27 October – End of the journey.

As the future through SpaceX fades into the haze behind us, we return to the present and are heading for Houston.  An early start will give us an opportunity to visit the city of Corpus Christi, specifically to see the USS Lexington (CV-16) which is a museum ship anchored there.

USS Lexington (CV-16) ready to set sail.

USS Lexington (CV-16) is an Essex class aircraft carrier laid down in July 1941 originally to be called USS Cabot. Following the scuttling of USS Lexington (CV-2) after the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, workers at the dockyard, which built both ships, requested a name change.

The USS Lexington, (CV-16) reportedly nicknamed “The Blue Ghost” by Japanese propagandist “Tokyo Rose” perhaps because the Japanese claimed to have sunk her four times went on to serve in the US Navy in the Pacific from 1943 to 1945.  Moved to reserve in 1946 she was modernised with steam catapults and an angled flight deck in the 1950’s.  She did not see action in either the Korean or Vietnam wars but became a training carrier in the 1960’s, a role she continued to do until retired in the early 1990’s.

The flight deck seems huge when you are close up
Looking aft of the island on the USS Lexington (CV-16)

The ship is maintained by volunteers who are working to make more areas of the ship accessible to the public through guided tours that last for 3-4 hours and take one into the heart of the ship.  While it seems there is quite a crew, the workload must be enormous. I would not want to be on the painting detail.

As one stands on the deck of the USS Lexington surrounded by jets from the modern era it is hard to imagine that the ship had been in service for almost 50 years starting with propeller driven aircraft through to the supersonic jet age. For those fans of the original 1986 movie “Top Gun” the F14A, serial number 160694, was the aircraft “flown” by Maverick (Tom Cruise).  The F14 looks as if it is ready to be catapulted into action sitting on one of the forward catapult positions on the flight deck.

F14A used in movie “Top Gun” on the flight deck.

We are lucky that not only have friends from Fort Worth who moved to Houston since the last time we saw them, but other friends who retired to Costa Rica are in town.  We can catch up everyone in one location.  If only all our friends were so considerate rather than scatter themselves all over the globe, it would make travelling so much easier just one location to visit.  Just kidding!

Sadly COVID still had a way of affecting our plans. Pam our friend went down with COVID the day we arrived!  We still caught up with Bob a couple of times and enjoyed his generous hospitality.  Pam, we will see you next time we are heading that way.

The rest of our friends were COVID free and we had a wonderful couple of days catching up, relaxing with them and enjoying their hospitality. At one restaurant we experienced a truly American experience.  After dinner we went to the bar area to watch the end of the Houston Oilers / New York Yankees game for the American League Championship.  Houston went on the win that night, took the series and the World Series shortly afterwards. A great year for them.

Great to catch up with dear friends in Houston

Sadly, we had to return our bright red Dodge Challenger after two and a half weeks on the road. It has been fun and we have covered some 3,600 ml. / 5,800 km and turned a new car into a well used car! Onward to Los Angeles.

On the beach in Corpus Christi.

As we trudge through the Hertz car lot at LAX, I see we have been upgraded to President’s Circle.  A new experience.  A vast array of cars greets us.  We can choose anyone.  Oh I cannot help myself: there is a gleaming white Ford Mustang convertible.  No, the luggage does not fit as well as the Dodge Challenger but we get it all in: Road Trip part 2…..

Back in sports car mode. Last day on the beach in LA.

We are heading north to Buellton in Southern California, where a long time friend Charlie lives.  We have not seen him for many years so not only is it a chance to catch up but we will also be spending a couple of days wine tasting and dining out together.

An hour north of Buellton is Paso Robles, the centre of a wine region that has been producing since the Spanish introduced grapes to the region around 1800.  Today over 200 smaller wineries are known for their production of high quality wines.  With Charlie we have an expert on local wineries, but only time to sample a fraction of the fine offerings.  Over 2 days we visited wineries including Rocky Creek and Aaron Wines.  Because they are smaller wineries, producing a few thousand not tens of thousands of cases of wine a year we were able to converse with the owners/winemakers themselves including John Somogyi at Rocky Creek Cellars and Vailia From at Desparada.  We also got to be shown the process of removing mouldy grapes at Aaron Wines which is done by hand and via a centrifuge.  All in all a great couple of days 

Great to be hiking with Charlie again
Turley vines dating back to late 1800s
Removing grapes with mould by hand and machine at Aaron wines.

Halloween at the end of October, as many would know, is big in the USA.  While we have seen many ghoulishly decorated homes along the way including the one below, we have never been to a pumpkin farm.  So with Charlie it was a first.  I am not sure how one moves some of the larger pumpkins, by crane?

Now which pumpkin should I choose?
Our hotel receptionist’s halloween nails in Paso Robles
Halloween decorations at Manhattan Beach, CA
Creepy people around Manhattan Beach LA.

Leaving  Charlie and Paso Robles behind we head east in a loop back to Los Angles.  We pass Maricopa on Highway 166, following a scenic drive from Santa Maria, we come across nodding donkeys working steadily still, pumping oil. It is easy to forget, with the move to renewables being led by States such as California, that there is a history of oil production in Southern California. This can be traced back over 130 years with some of the first wells in the Los Angles basin close to the coast. I believe only one well in this region is still producing today. 

Nodding donkeys working outside Maricopa, CA

Vasquez Rocks, off State Route 14, has been the setting for movies and TV shows since the 1930’s. I recall the location used in a number of Star Trek episodes but scenes in over 50 movies as diverse as “Apache” (1954), “The Muppet Movie” (1979), “Planet of the Apes” (2001) have been filmed there as well as numerous TV shows.  While the location is stunning, it seems the main reason it was chosen was because it was close enough to Hollywood not to require overtime payments to movie staff for travelling beyond a certain distance.

Vasquez rocks, remember the movies you have seen them in?
We are heading home tomorrow.

In a past life, I used to return from San Francisco to Brisbane via the midnight night flight from Los Angeles International (LAX).  This gave me a six hour layover and rather than sit in the airline lounge, I used to take a taxi to Manhattan Beach south of the airport and find a friendly bar to enjoy the sunset over the Pacific Ocean with a cold beer in hand.

Finally after decades of midnight departures with 14 hours flying to arrive back in Brisbane at the break of dawn, we have a sensible departure time:  we have a morning departure.  Since we had arrived back in Los Angeles at lunchtime, I decided we should head to back Manhattan Beach.  After a leisurely lunch looking over the Pacific Ocean, we took a last stroll down to the Pier and found my old bar. Fond memories.

Tomorrow we will be looking at the Pacific Ocean from the other side!

We descend back into Brisbane three and a half months after we left.  So great to catch up with family and friends, old and new.  We have had many new experiences as well. Thanks to all who made the journey so memorable.

Anthony and Anne

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