Sunday, May 27, 2007

Queen Of The Coast 

Chatting to our innkeepers John and Ann Marie, it dawned on us that as far as getting to see the United States is concerned, you're probably better off being non-American.

American employees don’t get much holiday - ten days is fairly typical, it seems – so they go a bit travel bonkers at holiday weekends. They flew in from all over.
A two week gentle saunter, like the one we're engaged in, would be the stuff of dreams for most Americans. They do their travelling in short bursts, so it’s little wonder so many have never heard of, say, Wales. Or Texas.
Ruminating on this, we got in the car and buggered off.

We drove south, back down the bendy SR120 that didn't seem so bad on the inland side, then across miles and miles of flat, hot agricultural country. Near Oakdale I stopped to buy some cherries from one of the many roadside fruit sellers you see along the way. The woman - a middle aged Britney Spears, all dolled up but kind of AWOL behind the eyes – had the juiciest cherries I've ever tasted.
We were pleased to see signs for Modesto. It’s mentioned in Laura Cantrell’s Queen Of The Coast -
'In a roadstop in Reno at supper time,
The waitress comes over with a look in her eye.
Says, "I saw you in Modesto almost thirty years ago,
And I can still remember every song in your show"'
- and of course, it's where top beard rockers Grandaddy hailed from. In interviews they often bemoaned the lack of anything much ever happening there, so we took the hint and steered clear.
Likewise Morrissey Boulevard.

The bleakest place we drove though was Kettleman City. It’s the point at which they switch off the irrigation, and hey presto, America’s food bowl becomes instant desert.

Actually I’m not sure if the next thirty miles technically qualify as desert, but it was near enough for me. John Innkeeper, who used to commute the three hundred and fifty mile trip twice a week, had forewarned us that this stretch was just like Nevada.
We passed close to the spot where James Dean died.

We’re staying in the gloriously fifties-kitsch Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.
We asked the lad on reception how long it might take to walk into town and he looked at us like we were insane. You have to cross several hideously busy roads, some of them twice, before you’re actually any nearer to the town, so with hindsight, perhaps he had a point.

The town itself is pleasant enough – a tidy little college town – although it was a little lacking in character, we thought. It doesn’t seem to have a focal point.
It is noteworthy though for Bubblegum Alley, which is both really gross and strangely compelling, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Tate Modern.

Much later on, after the hotel dance hall had cleared and the place was all but empty, and you could see headlights blazing by on Highway 101 in the mirrors behind the bar, only two hundred miles to LA, Longbeard and Gonzo were discussing what constitutes a good woman. Every sentence ended in “Dude.”
Longbeard’s girlfriend was also present, apparently not minding being discussed like she wasn’t there.
“A good chick knows when you're at breaking point, Dude,” said Longbeard.
His friends nodded sagely in agreement.

It’s our new favourite catchphrase.

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