far more water than I needed, drenching myself in it, was as close to a spiritual experience that I’ve ever had. Apart from the ribs from yesterday, of course.
If the day had stopped there, it would have undoubtedly counted as one of the greatest days I can ever remember having, no question would it slot into the top five, but it didn’t end quite yet. Because there was a night time barbecue back at the campsite: meat, beers, smores (oh the smores!) and much more with fifteen people I’m guessing feeling as exhausted yet elated as I was, fulfilled to a point yet unknown to me. Everything had been perfect, including the thirst. Because it was quenched, and then some. It may seem like rose-tinted spectacles when I describe this day, but stumbling back to the tent and getting in my sleeping bag, I knew that although this trip had some days yet to go, there wasn’t much chance that there would be a better one than this. And that was fine by me.
'MARY FUCKING POPPINS!'.
I wait until the echo fades and awkwardly repeat the director.
He repeats me, somehow more affirmed.
His stare is expectant; the stare a magician holds after executing a trick of enormous illusion. We’re not making magic here. We’re making a Steam Punk Western for a miniscule budget in the dust outside of Joshua Tree.
The crew was obviously the best for miles around.
'Ah yes, we had a telegram come in this morning for you -'
'MORE! MORE MARY POPPINS! S'cuse me Mistah! We 'ad anatha telegram come in this marning for you's!'
The penny drops - he wants me to be more Dick Van Dyke, than Mary Poppins. He wants me to play an American, playing a Cockney.
I’m Dick Van Dyke. I’m a Cockney. I’m a Chimney Sweep.
I’m THE TELEGRAM OPERATOR in ‘Young Gentlemen Explorers’ Episode 2. I’m suddenly projectile, verbal-vomiting a sentence so phonetically challenged that I’d be set to offend not only Cockneys, but Dick Van Dyke and some of the deaf community also.
'CUT! We got it!'
They got it. I’m glad they did, I’m also glad that when they got it, they didn’t give it back.
Dick Van Dyke.
Taking off my wire-rim glasses, wiping my brow and adjusting my bowler hat, I stand up to stretch. Beyond the small crew I see Nick in the distance. He wanders from small fake Western hut to small fake Western jail cell all straight armed and sun-dazed wearing a 19th century Prussian parade uniform. The spike atop his helmet glints in the sunshine, then he’s gone behind the mud brick wall of a (small, fake, Western) Saloon. I wonder to myself if I’m even awake. Perhaps I’m sleeping at our host’s place in Venice Beach, perhaps I’m suffering sun stroke - navigating Joshua Tree on some trip, not far behind Jim Morrison and probably avoiding U2.
On a trip. Planet Caravan.
Mid breakdown, Nick has binged on Dr Pepper and subsequently removed his shoes.
Thinking back to the last few days it’s fair to say this kind of surreality is simply typical of LA. Even getting there was bloody mental. Naively, and blindly swayed by budgetary constraints, we signed up for a car-share from San Francisco to the City of Angels. It felt like we might become angels before we even arrived. The driver, a country-loving, wife-hating, cop-fearing pillar of the community, hurtled us down the highway at breakneck speeds to blaring country music. Politely I smiled at him as he locked his dead eyes onto mine, shouting the lyrics to his favourite songs at me rather than look at the road or… well… sing.
He was a murderer.
I’m not sure if he was a murderer. B
ut he definitely killed his ex-wife. But he definitely hunted people for sport.
But he was a big Ted Nugent fan.
Exhilarated by survival we wandered the city with a new found respect for our lives, a lease on life that eerily waned street by street. L.A wasn’t what we expected. The sun bleached, cityscape popularised in countless films is as much a written character as the names who live and work amongst it. The city is merely an actor - washed up and sold out behind the scenes, then dressed up in designer labels and doused in make up when the lights turn on and the camera starts rolling.
The homeless line the streets, their cardboard pleas for help are as much of a permanent fixture as the cheap and vinyl signs that advertise the sex shops above them. We were surprised to size up Tom Hanks’ handprints on Hollywood Blvd just across the road from a shop offering the very best in Bondage. But then I guess some Fetishists are shocked to buy their ball-gags across the road from the handprints of Forest Gump…
My thoughts are interrupted by a thick Indian accent, and I’m back in the sweltering desert. Nick is surveying the damage done to his leg, inflicted by an ambitious dive into the dirt.
NIck. Prussian. Actor. Visionary.
As always his performance was zealous, and although he didn’t get a line, Nick made sure that when he was shot by the hero, he propelled as violently as possible. The accent has caught his attention too, we know who it belongs to.
Host. Actor. Josef.
