Participants: me & my 12 year old son Tomas
Day 1 Tuesday- August 8- Go West Young Men!
1 At my niece’s apt near Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C., Tomas saves the day by waking up without the alarm clock, “Dad, it’s 4:21.” I’d turned off my cell phone before going to sleep (a brilliant move), Anup, my niece’s husband, is kindly giving us a ride to the airport, he was sleeping in too.
2 Driving away from the house, I realize I left my notebook behind, it only contained our tickets, my passport, Tomas’ birth certificate, flight info, kinda important to have.
3 Driving in the dark, Anup points out a dangerous railroad crossing where locals routinely drive around the barricade.
4 In the main terminal of Dulles Airport. Our newly purchased canvas duffel bag, our “body bag”, weighs in a few lbs over the limit. Fortunately there are few people at the counter; we hurriedly take out the heavy binoculars, our hiking boots, and thermos, whooh, now we’re under the limit and checked in.
5 Absolutely perfect morning flight from Dulles to Atlanta, but stewardess is rude and old. In Atlanta Airport Tomas chows down on excellent burrito at Mo’s.
6 Another smooth flight across country to Las Vegas, another rude and old stewardess. We ask her what they have to drink and she glumly replies, “We have coke products”. I told her I’m not up on the latest corporate mergers so I don’t know who owns what, “does this mean you have Sprite?” I ask, she walks away and returns with same, without a word. Some people clearly hate their jobs.
7 Sunny and hot in Las Vegas. We take 3 mile shuttle to rental car bldg. Tomas wisely gets a cart for our damn body bag, his idea, not mine. We get to a long row of SUV’s, “Take your pick.” we’re told, wow, how often do you get a choice? We’re out in minutes, makes for a good Alamo commercial!
8 Stock up on supplies at nearby Wal Mart. Tomas has $26 “toy incident”, he thought it only cost $8, wrong price on shelf, we return it and get refund. Sorry, no Sherman tank for this trip, to Tomas’ dismay.
9 Drive out into desert within 2 hrs of landing, its blazing hot, about 110.
10 Pass thru Amargosa Valley (“bitter valley”) and Death Valley Junction, a neat grouping of old bldgs, an opera house, and dry remains of a once-hoped for plaza now weed-covered.
11 Drive on narrow one-way dirt road thru a moonscape of desolation in Borax mining area, Death Valley National Park. No shade, just blinding sun and whiteness of hills and ravines.
12 Back on paved highway, continue downhill to lowest spot in northern hemisphere, Badwater Basin, 282’ below sea level. Refreshing salvation upon reaching Furnace Creek Oasis, we sit beside a narrow man-made channel of flowing water and drench ourselves in the shade of tall palm trees. In this precise moment of Day 1 the entire trip has already been worth it.
13 See our first large drove of European tourists at campground office, so crowded we couldn’t go inside, lots of Italian, German and French being spoken. We carry on.
14 Sunset from the rim of Ubehebe Crater, we have it all to ourselves. Strong winds arise from the 500’ deep crater, ancestral birthplace of the Shoshone, this is the exact spot where they as a people emerged from the underworld.
15 Camp at Mesquite Campground, only us and another couple, 1800’ elevation, balmy overnight. We sleep in suv with back door, windows, and sunroof open, a pattern we’ll repeat for next two weeks. Only one fly buzzes us in the night, the Milky Way is dazzling.
Day 2 – Wednesday-August 9-White Mountains
15 I take my 1 gallon morning “shower” below our camp in a dry streambed while Tomas sleeps in (and well he should, lots of travelin’ for a 12 year old!). Early dawn in the quietude of the desert is beyond any words I can conjure up. Fill up water jugs at campground water hose, depart early.
16 Tomas explores desert vegetation and lizards around Grapevine Spring Ranger office, closed up. Wisely decide to stay on paved road towards Nevada again (more on this later).
17 Stop at palm-covered oasis, Scotty’s Castle, a Andulusian-villa mansion in the desert. Built in 1920’s, quite a story, vacant since the 1940’s but fairly well maintained by the National Park Service. We pass on taking a tour of interiors, prefer to walk the grounds and enjoy the oasis. Tomas buys some nice rocks and items in gift shop. Nice rest in the shade of palm trees with feet in cold spring water running thru channel of rocks and stones, douse my Bolivian-American head. Going from oasis to oasis in the oven-like heat of summer can be habit-forming!
