THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO RECREATIONAL TRAVEL AND OTHER UNNATURAL ACTS PART 4 by Spencer O’Connor

The best thing about California was that it was almost impossible to miss it when heading west. Unfortunately, it was equally as difficult to get out of the state when trying to head east. If the population here continues to explode, someone might want to look into this.

California, especially southern, provided surprisingly little opportunity to view animals in the wild. In fact, the state bird is believed to be extinct. However, rare and exotic animals do abound for those fit enough to track them in their native habitat, the mall pet store. Rodeo Drive is also a likely sighting area, but expect the integrity of your photos to be compromised, as the beast will likely either be on a leash or riding in a convertible.

California is noted for its huge agricultural industry, principally vegetables. It was truly a shock to see that much cauliflower anywhere but in a dumpster. Other major cash crops include fruit, nuts, cotton and something called Mary Jane, which is apparently in the tobacco family.

Mary Jane also appeared to have much to do with the popularity in California of backpacking. It was explained to me that the crop is raised mostly in remote areas in order to avoid upsetting certain people who don’t want it grown at all. I explained that we had the same problem back in West Texas with newcomers who come in and build downwind of a hog farm. My guess is we’d have a lot less complaining if everybody’s freezer got checked for bacon.

Warning! All over the state you will see signs stating, “Water Not Potable.” While I agree that this can be confusing, I was assured by what I consider to be a reliable source that it doesn’t mean, “It’s okay to drink it here, but don’t take it with you.”

I will not attempt in this small space to list the many charms and highlights of San Francisco. The City By the Bay is truly a thing of beauty. However, I would recommend that you make plans to see it as soon as possible, since geological trends suggest the likelihood that the juxtaposition of water to land may soon be reversed.

The other California city which is a popular destination is Los Angeles, where the phrase, “It didn’t look that far on the map.” must have originated. While there are a number of interesting things to see in the area, you’ll never get to see them because you’ll either take the wrong exit or run out of gas. Although weather in Los Angeles is rarely a factor to consider, you should check the air quality report before making plans. Local officials often try to minimize the danger in order to avoid panic, but you can usually learn the actual status by listening for such key phrases as “hazardous to your health” and “impairs lung function.” How will you know if there’s an actual smog alert? Locals will be driving with their tops up instead of down.

Hollywood holds a special place in the heart of every West Texas boy. Not only did movies capture the excitement and romance of the West, they also taught women the importance of coloring their hair and implants for their breasts. I’m sure that a studio tour isn’t what it used to be, what with so many movies shot on location. But the halls still bustle with the energy of young actors waiting to be called for their first decent role or even, with some major luck, as a material witness in a hot jury trial. To that end, even in the parking lots actors were delivering their lines with great zeal, the most common one being, “He promised me a speaking part!”

Other major cities of interest are San Diego, Sacramento and Berkeley, which doesn’t appear to be all that large but is said to have the highest population in the state. The coast highway is overrated. In the first place, the most scenic part of the coast can be found wearing roller blades and thongs on the streets of Venice Beach. Secondly, the drive itself will leave your knuckles whiter than if you’d passed a kidney stone that resembled a peach pit. It’s a steep drop to the bottom and everybody drives like they’re wearing a parachute.

California’s parks are no better. While they are scenic, they’re also very crowded. The most popular of all is Yosemite, which is like trying to camp at a Grateful Dead concert. You may be able to find some degree of peace and quiet by vacating the valley floor for the upper elevations of the park. However, doing this requires getting a jump on rush hour traffic, which means you’d need to be up and dressed earlier here than if you’d stayed home and gone to work. Besides which, most of the animals have mange from all the stress and noise. And there’s far more danger than you’d think. Nature is competitive, after all, and there just aren’t enough campsites and parking spaces to go around. If what you’re looking for is nature that’s both restful and attractive, I suggest a Disney movie.

Water is a continuing problem in California. The folks down south don’t have any, and the folks up north who do figure that all those lawns in Los Angeles are going to be washed out to sea any day now anyway, so why spend lots of money transporting down there something that they’ll soon be claiming that they’ve got too much of. For the moment, Los Angeles gets much of its water from a bizarre-looking reservoir which a sign identifies as “Mono Lake” — or perhaps it was a warning. In speaking to officials at the water department, they assured me that appearances can be deceiving, and that the quality of water was excellent. They offered no explanation for the flight of ducks which I watched circle the lake three times before skidding to a landing on an adjacent highway.

Something else about California that bothers me is Death Valley National Monument. Now, I don’t suggest that California should take the rap for it, but I want to know who palmed it off on the U.S. government. It’s one of the biggest national parks in the country, but have you ever heard anyone say that they were going there on vacation? There’s nothing there! If somebody wanted nothing, then right next door there’s Nevada which has an enormous amount of nothing without the expense of staffing a Ranger Station. The only thing I can figure is that somebody thinks that it’ll eventually be ocean front property, in which case they have my apology.

California is comprised of two totally diverse halves which makes it difficult to rate as a single entity. In the northern half, there seems to be quite a bit, but it’s hard to tell because of the fog. However, there is substantial evidence pointing to the likelihood that the area contains beautiful rivers, mountains and forests. In the southern half, there’s essentially nothing except for a great nude beach at San Diego. So far then, under my rating system, the two are about even.

Aside from San Diego, the South has such garden spots as Twenty-nine Palms (of which only three looked healthy) and Barstow. Twenty-nine Palms is representative of what they call trees in the South. In the North, loggers can only get part of one tree on a semi. In the South, you can load a whole forest in the bed of a pickup. The South is also largely occupied by military reservations. All branches of the service are represented here with the exception of the Coast Guard, which does, however, hold an option on a large tract of land just east of the fault zone. A final point regarding the relative merits of North and South. The North has the Napa and Sonoma valleys, with over a hundred wineries, all with tasting rooms. The South has the Salinas valley where they grow carrots.

To get north from south, there are four options. You can take Highway 99 and see hundreds of miles of cotton, Highway 101 and see hundreds of miles of vegetables, Interstate 5 and see hundreds of miles of bumpers, or Coastal Highway 1 and see your life flash before your eyes. Or, you can blow it off, fly to San Diego, and spend time at a great nude beach. But don’t let me influence you.