It belongs to our host, Josef - who is from Chicago. The character he is playing is a Policeman - who is Irish. It needs little Holmesian dedcution in figuring that Josef is the reason why we’re in the desert dressed like the Kaiser and his butler. Josef is an actor - who is not great at accents. On the drive over he encouraged us to rehearse his lines with him. Proudly he explained he was going to play the role as an Irish man. Awkwardly we listened to him tweak his dialect from Kermit the frog to Apu the stereotype in 0-60 minutes.
Worriedly we studied the faces of the crew, awaiting criticism, and no criticism came. Everyone let our host play the role of a wild west policeman as Punjabi without the blink of an eye. It dawned on me that LA was littered with delusional actors, delusional actors are filled with bad accents, and slowly, they’ve re-appointed the common conception of what the original accents sound like. Producers probably didn’t even notice Costner’s piss-poor Robin Hood, Keanu Reeve’s accent in Dracula or Jason Statham’s in… Anything.
Since leaving L.A we’ve learned that the episodes of Young Gentleman Explorers have been combined to make a feature, the likes of which premiered a couple months ago. We’re yet to see it for ourselves, but a bulletin on the website claims it will grace the internet come ‘Fall 2012’. For now, we’re kept at bay with a trailer, complete with appearances from the both of us.
L.A was obviously on our iconic city tick-list, and each city on that tick-list has it’s own iconic things tick-list. Unsurprisingly L.A had a lot on the itinerary. We visited Beverly Hills with a host unbeknownst of its famous zip code, we ate in Little Japan and ventured through the more underwhelming Chinatown. We found disappointment in Toy Town and just about squinted some recognition of the smoggy skyline from Griffith Observatory.
I kept expecting a nuke to hit. Thank you Terminator 2.
The observatory became base camp for yet another ClingFilms Everest. In keeping of tradition we managed to get hopelessly lost and dehydrated on a trek to the Hollywood sign. Waiting for the ice to melt in Nick’s big gulp and then taking it in turns to share it we became the ever suffering, sun baked pilgrims. Struggling through the tall grass of some distant, molten hilltop we became paranoid of our impending and pathetic deaths. Somewhat delirious we finally caught glimpse of civilisation, and soon after that we saw the sign. It was less impacting than expected - we appeased ourselves in not being able to find the sign for its lack of presence, it was more font size 12 than our ambitious 48. Hopping a fence we got as close as possible. Exhaustedly we took some photos shortly before a police helicopter arrived. We made a run for it. To Hooters.
Deeply distressed. Trying to hide it.
Our luck quickly changed. Walking bereft, sun beaten and generally in hate with all the tourists who hadn’t nearly killed themselves climbing through private property in the Hollywood Hills, we got approached by a clean person. After a brief chat we were whisked into the audience for Jimmy Kimmel Live where we subjected the good public and guests like Dr Phil to our extreme body odour. It was the sun damn it! Of course we were sweaty!
Of course we were sweaty.
Somehow we hadn’t felt so gross at Hooters.
Whilst in Los Angeles I had a pilgrimage of my own to make. My brother and I have been huge Elliot Smith fans for a long time and the cover for his album ‘Figure 8’ was a shot taken against a now famous wall on Sunset Blvd. We had to pay it a visit. It also meant striking the famous boulevard off the list too. The wall had become a fitting tribute to Smith - fans had graffitied it with messages, despite the fact that it had once been painted over by the LA Council in a crazy and rare attempt to clean up the city.
Blending in. Playing it cool.
Sunset Blvd itself made less of a lasting impression. Honestly I can’t really recount anything about it, aside from it’s name and the Figure 8 wall. When I used to think of it, I imagined a glamourous stretch of road, lined with palms. In reality it was just a stretch of road, lined with Taco Bells and KFCs.
Venice Beach, IS an L.A destination that lived up to its reputation. Perhaps we’d learnt to maintain our hopes, but when we arrived it was everything we expected it to be. The place is bizarre, and to me it’s California in a nutshell. Everyone is there to exhibit something; much like the rest of the city, be it their disproportionate muscles, telekinetic superpowers, musical prowess, conspiracy theories or their rollerblading, roller-skating and skateboarding skills. The homeless there are innovative, you can pay them for a chat, or advice on anything, rather than just sex like the others living more centrally. But you could probably do that too, and then throw in a couple bucks for some advice and a chat about it after.
I mean YOU could. I wouldn’t.
I managed to get some Super8 of the bizarre musical roller-skating homeless people. Which is here.
If you squint you can also see Santa Monica, the pier made me think of The Lost Boys, and the beach that made me think of… Well…
Some people stand in darkness
Afraid to step into the light.
Some people need to help somebody
When the edge of surrender is in sight.
