Most people by now are probably aware that my brother and I have just returned from a trip round California. Our whole trip was riddled with adventures but the second part of our leg had some particular highlights. This post is reblogged from Yankee’s own site, thought you might appreciate a good chuckle and the view from our tour guide!
There are some tours where everything goes smoothly. The group is nice, you get everywhere on time, you have some meals, then you go home.
This was not one of those tours.
It was a two-week tour, a round-trip from Los Angeles to the City of Angels, via Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Vegas, Bishop, Yosemite, San Francisco, and the California coast. It needs to be mentioned out the gate that the only, the only way I survived this tour was by having one of the better groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to be lumped together with. Without them, this trip probably would’ve been my nervous breakdown.
For the correct experience, have this song playing on repeat throughout reading:
The troubles started right out the gate, day one. I took them to the Old Town in San Diego to see a little fake Mexico, since legally I couldn’t take them on a night out to Tijuana (and that’s the story I’m going to stick by). It was an busy Sunday and the small streets were packed, as were the parking lots. I’m quite used to situations like this with a van and a trailer – the plan is to find a loading zone or a non-busy street to put the blinkers on, drop the people off, and circulate so they’re not waiting while you find parking. As I’ve done a million times before, I found a stretch on unoccupied curb and pulled up and put the blinkers on and let them out.
You can see where this is going.
Immediately a police car pulled up and asked me what I was doing. This, again, not a big deal. You apologize, tell them you didn’t know what you were doing, and they scold you. Not this guy, when I said it was my first time in San Diego that set off his cop nerves and he asked to see my license. What follows is too complicated to tell interestingly, but suffice to say a Vermont non-commercial driver’s license in California didn’t make him happy. He told me he was pulling me out of the vehicle and that I’d need to get another driver for the vehicle. I called my boss – one of those rare bosses who you need and want rather than just get. She sorted everything out but warned me to keep under the speed limit for the rest of the trip. The cop told me he didn’t want to let me go, and that if I got into an accident and killed everyone he would feel responsible. Yes, he actually told me that.
That was day one.
Day two I got stuck in a sand dune.
We drove through the Imperial Sand Dunes on our way to Phoenix. In the large parking lot there was a pavement bit and a sandy bit. The sand looked to be on the same level as the pavement, so I judged it couldn’t be too deep. I was wrong. As the temperature climbed over 105 degrees, the van (plus trailer!) got stuck in the sand. I made everyone get out of the van to take the weight down and put it in first gear. By flooring it I could travel about a foot every thirty seconds as I slowly, slowly, slowly crept back towards the pavement and hoped against hope that I wouldn’t overheat the engine. Then it stuck altogether. I had to unhitch the trailer, leaving it in a bank of sand. Dropping those thousands of pounds, Suzy the van leapt forward like a freed convict. Then we had to move the trailer out of the sand. By hand. That night we held an impromptu pool party.
Which started the next trend of the trip – getting security called on us. The poor Indian security guard asked us to keep it down three times before I finally got on their asses to go to bed.
The next day things got worse.
I got a good night’s sleep and told myself to get things together. We left on time, made good time on the road, and I gave them good info about all the places we were going to. We were all excited about Slide Rock park, a natural waterslide outside of Sedona Arizona. We were jumping off a small cliff, about ten feet.
high. Yes, a little dangerous since it was shallow in the river, but there were literally dozens of people doing it around us. It was all good fun until one of my Belgian passengers came to me after jumping. “Chris, I think I hurt my knee.” Sure enough there was a cut, and it was deep. Really deep. I ran to the van, about 10 minutes away, and got the first-aid kit. The first-aid kit contained nothing of use. No antiseptic, no bandages, no butterfly bandages, nothing. Still I ran back with it. She sat on the rock with her boyfriend, blood soaking through a shirt held against the wound. I washed it out and took another close look. The cut was really deep, such that moving bits beneath the skin could be seen. I could do nothing except put a band-aid on it and drive her the 30 minutes back to Sedona where there was an emergency clinic. Quote the doctor: “She’s not the first Belgian we’ve had in here, but she’s the first Belgian in a bikini.”
We got here stitched up and a prescription to vicodin. At this point we’re extremely late to be arriving at the grand canyon, so I tell them to call ahead to a Safeway along the road in Flagstaff so we can pick up the prescription there. I get lucky, there’s a gas station across the street from the Safeway, so I set the van gassing up as the boyfriend and I run across to pick up the prescription. It’s not ready, of course, so I run back to the gas station to tell the group that we’ll be late. It’s a busy station, so I decide not to block the two pumps and move the van out of the way.
