Tall Tales

After a very humid night in Redding we set off sharp for the west coast where we were due to join the Historic Route 101 down to San Francisco. The weather was still hot and the road through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, while better than most roads I have travelled on, was below US standards and therefore held up by road works every few miles.  Stopping frequently we were struck by the number of women who appear to take employment in the road construction industry as ‘flaggers’ – or traffic controllers as we would know them as. At least 80% were women.

Now back home the guys that do traffic control generally look like they are being punished for having a heavy night on the lash and turning in late for work. They are more often than not, young males who joined the industry to learn to drive the digger or to work the pneumatic drills, not to stand in front of tired motorists turning a sign from ‘go’ to ‘stop’ every now and then.  You can see it in their faces – they would love to punch the foreman’s lights out, grab the keys to the really big machinery and dig up a storm. But they have to learn to do the boring stuff first – it’s that or make the coffee.

In the US being a flagger is the job. They train people just to do this and they have no aspirations to sit in the earth movers. And it’s more complicated than you might think. This link opened my eyes to the skill of the flagger. Those young lads back home should take a good look at this and realise how important they are.

And they should set up a website called flaggerdating.com because they would find out pretty quickly that flagging in America is a young women’s game.

Apart from flagger watching we saw a few small towns on this route that have a variety of ways of drawing you in for a look. It’s a clear sign of American entrepreneurship when you go through a town that specialises in carved tree trunks, or one that has set itself up as the centre of everything Bigfoot. Whether or not they can claim to be a place where Bigfoot has been seen many times or not is beside the point – they needed a way to get people to pause and spend money. So set up a Bigfoot visitor experience. They truly do know how to make the most of what they have got – or haven’t got in some cases.

It got me to thinking about an old idea I had about how Scotland should redesign its entire tourist strategy. Let me paint the picture with the storyboard for the TV launch of the campaign.

  • The first shot is a blank background with the words –‘Thinking of Scotland?’
  • Suddenly a fast paced heavy rock tune plays (note to visitscotland – I have a nephew in this business if you have the need for original soundtrack sometime soon).
  • A series of short clips now shows with strong visual connection to the driving theme music. It’s fast paced and rapid. First we see a man and his son on mountain bikes, huge smiles on their faces as they splash in muddy puddles. Next we switch to a race where people are in a ‘tough mudder’ event happily getting covered in muck while racing to the finish line. Switch to wind surfers in the far North of Scotland. Switch to a boat full of tourists all screaming with joy as they are taken down a rapid river. Next we have a rally car spraying mud on the camera. Next a skier sprays snow on the camera. A couple kissing romantically in the rain. A family building a snow man. Etc. Etc. We switch back to the father and son as they both spray the camera one after the other.
  • The music switches to a different style – calmer and incorporating a Scottish folk theme. We are in a pub with the fire going; people are eating and having a dram while it is dark and pouring down outside. Everyone looks delighted.
  • The music stops and we see the man and his son putting on their rain jackets and bike helmets. They wheel their mountain bikes out of a doorway with smiles on their faces. We see their smile suddenly turn to disappointment. The shot switches to a stunning mountain scene with perfect blue sky and the sounds of wildlife in the background.
  • The camera pulls away from them and the final catch line is displayed.
  • SCOTLAND – BAD WEATHER CANNOT BE GUARANTEED.

You get the idea. We need to sell what we have got – not what we very rarely have.

So as you can see the journey to Eureka was pretty long and uneventful.

Now Eureka is a strange place. When they named it they might have meant ‘you reek ugh!’ and intentionally changed it. Or it may well be the Greek ‘Eureka!’ expressed when Archimedes came to America specifically looking for the arse end of nowhere. Either way – it’s quite an unfair thing to say.

Though say it I do.

Unfair because – yes – if you arrive the way we did and stop at the Econo Lodge and then walk to the town, it does look like there is nothing worth sticking around for.  But when you get into the car and head for the suburbs where they hide the Sequoia Park and the best restaurants, it is quite lovely. In fact it is mammoth!

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I am not sure why they placed all the hotels in the area they did. It’s not nice at all. Close by is the sheriff’s office, next to the court house, next to a long street of law firms and bail-brokers, next to the correctional facility. On the same street is an employment exchange, a church and (for those people who have dropped through every one of these) the Econo Lodge. If you go beyond this area you start to meet America’s lost souls who wander the streets with trolleys full of trash-treasure and politely wish you a ‘nice day’ even when you don’t give them as much as a glance. My wife calls them the ‘Walking Dead’. It’s cruel and funny at the same time.

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In the brochures Eureka claims to be like this….

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… but it’s mostly like this…

Anyway – the good thing about Eureka is the huge trees and the equally huge pizza at Babe’s Pizza and Pasta. You couldn’t see the top of either and both were too wide for our camera lens.

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The pizza was even too big for our appetites. Most of it came with us in a box to the hotel fridge. In the morning it went into the bin outside where, in all probability, the Walking Dead will dig it out and eat it.

It wasn’t a very peaceful night. The Econo Lodge is obviously the first port of call for those who drop out of the employment exchange and find themselves homeless. I should have read the review on yelp before booking. It sounded like the Walking Dead had smelt fresh meat and were screaming all night desperate to break down our door and get tucked in. Whoever stopped them is our hero and we were sharp getting out in the morning.

We drove then down the Avenue of the Giants and ticked off a bucket list item of driving through a tree. In fact I drove through two, and one twice! Driving through trees is my favourite thing in the world.  The only thing that comes close is walking through them.

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‘Look – driving with no hands!’

Lunch was at a quaint little tea room called the Eel River Cafe in Garberville, a small town full of hash-heads. That doesn’t make them bad people (probably the opposite) – it’s just a fact. The legalisation of recreational drugs seems to have created mini sixties-style communes amongst the small towns of Northern California.

We enjoyed the lunch and drove on to our final destination in Napa. This is wine country and the drive through the vineyards was pleasant and would have been more enjoyable had I not been on the road for around nine hours with a pretty restless night in advance of it. No walking dead in Napa though- the place reeks of money. Wine is good business it seems.

Our final meal of the day was a supermarket special. It was better than usual and the cheesecake was superb.

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Our last destination tomorrow. San Francisco. Before we take that journey you should join me below – driving through a tree!

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