Chapter 5: FEAR AND LOATHING IN DISNEYLAND
Sunday 2nd September 1984, and after breakfasting alone in the hotel buffet and checking out the fanroom, I wandered down to the huckster room and over to the tables provided at one end for the use of various convention bidding groups. Britain was bidding for the 1987 Worldcon, so throughout L.A.CON II the Britain In '87 table was manned by various of the British fans over for the con. This naturally included me, and so I relieved Peter Wareham, who must have risen very early that morning to have covered the first shift. No sooner had Peter left than I was joined by fellow-Brit Chris Atkinson and Australian fan Justin Ackroyd. Chris, impressed by Justin's selflessness in helping us, declared:
"I've never met an Australian fan I didn't like."
"I could introduce you to a few you'd hate." replied Justin, helpful as ever.
We sold a few memberships but businesss was slow, so at noon I wandered over to room Pacific 3B and to a panel titled 'SF and Comics -- The Mutual Influence'. This was chaired by Len Wein and featured Marv Wolfman, Marty Pasko, Gerry Conway, Mark Evanier, and Sharman DiVono, the last pair doing most of the talking. DiVono was very beautiful, and presumably reasonably bright if she was making a living as a writer, but this last was a little hard to believe given some of the nonsense she came out with. I found myself muttering quiet retorts to some of what was being said, but not quietly enough that they didn't get an amused response from some of those near me, that response in turn drawing irritated looks from the stage. At one point the various writers were talking about what influenced their writing, which were the sorts of things that influence everybody's writing, but DiVono was having none of this and claimed that she wasn't "... influenced by anything except what's inside of me", (her words).
"I'm a writer, and I write with my heart!" she explained.
"A typewriter would be less messy." I commented, much to the amusement of the guy next to me.
"I wish you were up there instead of some of them," he said.
When people start confusing low sarcasm with high wit it's time to leave. So I did. I'd had enough of the panel anyway. If all this sounds a little ill-tempered, well it was. I still hadn't recovered properly from jet-lag and so was grumpier than I should have been.
The TAFF/DUFF Auction held in the fan lounge at 2pm was a bit of an eye-opener. A few items were sold for TAFF but their number paled into insignificance against the vast amount of material being auctioned off for DUFF. This was due mainly to the indefatigable Joyce Scrivner who seemed to regard DUFF as some sort of pet project and had brought along piles of stuff. However, what little TAFF material there was fetched decent prices. My stick of CHANNELCON '82 rock was bought for some ludicrous amount by Jane Hawkins (possibly my description of it as "this big pink thing" helped the sale) as was my Welsh-English phrasebook, which was knocked down to Amy Thomson. Some months earlier, Graham Charnock had given me six assorted issues of WRINKLED SHREW (none of them the issue I was then missing myself, unfortunately) and these too went for gratifyingly large amounts with the most being paid, not surprisingly, for issue #7, which I regard as quite possibly the best single issue of any fanzine produced in the 1970s. Larry Carmody had deputised Stu Shiffman to go as high as $15 to get it for him, and in the end he secured it for $14. Larry later explained that he in turn had been agenting for Alina Chu, a curious arrangement. I wonder if he got an agenting fee?
With all the TAFF material having sold I left the auction early in the company of Rich Coad, Stacy Scott, Sheree Carton, Allyn Cadogan, and Carissa Enzenbacher -- the 15 year-old daughter of Allyn's huckster friend, Dale Enzenbacher. It was time for us to head over to the Magic Kingdom.
Although Disneyland was on the next lot to the hotel it was not as short a trip from one to the other as I'd have liked since the Disneyland car park lay between them. Bearing in mind the custom such a place attracts, and the fact that everyone in Los Angeles travels by car, you can imagine just how big it was. The heat reflecting off that black asphalt plain was murderous, and as we trekked across those endless acres I thought I was going to die. Nor were matters helped by the fact that I was wearing black shirt and trousers and hefting a heavy tweed jacket. I always wear much the same clothes regardless of the weather (which doesn't really vary vastly in the UK) but I was beginning to think that maybe this wasn't such a sensible policy after all. Disneyland was visible all the while, shimmering through the heat-haze ahead, and -- eventually -- we reached it. We had an unpleasant surprise waiting for us, however.
At the gate Sharee was refused admission because her mohawk haircut violated Disneyland's 'dress code'. We were all outraged by this and decided that if Sharee wasn't good enough for Disneyland then maybe we weren't either. Sharee would have none of this however, and insisted we go ahead and have a good time since she had been half expecting this reaction anyway. As I watched her set off back across the parking lot, I reflected on how odd it was that a style which wouldn't attract a second glance in London (if not for the fact that Sharee was an attractive woman) should be deemed so outrageous in California of all places, and particularly in Disneyland. Walt may have been a visionary, but it seemed that his heirs were the product of small-minded middle America. (Some years after this, Disney bought the Queen Mary and announced that henceforth all of her crew must be clean-shaven since this too was required by the corporate dress-code. I have nothing but admiration for those of the crew, many of whom who had been with her more than twenty years, who resigned rather than knuckle under to this infringement of their rights. I wonder what the moustachioed Walt would have made of it all?)
While the attitude of Disneyland may have left a bad taste in the mouth, the place itself was incredible. The entrance booths opened out onto 'Main St., USA', a highly picturesque representation of homey Americana that featured a series of shops carrying a wide variety of Disney merchandise and other goodies. The extreme heat made ice-cream our first buy. Croggled by the huge queues for most every ride (well it was Labor Day weekend after all, the busiest of the year), we decided to wait in line first for the monorail, all the while watching the submarines on the adjacent ride that travelled on tracks below the water. Actually, the monorail turned out to be a good first choice since its two-and-a-half mile ride out to the Disneyland hotel took in a fair bit of the park itself. From our elevated vantage I was particularly impressed to note how the various rides interacted with one another, a feature which added to the illusion of the park as an organic whole, part of one ride being an element of the scenery for the next.
