Five months…

To mark my five monthiversary on the road, the first major bump went, well, bump.

Or so it would appear upon first inspection.

I turned my laptop on after returning home from a delicious meal at a famous LA diner, Fred 62.

My flight being at 8:15 the following morning, I thought it’d be a good idea to check in beforehand to speed stuff up at the airport. I dislike waiting in lines. In them, you’ll note, not on them. One cannot be on line, because there are no damn lines on the floor. Sorry, I’ve digressed.

At first I wondered why the flight booking number was in huge red letters on the American Airlines site when I tried to check in and choose my seat. Scrolling down a little further provided me with the answer. One leg of my bipedal flight had been cancelled for reasons that still elude me. It must be all the snow in Los Angeles.

Well, that’s quite a bump. There was only a two hour window at the other end before my next connecting flight, so you know, I couldn’t really walk it instead.

I called AA immediately to see what could be done. After a bit of a wait while the agent looked into my available options, I was finally rebooked on a straight-through flight to my final destination.

In other news, yesterday I got lost. In a car park. While looking for our car. Car parks should never be large enough for one to lose their entire car, completely. I can only imagine it has its own zip code. Observe:

I haven’t written much recently. I’ll be back with a slightly more regular posting schedule soon, and a five month retrospective in the next couple of days, partnering with Lauren over at Neverending Footsteps, as well.

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Four months on the road…

The title says it all. Today is the anniversary of the date I left, and that marks my fourth month being away. Well, it is in the time zone I’m in, but if you’re in the UK this is a day late. You’ll get over it eventually I imagine.

I don’t… have too much specific to say today. I spent the day tooling around San Francisco with a old friend of mine, both of us playing with our cameras all day.

Also, as is a long established tradition when I’m hanging out with Maya, we spent ages trying on hats. This alternately delighted her…

or distressed her…

I am thinking of getting a new hat. Updates on this will be forthcoming at a later date.

Now normally I would work out how many miles I’ve travelled now (a lot), or how many different places I’ve been to (there’s a page for that already), but I’m not feeling like stats right now. I’m not actually feeling like writing very much at all but I feel duty-bound to do so.

I’ve been staying with a very generous friend in LA for a couple of weeks now, who has two fantastic cats. One is perpetually petrified of me, and freezes in place any time I so much as move, then flees in abject terror at the prospect of being near me. The other, well, the other has three legs and can best be summed up with a picture.

Yep. He climbed up the shelves to sit in that cramped space. His only possible route of escape is directly onto that huge fan you can see there. He did all this with only three legs. He also understands the concept of the floor being made of lava and will, on command, jump up onto a box to save his feet (3). Cats, man.

I may post again with an actual four month post tomorrow, but right now it’s something a.m. and I should get to bed.

Ohh, and I’ve updated PotLRtN.

There be gold in them there hills…

…but we didn’t find any.

So I got a message on Facebook last night from my new Couchsurfing buddy inviting me to join her and a friend of hers on an excursion. Didn’t know where we’d be going, but of course I wanted to go.

Turns out we were going up into the San Gabriel mountains to find something called the Bridge to Nowhere. Sounds suitably mystical and ancient, right? It certainly proved elusive.

U NO DAM HERE

This sign greeted us at the car park before the hiking began. In case you can’t make it out, it reads:

Please do not build dams in the river. Building dams in the river can be harmful to fish and aquatic life in the stream. Water temperature increases if it is not allowed to flow freely. This can kill the fish and aquatic life and at the same time it increases the levels of bacteria and algae. Please do not build dams in the river.

Now I’m not sure, but I suspect we’re not allowed to build any dams in the river. There are rumours it may do some kind of harm to the fish. This was of great disappointment to me as many an hour during my childhood growing up in the countryside was spent building dams across streams and rivulets for purposes unknown. Possibly porpoises.

We started a trek down a river canyon in search of the Bridge to Nowhere that my friend had read about online. Spoiler alert: we didn’t find it.

The canyon we were hiking through was at some point long ago a huge river, but the water certainly wasn’t very high when we were passing through. Apparently, although we saw very little evidence for this, the canyon used to have a road trail, and possibly a railway through it as well. I found this incredibly hard to believe given how much trouble we had walking it, and we are not the size of a train.

It was a lovely hike of about two hours, involving several precarious crossings of the river. We were balancing on wobbly trees while trying not to fall in, and at one point dealing with a very stubborn grass hopper guarding his particular crossing. At that point, we met a couple of hikers coming the other way back down the canyon. We asked them if they’d managed to find the bridge and they had, but they told us it was still another two hour walk from where we were. The sun was already on its way down, so we decided that we weren’t going to make the bridge sadly.

Since we were walking through an old riverbed covered in rocks, it seemed like building one of those rock pile statues was, you know, the thing to do. I played Tetris a lot as a child. As you can see below – it paid off, with change. Another curious thing we kept finding as we were making our way through the canyon was people looking for gold. They had many different bits of equipment with them, but they were all sifting through the mud and silt at the bottom of the river trying to find gold. Given the sheer number of people doing this, there must be some kind of success to be had with this. Or they’re all crazy people. Both possible, I suppose.

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We decided not to get stranded half way up a mountain, down an inaccessible canyon with the sun setting, so we turned around and headed back to the car. Not before a quick shot with the statue we left, though. This couchsurfing thing is an excellent way to meet people.

Couchsurfing for friends part deux…

Nothing to do with light switches happened today. Get over it.

As I mentioned a post or two ago, I was going to try using Couchsurfing to find some people to hang out with while I’m in Los Angeles. After browsing through a load of people’s profiles to find someone I’d get on with, I sent out a few messages to people explaining what was going on and asking them if they had any free time. One of those people responded saying they had a spare ticket to an event on Sunday and would I like to join them.

Well of course I would. Knowing nothing more about where I was going than it was ‘an event’ and nothing more about the person I was going with than I’d read on her CS profile, I set off.

We got on really well and had an excellent day bumbling around Los Angeles. The event itself was a fashion… thing. I still haven’t quite worked out what, exactly. We didn’t stay for long, and sadly I saw no identifiably famous people.

After we left we spent the next few hours walking around downtown LA investigating a load of the old theatres along Broadway that’ve all now sadly closed and been turned into bargain basement clothing stores, or just simply locked up and left to disrepair. Such a waste. The one that was open we were able to get into was about to hold a religious service of some kind, but before we were stared out of the place we did manage to sneak to the higher level of the auditorium and see the incredible old chandelier that still remained. Like I said, such a waste.

We explored parts of apartment buildings and hotels off limits to the public to see huge old ballrooms, again, left to disuse and disrepair. We climbed to the top of buildings and scaled their fire escapes for incredible views over the downtown buildings. We got lunch at a huge indoor market and ate far, far too much food.

Oh, then we witnessed a car crash.

After exchanging contact details with the crashees in case either of them needed a witness, we drove up to a lookout point with an incredible view over LA, the Valley, and of the Hollywood sign. The sun had just set, so the lights of the city below us and the lovely orangered of the sky were beautiful. Good thing I had my camera with me, too.

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Downtown LA and the 101
My couchsurfing LA guide

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When I got home, I received an hasty message from my new friend urging me to put the news on right away. Apparently someone had been shot on the exact corner where we’d earlier parked the car. Soooo, LA’s safe…

All in all, an excellent day. We’re going to be getting together again later on in the week, and quite possibly when I get back from San Francisco.

Important cultural differences…

Alright, I admit, the title may be slightly misleading. Unless you classify ice cream and light switches as important, as I do.

So there are many and varied differences between the US and the UK, and for some reason it seems to be something that I’m asked quite frequently by Americans when I’m chatting to them. “So what’re the biggest differences between here and the UK?” they say. And despite how many obvious and huge differences there are, it’s actually rather difficult to name any of them when put on the spot like that.

Well, now I have a specific and immediate answer I can give whenever presented with that question in future. It might not be what most people are expecting, or the most interesting answer, but you can’t fault it for it’s pragmatism.

Light switches in the UK look like this (without all the chrome and fancy black plastic, but the general shape remains the same):

Now, imagine you’ve just made your evening meal, and you’re holding your plate of food in one hand and your drink of choice in the other and you’re about to walk out of the kitchen, but you don’t want to leave the light on. You have no choice but to ineffectually jab at the light switch with the edge of the plate over and over again until you either catch it just right and turn the light off, or spill your lovingly prepared food onto the floor. Was the floor hungry? Possibly. But you didn’t need to feed it just yet. And certainly not with that bolognese you just made (with tagliatelle, philistine).

American light switches have overcome that problem quite nicely. Observe:

You see that? The majesty of the little nubbin sticking out so brazenly into the room like that? Now all you have to do, chow in hand, is wander past and deftly catch the little bugger with the edge of the plate, your finger, hell, flick it with your nose if the fancy takes you.

Light switches, eh? It’s the simple things that make the difference.

Also, ice cream.

There are so. many. more. flavours of ice cream here. It just doesn’t seem fair. The UK market gets maybe, conservatively, 20% of the available flavours that the US has access to. Now, admittedly, it’s cold in England a lot, and so ice cream isn’t going to be such a big thing, but even so. We like our after dinner niceness, dammit, and I resent the fact that we only get thrown a metaphorical bone when it comes to the flavours on offer.

Today, for instance, I purchases some Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns ice cream, which is not available in the UK as far as I’m aware. Caramel ice cream, (pronounced ka-ra-mel, not car-mel, tch) with cinnamon bun dough and cinnamon streusel swirl. Oh God it’s good.

