I always had a distinct and clear view of how it would be when I finally made it to California.
I’d be driving, or would be being driven, along a freeway heading towards LA. From the car stereo, nice and suitably loud, would be the Beach Boys. Of course. It mattered not which track, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, God Only Knows, Surfin’ USA…. any track from the Beach Boys would work for such an occasion, right?
The sun of course, would be high and magnificent on the California skyline. My shades would be on. I’d wave to some people in a passing soft top Cadillac, they would wave back. Everything would be right with the world.
BAD MOON RISING
However, dreams and reality don’t always meet on the same street. When I actually did enter for California for the first time, the moon was somewhere behind a cloudy sky late on a Saturday evening of October 31st. We’d just had a rest stop and a distinct chill was in the air. More Creedance Clearwater Revival than Beach Boys.
I didn’t even know we’d crossed the border from Arizona until an official with just three fingers on one hand entered our bus to check none of us were carrying plants deemed incompatible to the native plants of the state.
And then we were off, due to hit Los Angeles around 3am where I would meet another bus for my destination of San Francisco. I was tired and slightly irritable after a bus drive that had begun seven hours earlier and had already involved a switch in Phoenix.
The guy sitting directly behind me wasn’t helping my mood. He hadn’t stop talking for the last couple of hours, regaling the girl next to him about his exploits in various bands. I had no idea whether these stories were impressing her because he wasn’t drawing in breath long enough for her to speak.
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN…
Around twenty minutes into the next leg of the journey rain started to beat onto the windows of the bus. Great, not only was the sun asleep, it was also raining. Where’s a Beach Boy when you needed one?
Still the guy kept talking. The rain was getting heavier. And now, from the slight rocking of the bus, the wind was also picking up.
My nerves were now getting frayed. I looked over to Lillian, the woman I’d been happily chatting to an hour earlier and she was, incredibly, fast asleep, her head on her coat acting as a makeshift pillow.
Then, from out in the distance, a streak of lightening like no streak of lightening I’d ever seen before, hit the desert floor.
I gripped the arm of my seat for dear life. The guy behind went noticeably quiet. This was serious.
The rain was now biblical, hitting the windshield of the bus with a such a force that it would have been no surprise if the glass smashed and the wind pulled the driver straight out into the night.
From out in the deep black nothingness of either side of the highway the lightening was putting on a show that felt orchestrated by the devil itself. The bus veered first one way then the other in the wind and visibility was down to nothing, the driver relying on little more than instinct as he gallantly continued his battle with the elements.
Would we get through this? If we veered off the highway, which seemed likely at any given moment, who would get to us out here, wherever here was?
I thought of home, of my family soundly asleep blissfully unaware on the other side of the Atlantic. I looked at my watch to calculate what time it was for them before I noticed the time it was for us. Twelve o’clock. Twelve o’clock on October 31st.
Midnight on Halloween.
“I don’t think we’re gonna make it.”
The guy behind repeated his declaration of our impending demise as we crept over into November. The driver had now been fighting to keep us on the road for at least half an hour. Could he keep up the fight?
Gradually, pretty much minute by minute, the rain began to ease. The wind dipped. Out in the unbreachable darkness lightening still reached out it’s stabbing fingers of fear but more sporadically now, and a little further off.
…COMING DOWN ON A SUNNIER DAY
Within fifteen minutes the storm was behind us, the road was clear and forgiving, the chatter in the bus began to build. But not from the self-anointed rock God behind me, his bluster had well and truly blown out.
By the time we reached Los Angeles bus station me and Lillian had a mad dash to meet our San Francisco connection. Within a couple of hours Lillian, who incredulously had slept through the whole nightmare evening, had disembarked at her home in Salinas.
I had originally been heading to ‘Frisco but decided I needed a little more of a calming destination and instead stopped off at beautiful Monterey, a town more Cornwall than California.
A week after my Halloween from hell I was flying eastwards across America and onwards to England, wondering if I could ever have the enthusiasm to listen to the Beach Boys again.