We’re up early and heading into the Californian desert. The scenery falls to the coast, the heat stirring from its slumber over unremarkable, parched terrain. Casino camps float by until the Californian border where the traffic picks up with the heat as the altitude drops. Barstow is a halfway house which we’ve earmarked for brunch. Off Route 66 we stop in Peggy Sue’s Diner. It’s like we’ve stepped sideways in space and time. A weary, hirsute traveller dozes by the door, as impervious as an old dog to the passing customers. This place is more than just a diner, it’s a museum to the road, the black river of rock and roll. There are leathery oldtimers at the bar, a pink pizzeria at the back and lifesize Blues Brothers petrified inside a gyration. The traveller still dozes as we step back out into real time and head for LA.
Streaming into the LA freeway system is like falling into a video game, a Grand Theft Auto or the like. But these are real people, in real life, real fast, cars and trucks. Our navigators are wired up and we hop and weave with the best. The freeways are a vast intestinal system for the city, while my own are getting a bit knotted with the stress of it all. Downtown LA passes away to our right, its towers a pinpoint on the map of the sprawling city. I sense the boys’ anticipation of what must be, to anyone born late in the century, part of the modern world’s cultural axis. Movies, the motor car, television and rock and roll are all written in two giant neon letters, but we’re never going to see an awful lot of this place.
Santa Monica is at the end of the trail and the tangy, moist sense of the Pacific hangs heavy in the air. The Doubletree Apartments are the far side of the freeway, a pleasant though anonymous modern block around an atrium. There’s a rooftop pool to unwind and already there’s a slight ocean chill in the air.
Santa Monica’s main axis is the 4th street mall, paved, pedestrianised and lined with musicians and street performers. Route 66 still has a couple of blocks to go from here along Santa Monica Boulevard, on down to Santa Monica pier where at last it finds the ocean. The promenade above the beach is a nonstop swirl of joggers, skateboarders, cyclists and rollerbladers. The relentless cheerfulness of Californians may be the subject of some jeering but it certainly seems to work for them. A smiling skater (hey, everybody’s smiling) pushes her baby in a buggy and volunteers to stop and take our photograph. ‘Handsome family’ she says and, I suppose, means it.
Further south we merge with Venice Beach where there’s a subtle shift in ambience. This is more savoury than sweet, with even a hint of the unsavoury here and there. It’s a Dandelion Green on the seafront, where the stallholders haggle, smokers skin up and slackers and panhandlers mark out their turf. Somebody shouts ‘hey, David Bowie’ after me, so even the slagging is positive. The boys are off studying graffiti and fending off offers of soft drugs. We eat at a crowded beachside cafe and Davin gets his temporary tattoo. We get ice cream from a former Austrian international footballer who’s minding the stall for a friend. We chat about the dingy basement days of sixties football. He seems happy now in this heady mix of health fiends and hedonists. On the pier the big wheel is turning and the light is dying. There’s a nighttime gig with The Ventures, all gnarled oldguy fame and rock n’ roll memories. This is an appropriate end for Route 66.
Although the hotel staff wants to point us onto the freeway, I ain’t going there again if I can help it. A more stately, more interesting, route sees us shimmy up Santa Monica Boulevard, through Bel Air and intersecting with Hollywood Boulevard. There’s a short slalom uphill before we reach the Universal lot with a long walk to the park entrance. The queues are quick though it takes some time to get our bearings in the throng. The bottom level is for the fun rides, upstairs is food and special effects. A friendly steward recommends we get good and wet to begin with and I will take the Jurassic park ride with Davin not once, but twice – with baleful results. First we take the tour of the film lot which is probably the highlight of the day. A witty and entertaining trawl through some great movies with King Kong, Jaws and a Jumbo jet crash.
The Jurassic Park ride is good but the second soaking is followed by a chilling visit to an effects lot and I don’t think I’m the best for it afterwards. Perhaps the metamorphosis is showing early as one host greets me as the Wolfman, and Oran as Son of Wolfman. Just wait for the full moon, pal.
Last stop is Waterworld, a spectacular stunt routine which includes more soakings, inevitably, but which is a lot more enjoyable than the film. It’s a fitting finale although there’s a nice little coda before we leave Universal with a Blues Brothers show and a foursome of showbiz dames in a pink Pontiac. Ah, but can they hold a candle to our crew in the cream Cadillac?
Leaving the studios we avoid the freeway, just about, and also get ourselves lost for the first time. I favour the explorer’s approach, to head for the hills and see what happens but Marian insists on a more ordered retreat. We manage to pick up Santa Monica Boulevard after a brief digression through a supermarket carpark and a modest traffic jam by the Hollywood Bowl. I should have detoured down Hollywood Boulevard but the sun is setting now so it’s best to harmonise with Sherryl Crow.
The 4th Street mall is fairly hopping at night as men with guitars trade riffs and bars, there’s flamenco, latino and blues while the boys are caught up in a street performance. They have actually volunteered as participants by the time we’re called to our table at a restaurant up the street and I have to do the dad thing and pull them in.
At the restaurant I notice that the menu cautions tourists against tipping too little. Fifteen per cent, my standard tip, is dismissed disdainfully as the lowest possible. Twenty is suggested as reasonable but we’re encouraged to go higher. Hell, why not ask the waitress to join us for the night? Those days are gone, I suppose, and present company is good. I give Davin ten dollars to buy a cd from the flamenco guitarist who has regaled us during our meal. Vadim’s music becomes a regular soundtrack for the rest of our stay, it remains a favourite.
The next morning I dip my toe in the Pacific Ocean and feel at last that I’ve made it half way around the globe. The pier is people watcher paradise, good for sketching and fishing too. I watch a couple of games of volleyball but the better they get at it, the more uptight they are. Friendships are fragile in one tetchy doubles match, but there’s an uplifting rally of great mirth amongst a sextet of amateurs. Between the coast and 4th Street there’s a lively market. Back again on the mall there’s plenty of earnest men, young and old, trading guitar riffs and tall tales on benches and sidewalk cafes. I have a coffee outside a fast food then, shortly after rejoining the swarm of people, bump into herself and Oran crossing Route 66. Small world.