18 Long way around/thru northern area of Death Valley National Park to get to White Mts. Ranger wisely told me it was a good thing I didn’t take the shorter more direct route via a 60 mile stetch of washboard dirt road, “lots of folks get flat tires up there” due to tires heating up and many sharp-edged stones. Instead we drive about 100 miles around thru beautiful, stark desert.
19 Pass turn-off to ghost town of Goldfield, NV. Re-enter California and begin to climb into White Mts. We climb thru forests of pinon pine, juniper and western cedar.
20 Both of us a bit winded after walk to overlook of Sierra Nevada and Owns Valley at 9,000’ elevation. Magnificent but dangerous road climbs to 11,000’, sharp drop offs are for keeps! Beautiful open meadows on top of the world, realm of the Bristlecone Pine, the oldest trees on Earth, oldest tree, called “Methusala”, is about 4,700 years old. Nice stop in Visitor Center, local teenager behind the counter is very friendly, helpful, enthusiastic about describing hiking trails thru this unique alpine setting, bright, cool sunshine reminds me of the high Andes of Bolivia but without the poverty, small herds of llamas, and adobe huts.
21 We can’t breathe very well (again, like Bolivia!), down we must go. Drive thru campground at about 8,000 feet, a camper has 2 huge telescopes set up. Tomas wants to camp here but its too early in the day. We have a nice Chunky Soup lunch nearby in the shade of a huge pine, Tomas sleeps awhile on top of the picnic table. Spectacular descent into Owens Valley and town of Bishop.
22 Tomas gets southwest salad at McDonalds in Lone Pine, nicest McD’s we’ve ever seen, rustic wooden architecture, very friendly staff. Murals of cowboys and mts on the wall.
23 Stop at small local grocery store. Two rude French tourists (teenage girls) look bored and miserable and are a bit abrupt with the store clerk, in stark contrast to a group of outgoing California-type teenagers who are chuckling and look like they just rolled out of their sleeping bags (maybe they were just stoned but at least they’re happy stoners). Head west out of town towards the Sierras.
24 Drive up to foothills of highest peak in lower 48 states, Mt Whitney, looms high above us at 14,000 plus feet. We camp in crowded campground along rushing stream. Crowded but with the right folk, mostly families and older retirees with campers, as we drive to our campsite just about everyone is quick to wave and say hello, welcome to America outdoors. The campground host is a sun-burned old mining prospector type, very friendly and patriotic, American flags galore. Prefer wilderness but if I’m going to be around people, then this is the place! We retire early, in our beds shortly after nightfall. Of course the entire campground respectfully follows the camper etiquette of hushed silence after 10pm. We can hear some people talking and laughing in a pleasant manner, and children giggling as we doze off for the night.
Day 3 Thursday- August 10- eastern slopes-Sierra Nevada
25 Chilly, clear morning at 7,000’. Quick exit from campground while other campers sleep. I drive very slowly and as stealth-like as possible so as not to disturb anyone, gotta do my part!
26 Sunshine touches high peaks to the west while we’re still in shadow, mountains 50 miles away to the east are also still in shadow. The Sierra Nevada peaks are well above 11,000’, twice the elevation of the Owens Valley and our foothills campsite. Few places can better display the curvature of the Earth on such a large scale, visible with a mere turn of the head from one spot.
27 Magnificent drive thru the “Alabama Hills”, famous movie location for countless westerns and dramas going back to 1915, the silent film era. Smooth dirt roads wind their way in and around huge boulders and columns of vertical rock. Tomas drives flawlessly, totally illegal for a 12 year old to be behind the wheel but sure gives me a break. Amazingly, we have this other-worldly landscape all to ourselves. I seriously considered going no further and instead making camp among the rock formations for the rest of our trip!
28 Very hot by mid-morning. Local water service employee kindly shows us nice swimming hole nearby. “This is where I take my kids when there’s more water, snowmelt has been pretty limited last few years.” We’re still able to swim around a little in one large, clean, cold pool, nestled between stream banks covered with shrubs and small cottonwoods.
29 Long drive down Rt 395 southbound thru Owens Valley, paralleling the famous Los Angeles aqueduct that carries water from this rural valley all the way to La-La Land, a deal that was “brokered” back in the 1920’s. Some local old-timers still carry a grudge I’m told but one can’t deny that the water theft has also allowed this area to remain rural and largely undeveloped, not many jobs buts lots of fresh air and few crowds.
30 We get off 395 and head west on dirt road into southern end of the mighty Sierra Nevada, the road going up into the mts is perilous, can’t take my eye off the road to enjoy the view lest we plummet over a thousand feet to our deaths (no guard rails), few to no pull-outs.
31 Finally get on top to alpine meadows and pine forests as far as eye can see. Much fire destruction for 20 mile stretch, mostly on one side of dirt road only, the road surely served as a natural fire break and for access. Stop at quiet meadow, looks like opening scenes of Bonanza. Only passed 3 or 4 vehicles in 50 miles, much solitude and quiet here. See first giant sequoias and ponderosa pines well over 100’ tall.
32 Drop down into Kern River Canyon. Sunny and baking hot in this south-facing oven. Beautiful swim in crystal, clear and cold pool, bordered by smooth boulders, sandy bottom, very pristine, despite proximity to highway up above. Must be very careful walking around, very very easy to slip. Wooden cross above waterfall in memoriam to young Hispanic girl who lost her life here back in 92. Accident? Partying?
33 Back up into the forested high country on paved highway towards Sequoia National Park. Passing lots of big pick up trucks towing campers. Check out small dirt road turnoff only to be disappointed with reaching dead end littered with shell casings and broken bottles.
34 Take 1 mile walk thru “Giant Forest” of ancient sequoias. Late afternoon sunlight cuts diagonally thru the enormous trees and lands softly on ferns and wildflowers, magical to say the least. Very pleasant and almost cool.
35 Make camp at Peppermint Campground, about 9,000’. Thick pine forest with primitive campsites. We pull our suv into a nice grove of trees overlooking sparkling, cold stream. “Roger” comes by wearing Moody Blues t-shirt, invites us to his camp if we need anything, explains high-tension metal cable. Tomas recognizes it right away, a zip-line. Roger has been up here in the high country for 2 ½ weeks with his teenage sons, escaping the blistering heat and dryness of their home in Taft (outside of Bakersfield), kids seem real nice, happy to spend some time in the mts in summer. Late night concern; the young boy stops by in the dark, asks us if we’ve seen Roger, “If you see him please tell him to come back to camp,” he politely asks (I heard him return around midnight). They have a feisty little Chihuahua dog that of course yelps too much, his name? Taco! Young couple sets up camp nearby, complete with small playpen for their toddler. How lucky we are to be surrounded by such good people. Quiet, cold night.
Day 4 Friday- August 11- San Joaquin Valley
36 Drive out of the pine forest into eastern edge of the Central Valley, then resume climb into the Sierras. Along main highway to Sequoia N.P. we park and hike down steep, rocky embankment to another fantastic swimming hole, while above us dozens of cars drive by without stopping, and that’s good for us. The main pool is like an Olympic-size swimming pool, @30’l x 20’w x 12-15’ deep. I plunge headfirst from a huge boulder, the water is bone-chilling cold despite the 100 degree heat in this sun-drenched canyon. Hispanic family comes down the hill as we’re leaving.
37 Drive thru Sequoia National Park. The main parking lots by the more well-known, famous groves, are completely packed with cars, motorhomes, and crowds. No worries, we drive thru and continue several miles to other groves less famous but no less majestic and awe-inspiring. I overhear a Brazilian family jabbering and laughing as we walk out of the mighty woods, then an Italian couple, the whole world indeed has come to see America’s beautiful national parks.
38 We drive out of the Sierras again and head east into the Central Valley. We have a late lunch at a mission-style McDonalds in Los Gatos, Tomas of course has his southwest salad. The place is so appealing we decide to sit down and eat, the interior is also mission-style but with a touch of 50’s Route 66 hipness. Never thought I’d be impressed with visitng McDonalds!
39 For a hundred miles its an almost unbroken, endless expanse of row upon row of orchards, orange groves, avocados, occasional cornfields, strawberry fields, lettuce, almond trees, with dirt lanes between the fields bordered by long tall rows of swaying palm trees and eucalyptus trees. The word “cornucopia” is so overused but there ain’t no better word to describe this agricultural heartland of California where a 12 month growing season produces harvests that the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, can only dream about attaining. California bound? I’ll say.
