Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Road Trip Part 2 - "You're in the Blood Hood, Man"

May 2012

Waking up the next morning it was a rather pleasant discovery to find the cliff hadn’t collapsed and we hadn’t fallen into the sea (Barney was visibly relieved about this!) we had to make headway for our only definite destination of the trip (apart from dropping the RV back in SF): picking up the last member of our traveling circus - Antonia – from LAX that evening. Which meant with the minimal distance covered the previous two days we had to get some serious driving done. Wahid took his usual laid back driving approach out of the bottom end of the Big Sur, one hand on the wheel like it was too easy, with Barney taking over for the interstate stretch. We passed some incredibly diverse landscapes on the way South, from mountains to valleys and flat plains. It was awesome how you could drive for miles and mile without any sign of civilisation and then come across a small outpost or road crossing and there would be an explosion of businesses and houses clustered around it.

Beautiful Cali scenery
Cheeky little chappy!
A beach of seals. No, literally!

Not-so beautiful Cali scenery

As we entered the LA area traffic began to build up – it being LA the words ‘public’ and ‘transport’ hadn’t been put together very well yet and so everyone drives there. Although I'm not sure I many people passed an actual driving test, however. Cars simply zipped in and out of lanes without indication, slammed on brakes for now reason and lanes appeared and disappeared like something out of Gringots Bank in Harry Potter. The day took a massive turn for the worst when we pulled off the interstate to head into Santa Monica and the RV lost power. By lost power I mean completely died. In the left hand turn lane of a junction. Absolutely bloody typical. Cue mass confusion as we tried to figure out what had happened, why and what the hell we should do next. Unfortunately we were unable to move the RV out of the road (surprise surprise…) and so Michael, Barney and I stood out the back doing a stellar job of directing traffic around our stricken home. Which really proved how retarded LA drivers are – so many of them would literally come right up to the back of the RV before even thinking of slowing and changing lanes, despite our frantic waving, hazard lights and liberated cone from a nearby construction site displaying clear signs of caution. After various calls to Cruise America and a good while later a tow truck arrived on the scene and picked up the stricken Martha (as we had taken to call her), and took her to the local Walmart parking lot. Where we were told we would have to stay until Monday (the day being Friday). Needless to say we were having none of that thank you very much and so managed to secure a new RV to be picked up in the morning. Pretty straight forward and relatively easy we were thinking. Oh no. Not by a long way.

Making the most of the traffic - playing cards
The notorious LA traffic

As we couldn’t all fit in the tow truck, Wahid and Michael went with the RV and the rest of us called a cab to take us to the Walmart. The cabbie was a grumpy old man who just grunted at us, but did utter a few words in our direction: “you guys shouldn’t be in this neighbourhood. It’s bad here”. And then we pulled up to the Crenshaw Walmart. Oh fucking fantastic. As we went in to the Walmart to get some bits and bobs for our intended night in the car park (ie water) I was struck by the place. We were in the ‘hood’. For those of you reading who have never heard of Crenshaw, let me explain what I later found out about it. It’s a rather deprived area of LA, and its in the Blood hood. That’s the Blood’s, as in the Blood’s and Crip’s; the two most violent and notorious gangs of LA. Not only that but we were on the Crenshaw Boulevard, which marked the border of the Blood hood. Faaaantastic...

Living the dream!

Bye Martha!!

As it was we didn’t actually realise all this till much later. At the moment of time of arriving at the Walmart we thought “dang this is a rough area, let’s just lock the doors and hope for the best”. It all seemed OK to begin with as another two RVs pulled up for the night near to us (bit of mutual support!), but the girls weren’t happy. And I don’t blame then in the slightest-Amy had a friend in the LA area who offered to put us up for the night, but then found out where we wre and refused to come and pick us up. When that happens you tend to get a little uneasy as to where you are! After another round of calls to Cruise America and a chat to the armed (yes armed) security guards (who recommended staying in the RV at all times with curtains drawn and doors locked and gave us a direct line number to get them on…) it was decided that because we feared for our safety the RV would be towed again to a secure lockup and we would get put up in a hotel, all expenses reimbursed. All thanks to Amy’s damn amazing negotiation skills. Fair enough! Feeling much happier we got dinner on before the tow truck arrived. Which just so happened to be before dinner was ready. Typical. Luckily the tow truck driver was a sound guy and he let us finish cooking before towing the RV, and so with the tow truck leaving us in its wake we sat down to eat our dinner in the middle of the parking lot. Looking like complete tramps. Complete foreign tramps. In a Walmart parking lot in the middle of the hood. Can’t say it gets much more surreal than that!