Don’t you worry, it’s going to be all
Despite breaking Nick’s laptop whilst we were out exploring, our host proved to be a welcome force of eccentricity throughout the L.A experience. Without him we’d never have credits in a ‘western’, we’d have never seen a grown man put baby food on a burger, and we’d never have gone to our one and only Couchsurfing event. Pulling up just ten short blocks from our location to avoid paid parking, we marched through the muggy evening into the Kodak Theatre and up to the roof. It was easy to forget that this party was hosting the most active of the vagabond community - it felt like we were at a premier. The view of the city was stunning, you can’t see the dirt and the grit at night- you can only see the lights and free food. Sadly we arrived shortly before all the free perks were ending but we managed to sneak a few free drinks - even Josef cut loose with a rum and a dance -which was fittingly abstract. Venturing further into the abstract was a young asian gentleman who approached us, asking me if I were at the club that night as part of an asian community social gathering.
Needless to say I was welcomed with open arms.
Deciding to give a car-share back to San Francsico a miss, we naively took a far more dangerous option; the Greyhound Bus. The Greyhound from L.A to San Francisco is, essentially, a temporary shelter for homeless people to piss in and loot for the night. Finding the only two dry seats we tried to keep our eyes, and nostrils closed for the duration of the journey. In our waking moments we still managed to be deemed ‘Eeeeeviiiilll’ by a kindly wide-eyed mad lady sitting across the isle, and also watch her get arrested at a later stop.
It was a most fitting end to our adventure.
We didn’t fully appreciate the demise of our fallen comrade Barry Dodger until our exile from San Francisco (we felt we’d long outstayed a traditional welcome, then powered through for another couple of weeks). Our plan was to lay low for a while in LA before a final mooch swoop en route to the far, far north…Canada (shudder.) Although anyone who knows me will find my mockery of the place a little rich. As rich as that sweet, sweet maple nectar I return to time and time again. I am, of course, referring to the women syrup.
Throughout our time in Berkeley, we’d been served well by our host’s vehicle, Ronda the Honda. She’d taken us on memorable journeys to Target for essential purchases of fake skulls and matching hats for Greg and I (wish that list was at least partly fictitious), but now she was dead to us. We required a new moochmobile.
It was back to scouring the rideshares section of Craigslist, which by previous experiences, would not be a bad thing. Our Montreal – Boston drive had been jam packed with chatty backpackers, sing-alongs and even an impromptu stop off at the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Vermont. This time however was more on the…rapey side. Actually, more the never-heard-from-again-murderey side. We set off at dawn, riding the BART to a desolate, industrial stop. A brusque, hefty and hairy middle-American barely greeted us there. He led us to his pickup truck, where I silently and quickly snuck into the back seat. Being only a two-door, I reasoned that I would get to live the longest, but would ultimately have to watch Greg struggle and have his intestines ripped from him whilst still alive, knowing my turn was next. I accepted this scenario. The first part anyway. I accepted that totally.
He announced an unexpected stopover about a minute into our journey so he could ‘pick up some tools’, and steered us into desolate suburbia. As he reversed a little too quickly into a drive and another man’s voice was immediately audible in greeting, Greg and I exchanged a loaded look that instantly regretted our decision to risk our lives for a few dollars saved. Everyone had been warning us in San Francisco about taking this rideshare. They had begged forcefully in their dissuasion arguments. Greg and I had privately shrugged them off.
Strapped in the crushed cab, passively listening to the heavy clunking and heaving, waiting for that first killer blow, we eventually came to the realisation that unless they were prepping the gimpstation 3000, we were probably just being paranoid. I drifted off into a blissful sleep for the remainder of the drive whilst Greg was recounted endless stories of the man’s breakdown, breakup and bottling, all played to a soundtrack of crooning to country ballads. So we at least got a singalong. I was sad to have missed it.
But it was one crazy to another with our grand return to couchsurfing - no coincidence I imagine, just a sign of the climes. Just a couple of miles from Venice beach we met a man who’s name I won’t forget in a hurry - Joseph Klus, a fortysomething devout Christian/budding actor who was trying to make it, and would do anything to get there. That last bit was mainly my invention. Although you can totally imagine him doing so. Even the name is even a tad serial killey. This was confirmed by our first meal with him, when he dressed his hamburger with baby food. Baby food. Let me point out, there’s no baby in this equation. I’m not sure if this freaks you out very much, but Greg and I were fucking terrified.