40 Late afternoon, we begin to climb over grassy, barren hills and enter the eastern fringes of Oakland, not pretty at all. Then we get on an interstate that slices thru these hills, now covered for miles in giant wind-turbines, a bleak industrial landscape but glory hallelujah they’re harvesting the strong winds that blow inland across these ridges from the San Francisco Bay. 4 lanes of heavy traffic in both directions but all the truckers are driving the speed limit and are in the right-hand lanes. What a difference from truckers back east. Nightfall as we enter Oakland metro area, welcome to the urban jungle and the American night my friend. Gotta be on guard, especially being with my boy Tomas.
41 Check in at nice clean motel (pre-paid) in a nice suburb, doesn’t look like an urban jungle here, in fact there’s lots of shrubs and clean office bldgs/stores around it. I had a feeling this was an upscale suburb when I made the reservation, good call on my part….this time. Its always a roll of the dice on that. However, the clerk, an Indian from India, is very weird, wouldn’t stop smiling the whole time as we checked in. Tomas noticed it alright, in fact pissed Tomas off a bit, he said the guy is a “whacko”.
Day 5- Saturday – August 12-left our hearts in San Francisco
42 Check out of motel early Sat morning, sunny day (so far). Tomas and I crack up about a comedy club across the parking lot; “Tommy T’s” (its an occasional nickname we use for him). Eat breakfast at Hojo’s or maybe International House of Pancakes etc across the interstate from our motel and receive the absolute worst service ever. The waitress was an older latina lady with an attitude, and was in a big hurry, we could scarcely speak before she took off each time. Tomas asked for more juice and I was about to also ask for a glass but she left so quickly I wasn’t able to ask her. So when she came back with Tomas’ glass and I then asked her for a glass too, this really pissed her off as she stormed away. She received no tip, that’s $0, zilch. Waiters and waitresses must earn their tips!
43 Entering San Francisco and here comes the fog and clouds. The motel was @15 miles inland where its sunny, but along the coast the fog typically doesn’t burn off till mid-morning or later.
44 We made it, downtown San Francisco on a Saturday morning, fair amount of traffic but no gridlock, we drive thru canyons of skyscrapers, the Pyramid Bldg, Bank of America, the pace quickens as the morning goes by. A delightful walk on the Embarcadero, seagulls are raising hell as they squabble over tidbits of food near and on the docks. We go on board a 1800’s schooner ship, restored to that period, run by National Park Service, we check in with the Mum back home (see pic). Highlight of the entire trip perhaps…Chinatown and the greatest smoothie Tomas ever had, the Chinese can be the warmest people on earth, very sweet lady and her family run a small drink/snack shop on a busy intersection…
45 Clouds gone by around 11am, as always. A beautiful sunny day, drove thru Haight-Ashbury, still a hippie paradise but definitely commercialized now. Saw(heard it first) 2 guys playing Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” with just an acoustic guitar and keyboards, very good rendition of that classic song, thousands of people out and about, walking the streets, lounging in the parks, throwing frizzbee’s, reading (poetry no doubt), lovers laying in one anthers laps, truly a vibrant city. Alas, we left our hearts in San Fran by 5p, got off southbound freeway and visited the campus of Stanford University, very Andalusian, surrounding neighborhoods were incredibly landscaped, lovely trees along the avenues.
Day 6- Sunday – August 13-John Steinbeck country
46 Spent Saturday night in uneventful clean motel near Hollister off Highway 101. Early Sunday am drive southbound towards Monterey and Big Sur. Passed thru large grove of eucalyptus trees, my cousin Frank told me years ago that this same stretch of highway is seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “The Birds”. Early morning stop at large supermarket in Salinas, mostly Hispanic customers. Feel much nostalgia for the Monterey area where I once lived but no matter, I’m with my son now and that’s far more important. We have much to see and do and never enough time….
47 A true highlight of our journey; Sunday morning stop at San Juan Bautista Mission, like stepping back in time as we walk around the grounds and plaza. Mass is taking place, as it has in this church for 2 centuries, would’ve attended but service had already started. Statue of Friar Junipero Serra is respectfully located by church entrance amidst flowering roses and with a view to the fertile fields of the Salinas Valley.
