June 30th 1981

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Were awoken at the most awful hour – 4.15 am – by Arjan (Dutch, not German.)  Amazingly, I was awake straight away.  The 3 of us walked to the depot, stopping off at Jack In The Box for breakfast – hamburger + coffee.  At the depot, Val and I were immediately put on a truck, and we climbed in the back, crouching, along with 8 others, on stacks of newspapers, and we were driven south of the city.  The job was to deliver an advertising broadsheet, rolling it up, snapping a band around it, and throwing it onto people’s porches.  The trick was to roll the papers up quick enough, so that one didn’t have to stop walking.  People worked in pairs, walking down parallel streets, then cutting in down the joining streets till you met, then crossing the road and back out to the parallel one.  Pretty clever, eh?  Val and I were partners, which was quite nice, since we saw each other a lot, and could check up on how we were doing.  The morning’s work went quite quickly, and we didn’t find it too tiring, but then we stopped for lunch – Val + I had brought sandwiches – and the afternoon was very much more tiring.  We finished at 4, but had to wait for our $20 each – you receive that every evening, but in total Val made $27, and I made $25.  It was in the evening that we really felt the aches + pains tho’.  We bathed and showered, getting rid of the ingrained ink, then had tea, laid down for a bit, and finally hurried out to get some food.  The restaurants we tried were all too expensive, so we went to a Chinese place we had noticed.  We were served massive plates of food for only $2 each, too much for me, I’m afraid.  Then we came home.  We’d just got into bed, when the phone went – Arjan had got us a good job in the morning.  The main industrial injuries were aching legs from the walking, and sore fingers from the bands, but we soon were sleeping like babies.

And so, our first day of employment since we had left.  The process I described, with 2 people covering an area, was called teeing in, by the way – a technical term.  Note Val outperforming me, though not by too much; something of a regular pattern this was to become, my trouble being that I tend to daydream.

Apologies for the somewhat generic photo accompanying this post; we have no photos of us “at work”, it never occurring to us at the time that such photos might prove of interest. And of course, in those days photos needed to be rationed. So I may well run out of photos to illustrate our stay in San Francisco… or just have to start getting creative.

June 29th 1981

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Transamerica building, SF

Up only just in time for breakfast, which we duly ate – not anything wonderful, but quite filling.  We had planned to spend the day in the park, but unfortunately the day was grey.  Nonetheless, we did wander out, tho’ rather half-heartedly so, with the vague intention of maybe going there.  En route, stopped off at a supermarket and bought some food, and then sat + read the paper while waiting for another shop, one with an Indian blanket in it, to open… in vain.  Eventually gave up, and deciding that the day was too cold for the park, set off back to the hotel.  There was also the possibility that we would be working the next day, getting up early, so we needed some rest.  Stopped off at a blood clinic, which bought plasma – interesting – and at a good bookshop – second hand.  Had some terrific books in it, but all we bought was a 25c paperback… ho hum.  Then we returned for tea, and just lazed around a while.  A little after 8, I went to… yes, the Spaghetti factory, for a workshop, and Val accompanied me as far as the grocers, where she bought some bread for the morning.  I got a bit lost on the way to the workshop, but just about arrived in time.  The class was taken by Blaine Palmer, the administrator of Spaghettijam, but it really wasn’t anything special.  His ideas for starting impros were not very original, but then, neither were Jim’s.  The big difference was that Jim’s comments afterwards were both clear + helpful, while Blaine was really rather woolly.  I think that I could have done equally well.  Of my own work, about half was OK, and the other half was really quite ropey.  Still, there was a really attractive girl there, called Jennifer, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.  Actually, it was good practice, and it gave me a chance to say hello to a few people.  And then I walked back, stopping only to buy a Snickers (aka Marathon) because I was famished.

Well, that must be the most inane post yet, full of possibilities and might haves, but very little substance.  The comment on Jennifer’s attractiveness seems gauche, but does, I suppose, reflect the basic honesty of the posts – if I thought something, I wrote it.  I can only assume that Val, who did read the diary from time to time, did not find the comment too offensive.