For our second ride we chose 'Flight to Mars' not, as you might think, because of its obvious SF connection, but because it was close to the monorail exit and didn't have a large queue outside. On entering we were ushered into a room overlooking a full-size replica of NASA's flight control room at Houston where an automaton called 'Mr Smith' led us through the background to our 'flight'. This was my first look at one of Disney's automata, and I was impressed. 'Mr Smith' was obviously not a real human being, but he was still a lot more lifelike than most of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet. The 'flight' itself involved us being led into a circular room, supposedly the interior of a spacecraft, and taking our places in the banks of seats that receded, amphitheatre-style, into its upper reaches. With the aid of a voice-over and images flashed on various screens, we were taken on a short 'flight' to Mars, one given a certain added verissimilitude by the way our seats vibrated on 'take-off' and 'landing'.
"This ride is just an air-conditioned, audio-visual bum-massage!" I commented to Allyn after we'd 'landed'. While entertaining, 'Flight to Mars' was more in the way of an 'educational experience' than a proper ride, an accusation that couldn't be levelled at the next attraction we visited.
Back in Britain, both Alun Harries and Linda Krawecke Pickersgill had recommended I visit Disney's 'Pirates of the Carribean' and when I saw the sign outside ("See fun-loving Pirates sack and burn a Carribean Seaport") I knew that this was the ride for me. And Jophan found that it was so. We climbed into one of the cars and the ride started with a couple of water-chutes before we floated (actually, our car rode underwater rails) into the area where the pirates were sacking the port. The effect was total, a large galleon manned by pirate automata 'sailed' over to to the seaport to engage its automata defenders, cannons firing and explosions sending water shooting into the air around us. Overhead, stars appeared to twinkle in a night sky and it would not have been too difficult to imagine that you really were in the middle of a ferocious sea-battle. Amazing.
Still a little stunned after the last ride, we wandered along one of the paths bordering the circular 'river' around which a full-sized galleon and paddle-steamer rode majestically, even such large craft as these riding on underwater rails. Disneyland is divided into a number of smaller theme-parks called 'Tomorrowland', 'Frontierland', 'Adventureland', and 'Fantasyland' with smaller areas called 'Bear Country', 'Main Street, and 'New Orleans Square' in between. 'Flight to Mars' had been in 'Tomorrowland' and 'Pirates of the Carribean' off 'New Orleans Square', but now our wanderings took us into 'Bear Country' and specifically to something called the 'Indian Trader Shop'. We stopped to stock up on souvenir junk and I made sure to pick up enough postcards showing views of Disneyland to both send to people in the UK and to augment the photos I was taking. Allyn came up and began looking at the cards on an adjacent rack that featured early photographs taken of various American Indian tribes. She chose one and went over to the counter to pay for it. Watching her had made something click into place in my mind, and I turned to Rich.
"Is Allyn part-Indian?" I asked him, contemplating her striking features.
"No, she's French-Canadian," he assured me.
Seconds later Allyn returned and showed us her purchase: a photo of a Hunkpapa Sioux.
"Look," she said, "a genuine picture of one of my ancestors!"
Chortling, I jotted down this exchange in my notebook. Rich looked disgusted.
"Are you really gonna write about something that makes me look real dumb?" he asked.
"Yep." I replied, smugly.
After a round of cheeseburgers (called 'Lumberjacks') at the Hungry Bear Restaurant we started to tire of the relentless backwoods-style of Bear Country and so wandered back towards New Orleans Square. On the way we stopped at 'Haunted Mansion' and, after waiting in another huge queue, took a fascinating ride. It wasn't in the least frightening -- nor intended to be, I imagine, given the number of infants who visit it -- but some of the effects were very impressive, particularly the hologram ghost that materialized between you and the person next to you at one point, or at so it appeared in your reflection in the mirror.
By the time we emerged it was close to 8pm and we had to decide whether to rush back to the hotel to catch the Hugo Awards ceremony or to stay on in Disneyland. Being trufans all we had no real choice of course ... we stayed at Disneyland.
After riding the Mark Twain Riverboat, we realised that the moment of truth had arrived. It was time to ride one of the two rollercoasters, 'Space Mountain' or 'The Matterhorn', even though these had the biggest queues of any of the rides. We chose The Matterhorn, mainly so that we'd be in a good position to watch the firework display that went off over the 'Sleeping Beauty Castle' at 9pm every night, the same display that had greeted me on my way in from the airport three days earlier. This was even more spectacular up close than it had been from Harbor Boulevard, and in the middle of it all 'Tinkerbell' flew overhead, about 60- 80 feet above us, riding down a wire stretched between the tip of the Matterhorn and the top of the castle.
The rollercoaster ride, when we eventually made it to the front of the queue, was exhilarating if -- ah -- violent. I came out with a headache, Rich with a dislodged contact lens, and Allyn with a sore mouth where Carrissa's head had been thrown backwards and butted her. A great ride! Nursing our wounds, we wandered back to Main Street and joined a queue for food.
"This is just like Soviet Russia," grumbled Rich, voicing a criticism seldom if ever made of Disneyland. I asked him to explain.
"You have to queue for everything!", he wailed.
It was getting late, so Rich and I decided to return to the hotel for some serious partying. Carrissa was already in line for the Matterhorn again so Stacy and Allyn elected to stay with her. As we left the Magic Kingdom, Rich and I bought Donald Duck hats, baseball-style caps with Donald's bill forming the peak, his eyes peering over it, and a 'tuft' on top.
"Hey, these are really cool!" Rich enthused, looking as ridiculous in his hat as I probably looked in mine. I'd enjoyed Disneyland, but I couldn't forget the way Sharee had been refused entry. In its way Disneyland, for all its high-tech gadgetry, is a temple to the values of 1950s America and to that period's vision of the perfect family. Given such a rigid and conservative mindset, I was not surprised when, some months after I returned to the UK, those who make the fantasy work, the staff of Disneyland, went on strike citing such real-world concerns as low pay and lousy conditions. "Mickey Mouse is a Republican!" Roy Disney declared during the 1988 Presidential election. I rather fear he may be right.
