Sunday, May 20th
I have a bag of organic apples from Whole Foods. I know I'm not supposed to bring fruit into California, so I eat as many as I can - but I'm stuffed and I still have two left as I approach the border. Am I supposed to throw them out? Surely not onto the freeway - that would be littering, wouldn't it? But they are fully degradable organic material.
I am clueless as I drive up to the inspection officer. I look for bins to throw them into before I reach him, but there's nothing. Honesty is the only option. I hold out the plastic bag containing the remaining two apples. He inspects it.
"These are from Washington. You can keep these, sir."
I stuffed myself full of apples for nothing.
The Southern California desert is a magnificently rocky, alien landscape. I'm listening to an audiobook, The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship, by Don Miguel Ruiz - read by Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. (I put the woman's name first, because I'm a feminist. Maclean's magazine recently described me as ... you're bored of this joke, aren't you?) If I ever have another relationship, this wisdom will be very useful. But right now, that feels like a very big "if."
San Diego is my first destination. The center of La Jolla looks utterly pretentious and sterile - the local Rodeo Drive, obviously. I end up in Del Mar, which is delightful, and write my Huffington Post blog in Starbucks. I have a long conversation about writing and relationships with a woman named Kerry, who is writing a book, and I tell her the story of my getting published journey. Then it's Red Lobster for dinner, and finally I drive all the way to Pasadena, locate Vroman's Bookstore, where my event will be, and check into the nearby Hilton hotel.
Monday, May 21st
I drop into Vroman's a little while before my talk. I'm wearing shorts, a tee-shirt and sandals. Connie, the events manager, persuades me not to bother to change, citing that "This is L.A."
She also rather ominously tells me that tonight will be a difficult one to draw a big crowd, because it's the final of Dancing With The Stars, and also the Lakers are playing, apparently.
I feel rather deliciously guilty giving another talk casually dressed (just like the last one in Tucson, Arizona). Just my luck that it's the final of Dancing With The Stars AND the Lakers are giving a concert.
But there is an audience, and they are appreciative. Being in shorts and a tee-shirt and sandals seems to give me more energy for my stage performance.
Tuesday, May 22nd
This is a day off and it's a beautiful day. I go for a walk around a residential area of Pasadena, close to the bridge. There are many lovely homes, with delightful and absolutely perfect, immaculate English-style front gardens. Each is embellished with a security sign promising "Armed Response." So there's tension in Paradise, it seems.
I return to Vroman's in the evening, because a modern-day motorcycle-riding Buddhist monk is giving a talk. He has a big turnout. Connie introduces me to a group of people who meant to come to my talk, but got the date wrong. Man, this is so not fair! The Buddhist got my audience, and he wouldn't care anyway - he has detachment. There could be no one there and it wouldn't bother him. But it bothers me, and I lost some of my audience... oh wait ... I get it ...
Wednesday, May 23rd
The hotel porter helping me with my luggage asks me where I'm going. I tell him "San Francisco" and he advises me not to try to out-run the California Highway Patrol. He tried it at 120 mph and they still caught him.
That's ridiculous! I would never try to do such a thing. I have the greatest respect for the CHP. I used to love watching CHiPs (probably because it wasn't very cerebrally challenging). And in the right gear, I look just like Erik Estrada. See for yourself.
I stop off in San Francisco to see Mike Faith, the CEO of Headsets.com and a thoroughly nice chap. Consequently, I'm late getting to Books Inc in Mountain View. The audience is already in place and I'm still in my shorts, tee-shirt and sandals. Actually - who cares? This is California.
I unpack my stuff at the podium, make an apology and head for the restroom. There is a woman waiting in line for the single-use facility. This is the one time in my life that I might be justified in jumping the queue, but I'm too polite. Inside, I turn the tap on too fast and splash water over the front of my tan shorts (Roxanne). This is going to take forever to dry - and there's a whole bunch of people outside who will be watching me as I walk back. I pull my tee-shirt down low and do a cover-up with my hands until I can slink back behind the podium.
Afterwards, I drive through the night and arrive in the early hours at the Best Western in Mount Shasta. It's freezing here!