June 28th 1981

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Tom Robinson

Woke up late-ish, and by the time we breakfasted and changed a travellers cheque with Georges, it was 11.30.  We called Nick, a guy from the workshop, whom we’d arranged to call about going to the cinema, but he was going to see the latest Bond movie, so we cancelled for this week.  There was also a game of softball in the park, but we decided to check out the huge Lesbian + Gay Pride parade first, as it was only a stroll away.  It was certainly very crowded – we later learned that there were 250,000 people there.  And a huge gay carnival was certainly something to see.  There were gay cowboys, gay doctors, gay parents, gay just about everything, with relatively “straight” looking ones as well as totally outrageous ones, be they high-heeled coiffeured guys to girls in leather on bikes – dykes on bikes.  We moved along from the parade to the stage, where the performers were, and decided to forego the softball for a while, and catch the gay action.  We got a place towards the front, and stood and watched.  (Midway thro’ the afternoon, we moved to the enclosed area in front, for the press and disabled, along with quite a few others, and sat down.)  The general pattern was a 20 minute music spot followed by 3 political speeches, which fairly quickly became rather tedious, since they were rather repetitive.  There were a lot of attractive lesbians dancing around, tho’ one had to look out for their very butch girlfriends.  The highlight of the afternoon was Tom Robinson, who did an excellent spot – “Walk On The Wild Side” as well as, of course “Glad To Be Gay”.  Went back to the hotel and changed , and then caught the bus out to near the park, where Jim’s group, The Theatre of the Deranged, was performing.  Arrived early, so spent time eating more than we wanted in a Chinese restaurant.  Sort of diy pancakes – very nice.  Show – once again gratis – was very good, Jim + 2 others standing out in particular, and the highlight being an improvised poem about the Rev Moon, performed by one of these, named Chris.  Went to another theatre nearby which was having a party, ate some nice food, and then walked back… a long way.

Not my finest hour, betraying an outdated and vaguely offensive wonder that gay people are on display; I hope you are able to accept it as an example of the language of the time, rather than actual entrenched homophobia… which I don’t think I have.

And apologies for the photo, which is the only one – and therefore the best – that we have of the occasion. It really is Tom Robinson, though I admit it is hard to tell.

June 27th 1981

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Jim Cranna

Decided to eat breakfast out and have something rather more substantial, so went to a nearby café, and had sausage, egg, hash browns, toast and jam and two cups of coffee for about $2 each.  By now, as we had spent most of the morning in bed, it was about 12, and as the workshop began at 1, we took our usual wander (and usual route) downtown.  We did stop off at the Cable Car museum.  There wasn’t much to it, and a lot of what there was was very technical, but there were lots of interesting photos, and it was free, so we could hardly ask for more.  We got to the Spaghetti Factory at 1 and found 2 guys playing crib, and a girl watching.  The guys were Jim Cranna, the guy taking the class, and Bill, a friend, and the girl was a member of the Flash Family.  Quite a few more people turned up tho’, and the class got underway.  It was a long class, lasting all afternoon, and was very enjoyable, both in the doing and watching.  Neither of us were shown up, either, despite the fact that there were people there who were paid improvisers, at least some of the time.  It was really straight impro – no games, just 2 or 3 people on stage, with the name of an object or place as a target.  At the end we all formed a circle and massaged the neck and back of the person in front.  Then we went to a bar and managed to get a bit drunk, Jim getting really very drunk, drinking Glenfiddich + beer chasers.  Next stop was the US café, where Jim bought us both lunch – Val had a hamburger and I had a huge steak – and then Jim + one or two went to the movies, while Val and I hung around with one or two members of Spaghettijam.  We went with them back to the Spaghetti Factory and played crib, Val + I being remarkably successful.  Thus, we were able to while away a pleasant couple of hours, by which time it was time for the show to start.  Yet again, we were admitted as guests – terrific – but unfortunately the show itself was disappointing, tho’, like most improvisation, it had its moments.  John Elk was there, and we spoke to him afterwards, tho’ he was a bit of an egotistical shit, and not very helpful.  I thought he had been good in the show tho’, tho’ Val disagreed.