48 Passed thru Monterey in early afternoon, caught a glimpse of the seafood restaurant “the Jolly Rogue” featured in Clint Eastwood movie “Play Misty For Me” and where I was fired as a busboy after just a few weeks. Continue into Carmel and drive past the entrance to the famous Pebble Beach Golf Club where I also worked as a busboy and again…. was fired. I was about the only non-Korean there, they hated me from my first shift to my last, which mercifully lasted only, you guessed it, a few weeks. One sunny, late afternoon I was sitting in my car by the trash dumpster behind the main building under some stately cedars, about to begin another miserable shift, when an older man came thru the trees and politely nodded hello to me as he walked by my window, it was one of my favorite actors of all time, Burgess Meredith. I once spilled water on comedian Dick Martin of Rowan & Martin Laugh-In fame, and clumsily had to ask golf legend Jack Nicklaus to repeat his order, other than these celebrity fails I considered myself an exemplary employee. We meander thru the cute streets of Carmel, lovely small town and sublime place to call home, if you’re a millionaire. Onto Rt 1 and the Big Sur country….
49 We camp out in a rather remote (but obviously accessible) campsite in the Los Padres National Forest high above the Pacific off Nascimiento Rd. Last time I was on this road was with my older brother Jocko and beautiful daughter Raquel, very nostalgic and satisfying to share this fantastic scenery with Tomas. A nice lady pulls in and camps out close by, I make her a cup of coffee in the morning for which she is most grateful as she forgot to bring that key item. A rowdy guy stops by and talks incessantly about how he almost died of thirst after being lost for days in the rough mandrone/pine forest on a nearby peak. He’s a fisherman from near San Diego, his family are real Californians going back several generations. His uncle fishes off shore near a spot called Cortes Bank, about 100 miles out into the Pacific, site of one of the longest surfed waves ever recorded, he knew the story and the site, “that’s where my uncle’s buoy is at” he said. Here’s an interesting article about the “largest wave on the planet”; https://briantissot.com/2016/01/26/cortes-bank-the-largest-wave-on-the-planet/
Day 7 Monday – August 14 – Big Sur Country
50 Drive inland to San Juan Padua Mission, have to pass thru security checkpoint at Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation, MP wanted to see proof of my auto insurance which I did not have since I was driving a rental car, took some nice talking but he finally let me go without writing me up. Found a huge bowie knife stuck in a tree in a nice grove of oaks beside a totally dry streambed. Walked around the mission for awhile, then headed back to the coast. Back in Big Sur we stop along the highway and hike down a narrow canyon into a grove of redwoods, find a sublime spot where a crystal-clear mountain stream dumps into the Pacific, hiked thru a mad-made tunnel to a very narrow cove where ships used to tie up and deliver supplies to early settlers who lived in the Big Sur before the modern highway went in. Camped out further south closer to San Luis Obispo. Stopped to check out one of the southern-most groves of coastal redwoods.
Day 8 Tuesday – August 15 – Big Sur Country meets Southern California
51 Hiked down to a large beach, got in for just a few minutes, very cold water, we had a good walk among the tide pools and rocky headlands. Saw a large group of sea lions basking on the shoreline, many tourists though (like ourselves of course), so didn’t stay long. Fog rolled into our campsite overnight, slightly chilly, bleak morning, but there is a certain allure to this land of soft grasses, wind-swept pines, aromatic eucalyptus trees, and the blue Pacific, without a doubt the sweetest-smelling place I’ve ever been to in my life. Early Spanish settlers truly discovered a Paradise on Earth, and for two centuries they enjoyed a sort of “pax romana” California-style isolation, far from warring nations, extreme temperatures or major conflicts with the native inhabitants (the Chumash and other coastal peoples never resisted to the degree shown by tribes like the Mohawks, Apache, or Seminoles for example). War was not a full-time occupation for the coastal tribes. Many of them did resist, valiantly, but the power of the Spanish Crown and cruelties of Bible-carrying Jesuit priests was too deadly a combination for most of them. Unlike tribes back east, they couldn’t easily migrate for they were boxed in by the Pacific Ocean and searing deserts to the east. It makes me ashamed of my Spanish ancestry.52 Late afternoon as we get into San Luis Obispo. Old man in a super market cracks us up, “Well what do you know, one last chicken!”, as he grabs the last rotisserie-cooked chicken, the bum. Retiree comes out of his bungalow, proudly shows off his cartoon buggy,”its all I need for getting around town” he proudly says with a smile. Hope I’m that full of life when I reach his age. Finally get to a real beach, hundreds of yards long and wide, very hot sand, can’t handle it barefoot, adios Big Sur, hola southern California. As Tomas swims I stand guard at the waters edge and am joined in conversation by another Dad also watching his boy swim close to shore, good guy, we share a common purpose. Hearty laugh at Tommy’s Toys in San Luis Obispo, a perfect photo op for Tomas. Nice lunch in a Mexican restaurant on sleepy main street of Guadalupe, so-so service, oh well can’t win em all, but it’s a great town, right out of a James Dean movie.
