Continued from The Arrival
Right after our protein-rich American breakfast, we picked up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle to scour the classifieds in search of the perfect vehicle. Our knowledge of American cars was pretty much confined to what we had seen on TV and on the silver screen: Steve McQueen’s Mustang and Michael Douglas’s Ford Galaxie. But we knew American cars came in two sizes: huge and huger. We needed something in the "huger" category to transport seven passengers, suitcases, tents, and sleeping bags. We zeroed in on station wagons priced at $1000 or less and found two candidates. We split up: Fred and Jean-Marc took BART to check on the two leads, the rest of us stayed in Oakland to kick tires at used car lots on Auto Row. We would rendezvous at the end of the day at the Hilton where our first night was comped.
First off, we hunted down a Western Union office to send telegrams (telegrams!) to our families. We could find public pay phones at every street corner but they were not a good option because of the amount of change required for international calls. The nine hours of décalage horaire didn’t help either. Then we walked up and down Broadway in search of a suitable car. Dismal results. After several hours spent trekking in the sun and fighting sleepiness, we only had one viable prospect: a mustard yellow Ford Torino with 135,000 miles on the odometer and a price tag of $1200. We hoped Jean-Marc and Fred had better luck. Alas, they came back bredouille as well: the first car had already been sold by the time they got to that address; the second one, all the way south in Daly City, turned out to be a tas de ferraille.
We comforted ourselves with a meal of Big Macs, French fries and chocolate shakes. In our book, this was quite a treat: there were only two McDonalds in Paris in 1977 (or in France, for that matter) and eating at a fast food joint was borderline elitist. In retrospect, it sounds very weird. Summarizing our day, we realized that intellectual knowledge and life experience are two sides of a coin. Our tired feet confirmed what our foggy brains had known for some time: European cities are dense, American ones are spread out. Utterly exhausted, we retired for the evening with the assurance that tomorrow would be another day: we were in America and Scarlet had said so.
The next morning, we quickly gulped down a Continental breakfast. We knew we would have to check out soon and it would be impossible to go car hunting with all our luggage: we agreed to bust the budget and buy the Torino. After a bit of negotiation, we shook hands with the dealer for $1150 and a spare tire. Traveler's checks (traveler's checks!) were signed and I was now the proud owner of one seventh of a car, my first car. Set up with our own wheels, camping gear, and a brand new copy of the Guide du Routard, we felt free, independent, and confident. We were looking forward to the most excellent adventures. They started that very night when we camped in the hills of Berkeley.
Continues at Modesto, First Look
Le décalage horaire: time difference
Bredouille: empty handed
Le tas de ferraille: scrapheap, lit. a pile of scrap iron
Le Guide du Routard: The Rough Guide (at that time, the Rough Guides were quite a bit “rougher” than their current edition. They were the hitchhiker and backpacker’s bible and promoted traveling on a dime.)
Continued from The Arrival