Rich and I parted in the hotel lobby and, having been in Disneyland when 'the word' was passed along the grapevine, I then spent ages wandering corridors in search of a party. Noticing movement on the fourth floor I investigated and bumped into Larry Carmody, who furnished me with a list of the night's parties. Thus armed, I dropped in briefly at the Australian party before settling in at the Britain In '87 soiree. Collapsing into a chair, I decided to let people come to me (and they did, too).
After a while a sizeable contingent of those present moved off to Ted White's room, and soon after we got there Allyn and Stacy returned from Disneyland. They insisted on telling me how much better a rollercoaster than the 'Matterhorn' 'Space Mountain' was. Yeah, sure.
This was the end of L.A.CON II. Tomorrow everyone would be going home and some of them, I realised in an uncharacteristic moment of misty-eyed sentimentality, I was unlikely ever to see again. This trip, and this convention, would almost certainly be one of the high points of my life, one of those memories that looms large for the rest of your days. Standing back, I gazed about the room drinking it all in, taking a mental photograph of an event that was all too fleeting. Already it was breaking up, and I found myself saying my goodbyes to those who were flying out early the next day, including Larry and Alina who wouldn't be returning to New York until after my visit to that city.
I stayed up as long as I could, taking in as much as I could, but the party like the convention was drawing inexorably to its close. At 2.30am, wistful but content, I retired to my room for the final time.
Chapter 6 : ON THE ROAD
The battered Ford Econoline van lurched into the powerful Southern California sunlight from the carpark of the Anaheim Hilton & Towers and pulled out onto Harbor Boulevard. Inside, on the two front seats and sprawled across the mattresses and blankets in the back, it carried its precious human cargo of Allan Baum, Donya White, Spike, and -- most precious of all -- me. It was Monday 3rd September, shortly after one in the afternoon, and we were just starting out on a journey that would take us along the 420 miles of highway that lies between Los Angeles and the fabled city of San Francisco.
On Sunday, I'd mentioned to Spike that I was hoping to pick up a lift to San Francisco, and since she intended visiting the city herself after the con to look up John Bartelt (whose convention membership she'd been using), she proceeded to arrange a ride for both of us as far as Palo Alto with Allan and Donya. And so here we were, Anaheim swiftly slipping into the distance and into the past as we barrelled down Highway 5, the Santa Ana Freeway, heading for the centre of town -- if Los Angeles can truly be said to have a centre, that is. Raymond Chandler once said of Los Angeles that it had all the personality of a paper cup, and I recalled Lucy Huntzinger saying of it that "... this place shouldn't be called a city -- it's just an endless suburban sprawl ... ". I decided that she was probably right, blissfully unaware as yet of the rivalry between Angelenos and San Franciscans that might inspire such a comment. Even so, one part of L.A. did look much like any other and apart from such occasional oddities as the tyre factory built to resemble a castle, the most interesting thing about the drive through town was the road signs. These pointed the way to locations with such wonderfully evocative names as San Bernardino and Santa Monica, Pasadena and Sacramento and, yes, Hollywood. To be cruising past turnoffs to such places seemed no less fantastic than would discovering roads that led to Barsoom, Arrakis, or Middle-Earth, because I'd only really encountered these places previously through TV and they seemed to belong to the realms of fantasy every bit as much as the creations in any book. For a time it was almost like traversing a fictional landscape, as if all of greater L.A. were in some strange fashion an adjunct of Disneyland, one that extended deep into the heart of those dreams that spring from the popular culture it's so much a part of. Lost in such neo-Ballardian reveries I almost missed seeing the famous Hollywood sign -- emblem of a force that has helped shape the dreams of us all -- as it came into view high on a hill up to my right, and I cursed myself for having packed my camera away.
At length we hit North U.S. 101, the Ventura Freeway, and as we turned onto it I chuckled at a sign that advertising local cultural delights: FEMALE MUD-WRESTLERS -- NITELY 7PM-2AM. Pretty soon the housing around us began to thin out, with the hills becoming more pronounced as we approached the outskirts of L.A. Crossing a bridge above one of those concreted-over rivers that will forever evoke images of THEM for any SF fan, I spotted a turn-off to Sherman Oaks, home of that famous short collossus of science fiction Harlan Ellison, and reflected for a moment on how different his lifestyle must be from those of the aspiring young British SF authors I counted among my friends. The final suburbs we passed through as we cleared the city seemed to be composed entirely of houses built on stilts that clung to the sides of impossibly steep hills and canyons. Over one of these -- Topanga Canyon -- sky-writing planes spelled out the need for fire vigilance.
"When there's a fire around here a lot of million dollar homes go up in flames," observed Allan, celebrating our escape from the city by putting his foot down on the gas pedal (as our American cousins call the accelerator).
With Los Angeles fading away behind, the land around us resolved itself into a thin coastal strip, one rendered sporadically green by the efforts of the occasional farmer, flanked by parched and rolling hills overlaid by a mottled mantle of hardy desert scrub. And it stayed thus most of the way to San Francisco. Route 101 wound along the coastal strip of course, and as well as drinking in the strange beauty of all this foreign scenery I continued to jot down those names we passed that took my fancy. "Rancho Conejo Blvd" declared one sign, while another pointed to "Solvang -- Danish Capital of America". "A Danish village transplanted to Southern California," explained Allan, never taking his eyes off the road before him, "big tourist attraction."
Now that we were on the open road I felt that I recognised it from a hundred Hollywood movies, and it was easy to regard it with the intimate familiarity one would an old friend. Steppenwolf's 'Born to Be Wild', a track that seemed an inseparable part of the landscape around us, was playing in my head, but a few miles further on it would be replaced by Beach Boys numbers....
