By Drew (Woody) Wendeborn
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Drew is one of the two Texans joined the whole taxi trip for a short while. Here’s his take on a cab ride through the Western USA
I was shaking like an epileptic when I was introduced to Johno and Matt, amped up on caffeine from all the coffee I had imbibed that day, driving 16 hours from Wyoming to Portland, Oregon. Even though my job entails long hours of driving, I had just decided to take it on the road again for my 10 days off, this time in a beat up old taxi.
The whole crew!
The two Brits had wandered out, dazed, at 2am from a local Portland music venue, the Goodfoot Lounge with my buddy from Texas. Jon Anders, whom I grew up with in the Lone Star state, had driven with these two guys up from San Francisco that day. After the typical introductions we ambled back to my small apartment where piles of clothes and backpacks were strewn amongst inflatable mattresses and a futon. The whole lot crashed hard, but I was still jittery and awake in my bed wondering what I had just signed up for.
The next day I spent being a terrible tour guide of Portland. If you’ve never been, it’s probably the quirkiest place in America and I’m still just scratching the surface. I’ll just let Johno’s description stand for now. Yes, we actually went to a party for a dog.
Before, I start in on our drive down the west coast I’d first like to make a comment about Jon’s American taxi. It looks great on the outside, but it’s actually just a rats nest of wires and sun-cracked vinyl on the inside. It’s already seen over 140,000 miles as a police squad car, and then as a legitimate taxi before now being flogged across the U.S.A. We tried to sort out most of the preventative maintenance before leaving town but in the end, we departed running on faith and bald tires.
Our drive down the coast of Oregon was, well, typically Oregon in the sense that it was raining and cold. The trek was made more enjoyable on account of the broken heater motor, complete lack of speakers, and an annoying intermittent beeping coming from the dash we’d yet to figure out. Nevertheless, we made good time to San Francisco and the boys from overseas got a taste of In-N-Out Burger and went to a hardware/ gun store along the way.
After crashing on the kitchen floor of a generous San Franciscan, Sahill, our group split up with Johno, Paul, Leigh and Jon taking off for interviews while Matt and I played tourist. After renting cruiser bikes, pedaling across the Golden Gate bridge and having lunch in Sausalito, Matt and I scraped up what shreds were left of our masculinity and went to a pub.
“So you’re telling me, that you give girls plastic beads and they get naked?!” asked Matt incredulously, “Yeah, pretty much. It works better in New Orleans though.” “That’s brilliant!”
It was Mardi Gras in San Francisco, which pretty much meant it wasTuesday. We took 2 cabs and went to 3 parts of town, but it seemed that we had missed all the Fat Tuesday festivities. As I was lying, half-drunk on the gritty, carpeted floor of the shared hotel room, I felt exceedingly glad to be able to tag along with this eclectic group of travelers.(edit: Not the Irish kind, I soon learned there’s a distinction.)
Sunrise came all too soon and the group was split up again with Matt and I headed to Alcatraz and the rest off for a photo shoot. Growing up in the U.S., seeing Alcatraz for the first time was overwhelming. I remember watching Clint Eastwood get thrown in the “hole” in Escape from Alcatraz as a kid and now seeing it in person and imagining what it was like for the men who actually endured it was surreal.
San Francsico left our rear view mirrors with the long, winding, stretch of Hwy 1 in front of us. Big Sur at sunset made for some stunning photos. It was along Hwy 1 that we picked up some unusual companions. Standing near a road sign, a portly, bearded and bespectacled guy held out the universal hitchhiking symbol. Johno’s heartstrings were tugged and we pulled off to the side of the road. We would have had plenty of room for one extra person but then we noticed a huddled mass of blankets stirring nearby, from which appeared a tall, dreadlocked twenty-something guy and a shorter dark haired girl. Apparently, we couldn’t say no, so the party of three (and their dog) clambered into the now fully loaded check vehicles.
