Hacktreks in the USA
a Thursday around 10 pm in Redlands California, and all I can think
about is taking a shower.
Sweating away the day selling rides on a trampoline at Pharaohs
amusement park, my hair and clothing combined smells like an onion-churro
hybrid. Its enough to induce virulent nausea. Ive been
making hand-to-sticky-hand contact with popsicle-doused, snot-nosed
kids for the last five hours, strapping them into an adult sized
jolly jumper slung over a trampoline, launching them into the air,
and now I cannot wait to remove the layer of sludge from between
my fingers. But the up side to all of this is that Im getting
Amusement Park is a fair sized place: big enough to warrant the ever
popular rickety wooden roller coaster ride that amusement park aficionados
crave. A gargantuan plastic Pharaoh guards the entrance where kids line
up first thing in the morning like vodka-seekers on a Russian side street.
Once inside, there are endless gimmicks to buy. The park comes complete
with Hubba Bubba-pink cotton candy stands, overpriced dart board games
and then there are the water slides. I stay away though. The thought
of thousands of bacteria uniting from bodily fluids, meshing in a communal
vat of water is not really my thing. I resort, instead, to dumping three-dollar
bottles of Evian over my head and looping my t-shirt through the neck
hole to air out my tummy. Its incredibly hot in the desert; a
far cry from my wintry Winnipeg childhood.
I spent the summer working in California. It was a trip
to say the very least. My friend bought this trampoline bungee cord
contraption in Courtney BC over a year ago, carted it down to LA, and
then offered me a job. After several years spent working hard at university
I felt I deserved a break from reading, so I accepted. Packing up the
contents of my apartment into a westfalia, I cried over the fact that
my life could fit into a westfalia, and then off I went, care-free and
ready to experience LA.
Five days out of the week we followed the circuit. Just as musicians
have a set list of venues to hit on a concert tour, so too do ride administrators,
or as Bart Simpson calls us, carnies. Chile cook offs, wine
festivals, antique automobile shows, amusement parks and street markets
filled our agenda. There is always something happening in Southern California
no matter where you go, and inevitably, people there will want a ride.
The small town scene is much more rewarding. Despite the excitement
and star power-status-dependent vibe of the City of Angels, the richness
of periphery culture is much more enjoyable. This utopia is hidden in
the hills, but if you persist through the humidity, and the garbage-lined
streets of LA out to the country, there will be treasures awaiting.
Forest Falls was a highlight. About a twenty minute drive from Redlands,
this microcosmic village was the length and width of an urban back alley,
and on this particular day, it was packed. The annual chili cook off
had begun, with booths set up along each side of the road sporting superlative
signs and steaming crock pots. Mamas Hottest Ever Holy Sheet Chili,
or Maui Wowi This Stuff Has Pow Chili. A sub standard version of Grateful
Dead wannabes played at one end of the street. The lead singer wore
Lennon glasses, an Axel bandana, and Peter Paul and Mary style trousers.
He started out rocking to Ripple, and then made his old-age
transitional maturational move into Bye Bye American Pie
like it was some fancy new-age melody, twisting electric bass strings
backward to emphasize the strong AC/DC influence that had graced his
The weekends we spent at our friend Tonys house in West Hollywood,
sleeping on the floor, drinking margaritas and enjoying the night life.
Plastic women in suede hot pants sipping fruity martinis and gesturing
wildly with their French manicures were the craze- like Tickle-Me-Elmo
for adults. They sat along each side of the club, talking on cell phones,
making eye contact with handfuls of men. It was culture shock for the
small town girl.
I dont know where my biggest culture shock was. The parks or the
clubs. Both had a faint odor of B.O. mixed with an air of superficiality.
But at least the parks were filled with button-nose adorable children
who would smile and hold your hand.
Crystal Muñoz, for instance, came every week to the Riverside
market specifically to ride with us. It was the one night of the week
her father was allowed to take her away from mom and new-husband, and
they chose to spend it here. I would watch Mr. Munozs leathery
face light up as Crystal went flying through the air, giggling wildly
through tiny white chiclet teeth. His face, although smiling, held an
implicit sadness in it that broke my heart: a stoic among epicureans,
unable to let himself go. It was obvious he worshipped this little childs
existence. It then occurred to me, that I did too.
Meanwhile, small watering holes on Melrose Avenue were our other pastime.
The Snake Pit- named for the recording studio of the legendary Funk
Brothers- was where I met Yo Yo Danny and his best friend Booty-tay.
BT was a close and personal friend of Macy Gray, so he claimed. So at
the time when I still believed him, I was rather friendly. For the record,
I dont think his name was really Booty-tay either, but it sounded
cool. We hung out and shot the breeze for a few hours and then headed
out to The World nightclub for more surreal Hollywood culture, something
I decided early on, would be hazardous to my health should I choose
to stay permanently.
Three months later I was back in Canada, hiking through supernatural
coniferous forest, smelling the salt-air breeze pass over my face, and
all I could think about was going back to the desert.
© Heather Neale
*This article originally appeared in the 'Georgia Straight' -Vancouver
also by Heather
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