Just beyond a place called Oxnard -- a name familiar to me from Los Brothers Hernandez' 'Love and Rockets' (who says you can't pick up anything but illiteracy from comics?) -- U.S. 101 finally reached the sea, and I got to take my first look at the Pacific Ocean.
"Look, the ocean!" said Spike, late.
"Yeah, I know."
"We don't see that in Wisconsin."
"Well you wouldn't -- Wisconsin is conspicuously free of ocean."
"Maybe we could stop and take a swim."
"But I don't have any trunks!" I protested, though the idea was appealing.
"You could fake it."
"Oh sure. I'd just draw a strap around my waist and claim I was wearing a codpiece ... and if anyone asked I'd tell them I couldn't afford a bigger one."
This particular piece of ocean was in fact the Santa Barbera channel and the road followed the broad sweep of coastline that looked out over the channel for most of its length. Watching the lazily inviting way the mid-afternoon sun glinted off the calm waters I was genuinely sorry we didn't have time to take a dip, but the Pacific was, I decided, pretty triff. Then, of course, there were the oil wells.
The DALLAS-watchers among you will remember the beam-engine oil derricks that featured in the opening credits of that famous melodrama, and those same people would understand my delight when the first of these beasts hove into view. Penned in by wooden enclosures at the side of the road they appeared singly at first, but as we continued on they quickly began to appear in twos and threes until it seemed we were passing through herds of them, all grazing away contentedly. With the bulbous counterweights at one end of their beams, they reminded me of nothing so much as giant ants and, inevitably, evoked further images from THEM. One group, as if having gained in confidence and become more ambitious than the rest, was see-sawing away on a chain of wooden piers that jutted out into the channel by maybe as much as a half-mile or so, and on seeing these sucking up their black nectar we knew we could go no further. We had to have drink!
The small roadside store we stopped at had clearly been set up mainly to slake the thirsts of dehydrated travellers, and stocked all manner of drink, both soft and not-quite-so-soft. My companions, predictably, stocked up on Coke and other fizzy fluids designed to keep the dentists of America in lucrative employment while I checked out the 'beer'. Since the store carried no imported ales I settled on Michelob dark as being, potentially, the least offensive of the American brands, and carried a six-pack of deep-frozen bottles back to the van with me. To my great surprise this brew, when thawed-out, differed from most American beers in a very significant way -- it had a taste. Not a particularly wonderful taste, I'll grant you, but by this point any beer that was drinkable was savoured as if it were the finest wine. Donya cautioned me about making it too obvious that I was drinking in the back of the van since the consumption of alcohol in a moving vehicle was, she informed me, an offence. Guzzling down my third bottle I promised to be discreet and succeeded in changing the subject by pointing out the full size oil platforms now visible some miles out to sea, and by telling her how Walt Willis' shoes had drifted out to sea when he went paddling in the Pacific back in 1952.
"There's an American Walt Willis, y'know," Donya told me.
"There's always someone being hailed as that," I told her, surreptitiously cracking open another Michelob.
"No, I mean there really is an American Walt Willis -- Walter K.Willis, brother of Seattle fan Anna Vargo."
"That's a shame. We've had enough trouble with there being two Bob Shaws, two John Berrys, and one-and-a-half Michael Ashleys. Another ringer we don't need."
Though it was cool by local standards the temperature (somewhere around the mid-90s) was still enough to make several such pit-stops necessary, including one occasioned by an alarming amount of steam coming out of the radiator, but we nonetheless made good time, eating up the miles as we passed such places as San Luis Obispo, Los Alamos, and Vandenburg Air Force Base.
"Where they're building the second shuttle pad," said Allan, "the one for military use."
So much for those dreamers who thought that space would never be miltarised.
With the lengthening of the late afternoon shadows into the twilight of evening, we passed Gilroy ("Garlic Capital of the World"), and, as darkness descended, pulled into a gas station called 'Rotten Robbie's' for fuel. Spike was so amused by the name of the place that she insisted on taking a photograph of me standing next to the brightly lit sign. My TAFF photo-album now contains a picture of that sign with a greyish blob just discernable in the blackness around it.
Finally, and with great sighs of relief all round, we reached Palo Alto and a neighbourhood whose obvious affluence was totally at odds with the ramshackle vehicle Allan and Donya had driven us here in. Still, food was the order of the day now and after some prompting from me it was decided that we would buy a meal at Ramona's, Allan and Donya's local pizza parlour. After years of American visitors complaining long and loud about the "Disgusting" things sold as pizza in Britain, I was determined to sample a real American pizza and see for myself if they were all they were cracked up to be. When the pizza arrived it certainly looked good, what with the masses of tomato and ham, the melted cheese in great profusion -- but could it live up to its reputation? At their house Donya cut me a slice, revealing in the process that in the U.S. the 'deep' in deep-pan pizza refers to the topping rather than the base, as is generally the case in Britain. With great ceremony (I think I mumbled something about "one small bite for man ... a giant mouthful for mankind") I sank my teeth into my first ever genuine, honest-to-god, authentically ethnic American pizza -- and it was delicious! I had discovered the perfect food. Compared to this, every pizza I'd eaten previously was like a polystyrene frisbee, thinly spread with a pre-masticated mulch.
After washing the pizza down with a few drinks (more Michelob Dark in my case), we fell to chatting about this and that for a while, interrupted only by Rich Coad phoning from San Francisco and arranging to pick Spike and me up at the bus terminal the next day. It was only a short bus ride into the city from Palo Alto, but it had been a long ride from Los Angeles, and all present decided that it was time for bed. Another day was over but tomorrow we would travel to the beautiful Bay Area proper, and the City of Love. I could hardly wait.
Chapter 7: THE CITY OF LOVE
Tuesday 4th September and as usual on this trip I arose early -- 7.20am, the earliest yet. I looked out the window at that glorious California sunshine and once again I marvelled at my good fortune in being here, at the fact that my picking up a copy of SCIENCE FICTION MONTHLY in 1974 could lead, ten years later, to what must be the trip of a lifetime. Isn't fandom wonderful? I felt good -- hell, I felt GREAT -- but I was the only one awake as yet, so I pottered about quietly, reading some of Allan's comics and thinking deep thoughts about The Meaning Of It All.
Spike was the next to wake and, being the athletic type (how many other fans do you know who found fandom through weightlifting?), was keen to go jogging before breakfast.
"Why don't you join me, Rob?" she suggested looking fit and tanned, a picture of well-fed Midwestern wholesomeness (I didn't know her as well then as I do now).
I may have been feeling great but I was also someone whose main form of exercise was farting, so I said I didn't think I should.
"But Rob, jogging is the quintessential Californian experience. How can you visit here and not jog?"
Damn! She had me there. I protested feebly that the only trousers I had with me were a couple of pairs of jeans, and I could barely move in one of those.
"I remember", she grinned, reminding me that she'd seen me in them at the convention and had commented "cute ass" in that disarmingly casual way American women have. She offered me a spare pair of running shorts she had with her and I bowed gracefully to the inevitable. I added my own T-shirt and brand-new pair of trainers to the shorts and soon we were off.
With the glare of the sun off the pavement dazzling me I began to think that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all and hoped I wouldn't fall too far behind Spike. To my surprise just the opposite happened. I shot ahead of her and had to slow down a number of times for her to catch up. This left me feeling understandably smug but that smugness was soon wiped away. First, my feet started to hurt. The brand-new, unbroken-in trainers were pinching my toes and raising painful blisters. Second, we got lost. Since our plan to keep taking left turns should have prevented this we were puzzled. Also a little worried since neither of us could remember the name of the street Allan and Donya's house was on, nor knew their phone number, nor even had any money on us to ring them if we had known it. To add insult to injury the road we got lost on was Hansen Way. Since there was no other choice we stumbled around trying to find our way back, Spike offering to carry me piggy-back to relieve my feet and me being macho and refusing, eventually giving cries of joy as we came upon a familiar Ford Econoline van parked outside one of many identical houses. We rang the bell and the door was opened by Allan Baum, who looked deeply alarmed by the piteous cries of relief with which we greeted him.
After we had showered and breakfasted, Allan drove us to the bus stop where we caught the 7F to San Francisco. Shortly after pulling away we passed the British Bankers Club ("The BBC!" -- Spike). As always the roadsigns pointing to such exotically named places as San Mateo and Burlingame exerted a powerful fascination, though they probably seem totally ordinary to those who live in the area. Soon we were back on US 101, the highway that we'd followed from Los Angeles to Palo Alto yesterday, but from here it was right on the edge of the Pacific, following a bay that was apparently the bay that gave the Bay Area its name. High up on a hill was a sign that advertised the area we were passing through as SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- THE INDUSTRIAL CITY. As we followed the curving bay road many of the groups of houses we passed were disturbingly reminiscent of those that can be seen in most any Victorian seaside town in Britain.
The bus journey took maybe an hour, and eventually we pulled into a bus terminal on the corner of Mission and Fremont in San Francisco proper. We put in a phone call to Rich Coad and in no time at all he'd shown up in his VW Beetle and had driven us back to the apartment he shared with Stacy Scott at 251 Ashbury Street (yes, the Ashbury of Haight-Ashbury fame in the '60s). The apartment was quite a decent size, certainly larger than my own flat back in London, and was -- ah -- interestingly decorated. On one wall the framed drawing of a leather-jacketed, mirror-shade wearing rat loomed over a red plastic Felix the Cat clock while on another there was the poster for a film called 'Astro-Zombies' ('See Brutal Mutants Menace Beautiful Girls ... See Crazed Corpse Stealers ... See Beserk Human Transplants!') We pondered the artistic experience offered by Astro-Zombies while Rich reached up for the Walkman sat on the mantle next to the propellor-beanie wearing china bulldog -- only it wasn't a Walkman. Chuckling, Rich showed how it converted into a robot, my first experience of the Transformer-type Japanese toys that were to flood the market a year or so later. Another poster read "We don't care because we don't have to -- The Phone Company". I asked Rich who he worked for.
"The Phone Company", he replied, "And we don't."
The journey from Palo Alto had hardly been arduous so after drinking a few beers, fairly palatable beers I might add, we went out and walked along Ashbury up to Haight Street, where I converted most of the money I was carrying to travellers checks, and felt a lot better for having done so. We ate at a cafe on Haight called 'All You Knead' (groan), chatting inconsequentially about this and that, then returned to the apartment. Rich drove Spike over to John Bartelt's place -- she was staying with him while in SF -- and on his return he and Stacy took me for a drive around the city.
One thing I couldn't help noticing was the diamond-shaped roadsigns all over the place that read 'Ped Xing'. Given San Francisco's large Chinese population it made sense for there to be signs in that language, though I thought that making the signs yellow was a little tasteless. I mentioned this to Rich and asked him what 'Ped Xing' translated as. Rich stared at me in anazement and then burst out laughing.
"You dickhead!" he said. "It isn't Chinese at all. It's an abbreviation for 'pedestrian crossing'!" Rich had had his revenge for Disneyland.
As with those of most American cities, the streets of San Francisco are laid out on a grid pattern, but these grids can get disrupted when they hit the coast or if the city has many hills. San Francisco has lots of hills, due mainly to the fact that rising up from the middle of the city is a low, twin-peaked mountain called -- logically enough -- Twin Peaks. It was to Twin Peaks that we drove first, the highest point in the city.
"A conceptual artist once constructed a giant bra over the peaks" said Rich, as we approached them, a boggling concept indeed.
The view from the top of Twin Peaks was breathtaking. Out on my left was Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific flowing under it, while further along Alcatraz could be clearly seen, unlike the Bay Bridge which was partially obscured by the high buildings of the business district. On the far side of the bridge lay Oakland, and the bay itself swept away off to the right and was lost in the haze.
"One of the islands the Bay Bridge stands on, Treasure Island, is man-made," Rich explained, "while the bay itself is about 25 miles long and the biggest natural harbour in the world. You're lucky to have such a fine view. It's rarely this clear and often shrouded in fog."
I was glad of my luck as I wouldn't have missed that view for the world. It's one of those sights you carry with you forever. I took photographs, but there was no real way they could capture the scale and grandeur of the bay.
Other touristy parts of the trip were the drive down Lombard Street -- that crooked and winding street that has featured in innumerable car chases filmed in San Francisco -- and Castro Street.
"Gay capital of the world," explained Rich, putting his foot down as we pulled onto the top of Castro. We tore along the street at high speed, only slowing when we reached the end. I rubbed my neck, suspecting whiplash.
After visiting the Sutro bath ruins (don't ask) we parked the car and walked up Columbus Avenue and past Washington Square Park ("As written about by Richard Brautigan" -- Coad). We passed a strip joint called The Condor where Rich decided to get me some postcards from the doorman/bouncer by telling him I was Welsh.
"You're Welsh?" he said in feigned astonishment, thrusting a dozen or so postcards into my hand,"then come in and take a free look, no obligation."
Before I knew it I'd been ushered inside where a couple were engaging in simulated sex on a grubby stage. A barman hurried over and tried to hustle me into a seat at the bar, but I side-stepped him, made hurried excuses, and left. It was a close shave. A bit further along the road was the famous City Lights bookshop whose owner, Ferlinghetti, was the first to publish Ginsberg's HOWL. All this culture was making us thirsty so we ducked into the next bar we came to, a picturesque little place over whose door was the legend "We're itchy to get away from Portland, Oregon" -- Lord knows why. Inside, a sign on the wall announced that "MODERN DANCING and IMMODEST DRESS STIR SEX DESIRES leading to Lustful Flirting, Fornication, Adultery, Divorce, Destruction and Judgement". So that's what I was doing wrong. 'Immodest Dress' here I come! The only sane response to this sort of thing was a few bottles of Dos Equis, and I've always been a firm believer in sanity. I also took this opportunity to update my notes, and am now disturbed to discover that at this point in my notebook there appears the impenetrably cryptic "Naaru -- island in Pacific -- airline to anywhere -- Giant turd". What can it mean?
With early evening already upon us we took in Chinatown, Rich pointing out the spot where Bridget O'Shaunessy shot Miles Archer in 'The Maltese Falcon'. Had I seen the film I would have been suitably impressed but that experience, alas, still lay a couple of years in the future. Where London's Chinatown consists of no more than a couple of streets behind Leicester Square, San Francisco's is an entire district and is a whole lot more impressive. Here was a richness and -- well -- authenticity that put the twee pretentions of Gerrard Street, with its pagoda-style phone-boxes and disappointingly limited selection of restaurants, to shame.
We ate at a Hunan restaurant at 853 Kearny (it says here), a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown, before returning at last to Ashbury Street. It had been a day full of new sights, sounds, and experiences, one that needed to be sorted out and meditated upon, but it was not over yet.
We had not been back long when Lucy Huntzinger turned up with Paul Williams and Robert Lichtman in tow (known to then me as 'Glen Ellen fandom', but perhaps better known to you as the editor of the PKDick Society Newsletter and 1989 TAFF winner, respectively). In the short time we had been back I'd been playing a tape of Leroy Kettle's Fan Guest of Honour interview from the 1978 Eastercon, a classic of fan humour that had Rich rolling about with laughter, tears running down his cheeks, so I ran it for them. Their laughter was somewhat more restrained, not having had the experience of living in London and hanging out with Leroy and co, as Rich had done in the early-1970s. Facing a physics test in college the next day Rich crashed early, but the rest of us stayed up late talking. This was one of those freewheeling sessions that are so much fun at the time that you don't take notes and so can't reconstruct them afterwards. However, from notes I made later I see that apart from learning that Rich and Stacy's budgies were called Molar and Bicuspid there was the fascinating revelation that Stacy's parents were Beats and she got to meet Ginsberg when she was ten. Then there was her maternal grandfather, who'd been a member of Al Capone's gang. My own claim to fame, a maternal great-uncle who'd once been Mayor of Kidwelly, paled in comparison. So it goes.
I was awoken the next morning at 7.45am by the phone ringing. It was someone called Kent responding to the RSVP on the invitation to tonight's party in my honour.
"Let them know I rang, OK?"
"Are you Rob?"
"Then I'll see you tonight."
Having impressed Kent with my witty ripostes I fumbled the phone back on to its cradle and tried in vain to get back to sleep. It was no use so I got up, once again the only one awake, and caught up on my note-taking and postcard-writing.
Things didn't actually come to life until the early afternoon when local fans Sharee Carton, Allyn Cadogan, Lucy Huntzinger, and DUFF winner Jack Herman turned up and the five of us went for a walk up the Haight. I got Lucy to take a shot of me standing on the corner with the Haight-Ashbury street sign behind me. Back in 1967 this had been the Hippies' Mecca, but the summer of love lay almost 20 years in the past now and most of the Hippies were long gone. I imagine that the majority of them cut their hair, traded in their love-beads for filofaxes, and became advertising executives, realtors, and the like. Still, vestiges of that long-ago summer, that long-lost innocence, still remained and could be detected in the dress of the buskers and derelicts, and in shops on the Haight that bore names such as 'The Anxious Asp' and 'Mommie Fortuna's'.
Haight Street is one of those long, straight, and seemingly endless thoroughfares that are a natural and inevitable consequence of grid-pattern planning, but like most things it has its end, and where it ends is at Golden Gate Park. We spent a few hours here, taking many silly photos of each other, marvelling at the detail on the horses on the closed carousel and marvelling even more at what looked like a three-masted ship floating in the clouds. This was in fact the Sutro Tower, some sort of communications mast, which produces this remarkable effect when its lower portions are wreathed in mist. Weird. With afternoon rapidly giving way to early evening we headed back via the California Academy of Sciences. It was time to party!
How to capture a party? How indeed? Well first a listing of those present, which according to my notebook included Rich and Stacy, Allan and Donya, Spike, Lucy, Allyn, Grant Canfield, Gary Farber, Steve and Elaine Stiles, Bill Brieding, Gary Mattingley, John Bartelt, Jack Herman and doubtless many others besides including, presumably, the mysterious Kent. Dancing started when Spike discovered an album in Coad's collection consisting of nothing but cover versions of 'Louie, Louie' and I, displaying my usual good taste, put the Kingsmen's version on and took to the floor (I'm used to being the one who gets the dancing going). In one of those strange silences that happen occasionally when everyone finishes talking simultaneously I heard Spike say "... cucumbers, wrapped in aluminum foil." I never did get to ask what she'd been discussing.
At one point Allyn Cadogan decided to reveal her dark secret to me:
"Before I changed it my name used to be Laverne, but don't tell anyone, OK?"
I promised that I wouldn't. Rich, who was standing in the next TAFF race, complained to me about the way his rivals in that race, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, were conducting their campaign.
"P and T are using dirty tactics -- they're publishing wonderful fanzines."
We then got talking about this and that -- a very popular topic, I usually find -- and I decided to ask him about the rivalry I had noticed between San Franciscans and Los Angelenos.
"We hate 'em," he explained. "Their uncool mellowspeak and laid back image gets Californians a bad name. I mean, San Franciscans are sharp!"
He then went on to tell the doubtless apocryphal tale of a fellow citizen who had tried to buy a compass while visiting the City of the Angels. The owner of the first shop the man asked at sneered at him and said:
"Why would I sell something which only points north?"
So now, explained Rich, most San Franciscans carried a compass with them when they visited L.A., so they'd always know where home and sanity lay.
Jerry Kaufman rang, to assure his place in this report, and the party wound down in a haze of dancing, drinking, talking, and good times had. With all the people staying over I had to share a bed with Gary Farber but I was too tired to care. With a cheerily tasteless comment to Gary, I climbed under the covers and was soon dead to the world. I'd enjoyed San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been in, but tomorrow I was setting off for the Big Apple itself -- New York.
Chapter 8: A FIRST TASTE OF THE BIG APPLE
It's a matter of great regret to me that I didn't think to ask for a window seat on the DC-10 taking me to New York. Because of this I missed taking a last, lingering look at San Francisco, that beautiful city on the bay. No, my final glimpse of SF came as Rich Coad drove me to Oakland Airport by way of the Bay Bridge, a magnificent structure destined to suffer a partial collapse during the big earthquake five years later. Once over the bridge I'd made a few desultory notes, jotting down names from various road-signs (I added 'Yerba Buena', 'San Jose' and 'Alameda' to my collection) and also been amused to discover that on the airport approach road, Hegenberger Road, was a fast-food joint selling something called, inevitably, 'Hegen Burgers'. Rich and I had said goodbye to each other at the airport in manly fashion and now here I was, soaring into those clear blue Californian skies bound for the self-proclaimed 'greatest city in the world!'
The distance from San Francisco to New York isn't too short of that from New York to London, so I must have been in the air for a long time. Quite how long I'm unsure, thanks to the time zones we crossed and to the fact that a great fatigue was settling over me, a spaced out feeling that I'm now sure was a combination of delayed culture shock and a jet-lag still lingering thanks to the late nights I'd enjoyed at L.A.CON II. This was only my third ever time in a plane but I was already a little jaded with air-travel. Even had I had a window seat I suspect I would have ignored the view this time. Lost in reverie, I spent most of the flight staring into space.
It was early evening when we landed at New Jersey's Newark Airport, then the entry point for most Britons visiting America, and after collecting my luggage I went in search of my native guide. Arrangements had been made for Tom Weber to meet me, but as we'd never met before I had to rely on descriptions I'd been given. In the event this wasn't a problem since not only is Tom considerably shorter than most people but he was wearing a 'Forbidden Planet' T-shirt (from the store, not the film). We shook hands and then Tom led me outside to the bus stop, where we caught a bus to New York. It was while on the bus that I discovered I'd left my camera on the plane. I'd only shot a third of a roll, but it contained all the photos I'd taken at the party Rich and Stacy had thrown for me in San Francisco. A call to the airport some time later proved futile, as I thought it would. It's the loss of the pictures I regret more than that of the camera, which was only a cheap 110 anyway. I didn't know it yet, but this was to be only the beginning of my problems with cameras in New York.
The road between Newark and New York skirted some fairly uninteresting swampland and even more uninteresting industrial buildings. I couldn't help but think that, given the huge numbers of visitors whose first view of the state this is, New Jersey's administrators could do a lot to help their state's unfortunate image by sprucing up the view along that road. My heartbeat quickened when we were afforded a brief glimpse of Manhattan as the twin towers of the World Trade Center came into view over the tall grass. (New York! I would soon be in New York!) Tom quizzed me about L.A.CON II as we travelled over the New Jersey turnpike and, shortly after the turn-off to the George Washington Bridge, I caught my first sight of the Empire State Building and other sky-scrapers over the tops of some trees. There was a sign on the right pointing to Hoboken, and then we were barrelling through the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson River. Almost before I knew it, we'd emerged in Manhattan, traversed various nondescript streets, and arrived at our destination, the Port Authority terminal on 42nd and 8th.
The Port Authority was a bleak, unpleasant and threatening place peopled by derelicts and a number of suspicious-looking characters. I was glad that we didn't hang around there but proceeded directly to the nearest subway station.
