Gilbertine & the Exchange (Volume One), Chapter 3, Part 1, “First Letter ‘Home,'” 12 June 1964

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Hi Stan (& Rashmi) –

Hi Ian (& Jenny, if you’re staying over the summer) –

Hi Dex –

Greetings from Gas Hills, on the outskirts of Valle Linda, California, USA.

The place really is rather lovely, despite the name – which is more than you can say for quite a number of places here in Southern California.

Another scorcher – maybe over 100° Fahrenheit before the day is out – with enough smog to choke a horse. Sitting in my room in T-shirt and bermudas, barefoot. No air conditioning, but the house does come with a mamoth swamp cooler, and vents in each room. Knocks the heat down 15-20° Fahrenheit, so it’s not too bad, except for the rare humid days – then it’s useless.

It’s late morning, & the cooler’s already on. I’ve just closed my bedroom window all but a crack, pulled the shade and drawn the drapes to keep the sun from roasting me alive in here. We’ve ordered air conditioning installation, but there’s a waiting list a mile long, and I don’t know when – or if – they’ll get to us.

I know I’ve made the place sound like Mordor with palm trees, but it really is lovely – I guess you’d have to be here to really understand.

I’ve got 1110 KRLA (or “Radio Los Ageles” as it sometimes calls itself) running in the background on my transistor (English electronica doesn’t work on US current, so it’s all I have just now). It’s one of five rock radio stations you can get here with varying degrees of clarity. KRLA broadcasts from an old hotel in Pasadena, about half an hour’s drive north by northeast of LA, but its signal is strong and clear enough to cover all of LA county, and most of Orange County to the south.

It has, by far, the most UK rock, though I have doubts about its claim to being LA’s official Beatles station.

Except for Beatles records, there seems to be, on average, a three-month delay between the time when a British record hits in the UK and when it hits here, so, for the most part, I’m listening to Radio Caroline from last March (except for Beatles and American records, of course). Oh well, at least I didn’t miss too much while I was away.

Its morning DJ, ‘Emperor Hudson’, claims to rule Los Angeles, and has a group of followers called ‘Hudson’s Commandos.’ He has them engage in missions like covering San Francisco in water and turning it into the world’s largest ice skating rink or straightening out Sunset Boulevard (the winding street Jan & Dean on ‘Dead Man’s Curve’) and creating world’s longest bowling alley.

The station building supposedly wears a Beatle wig with a tendency to catch low-flying aircraft. Not quite Radio Sutch then, Stan and Ian, , but it’s loopy enough, great for a giggle — and a perfect background for writing letters (yes, I’ve been listening to the tapes of Radio Sutch broadcasts you two made and sent me – thank heaven for the diminutive battery-powered tape recorder Grammer gave me – I’ll make you some tapes of KRLA).

Did you get my postcards? Had quite an excursion when we first arrived – think Mum & Dad wanted me gone while the movers set everything up. Don’t think we were over jet lag when we flew up to Seattle, Washington, spent two days there, then crossed the border and drove east to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s up in the trees, but the place has a Wild West kind of attitude.

Met my Uncle Bertie & Aunt Trudy, and my Canadian cousins, Tina, who’s 10, Katie, who’s 8, and Collin, who’s 6. They’re the ones with me in the photo I’m enclosing, Collin and Katie are sitting on my lap, Tina’s cuddling beside me. I think Collin looks at me the way I used to regard Uncle Roddy – the only older person, teen or adult, who understands where kids are at. Tina thinks I’m the coolest thing in the world because I have long hair and can sing Beatle songs while accompanying myself on Gramfer’s guitar (I don’t think my “English accent” hurts). Not quite sure where I stand with Katie, but she’s friendly enough, so I guess it’s OK.

Did some of Grammer’s Welsh songs, too, which Uncle Bertie liked a great deal. The only awkward moment came when Uncle Bertie & Aunt Trudy saw the inscription Rashmi burned into the guitar. They got quiet a while when I told them the story, and showed them a photo with Rashmi and me together, but then they livened up again so I think they were alright with it.

From there, we went to Yellowstone Park for three days, a Shakespearean Festival in Ashland, Oregon for an extended weekendnd, and 10 days in Big Sur and Yosemite.

 

Then it was a mad 11 days in Arizona, starting with the Grand Canyon,

 

then Kingman, where the Wild West never left, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.

Only slightly sour note was Las Vegas, even there, we got to meet up with Auntie Gene, whose firm had a client performing for the first time, and had sent Auntie Gene along to hold her hand. She got Mum & Dad tix to the show, but security wouldn’t let me go. She threw a barkeep $20 to keep me in snacks, 7up and syrup and another $20 to look the other way while I played the Scopitone in the bar.

Pretty cool device, actually. It’s like a table jukebox, but instead of a record, it plays a 16mm sound film of the performer doing the song.

She says they’re all over London, but I’ve never seen one in Brum – have you? Who knows, maybe they’ll be playing Scopitones on tv instead of phonograph records.

You never know.

She took Mum, Dad & me backstage after the show, and the four of them ended up going out, while I spent a night in the motel room watching tv (not too bad really, at least the room was air conditioned, and had snacks, colour tv and access to all three (count ‘em, three) main tv networks in the US).

 

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