No mincing my words as to my opinion of John, a trait which, I believe, will be more in evidence as time goes on – I do find myself to be somewhat judgmental, even (or even especially) on first acquaintance.  Though I am pretty sure my assessment in this case was pretty accurate.  This entry does also point out 2 aspects of life that affected both of us: one a desire for comedy in all situations – I do like to laugh – the other a lifelong passion for cards in general and crib (or cribbage, to give it its full name) in particular.  Still going on, forty years later, comedy and crib both.

June 26th 1981

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Woke up nice ‘n early + filled ourselves up with bread, jam, coffee ’n tea for breakfast, then packed up what we would need for the day, and set off on our usual daily walk, all the way down to the Wharf.  On the way we dropped off some films at Walgreen’s – Val had noticed the night before that they did cheap developing – which they promised for a week.  Then we walked right down to Fisherman’s Wharf and joined the standby queue for the trip to Alcatraz.  We were very lucky – the queue disappeared and we among the last to get on the boat.  When we arrived on the island, we were split into 3 groups, each one with its own Park Ranger guide, and then we were taken on a pretty detailed tour.  And it was really superb.  Our guide at least, a girl called Anita, was informative, funny, and seemed so much to enjoy what she was doing that you couldn’t help but enjoy it too.  We were shown all over the prison – the cells and everything, even being locked in solitary for about 30 secs.  Alcatraz was designed as a sort of penal deterrent – it was certainly pretty horrific.  For a no. of years, the inmates weren’t even allowed to talk – unbelievable.

When we got back, we met a guy we’d seen at Estes Park hostel… and it all seemed so natural, we thought nothing of it.  Then Val and I wandered around Pier 39, which was a well laid-out and attractive tourist rip-off.  It even had a high-diving board, tho’ unfortunately we didn’t see anyone on it.  We saw more of the same at the Cannery, a similar spot, tho’ under cover, then walked a way to Safeway to buy our lunch – bread, cheese, cucumber, apple, milk – which we ate in Washington Square.  Came back to the hotel, took our washing to the laundry – it was cheaper than England – then drank coffee and ate croissants.  Walked back down to Green Street to the Spaghetti Factory, and hung around for John to show.  He wasn’t there, tho’ we did get his phone no., and he told us he’d be there the next night, and told us about a workshop the next day.  Walked home, by which time it was late!

June 25th 1981

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View of Alcatraz from the ferry

A good, substantial breakfast – tho’ not an English one – after which we packed up and prepared to leave.  We think Meher and Bill had expected us to stay longer, but we didn’t like to presume so, and in any case wanted to explore Sausalito.  However, they told us we were welcome to stay at any time, so that was nice.  Bill dropped us back at the BART station, and then we repeated our futuristic journey back to SF.  We walked out along Market Street, to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Sausalito, but had to wait an hour or so.  Val got bored, but I spent the time reading the paper.  The trip across, when we finally got on, was quite pleasant, and we passed quite close to Alcatraz, so we were able to take some pictures.  Sausalito itself seemed quite a nice, rather touristy, town, but we received a blow upon arrival.  Val called the Youth Hostel, and it was full.  This left us stuck, since we didn’t think we could afford anything else in the area.  We decided to try our luck with employment in the bars, restaurants and hotels there, taking it in turns to go in and ask, but only one place seemed to have any vacancies, and that required form-filling with the inevitable social security no, so that was out.  Had a pleasant lunch of good bread and cheese sitting on the harbour wall, tried a few more places, then decided to go back to the Western Hotel to consult our friend.  Caught the bus back in, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and arrived at the hotel at about 4, although Georges, the manager, wasn’t about.  Val was quite tired, so she was going to wait for G and then take a nap, while I went downtown to try to search out John Elk, the guy I’d met in London last year.  It was a fair old walk, but eventually I tracked down the address – a spaghetti restaurant.  Apparently, they leased out a back room to the co., Spaghettijam, and the woman there said she expected them back that evening.  I walked back to the hotel, had coffee at the hotel with Val, and then we both walked all the way back to the Spaghetti factory, the restaurant’s name, only to discover Spaghettijam weren’t there that night, but a different group, Flash Family, were.  We dithered for some time about what to do, eventually deciding that Val, still tired, should go back to the hotel, while I should stay + watch them.  I felt really guilty.  However, the show was excellent, very funny, especially the music.  I walked home.

