in them thar hills of Sonora

Sonora, in the morning

Last weekend we went to Yosemite, for some hiking. Also some waiting in line in the car for ages to get in. It was going to be a very hot weekend after a hot week. I had been busy doing soccer tryouts every day, and it happened that our long planned weekend away in Yosemite coincided with picking the squad. Thankfully we got it done, with a fair bit of text and email back and forth between me and my assistant coach, who did all the legwork while I was gone. We had planned to go to Yosemite a while ago, because you need to make reservations these days, to limit the crowds. Plus we were staying at the Yosemite Lodge, which needs to be booked well in advance. It takes a long time to get to Yosemite, it’s full of long twisty roads, so we decided to stay the night before in Sonora, a historic town in the foothills of the Sierras. I had never been to Sonora; I didn’t really know anything about it, if I’m honest. so it was a pleasant surprise to find such an old town. It seemed very much like the sort of town that would spring up in the hills during the Gold Rush, you remember that, where they rushed with all the gold. Side note, I use to the think that Ian Rush was a historical time when people would go to Wales or somewhere and dig up nuggets of Ian, etc and so on. So I imagined Sonora as the classic frontier town, and since there were several bail bonds offices and criminal lawyers and courthouses and saloons, this was obviously true and this Burnt Oak lad was now in Cowboy Land. Sonora was in fact founded during the Gold Rush by Mexican miners from the Sonora region, and the town and area have been the backdrop for many films and TV shows, like the A-Team, Little House on the Prairie, and even Back to the Future III. On our evening stroll after dinner we passed by a few different bars, now that the CDC have said people can eat and drink inside no problem, masks were generally off and people were reveling. I didn’t go and revel anywhere, but if I did, I’d love to have entered with my mask on, and a cowboy hat, and have everyone stop talking as I stood in the doorway and walked slowly up to the bar. We stayed at the historic Sonora Inn, which we was once the Victoria Hotel (1895) before being remodeled in the Spanish style in the 1930s as the Sonora Inn. I drew in the bedroom after dinner (below), and down in the lobby there was an antique wall telephone like you would see in old Bugs Bunny cartoons or something. The woman at the front desk told us about the history, and we asked if it were haunted. “Yeah, it is, she said tentatively, as if to say “no it isn’t but I’ll say it is”, or maybe it was so haunted she didn’t want to reveal in case the ghosts caused trouble, I don’t know. I have an over-active imagination about ghosts and cowboys. Apparently though there were old tunnels underneath that connected to all the old buildings in town, and if they aren’t haunted then well I don’t know what is. For dinner, we ate at a pasta place (it is a shame that the chef did not also have imagination) and walked about the town. Outside one bar, a well-oiled man with a thick American accent heard my accent and called out to us, asking where I’m from. I told him, and it seemed he knew his England, and had gone to school in Cornwall. We didn’t stop to chat more, but we referred to him afterwards as the Cornish Cowboy, or the Pirate of Penzance, or the Bodmin Bronco, or Texas Truro, again the imagination running away with me like a stage coach pulled into a canyon by a pack of crazy mules. It would be nice to go there for longer and explore a bit more (if my cowboy obsessed mind could handle the excitement), but we only had the evening, and so I got up early next morning before breakfast to do some drawing (“I do my sketchin’ before breakfast…”), before we set off for Yosemite. Yee hah, varmints.

Sonora Inn hotel room  Sonora Inn old phone

dog and bone

G st phonebox
Remember when we used to use public phones? God, we were dumb! Putting our coins in, talking for a bit, putting more coins in, hunting woolly mammoth; it’s so much better now we live in the future with our iPhones and blueteeth and hoverboards. There is a living relic of this ancient past on G Street, complete with a ‘phonebook’ (which doesn’t even have a search box, and people have clearly been writing their names on it to try). I have been meaning to draw this for a while, so I drew it during the sketchcrawl on G Street last Saturday. This being a historic neighbourhood, I can imagine it being used by early farm settlers, gold prospecters, maybe even local Native American tribes (before the invention of the smoke-signal app, obviously). I drew this in the Stillman and Birn gamma sketchbook, with a Micron pen and Cotman watercolours, and it took a little under an hour.

hanging on the telephone

I rejoined the communications age tonight. After living a Hereward-like existence for nearly two years, I finally got a mobile – oh, sorry, a ‘cellphone’. It’s not too dissimilar to the one I had in the UK (just, you know, not blue). I never really use the phone anyway, if I can avoid it. But here, unlike in the UK and Europe, you actually get charged for receiving calls, and for receiving texts. It’s a disgrace I tell thee. So don’t call me, I won’t answer.

