Thursday, January 13, 2005

Our US Trip: Part 2 - Big News & The LA Tour.

Saturday 4th December (again)

A bit worn out but we are in LA. Like every other day I've ever spent in LA, it is hazy. Except today it is overcast as well. Not particularly cold, we are both still in our short sleeve shirts. LA airport hasn't changed one little bit either, with its general grubbiness and rabbit-warren pathways and corridors to get from point A to point B. Down a pathway, escalator down, corridor, escalator up, long corridor with bend in the middle and chick telling us which way to go even though we have no choice. Etc, etc, you get the picture.

Finally end up in the Customs & Immigration to get in a characteristically long queue to get "done". Being at the back of the aircraft didn't help either. Thankfully it was only our flight that had landed. After about 15 minutes, all the returning yanks had been processed, and they started shunting people from the "idiot visitors" queue over to the vacant "welcome home returning citizens" lines. Only those who had filled out their forms correctly though, and there was a lot of shouting from the Customs people about filling out the forms correctly. So we managed to get from the back of the queue to the front very quickly.

Actually, the lines were smaller than I've seen on occasions in Sydney, but I have taken two hours to get through C&I before at LAX. I shouldn't really complain.

I felt sorry for one family obviously from Africa (via Sydney?), all dressed in the beautiful traditional garb. They didn't understand or read much English, from the looks of them, and I knew they'd be a long time through the gates. They weren't sure, even when directed that way, that could use the "US Citizens" line, and were to-and-fro-ing with their four children.

Our customs bloke was "Mitchell" (or something similar), a largish, black, chatty and friendly bloke. We did the new digital fingerprint scan and face picture taken. Mitchell: "You guys married? No? Hey Michael, you better put a ring on her finger, she's got a beautiful smile." Neither of us wanted to explain the whole complex situation, so I simply laughed and smiled back. A very friendly bloke and nice introduction to the country. One could say: "A good ambassador" and they wouldn't be wrong.

So, off, out, 10 minutes maximum for bags. I thought it interesting that after all that time in the queues, we STILL had to wait 10 minutes for our bags to appear. Certainly better than last time through LA when some idiotfoolish person picked up my bags by mistake. Apparently he only discovered it when he went to check into his connecting flight many hours later. Hmmmm.

Paul and Roz waiting to see us out the exit. Great to see them as it has been at least a year. I'm looking at Paul, it's 8:30 in the morning and he looks ready for a drink. Oh boy, it's gonna be a long day.

Drove back to the hotel (on Sepulveda Boulevard) at Manhattan Beach. Paul and Roz needed some lunch and to get some supplies and so took off for a bit while we showered and settled into the Hotel. We ended up going up the road and getting some Mexican food. First time in my life I have ever had a soft-shell taco, and I was to discover that small in the US does not necessarily mean small. The "small" drink for instance, resembled the upper section of Centrepoint Tower, and this was a mistake I was to make many times during the trip ("Yes, I'll have the large drink. Oh my!"). Another interesting lesson I learned in the Mexican take-away was that obviously "Mike" with an Australian accent sounds like "Mark". I guess I'd have to do the old fake accent to get myself understood.

After lunch we swapped Christmas presents. Paul and roz forced this on us because Alison and I were discussing getting on the 'net and booking a visit to Madison Square Garden to see the Knicks play, as our New York hotel was quite close. Paul eventually said, "Errr, don't bother, here's your Christmas present, " and gave us tickets to the Clippers vs Bobcats game at LA Convention Center on the Monday night. We gave them the duty-free alcohol, packet of Tim Tams, etc that we'd brought across the Big Ocean for them. Then we hit the road in Paul's Taurus for a tour of LA.

Oh I should mention that Paul and Roz had some wonderfully fantastic BIG NEWS, but my mouth is closed, completely, trust me, until I've been authorised to spill it.

First stop was Manhattan Beach pier itself. Nice little pier over the water. Manicured beach, long but narrow, I can't think of a beach in Aus that it reminds me of. Filming on the pier (of course, it's LA) and all set up for the Christmas lighting ceremony that night. I couldn't believe the size of the seagulls. Like huge flying chickens. Surely Aussie seagulls must be termed "Seagullus Pygmius" in comparison to these huge bloody things. Here we also stopped at Peet's Coffee shop, where I discovered that a "shot" of expresso is really only a shot. No "long blacks" here. But the coffee was good, all 30mL of it.

Next stop was famous Venice Beach. I'd been here on a previous trip, but it was mid-week, mid-day, and the boardwalk was being renovated. So a totally different Venice Beach presented itself to us. The first issue was parking; we eventually found a spot for $7 in an alley just off the main drag. It was busy. Every freak in the world wanted to be on Venice Beach that afternoon. The first thing that Paul asked me was, "You haven't got your wallet in your back pocket, have you?" That sort of set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. We visited a public toilet about halfway along the beach. In fact Ali went into the cubicle ahead of me and immediately turned around and said, "I can't go in there." There was urine everywhere. No worries for me, but for a chick?... She eventually found another. The sun came out over the Pacific and it was beautiful, freaks or not.

It was here that I first saw the gobsmacking way that Americans (and my brother!) handle money. To me, brought up in a land where each denomination has it's own instantly recognisable colour, US money is all the same, same color (note spelling), same size, same pictures. Americans have this amazing (to me at least) ability to grab a wad of cash from their wallets, have a quick flick through and instantly sort $50s from $1s. I mean, struth, we don't even have a one dollar bill any more!

After the sights and sounds of Venice, we left and travelled along Santa Monica Boulevard for a long time into Hollywood looking for a vantage point to see the Sign. A couple of pictures here, struggling through LA traffic and we were off again, hunting around for Mulholland Drive. We briefly drove along it and then lost it, so it was back into Hollywood to see the sights. We parked in a parking station just off Hollywood Boulevard for $7, and dragged ourselves out to the star-studded street.

Mann's Chinese Theatre. Now I was sort of under the impression that it was "Mann's Chinese Theatre", but was a bit confused about the whole "Grauman's Chinese Theatre" thing. But it was undoubtedly the one - hands and feet in concrete everywhere, early ones in the middle, later ones on the outside. I was happy to see Sean Connery's there. And I got a big charge to see the ones from Blazing Saddles, Robert Langdon and Douglas Fairbanks. And yes, Douglas did have tiny feet. We paid the $1 "donation" to go inside, and spent about 10 mintues in the foyer of the theatre looking at the architecture and statues and stuff. I hesitate to call it a rip-off.

Up the street, past all the people trying to sell/scam stuff to see the huge statues next to the Kodak Theatre. Everything in the US is huge!

We left Hollywood behind and went star-home hunting, up Hillcrest Drive which it was rumoured was the home of Aaron Spelling. Walled off mansions, security signs, expensive cars in the drive, you get the picture. Back down and along Rodeo Drive so Ali could see the shops we wouldn't have time to look in. Boo-bloody-hoo! We didn't get out of the car, and Paul managed to snap some really dodgy shots out the front windscreen of the car. At the end of Rodeo was the Wilshire Hotel, with a huge bloody Christmas tree all lit up.

Then back to the Hotel. Traffic on the I405 was a nightmare, surprisingly for a Saturday evening. Roz was ill and Alison was asleep so Paul and I amused ourselves by discussing car sizes. Not only is architecture huge in the US, but cars are huge as well. Big "pickups" (we would call them a "ute"), Hummvees everywhere, stretch limos, just big, bloody cars. It's very scary to look out the window at 60 miles per hour and only see tyre about a metre away. But we managed to get home safe and sound.

Paul and I dropped the girls off and went up to the local supermarket to get some supplies and to hunt for dinner. "Ralph's Supermarket". This supermarket was bigger than any other supermarket I've been into in my entire life. Not just by a little bit, but huge. We got our supplies including some microbrew beers, then headed to to local Thai restaurant for some takeaway.

Back to the Hotel to discover that the girls where in the process of moving rooms as the air-con didn't work and it was freezing. After moving all our stuff up and down two flights, and inadvertently leaving one suitcase in the old room, we settled in for a yummy dinner and a couple of beers, a bit of watching the telly, and then bed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Our US Trip: Part 1 - Flight to LA.

