Your Holiday Disaster: Six weeks in LA - a dream, but for Gordon Coxhill, it turned into a B-movie nightmare

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The Independent Travel
WE THOUGHT we'd done well. We pulled in at this bungalow-style hotel on North Highland Avenue late in the evening and asked for the nightly rate. When we enquired about weekly terms, a slight raising of the eyebrows threatened momentarily to disturb the guy's Californian cool. And by the time we'd zapped him with the news that we were staying for six weeks, it almost turned out he owed us money.

So, we checked into our LA poolside cabin and fell asleep to dream of eggs-over-easy and sourdough bread.

Mistake. We woke to the fierce smell of enchilada, refried beans and diesel, and a noise that had us thinking San Andreas had finally got fed up being blamed for everything and had cracked open. Yep, we had booked ourselves into a Mexican truckers' stopover. For six weeks. And paid in advance.

The next night, we were just about to turn out the light when the door splintered like so much matchwood and through the frame lumbered a refugee from some Neanderthal version of Gladiators.

He stood there, wild-eyed, lank hair flowing out behind him, skinny bare arms flailing, looking down at my terrified companion who had pulled the sheet up as far as her eyes. "Rita! Rita!" he exclaimed through what rotten teeth were left in his blood-specked gums. I'd have been even more anxious if this drug-crazed buffoon had recognised my girlfriend by her eyebrows, but her name was Pamela. Not quite enervated by fear and emboldened by anger, I shoulder-charged him back through the hole in the door, picking up the phone at the same time.

"Cabin 8. A man-mountain has just walked in through the door. Which was closed. Can you come over and escort him off the premises?"

"Listen Mac, if I threw out every junkie in the place, I wouldn't have any customers left. Have a nice night."

By day, we explored Los Angeles with downcast eyes. We were so scared of meeting up with our wild man again, we thought of throwing in our lot with a Mexican trucker heading south. By night, we sat and quivered behind our patched-up door. But a fortnight later, we had got so used to police sirens and shotgun blasts that they barely disturbed our 4am viewing of an I Love Lucy rerun.

We had to deliver a letter for an English friend. When we arrived, a party was in full swing. I went into the kitchen for a beer and found an eightysomething granny rolling a joint. She offered me the makings which I politely refused. "Hey man, what's your problem? This is good grass." I thought of my own grandmother in Dunoon where good grass stays in the garden and joints come from the Co-op.

On the last night, we returned the hire car and sat in the bar at the airport Holiday Inn. It was curiously antiseptic. Triple-glazing meant we could hear no sounds of life, let alone death. We were already feeling nostalgic for our fiery breakfast washed down with ice-cold beer.