NorCal to SoCal: Karl, A Meteor Shower, Giraffes, and a Nine Dollar Harmonica
Touchdown in San Francisco from Nashville; it was time to ditch the country vibes and find my inner hipster.
It was my second time in San Francisco but, once again, I’ve came back home wishing I had seen more. I feel like no time is enough to explore that city in all its glory - but I did have one mission: Get a decent photo of that fecking bridge.
I was staying with my buddy, Sarah, for 3 nights in her house near Twin Peaks before we departed for our road trip to Joshua Tree. I came fully equipped with my shorts and vests, ready for the warm California air and some vitamin D from good old Sol in the sky. What I wasn’t expecting was to be standing shivering next to the Golden Gate Bridge dressed like I was ready to hit the beach while people around me wore waterproof jackets. I met Karl the Fog. The Golden Gate Bridge could be found amongst the rolls of fog passing by and the red colour of the bridge stood out against the white, wet sky. The drizzle hit my face and made my feet slide around in my stupid sandals that were not suitable for this dreich weather. I started to wonder if I was actually looking at the Forth Road Bridge back home in Scotland.
Through my jovial complaints of the weather, Sarah and I took some quick photographs and made our way back to the car as the rain got heavier. It turns out it was worth the risk of pneumonia because I ended up with some cool atmospheric photos of the bridge and 1 or 2 that are worth printing - silver linings and all that.
I didn’t really have the time to explore the city much more than that since I only put 3 days aside to be there. I’m planning to head back over for a couple of weeks in Spring next year for some quality time with the San Franciscans.
So what did I do with my 3 days? Dinner on Castro Street, Mountain View; catching up with good friends; drinking frozen margaritas at a Friday night shindig; and a friendship tattoo of a teacup now adorns my left leg. Seriously.
Saturday arrived and we packed the car up early amidst the thick fog. It was time to pick up Haley and make our way South to Joshua Tree, but not before making 2 brief stops; Santa Cruz for a birthday drink and LA for some dinner.
One of my favourite things about any road trip is getting to make new playlists. Our trip South came complete with some eclectic music; both Johnny Cash and Ed Sheeran were definitely there with us on that trip.
Silliness, deep chats, and lots of laughing fits sums up our 6 hour journey to LA. It was a brief visit in LA to grab some dinner with Sarah’s brother. The 3 of us found ourselves eating Mexican food from someone’s house - it was basically a family selling Mexican food from their home. I’m not sure what the legalities are there but the food was amazing - like, really excellent. I can’t recommend it to you because it has no name, but if you ever find yourself in a neighbourhood in LA and you’re asked to go to a house for Mexican food, say yes.
Onwards to Joshua Tree. We arrive late and it’s dark. Really dark. Our airbnb is in the middle of the desert up an old dirt road. We’re excited. This is gonna be a good week.
I’m lost for words to describe our week in Joshua Tree. It’s difficult to write about it without sound romantically hackneyed. It was epic. A definite highlight of my life and I didn’t realise it was on my bucket list until I experienced it. They say people make places and that couldn’t be truer during our week in Joshua Tree. The 3 of us bonded around our firepit; eating s’mores, creating our own little band playing country music, and laughing at silly things. Let me tell you, deep chats under the stars in a desert is the best therapy you’ll ever receive.
Watching the sun set over actual Joshua Trees, illuminating the rocks with a warm orange glow; coming face-to-face with rattlesnakes; eating amazing food; and, jeez, those smoothies! What a place.
One day, we took a trip to Pioneertown, which is where a lot of Western movies have been filmed. It’s like taking a step back in time. As if the trip wasn’t dreamlike enough, our stroll led us to the sounds of an acoustic guitar and we looked over to find a guy on his porch, complete with a cowboy hat, playing a guitar. We got speaking to him - his name was JR - and he played us a few songs. As he was playing, a girl rode by on a white horse. You couldn’t make this shit up. I think I said out loud: “Is this actually real life right now?” JR was a super sweet guy and became a highlight of our trip in Joshua Tree. He played a Western version of The Pogues’ ‘Dirty Old Town’, which we soon tried ourselves around the firepit. Something was missing though. A harmonica. Haley sorted that problem out and made us all laugh one day when she came out of a gift shop with a plastic harmonica that cost her 9 dollars. She practiced that thing all afternoon and actually got pretty good at it. Rolling Stone we’re waiting on your call!
We spent one evening at Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum. This is a difficult place to explain. It’s very cool, kinda creepy, and super photogenic. It’s basically a bunch of ‘environmental sculptures’, where random objects are pieced together to form works of art. It's very ‘80s’ with old box TVs and rotary telephones. It's an intriguing place and if you ever find yourself in the area, I'd definitely recommend you take a visit. Just watch those bloody cactus spikes on the ground - it ain't no fun standing on them let me tell you!
Haley’s sister joined us towards the end of the week and completed our little unit. Man! I’m missing those girls. I think one of the funniest moments of the whole trip was when we were driving home from Palm Springs one night and Sarah missed the ‘Dip’ sign and flew over a hidden dip on the road. I think all 4 wheels came off the ground and it was a definite Dumb and Dumber moment - you know the scene. Sarah was classically apologetic but none of us could breathe for laughing. Maybe it was a ‘you had to be there’ moment, but that shit was FUNNY. I mean besides the concussion. How’s your neck now, Haley?
Our last night arrived all too quickly but we ended on a high. The annual Perseid Meteor Shower was active over the weekend and so we spent our last night - Friday - in the National Park under a billion stars and watched the meteors swoop through the sky. JR joined us, or more correctly, we joined him at a campsite he booked. He played his guitar while we took photos. It was really magical. We all got to a point where we realised we should just take time away from our cameras and lay down to experience this spectacular moment. We did. Goosebumps were on our arms. There was a stillness. It was beautiful.
Saturday arrived too quickly - I think we all agreed that we would have stayed in Joshua Tree for another week, at least. But it was time to hit the road. Next stop: The SmugMug annual company trip in San Diego.
We left the dry desert heat behind and the sea breeze was a welcome relief - we could finally breathe again. Driving into San Diego we seen people in golf carts going to their next destination - probably the beach - we were definitely on the coast now!
We had a couple of hours to ditch our luggage and freshen up before the SmugMug Trip 2017 kicked off with a drinks reception at the Catamaran Resort. In the words of Peaches & Herb: We were reunited, and it felt so good.
Our next day started with a slightly hungover stint at San Diego Safari Park. One of the highlights of this whole trip was when our CEO took a bunch of us on an incredible experience where we got to feed giraffes and rhinos. It was a hot day but wow, what a memorable experience - which was unexpected and unforgettable.
San Diego was a trip of deepening bonds and finding beauty in real conversations. Oh and Old Fashioned, gin, and shots of rum. Lots of shots of rum. And sore heads. And pool time. The golden sunsets made way for evenings of good food and a lot of great laughs with a lot of great people.
Obviously this wouldn't be one of my wander blogs without the deep and meaningful part: There are few people in this life that bring out the best in you - they're the important ones and they are rare. I've been blessed with a few of these friends in life and it's a bittersweet feeling to know that a couple of them live more than a stone's throw away. And it's with that, I realise you can be homesick for people too.
I want to finish off by telling you a little story from an encounter I had at San Diego airport whilst awaiting my flight home. I wrote it in my notes once I boarded the plane and I'm just gonna copy and paste it exactly as is:
The San Diego trip ended with a perfectly surreal moment when I got speaking to a guy at San Diego airport who sat next to me at the gate. He was writing what looked to be poetry in Spanish and asked me if I was American, I told him I was Scottish. "What do you call the little man in your eye?" He said. "What do you mean?" I ask. "The person you cherish." He said. I laughed and told him we have a phrase for that: "The apple of your eye". He knew this already and told me this is what his poem was about. I smiled and said "Well whoever they are, they're lucky to have poetry written about them." He looked at me and said: "No she doesn't know. She's the apple of my eye but I am not the apple of hers. Sometimes the wrong people make the perfect apples." I looked at him and understood completely why he writes poetry. That line was perfect and honest. It was just another atypical moment of this 3 week trip that was so far removed from my normal life. As soon as I boarded the plane, I wrote this conversation down in my notes... I never want to forget his words, and I sure hope that the girl gets to read his poem one day - I bet it's a tearjerker. Did I mention it's in Spanish? Girl better sort her apples out!
It’s the oldest story in the world. One day you’re 16 and planning for your future dreams. And then subtly, without notice, your future is today. Sarah and I had a chat about this trip and decided we'd sum it up as 'poetic'.
I've now been home for 2 weeks and I'm facing post holiday blues. It's always hard to leave amazing places behind but almost impossible to leave great friends.
My American Adventure 2017 was amazing and gave me another opportunity to broaden my mind and think about future life plans.
Listening to the sounds of storytellers in Nashville; getting to finally meet Karl the Fog in San Francisco; country nights with bonfires, good music, great friends and a million stars in Joshua Tree; deepening bonds, finding beauty in real conversations and enforcing growth in San Diego. It was an incredible 3 weeks Stateside. Lesson learnt: When it's good, embrace it; when it hurts, observe it.