– March 30th – April 4th, 2014
“DANGER: REALITY AHEAD”, a painted mural now reads on the back side of the gate of Slab City, painted by fellow East Jesus friends Scott and Dawn around the time of our departure. This was a time of departure for many folks at East Jesus and throughout Slab City: the end of March after a weekend filled with Art Slam and the Slab City Prom, and the impending terrible heat that will take over this part of the world for basically six months of every year, removing all but the full-timers from Slab City for another season. It’s hard to say if that mural will still be there when we come back next year, things changing as much as they do in the Slabs.
As we left Slab City for good on Sunday March 30th, most others were doing the same thing. Frank would be hitchhiking his way into Mexico before re-entering the States to do the same here, for the first time since he took on his position as full time caretaker/curator for East Jesus more than two years ago. I know he has been waiting for this, a chance to get back on the road and to start moving again; as much as we will miss East Jesus, I should say that we are both ready to leave as well. We stayed many weeks longer than expected and there is still much more to see. I think giving ourselves the full month of April to see the west coast, from San Diego to Seattle, will be a perfect amount of time. Marty is leaving tomorrow, hitchhiking as well. When I asked him where he was going, he just said “east”. Mini Mutt will make the trip with him too, as Mini Mutt always does, and they will both be back at East Jesus for the winter again at the end of this calendar year. Scott is headed back to Laguna Beach with his little daschund Amber and her cute little painted-pink nails and whichever dress she might be wearing. Bob has already left for northern California, to see his sister, and father, and to spend his summer months at the Solar Living Centre, where we plan to visit after we pass through San Francisco. Daria left a while back, back to L.A. (I think she referred to it as The Bowels of Hell, in quotation marks, however, the last time she wrote). She may end up in Detroit at some art-focused intentional community house or something of the like; perhaps we will see her again. Mopar (the Wizard) is still here for another month, before flying to Vietnam. I know he wanted to pay his respects to the country he fought against so many years ago now, and to see if people are still as hospitable there as he remembers them. Tracy is still here, but I expect it won’t be long before the heat and humidity give him all the reason he needs to keep moving on and seeing new places. Everybody is leaving, or has already left, all of the others I have not named, who did not stay long, or perhaps I did not get a real chance to meet. It will be up to Caddy and Jenn, for the first time as new curators and caretakers, to keep East Jesus afloat during its less hospitable months, until it is revisited again in the fall and winter by many faces both old and new.
We drove to San Diego as we had a month ago, although a month ago we were not hauling our trailer and were leaving our car in a parking lot to fly to Ontario for 12 days for Charlotte’s 6th birthday. Now here we were with Emma the ’87 Cadet-trailer in tow, winding through the mountains of Cleveland National Forest to pass from the below-sea-level deserts of south-eastern California to the Pacific west coast of San Diego. Following our original route, we passed by the exit for the airport and kept driving west in search of the ocean. It wasn’t much further until we happily found ourselves at Ocean Beach, and only to discover that this was a popular hang out for full-timers living out of their various vans and short-buses and trailers and the like. There was a No Parking rule for the beach parking lots between 2-4am, but most other streets were free game for overnight parking, provided you could find a spot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people living in their vehicles in a major city as here at Ocean Beach in San Diego. Depending on where we are on this continent, we can get strange looks from folks who’ve maybe never seen something like what we’re towing and living in; conversely, at Ocean Beach we couldn’t have blended in better if we tried. We found a spot to sleep on one of the streets a few blocks from the ocean, many other campers and buses around us at all angles.
On March 31st we drove around San Diego a bit, but ultimately left heading north, stopping in a town called Encinitas. Encinitas is a nice beach town, big enough to have some things to do, but small enough to not feel crowded and to keep the prices lower. We spent some time in thrift stores and got some new, used clothes. We tried to sell some of our old clothes but they wouldn’t buy them! I guess we’re just not that fashionable. We found a nice cul-de-sac that met with the Pacific Ocean, and couldn’t believe that there were no signs telling us we couldn’t park there for the night. We met a surfer living out of his Westfalia, also parked on that street, who told us that there’s a general rule for all of southern California, that if you are parking on the street overnight to sleep, you might get a ticket, but it just depends where you are, how busy it is, and if you’re lucky or not. This was a quiet street with just a few houses, and we decided to chance it, just staying in the trailer and not making any noise, which by the morning proved to work out well for us. We had breakfast and got some WiFi before moving north again.
During our months preceding our time spent on the west coast, whenever it was brought up in conversation, I noticed that some people would reference “Highway 1” as the west coast highway, while others would call it “Highway 101”. I never really knew where the discrepancy laid, but now we could see it for ourselves: from San Diego heading north, the road following the ocean was the 101 Coastal Highway. Eventually the 101 would continue north but break away from the coast, and to continue following the coast from that point was Highway 1, for a long stretch referred to as Pacific Coast Highway. These highways, 1 and 101, would converge occasionally, and then diverge again, intermittently, for many hours. Our intent was to generally stay as close to the ocean as reasonable, meaning that at some points we would have to drive quite slowly through beach towns, or up and down and around bends and hills, but the drive was more scenic than a freeway experience. The road closest to the ocean alternated between Highway 1 and 101, or sometimes the two highways would share the same road.
