A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side A

27 10 2008


Both feet, baby. Both feet. Strap on your best driving boots and jump into the flow. Slip in. Into that stream of consciousness. That steady stream of steel, ash and exhaust, and rubber, and hollow-sounding horns hit with flat, angry palms.

It’s my first time driving on a freeway in America. Something about it reaches out of the darkness and prods my inner animal with a blunt stick. I picture that inner animal as a sloth, but a punk-loving sloth. Angry when roused.

Wake up! Wake up!

Freedom is illusory, but the sensation, real. The world’s your oyster at 65 mph, pre-shucked and squeezing its own secret lemon on itself. The road, they say, is open. And with it, your heart. Wind in your hair and horizon wrapped around you, you press on towards that piece of yourself that’s adventurous and free and undeterred by the uncertainty of real life.

The car is free, in spirit. You could go anywhere right now. Depending on how much gas you can afford and the quality of snacks in the car.

Awareness creeps. A free car may also be not free. It can be a rental—like this one.

But still, I feel it.

A tingle in the nostril, a flare of air and my un-muzzled foot pressing the pedal down. The toes whispering faster, faster pussycat. Faster.

A fear raps its knuckles on the door of my gut. A fear. Of being on the wrong side of the road, the car, and life. And it’s going 65 mph with its dog face and tongue hanging out the passenger window.

A twitch nibbles at my hand. It is an eagerness to flip the bird at the first person to look askance at my airplane hair and erratic swerve-ability.

Grip the wheel. Keep it real.

Like mercury seeking out other blobs of mercury, we blend together to form traffic. Angry chest beating traffic. I am thrilled. Heart beating wild. Brain zipping do-dads and blip-toes. To drive. To feel human and in control.

To be Cali, Cali, and all the way Cali.

On the freeway.

Free. And on the way.


What wind did wind you this way west? To California?

A wonderful zephyr, actually.

The kind that lifts your skirt and makes you acutely aware that you’re wearing back-of-the-drawer underwear. Oh, the check-blushing shame!

In this case, the zephyr I speak of is a train called The California Zephyr. It’ll feature in this story but not until much later. I needed to come to the west in order to take it back to the east (which is the proper direction for a zephyr anyway), and a lot of stuff will need to happen in between.

So, let’s get on with the stuff.

My justification for this trip is, at best, flimsy and fake.

I could ramble on about needing to seek inspiration from the world. To crack its shank and suck out the marrow until it dribbles down my chin. To become a more well rounded person, rather than the squashed rhombus or syncopated blob of thought that I normally am from day to day.

I could confess that the plug in my adventure sink is leaky. That I feel my spirit of discovery and checking-out-the-world-edness slowly sucking down the drain, along with soggy rice kernels and old bacon grease.

Suck, suck, suck, down the suck hole.

I need to refill that sink!

But the truth is much more ugly and painful. Personally painful. The truth is—and this is just between us—I need to escape the horror of my novel not going well.

“I need to seek inspiration outside its pages,” I say.

But that’s just code for “I’m crapping my pants with my no talent.” Which I think might be a talent in itself, albeit a not very PG-13 marketable one.

I’m a great one for running away, so I’ve run away from it. As far away as my budget will allow.

California, here I am. Lock up your talent. I’ll totally seduce it on a bearskin rug, first chance I get.


It’s been a while since the snotty English lady said “Recalculating”, and I’m glad. I don’t like her tone. It makes me feel like a stupid colonial convict type. I almost hear the catch and frustration in her voice right before she breathes it out.

I know what she’s thinking.

“Oh bugger, she’s gone her own way again. Along streets I specifically didn’t mention in my directions. And now I have to look deep into my GPS brain and work it out once again.”


That’s what I pay you for, you insolent wench!

I am at her complete mercy and she knows it. I can tell she’s a little grumpy because I asked for directions to the “beach” and she didn’t know what to say. I’m sure she wants to tell me where to go, but not in that friendly, map-directional kind of way.

It’s California and there’s a whole coastline of beach. I don’t know how to be more specific. Isn’t it all in one direction?

I press all her buttons and beach doesn’t even come up under Points of Interest.

So I wing it. Type in “Beach Street” and a random number. Bada-bing-bada-boom, not 20 minutes later and I end up at Newport Beach.

Jeans rolled (but cool), shoes off and freckle-face squinty, I step onto black and gold-flecked sand. The sun rushes over to lick my face all cat-tongue and rough. The wind strokes the hairs on my arm. The glare from the Pacific bounces from my eyes into my brain.


