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.

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