This, too, was a vaguely menacing place, since the New York Subway Authority takes a minimalist approach to decoration. The station was all bare steelwork and exposed I-beams, neo-primitive brutalism made even more unbearable by the teeth-rattling cacophany produced every time a train thundered through. And those trains!
Like most people, I'd seen news items and the like about New York graffiti, usually with various critics and poseurs waxing lyrical about how wonderfully creative it all was and how New York was the only city in the world that gets a fresh coat of art every night. This is bullshit. Given the brutal impersonality of the subway I can understand the urge humanise it with something like graffiti, but the graffiti on the subway only added to the dehumanising effect. It was not so much an artistic outlet as a howl of rage, a chillingly nihilistic expression of despair and the death of hope. Or so it seemed to me on that long ago day. The train we boarded was both unbelievable and typical. Not only was it spray-painted on the outside but also on the inside. The walls, the ceiling, the floor and the windows were all concealed beneath multi-coloured swirls of paint -- as were the hard plastic seats and the subway maps! Not only could you not see out of many of the windows, but you couldn't tell where you were heading from the maps either. Going down into the subway was like descending into Hell, and I was glad when we arrived at our destination.
Thus far my first impressions of New York had not been very positive, so I was pleased by the familarity of the surroundings we encountered on emerging from the subway in Greenwich Village. Oh, the buildings were different and the billboards trumpeted brand names I'd never heard of, but for all that I was obviously in an alien environment the ambiance of the area was remarkably like that of the theatre district around London's Covent Garden. The hustle and bustle, the busy little cafes and the arty-types on the street were all very reassuring. It was with my spirits thus lifted that we arrived at the Chinese restaurant where some of the city's most active fanzine fans awaited me.
Moshe Feder and Lise Eisenberg I'd met at L.A.CON II, and Stu Shiffman I'd known for a couple of years, but this was my first meeting with the others. They were John Carl (about whom my notes say nothing, and of whom I'm afraid I now recall very little), and Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, whose writing and fanzines I'd admired since first encountering them two or three years earlier. Patrick was short and dapper, bespectacled and moustached, and moved in a way that reminded me curiously of Groucho Marx. Teresa was also short and bespectacled, with broad, attractive features and had her hair styled in short, tight curls that (I hope she won't mind me saying) were the least attractive of the many ways I've seen her hair styled since. Still, these were merely superficial details and in what counted, in their personalities and conversation, they were as sharp and delightful as their fanwriting had promised they would be. As usual my notes fail totally to give any clue as to what it was we discussed, but then I hardly need notes for that. Apart from the sort of stuff any group of fans with a TAFF winner in their midst would talk about, the main topic was what it was during most of my trip: the Bergeron Affair. At this point most everyone still thought he could be reasoned with and the conversation centred on speculation as to just why he appeared to have gone crazy, and just what could be done to bring him to his senses. No-one then realised that over the next few months the affair would develop into the most damaging feud to hit fandom in twenty years, or that many of us at that table would find ourselves deeply embroiled in it. Much of fanzine fandom would be plunged into war, with effects that persist to this day.
Chinese food is to US fans what Indian food is to British fans, and also better than the Chinese food generally available in the UK. (This was largely due to a difference in cuisine, I later learned, Cantonese being the dominant style over here and Sichuan in America.) After eating we returned to the subway station by way of a slight detour that took us past the building that once housed Towner Hall, the famous early-60s home of VOID boys Ted White, Terry Carr, Pete Graham, and Greg Benford. Located on the corner of West 10th Street and 7th Avenue at number 163A, the address was now -- appropriately enough -- a Chinese restaurant. It was called the 'China Taste Restaurant' and Patrick got me a copy of their menu as a souvenir.
"We bring lots of visitors here," said Patrick, as we moved off, "and I often wonder what the current owner makes of these groups of people that turn up periodically to stare at his restaurant. OK everyone," he announced, pointing to the left, "we bear right here."
At this point Teresa started laughing and fell down on the sidewalk. This was my first direct experience of Teresa's unique neurological problem, the result of a condition associated with her narcolepsy that makes it impossible for her to stay upright when something makes her laugh. We've all heard the expression about people falling down laughing, but I never imagined I'd ever witness this phenomenon myself. Though it shames me to admit it, I realised there and then that before my visit to New York was over I had to say something myself that was funny enough to make Teresa fall over. It's hell being competitive.
Somehow night had crept over the city and I began to feel just how tired I was. I was grateful, therefore, when we decided to take the subway to Washington Heights, the district at the far northern end of Manhattan island where Stu and the Neilsen Haydens lived. We got off at the relevant station, 190 Street, and Stu pointed out the 'Taki 183' graffito on a column, explaining that these first started appearing in 1969-70 and sparked off the graffiti explosion that had buried the subway. Historic graffiti! Whatever next?
I was staying at with Stu at his famed 19 Broadway Terrace apartment while in New York, and I was quite curious to see this fabled fannish address. As we entered, Stu explained that he had earlier set off a "bug-bomb" which, he assured me, should have cleared the apartment of cockroaches. I almost wish he hadn't since, having never seen a cockroach before (and having been assured by other New York fans that Stu's was the place to observe them), I'd rather been looking forward to finally coming face to face with one of the hideous brutes. Oh well, that was one famous New York sight to save for a future visit.
Stu's place was as cluttered with mounds of old magazines and dangerously unstable piles of books as my own flat, and I felt instantly at home. I admired the fannish memorabilia about the place, chuckling at the image of Roscoe on the wall with the light-switch protruding from what Dave Langford once described as a "theologically debatable part of his anatomy".
The apartment was small -- four rooms -- but servicable and, after a brief chat with Stu, I settled down on the sofa that was serving as my bed. I was soon asleep. Tomorrow I'd be refreshed, and able to get out and explore this strangely compelling city called New York.