Not so guilty that I walked back with Val, however.  In case you were wondering, for it is not made clear here, these were both companies involved with Comedy improvisation.  Pete and I had happened upon a workshop the previous year, meeting the aforementioned John Elk, the visiting tutor, and of course he had invited all and sundry to call in when in SF, little knowing that at least one would take him up on it.  Rather a niche market, but in fact this particular scene was to provide one strand of our social life while in the city.

June24th 1981

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The hills of San Francisco, Coit Tower just visible top right

Woke late, at around 11, but discovered we were still in time for breakfast – tea, croissants, juice.  That over, we set off downtown, to see about visiting Alcatraz, and visiting and photographing various of the sights.  However, first we stopped off at the Greyhound station to dump our pack, and then called in at the Post Office – a very impressive building, also housing the Court of Appeal – to send back home the photos we’d had delivered, as well as various pamphlets etc.  Then we caught the trolleybus down to the Wharf – it was a fun ride, and, better, didn’t cost a penny… nobody seemed to want to take our money.  Arrived at the Wharf and looked for the pier to catch the Alcatraz ferry.  Unfortunately, Val and I were a bit tetchy with each other at this time, tho’ we got over it pretty quickly.  Queue for Alcatraz trip was too long, tho’ , so postponed that, and walked up to Coit Tower, a famous local landmark, shaped like an erect fire-hose.  Visited the top, tho’ really it wasn’t worth the 75c it cost.  Walked up + down some of the steepest hills to get to the wiggly part of Lombard Street, a hill so steep that the road tacks back + forth across it, with flower beds filling in the spaces.  By now time to think about getting out to Hayward, where Meher lived, so we trotted up to the Greyhound station to reclaim our bag. And then hit BART, San Francisco’s Underground.  It is the most remarkable system anywhere, I should imagine, is very new and very proud of itself… rightly so.  You buy a ticket, for the amount of your journey or more if you wish, pass it thro’ a machine and make your journey.  At the other end, you pass it thro’ another machine. + that automatically works out if you have more to pay, or how much balance remains in your favour!  And the trains themselves are superb – spotless and very comfortable, tho’ we did travel at rush hour, which didn’t help.  We called Meher, and her husband Bill came out to pick us up.  They were both very friendly, and made us welcome with beer, wine, a lovely Indian meal and intelligent conversation, and finally a comfortable bed for the night.

It is almost sweet how excited I was by a transport system that is now commonplace (though the spotless trains still sound attractive).  And a hint of discord in the ranks – tetchy, eh?  Hardly surprising when we were together pretty much every minute.

