At the end of an American road trip, the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles International along an at-times 6-lane highway, in the dark and heavy Sunday-evening returning traffic – and on Oscars Night – required great concentration, even with GPS. LAX security was protracted and stressful.
But I love California. In my mind I'm still in California.
I'd been before, but years ago. I'd forgotten just how welcoming Californians are; how Democrat the state is; how impressive the Golden Gate Bridge; how unequalled Route 1 from Point Lobos Natural Reserve to beyond Big Sur; how majestic the Redwoods; how large-scale the landscape; and to what extent Death Valley blows your mind, even before a super-bloom of Spring flowers.
Added to this was a house in Twin Peaks with a view from the sea to the CBD; a beach house on Morro Bay; the surprisingly pretty Napa Valley, its wines and those of Sonoma; moonscapes in the Mojave; the weird trees and cacti gardens of Joshua Tree; and an expedition to the 'San Andreas Fault'.
I struggle to articulate why I loved it so much. There was good music in every cafe, saloon and eatery along our way. Anyone and everyone, on enquiring where we were from, greeted us warmly. Towns I'd imagined would be small and quaint were, with the exception of Carmel-by-the-Sea, bigger and sprawling; the byways wider and busier; and the miles so much longer than kilometres back home. But we were in America, and nothing irked. We did some touristy stuff, and sites were crowded, but it didn't bother me the way it usually does. There was smog and litter; too many homeless on the streets of San Francisco; and the country faces the prospect of a wholly unqualified right-wing bigot being elected President in November, which would be a disaster for the planet. But I'd return to America at the drop of a hat.
It's ingrained. California throughout my life has been the place of dreams, tall tales and crazy characters, as well as oranges. From Kerouac to DiCaprio, cowboy hats to hash browns, I'm addicted to the culture; unable to resist or reject. I was receptive and tolerant; a sponge in a stream; a fan and believer.
It's not only, just especially, California.
The humidity hit us like a wall as we walked out of Brisbane International Terminal. Temperatures have been above the March average all week. Tony Abbott is back in the headlines. I would prefer to be anywhere along our Californian route right now.
Each time I visited the States in the past, I vowed to return on a regular basis, but never managed to. In the last couple of days, however, I've been hatching a plan…