Anyways, we drove through a series of towns, from San Diego to Encinitas to Carlsbad, where we stopped to visit LegoLand until we discovered it was $83 per adult, and opted for strawberry picking at a field nearby instead. We continued north through Oceanside, past San Clemente, and Dana Point, towards Laguna Beach. We had said to Scott from East Jesus that we would stop and visit him in Laguna Beach when we were passing through, but it had been closer to San Diego than we realized, and when we messaged him that morning in Encinitas to say we would be passing through, we figured it would be too short of notice for him to get our message in time. We passed a sign welcoming us to Laguna Beach, and within ten minutes, who should we see walking his little daschund down the street but Scott! He hadn’t got our message, as we figured, since we only gave him a few hours’ notice. But here he was just on a walk with Amber and we had completely bumped into each other! I guess we aren’t hard to miss as long as we get within eyesight, a little car towing a little camper, and Scott wasn’t too hard for us to miss either in his Doink the Clown t-shirt and walking barefoot down the Laguna Beach drag with a wiener dog in a tutu and pink nails – still, unusual to bump in to each other so randomly. We went back to his apartment where he let us use his shower, and we talked for a while. A few hours went by, and we decided once again to move north.
We’ve noticed a strange pattern by now, which is that we seem to keep arriving in a new State or making other major changes right at the very transition of one calendar month to the next. I might be reaching a bit, and the logic does not work for the transition between November and December, but otherwise: on December 31st we passed from New Mexico into Arizona, on February 1st we finally left Arizona and passed into Nevada, on February 28th we flew back to Ontario for Charlotte’s birthday, and on March 30th we left East Jesus after having spent so much time there, to begin our final drive north up the west coast and back in to Canada, where we will cross the border around May 1st. Further, this has been a six month stay for us in the U.S., and the period of six months seems significant as well: we will have spent six months travelling the U.S., and six months prior to our leaving Kat and I had moved in with each other to a new apartment on Patricia Ave, six months prior to that I had moved in to my own apartment on Sydney St, six months prior to that I had moved in with my friend Dave at his house on Lancaster St, and six months prior to that I had spent living in my parent’s basement in Cambridge. Without trying or even noticing until recently, I have spent exactly six months in a given place, five times in a row now (if you count the trailer as one place, which I do, despite the fact that it moves around from place to place). I like to pay attention to patterns and coincidences, even if only out of curiosity.
Just north of Laguna Beach (and maybe half a dozen other beach towns like it) was the City of Los Angeles. This was a place that we had pre-decided to avoid completely on this trip of ours, agreeing that it would be too busy and stressful and congested and just plain too big for us to really visit properly while towing a trailer and not really knowing where to go. We do better, admittedly, in smaller towns, where parking is generally free, not to mention actually available, and where we can exist without the noise and bustle of millions of other people around us at all angles, and you don’t have to be spending money constantly to have your presence tolerated in public. I would like to visit Los Angeles some day, but I think it would be best to do so with a guide of some kind, maybe a friend who was savvy and could show us the right places, and without a car or trailer, just relying on public transit. In this scenario without the trailer we’d also need somewhere to crash at nights. Maybe this will work out for us one day, but this time around, we were not regretting passing it by, realizing to some extent (based on past experience) the untold level of stress we had just saved ourselves.
Los Angeles eventually passed us by to the east, and we continued a bit further to Malibu. We missed a couple of beaches we might have stopped at, but the traffic was at its most dense and a lot was passing us by rather fast. We have been told also that to best experience the Pacific coast drive, one should travel north to south, and not south to north as we are, due to every perceivable stop being on the west side of the roads. To hit any stop driving south to north like we are involves waiting to turn left to pull in to wherever, and then waiting again to turn left when leaving, which starts to get irritating after so many hundreds of miles and so many left turns. Further, all of these beach parking lots, whether State-owned or otherwise, cost between $5-$15 from what we saw. I’m not sure what is required to obtain some kind of California State Parks pass, or what the savings would mean; we never looked it up. We’ve been doing alright with our National Parks Pass, it having paid for itself by now, but we never looked into this California pass, and we just didn’t want to pay to stop at every single beach that was passing us by. Not really finding any great parking spots for the night, and it getting dark, we settled on the Malibu RV Park to sleep.
At the Malibu RV Park was the largest coincidental gathering of small campers like ours we had seen so far. Most RV Parks are filled with large RV’s of 30 feet or more, but next to our little Cadet was a brand new Alto Travel Trailer (by Safari Condo), and the guys travelling in it from Alberta gave us a little tour. Next to them was an A-frame style pop-up camper, like a small pop-up camper but where the middle popped up creating a steep pitched roof complete with sky lights and solar panels. And across from us was a newer Tab teardrop style trailer with a matching tent that was the same size and shape of the trailer but attached right to the door side of the trailer to create an equally large meshed-in patio space for them.
