California Dreaming Part 2 - Los Angeles and Southern California
9th September 2018
Montalivet Les bains, Aquitaine, France
As mentioned in yesterday’s travelogue intro, below, a few remembered highlights from a trip to Los Angeles just over a decade and a half ago:
California Dreaming Part II - Los Angeles and Southern California
I flew to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from London Heathrow in the very early noughties and spent several days there with a now erstwhile colleague and friend, Adrian Chesterfield, ostensibly on business but also cramming in as much recreation as possible.
Adrian was getting on for two decades younger than me and sported a throwback to the 1980s rock ‘n roller image, complete with complimentary dress 'sense' and a mullet haircut. At LAX he ran headlong into Mick Jagger skulking through the busy arrivals hall and I think he would have made the trip for that brief encounter alone.
We were there to buy old Japanese motorbikes. Certain early Jap bikes, particularly the ones that closely resembled the British bikes they so comprehensively usurped, enjoyed iconic status in the UK at that time and an example in good condition commanded a high price.
Most of the original UK imports had long since gone to the scrapyard but out in the dry, warm, kind Californian climate a great many had not just survived but survived in excellent condition. They made very little money there as nobody particularly valued them - the trick was to locate them though as they tended just to gather dust in garages and lockups and not get advertised for sale.
These were very much pre-internet for the masses days don’t forget!
We hired a car and made for downtown LA and I’m not sure to this day if we ever did find find it. Sprawling LA in it’s totality is vast and I mean colossal. We thought we might take a look at Beverly Hills but gave up on that after a couple of hours of going round in circles in heavy slow moving traffic.
We took a room at a Motel 6 somewhere definitely not downtown but still in LA and studied the classified ads of many local newspapers and magazines for old Jap bikes, of which there were several, here and there.
Next day, being a Saturday, we tried to track some of the advertised bikes down but it was a pretty thankless task. The ads covered a wide geographical area and it was difficult to pin people down for a time to get a viewing - those that actually answered the phone, which was not many. All this had to be done using really crappy maps - the only ones we could lay our hands on - and public telephones. Motel 6’s were very much ‘no frills’ establishments and certainly didn't come with telephones in their rooms.
A sheet of cling film cover over the bog, yes, but a telephone, no!
By chance we called in at motorcycle workshop we saw along the way to somewhere and soon got chatting to the proprietor who was somewhat more than amused to be unexpectedly chatting with two guys from ‘poverty rock’ - as he referred to the UK - one with a haircut like a fish together with his father!
I reckon he liked us though as it turned out he knew someone, when he eventually thought about it, with an industrial unit full of old motorbikes, many of which were Japanese and put us in touch with each other by telephone there and then.
We now had a couple of days to spare before we could go see all these old bikes accumulated in one place so thought we’d put all other bike buying on hold until then and take a trip to the coast for some R&R.
We pulled into a parking lot somewhere in Venice, a buzzing beach town and couldn’t help but be dazzled in the bright sun by the shiniest Model T Ford imaginable. I say Model T Ford for that’s what it started out life as but when we saw it had metamorphosed into a chromium colossus with a polished, pulsating, V8 engine occupying the space where the original modest powerplant and it’s protective ‘hood’ would have been.
The proud owner was standing next to it and what bemused me most about the car was that it had no no front brakes of any description yet was 100% road legal. “Never had ‘em when it left the factory in 1920 so, by law, still don’t need ‘em today!” he loudly told us.
OK, I thought, but with all that power wouldn’t they be kind of handy to have? Their omission couldn’t have been a question of economy as it must have cost a serious amount of ‘green’ to get it to it’s then current state of ‘automotive art’.
From there we took a stroll along the coast on a super wide combined cycle/roller/footpath which turned out to be the Venice Boardwalk, famous for it’s funky shops, street art and performers.
As we walked along we were literally agog with all the ‘stuff’ folk had on display the likes of which we wouldn’t see in the UK for years to come.
The latest mountain and other bikes, multi-kid buggies, adult rollerblades, adult roller skates, tiny mobile phones, BlackBerry phones, lycra sports clothing - it was an endless list and Adrian and I we were constantly nudging each other in the ribs, pointing at something or someone and saying, like the out of town tossers that we were, ’Wow! look at that!’ or ‘look there!’
Unbeknownst to us an impossibly perfect physical example of young womanhood (as they all were on that beach) was coming up behind us ‘power walking’. As she inevitably drew alongside she looked at us, pulled a face and said in the broadest imaginable American accent
Jeez, I guess you guys don’t get out much!
I thought this was perfectly hilarious but Adrian was quite put out and plaintively called out to her fast disappearing back
but we're from England as if that somehow explained everything.
Which, now I come to think of it, it probably did!
After Long Beach we drove north along the coast on the Pacific Highway calling in at various places along the way. Come the evening we found ourselves at some smallish town - I forget just which one - on the coast in a bar taking a glass of cold beer when a big overweight fellow walked over to me and literally ‘bumped’ me off my bar stool with his huge bulk.