Forgetting that I’m still attached to the pump. So yes, I drive away and tear the gas hose out out of the pump. It falls sadly onto the ground, like a lizard’s lost tail. With my entire group watching I have to stop the car, get out, walk across the parking lot, pick up the hose from the ground, and bring it back to the pump.
Many of them say this was the highlight of the entire trip. I had to tell the attendant, leading to one of the most bizarre interactions I’ve had in my life:
-Walks in the shop, attendant looking bored-
Her: “Can I help you?”
Me: “Um, yeah, I just filled up and kinda forgot to take out the pump from my van and…”
Her, still looking totally bored: “Yeah, I saw the whole thing happen.”
Her: “I’ll fix it, it happens all the time.”
So a bullet was dodged. Later that night is when the police showed up. Now let’s make this clear from the start: This time, the noise complaint wasn’t about us. We were drinking around the firepit and the ranger pulled up in his car. In my second bizarre interaction of the day, this is how he started the conversation:
Him, loudly, slowly: “DOES ANYONE HERE SPEAK ENGLISH?”
Me: “Ummm, yes?”
The noise complaint had been filed against a French group next to us, and he’d spent the last half-hour trying to get them to understand the not-quite-French idea of staying quiet. He came over to us to warn us the same. Amazingly, the under-21s in my group had taken his arrival as some promise of persecution, so when the ranger asked me if everyone was over 21 I looked back and was very surprised to be able not to lie to him and say yes, they were.
I ran over a stove after that.
To be fair, the other tour leader shouldn’t have left a stove in the middle of the road where I might’ve been backing up, but I was still the one who hit it. I banged it into place with a hammer. It still works.
So leaving Grand Canyon there seemed to be some sort of voodoo curse hanging over the trip. We were still having fun but my life, in particular, seemed on the way down. Vegas proved that the gods themselves were arrayed against us. When we arrived at the hotel, they had lost our reservation. Keep in mind that we on the tour are talking up Vegas since day one. Everyone on the tour is excited about it and it’s a long driving day to get there. The people are anxious to get ready and see the city. Then there’s no hotel rooms for them. Again, it got sorted out, but I spent half an hour thinking I’d have to repack the trailer and take them somewhere else.
Then my limo reservation got lost. When I called to confirm an hour before pickup, the guy on the other end of the phone had no idea what I was talking about. I had confirmed the limo about a week before, and confirmed my favorite truck too. I was so confident I had told the group all about the limo and its various amenities. The night before, we had might a ritual in a drinking game that people had to repeat the phrase “there’s two stripper poles in the limo”. My limo guy sorted us out with a new limo, but you can guess how many stripper poles it had: Zero. Once again, the forgave me for this. But nothing topped the amount of abuse I got over those damn stripper poles.
The next night, they wanted to sample something both American and extremely close to the hotel. So naturally we went to Denny’s. As we walked over there the sky started to turn ugly. Thick black thunderheads were coming in over the mountain. As soon as we sat down to eat, it started to downpour. Monsoon season in the desert had arrived. My phone started shooting me alerts every couple minutes about floods.
We watched as one of the servers ran out and fruitlessly tried to hang a Walmart shopping bag over the open window of his car. He was drenched from head to toe and ultimately his efforts came to nothing. By the time we finished eating the storm had passed. The streets, however, were completely flooded. There were torrents of water running across the parking lots and the roads were like lakes. The water itself was a questionable mixture of the detritus that had come upon the Vegas streets in the last month. We were a block from the hotel and had to wade through knee-deep water all the way to get there.
That was the first week of the trip. The second week was both an improvement and not so. Our luck seemed to turn, but there were still headaches along the way. In Bishop it was cloudy, so the trip to the hotsprings was missing one of its defining features. The weather in San Francisco was its normal shade of awful: a catamaran trip around Alcatraz and the bridge was a lesson in winter survival. Down the California coast was a similar story: straining to see some fantastic vistas through impenetrable fog. The police showed up again, then one more time again. I’ve already run long and the details escape me now.
Even at the time I knew this would all look funny in retrospect. As each new experience came and went there was nothing to do but laugh. The group was laughing, usually at me, so the mood was right to do the same.
I told you it was a scream. Thanks again, Chris!