We drove from Malibu to Oxnard to Ventura, the road taking us inland somewhat from time to time, passing rolling green hills, the vegetation becoming noticeably more lush and simply very green. We got off the highway in Santa Barbara and gave ourselves a driving tour. We never pulled over anywhere or even got out of the car, but it was a nice drive around tour for us and we got to see all of their separately unique buildings all which were cumulatively attractive as a bigger picture. Eventually we came back to the ocean, from Lompoc to Orcutt to Guadalupe to Pismo Beach, and eventually we found a great pull off at an exit in Avila Beach near San Luis Obispo.
April 3rd is Cute Date Day. Kat and I had bought a book for Charlotte back in Santa Fe called I’m in Charge of Celebrations, where a little girl talks about how when something meaningful to her happens, she writes down the day it occurs, and celebrates that day each following year. So in the spirit of that story we have declared April 3rd to be Cute Date Day. Cute Date Day began with waking up in Avila Beach and driving to the Avila Valley Barn which is a huge market run off somebody’s farm complete with sizeable petting zoo. We fed the goats and donkeys and so on some string beans, eating some of them ourselves (the string beans, not the goats and donkeys and so on), buying some food from the market. From there we drove north to San Simeon to see the ostentatious Hearst Castle, the “ranch” and just one of thirty homes owned by 1920’s media mogul William Randolph Hearst. This is where Hearst would invite people like Mae West or Charlie Chaplin or Clarke Gable to come relax for a weekend surrounded by indoor and outdoor swimming pools, 15th century art from around the world, tennis courts, guest houses, a zoo of more than a hundred species of animals, an airstrip to fly them in from L.A. and back again, and a castle that was an assemblage of art itself, most of its mantles and doors and floors and ornaments collected from various far-away times and places. From Hearst Castle, which has now been handed over to the State of California as a museum, we walked out the San Simeon pier, looking for elephant seals which do populate the area. Not seeing any seals there, we drove for a while, pulling off at some random parking lot. There had been a sign earlier stating to turn left towards the “Elephant Seal Vista”, but we turned too early, bringing us to this empty parking lot. As we turned around to leave the parking lot and head towards the “Elephant Seal Vista”, we turned and noticed a beach completely full of elephant seals, and no other people within sight! We were up on the top of a small cliff, maybe twenty feet above the beach where the seals rested. It would be dangerous to come down to the beach and approach them, and it’s also a federal crime to come within fifty feet of them, but from the top of the cliff we looked down at them as they sleepily looked back at us. Most of them did not move much, but you could tell they were at least aware of us. Some of them stared back. One of them stared back at me with predator eyes and roared at me like a lion would roar, in a quite threatening manor. Luckily I was not at his level on the beach, and I backed off so he would settle down a bit. I counted 118 seals on that beach, but there were a few others scattered around as well. When we did leave that area, we pulled off at the next left to the Vista, where there were some elephant seals, but at a further distance, and the parking lot was full and crowded. At night we would sleep in a quiet pull off somewhere around Big Sur. This was Cute Date Day, and it has been made to be celebrated next year and onward.
Before finding our sleeping spot near Big Sur We stopped in Gorda where gas was an unprecedented $5.99 per gallon, offering a literal embodiment to the phrase ‘highway robbery’, and where I bought only $10 worth of gas, hoping there would be another option soon enough. We stopped at a camp ground with no services which was $25 for the night. We didn’t stay, but we met a couple named Carly and Rob who were from Oakland, and we thought we might end up seeing them there in the next week or so. We also found the Esalen Institute, which is a very expensive getaway spa type place with a heavy theme of holistic healing and general freeness of spirit. It is clothing optional, and there are natural hot springs by the ocean. One can partake in various workshops of meditation or healing. It was a place that most could benefit from, but few could afford. They even opened up their hot springs to the public from 1am – 3am for $25 per person. Hot springs just weren’t to be in our cards that night, not for $50 and in the middle of the night. The girl working the gate told me that she wasn’t supposed to tell me this, but if we slept at the nearby pullout on the road, no one would hassle us. And so we did (sleep on the pullout), and they didn’t (hassle us).
We awoke on the 4th, and attracted to the unique cylindrical wooden architecture of the building, stopped at the Big Sur Coast Gallery Cafe. This was an art gallery of high end sculpture art, mostly, and combined with a second storey and rooftop cafe, which purposely wafted bacon scent throughout the building to force me to eat breakfast there, and so we did, and it was delicious.
We drove through Carmel to Monterey to Santa Cruz up Highway 9 to a place called Felton, and found a camp site at Smithwoods RV Park. Here we could do laundry and have showers and a place to keep our trailer for the next couple of days, being now an hour’s drive away from a place we had originally planned to arrive in two full months earlier: San Francisco.