I tell you what though, twice today – firstly calling Fed-Ex, secondly calling AT&T – I had to use those voice-activated phone systems. I hate using those. Especially in public. For one thing, the bloody things can’t understand my accent. I say, clear as James Bond, “more options,” and they reply, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, can you please repeat?” This went on. It’s all very time-consuming, and brings me to mind that Kevin Bloody Wilson song, the one about the guy who gets so angry with the phone company he tells them to stick the phone up, well, their bum. I did mention the voice system to the lady when i finally got through, and she tried giving it the “well yes, the system does have problems when we come up against lovely accents such as your own,” to which i replied, “ho ho ho, your mind tricks won’t work on me!” (well i didn’t, but i thought it, and i thought it in the jabba voice as well). Then later on, I call AT&T to top up my phone for the first time, not knowing it was another irritating voice-system. I muttered something to my wife about the message being in Spanish – and it recognised the word ‘Spanish’ and launched into the whole schpiel in espanol. I hate talking to robots. If I wanted to do that I’d pretend to have conversations with R2-D2. Well I do that anyway (he hates it when I call him Dusty Bin).

Still, the phone was a bloody good deal – just twenty bucks, phone and sim card, and that includes ten dollars credit. Can’t go wrong, guv.

By the way, did I remember to use the ‘hanging on the telephone’ gag about Saddam being executed and those guys capturing it on their mobiles? If not, well, I’m using it now.

Originally posted at

Week Eight: Cold Call California

The phone rang yesterday morning, disturbing me from a particularly exciting dream. I was waiting for my warm beer at a work-soiled North London pub, when the entire floor fell away, and all of the pub fell into the Underground. When I told them I didn’t want my beer any more and could I have my money back, they told me I could, but would have to wait while they rebuilt. While I was waiting, the incessant ringing prompted me out of my warm sheets, and I was greeted with a loud and bright southern accent, asking for Mister Scully. I wanted to tell him he was dead and I was his ghost, but he pressed on regardless, claiming to be a ‘courtesy call’ from some Police organization. “Ah jus’ wanna thank y’all for buckling up in your automobiles, sir,” he beamed.

“Do what?” I replied, confused, still half-expecting my warm beer refund to arrive any moment. The southern accent continued. “We are offering you the opportunity to make a donation to us, sir, of only fifteen dollars…” I had to ask him to repeat himself several times (a good enough tactic with cold-callers – try it, it is great fun) for, linguist though I am, I just couldn’t understand. Give me ancient Gothic any day. I told him I didn’t want to give him any money. “Well how about ten dollars then?” he retorted. “How about I poo all over your desk?” I retorted bravely, admittedly after I had hung up.

The cold-caller problem here is ridiculous. I know it can be bad in Britain, but here it is truly incessant. We never sign up for anything that might mean extra junk emails or phone calls, and I always check the little boxes saying ‘bugger off with your adverts’. It does not stop them getting through to me. The other day one called, from an unnamed company, telling me that “somebody in your family entered our competition and you have WON one of our prizes!” I wanted to say, oh well I’ll give you my date of birth, it was yesterday. The prizes? $50K cash, $25K cash, a car, or an unspecified prize (likely to be a loaf of stale bread). How can they lie so blatantly? Maybe because a lot of people actually do believe all this shit. This is America after all, the land of commercials. If they say it in an advert, it must be true. That is why American Presidents act like they are selling washing powder most of the time (as opposed to ethnic cleansing powder, I suppose…).

Nevertheless, I am going to gracefully embrace this culture, and take full advantage. I am going to get a phonebook, and call people randomly, saying “Hiya Mister Aardvark! My name’s Pete calling from Scully Industries and I have selected YOU as our WINNER, all you need to do is send me twenty bucks to go down the pub, no strings attached, once in a lifetime offer!” It’s bound to work at least once, and then I can get that drink. Hopefully the floor will stay where it is this time.


Originally posted 11/22/2005