Besides Forest Lawn and Universal Studios, while in Los Angeles and because we had children on this trip, we also visited Disneyland, a pleasant enough experience of which I remember nothing, except for the crowds and Cinderella’s Castle. I guess she acquired it after she was married to Prince Charming. After Disneyland there were still several places to visit along the California coast, among them the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and Seaworld and the zoo in San Diego. Much of this part of the trip was spent camping, sometimes in private campgrounds, sometimes in state parks on those gorgeous California beaches. Linda and I were surprised at the number of people who were camping. Some of them just set up tents and stayed in one place for a couple of weeks, others set up trailers or tents, then went back to work in the city, returning to the campground only on weekends. We had never thought of just camping in one place for a couple of weeks, and it inspired us.
Hearst Castle in San Simeon was a monument to idle money looking for something to do. I had heard of it by way of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and as a movie buff knew about the many celebrities who had spent time there. I, too, would have liked to frolic there with old William Randolph and Chaplin, and Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., all of us splashing around happily together in one of the two pools, indoor and outdoor, which one to use depending on the weather, but unfortunately I had arrived late, and now, Hearst had joined the stars in the firmament, and his abode had become part of a state park, a monument to conspicuous consumption. Nevertheless, I was impressed.
We trekked on to San Diego, and its attractions, which were mostly things that the children could enjoy, and as parents, Linda and I enjoyed their excitement at the clever seals, the amazing dolphins and Shamu, the talented killer whale. From there we went on to Baja California, and I was startled by the sudden change from a wealthy, green, productive, agricultural land to one of brown deserts and poverty. We only spent a day in Mexico, but at the time, that was enough. The obvious, grinding poverty made it embarrassing to be traveling through it all in a shiny Buick. In addition to which, I’ve always been an aficionado of American plumbing, and the state of the public bathrooms in Baja California made it imperative I return to the States as soon as possible. Crossing the border back into the US, I was careful to pile my shoulder length hair under my baseball cap. I just didn’t want to be stopped by the border patrol, and wanted to appear just what we were, a typical American family on vacation. We were now ready to return home, but not without two other stops, one voluntary, the other less so.
The way East led through some interesting country, from a Sahara-like desert in California, through Arizona and New Mexico, where our trusty Buick station wagon once again broke down, this time in Tucumcari, New Mexico, a city of which you probably have never heard, and for good reason.