I woke up naked and hungover in my friend’s basement flat, deep in San Francisco’s suburban underbelly, with a vague idea of the day’s significance. I could barely see; my brain was muddied and my mouth pungent. My first instinct was to shower, so I stumbled towards the bathroom to have some time to think.
As I walked through the hallway, Zelda’s wolf puppy named ‘Arrefem’ jumped up on me in crazed excitement. I pushed her away; the morning sun reflecting off her snow-white fur was too much for my dreary haze. As I stared upon the porous showerhead attempting to count the hundreds of holes that wept all over my naked body, I thought disconnectedly about the day’s plan. I worked from back to front, figuring it would be easier to begin with the tasks that were furthest away from my sickened reality.
I began with my flight, it being the only concrete event in the next 36 hours, which left at 11pm the following day from LAX. Between now and then, I planned to hitchhike the mere seven hours from San Francisco, spend a night in Santa Monica and have a day in LA to find the lost angels in the city of night.
However, upon exiting the shower I was met with a horrible omen of shit and piss and a dog that stared up at me oblivious, tongue out, tail wagging. I now realised what she was trying to communicate to me before I entered the bathroom. I gagged and cursed on my hands and knees as I smeared the mess around with an empty pizza box.
Right when I finished the clean up, Zelda crashed through the door full of sanguine energy. This was going to be her first hitching trip, and she was fucking pumped. I threw my dirty clothes in my bag and slopped together some PB&J sandwiches while she fixed her hangover in the mirror. The three of us then headed out to the street, jumped onto the BART train and headed towards our starting point. The adventure was about to begin.
We arrived at the side of the road in stylish wonderment, deep in the clouds of freedom which lay adjacent to the ubiquitous mechanical shadow of man; black tar carried moulded metal into the abyss whilst four leaf clovers waited in secret, patiently observing our credulous optimism with naught but a foreboding snigger. Three wolves in the busy jungle stood in a stampede of wind and metal with their thumbs in the air, sharing through the glaring elemental entity, not communicating through words, but smiles.
Life became timeless, a spasm of reality. The sun rose and fell; things evolved into the simple. The winds of the freeway turned the static into the perpetual; they freed us from the invisible cage and thrust us into the fecundate freedom of future fruition. How beautiful it was… Alas, the end must come, as does the rain when the sun is the brightest and ripples when reflections become clear. Thus the clouds brooded overhead, and upon reaching a decision, crashed down in red and blue lightning, shredding and burning our innocent dreams and spreading them beyond the eye’s sight. The law’s faceless imp ignored our existence and amiable questions as he repeatedly slammed the unwavering rule book in our faces… where had the mystery gone? How the true nature of man has long been frozen over.
The timeline shrank back down to zero and infinity stretched along the long road to meet the horizon and shake his hand, while leaving us lonely and estranged. We meandered to a new location under the watchdog’s watchful eye, and all too soon were met by a strange creature driving a minivan. She spoke in tongues and had her heart set on the Chinese grocery store which she had moved halfway across town to be closer to. Excited by the prospect of nailing the virgin ride and wriggling in her comfortable hymen, we boarded the ship and humoured the beast. Five minutes and a whole tub of creamy confusion later, we arrived outside the golden stick-bird and resumed the thumb dance.
In no time under a watch face, our prayers were answered by a peculiar believer, who was convinced our dog was being mistreated and begged and pleaded for its relinquishment. This kept us on our toes through the next 30 minutes of disconnected chatting and awkward age-guessing games, with it all somehow ending in two treasury paper gifts and a card for pies and tarts.
Like three furtive molluscs, we burrowed beneath a Shell and made camp. Here, we stayed, taking turns to expose ourselves to the naked world, begging visitors for any kilometre they could share. Alas, either directions were too different or vehicles too full, or attitudes too warped and convoluted. Our optimism soon became barren and maudlin. We continued to wait and hope until the sun began to hide its petals from the world and the shadows fell like honey from a table.
We were soon kicked out of the gas station for disturbing the customers and crossed the highway to its dustbowl counterpart. Here, we drank with a Fijian Mexican who had a slack jaw and a greasy fist. Beers and stories were shared like vomit from a fly and crazy crackers full of ripples and colour were greedily consumed for motivation.
When hope became short and short became long, we were lifted from our hands and knees by a war-advocating redneck hippy with a wispy ponytail and a leather jacket that couldn’t possibly conceal his enormous heart. What an enigma it was to be at first afraid of this giant, refraining from referring to him as ‘dude’ or ‘bro’, only to learn that he was on the verge of tears upon seeing our dog. It reminded him of one he had recently had to put down. Soon, we were sharing hitching stories as he reminisced about the 60s, leaving me duly relaxed and intrigued. 10 more miles were reached and light became grey.