It’s such a long stretch of beach. I can see for miles, all the way to what I imagine is Huntington Beach. I plop down on the sand and watch non-working parents get browny glazes, while casting watchful gazes over their frolicking spawn.

I mash my toes into the sand and stare out to sea. Could I live here?

It’s very different to NYC.

New York is a grinding machine, churning through season after season, like a never-ending run of Survivor.

Gazing out to the horizon, sun igniting my freckled arms, I think. Think of New York and what’s lurking around that next corner in the east.


That slap of cold on my cheek.

That frigid air sticking its hand up my shirt, uninvited.

The black sludge after snow, the soggy jean legs. Cold toes, fingers and heart.

The grey dragging on and on and ever on. No escape, no relief. Not even with a long, atmospheric bath infused with the good bubbly stuff.

But always the flip side.

The freedom. The flow. The “filled with people who know how to walk” town. The “never need to own a car” town. The “5.5 years of slogging your guts out and whittling down the crowd to reliable dining companions and beer after work pals” town.

Throw that away, would you?

I don’t know, Master Yoda. Would I?


“He’s a creep. A total Creep Creeperton.”

This makes me pause with a fork of runny egg halfway to my mouth. I put it down and scribble this gem of language on back of a postcard for Matt. You can’t let something like that slide. That has to be shared. I imagine Thom Yorke singing it. Then something else wipes that away.

“Your baby is totally rad.”

“Yes, we have a rad baby. We won the genetic lottery.”

I shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but hey, not much else to do except sit here, eat my breakfast, sip my mimosa and gaze longingly at the ocean like a pill.

I should be writing, but the most I can muster is to scribble on the back of a free postcard from the Greeter’s Corner café, and jot down some notes about my tussle with a freeway toll machine.

I drove through the otherworld to get here. Past the shiny arses of cyclists doing the Tour de Good Life, and bright-faced beach goers with surfboards strapped to their cars and Starbucks lattes snuggled in their center consoles.

Everything is a little odd here. Just a little odd. On my walk ‘round the cliffs to the beach, I happened upon cheerleaders. Lots of cheerleaders. Posing in front of ocean views and being pointed at by German tourists.

I can’t remember ever having seen this many cheerleaders in the flesh. Their bright white socks, constant commercials for some whitening laundry detergent. Jaunty jumps and giggly secrets on the grass. After the photo, their mothers herd them back into the van.

Forget leader. Cheer follower. That’s what I would have been at that age. Not born to lead anything, least of all a cheer.

Unless it went something like this:

You might be good at bball (clap)
You might be good at track (clap, clap)
But when it comes to awkward?
You might as well step back
Say what?
You might as well step back
What, what?
Noodle’s here, step back!
Goooooooooo loser! (jump around wildly)

I walk along dramatic cliffs, past scuba divers and Saturday strollers. A fever of weddings sweat their way through the pores of the path. A laid back groom in his Hawaiian shirt, a bride in full meringue dress. Both are lead down to the beach. Eager to hitch their tiki torches together. Eager to get on the road and start burning their lives bright, or down.

Protesters multiply on the sidewalk.

Honk if you want to bring the troops home!

Say no to Prop 8!

Sitting on the beach, amongst the beach umbrellas and washed-up seaweed, I watch the whitest of all white-haired children scream their cold arses out of the water. I lie on a towel, reading Wired and working on my farmer’s tan. The sand is a pair of comfortable shoes. The breeze a snug cuddle from someone loved.

California, California. You roll me in your weather and whisper sexy, naughty, cheeky things in my ear.

Somewhere in the distance, Wall Street crashes.


Sinewy and reluctant, it protests. I rip at it with determined teeth. Finally, it gives up and tears away to meet its doom somewhere near the molars. My tongue tingles and my stomach is a little ‘eh, not sure if this is a good idea, kid’.

Taking my hand off the wheel, I reach over and touch my passenger in an overly familiar way. That’s when I realize my traveling companion—a bag of Sweet ‘n’ Hot Beef Jerky—has reached the end of its life and will not be continuing on this journey with me.

Holy smokehouse! I just ate an entire bag of jerky for breakfast. Part of me thinks I am amazingly awesome for doing this. The more rational part thinks I’m an idiot.

But I’m driving. Better to be an idiot in the food stakes than in the lane-changing stakes. Today is the first day of my drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and a lot of it is in the tussle of heavy traffic. Cheek by jowl and jowl by side mirror action.

I’m ready for a rumble, but it never happens.