His acting however, really lightened the mood. It seemed that every character he played he felt was Irish, and therefore needed an Irish accent. They really didn’t. The worst thing was they all sounded like they were from Mumbai. Being asked to read lines with someone and then listening to them put on a fairly racist Indian accent, claiming it to be Irish, then realising that they’re not fucking with you and are completely serious, AND that this is their profession – and not laughing? Tricky. I have the internal hemorrhaging to prove it. Let me just add that he’s living in LA, trying to make it. As his career choice. Tad depressing. But mainly funny. God I hope he doesn’t track this down. Fortunately the tens of people that read this won’t really crank up the SEO too much. I just have to mention his champagne moment though. Whilst driving us around the various neighbourhoods of LA, he announced that we were now in Beverley Hills. ‘Ooooh – 90210’ I said, finally with something to fill the silence. ‘No…no, I don’t think that’s right’ came the reply. ‘It’s 90212, maybe? 90213 or something?’ More internal bleeding. We needed out.
This aside, he was a very hospitable host (apart from STEPPING ON MY MAC AND FUCKING UP THE SCREEN FOREVER AND NOT OWNING UP - CHRISTIAN MUCH?!) taking us to a couchsurfing party on our first night on Hollywood Boulevard. Where the drinks were free and we were up high in a glass room around the corner from the Kodak theatre with views of downtown LA. A random guy even asked me if Greg and I would be interested in writing a series for him – and NEVER got back to me! A superficial phony from Hollywood?! Months of traveling and we’d FINALLY arrived. Now just to talk our way into a couple of cushy studio Exec Producer roles and wait for the cash to come rolling in. In reality it was depressing, everyone there was a director/producer. I said I cleaned windows just to get some attention. And boy, I CLEANED up.
Greg, Joseph and Nick. We’ll be friends forever. Forever. Forever…
But anyway - LA. Well, what with picking the only city in America you MOST DEFINITELY need a car to get around to not have a car, sightseeing was, well, just a bus ride away. Only the bus ride is always 50 minutes. And you have to change. Twice. And they only come once every two hours. And only the Mexicans and homeless use them. Not that I have anything against that. I have loads of homeless friends. But when they always engage you in conversation, and stink of piss and don’t get the concept of me having to have flown to get here from England, and walking not being plausible, it gets a little old. It’s all too cliché. It really is. Hollywood films aren’t cliché at all I discovered, they just are EXACTLY like LA, which is a world of its own. They really have gotten painting the reality of this city down to an art form. Literally. They show Mexican soap operas on the bus! Greg and I were on it so often, we actually got into them. All being in LA did was make me realise that ‘Escape from LA’ was just a hard hitting documentary, not a sci-fi. Real LA is exantly what you imagine post apocalyptic LA to look like. It’s not supposed to be like this for 50 years. It stinks, it’s sprawling, it’s endless, exhausting. It’s too much yet not nearly enough of anything. There’s no magic here, just giant studio depots and air-conditioned miles of tat. It just could be so, so much better. Hell-A. L.A. Hell-A. L.A. You get the point. They were onto something there…It’s comforting to know that the glamorous side of Hollywood that I’d been dreaming of seeing since I can remember I’d already been seeing all along…since I can remember.
I wanted more of this…
But instead got more of this. A hobo entering a liquor store. Look at him. Stinking of piss.
Still, I’m not complaining, the Pacific was vast, the sky deep blue, the fish tacos hot and the frozen bananas dipped in nuts (you have to request that though and it is an extra cost). So many parts of it were incredibly iconic. The OC disorder, for instance. It had to be seen, and despite it being a place I would never consider living, I’m glad I saw it. And I’ll be back.
In the OC disorder I believe they call this a banger in the mouth.
Amongst other things we did was not learn lessons from our previous walks into incredibly hostile environments unprepared. Trekking to the Hollywood sign without water, not advised. Trekking through bush and trying to take shortcuts and getting lost, not advised. Risking dehydration for a better photo opportunity, not advised. Until we got them developed, screw you death! We deserve to be those guys on posters that warn tourists not to be morons. God knows we’ve tried to get killed.
That’s just wrong.
Other highlights include meeting classic drunken Australians using the word cunt repeatedly at Hooters, much to everyone’s horror (bar ours), being wasted and having in depth conversations with the homeless. Being Australian really. Incidentally we were just there to use the phone. Or we went ironically. Pick one. Either way I almost ordered 911 wings thinking they were actualy 9/11 wings, because they had a fireman’s helmet and said they were ‘burning hot’. Really glad I aired my confusion to Greg first as to why they’d use such an event to advertise how burning hot the wings were.