Saturday 4th December

Over 20 posts I'll be serialising Ali and my trip to the US, one post per day of travel. Of course since time warps between Australia and the United States, so the dates get kind of mucked up. Each one has the day's highlights in the title, regardless of however many places we visited or things we saw. My highlights do not necessarily correspond to Ali's highlights, but she's not the one writing the posts!.

We finally got our arses in gear and started packing on the Saturday morning. Flight wasn't till 4:30pm so it wasn't really an issue. Stuffing clothes and stuff into my little bag I wondered how we'd go when we came back with all the stuff that we'd be returning with. Presents for the girls, souvenirs, books, CDs. I'd been monitoring the weather in our target cities, so I had a few cold clothes, nothing as severe as a hat or gloves, though. Paul and Roz had promised to loan us their ski parkers for the majority of the trip. I'd remembered the Sydney winter to Toronto summer I'd done before, surely the weather change couldn't be all that bad.

The plan was in place, all flights and hotels booked, meetings arranged. Our flat was being looked after by Andy & Mandy, my car was at Christine's place. Everything.

Sydney airport was same as ever - busy. And it looked a little grubbier than normal. We were there early enough to walk almost straight up to the check-in line, however. Didn't bother with the usual browse through the airport stores and went through a near-deserted customs and immigration.

Immediately after the x-ray machine, this tiny little bloke in customs uniform pulls me aside. He's obviously picked me as a Swedish tourist or something. In a barely understandable accent (Indonesian, maybe?) he starts with, "Hello sir. Do you speak English?" I held back my first offensive response which was, "Yes. Do you?", and my second humourous response which was trying to fake him out with my high school German. Customs Officers tend not to have a decent sense of humour. Apparently I'd been randomly selected to undergo a compulsory "substance" examination. Compulsory as in, you've been selected, you can comply or not get on the plane. So he wipes his magic swab over my pockets and carry-on bag, then the inside of the bag, and after 5 minutes or so of wiping & beeping, sends me on my way.

Waiting around in Sydney airport is pretty boring, there are not that many shops. Well let me change that. There are plenty of shops, but I'm not sure I'm the type of bloke that would be buying incredibly expensive designer clothing or souvenir didgeridoos. I did look at a Wallabies jumper for Paul, but the cost ($149) scared me. Later I felt bad when Paul mentioned something to Roz about wanting a Wallabies jumper. Bugger!

The United Airlines flight was uneventful. I read and slept the whole way, doing my usual business-trip trick of setting my watch to destination time as soon as I got on the plane. The movies were old, and didn't tempt me in the slightest. One thing surprised me: 13 hours Sydney to Los Angeles and I somehow managed to get through the whole flight without a visit to the toilet. For my miniscule bladder, that is an effort, particularly as I'd had a couple of those dinky little red wine bottles.

With my reading, I managed to knock off the first half of 1421: The year China discoverd the world. Alright, the basic premise might be OK, but there are a LOT of long bows drawn in this book. I also got a really cool sketch done of the plane's wing out of my window. It was the only sketch I started during the whole trip. I am so glad I lugged my sketch gear half-way 'round the world.

United Airlines has gone downhill since my last business trip to Auckland two years ago. The coffee and tea wasn't the worst I've tasted, only the next-to-worst. It should have prepared me for the weeks ahead. Also, I'm not one of those demanding people or anything, but getting the attention of the steward/esses was hard. I think they've had that special training where they learn to ignore people whilst simultaneously looking busy and efficient. And one of the stewardesses had this annoying thing where when you said, "Thank you" to her, she would respond with, "Uh-huh." No, woman, you obviously didn't hear me. I said, "THANK YOU!"

13 hours. And to get woken at 3 in the morning to get fed. Ugghh!

It's amazing how sore you feel after that amount of time in one position. I suffer from being tall enough to never be comfortable in the narrow space between my seat and that in front. And if I'm uncomfortable, I can't sleep. Somehow I did manage to squeeze five or six hours of broken sleep, because I survived the trip way better than Alison. In fact, by the time we arrived in LA at 7:30 am on Saturday morning (huh! we left at 4:30pm), I felt quite normal for that time of morning. I guess this says more about me as a morning person, than about my ability to cope with jet lag.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


I got an email today from a long-time friend who I hadn't heard from for a number of months. I think the reason she hadn't written for a while is because she was embarassed about some issue that had cropped up between us a while back. She shouldn't have been, of course.