Thursday, May 24th
Mount Shasta is shrouded in mist. Every time I go up to the parking lot on the lower slopes, it is raining and windy and cold. I know I'm trying to be transcendent, but I still have an energy-body that likes to be kept warm and dry. I spend a lot of time sitting in the back of the Raptor, just enjoying the view (such as it is) and the soulful energy of the wind and the rain outside.
This seems a sleepy little town. The Black Bear Diner seems to be the only place open after 9 pm. I'm still feeling the cold, and I'm tired, and I allow myself the indulgence of a complete American diner meal, including apple pie and ice cream. Complete self-destruction.
Friday, May 25th
My electronic scales tell a grim story. My weight has gone up eight pounds since I arrived in America six weeks ago. I used to be one of Dr. Dukan's best clients - now he would be ashamed of me. There is no choice - from this moment I am going on pure protein, with a few vegetables, until my weight is forced back down.
More time spent in the parking lot of Mount Shasta - I feel like an idiot sitting here just watching the mountain, but I really don't have the gear to go hiking in this weather (I came from Malaysia, remember). I don't even have gloves, never mind a warm coat and mountain boots.
At the Black Bear Diner, I order an omelet for lunch, and ask for a "small steak" to go with it. These are duly delivered. When I examine the check, it says "ham steak." What?! I thought that "steak" always meant beef. I feel slightly queasy inside.
After several weeks on the road, I am now in need of a haircut. I find a barber shop, which is quite unique in my experience. It's like a living room, laid out with a sofa and armchairs, tables and magazines. There is only one barber chair, and only one barber - a delightful dark-haired lady. When we discuss what I'm doing here, everyone is in on the conversation. I inscribe and sign a book for her.
At the local supermarket I buy cans of tuna, sardines and chicken. I am serious about this pure-protein thing.
In the evening, back at the parking lot of Mount Shasta, the weather suddenly clears. It is possible to walk up the lower slopes, which are covered in snow. It feels wonderful. I wish I had the time to go on up.
I am alone on the slopes, and then a woman appears. I get it - this magical mountain is delivering me a new soulmate. We talk; she is intelligent and pleasant, and then she mentions her husband. Okay, so she's not my new soulmate. Then she mentions that she is a clinical psychologist. Back in the parking lot, I give her an inscribed and signed book, and she gives me $200 worth of counseling therapy. Thank you, Mount Shasta.
Saturday, May 26th
Early in the morning, I visit Mount Shasta one last time. The sky is blue and the sun is shining and there are no clouds to obscure the stunning, magnificent beauty of the mountain. I have a six-hour drive to Portland, but I can't seem to tear myself away from here.
The drive to Portland is an inner battle.
I MUST HAVE CARBS, MASTER, I NEED ENERGY, MASTER.
"No Energy-Body, there are ample energy reserves in the fat deposits in the abdominal region. Metabolize those. Do you understand? Metabolize fat!"
THERE IS DARK CHOCOLATE IN THE GROCERY BAG, MASTER, INFUSED WITH GINGER, MASTER.
"There is also beef jerky. Let's have some of that, Energy-Body."
Boy, between Higher Self and Energy-Body and Ego, I have my work cut out keeping everything in balance. Until I read Eckhart Tolle, I had no idea there were so many components to me.
After my event in Portland and Red Lobster, I drive all the way to downtown Seattle, arriving after midnight. The place is teeming with activity - so many partying people everywhere, taxis, police cars. It's all very confusing. A man crosses my path, dressed in leather underpants and with a leather collar around his neck and a chain hanging off it. He must be so cold! I'm at a red light, making a right turn - that's okay in Washington, isn't it? I'm edging forward, it seems to be clear, then suddenly there's a bunch of pedestrians thumping on my windows. What did I do wrong? I just want to get to a hotel.
I pull in somewhere where there seems to be a little respite from all the activity; I'm working through the Hertz NeverLost, looking for a hotel; suddenly I hear a horn sounding angrily, and there's a police car next to me - he's waving at me to move on. My Connecticut plates probably get me some leeway. This is so stressful and chaotic - nothing like Frasier.
Eventually, I pull into the Hyatt and gratefully give the valet the key. I am so tired.
See the 50-city U.S. tour plan on the website.
Photos are on the Facebook page.
Follow Imran Ahmad on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Unimagined