We also managed to squeeze being filmed in an internet mini series in the middle of the desert. Which we were told would be out immediately. We’re still waiting. Hollywood phonies. On the way we had a little cholesterol pick-me-up as I used the power of the secret In-N-Out menu to TRIPLE my cheese ratio. The location was one of those fake western towns they use as film sets. Joseph worked on his Indian/Irish dialogue as Greg and I went to go play in our costumes in the desert. We had known beforehand that there was one speaking part, one not. Greg graciously offered me the speaking role (a tantrum was well on its way as an alternative) but the director had other ideas. I ended up a Prussian guard who’s role it was to die (the five minute cut probably won’t make it in there as they stopped filming and left long before it was over. Phonies.) whilst Greg was a merry old telegram operator who’d stumbled all the way here from LAAAAAANDAAAN, in the most hilarious exploitation of someone’s Englishness I have ever seen. I’m sure he’ll be keen to elaborate.
My trailer. Turns out I was a pretty big deal.
God that’s good.
But sadly that was it for LA, where we’d managed to fit in plenty of drama in just a few sadly brief days. It was a short greyhound back up to San Fransisco…I wondered what Will would be cooking up.
Incidentally, downtown LA station, hell on earth. If you haven’t seen ‘Adventures in Babysitting’…see it because it’s amazing. If you have – I was Brenda. Stroking a rat whilst hobo’s flashed me guns. That sounds incredibly suspect.
As hellish as it gets, every night it looks like this…
Plus once the lifeguards take off for the day it’s photoshoot fucking city
Whilst skulking around the steep streets of San Francisco I managed to bump into a couple of old school friends from Devon. After catching up over Hot Tamale’s, kindly vended by a seemingly homeless person, we discussed their band - http://www.yourcannons.com/ , and how I should drop by a rehearsal with my camera.
And so I did.
And here it is.
Oh and I’m the swimmer at the end. Cameo.
Fishing for bridge.
An incandescent fuzz momentarily blinds me and I lazily adjust myself. Clumsily I paw into the light; a coldness flits my fingertips as I slowly retrieve my prize.
Will Hunter watches on.
I take a large drunken bite out of the cheese in my hand, toss it back into the fridge and turn to him.
'I like you Will, you've got class. I wish I was classy like you’.
That was my 19th birthday. I’d known Will a good week.
Will was so classy circa 2005.
Since that night my impression of Will has largely fluctuated, there were times he lived up to it, there were years when he didn’t. This isn’t to say I superseded him; the last time I’d seen Will before his move to San Francisco, we had gone for dinner - I drunkenly relayed the prices of every menu choice as I ordered them.
Stepping into Mr. Hunter’s (as I feel is now the correct mantel) Berkeley home, I was right back in the first week of university, 19 years old and eating cheddar like a chocolate bar.
Mr Hunter was no longer my friend, he was my favourite Uncle. He and his girlfriend; Cate, who we’d also known from university days, took us into their home without knowing when we’d leave. We weren’t vampires but we weren’t far from it; parasitically drawing the life out of our hosts - they’d let the wrong ones in.
We had a great time.
San Francisco is an iconic city - favoured and represented by artists who wanted something slightly more palatable than the smoggy skies of LA. Hitchcock loved to shoot there, Kerouac loved to drink there, and Sean Connery liked to fight battles alongside Nicholas Cage there. It was the home of THE ROOM.
It was perfect on paper, if only we had some of the green variety.
Makeshift beds aside, we’d had a decadent few months, the reality of which was slowly revealing itself on our bank balances.
Disregarding the desperate pleas of most cash machines to ‘seek help’ and ‘end it now’, I continued to wine and dine myself into a stupor.
Liquor = groceries.
It was Maria’s last night traveling with us and so we decided to go out for dinner. Spoiled for choice, picking a restaurant in San Francisco’s China Town was no simple task - on the contrary we quickly learnt that President Clinton had no trouble finding somewhere to eat - pretty much every restaurant proudly displayed a photo of Bill chowing down on some noodles with a big grin on his face. Coming to think of it, MANY restaurants of all cuisines throughout the US seemed to have their very own Bill photo. I can’t blame him, it’s probably free, and probably the best presidential quirk, aside from the kill list thing.
During our hunt we would often have paper menus thrust into our faces accompanied by insistent advertorial rhetoric designed to lure us in, we were resistant, yet one lady was especially persistent. Politely declining and picking up pace towards a welcoming looking Korean diner, our speed was no contest for the stalker. Out of breath she pushed a piece of paper into Maria’s hand, with one last outburst of boastful spiel she retreated to another couple meters behind us.
This is what she gave us.
'Horrible. Cheating. Worst food…'
We stared at the page, there are only two explanations.
1) They’d searched for their restaurant online, and, with little to no English skills had printed the reviews in hope they were positively written.
2) It was a cry for help. A desperate cry for help.
We ate at the Korean Diner.
In just a few days we’d bid farewell to Barry Dodger (the trusty car), and Maria. Things were about to get ever so slightly feral.