My seat he announced and then ordered from the barman his ‘usual’. I was not looking for any kind of fight so merely smiled sheepishly and moved a couple of seats down. His ‘usual’ turned out to be a pint - a PINT, mind you! - of Jack Daniels whiskey.
I was a bit curious about this all-round larger than life fellow so got chatting to him and it turned out he could afford to drink pints of whiskey at bar prices because he had got much coveted - and very difficult to obtain - Federal Approval for his latest drug. A pill that alleged to ‘slow down’ the ageing process.
In California, where ‘youth’ and ‘beauty’ are universally revered and exalted, a Federal Approved pill to ‘slow down’ ageing was like winning every lottery in the world simultaneously. Every week! And who was to say it didn’t work? Even if a devotee of the drug looked significantly older than their years after a decade of regular imbibing the drug maker’s defence would be something like
well, just imagine how much older you’d look without it!
Simply, quite brilliant!
Adrian’s natural youthful good looks and butch ‘retro’ rocker image caught the eye of another wealthy middle-age barfly who invited him to a party on his nearby moored yacht.
How many people are going? Adrian asked Mr Barfly.
Just us came the reply.
Poor Adrian couldn’t wait to get the hell outa there and was not best pleased at my amused audible entreaties that I thought he should go along to the ‘party’ and ‘enjoy’ himself’.
Actually, it was all a bit creepy but I wasn’t too worried about how Adrian might have fared had he been daft enough to go along as he was a pretty useful sort of chap to have by your side if you ever found yourself in a ‘tight spot’ and could more than take care of himself.
Next day we went much further up the coast towards San Francisco to Carmel - the town where Clint Eastwood had been mayor until 1998. I don’t think I have ever been anywhere quite so ‘perfect’ before or since’.
I think I need to qualify the word ‘perfect’ though.
It was an ultra well-heeled, highly artistic, sort of place with no visible signs of poverty or hardship of any kind anywhere. All the architecture was appealing and the town imaginatively laid out. There was an abundance of brilliant flowers and blossoms everywhere. There was no pollution, no undue noise, no congestion, the climate was perfect, the people were perfect, the shops and cafes were perfect - the whole place was, well, perfect!
A living hell.
I can’t really say just why the place made me feel like that for, really, there was simply nothing to dislike but, nevertheless, I truly can’t imagine a worse fate than having to live there for the rest of my life. Perhaps its because it was a kind of sanitized version of life, life as Walt Disney might have made it if he’d ever got promoted to god.
Whenever my own life has got too comfortable I’ve always ended up subconsciously but irrevocably breaking it apart, because I can’t stand the bland monotony of ease. I need life to regularly bite me in the arse and remind me I am still alive. I need to use my native wits and cunning and, these days in particular, I don’t want to be screwing up the planet with my gratuitous greed.
I didn’t know all that about myself a decade and a half ago but I knew enough about myself, even then, to know that I didn’t like Carmel. I recall thinking that I very much preferred Clint’s celluloid cowboy image as the inscrutable ‘man with no name’ - just him and his horse roaming the wild west in the days long before people revered youth and worried about pills to slow down the aging process - than his real life persona as the former mayor of ‘cute’ Carmel.
After that it was back to Los Angeles - in good time to see our motorcycle man the next morning, as arranged.
On the way to Mr Motorcycle's place of business the following day we happened on an informal outdoor exhibition of Harley Davidson ‘art’. That is to say a parking lot full of individually owned Harleys, every one of which had been modified to the point of being transformed into an ‘artform’. It was really quite an astonishing spectacle of gleaming metal and surreal paint jobs - and my guess was that even the lowliest of the ‘exhibits’ had set it’s owner back by at least six figures!
I practically had to drag a drooling Adrian away from the place in case we should be late for our appointment. As it happened I needn't have worried too much as Mr Motorcycle could not have been more ‘laid back’ if he’d tried.
His passion was old motorcycles of all types and ran a thriving business as a bike ‘breaker’. Over the years he’d filed an entire unit with old Japanese bikes for very little money thinking they might have a decent value one day. Adrian carefully selected enough bikes to fill a container and I subsequently negotiated a deal that made us all happy and arranged for their shipping back to the UK via a Heathrow based shipping agent ‘mate’ of mine at that time.
After that it was an unmemorable flight home to the UK.
In due course, the bikes duly arrived in Devon and Adrian subsequently set about getting them running, roadworthy and resplendent whilst I got them UK registration documents. Overall and taking into account all the many costs accrued, it wasn’t a huge financial success but at least I didn’t actually lose any money.
I made sure Adrian made a respectable ‘wage’ out of it and we’d both had a pretty memorable time-travelling trip to the near future in California’s city of ‘The Angels’!
For me, infinitely better than money - which I’ve never been able to hang onto - a lasting memory!
California Dreaming Part 1 Dallas, Texas