Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Angry young men

December 2nd, 2011

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Santa Barbara appeared to be what you’d probably expect a Californian coastal city to be. More Baywatch than Hill Street Blues. Fit young things on roller skates. That sort of thing. Out of season though for beach volleyball.

But pause for a short while on the edge of the wide beach side cycle path and you’ll soon notice the dispossessed. Deep, grubby tans. Sun bleached, faded clothes. Shopping trolleys laden with their worldly good, gathered together in tatty plastic carrier bags. A few with bicycles and trailers, plainly not long-haul tourers.

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The guidebook suggested against camping close to Los Angeles, the State Park sites drawing in those down on their lot, or tempted by the possibilities of rich pickings. The economic downturn had, I thought, spread potential miscreants further out from the city.

I’d later met Ben, a fellow rider. Seen his bike parked up outside a cafe as I’d hurriedly left Lompoc. He’d explained the place was the Federal Penitentiary. Angry young men he’d said. You were either behind bars, or you’d money but nowhere to go, nowhere to spend it.

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Motel musings

December 1st, 2011

In Australia they were called Permanents, usually living in tatty trailers – caravans – or units at campgrounds. In the US, motels. Those for whom it was their only residence, and, in all likelihood, wasn’t going to change. Mine was an impromptu stop, a single night. Gone early the next morning.

A few ground floor rooms with wheelchairs outside. I’d wandered past in the dark, glimpsing inside through doors left ajar, curtains half closed, despite the sharp cold. Mostly chaotic, possessions strewn about. In others, Hispanic families, larger than the rooms they occupied.

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Pleasantries

December 1st, 2011

Small motel on the outskirts of Lompoc. Clean and relatively inexpensive. Sunset was imminent and I was tired. There was supposedly a campground in town, but I didn’t like the look of the place. Moments earlier I’d passed a man on the cycle path. "Sexy bike" he’d shouted as I’d approached. Brief pause, then he added "Faggot". I doubted he’d meant firewood, and was quick to yell a suitable response.

I’d left the hostel back in San Luis Obispo feeling rather more pleased than when I’d risen. There’d been breakfast. Make your own pancakes, drizzled with maple syrup. Fresh coffee. Earlier than advertised. I’d retrieved my Comment Card from the outgoing mail and torn it up. Benefit of the doubt. But my reservations about the neighbourhood were unchanged.

A young woman had wandered up to the hostel as I’d been loading the bike up outside on the veranda. Puffing furiously on a cigarette. Was, she asked, there anyone who worked here around. Strange question I thought. Yes, I replied. Firmly. She stubbed out her smoke and disappeared inside. Two young men appeared. A little unkempt. One had a can of Guinness which he then opened.

The girl reappeared, a city map in hand, muttered something to the others and they drifted off. I left a short while later. Anxious not to leave my loaded steed unattended outside, even if secured to a post. A decent street map from the hostel and I’d little difficulty leaving town and picking up the route south once more.

Brief lunch stop on the edge of Pismo Beach and then inland to Guadalupe, forced away from the coast by Vandenburg Air Force Base. Small deli. Hot counter offering Mexican food. Signs in both English and Spanish. The odd Hola and Gracias overheard. On the magazine rack most publications also in Spanish. Women on the covers lightly clothed. Very warm further south, I surmised.

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