It’s uneventful. Boring even. The highlight is putting gas in the car—my first time doing that in America. Weird. I was nervous about it for some reason.

“What if,” asks my brain. “What if you screw up in some weird way and the whole event ends up like that scene in Zoolander where they’re spraying around gasoline like water from garden hoses?”

Yeah, like that would happen.

It doesn’t, so I buy some jerky and book it outta there.

The coast is to my left. It will stay there for the next two days if I continue in the right direction. I squeezebox and wheeze my way through LA on a Sunday. Up through Santa Monica, winding through Malibu, I flow.

Past surfers, mobile homes, expensive cars and the smell of a life I’m not living.

I jump on and off the freeway, trying to find Highway 1. I remain within kissing distance of the ocean for most of the day. Mile after mile of ocean, with the frequent bob of seal-like surfers in the swell.

My map is a dartboard and at the bullseye lays the village of San Simeon—basically a strip of hotels either side of the highway. I don’t ask my GPS wench directions on how to get there. I just drive on instinct and guts. That’s how I roll.

Later, the sun gets depressed and dips low as I sip on my Negro Modelo and try to kill the salsa after burn. It might be a gorgeous San Simeon sunset, I really can’t say. It’s so bright, I feel like God is welding right in my face and didn’t have the decency to give me eye protection. The photos I take are white hot and totally pointless.

Oh, and here’s a tip: If you have a carnitas rave going on in your belly, a few Negro Modelos will not hose it down.

With beer-trip snaggle in my legs, I let the wind push me down the street to my accommodations. And what a wind! To steal a Billy Connolly phrase, it makes me look “windswept and interesting”, but the lonely traveler has no one to impress with such a look and so I keep my thoughts to myself.

“But I AM windswept and interesting!”

Tell it to the wall, sister.

The hotel room smells like burning, wet money. The dramatic but cheap canopy bed makes me giggle, and when I discover the push-to-light fireplace, I squeal kid-Christmas-morning style.

Out of boredom, I watch the Emmys. Holy crap on a year-old cracker. They never end. I have no Internet to escape, and everything in my brain is shredded and waving a vacancy sign.

Remember when you used to read books?

Remember when you used to write?

I can’t tear myself away from this train wreck on TV. I feel bad saying train wreck, but the drunken legs, the cheesecake I brought back from the restaurant, and the glow and non-crackle of a fake fire lull me into a state of who-gives-a-shit-edness.

It’s a naked man of a wreck, and I dress it with my eyes. Slowly.


Tack, tacky, tack. It’s hip to be tack. Roll around in it ’till you stink up the joint.

Be ready for it. Smile at it with teeth and gums showing. Proudly, eyes crinkled with grin. Be ready.

I’m ready, but like Godot, it never quite arrives.

Hearst Castle—though castle-like but no Castle Greyskull—is a lesson in wow.

Hearst himself sounds like he might have been a bit nutty, but in a good eccentric no-harm-to-no one kind of way. His architect sounds like she was incredibly patient with his craziness (sure, we can rebuild the pool three times, making it bigger each time!) The money clinking into the tourist coffers sounds like ca-ching-ching-chingy. Hey, everybody, let’s do the profit boogie.

I board a bus with a bunch of strangers and we wind and snizzle our way up the mountain. Grinding silently. Gently.

The voiceover to the trip tells a tale of wild animals roaming them thar hills. Hearst, at one point, had the largest zoo in California. A regular grab bag of animals. Polar bear, giraffe, bison, kangaroo, and plenty of bitey bitey eaty eaty things. He kept the carnivores behind the garage, which I guess is as good a place as any.

Polar bears on top of a mountain in California. Of course.

It’s quite a hike up there. We pile off the bus and are greeted by Linda and Bill. Bill takes charge and drags us ‘round for over an hour. Linda trails behind with a big stick to make sure none of us ooze acid on anything valuable, or linger too long in any area.

Oh, the things I saw! The things I could talk about! The statuary, tapestries, gold, marble, carvings, party talk and crazy, crazy opulence. But I let my photos do the talking. They’ve been to finishing school.

I dribble back down the hill. My brain packed tight and bubbling at the seams. It’s too much. I can’t form the words to even talk about it. But I have another bag of jerky, and chewing that is making talking a moot point anyway.


“Hello, lady.”

This is my waiter’s greeting. I’m at the Fish Hopper in Cannery Row, Monterey, CA.

Tonight, I care little about money. I flip coins at fountains. I swat flies with Benjamin Franklins. I throw checkbooks into the mouths of hungry homeless lions.