We grew accustomed to our surroundings in a manner others might refer to as, ‘going to seed’. We crashed Will’s workplace for keg nights and sat in wait for his cooking. Cate forfeited her regular television viewing to become a spectator in the ever waging violent war that is Call of Duty and Man Vs Food.
AL CAAAAAH TRRRRRAAAAAAHZ!
Will took me kayaking with a family friend/other-uncle-figure, DON, whose name I feel should be capitalised in the vain attempt to convey how awesome he is.
Soon I was alone, Nick had gone to LA for the weekend and Will and Cate had gone to a wedding.
I proceeded to put small slices of ham and fish behind all the hanging pictures in the house, under all the beds and behind the fridge.
I managed to keep sane with regular trips into downtown San Francisco.
Downtown. Looking up.
Coppola’s place… Apocalypse Now was edited here.
Columbus Avenue, famed hangout and mecca for the Beat generation became my spot of choice. There I’d skulk around City Lights Bookstore for long lengths of time, infuriating the staff by purchasing only postcards before moving onto the bar next door for their huge sandwiches and cheap beer. They even put fries in those sandwiches.
I miss those sandwiches.
I also became a regular at the cafe next door to Uncle Will’s place, ‘Cafe Yesterday’, where they always served my coffee in a Beatles mug, disappointed in me for not ordering tea.
It wasn’t long before Nick returned with a burden on his shoulders, LA had bankrupted him. It was the beginning of the end. We became a unit, a collectively spending, economically dining unit - deeply rooted into Will and Cate’s sofa. I put up fliers around Berkeley advertising my services for cheap music videos, Nick taste-tested sodas for money, but business was slow.
A memory came to me the other day whilst rifling through some change, and I ended up on my knees with laughter at how pathetic we were. After months of financial healing Nick also found it funny, and allowed me to share…
After sitting for another prolonged period on the sofa lamenting our finances, I stood up - when I stood up I could feel a large amount of change fall out of my pocket. I was mid sentence as this happened and decided I’d finish what I was saying before picking up my coins, it was then I realised Nick was clawing between the cushions, ‘Look at all this change Greg!’ He excitedly exclaimed, ‘There must be, five, six, SEVEN DOLLARS!’ That was my money, but I hadn’t seen Nick so excited and worry free for days, I smiled at him and decided to say nothing as he tickled the sofa in hope for more coins.
But seriously, I would never let that happen now.
We did manage to escape the comfortable clutches of the sofa - we saw what San Francisco had to offer, and that was plenty. If we weren’t standing dumbstruck before the Golden Gate bridge, we were freezing our feet to the bone in the Pacific Ocean beneath it. We caught the 49ers’ first football game of the season at Candlestick park where we melted slowly into our seats, and I politely humoured an extremely verbal local supporter for the best part of an hour.
Massive football fan. Also massively paranoid. Massively insane.
We even took part in a pick up game of Basketball alongside Will and his team mates. It was knackering, especially after copious, inhuman amounts of Reeses Pieces.
It would be straight from the 70s if it wasn’t for the Mini on the far right…
I also managed to meet up with old Devon friends-turned-ex pats, Andrew Chamings and Chris Trewin for a few beers with their bandmates from Your Cannons. A night that was soon lost to the many microbreweries that California has to offer. But I’m sure it was a good time.
There’s so much to say about San Francisco, we were there for around 2 months using the city as a springboard to nearby LA, Vegas and Yosemite. Leaving felt like ending the trip, but there was still a short stint in Canada to come. And that short stint was certainly not ordinary.
We just hope that our Berkeley hosts miss us as we miss their fridge. I mean sofa. No…
I mean fridge.
Thanks Will and Cate.
Uncle Will. Aunt Cate.
Whilst imposing residency on our good friend Will Hunter, we found ourselves lagging in the race to become adults. In a bid to find maturity, we undertook a most manly activity; playing with guns…
Though the peripatetic paradise has certainly had its perks, there’s nothing quite like waking up in the same place twice for a change. Being a creature of habit, no matter how much I kid myself that the road is my new home, that living out of a backpack is the only way to feel free – it’s just so much sweeter when the contents of said backpack are sprinkled daintily around me, like a sacred circle of soiled underwear, with all these priceless items safely within reach of my semi-inflated single airbed. My new HQ is a room which once resembled an ornate study, yet its present definition hovers between hovel and squat. How pleased Will must be to have us here indefinitely (the word we keep screaming at him when he asks when we’re planning on leaving). It’s good to be home.