June23rd 1981

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San Francisco’s Chinatown

Awoke and breakfasted on bread and jam, then struggled, with a good deal of pain, into the rucksack, and hobbled out of the motel and down the road, to find the ramp onto the 101, the main route into SF.  It was very hot, so we were very grateful for a lift – about 20 or 30 miles, with a Spanish speaking guy, so the conversation was limited.  After that, there were 2 or 3 tiny lifts, 3 or 4 miles each – each time, we thought we’d been dumped in an impossible place, but, as it turned out, there was never any problem.  It seemed we would never get to SF, but eventually a decent lift arrived, with a guy taking a couple of small boats up beyond SF in his pick-up.  He was quite friendly and interested, and dropped us right in the middle of the city.  We strolled down to the Marina area, buying our lunch on the way, and sat down there on a bench and ate it.  We chatted a little with a guy there – last name Chichester – who said he liked English accents.  Also rang up Nema’s sister, Meher, and she invited us over for dinner and to stay the following evening – very good news.  Then discovered the Youth Hostel was very close, so strolled over there.  Waited for it to open, only to discover it was full, so had to find alternative accommodation.  Decided upon Western hotel, at the other end of Downtown area, so caught a bus there.  Were fixed up quite easily, at $15 for a small room – just about enough space for a bed, a sink, and a chest of drawers.  Waited around for the afternoon snack – provided free!  Coffee and cakes – tho’ the cakes were basically pretty nasty.  Then went for a walk thro’ Chinatown and a bit of North Hill.  We ate a pancake roll at a small café – the food looked good and inexpensive, so we decided to explore eating out.  In the hotel, we met a German guy who was working delivering advertising junk.  It seemed that jobs were available, so we asked him to call us next morning – one had to be there by 5!  However, we decided that a no. of difficulties arose from starting a job so soon, so left a note postponing this, before slipping into slumberland.

Slumberland?  Good grief!  Anyway… Quite a description of the frustrations, as well as the bonuses, of hitch-hiking: regular feelings of desolation, followed by moments of elation when getting a ride, and then ongoing calculation while taking the ride – where would be we be dropped off, contingency plans – all while trying to maintain a conversation… or, in some cases, grab some sleep.

June 22nd 1981

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A pretty poor night – sleeping in a tent without sleeping bags is not easy… we were cold.  Got to sleep eventually, waking soon after, and while I was washing, Val was told by a passing Park Ranger that overnight camping wasn’t allowed.  So packed up the tent (along with a quantity of sand) and trotted down to the beach to spend an hour or two there.  In fact, the water was too cold to enjoy properly, tho’ the surf did look very inviting.  We both braved the elements briefly.  Walked back up to the road, and hitched.  Picked up pretty quick by a guy, and taken 3 or 4 miles.  Next lift was with a couple of gays, one 30-ish, one 50-ish, the latter very whining + miserable.  They both wore identical shirts, blue with a chess piece and playing card design – ugh.  But again, it was a short lift, 5 or 6 miles only.  Good job really – they looked rather unpredictable.  Next a young-ish guy in a van, told us about some of the sights around… another 8 or 9 miles.  Next a surfer, coming back from college.  We stopped off at his house, where we picked up his surfboard, and gave us 2 enormous glasses of wine, then went on to the beach, where he donned his wet-suit and went out to catch a wave, while we lay in the sun and watched him.  (Tho’ to be fair, we again leapt in briefly.)  Got a bit red from the sun, or so we thought.  Were also told by another hitch-hiker that he + his companion (+ dog) had been stuck there for two and a half days.  Ho hum.  Anyway, tried our luck, + got a lift quickly.  A good lift too, tho’ very uncomfortable – the guy had all the back of his car loaded with plants, so the 3 of us, plus our bag, were jammed across the front 2 seats.  The guy himself was late 30s, and, it seemed, a fairly ordinary American with, it turned out, some extraordinary opinions.  He was also high on pot, having smoked 4 joints, and sharing one with us, which promptly rendered me incapacitated for the rest of the journey.  Basically, he was a conventional right-wing American.  We went up scenic Rte 1, which at first he loved, then loathed, vowing never to see it again.  However, very helpful to us, first finding us the youth hostel, which was closed, and then a motel.  We booked in, and found ourselves to be severely sunburnt – rum-ti-tum.  Ate Kentucky Fried, showered, bedded.

Apologies for what comes across as mild homophobia.  Otherwise, the joys of hitch-hiking.  The final guy, Rick, really did get very paranoid when Route 1 was taking far longer than he wanted, but then calmed down again; there is a fuller description of our encounter in “Innocence Abroad”, the book which is a distillation of the diaries, but you will have to wait until that comes out.

