California Wide Awaking: What If Life Was Always Like This?

California and Scotland are different. We’re used to Scotland – and love it – and are quickly and oh-so easily getting used to the delights of California too.

But as our journey with ‘The Man Who Planted Trees‘ has taken us from Montalvo down the coast to Costa Mesa in Orange County I’ve been wondering what it would be like if some of the features we’re coming across were part of everyday life in the UK.

1) What if you got to see sunsets like this at Carmel by the Sea EVERY night?

Carmel by the Sea is the zipcode with the (I think) 12th highest property values in the USA. It’s the place where Clint Eastwood has been mayor and where the world-famous Pebble Beach golf course is. Its broad, pine-lined streets are full of pretty houses – some of them massive and facing out to the Pacific Ocean where, from their deck, balconies, and well-watered lawns they can enjoy beautiful sunsets with mind-boggling regularity. But let’s face it, you don’t need a multi-million dollar property portfolio to enjoy a good sunset. They just help frame them for your convenience. Unframed sunsets that may require the inconvenience of a stroll down the street to a vaguely west-facing vista are available to all of us.

Carmel by the Sea at Sunset

2) What if EVERY road trip was as stunning as Highway 1?

If you are on the road, checking out of one hotel and then making your way to one that gets you halfway towards your next engagement, it’s an unwelcome setback to discover – once you’re a couple of hours from the last hotel – that you’ve left your laptop behind. UNLESS … you’ve been travelling down an open road hugging the most stunning coastline in the world on a lovely sunny day in low season. THAT is the IDEAL time to have to go back, view it all from a different angle. All 30 miles of it. What? Only 30? We must have pulled over more times than we thought for pictures of gloriously roaring bays of turquoise and white foam.

And with the goods duly recovered from the lobby of a very decent Best Western Hotel, it’s time to see Highway 1 heading south again. This time, though, with a more chilled-out attitude and a broader sweep of each view that looms round each winding corner.

Rick and Elspeth as passengers specialised in synchronised ‘Wow!’s while Richard did a superb job at the wheel.

Highway 1
One of many wow-worthy views on Highway 1

3) What if we ate Solvang style Danish pastries every morning for breakfast?

Our friend Lizi Fraser told us about Solvang and, since it sounded quirky and sits at a handy travelling distance between Carmel by the Sea and Costa Mesa, we spent the night there. Not at The Royal Scandinavian Inn that had been recommended to us, but at the more budget-end of things The Royal Copenhagen Inn. Does it sound like there’s a theme developing here? Solvang is kind of a Danish theme park. Not ‘Danish’ as in icons of groovy 20th Century design but an olde-worlde Denmark. Statues of Hans Christian Andersen. Wooden facades. Windmills. Life-size wooden soldiers in sentry boxes guarding hotel lobbies. And for breakfast – what else but Danish pastries? Well, nothing else. Apart from coffee. They are delicious. BUT – as John Shuttleworth says “One cup of tea is never enough but two is one too many” – two Danish pastries is a devilish tempting way to start the day. And would eventually tip one too far in the direction of over-largeness. Which is why I’ve been embracing the fruit option at every opportunity since then.

Totally typical of 1976 Danish architecture. In Solvang.

4) What if ALL perfoming arts venues had such awesome quality sound and light equipment as the Samueli Theater at the Orange County Performing Arts Center?

I’ve ended up as touring Stage Manager with Puppet State Theatre Company kind of by accident. Back in 2006 in the very early days (we thought they might be the only days) of The Man Who Planted Trees, I agreed to help ‘do the lights and sound’ for a school show in Portobello, Edinburgh. The delightful Barney Strachan who put together our bee-loud soundscape showed me the ropes – how to keep your cables tidy and always to cue up the next track carefully. Little did I know that I’d end up as almost a full-time theatre tech gal. Able to hold my own with the techiest of the techs in discussions about radio mic compression and (of course) gaffa tape. And drooling over lighting desks.

Oh but who wouldn’t marvel at the ability to change the position and focus of lights that are higher than any ladder you’ve got and to switch their gobos (the thingies in stage lights that make patterned shadows) and their colours at the mere push of a few buttons, the stroke of a rainbow-coloured touch-screen or by gently twirling a few dainty little dials?

How groovy is our lighting desk, an ETC eos

Mark at our venue was super-professional – not only quickly ‘getting’ how I wanted the set to be lit but making it happen very smoothly. He also let me in on some of the secrets of the desk. Willingness to demystify. I like that in a house technician. Rather than the hands-off-it’s-mine attitude one sometimes meets. I’m not really qualified to be hopping up and down ladders or those telescopic things BUT heck with lighting set-ups like this, I wouldn’t ever need to be.

And here’s a big-up for John who has been making sure the radio mics that Richard and Rick have been using in this bigger-than-we’re-used-to venue sound just like they’re not using them at all. Way to go for discreet, un-noticeable technology. Making your theatrical experience all about the story, not the special effects!

5) What if real people’s eyebrows were as liable to fall off as Dog’s are?

Oops my eyebrows fell off!

That’s just one to ponder in your own time.