The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Southern California

The scene at Oceanside for the contest. I suppose there are worse camping spots out there.

The scene at Oceanside for the contest. I suppose there are worse camping spots out there.


I’m not a poor planner, because I don’t plan at all. Without a pre-established itinerary, every day is an adventure, Indiana Jones style. I realize that, as a parent, teacher, and business owner, this approach is a bad idea. I can’t help it. I blame surfing. You can’t plan what you’re gonna do on a wave. You drop in, see what’s happening around you, and react. That’s my life. I’m a reactor. Sometimes this gets me in a pickle.

I used to go to California every summer. I’d surf my brains out, stock up on free shit from my sponsors, and surf some more. By 1990, I thought I was ready to quit being a spectator at big pro events and become a player. That summer, I flew out for the Life’s A Beach Klassic in Oceanside.

The event happened to be Kelly Slater’s first as a pro. He probably had fifty people lined up to greet him at the airport, all fighting to give him a place to stay. My arrival was slightly less heralded. I landed at LAX, retrieved my surfboards and duffel, and wondered why I hadn’t done a better job of planning. A rental car wasn’t in my budget, and after a few dollars worth of quarters wasted on potential rides, I realized I was on my own. With the contest starting the next morning, I had to go Greyhound.

"Ooh, Kelly, will you please stay at my house?"

“Ooh, Kelly, will you please stay at my house?”


I took a city bus to the Greyhound station and quickly saw I’d made a huge mistake. The Greyhound drivers were on strike. A few busses were operating, but with 80% of all routes cancelled there was a line of customers stretching around the block. I figured that standing around in perfect California weather was still better than being in humid VB, so I dragged my belongings to the back of the line. What other choice did I have?

“Escuse me, where you trying go?” It was a Mexican dude, middle-aged, decently dressed and looking only a little friendlier than a villain from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. I looked around and realized he was talking to me.

“Oceanside,” I said. I’d mailed my hundred-and-fifty dollar entry fee, so one way or another I was going to show up for my heat.

Hombre smiled and fingered the toothpick between his teeth. “I take you. Ten bucks.” I looked back at the line in front of me. It was longer than the one for Space Mountain at Disneyland up the road. Not only was he offering me a ride, but he was appealing to my thrifty nature.

A fairly close replica of The Bean Machine.

A fairly close replica of The Bean Machine.


Sold. He helped lug my boards to a nearby parking lot, while I considered how much smarter I was than all those bozos still standing in line. We finally stopped at a dull gray van, not a passenger van with rows and rows of seats like your typical airport shuttle, but a bonafide molester mobile.

“The back door no open,” he said. Sure enough, they appeared to be welded shut. He opened the side doors and told me, “We put boards troo here.” Whatever, I thought. At least I could sit up front and we’d be on our way, or so I thought. He pointed to a seat at the very back of the van. “You wait couple minute. I go get few more people.”

It wasn’t too late for me to run, or at least walk considering my heavy load. On the other hand, if he was going to harvest my organs or make me a sex slave he probably wouldn’t be going back for more victims. Silence of the Lambs wouldn’t come out until the following year, so the image of a dumb girl getting conked in the head and taken to an underground lair in a van much like this one wasn’t yet seared in my brain.

"Would you mind giving me a hand with this couch? What are you, about a size 14?"

“Would you mind giving me a hand with this couch? What are you, about a size 14?”


Sure enough, mi amigo returned, not with a few others but roughly a dozen, all Mexicans. They piled in through the side, gradually enclosing me in the way back beside the welded doors. Then, once we packed in like…well, like a van full of Mexicans, we were gone. I don’t know if the circus was in town, but if we’d pulled up in the middle of it and started to unload to raucous applause I wouldn’t have been surprised.

We dropped a few passengers off in a shady area of Santa Ana, but the rest I assumed were heading for Mexico. I started to doze off amid thoughts of waking up across the border and being forced to sell Chiclets to tourists when the van pulled up at Oceanside Pier. I handed the driver a ten, threw in a “Muchas gracias,” and hauled my stuff down the steps to the beach.

The sun was like a big Winchell’s donut on its way to dipping into the Pacific, and I plopped onto the bleachers that were freshly set up for the contest. Some fellow contestants were getting some waves before dark, but I didn’t feel safe leaving my posessions unattended. It was likely that I’d be snuggling inside my board bag in a few hours, so I didn’t want to risk someone making off with my accommodations.

I was beginning to scope out a camping spot when a familiar face came bobbing past. “Hey Jason, what are you up to?” It was an older guy from home who’d relocated here with his girlfriend.

“Aww you know, just hanging out.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Umm, not really sure.” (Feign puppy dog eyes here.)

“Well, we’re running down to the harbor and back. If you’re still here when we get back, we’ll see what we can do.”

If I’m still here. If they were coming back for me, not even Pamela Anderson bouncing up the sand in slow motion wearing her red Baywatch suit could’ve lured me from my position. For the next week, I surfed though a few heats, watched a lot of Wimbledon from the comfy futon at my friend’s house, and enjoyed many breakfasts cooked by his girlfriend. Through each delicious bite of omelet and Stefan Edberg serve-and-volley, I was learning a valuable lesson: Planning can ruin a great trip.

Before being attacked by plastic surgeons, C.J. Parker was among the top lifeguards in Orange County.

Before being attacked by plastic surgeons, C.J. Parker was among the top lifeguards in Orange County.

*Special thanks to Rich and Mary Brown for rescuing me. I still owe you.

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4 thoughts on “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Southern California

  1. I love the Winchells reference…growing up in so cal myself, it was a Sunday morning staple..in fact the Winchell family was from my home town there!

  2. A little tardy in replying. Been busy travelling . . . sleeping on friends couches.
    Glad to hear that you still owe me! I’d say, “give me a wave or two, the next time we surf together”, but that might be a quite a while. Rich B.

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