Las Vegas faded away in our wing mirror and the desert engulfed us once more. We all had a jaded feeling that can only be achieved by spending two nights in that silly place, so we decided to stop for breakfast to re-energise and work out the way to California. Just off the highway we found a Denny's in a place called Buffalo Bill's which appeared to be an indoor theme park, however on closer inspection it was basically a casino with a stream running through it. And a Denny's. They do a deal where you pay $4 and get unlimited pancakes, and I thought to myself, "That'll do me just fine". We rejoined the highway and almost immediately entered California - our 19th and final state. And for the first time in our holiday we were going to see some family.
Our nan's sister, Joy, moved from England to Canada in the 1950s before settling in California, where her two sons, Roger and Trevor, and their families live. Our knowledge of the intricacies of naming family relationships is shady when it comes to cousins, but Roger and Trevor are our Mum's cousins and therefore our second cousins once removed, or something. Who knows. We've seen them intermittently over our lives and we couldn't wait to see them again.
We arrived at Trevor's place in the desert town of Lancaster, where we were greeted by Lynda, Trevor's wife, and she welcomed all three of us (Iain gracefully assuming the role of a surrogate family member) into their large open plan kitchen area towards an array of further cousins. We sat outside in the sunshine by the pool catching up with each other and eating delicious food. As the sun disappeared behind the trees Trevor decided we should go to a bar but not before stopping off at a cigar shop. We were soon sat outside in what was described as the one buzzing street in Lancaster. We spent a couple of hours chatting to everyone and smoking our cigars, and as I looked around I realised that even though they could be described as distant relatives, they felt like real family to me. The previous three weeks suddenly felt as though they were leading to this point - on the west coast of America we felt like we were home. And what a place to be able to call home.
Trevor took us three and another cousin, John, to a sports bar with sawdust on the floor and goblet-shaped pint glasses that had been kept in the freezer and had a layer of frost on them. If you placed your tongue on the surface, it would stick there until a fireman came and freed you. We have been constantly impressed with Americans' devotion to ice. I'd think nothing of sipping a warm bottle of Stella but if an American saw you doing it, they'd say you were a bit weird. We drank another couple of beers and scoffed monkey nuts, before getting back in the car as Trevor drove us back to his with all the windows down and as the the cooling California evening air hit us, we couldn't stop smiling.
In the morning we said our goodbyes to Trevor and Linda and got in the car and began driving towards Hollywood. Just outside LA, we decided to stop for an In-N-Out Burger and get some wifi to work out a route. As I got out the driver's seat, I saw Barney already talking to a lady who was very excited to see a New Jersey number plate all the way over in the Golden State.
"Oh my God, New Jersey! You've come a long way!" Her eyes were wide with wonder.
"Yes, but actually we flew from London, so we've come even further," Barney replied.
"London?! Oh my God!"
"We're going to Hollywood now," I said.
"Wow! Hollywood! And you're going to walk on the sidewalk, and see all the stars on the walk of fame??"
"Oh my god! That's wonderful!"
Either she was being incredibly patronising, or she was the most enthusiastic person any of us have ever met. Fortunately it was clear it was the latter. Her name was Linda and had lived her whole life nearby in the San Fernando Valley. She had been on a trip to Europe in the past, so it was not as if she'd never seen another human being before. She was simply a lovely woman, pleased to hear about other people's endeavours.
We finally arrived on Hollywood Boulevard having experienced a crash course in the fresh hell that is the LA road network. We strolled along the Walk of Fame admiring the great actors - James Stewart, Carey Grant, Nicholas Cage. We stopped in the historic Musso and Frank's Grill for a drink in the same seats that had once sat the great actors, writers and producers of Hollywood - Chaplin, Fitzgerald, Hemingway had all gone there for a club sandwich and a think at some point.
An hour later we had arrived at Roger's house in Lakewood where he greeted us with his wife, Linda, (clearly a popular name). He took us through to his bar where he poured us each a beer and excitedly led us outside to where he kept his white homing pigeons. He is retired now, but makes a bit of money hiring them out at wedding and funerals for fifty bucks a bird. After watching them circle the house a few times, it was time for us to leave as we were meeting their daughter (and our cousin) Kelly, her husband Chris and their two sons, Jack and Mason, for dinner in Huntington Beach.
Within a few minutes of the meal, we were getting on so well we had made plans to stay in the area three days longer than we originally thought. Barney would get his haircut by Chris in their salon on Friday and we'd play golf with him on Saturday morning.
