So there I was, sitting in a dive bar in Oxnard, drinking Corona, listening to a slightly out of tune Mexican accordion player and making smalltalk with a woman whom I suspected may well be a prostitute.
It felt a long way from Great Barr.
I'd booked on the 8pm bus from Oxnard to LA, but due to some complete cock up, Greyhound buses had only sent a small coach, so half of us had to wait for the next one. By the resigned acceptance that people accepted this turn of events, this seems to be a regular occurrence on Greyhound buses.
With any trip there are high points and low points. Scanning the array of motley characters at the bus station that I was to spend the next four hours with, I quickly surmised that this could turn into a low point. Something needed to be done.
With four hours to kill in downtown Oxnard, what was I to do? When a mariachi band wearing huge cowboy hats walked past in the distance, my decision was made. I followed them!
My time in Oxnard had a bit of a surreal quality to it from the start. I was picked up by Leilani, my latest couch surfing host and a grilled cheese champion!. "I'm kidnapping you" she joked. We were on our way to a haunted hotel.
On the way we talked grilled cheese. "It's the next step up from cheese on toast" she explained outlining the different competitive categories; classic, freestyle, dessert and one other I can't remember... And the secret to great grilled cheese? "The ingredients, preparation and me!"
It turns out that someone had been murdered in the hotel many years ago and now haunts the premises. The owners have decided to cash in on this grisly history by marketing it as a haunted hotel. Leilani her room mate Dawn had stayed there before, scaring themselves senseless in the process. Tonight we were just going there for some dessert, but of course, were on the lookout for ghosts also.
When we sat down to eat, things got even more strange. An eight-piece mariachi band sprang out of the kitchen and started to serenade the table next to us... For about an hour! It turns out it was the birthday of the owners mother...
Perhaps the band succeeded in scaring away all of the ghosts, because I didn't sense any paranormal activity in the building, unless you count the door in the toilet that steadfastly refused to close. So as the rest of my party wandered around the building, I settled in front of the TV in the lounge to watch women's weightlifting on TV. Well it seemed to make sense at the time...
Tour de Oxnard
I spent much of the next day cycling around Oxnard on a bright green ladies bike, complete with basket, a slow puncture and handy cupholder, which I'm sure will be all the rage in the 2009 Tour de France. It took me a while to get to grips with the fact you had to pedal backwards to brake and after one hairy moment where I almost fell off the pier, I managed to get the hang of it.
Oxnard is kind of like Bognor Regis, only with more palm trees. There wasn't a lot going on, but I spent a relaxing day at the beach reading Slash's autobiography.
This was in the nicer beach section of the city. From my limited experience later that evening, downtown seemed a little different. Freelance mariachi bands toured the bars available for hire or perhaps willing to be persuaded to move on to the next bar, both for a fee.
If the wheezing elderly accordion player in the corner wasn't evidence enough, I knew this was an authentic Mexican bar, the salt on the top of the Corona bottles clinched it. As I munched on my hundredth burrito of the trip so far, I became somewhat of a local celebrity, with people seemingly queuing up to speak to me.
That day in Oxnard, a few things became clear to me.
1, Nobody has ever heard of Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK.
2, It seems that if anyone does know about anything about Birmingham, it's that it is the home city of the band Oasis.
3, It's sometimes quite difficult to work out if you are talking to a lady of the night. Don't worry, no money changed hands. Though I did buy her a beer. Perhaps it was her night off?
Thankfully it was soon time to go and get the bus. I ended up arriving in LA at about 1:30am. Where should I go, what should I do? I was tired, a bit drunk and suffering from severe cramp after spending 90 minutes sitting next to a very fat man.
I got into a taxi and the words seemed to automatically come out of my mouth...
"Bicycle Casino, Bell Gardens"