Shelton:Welcome to The Hotel California | View to the West
by Peter Shelton
Jul 29, 2007 | 427 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

“Well, it’s all right

Riding around in the breeze.

Well, it’s all right

If you live the life you please.”

– “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys

Cecily gave us the recently reissued Traveling Wilburys CD for our trip to California, and we listened to it up and down the coast. So many hum-able tunes from that serendipitous super group composed of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.

“End of the Line,” the last song on the original 1988 album, is a gentle, reaffirming folk-rocker with verses like: “Don’t have to be ashamed of the car I drive (at the end of the line)/I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive (at the end of the line)…I’m satisfied.”

But another meaning came to us one day as I was turning right off Santa Monica Boulevard and this platinum blonde in a jet-black Jaguar went ballistic behind us. I made my turn, and she went by pounding her horn, gesticulating wildly, howling in mysterious, perceived injury.

Ellen and I realized that Southern California is indeed the end of the line.  It is, of course, literally the edge of the continent, the end of the line as far as manifest destiny goes.  People are crammed up against this shore as if the ocean had a kind of gravity of its own, which in a way, I guess it has.

It’s also the end of the line for the oil age. An exploding nebula of asphalt and concrete, of shiny, shameless, superexpensive new cars: Beamers, Audis, Mercedes, Porches, Lexi – you name it.  In Southern California, more than anyplace else, you are what you drive.

It is the end of the line (or the beginning, if you are from Hollywood) for fashion and fame. The cutting edge of perfect teeth, perfect hype, perfect boobs leading the perfect life. It’s a little disconcerting to see drivers staring at their laps, text-messaging while tailgating at 75 mph on the 405.

Can’t go no further, or faster; this place is the final destination for American consumer culture. As it was the end of patience, apparently, for Jaguar Woman stuck behind some rube from Colorado who was not on pace to make lunch at Spago.

I lived for 10 years, from age eight to 18, in a house just back from the sea cliff in Corona del Mar. Our house was one of three brown-shingled bungalows built on the bluff in the first years of the 20th century. Gradually, Ocean Boulevard and the sandy side streets filled in with similarly modest beach cottages. It was a fabulous place to grow up, with a view (when it was clear) of Catalina Island, and the sand and waves a short walk away.

E and I drove by the old place on our way through and were re-reminded about end-of-the-line real estate. My parents stretched to buy our house for $30,000 (I think it was) in 1956.  Nowadays, someone said, the lot alone is worth more than $5 million.  A house down the road sold recently for $20 million. I’m sorry to say the folks sold out in the 1970s before the big dollars swept in.

Our place looked like a shack next to its neighbors. The current owners, who for years parked a Corvette with flat tires in the driveway, have held out for some reason. On one side sits a faux-Italian palace, lot-line to lot-line, back alley to sidewalk, as if yards were for children and Ocean Boulevard were a canal in Venice.

The other side is even grosser. Someone razed dear old Mrs. Burton’s redwood bower (and her eucalyptus trees and her gardens) and replaced them with a wall-to-wall, green-glass fishbowl, 30 feet high and 100 feet across the front so that, presumably, we can all appreciate the quality of the stemware sitting on the grand piano. These things seem to be important at the end of the line.

The one thing that hadn’t changed was the ocean. Dad and I stood in the waves at the beach below the brown house, and although at 83 he decided against body surfing, we let the warm water support us and talked and stared at a timeless blue horizon. It was paradise. It was the reason everyone wants to be here.

E and I timed our SoCal exit for midday so that we’d have the least freeway traffic.  Although my mother warned us that something called the “lunch crunch” now had to be dealt with.  It was a Friday, and we were doing well riding the 133 to the 5, the 5 to the 55, the 55 to the 91, the 91 to the 15.  Traffic was not what a Coloradoan would consider light—the whole swirling mass of steel and glass hurtling along at 70 mph plus – but it wasn’t bad. 

North of San Bernardino, Cajon Pass marks the edge of the basin, the beginning of the desert, and escape. But then the roaring four-lane snake came to a stop. “Oh, no!” Ellen cried. “It’s like ‘Hotel California’: ‘You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave.’”

Once we got past the wreck – a mini van with flames shooting out of its hood – we punched up the Traveling Wilburys and “End of the Line.”


“Maybe somewhere down the road a ways (at the end of the line)

You’ll think of me and wonder where I am these days (at the end of the line)

Maybe down the road when somebody plays

‘Purple Haze.’”

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