"Where's good to go out round here then?" Barney asked Kelly.
"Well... Newport Beach has lots of bars... when are you thinking of going out"? Kelly replied.
"You want to meet some girls? I'll come out with you! I'll bring along some girls from the salon."
Barney and Iain looked very excited.
The next day Roger had been out and bought a box of a dozen donuts for our breakfast, and we spent the morning in and out of the pool. I bounced up and down on the diving board and when I decided to go for it, time stood still. As I reached the peak of my trajectory I remembered I didn't have the slightest idea how to dive. With my arms and legs flapping like a cartoon character who has just ran off a cliff, I had to relinquish my powers over to gravity. As I belly flopped onto the water I managed the remarkable feat of slapping both my eyeballs and testicles onto the surface at precisely the same time.
We had lunch in Venice Beach, and lay on the sand with the Pacific Ocean crashing in front of us. Over three weeks we had flown over the Atlantic, bathed in the Mexican Gulf and now we were finally able to wade into the powerful surfing waves of the largest ocean in the world. With the mixture of sea, sand and the welcoming family in the area it seemed like we were having a holiday from our holiday.
We met up with Kelly at her home in Huntington Beach and we quickly dusted the sand out of our hair and she ordered a taxi into Newport. We went into a bar named Cassidy's, and we drank beers at the bar. Barney went to the loo and made his way to the bathroom which for some reason had no urinals in it. He waited outside a cubicle for a while and when one opened he was faced with a very short person, tattooed with short hair. It is important to note here that although you and your faithful narrator have already worked out what has happened here, Barney still was none the wiser as to the gender of this human. He simply continued to stand there. Within milli-seconds the lady had shouted, "OUT! OUT!". When Barney remained, confused, her alert level was raised and she began to high-kick, Street Fighter-style. With a roundhouse kick he was forced back into the main room of the bar, and as he returned back to us with his toilet mission a complete failure he heard the phrase from behind him, "f***ing Limey bastard".
For his safety we thought we'd move on, and we walked a few steps up to a place called American Junkies, where the bouncer promised us that the crowd inside was "building". We went through and up the stairs where there was indeed a compact group of revellers. Immediately our eyes were collectively caught by a woman at the far end with a body part that baffled us.
"Oh my God, look at her butt!" Kelly said.
She had bleached blonde hair and was very slim, but the odd thing was that she had a huge backside.
"Maybe she's had plastic surgery in her arse," Iain said.
"No, that's bollocks," said Barney.
"No, it's definitely her arse."
"I'm going over to ask her," said Kelly, and before we could stop her she had already walked over and had started talking to her.
After a couple of minutes, Kelly beckoned us over to meet her new friend. We introduced ourselves and when I asked her name she said her name was Jenna. We chatted to her for a while about our trip and learnt that she was from Las Vegas originally. She was slightly erratic but good company nonetheless. She ducked down several times to avoid someone she didn't want to see, but we took that to be a normal trait of a California party girl-type.
We were talking for about ten minutes when it happened. There was something she did, a certain tilt of the head, a wink, a glance, that stirred a memory within me... I searched inside my mind. I knew this person. I mean, I KNOW her.
My mate Billy Yates once started chatting animatedly with a man he believed he knew intimately for several minutes, before realising he didn't know him personally at all - it was the actor who played Sanjay from Eastenders.
I thought I would test the waters - she hadn't yet said what she does for a living.
"What do you do?," I asked. She stared back at me. "...as a job...?" I added.
"I worked for a while, but now I'm retired." It was enough to go on. The conversation winded down and I was left with just Barney and Iain.
They didn't seem to have the same inkling as me, just that they had spent ten minutes in the company of a slightly strange girl.
"Do you know who that was?" I asked.
That question seemed to trigger something in Barney. He had been unaware up until now, yet this one question, with the allusion that she was someone that he might know, was the straw on the camel's back. Now he knew, too.
We had just spent fifteen minutes obliviously chatting to Jenna Jameson.
We stayed in the bar until it closed, and found out later that Jenna's secret to that massive bottom is to pound the stairs with lots of heavy belts on. However as Barney pointed out, surely that would just squash it down and poke it out a bit. But who are we to argue. I'm off to write a postcard to my 14 year old self to let him know his dreams will come true.
If you're not sure who she is (Mum), google her. Actually, don't google her (but if you do, make sure you do it on private browsing).