Living the Hood life

Dinner is served!
The plan had been to eat dinner and phone for a cab to take us to the hotel. The first company never turned up, nor the next or the next. Eventually we cottoned on to the fact that none of the cabs we had ordered we going to come, confirmed by the answer of one company operator: “We don’t pick up from there as too many drivers have been mugged at gun point”. Oh shit… So we were now facing the possibility of being stranded in this parking lot, in Crenshaw on our own. Faaaantastic. Wallowing in our despair a security guard came cruising past. On his segway. Yup, a segway complete with flashing blue light. He stopped for a chat (obviously wondering what the hell we were doing) and probably would have been there all night had he not been called away to an armed robbery on the other side of the road. He did however radio back to his HQ and two other security guards came to where we were who tried to move on the other RV’s next to us. Which was interesting as one of the RV;s was a fellow Cruise America adorned one with a bunch of very drunk and stoned Aussies in it. That one wasn’t going anywhere! The Boss (as he called himself) then turned his attention to us and proceeded to fill us in on the greatness of the area we were stuck in: “This is the hood, man. There are gangbangers everywhere!” Just what we wanted… However, with his help we did manage to get a cab secured to take us to the hotel, but with only one turning up at a time the girls and Michael jumped in and Wahid, Jon, Barney and I walked over to the cinema (“ the safest place here, man, cause we’re there and packing!”) and sat down to wait for another taxi. Now this was fine, and I personally didn’t feel that threatened, but cars full of what I would imagine were ‘gangbangers’  would slow down, wind their windows down and stare at us whilst cruising past. I don’t think being the only white people in the immediate vicinity really helped either to be honest. Although Jon seemed to enjoy the attention!

Eventually we got to the hotel nearly 3 hours after the RV had been taken away, and found out we had moved from the ganglands, straight into another one. Bloody hell it seemed to never stop! Although apparently this area was slightly better as it was in the middle of the Blood controlled hood rather than on the border where we were. Felt so much better after hearing that one. Not. Anyways, we were in a hotel after all so not too much could have gone wrong from there and so after a well earned beer and meeting Antonia (who had had her own dramas getting to the hotel seeing as we were supposed to be collecting her from LAX!) we all crashed.

The next morning was an exciting one. New RV pick up day! Except this involved needing a cab again. Fuck knows what it is with LA but it seemed that getting a cab was as easy as having sex with Sarah Palin’s daughter. We were waiting ages at the hotel for a cab, and exchanged a fair few curt exchanges with the receptionist who had booked it (I do feel a bit sorry for her in hindsight but we were at the end of our tether with cabs by this point!). However it won out in our favous as a stretch limo rocked up for us. That’s right. A stretch limo. And this was after explaining to Cruise America we were poor students who couldn’t afford a hotel room for the night. Woops! As excited as we were to get a new RV (and boy was she new – only 2000 miles on her!) we were sad to see Martha go. Actually not really as she was pretty much designated for the scrap heap… Getting the new RV involved the rather large task of shifting all the stuff we had (a surprising amount considering the short time we had been in the RV!) from the old one to the new one. And going through the checking everything over malarkey. Except this time we weren’t taking any chances and checked everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I for one was not going through anything like the previous night again!