Tonight, tonight I dine!

On a waft of pleasant ocean air, the shrimp cocktail arrives. It is the size of a small gopher mound, heaped on a dinner plate.

“Here, lady,” says the waiter, sporting the same jaunty smile he wore for his greeting earlier.

The plate waves its rude, pink limbs at me.

I flashback. Something I learned in scriptwriting class to never do, but the brain cranks the memory back on its medieval rack. I think of prawn rationing. Of being in the kitchen and working out how many prawns are ethically allowed to go in each cocktail, considering the expense. Five or six? Five. No, six.

Prawns. A luxury of inland Australia.

But my life has changed, and now prawns are shrimp—although they look a decent size to me.

I look down at my plate.

The black, glassy eye of opulence stares back. Poor shrimp. Life held in such low esteem. What man knows the dreams of shrimp? Do they not have lives beyond our comprehension? Loves?

No, the shrimp has no rights. No say at the PTA. Not even allowed to vote. Simply plucked from Ocean’s errant eyebrow and bathed hotly in screaming water. Dignity gone, piled on a plate, and forced to cuddle with a zesty lemon.

All the while, drowning its sorrows in a spicy shrimp sauce.

I dig in.

I eat.

Hey, if shrimp wanted a different destiny, they should have consulted the evolution chart before deciding their path. Not my fault they chose to become creatures that spend their lives twiddling about in the sea and getting tasty.

Not my problem.

All crab crusted salmon and chocolate moussed later, I snake back to the hotel to die. Wallet light and seafood fat on a bed big enough for a small meeting of the United Nations.

I sleep like the dead and dream of nothing.


Up the hill, across the cable car lines, down the hill, and mind the homeless. Turn left, think of earthquakes, gun the engine, and check for cyclists. Decide to drive across the Golden Gate, just to say you did it. Curse the decision because of the toll you’ll have to pay to get back.

Eat a fish taco, drink a Great White beer. Say “Sausalito” out loud three times because you like the sound of it in your mouth.

Pay the toll, swerve across lanes and memorize her voice, her voice. Oh, GPS lady, I wish you love and success with your next victim!

Dodge lazy-legged and eyes-skyward tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf, and then cruise to a halt-who-goes-there between the white, Avis lines.

Hail a cab, sweat the ride, pay too much, and slap your stupidity when you see where you are.

In the Tenderloin.

The tender hearts dare not venture here. Don’t even ask about the loins.

Check in, unpack bags, wriggle toes in the carpet. Seek and divine a signal, finally strike Wi-Fi gold on the toilet lid.

In the fading light and evening air, hands in pockets and fingers on wallet, walk down to Market Street. No eye contact, the loud street fat with the yaw of talk.

White rocks against a dirty palm, look away, but see the money change hands. In four blocks, witness and ignore three drug deals. All through the air the exchange cracks out as a flock of pigeons taking flight.

The sun says “I surrender” and the light shrinks back down drains and gutters.

The prickle of rush at the back of my neck. The air of scare. I embrace my room and we close the curtains on the wild street.

San Francisco, we can never be lovers. This is the second time you’ve made no effort to make me swoon.

But tomorrow is the big day. The California Zephyr.

Tomorrow is my great train journey.

Toodle Noo
Here endeth the missive

Continued on Side B of Mixtape

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

© Janeen McCrae 2008



16 responses to “A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side A”

27 10 2008
Josh Maxwell (23:32:06) :

Can you tell me who did your layout? I’ve been looking for one kind of like yours. Thank you.

28 10 2008
Books and Magazines Blog » Archive » A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side A (00:38:39) :

[...] Original post by THE SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK NOOS [...]

28 10 2008
Tom (07:43:58) :

:) Can’t wait for part 2. I didn’t download the songs…but I will I get a chance. Sounds like it was an awesome trip!

28 10 2008
Bloggin’ ’bout myself : NOT YELLOW, CHICKEN (15:05:26) :

[...] Go read A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side A [...]

29 10 2008
Noodle (07:15:00) :

Josh, it’s a wordpress theme called Freshy. Thanks for dropping by!

16 12 2008
A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side B : NOT YELLOW, CHICKEN (16:25:59) :

[...] A while ago, I did some shameless self-promotion on this site for my other site, The Subterranean Homesick Noos. (What good is the internet if you don’t have more than two sites!) Well, I’m happy to take that path again and announce that Side B of my story about my trek across this massive land is now live. [...]

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