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Hacktreks in the USA

California Bound
Heather Neale

It’s 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 Pharaoh’s amusement park, my hair and clothing combined smells like an onion-churro hybrid. It’s enough to induce virulent nausea. I’ve 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 I’m getting really tanned.

Western Playland

Pharaoh’s 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. It’s 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. Mama’s 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 adolescence.

The weekends we spent at our friend Tony’s 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 don’t 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. Munoz’s 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 child’s 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 don’t 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 October 2003

*This article originally appeared in the 'Georgia Straight' -Vancouver Canada

also by Heather : Mothers

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