Sunday, 26 June 2011

LA To San Diego: Travel Chaos

It's early Friday morning and, thoroughly sick of Los Angeles as we are, we decide to take another stroll down the pier at Venice Beach. We're booked into a hotel in San Diego for the next three nights (we think) but they won't allow us to check in until mid afternoon. It's about a two-hour drive so we have time to kill.

It's all very pleasant but, having walked so far over the last three days we are starting to feel the pinch a little. By late morning the expected searingly hot weather has finally arrived and we just want to get back to the hotel so that we can be on our way. We won't miss Los Angeles. We choose a short bus ride over a long-ish walk back to Hotel Marina Del Rey.

We should have known it wasn't such a good decision when we found ourselves waiting at the bus stop longer than we expected. The minimalist bus timetable information had led us to believe that a bus would turn up within a few minutes but it's more like 15, and feels like more. The bus finally arrives. At this point I suppose I should give credit where it is due. Unlike the LA tour bus, the city's public buses all have excellent wheelchair access facilities. The steps to the entrance flatten out and a ramp flips out on to the pavement outside. On most occasions the drivers make everyone at the bus stop wait until the wheelchair user has got on board. It's all a bit red-carpet, except you don't get to punch any photographers.

"Best transportation system in the United States of America." says a man as I move into position on the bus. He emphasises the 'U' in 'United' as if to highlight the enormity of such a statement. Americans are notoriuosly insular. If it's the best transportation system in the United States then it's the best transportation system in the known universe. He should have been on that bus yesterday, I think but don't say. Instead I just agree. After all, I have spent far too many nights at Queen Square having to let every 10A in sight leave without me to offer him any serious argument.

The bus pulls into the next stop. I'm truly dumbfounded by what happens next. The driver gets up from his seat and announces that it's his break-time and that this bus will not be leaving the stop for 20 minutes. He offers us the opportunity to wait on the bus but tells everyone else that they must get off. This is less like preferential treatment and more like the driver not being arsed to flip out the ramp. I feel like punching a photographer;

"Your transportation system isn't looking too good now." I say to the man who had earlier been so proud of his nation's achievements in this field. I'm getting a little tetchy by now and start to vent my splenetic juices at the driver;

"Don't you think you should have told us about this when we got on at the last stop?" I enquire, not unreasonably. He shrugs, prepared to commit to nothing other than the fact that this bus will not be leaving this stop for another 20 minutes. Well, it might be about 18 by the time we have finished arguing (unless he's adding it on. This is after all his break). We get off the bus and start back towards the hotel. We turn right and a minute later find a hotel that we recognise. It's not ours but at least we know where we are. We have cut off precisely one corner on our journey and it has taken us around half an hour to do so.

Worse was to come. We're half an hour into the journey from Hotel Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles to the Pacific Inn in San Diego when I feel the car slow down a little. I find this a little strange. Emma's a cautious driver but there isn't too much traffic around us and I can think of no real reason for her to have taken her foot off the gas so dramatically;

Hyper-ventilating ever so slightly, she offers me the following information;

"There's something wrong with the car."

I pretend I didn't hear;

"It's losing power, there's something wrong with it. Shit."

By now the car has slowed down to a crawl but she somehow just about manages to get us off the freeway and on to the hard shoulder. I'm not a mechanic. My interest in cars is something akin to my interest in water polo. Top Gear might be one of the most popular programmes on television but to me it is the most indescribable drivel. Despite all this, at this moment a million gazillion possible reasons for our current predicament flash across my mind. I try the simplest of these first;

"Have we run out of petrol?"

We had.

Emma's borderline hysterical by now and it is easy to see why. We're stuck on the hard shoulder of a strange freeway somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. She hates this holiday, she wants to go home and frankly, she's fucking terrified. Those of you familiar with the Los Angeles hotel fiasco of only a few days previous will know that we have no way of telephoning anyone. It begins to feel like an episode of Criminal Minds or some such crime drama. We're the hapless victims who break down and are helped out by a good samaritan who then proceeds to brutally torture and murder us with a set of steak knives. We're in a fair amount of strife.

A few minutes of genuine panic pass. When I'm not panicking, I'm trying to convince Emma that we won't end up on the news. Finally I sugggest calling 911. Surely we can get through to the emergency services, even if our telephones steadfastly refuse to connect elsewhere? My phone battery is dead, but Emma's has just enough of a smidgeon to make a last ditch attempt to get us out of this mess. I dial 911, trying not to think about appearing in one of those articles you read about frivolous emergency calls;

"Good afternoon, what is your emergency?"

I've never felt so relieved in all my life, but I'm mindful that the battery is still very low;

"I'm really sorry about this but I'm a tourist from England and I don't have a phone that can call anyone else. I'm a disabled person and I've run out of petrol on the freeway."

It's shameless, but I did just play the disabled card. I wanted to make it clear that I couldn't just get out of the car and walk on to the next roadside call box, but I also wanted him to feel sorry for me. I can't remember wanting anyone to feel sorry for me about my disability before. I can do that myself.

"Ok, don't worry sir, where are you now?"

Luckily there is a roadsign just to the left of us which tells us that we are one mile from Stoudemire heading west on the San Diego freeway. I relay this information;

"OK sir, I'll get someone to come out and assist you. He'll give you a gallon of gas just to get you off of the freeway."

I love this man. I ask how long it will be and he doesn't know, but to be honest I don't care. Provided we can avoid having someone career off the freeway and into the back of the car we are not going to end up on the news. Brilliantly, within about three minutes of the end of the call a white recovery van pulls over in front of us. A man gets out with a petrol can, and saves our bacon. I love him too.

He directs us off the freeway and on to the nearest petrol station. During the inquest in to how this happened it transpires that a) We just totally forgot and b) There is no petrol warning light on the car we have hired. We fill up and head back to the freeway and manage to get through the rest of the journey without major incident.

The Pacific Inn is in a splendid location very close to the downtown centre of San Diego. It's modest but comfortable, and following the earlier drama I'm even prepared to forget the fact that I can't get my chair into the bathroom. I'll have to just bail out. I've faced worse odds today. We get a quick change and take the tram out to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team. They're taking on the Seattle Mariners. They lose 4-1 and are pretty dismal, truth be told.

But it just feels good to be out of LA, in San Diego, and in one piece.

No comments: