California Instagram Blues

Cars Bikes Culture

Sideburnista Gary Inman on California and the Fear of Missing Out

Life used to be simple.

I had, after years of yearn, found an almost buddhist calm. Be clear, I wasn’t living a monastic existence: I’d acquired good stuff and plenty of it; got married; co-created a couple of smiley kids; bought a house, albeit in an unfashionable area of rural England; carved out a career I enjoyed; had my health, and I’d proudly reached a state of contentment with my lot.

Not for me was the increasingly loud chorus of ‘Want!’ screamed at a photo of the latest shiny crafted lifestyle accessory and dreamy motor. That was for the sheep and consumerist popinjays. The gullible mugs.

Then came Instagram (Oh yeah, I had a smartphone too, but not the latest one. I’m not that shallow.) If you don’t know, this app is like Twitter, but for photos and captions. I never got into Twitter, and I know they also do photos now, but Instagram was my social media crack cocaine. And it fed me images of Ventura vibes, San Diego shindigs and Huntingdon Beach happenings on an hourly basis.

Yamaha-SR500-Venice-by-Deus-Ex-Machina-USA-5Nobody does SoCal FOMO better than Deus Venice (image:Deus Ex Machina)

I’ve visited Southern California (because that’s what 99 per cent of people envisage when someone says California) a dozen times or more and Pacific coast beach-front living had been an occasionally considered dream in my late-20s, especially when I was offered a job out there. In California, in my game at least, work was interchangeable with pleasure. I flew out to feature the cars that would turn up in the as yet unreleased, original, franchise-spawning, The Fast and the Furious. I’d visit custom bike-building ace face Roland Sands, then head out to Joshua Tree on the latest Suzuki GSX-R1000. I rode Harleys in the Sierra Nevadas and was fed okonomiyaki in Santa Monica before watching Ridley Scott’s production company make chase scenes to advertise upcoming PlayStation games. I would stay in a five-star hotel on one visit, the next I’d check into a polyester motel room someone had recently been murdered in. I saw shoes hung from telegraph lines signifying the otherwise invisible border of a Venice Beach street gang that Big Audio Dynamite sung about and drank cocktails at the Rainbow Bar and Grill while keeping an eye out for Lemmy. To me California was an all you can eat breakfast buffet – what wasn’t flakes, was nuts – and I gobbled it up like it was my last meal.


So I knew what was there, a 12-hour flight from home, and what made California California, but the desire to relocate had evaporated. I was a state of serenity, remember? Then I invited an endless roll of 50 x 60mm photos into my life and boarded the Greyhound bus out of Contentmentville.

The crucial difference is Instagram is so damn real-time. It isn’t like watching CHiPs as a kid or even visiting the place on assignment or holiday and being ‘in the moment’. The images turning up on my phone, as I idly scrolled during the Ten o’ Clock News, weren’t pre-recorded, edited or primped, and they weren’t the same as being there. Rain battered my double-glazing as friends and acquaintances hid from the debilitating sun ready for qualifying at Willow Springs or Del Mar. Others stopped for a snack at a diner shaped like a donut. And they rode everywhere without the need for waterproofs. They thought Gore-Tex was a genre of Lone Star state slasher movies.

These ’grams were so damn insta. I’m here checking online reviews of electric blankets on, and they’re there inconspicuously pulling sweaty Calvins out of their crevices. I follow people’s feeds from all over the world, but nothing gets to me like those from California. I know I am afflicted with a classic case of FOMO – fear of missing out, but made ten times worse because California has no lull. Virtually everywhere else has a riding, or driving, season, then a forced period of contemplation, regrouping and planning. So my friends in Japan, Copenhagen or Vancouver were having fun now, but they had a winter on the horizon, just like I did. An army of unpaid PR people were reminding me, every damn 15 minutes, that the Sunshine State doesn’t ever pause.

Iron-ResinThe California Light that drew the likes of Hockney in the fifties now rebounds across insta feeds and beckons us all…

And while that incessant solar assault leads to a serious drought problem, it also has a hand in creating a primordial soup out of which automotive culture continually wheel-spins.

That state, of all states, is made to enjoy vehicles in. Virtually every predilection of internally combusted perversion that forms your peccadillo, can be found there. Drawling mid-Atlantic dread-heads in outlaw Porsches; Japanese underwear models on Harley choppers; nitrous-injected sand dragsters; Chevrolet Impalas that could jump Becher’s Brook. All driven, not hidden, on the be-seen scene. Additionally, so many people seem to be able to make a living out of their hobbies in this most rabid of economies.

To try to regain my rapidly evaporating Zen balance I weigh up California’s pros and cons.

In the plus column is the climate. Nothing kicks automotive culture squarely between its legs more than inclement weather. If you live in a country that is forced to salt its roads you’ve been dealt a hand that looks like a foot. Enjoy summer, sucker. Both weeks of it. But shed-time is good time, creative time, plus dirt bikes can offer kicks in winter, so it’s not all bad news.

There’s also the scale of the place. California is a massive state. Turn your back to the ocean, step on the accelerator and wilderness awaits, real wilderness, break-a-leg-crashing-your-off-road-bike-and-become-a-coyote’s-breakfast wilderness. They even have decent driving roads within an hour of Los Angeles’ centre.

PCHNothing screams envy more than an image of the Pacific Coast Highway

Automotive creativity, enthusiasm and optimism is evident in every nook of the world, but not in the abundance it is in Southern California. That could be because it is so populated. Everyone in the whole world wants to live in California, or most of them do, and this bipedal herd cause life-ruining congestion, smog and stress… The overwhelming motoring feel good factor could also be down to the fact that so many of the world’s over-achieving gear heads continually suffer from an ever greater level of FOMO than that afflicting me, and eventually up sticks and relocate in search of their own Californian dream.

Me? I’ve come to the conclusion I couldn’t live with being continually asked if my accent is Australian. I’ll stay here, hunker down for a dank winter and fantasise about Land Rover Defenders.

Contentment is over-rated.