June21st 1981

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Val and I wandered around, and soon found a major attraction – in the slot machine palaces, there were free gifts to entice the unwary.  There was rubbish – keyfobs, newspapers with your name in headlines, etc – but there were also free cocktails.  That’s right – we proceeded to get smashed.  I lost another $5 at a 10c a chip roulette wheel – it was, compared with London, incredibly shoddy + scrappy.  We wandered round some more, drank some more, blew the final $10 (we’d decided on a maximum of 20) and met Eric again.  He’d made a healthy profit, but proceeded to blow some.  However, in his travels he’d found a small lobby upstairs with some chairs in it, so we went up there to grab a couple of hours sleep.

After about one and a half hours tho’, I made my big mistake.  I was pretty uncomfortable, so wandered along the hall to check if there were any empty, open rooms – pretty stupid, I know, but I was very drunk.  I tried a door, and was immediately assailed by 2 security guys who demanded to see my key, and, discovering that I didn’t have one, and, what was more, being too drunk to account for myself, they promptly threw me down some stairs, and out.  Fair enough, really – they were only doing their job, but I did get a couple of very nasty bruises and grazes.  I was rather stuck now, being separated from Val + Eric, and neither knowing exactly how to get to where they were, nor daring to venture upstairs again, so I sat down near the entrance to the car park and waited.  Fortunately, they turned up after about 15 mins – it seems that they too had been evicted, tho’ rather more gently.

Val under the influence

And so we left Vegas – as it should be, just as it was getting light.  Eric drove, which was just as well, since I was both very tired and somewhat hungover, and Val somewhat similar – she slept in the back.  At 7.30, we stopped at a Burger King for breakfast – it was just what the doctor ordered.  Val had a hamburger + coke, then apple pie, and I made a pig of myself – 2 hamburgers, a large French fries, and 2 coffees.  Needless to say, I promptly felt 300 times better, well enough to drive the car.  That I did, while Eric + Val slept till we reached the outskirts of LA (still 40 or 50 miles out, mind) when Eric snatched back the wheel.  We were able to find the apartment we were going to very easily.  It belonged to Don, the boyfriend of a friend of Eric’s.  It was a magnificent apartment building, with palm trees and water gushing thro’ the courtyard over landscaped rocks – like your own tropical garden.  We said hello to Don, he looked over the Beetle, then we 3 got changed and took advantage of the pool for an hour or so.  Gorgeous.  Don was a friendly, straight guy, about 45, with a family, but divorced, presumably.  He was, it seemed, making lots of money in property development.  Anyway, once we had bought our lunch and eaten it, he gave us a ride out to the coast, where we could pick up Highway 1 – the scenic route to SF.  He dropped us at the beach, so for about an hour we looked around, had a paddle, that sort of thing.  Then we tried to hitch out.  At first, it didn’t seem very promising – we were on an illegal (for us!) spot, with not much traffic, and not much at all that seemed likely.  However, after 20 mins or so a car stopped with a Spanish-speaking couple in it.  We weren’t able to converse, but we thought our intentions were fairly clear, so imagine our shock when 400 yards later, they pulled off the highway into a car park!  Fools!  Still, everything is for the best.  We asked a parking attendant where the next ramp was and he told us, then called us back and offered us a ride north, 15 miles or so, in about half an hour.  We said yes (funnily enough) and spent the time on the beach, Val going for a swim. 

After 30 mins, we set off with Harold for the 15 mile journey.  Except that after 15 miles Harold decided to go a bit further.  Then a bit further.  And further still.  We got lost once or twice, but saw beautiful hills, folded like a blanket thrown over sand dunes, and by the time we finished must have covered 200 miles or so.  Ridiculous.  I don’t think Harold could believe what he’d done any more than we could.  He dropped us off at Pismo beach, and we pitched our tent in the dark, among the dunes, before going to buy ourselves a pizza.  It wasn’t very nice.

Now that was really quite a day – fear, loathing and drunkenness in Vegas, a tumble down the stairs, LA and the pool, the Mexicans, the beach, Harold… all the way to a not very nice pizza.  And all because of following your nose and seeing what happens.