There’s also nothing quite like seeing how your peers from the so-called best days of your life are getting on. Those bursts of nostalgia mix in nicely with the depths of despair and reality-induced-thunderbolts of your lack of achievements and inactivity to date as you see the life that others have managed to make for themselves since graduation day. It felt like you were gliding along smoothly enough, yet this is when the ball doesn’t just drop but plummet and you realise it’s been four years. Better take ‘recent graduate’ off the CV and think about…writing a CV.
The apartment resembles a giant luxury sauna (I love saunas, they make a public pool about eight thousand times better) with its entire interior bedecked in paneled, deeply varnished timber, a Berkeley professor’s wet dream. It has an exterior balcony bathed in sunshine and flowers, where every day is barbecue day. A lavish interior stairway within the airy, church-ceiling living room, leads up to a master bedroom from which the lucky couple can survey their kingdom. There’s even an Aga in the kitchen. There’s nothing quite like an Aga in your friends kitchen to make you question the path you’ve taken in life.
If you happen to notice the subtle, perhaps unexpected presence of bitterness, regret and despair, it’s because they’d been chasing me for 8000 miles. I hadn’t looked over my shoulder for a while and the second I let my guard down; I was jumped. In the shower. Ignore that bit. See, saving for this trip had been exceptionally difficult on the pittance I was previously earning (adding to my overall sense of accomplishment, I’ve yet to pay back a penny of my student loan as of yet. Infer what you will) and rather than delay any further until I was financially sound, I had decided everything would magically sort itself out in the land of opportunity, where I’d been watching the impossible become probable since I could remember. We’d probably be discovered fairly early on in New York, and the documentary we hadn’t been filming would make a fortune in its distribution. Either that or we’d be selected to head a team of celebrities to successfully rob a casino. Or be invited to join some kind of rat race to a pot of gold. I had it all figured out.
My tactic then, the ace up my sleeve for dealing with this situation, was one of my favourites: denial. If the cash machine keeps spitting out green things, there’s no need to worry, and DEFINITELY no need to see how many numbers of green things you’re still allowed. It’s a zen thing – people have got to stop living in the future, let future Nick deal with that issue – I’m pretty sure that guy’s a dickhead. And the building, creeping feeling in the pit of my stomach growing daily? That’s just dread – an inevitable side effect.
Needless to say this tactic has never been overwhelmingly successful. But it has given me a wonderful collection of anecdotes in different countries when all of a sudden my card won’t let me buy a pint of milk. This trip had been different though, a testament to my growing maturity. I’d only waited until Utah to check my balance! $700. Not bad, not great either, but just enough to sustain me for a rather frugal month in California. Or, more likely, we’d get a three-picture deal in LA and the advance would more than cover me until principal photography started.
The only fly in the sun cream was, having returned Barry Dodger the previous day, I discovered something a tad alarming. The surcharge they’d supposedly charged out of my account in Miami in fact hadn’t been taken out until the drop off. The amount? Seven. Hundred. Dollars. Did that make it more dramatic? I actually gasped at every full stop. And imagined a big crashing sound effect. Like a ‘dssshhh’… or a ‘jsssshhh’.
So, I was broke. Flat broke. Well, a credit card that expired in three weeks was my only saving grace, but I had no idea how much it had left on it…and I wasn’t about to find out! This guy does NOT make the same mistake twice!
Luckily, the bay offered many aesthetic delights for which cash wasn’t necessary. The infamously mystifying daybreak mists, with its surprising yet clockwork appearance, chilling yet stunning - despite the glorious views of the bay it obscured. It contributed significantly to the mystery of the city – you never knew when it was going to disappear, and when it did, when or even if you’d ever see it again. Fast-forward through the familiar banal cloudy midmornings (you can’t appreciate the highs without the occasional lows) that inexplicably thinned and burnt away to an afternoon of glorious, uninterrupted Californian sunshine. Feeling the burning intensity of the sun on our backs crisping us from state to state, it was a real surprise to us that California would bring the much-needed respite. It was as if the weather was trying so hard to be a cliché, complimenting the relaxed and easygoing tone of the place and people, strikingly bright yet chilled out, with a nice and cool breeze giving way to invigoratingly crisp evenings.
Well there you go, I’ve used up all my adjectives and I’ve yet to describe the city itself. It has to be, hands down, the most beautiful city to look at in the world. If I were incredibly superficial, it would be my favourite. Not to say it’s a shallow city, quite the contrary. The hills add another dimension, giving you a new and equally spectacular view on every subsequent street - it’s like Ellen Page keeps messing around with the physicality of the world you’re walking around in. Some crests feel like you’re straddling a tightrope scything through two separate dimensions. Up one hill Greg and I had to take a ten-minute break, so sweaty and short of breath it had rendered us. It gave us a chance to finish our candies and sodas too. Ok, so maybe that diminishes my argument, but it was at least a 45-degree incline! The encircling choppy waters, the hazy horizon of the Berkeley hills, every way you look at it it’s a panoramic pacific paradise. Alliteration overkill?
