Big Sur

Into a grey and golden Frisco sundown,

beating south on a freewheeling road trip,

the Californian coastline there for the taking.

Beside me Samantha with Cheshire smile and

laughter that fills the car, the road, the county

and that infectious twinkle of everything in her eyes.

Bring it on, this road, this woman, this open America

filled with the promise of promises, promises, promises.


Lighthouses prick the fog-shrouded coast all

the way to sleazy lowdown Santa Cruz

lying in twilight’s sparkling seed reflections

where a cheap motel with paper walls will have to do

and all-you-can-eat calamari, ketchup and fries

on a boardwalk where icy air puffs off the Pacific.

Through a gaudy amusement park glittering

with the world’s oldest wooden rollercoaster,

big vomit dipper, merry-go-down and thumper cars.

Teenagers itching for rides mosey past,

drugged by the lights, the sirens,

the sweet possibility of sweaty action.


A pale-blue morning on Santa Cruz sand

where surfers and paddlers, dads and lads,

groove in and out on non-existent waves

while a loudspeaking commentator

tosses cheesy jokes to this tame

middle-class, middle-aged surfing crowd.

The lighthouse on the headland is home

to a dinky surf museum and memorial

to the fallen wave rider whose statue

stares out beyond the ragged point

forever awaiting the corduroy grooves

of blessed Pacific swell,

the elixir, the panacea

of oceanic amnesia.


We ease south, top down, folk rock pouring

into the crisp resin air of forested shores

lined with cliff-top mansions and beach bungalows,

Capitola, Rio Del Mar, Moss Landing, Sand City,

rolling on down, laughing, singing, breathing in

the scent of this wild wide flat and beachy coast,

to a Monterey overrun with car-rally geeks

and over-fit spandex triathlon freaks,

where we find a Victorian inn with creaky stairs,

cosy wallpapered rooms and free high tea;

oh heck, why not ma’m, the cake, the cookies,

a drop of Chardonnay and splash of sherry too

and tipsy tumbling we join the car nutcrackers

and talk mag wheels, engine size and nod

with creased brow like motoring sages

but knowing sweet fuck all.


We wander through a sprawling aquarium

where the great white shark took a bite

out of the poor old sunfish and has been sent

back to the big old deep for classes or banishment

or just to feast on more hapless sunfish,

having acquired a bit of a taste and all.

Jackass penguins, stolen from an African home,

beside dejected looking not-so-pink flamingos

and the most gorgeous jellyfish you ever did see.

The tide-swaying kelp tank is cruised by rays

and mean-faced sharks with snouts bruised

from sailing headlong into the glass

during feeding frenzies when divers dish out

salmon steaks for those who care to grab a bite.


We drift down millionaires’ row through Pebble Beach

where golf-course greens reach to water’s edge blues

and all is crisply manicured for the putter’s delight.

The houses are supersized, greenback grotesqueries

strung like swinish pearls along the road to quaint Carmel

perched above a sickle-moon beach where hobgoblin chic

is the urban orthodoxy and homes sport melting roofs,

nook doorways, designer moss and crooked chimneys.

Samantha loves it, but too twee for me,

so a pint of sickly sweet hot chocolate

to speed us on past Point Lobos,

the milky fog oozing over kelp beds

where harbour seals play endless tag

and the cutest otter regards us nonchalantly

from his bed of brown sea fronds.


Now the coast grows grander with each bend

as we soar past priapic Point Sur Lighthouse

on a road that writhes through high pastures,

the sea far below in grim shades of pewter.

We flash beneath tall sky-tickling redwood spires

feeling insignificant amidst the prickly shades;

then out onto yellow moors with the earth bowing

low and slip sliding west into the grey-eyed drink.

Each buttress of muscled earth is cut by canyons

that zig and zag down the mountain in pools,

falls and thick imaginings of pubic forest.

The road hangs on by its teeth as the land

bucks and broncos to toss it over the edge

and dozer engineers toil round the clock

to keep the stony sky from falling on our heads.

After hours of alpine drama and tectonic who-dunnit

the earth swallows a tranquilliser or three and calms

to a series of pretty bays, lagoons and beaches

with hollow green waves and guano-white rocks

to San Simeon where in a cove we spy a hundred logs

that turn fairytale animated, grow snouts and morph

to blubbery elephant seals in revolting moult,

their peeling bark and baritone chatter holding

a horde of snapping tourists in their thrall.


In Cambria we find a log cabin that doesn’t break the bank

and stroll in fleshy light that soon turns soupy

along the comely shores of Moonstone Bay

where hippies have sculpted oversize thrones

from wave-worn driftwood, flotsam and jetsam.

We sit to watch the antics of a million field mice

who’ve made this the rodent Serengeti of the West.

A buzzard sweeps by and grabs fast food on the wing

while a tabby cat, normally too slow for such speedy fry,

grows perplexed by the enormity of the job at hand,

simply lays an occasional paw on the scuttling traffic

but knows he stands no chance to slay this multitude

and instead takes to musing on the meaning of it all:

life, death, global warming, survival of the fastest.

A great fog duvet cools then swallows the sun

and we cruise into town for fast Chinese

then back to our cabin, our duvet, our flesh-lit dreams.


Hearst Castle is an absolute do-or-die must –

or so says Sammy and I tag along because why not –

a sprawling pile shat atop San Simeon heights from where

a newspaper baron once surveyed the marionette world

and entertained the likes of Churchill and Chaplin,

Clark Gable and a conveyor belt of Hollywood starlets.

Picture a tin-pot state of your craziest imaginings –

African animals, a pool with polar bears, an aerodrome –

where you can ride your horses wild and free

along shores, over sierras and through forests

that are All Yours.

The palace is a crime scene of European plunder,

a treasure trove of priceless pieces

liberated from the old imperial masters:

panelled walls, painted ceilings, whole facades

dismembered, boxed and shipped out west.

Egyptian sphinxes, a Roman bath,

Renaissance tapestries, an Athenian nude –

the whole bang shoot transposed and resurrected

in this hallucinogenic Disneyland of the high arts.

And why in heaven not: they did just the same

to the Third World.


Our time is up,

Sam has a Frisco life

that binds her back:

the road bubble is burst.

We cut inland to the aseptic 101

and veer north into the snare of traffic,

the mucous smog of commuterville and

the dull certainty of Monday morning blues.

But our imaginations are full, charged,

ready to spin the wheel again next weekend:

Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, redwood forests,

ah heck, just about any which way will do,

with the top down, Samantha beside me

and the great, wide-open California road

lying there begging to be taken.










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