Here, we stood in the middle of a long road that reached from horizon to horizon, so straight and stoic I nearly cried as I marvelled. Zelda and I improvised symbiotic stories based on body parts to pass the time. At the moment two legs were arguing about raising their young calves, we were recovered by a truck and a man. He must have been quite comfortable with hitchhikers, because before we even had a chance to exchange pleasantries, he got on the phone and left us to ourselves for 15 minutes. We were silent and careful not to disturb him. Once freed from the phone, he fervently repeated esoteric TV anecdotes with so much enthusiasm that it nearly became less weird than funny, always saying, “Just one more thing…”
Another 30 minutes gave us a total of two hours of rides in nine hours of journey. Here, we put out our thumbs; however, darkness soon enveloped us, so we faced reality and began scoping for a ditch to sleep in. A slight wave of anxiety flooded over me as I realised that my airport deadline was chasing me in haste. Times, dates, numbers and calculations swamped me, and just as I was reaching the nadir of my introspection, Zelda suggested our grease tanks be animalised and filled in and out. This served as the perfect distraction.
Satisfied and back on the side of the road, we swapped Christmas stories. Gradually we regressed to sitting in the gutter, and with our butts on the ground and thumbs in the air, we soon realised that sleep was on our heels. So here we crashed, huddled together under two oak trees on a colourful Mexican blanket spread over a dry patch of dirt, a mere 20 metres from the unfaithful stretch of road that led us here, that we hoped would take us away.
We awoke to the ambience of the road and wandered over to the Chevron. Here, we shared a coffee and our dreams. I tried to think of a plan B, as things looked dim, but could only draw a blank. Then, when I was picking dirt and sticks out of Zelda’s matted hair, a young lady approached us who wanted to know the dog’s name. We spoke for a little and discovered that she was on her way to Anaheim. This meant nothing to me, and seeing as Zelda showed no reaction upon this disclosure, I was happy to let the lady walk away while I resumed my futile plans for a failsafe. As she reached her car, I asked Zelda, “Where is Anaheim anyway?” She said, “Near LA,” and simultaneous to her response, an explosion of recognition ruptured her sleep-ridden consciousness and we both ran to the car.
After the usual formality of our driver asking if we were planning on killing him and us denying that that was our intention, we were graciously accepted by the young couple. We soon found out that they were both from a small town of 500 in Oregon and on their way to Disneyland. Before we even drove out of the gas station, I had already established that they were THE nuclear couple. They radiated a fluorescent green so pure and deadly that the inside of the car soon felt like a concentrated Chernobyl. I sat and watched helplessly as the toxic slime melted through all the good radio stations and somehow left Snoop Dogg unscathed. I felt all my life experience boiling and evaporating inside of my brain as I maintained the compulsory probing through topics that both bored and eluded me.
During a discussion about the best way to cook beets, I looked over to see Zelda wide-mouthed and deep in the safety of sleep, leaving me alone to trudge waist deep through radioactive conversation. At the next stop, I revived myself with a cup of coffee. Once I had some time alone to gather my thoughts and smoke a cigarette, I became grateful for our benefactors and soon realised that our drivers had no poison; they had nothing but sincerity, gentle hearts, smiles and laughter. It was only my sleep-deprived brain that struggled with the conversation, failing to see the humour in it
Between working at the local pool and visiting the frat house ‘omega beta’, the young man helped his girlfriend’s dad work on a brewery. He also had a great love for dogs, which he expressed through re-enacting what a dog would do in a multitude of situations or what he perceived our dog to be thinking in a rough Scooby Doo voice that after each bout left me feeling slightly more uncomfortable. Dr. Who poured out of them both in weird quotes they fired back and forth that I found impossible to understand. However, this was all superficial, as I was transfixed on their astonishment at the world around them.
Like two frozen chicks from the 1500s revived to life, they admired, wooed and yehawed at every site in sight. The mountains roared up above us and the desert ran along beside, the water towers rose high and the road carried on. Their energy was crazed, and after a few more cups of the old Joe, mine was too and I joined them high in the skies of naive perfection. We soared over California’s Great Plains together, high on adventure and the “new”. Within five hours, we had made it – right to Zelda’s front door. Weary and relaxed, I bade our drivers farewell, stumbled inside, dumped my bag and crept upstairs into the shower.
As the afternoon sun shone soft and smooth through the creamy white clouds and bathed the earth in blood-red orange, we lazed about on the front lawn with Zelda’s parents and shared a picnic of bread, cheese and champagne. Conversation flowed naturally and uninhibited as we revelled in each other’s travelling stories with genuine interest. Time went by quickly, as it always does, and I said my farewells and thankyous and headed to LAX for my long flight home to Australia.