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I love Bill Bryson. I really do. I read his first book, The Lost Continent, back in the mid-90s (I could actually tell you the month and year if I felt like it, I’m my Father’s son). It’s his story of driving round the US in his Mum’s car and I thought it was fantastic. Not only does it contain the funniest line ever written (he’s driving through the Bible Belt and sees a sign saying “Jesus is the Answer”, the question being “What do you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer?”. I’m laughing as I write this), but it’s about a roadtrip and I’ve always liked the thought of a big US Roadtrip.
Dear old Bill sprang into my mind as I drove through California on a little roadtrip of my own. After a couple of hours of Freeway monotony, I left the US-101 at San Luis Obispo and joined Route 1, the Pacific Coastal Highway. 5 minutes later I passed a sign saying “California Men’s Colony 1 Mile” which intrigued me to say the least. I had no idea what a Men’s Colony could be. Images of naked, greased, firm bodies glistening in the California sunshine performing a synchronised dance to The Village People filled my head. Which was a little disturbing I have to admit.
As I passed the 1/2 mile sign, I thought to myself, Bill Bryson wouldn’t pass this place without seeing what it was, and nor shall I! So I swerved across 4 lanes of traffic to join the right hand lane to turn at the lights, full of the spirit of journalistic inquiry.
So needless to say I was a little bit taken aback to be stopped by an armed guard after a few hundred yards and told, politely yet firmly, that unless I was visiting a prisoner I would not be able to progress any further.
You gotta love this country, they don’t even call prisons prisons. Nope, it’s a colony. I couldn’t believe it. The guy with gun didn’t look too much in the mood to chat, so I didn’t pick him up on this or ask him about The Village People dance (which would have been a fun conversation), simply apologised profusely, did a u-turn and went on my way, all journalistic enthuisasm crushed.