Day 9 Wednesday – August 16-San Luis Obispo and Channel Islands (seen from afar)
53 Stop at McDonalds in Santa Maria, one of our favorites anywhere, nice art-deco 50’s décor, good service too. Try and camp out in the mts near Michael Jackson’s whacked out Neverland Estate but roads are blocked due to Zaca forest fire, 3rd largest all-time. Can see smoke 50 miles away. More time-travel as we walk around Mission de La Purisima Concepcion. Tomorrow we cross thru the Santa Ynez Range to L.A. 54 Hike to dry waterfall at Nojoqui Falls State Park, pretty canyon, on the lookout for cougars. Arrive Santa Barbara mid-afternoon. Smoky haze engulfs the town. Smoke dissipates as we head further south, check out fighter jets at highway rest stop near Point Mugu Naval Air Station, a key WWII base in Oxnard. 55 Enter greater Los Angeles via Malibu, Santa Monica Mts, Ventura Freeway, tanned bodies in parking lots and on the beach, all the beautiful people here in “status-seeker land”, film crew in action on shoulder of highway, into the Hollywood Hills, Universal Studios, lunch at Mel’s Diner, excellent service and damn good food, we give the Mexican waiter a $5 tip for a $15 meal, Mr. Bean billboard smiles at us as we enter Hollywood, mansions in the hills. Returned from whence we came via Ventura Freeway and stay 2 nights at nice motel in the suburbs (Agoura Hills) for $100/night, ouch, but cheap for around here, and worth it to be in a comfortable suburb, we enjoy a nice swim in the pool at sunset, still hot. No problems getting here, very fast traffic but haven’t seen any gridlock yet, amazing. Faster pace around here, a bit intoxicating to be honest. Imagine a century ago when these valleys were covered in orange groves and cornfields.
Days 10 thru 12- Thursday- August 17 Saturday August 20- City Of Angels and Tinseltown
56 NBC studios, Warner Bros backlot, Walt Disney main offices complete with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, tacos at the Old Plaza in downtown L.A., imagine what a serene settlement Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles must’ve been back in the early 1800’s, surrounded by fig trees, citrus groves and anything else the Spaniards cared to plant, only needed water from nearby irrigation ditches, now a wide expanse of suburbs,urban sprawl, neighborhoods as far as the eye can see, to the base of the Santa Catalina Mts, rising to 10,000 feet. I well remember years earlier when I studied and lived here, marveling at the sight of the snow covered mountains while I washed my car and hosed myself down on a sunny, very hot day in January. 57 Beverly Hillbillies mansion, finally get to see it, not gleaming white marble like in the tv show of my Sixties childhood, but rather gray and faded, but the wide expanse of front lawn and driveway are instantly recognizable to me, feel like I’ve lived there. Get a little turned around among the mansions, topiary and high-walled palaces, ask for directions from a casually-dressed, tanned, older gentleman, he politely tells me how to get back to the main drag nearby, imagine that, he could be a famous producer for all I know but no question he’s a resident and probably filthy rich. For a moment while talking to him my life flashes before me and I wonder why I don’t live just down the street from this powerbroker, why aren’t we neighbors? Honestly it’s not a wish to be famous and recognizable wherever I go, but just a longing to be in the place where movies are made, that’s all (making movies is all I know, I’ve worked for over 30 years as a location manager/scout but back east, in Virginia). I just want to be around the lights and cameras, to have a parking pass at the studios, all these fleeting thoughts race thru my mind as this nice man gives me quick directions. He’s a total stranger now, but had my life gone differently we’d be on the same set perhaps, play tennis once in awhile, discuss new scripts over lunch. But no bother, I heed his advice, thank him courteously and off we go, “past the gate and fine-trimmed lawns” to paraphrase Harry Chapin in his classic song “Taxi”. 58 Soon we’re out of Beverley Hills, drive past UCLA campus, and thence along a busy but rather seedy Melrose Ave and stop in front of the Paramount Studios main entrance, another eye-opener, always pictured it more glamorous than this. Lots of epic movie history inside those gates, but surrounding neighborhood is depressing, mostly a smorgasbord of small crappy shops, tattoo parlors, dry cleaners, liquor stores, caged windows, immigrants on street corners (not a putdown, in fact most are looking for work), cigarette butts, trash along the curb, Payday Loans here!, large groups at bus stops, gang graffiti, a far cry from Hollywood. 59 A few turns and we’re headed into the business district downtown, we were downtown on a Saturday, very few people out and about, like a ghost town, amazing.We stop at intersection (below) and look up, I cringe to think of a 7.0-plus earthquake striking this canyon of steel, glass, and concrete on a busy weekday when these high-rises are packed with thousands of office workers.
