Crescent City, California: Redwoods and dead wood

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Crescent City, California: Redwoods and dead wood

So, he said leaning over me in a slightly menacing manner, how do you get to meet people when you travel around?

"Just like this,"I said, and the big man looked puzzled. "By coming into a bar, buying a drink and talking with people. Like you."

The big man with the bleary look paused just long enough for it to be uncomfortable, then realised what I was saying wasn't an insult. He sat back down.

We'd already established I had written a travel book and liked talking to people, but now he could just get back to drinking at the end of his working day. I was no competition so he introduced me around as "a guy who writes".

I guess not too many people who write make their way to the seedy, single storey Turf Club in unattractive Crescent City near the redwood country of the Pacific Northwest.

When I entered an hour previous I had been hit by the smell of smoke, unusual given that this was California where smoking is banned in such places. The sign on the door said, "smoking permitted in designated area only" so I asked the nail-hard woman behind the bar where that area was.

"It's the whole bar, honey," she said and walked off.

The Turf Club was shaking to the sound of Guess Who's American Woman from the jukebox and a dozen or so patrons were lined up along the bar bent over their liquor. And smoking.

There were few windows and a pervasive aroma of desperation.

The unattached women gazed at me with considerable interest, so did the very big guy who would soon be looming over me. I ordered drinks and waited.

Sure enough one of the women, Sue, came over and started chatting -- she loved my accent -- and after a while she introduced me to June and Mary, two enormous women with piled-high hair and too much make-up. They didn't often come here, they said, but they were having a girls' night out.

I thought the Turf Club didn't look like it offered much for the girls other than passing truckers, run-down locals and some folks from around town who happened to drift in on their way somewhere else. So I said as much.

No, they liked it here. Mary, who had a teenage daughter, said, "Somethin'll happen later" and looked around hopefully.

Then the big man lurched over and introduced himself as John-Dean. He'd been spending time with Sue before she had come over out of curiosity so he needed to check me out. Reassured I was no threat -- the accent, the wife back in the nearby motel, and just passing through town -- he dropped his hefty frame onto the stool next to me and talked about logging.

Mary and Sue seemed a little miffed. The stranger with the accent had been talking to them and now J-D butts in? I made friendly eye-contact around J-D and they smiled sweetly, waiting for him to leave.

After a beer and a brandy he did, but by then the somethin' had happened.

Mary and Sue were deeply engaged in a conversation with someone else.

A droop-eyed woman in her 60s arrived and sat on the other side of me just as the jukebox played American Woman again. She said hello in a slurry and slightly incoherent manner and then a skinny guy 30 years her junior came up all oily and lascivious and draped himself over her to make me keep my distance.

She laughed and loved it, and he bought her drinks on the promise of something else later. Mary and Sue came and said goodbye and left with a guy in his 50s wearing a battered baseball cap and gleaming white Nikes, and then John-Dean slapped me on the back and left too.

The crowd was thinning out so I tipped the nail-hard woman, got a kiss from the tipsy old lady next to me and went back to the motel thinking how easy it was to meet people.

All you need do is go to a place as unpromising as the shabby Turf Club in Crescent City, on Front Street just off Highway 101, and sit.

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