on a fast lane can get you to from LA to San Francisco in a little over
six hours if you make your coffee stops short.
drive in the hours surrounding a sunset. Trailers overflowing with
sun-ripened strawberries, tomatoes, cherries, and artichokes wheeze
alongside us, reflecting the warm glow of the afternoon, reminding us that
California is the fruit basket of America. We stopped when it was pitch
dark and checked into one of those inns along the highway. A bleak and
isolated place, with only the persistent sounds of traffic and the inky
outline of sparse bushes.
exhausted-looking male trucker clocked in after us. A sour butch female
trucker clocked out around the same time and disappeared after a retch of
her trailer into the dark. It could, if you do that kind of all-night
dreary driving for a job, be starkly depressing, but for a traveller the
sense of being in the middle of nowhere is exhilarating. It is a state of
transience, suspension of not knowing what is to come next. It’s the
definition of a traveller.
next morning we were in Berkley in an hour. Something about Berkley
stirred youthful memories of being the cliche rebel student, of carefree
days of tatty jeans and lank hair, of a time when it didn’t matter what
you owned but who you were inside. (Those days never last.)
was keen to see if this university student city managed to maintain its
anti-establishment idealism, rage and fire of the ‘60s into the age of
the cell phone. To my delight, our first sight as we drove into the city
was a group of angry, chanting, fist-raising, demonstrating university
students telling cars to “toot” their horns for some cause or the
didn’t matter what the cause was (US hypocrisy regarding nuclear
missiles? Police brutality towards non-whites? Support for single mothers,
the elderly, the handicapped?), I reached over and tooted the horn several
times. “Hippie,” said the driver, laughing.
was good to see young people being passionate and taking a stand on an
issue that was not directly related to them, that had to do with an
essential humanity. It was an effort to fight powerful capitalist
establishments on ethical grounds. (You say I sound like a naive student?
I answer, better to be naive than jaded.)
is a campus town, with its activist politics and bizarre street life where
Nobel Laureates mingle with the dregs. The energy of its 30,000 students
overflows onto the pavement, onto the rows of book and record shops,
eateries, museums, cinemas, second-hand clothes shops, onto street
markets. A backpack or a reading student is always in view.
is also home to aging students who never grew out of their politics of
justice, but their experiments with ideas extended to drugs to which they
are now slaves. They lie there, once strong young men with potential and
now wasted middle-aged men, peddling books and slogans they no longer
believe in, on the streets. We see them everywhere - the homeless, the
hungry, the lost souls.
wander innocently into a pipe shop where the array of exquisitely carved
pipes, in transparent colours and artistic texture of the ‘60s, is
displayed to the sound of rock music. Admiringly, I hold one up the wrong
way and stupidly I ask: “What do you smoke in these?” Two stoned shop
assistants look at me incredulously. I buy one out of sheer embarrassment.
fair”, I read. I wanted to go. We wandered into this hall where a lot of
dazed looking people gave out pamphlets on karma, and past lives. Along a
long corridor a row of people sat opposite a tranced psychic. You could
pick any topic out of 20 topics: relationships,
career, children, etc, for US$10. They were not that dazed. This was
clever marketing. Who wouldn’t pay $10 to see into the future? But
before that, we were subjected to a “free” healing where all negative
energies are taken away from you.
I close my eyes?” I asked.
said my healer adamantly. “If you do, your spirit might leave us.”
sit up bolt upright, wide-eyed. She circles around me, and chants.
In-between she interrupts to the call of her four-year-old son. And then
was time for the reading. I chose “career”. I sit opposite the yawning
psychic, trying to ignore my laughing partner.
see children,” she says.
yes?” I reply.
are you a Montessori teacher?”
exactly,” I say, trying to keep a straight face.
to be a doctor?”
saw trains, she saw matriarchal figures keeping me back, she saw much
emotion. In short, she saw a lot of rot. I walked out into the sunlight
astonished at the Americans’ ability to market everything from God-given
water to spirituality.
week: New York and Trinidad.