60 We drive out of downtown LA and stop at the serene Mission de San Fernando, it is late afternoon and the suns rays very brilliantly cut thru the palms, cedars and fountains. Hopefully not for Tomas but for me, my heart is heavy with the prospect that this is likely the last time in my life that I will walk among a Spanish mission in southern California (despite knowing the complete history), more than that, I am about to drive up into the San Andres Mountains and out of the LA basin once and for all, as we make our way back to Vegas. Adios Hollywood, adios Factory of Dreams, adios Laurel and Hardy, adios Morrison Hotel and Dodgers games on balmy, dry summer evenings, adios sun-drenched days of my college youth and to lime trees of courtyards in old Santa Ana! 61 Long drive into twilight across the open desert on the north side of the San Andres Mts. Stop around 9p at a nice motel that Tomas looks up on my cellphone, as always he calls ahead to confirm a room & price, well done. It’s a nice motel with a big outdoor pool. After checking in we go down to poolside and have a good swim under a full moon, and have the pool all to ourselves.
Day 12 Sunday- August 19-return to Death Valley country
62 Brilliant clear day, and hot. In Death Valley National Park again. Came in via Rt 178. Stopped at the sites of two long-gone mining towns, Panamint City and Ballarat. Not a soul around, and I mean for miles and miles around. Standing there amidst such vastness its easy for the mind to transport you to desert places around the world. No wonder movie makers have used this desolate area to play as Morocco, Iran, or take your pick of any number of desert areas, from the Empty Quarter to the Sinai to the High Atlas to the Takla Makan. Just bring in some camels, tents, and turbaned extras, and the trick is complete. 63 In late afternoon we drive up into the pine forests of Marble Flat campground, out of the desert and into the cool air of 8,000’ elevation where Tomas uses the many rocks and protruding tree roots to stage a medieval battle with his knights templar collection.
Day 13 Monday August 20-Nevada desert
64 Coyote morning, he was probably rabid to come up to us so casually, no fear. Drove out of Death Valley and into Nevada desert north of Vegas, felt like we had entered Inner Mongolia. Interesting art pieces in the desert including the mainstay of every living room ….sort of a homage to our couch potato tendencies, couldn’t find the remote!
65 Our last night out west. We check in to an upscale Italian villa style hotel, $39/night, amazing, they sure want you to gamble at those prices. Happy swim but pool is a bit crowded. A couple sit at a table near us, they never say a word to each other the whole time but just keep playing cards, professional gamblers I’m sure. 66 As a final hurrah we cruise the main drag of Vegas amidst a stunning display of lights, traffic, and hordes of vacationers, gamblers and revelers. It’s as if we’ve been teleported to another planet considering the peacefulness and quietude of where we were just 24 hours ago.
Conclusion, especially for all Dads out there; we flew back home and made it safe and sound. This journey was just one of many over the years that my son and I were so fortunate to be able to make together. We were fortunate, better to say blessed, and lucky on many levels; that I had the financial means to make the trip in the first place (I’m middle class and have lived on a thin margin, clearly many people would say the money was better spent staying home, or closer to home, but that raises the philosophical question of do we live to work or work to live?), that he and I were healthy, that his mother, bless her heart, was able to hold down the fort while we were gone (no problem for her, she’s a tough gal but that’s another story!), that being self-employed I’ve been able to take off on occasion without too many deadlines, and lastly the obvious, that we had no incidents, no accidents, didn’t get robbed or carjacked or worse, or any number of scenarios that could’ve turned the trip into a nightmare. Far from it, I was able to show my young son the landscapes, cities, forests, canyons, deserts and much history of the American West while also sharing some great times together. Looking back now, it’s taken me 10 years to finish this chronology and indeed it seems like it was all a dream. I hope other Dad’s out there can enjoy their own dreams with their sons too.
THE END (not really, we’ll do it again hijito!)