1) Local knowledge is good knowledge;
2) A ‘one state per page’ map book isn’t really sufficient;
3) Ignorance isn’t always bliss;
4) Associate the word ‘Stop’ with sentences that begin ‘It might be more interesting if we got off the highway and . . .’
The idea was to drive from Bolinas, north of San Francisco to Las Vegas, Nevada. The people at Shelter Publications suggested “Drive down to Bakersfield and hang a left”. I like that kind of direction – Bakersfield is about halfway on a 600 mile journey, however it’s also pretty close to L.A. and we’d just come from there. So examining the map book and ignoring the snippets of information even this woefully inadequate navigational aid provided like ‘Closed in Winter’, and ‘Peak’ and ‘Graveyard Peak’, ‘Mountain’, ‘Mammoth Mountain’ and ‘Bloody Mountain’, I suggested we ‘cut through’ Yosemite National Park.
To be fair, we wouldn’t have passed through Oakdale (Cowboy Capital of the World – although this is contended by some other ones) or Selma (World Capital of the Raisin) or enjoyed some rather precipitous hairpin bends perched high up in fog above Groveland, but I saw enough of the drops from the passenger window before it got dark to regret opening my mouth. Some 6000 ft up, the GPS signal lost, the road behind us now icy, the Tioga Pass closed because of snow, and a recorded announcement on the Yosemite radio frequency basically saying turn back, turn back, we crawled into the forested national park and paused at the abandoned, ‘Information’ area to examine a sort of route map which was green with some zigzags on it by the light of a lighter. Actually Dave did; I stayed in the car eating whole bars of Butterfingers thinking about horror films where someone goes off to get help and doesn’t come back – although, I have to say, when coerced into opening the door, there was something wondrously exhilarating about the whistling wind and smell of pine and blackest of black nights. As it happens there seemed to be a road through. It would first punish us for being on it by leading us around for an extended series of icy hairpins then, when nauseous, remorseful and terrified by what could be glimpsed beyond the thin white protective line (aka air), it would spew us out on a bigger straighter icy road just south of where we had left it many hours before. So that was fun.
We proceeded in grim silence to Fresno. (Fresno being half way to Bakersfield).
Ironically, having been unable to see anything of one of America’s beauty spots as we slithered through it, the truck stop fast food suburb of Fresno we selected was lit by the sort of lighting normally associated with high security prisons; the Days Inn, the MacDonalds, In and Out Burger, KFC, numerous gas stations and flyovers and train tracks and container depots bathed in bright yellow light. The place smelt of the stuff pushed out of extractor fans at the back of burger joints, a sticky smell that stuck to everything. A second irony: having spent several tense hours up there, up there in Yosemite, looking out for the edge, we now embarked on a similarly tense and lengthy excursion to find the centre. Where was the beating heart, the gastronomic and carefree nightlife centre of Fresno? (Unfortunately I can’t answer that).
You know things are bad when to cheer yourself up the following morning you go to a Drive Thru Macdonalds. ‘Egg Macmuffin please’, I said. ‘Egg Macmuffin’ said Dave to the ear trumpet thing. ‘Grzz arc fast, ar’ comes the reply down the pipe. ‘What?’ said Dave. ‘Okay’ I said, ‘if they’re no longer serving breakfast, please could I have Oats & Fruit’. ‘Have you got any fruit?’ says Dave. ‘Grzz perrrin ar?’ says the person in the pipe. ‘FRUIT. Have you got FRUIT?’ ‘No, Dave. Look: Oats and Fruit. It’s a thing on the menu.’ ‘OATS’ says Dave tetchily to the ear trumpet. ‘OATS’. ‘And fruit’ I say. ‘OATS! FRUIT!’ Dave bellows, bewildered and cross. ‘Grzz fast ar‘ says the pipe, ‘Dragargarr! Dragargarr!’ Trucks were now honking above and behind us. ‘I think the person in the pipe would like us to move onto the collection hatch now’ I say soothingly. ‘Can I take your order?’ says the girl at the next hatch. Anyway, we eventually got it and it was disgusting swash but hot. I gave it to a homeless person panhandling at the Drive Thru exit and felt guilty for doing that for miles.