I don’t want to be judgmental but being crammed into the back seat of a London taxi with a guy who hasn’t showered in months is not especially pleasant. This group of former Occupy Eureka protesters had taken to the road toward Slab City, a drifter encampment in the SoCal desert. Our particular passenger didn’t even care to ask why he was picked up in a sponsored, London taxi in the middle of California. After a few empty discussions on life perspectives, we dropped off the rag tag group in Santa Barbara and went on our way.
Now, I was not in a fraternity during college so I don’t have much to go on, but UCSB has some of the best stereotypical frat parties I’ve ever seen. Once you get over the significant lack of household cleanliness, and have a couple or fourteen light beers in you they’re not so bad. It’s really just a bunch of guys with arbitrary rules trying to out do other groups of guys with similar arbitrary rules. I think a majority of world history could be described in the same way.
Venice Beach, LA
From UCSB we made our way south to LA. Sara, a Los Angeles native graciously showed us around and arranged some floorspace for us to sleep. It happened that we ended up at a quirky club in Santa Monica which actually reminded me a great deal of Portland. A rock duo was playing when we arrived, complete with bow tie, horn rimmed glasses and sequin shoes. In the background on multiple screens, some sort of oddball vintage movie was showing. I was certainly not cool enough to be there, but I had a great time and met some really nice people.
Hollywood, was our first objective the next day. Unfortunately it was the day of the Academy awards so a proper tour of the Walk of Fame was not possible. We settled for some photos in front of the Hollywood sign, which didn’t even look real after seeing it so often in films. Some sort of miscommunication happened afterward and the London and New York cabs headed North and East respectively.
Vegas bound! The two taxis, after getting separated, headed toward our night’s destination, Death Valley. We made it as far as the Alabama Hills where the London taxi crew got a motel and the New York taxi drove out into the desert for a night under the stars. Awaking the next morning, we were surprised to find we were surrounded on all sides by beautiful snow-dusted peaks.
“It’s a little suspicious to be driving a taxi without license plates through the Nevada desert. Where are you headed?” said the Sheriff. “New York.” I told him, straight faced. The sheriff’s face explained instantly, how dodgy this scenario looked from the outside. After radioing in all the license, insurance, and registration information the officer finally let us go when his intimidating ex-military lieutenant showed up and claimed he had heard about It’s on the Meter on t.v. (Maybe he gets Univision?)
Fly by in the sandstorm
From the Alabama Hills we kept rolling Eastbound toward Death Valley, stopping outside Panamint Springs to wait for a low pass F-18 flyby that had been arranged. Due to Air Force red tape and incoming weather, we ended up just standing around getting sandblasted on the valley floor. To quote a certain RAF pilot, “Bloody American Air Force.”
Since it wasn’t strange enough to see two taxis driving through Death Valley, God went full ironic and made it rain in one of the driest places in the U.S. Climbing over the range on the East side of the valley, we made our way to a nondescript location in Nevada to meet up with Jeff from the Las Vegas Ferrari club. I rode shotgun in his yellow Lotus Esprit for the drive to the strip.
Then we went to Las Vegas. Nothing happened.
[Johno: Vegas – we met our host (in his Lotus) at one of the most famous legal brothels – to quote the ex-pornstar JR Carrington who worked there – “…so for that you get unlimited champagne, lobster, steak and sex…”]
On my flight back to Portland, I was thinking back to all of the places we had been. It was a whirlwind tour of the West Coast and while it was over for me, it was just beginning for the rest of the crew. We had quite a few good laughs, in particular about the differences between British and American culture. “Taking the piss out of” someone, I learned, does not involve a catheter. “Happy as Larry” has no direct translation and I still don’t know who Larry is. Also, Americans, we’ve been pronouncing tomato, basil, and patronizing wrong, especially patronizing.
Read exploits to Mount Everest: https://www.itsonthemeter.com/how-much-to-mount-everest-mate-driving-up-the-worlds-highest-mountain/
Heart Attack Grill where Leigh ate off his hangover