If you are just joining us on our journey across America and back in 1972, click here to read part 1.
On with the story...
It would be tempting to say that whilst on the bus between Tulsa and Amarillo (Texas) that the bus driver took a wrong turn and had to stop and ask a local “is this the way to Amarillo?” but Route 66 was, even in those days clearly marked and although busy in the well spread built up areas the highway was nowhere near as packed as our motorways today.
The road has for generations of Americans had a certain character and air of anticipation about it. Over 2500 miles long , running East/West/East from Chicago to Los Angeles built in the style of a dual carriageway in the 1930’s and affectionately known as “ The Mother Road” and often referred to as the ultimate cross country driving experience.
I joined “66” just outside of St. Louis and travelled it all the way across to Santa Monica/Los Angeles eventually.
As we moved through “cowboy country” ... Texas and New Mexico ... the road was wide and remote in parts. The desert and mountain views are spectacular with their sienna and sandstone hues and huge clear azure skies.
Road signs only appear every 10 - 15 miles, as the scale between junctions and settlements is far greater than we are used to in Europe.
In between is a vast expanse of desert, mountains, cactus and rattlesnakes!
There was an eerie and somewhat lawless feeling on the remote and wind blown sections of the route through Texas and New Mexico. When we did reach a road sign they were almost always peppered with bullet holes as a reminder that this is still the “Wild West”.
Album/song most linked to this stretch of the journey would undoubtedly be "Horse with no name” by America. Listen on headphones with the volume well up if possible!
The final stretch of the journey west is crowned by the remaining mountain ranges just east of San Bernardino and overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean...
Eventually we enter the outer regions of the super widespread city of Los Angeles or “City of Angels”.
Spanish/Mexican is a second language in the southwest but that does not help me as my Spanish is as well cultivated as my Mandarin!
New sections of the M6 motorway in the U.K. had been recently opened back home and the three lanes either side seemed incredibly spacious, even over generous!
I remember the Greyhound sliding through 5 and even 6 lanes each side on certain bottleneck parts of the highways in L.A.
The Doors.. “ Riders on the Storm” from the album L.A. Woman released in the summer of 1971 was playing in every low joint and bar and still haunts me when I see or hear any reference to Los Angeles or that particular period. Fantastic music and fab time!
My other strong memory of roaming around LA is looking for the middle of town... in Europe the centre of the village, town or city evolves and revolves around the main central church and ancient market place.
Eventually the penny dropped that these U.S. cities developed centuries after the towns and cities that we know back home and are laid out in a symmetrical grid pattern with none of the ancient meandering that we have grown accustomed to in our home towns.
Although the grid system i.e. 7th Avenue, 45th Street etc. is logical it is also bland and dispassionate. We realise that the natural evolution of ancient towns formed over thousands of years make for much cosier and interesting places to live and work.
Our towns remind me of wild contemporary artworks where the paints are applied liberally and yet the successful images are somehow balanced and random... the methods of application are numerous and yet essential.
However the American cities are graphically planned and drawn geometrically with the aid of formal graphic instruments including T-squares, set squares, compasses, technical pens and compliant with exacting drafting standards and regulations.
Try comparing modern Jazz Funk music with classically written and formally performed Orchestration…..One is organically spontaneous and different every time and the other is carefully and identically reconstructed for repetitive formal performance. Both can work equally well and both serve the same purpose in the end.
The Queen Mary ocean liner had recently been retired by Cunard and she was bought by an American hotel group then sailed to LA harbour and transformed into a permanently affixed floating hotel (the first of its type in the world). She dominated the skyline as the Greyhound quietly slid past on the harbour road. I can remember feeling very proud that she was such an elegant and regal old lady and indeed that she was of course British.
It was the first twinge of homesickness and feeling proud of my heritage and nationality.
The emotions of missing home, Sheryl my girlfriend and Mum and Dad slowly germinate and take seed.
I’m still not sure that I was impressed by Los Angeles but after a short stay I was ready to leave and head south down the Pacific coast towards Mexico.
Back to the bus station, flash my bus pass and head anywhere I fancied at no extra charge. I had a contact in San Juan Capistrano, which is several hours south and followed the ocean road to what was clearly a Spanish/ Mexican influenced small town snuggling in the hills overlooking the Pacific.
I was able to bed down for several days in a camper/trailer park and travel from there to Tijuana across the Mexican border which was as different to San Diego on the American side as any two towns possibly could be.
Tijuana was wild, cheap, rude, boozy and rather wonderful!
I could not help but like it. Anything and everything could be bought for a measly few dollars. The street art was crude but undeniably creative and the artists were utilising all available wall space and any materials they could get their hands on.
The graphic markers, paint markers, stencil materials and techniques of today are technically light years ahead of anything available in those days and yet the creative thinking and reprographic skills of those self-taught artisans were as impressive as any I have seen since.
Mexico deserved more time than I gave it and a few days later I was on the bus heading up to Laguna Beach California.
This was, and still is surfers’ paradise…
Hip California at its best. Beach shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and surfboards on top of most cars and at that time the 'cascading harmonies' of Brian Wilsons Beachboys.
The Pet Sounds album is still rated in the top 3 albums of all time... sunshine, girls in bikinis and tuned up Mustangs and the sounds of Brian’s thumping base in “Wouldn't it be nice” it so captures the time and the place.
Laguna was as cool a small town as anywhere I have ever experienced. Flowers in your hair and tinkling little bells almost compulsory!
Eventually I have to head back up to LA to switch bus routes and drop off at Universal Studios in Hollywood. These studios were the original mega studios that produced some of the industries’ biggest film successes in the 60’s and 70’s.
Universal Studios had certain times of the week where visitors were allowed in. After pleading for a student’s concessional fare, I joined a small tour around the fascinating complex.
Strangely enough our family have somewhat distant connections with two reasonably well known (in America at least) film stars and both had acted in productions in Universal Studios.
Carol Lynley (daughter of Frances Jones married to my dad’s second cousin) born in New York in 1942 co-starred in The Poseidon Adventure, Peyton Place, Kojak, Charlie’s Angels and others.
Also the youngest of 4 children to my dad’s Aunty/Uncle, Malcolm Brodrick, co-starred with Bing Crosby in the movie “Man on Fire” in 1957. None of these connections won me any favour however on that day at Universal!
Time to climb onto the back seat of another Greyhound for a 400 mile 'short' trip over night following the Pacific Highway north to San Fransisco and Berkeley.
To be continued...
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