In the back of the Limo

Brand spanking new RV

From the Cruise America depot we picked up the others from the hotel (bless them, they had been waiting around for aaaaages) and headed for LA proper. Wahid was driving with me riding shotgun, and it simply amazed me at the poor quality of driving that seemed to exist in LA drivers (as mentioned before). Traffic jams everywhere, 7 and 8 lane highways with lanes suddenly appearing and disappearing and drivers cutting in left right and centre. An absolute nightmare that took both of us paying full attention to not crash into anything or anyone! We stopped in Beverly Hills for a very nice but VERY expensive lunch and a poke around. It was just as I expected. Incredibly nice area full of filthy rich people doing not a lot. Having to bring down the house prices a few thousand dollars we decided to have a cup of tea by the side of the road (to the probably horror of the locals!) before setting off to find the Hollywood sign and Chinese Theatre. It was cool seeing them, and they were really all I wanted to see in LA to be honest. Once we climbed back into the RV I was more than happy to get the hell out of the city thank you very much! However in true road style this wasn’t going to be the case as the SatNav had other ideas and decided to take us up the hill into narrow and windy lanes of Upper Beverly Hills. Fucking brilliant. Unable to turn around or reverse back down the way we came we had no option but to plough on. The roads got so narrow with parked cars on the side of the roads that Jon Barney and I had to jump out and physically guide and talk Wahid (who was driving at this point) through the streets frantically trying to hit any walls or (more importantly) rather nice cars on the side of the road. Needless to say the $1000 excess was heavy on our heads at this point! After a long, long time and some all too often tense moments and numerous multiple turnings to get around tight corners we got down off the hills and onto a main road. Wahid pulled over and pulled out a well earned ciggie.

"Beverly Hills. That's where I wanna be!"

With the Hollywood sign

I took over driving at this point and battled with a semi-hellish LA traffic (god knows when it isn’t hellish!) with Jon riding shotgun and battling with the SatNav, which decided to fuck with us by telling us to take an exit to the interstate, then chang its mind as we got into the exit only lanes (which you cant easily get out of again). Stupid thing. Which meant we went round the same junction 4 times. Yes 4 fucking times as we tried to work out what the hell the damn SatNav was saying to do. Probably didn’t help it was a female SatNav voice as well… Luckily the others didn’t seem to have a clue (until now I guess!) as they were too busy getting drunk in the back. I also had to have a standoff battle at 60mph with a police cruiser who thought he was the dog’s bollocks and could merge into my lane despite my right of way simply because he had police along the side of his car. Wanker.

Making ourselves unpopular with the locals

Directing the RV around tight corners

We arrived late into Watsonville, CA (yup, me neither) ad found an RV park with relative ease. Once parked I became a very pissed off Alex having driven for hours and then having to hook up and sort the RV out on my own whilst everyone else buggered off to look at the pool (talk about priorities). Pissed off Alex became even more pissed off when he was told it was decided we weren’t going to stay there and so again on his own disconnected everything only to return and be told we were after all. Coupled with being electrocuted by the power socket trying to work out how the plug went in and then being told flat out we weren’t going to go to Texas or New Mexico without any sort of discussion or negotiation, a very pissed off Alex became an incredibly pissed off and tired Alex. 

It was there that I began to realise how much I was going to struggle on the trip. Whilst I knew the trip was going to be a chilled one, I simply assumed people would be like me (i.e. logical in my eyes) and get the shit jobs done first and out the way and then chill out. It seemed however that in my naivety of this a lot of people were the opposite way round, and the first few days I had gone and shown I was willing to do the shit jobs and so some others simply sat back and watched me get on with it. I also realised I was going to struggle with the amount of time people needed to get ready and sort their lives out. Whilst I appreciated that with 9 of us in a small space and therefore turns need to be taken with things, the amount of time it took people to get sorted to go to the beach for example staggered me. And people had showers to go to the beach and get in the sea which really astounded me. On the most basic level it simply increased the time take getting sorted in the morning and thus meant hours of the day were lost waiting around. I guess this was to be a learning experience for me as well, as I am very different from the others in this respect and with all my recent trips being predominately with the Army (placing emphasis on efficiency and time keeping) I had come to assume everyone was like that. And I am struggling to adapt to people eating a piece of toast 5 ins before we had agreed to leave only to then decide they wanted a shower. I’m hoping I will adapt to the others routines like this and they will to mine so a happy balance will be reached, and that some of the others realise they need to contribute to the group effort more than they have been. Because I really cannot spend the rest of the trip doing almost everything and getting annoyed about it. This is meant to be a trip of a lifetime. And currently it’s not feeling that way too much. But still not to be negative about it, there's a long way to go and we have only spent a few days together still so there is time for things to change.

Yeah, didn't see this sign till the morning. Ooops!

(map taken from Google Maps)
(additional photos from Amy, Eshe & Kimberly)

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