It got me thinking about what a friend of her category would have to do to completely ruin the friendship:
  • Abuse physical, mental, sexual, etc against my children;
  • Same sort of stuff against my girlfriend;
  • Actions threatening relationship with my children or girlfriend;
  • Genocide — well actually, I probably wouldn't be friends in the first place if I detected a tendency towards this;
  • Voting for George W. Bush — pretty safe ground here as I have few friends in the United States.
Lots of other stuff could be here but we'd just be getting silly. I mean, you don't choose to be friends with someone if you think they are going to end up firing at random people with a high-powered rifle from an elevated position. Do you?

What happens when someone that you place in lifelong-friend category changes does go postal? Wow. That's pretty heavy. But luckily, I've just (in my head) gone through them all and I'm pretty safe.

I think.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Movie Theatre Madness

This morning I read this article about Greater Union now banning people from taking their own food and drink into the theatre. They can only take in the exorbitantly-priced fare bought from the theatre's own snack bar.

More than a little unfair, I reckon.

I wonder whether this ban on food and drink will extend to other theatre chains, or whether Greater Union will trial it and discard it. I wonder whether it will have ANY effect on their ticket sales and their takings.

Ali and I were discussing ridiculous movie prices the other day after seeing Meet The Fockers at Chatswood. The price of the two tickets was $31. We didn't buy any food or drink. Now if we waited 6 or 12 months, the bloody movie will be out on DVD, and we'll be able to buy it for much the same price, and view it in our own home with the big screen telly and (maybe soon) surround sound. Much more comfortable.

Or do people only buy DVDs that they have already seen? Do people go to the movies as an event rather than it being for entertainment?

I probably wouldn't buy the movie anyway. It was funny in parts, but not great. My personal opinion; don't let it hold you back from seeing it — on DVD, not at the theatre.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sydney TV

I have written previously about Sydney television. Well, peripherally, anyway.

I'm not sure whether it is the summer doldrums or what, but there is absolutely NOTHING on television at the moment. When I say NOTHING in big capital letters like that, [aside of course from SBS news] I mean NOTHING. No-thing. Zero. Null. Nichts. Nada. Rien. Niets. Niente. Ничего.

They've even replaced 7pm Simpsons — which they originally replaced with Seinfeld, not too bad — with Becker. NOTHING.

When we were over in the US, I could almost always find something to watch. Probably something to do with the fact that there are over ten times as many people in the US as here, but nevertheless. On Sunday nights, they still have movies! What a treat! Not some re-run of a stupid Yank cop drama. What happened to the Sunday night movie, TV Network Programmers?

One benefit. I am getting heaps of work and reading done.

ISP problems, again

At work, we've now changed from using an ISP to host our email to our own mail server.

ISP's really do not know ANYTHING about customer service. I work in Telecommunications, and the chasm is wide, let me tell you. And for me to be able to say that coming from a Telecommunications perspective really damns ISPs.

Anyway, when asked by one of the staff members about the reason for the change, here is our Company Director's response. He is describing the responses he has received from the ISP when asking about problems:

  • "No one else has reported that problem."
  • "It is 4pm and we finish at 5pm - can we restore all of your email accounts that we just deleted in the morning ?"
  • "If you don't pay your outstanding balance by Friday we will cut you off" — no outstanding balance of course.
  • "We deleted your account as requested" — no you deleted the wrong account as specifically warned not to!
  • "We have upgraded our internet connection - once your emails stop bouncing because we did a hot cutover of IP addresses, you will get a much fasterservice"
  • "It would take a long time to tell you which emails we rejected in error — it would be easier for us if you just wrote to your contacts and asked them to resend any mail sent in the past 72 hours"
  • "Yes we disabled your account - you were sending a lot of mail and might have been spamming." — Arggghhhhhhhh!

Thanks, John. Yep we're better off without them.

BTW: The ISP in question is RAM, now renamed Alchemy IT. In my opinion, your money would be better spent elsewhere. Seriously.