My only complaint is, if you’ve been determined to grow your hair whilst traveling, this isn’t the place to come when it’s at it’s longest. You see…it tends to be slightly windy here (what with the ocean and all) so no matter how slicked down your hair is in the morning…
First thing in the morning….
Slightly breezy, nothing to worry about…
Feathered to perfection…
Sickeningly consistent hair.
As you can see the smile on my face is inversely proportional to how ridiculous my hair looks. I’m staying stubborn though. Plus, a haircut is slightly less of a priority when paying for food is an issue. Though you’d think, based on our preconceptions of San Francisco, that having no money wouldn’t be an issue. Kerouac seemed to imply in his books that for fuck all money you’ll somehow be able to drive around America three or four times using SF as your base whilst taking a shed load of drugs. We hung around outside the City Lights bookstore in case history happened to repeat itself, but like everything in our time, the golden era has long passed.
The incredible curvature.
Talking of golden, I tried to hold out yet can no longer resist talking about the sight so synonymous with San Francisco – the golden gate bridge. Supposedly one of the most photographed man-made structures, I was incredibly excited to lay my eyes on it, yet simultaneously dubious as to how exciting a bridge could actually be. I feared it would be a case of all anticipation with a limited payoff, with a side order of disappointment. After all, the hype had been too much for anything to live up to; it was the Avatar of bridges. The thing is, with the unpredictable weather patterns and the fact that the bridge is tucked away in the northwest corner of the city; it retains a certain sense of elusiveness. Hard to believe, but I met someone who has been to San Francisco on more than one occasion and never even laid their eyes on it. Greg and I took it upon ourselves to walk to it, but no matter how far we walked it remained silhouetted, only the outline visible, shimmering and mocking. The next time I walked to Crissy beach it decided not to even show up. Although I was able to dip my toe in the Pacific as always dreamed. Freezing.
Emerging from the waters having escaped from Alcatraz. They locked me up for knowing too many state secrets.
The second escaped prisoner. Child molestation, if you’re asking.
Despite all this, it turns out to be worth the wait - it’s absolutely breathtaking. There may very well be words or images that will do it justice, yet I’m not a good enough photographer or writer to be the one to give them to you. It is quite frankly awe inducing and 100% addictive to look at. Handy tip - you should never walk away from it, as your craned neck suffers and oncoming traffic tends not to be too forgiving.
All it made me think of was the most infamous and iconic film ever made and set here – that’s right, Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco. Just kidding, it is of course The Room. View To a Kill? Fiiiiine – Vertigo, Bullitt, Dirty Harry – wow there are some good ones! But how many has a rapid gang of evil street dogs?
Bottom line – Alcatraz, streetcars ascending impossible angles, giant bridges, mountains AND oceans? No one place should be allowed to have all these things in one view. It’s selfish. Give something to Kansas City.
Noone else has a chance.
So due to these new financial fair play regulations Will and Cate had to deal with two children spending a LOT of time home – filming films about who shot who, having spent all day arguing who actually did shoot who…imagine coming home to two smelly children in their mid twenties children screaming ‘what’s for dinner?!’ because they don’t have the resources to feed themselves and hogging the TV. It felt like they had left their house unlocked, succumbed to squatters law and decided it too late to remedy and to simply make the best of it. They are both saints and they now have the right at any point in my life to break down the door of wherever I’m living, demand to be put up for a period of time without letting me know how long it is. Oh and empty the contents of my fridge whilst listing all the things we’re going to need. I wish this was the only time we would impose…but we would be back.
The opening 49ers game at Candlestick Park – where it’s not illegal to refuse someone tap water. Don’t be fooled by the smiles - we’re intensely dehydrated. This match had the longest punt return touchdown in the history of the NFl. At that point. I think. Nice.
But enough of nothing – it’s time for this trip to mean something. Our so far unproductive time abroad, the money sapping pleasure party, had finally come to an end and allowed us just the clarity we needed, a focus that wasn’t to be found at the bottom of a McNugget box – though god knows we’d looked. It was time to head to our homeland, the place that’s been waiting for us and our specialist set of skills - Hollywood. Only now we’d have to be even more resourceful than ever before. No more car, no more funds. It’s just Craigslist rideshares and Couchsurfing the rest of the way – back to basics…
P.S I can’t believe I didn’t mention The Rock once. It’s literally all I talked about and watched. I even grew sick of my own Connery quotes. Which is saying something, as they’re awesome.