But then, I hear it’ll be snowing in parts of the UK soon, so maybe ice cream isn’t at the top of their list of priorities…

Occupy LA…

A week ago a friend and I went to Occupy LA, which is the local variation of the Occupy Wall Street ‘movement’. It is considerably more… well… occupied than the other different Occupy <Location> movements I’ve seen as I’ve been travelling around the US.

Occupy Chicago only seemed to be a handful of people on one lonely street corner, being made to walk in a very small circle lest they be arrested by the band of police officers watching over them. They looked desolate and down-trodden, and understandably so – it was cold in Chicago, and they we being pretty heavily oppressed from what I could tell.

Occupy Denver was just as bad, but in a completely different way. Occupy Denver seemed to be made up of two groups of people: angry, whiny teenagers, and the homeless. I actually came across the Denver bunch completely by accident. My walk from the train station to the hostel took me right past the grounds where they were set up (for want of a better term). I spent a little time there trying to get a feel for what people thought, what they wanted, and how they themselves felt. I did not succeed.

As I mentioned a moment ago, the people there seemed to be made up of disillusioned teenagers and scattered groups of homeless people. There was a central meeting where the… activists, were holding an open forum, and spreading out from that the homeless people just seemed to have grabbed onto the thought of free food (provided for the people Occupying), a chance to be given some sleeping materials (same again), and probably the chance at having someone to talk to.

Listening to the group bicker and argue over whether they should march violently or non-violently, having to vote on whether to, I shit you not, call another vote, and shouting “mic check” every God damned moment really did illustrate exactly why they’re having trouble being taken seriously and certainly aren’t achieving anything. They need some organisation. I’m not saying I could do it better if I were plotting a revolution, but I could.

Anyway, I digress. Occupy LA.

Occupy LA seemed to be a lot more substantial at the very least, and almost exhibited (yo dawg) signs of some kind of organisation. The friend I’m staying with has been down there quite frequently and is actively involved in trying to make a difference – getting the people sleeping there in tents flu vaccinations, for instance (didn’t make it past a vote…). We went down there because some people from Enrich LA, along with people Occupying, were going to be making an edible garden so that the people staying there would have an on-site food source, and we were going to help them build it.

Well, I mostly occupied the space by taking pictures to document the happenings, but I pitched in with some measuring, marking, lifting and carrying at times. My friend, to her complete bewilderment, was somehow put in charge of the placement of the mobile garden plant beds. We spent a few hours there building, painting, moving and organising the mobile garden, but sadly to no end. I’m not sure of the specifics, but the organiser of the event was told that if the plant beds (six foot wooden boxes) were left on City Hall property then he’d be arrested, so they had to be moved.

At that point, my friend and I left for unrelated reasons. But I did take some photos, so here they are. Oh, and PotLRtN has been updated.

Things I have learned #3256…

I’m relatively sure it isn’t that many, but I lost count and couldn’t be bothered to go back through my posts to check how many TIHL posts I’ve made already.

  • When travelling by Amtrak in the US, always book a lower level coach seat. They’re no bigger or more spacious than the normal upper deck coach seats (or expensive, as far as I can tell), but they are in their own little compartment which is a dead end, so it has the huge advantage of not having people walking past your seat all the damn time, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Check Greyhound and Amtrak prices before booking anything. While the Greyhound is often cheaper, it’s far less comfortable and for some reason Amtrak tickets are actually cheaper if you book ‘em the day before you travel (or I happened to get lucky/need a cheap route).
  • While we’re at it, if you’re near a major city or transport hub and need to travel from a minor outlying town to another minor outlying town, check prices for indirect routes into said major city and then out to the other town again, rather than minor town to minor town. Example, La Crosse to Iowa City – over $100 and a ridiculous 24 hour bus ride for some damn reason. La Crosse to Chicago to Iowa City – $72 (train for $60, express Greyhound for $12), and eight hours.

These things I have learned this time are getting a bit lengthy. Need to think of something short and pithy.

  • White T-shirts appear to be more slimming than black..?
  • Taking my laptop and camera out of my backpack and carrying them in a messenger bag doesn’t appear to reduce the weight of my backpack whatsoever, and yet it does increase the weight of my messenger bag exponentially. Physics, you’re doin’ it wrong.
  • Americans do not know that hostels exist in their country. At all. “Wait, whu? You stayed in a hostel? We have those here?” Yes, you do. Some of them are awesome, and they’re cheap (ish, certainly –er than in Europe).
  • I knew this one anyway, but I feel it needs advertising. I fucking love the album Swim, by July for Kings. Look it up on Grooveshark.com, it’s all there and free and legal. Do as you’re told. Go, now. Not you, parents.
  • I’m still good enough at Chess to beat a guy who sits on the street in Downtown Denver every Sunday and plays with other like-minded chess players. First game, stalemate, second game, won.

I haven’t learned anything else. I was quite knowledgeable to begin with.