Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hi there!

Things are starting to wind down here... In the last few days it’s become apparent that, while we came here for Summer, Summer doesn’t last forever.

The sun hangs in the sky with none of the menace it showed during those dog days when we would swelter our way across the deserts, watching the car’s thermometer show 110 on the clock... like the true artist she is Autumn is starting to weave her magic. Its still warm but the evenings grow cooler, there’s a chill in the morning and the unmistakable scent of fallen leaves and cut grass fills the air, flowing down from the wooded hills like water, pooling in the cool shadows. Its beautiful, but a reminder that we’re almost into the winter of our holiday too... we can count the days until we leave easily now, unlike when we started and they were just uncountable and it was unimaginable that we’d ever actually return home!

Yosemite was our last National Park – and while not my favourite – it was an amazing reminder of just how bloody grand this country can be, just what a show it can put on when it wants to. From the exit at about 10000 feet we slide back down the eastern slopes of the sierras, we can see the deserts again in the distance. Its much drier over this side of the mountains, and sagebrush creeps across the rolling hills to the horizon. As the sun begins to set we pass the old ghost town of Bodie, lonesome in the glow of magic hour, the wind whistling through its empty streets and the tall grass and abandoned mines...

We stop for the night in a small town called Bridgeport – theres not much to it – but the motel is nice, the girls play on the grass amongst the fallen leaves and in the morning we find an excellent park to play in. The girls play hide and seek with us and then Lib and I try the local breakfast burrito with salsa verde (lovely!) and a cup of great coffee. We cross back into Nevada and explore the state capitol of Carson City – Mark twain worked here for a time, and in nearby Virginia city – honing his writing skills, its a nice stop, and I pretended to filibuster with the girls in the old assembly rooms of the Capitol building.

Lake Tahoe is next and a strange hotel RIGHT on the boarder with California – so of course its a casino – but a great big bustling one in the middle of, well, not much else... and mid-week it was as dead as a doornail – gambling is in NO WAY glamorous... the only people here were haggard looking stained t-shirt wearing slot jockeys hoping for that big break that will never come as they suck on a death stick and drink watered down beer... talk about glamorous... Lake Tahoe itself is BEAUTIFUL... the most amazing clear waters, bright sunshine, interesting nooks and crannies along its coastline, great walks and wonderful beaches... and its all inland! We hire a paddle boat with a top speed of about .2 knots and chug out onto the water – we can see down a long way... and it gets even deeper (abd colder) the further out you go... its so cold they occasionally bring up perfectly preserved cowboys who met misfortune over a century ago... poor buggers. We have a lovely paddle along the shore and then head north into the gold country for one of our last stops...

Downieville and Sierra City are two tiny little towns strung out 12 miles apart on a VERY quiet highway both with a population of about 300. Its like being in another world, we’re bunked down in a small cabin about half way between the two – surrounded by pines, steep hills, glacial lakes and the sound of the river running by outside... its wonderful... The girls and I play in the river all day building stepping stone bridges, playing with dolls and making up stories... we hire a rowboat and spin hopelessly on a small lake, watching bald eagles fly overhead, and fish hide in the shadows below us. The deli in Sierra makes AMAZING sandwiches (roast beef, pickles, Swiss cheese, crispy lettuce, red onion, mayo and mustard on a sourdough roll) and we eat them on the rocks below the cabin in the sun, sipping on orange juice or lemonade while the girls eat ice cream. Its quiet and relaxing – and I can see the trees across the river dropping yellowed leaves in the afternoon breeze... they twist and turn downstream, out of sight, towards the sea...


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite...Yosemite...Is it worth all the hype Jue wonders. It certainly wasn’t back mid-year ’88 when there was so much hype and overcrowding that my parents and I were turned away at the gate. “How on earth can that happen? How can people who have travelled across the globe be turned away from a national park? Can’t we just have a peek?” Thankfully in recent years Mum and Dad finally returned and were welcomed in with such open arms that they now have a mug, a very often used and loved mug, to remember the joyful occasion. Now it is my turn. A turn only granted to me by the sheer dedication of my beloved Scarlett Johansson loving husband. It was midnight when he was sitting at the computer with sweaty palms, not for the above reason....hopefully, but for the 5 month advance release of Yosemite Valley campsites. His computer gamer quick hands made their deadly moves knocking out other contenders for North Pines... NO! Booked, booked, ALL BOOKED! “QUICK GO FOR LOWER PINES.” “NOOOOOOOOO!!!! ALL BOOKED!!!!! “GO FOR UPPER PINES! HURRY, HURRY.” Finally a massive release of tense breath. Site 67 Upper Pines campground was ours. He did it. He got me in.

Yosemite was worth all that hype. And it is for others too. This is a place where people come to get engaged, married and bring back their families year after year and spend several days rock climbing the SAME wall. I stood at the edge of Glacier Viewpoint and smiled. After everything we had already seen, not just here in the States but in all our travels, this was new. Like I did at all the great vistas we’d been to in the past months, I thought of those millions of years that took to make such a place, marvelled at its creation, and swelled with pride that its creator knows and loves me.


Yosemite was the grand finale of our time camping and visiting USA National Parks. As we packed up our lovely tent/home, carefully to avoid problems with customs, we thought of the places it had been and dreamed of the places it was yet to go. Jue drove out of the park entrance and I stared at the little wooden hut where the rangers guard the road. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, like the way you might not take your eye off a plane your loved one is leaving in. I kept looking at it till I could see it no more. Then I cried.







Monday, September 21, 2009

Almost not safe for work! LOLZ!! OMG!!!

I can feel the ship rolling on the great swell of the Pacific ocean... rising and falling with the work of the wind across the open miles and the pull of the moon. It should be comforting but its not – the problem is I’m at 8000 feet, in a tent, in the high sierras and hundreds of miles from the coast...

In the dark of the tent its fairly disorienting to still feel my bed rhythmically moving up and down and left to right... The roll of the ship stays with you long after you step ashore... I must look strange standing in the restroom at the urinal slowly swaying from side to side like some drunk... well, then again maybe I just look drunk...

Its bloody cold outside too – almost freezing in the dead of night, and a far cry from the heat and madness of Mexico... its dead quiet and we’re surrounded by a sea of huge trees rather than a sea of... ummm...sea? We’ve visited General Sherman himself, the largest living thing on earth, though to me not as impressive as the coastal redwoods of the start of our trip. Ol’ Sherms might be BIG but he’s not as tall as his cousins along the coast. The landscape is stunning up here in the sierras though, huge domes of granite and severe drops at every turn... this is where Patty Hearst's kidnappers came to hide out and “liberate” the poor of San Francisco...

Ironically enough we actually descend from Sequoia National Park the next day, via the most twisty bloody turney road I’ve ever driven, through mist and dense cloud and across the San Joaquin valley and its lush orchards and vegetable plots and water piped from the north by huge canals the Romans would drool over to the west coast again... San Simeon... the start of a great marine reserve, the start of the best part of Highyway One and also the old home of Patty’s grandfather, good old boy Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane himself...

Its an amazing home to pass through, full of incredible pieces from across every historical period and place on earth it seems... in other words its a grand mess. A rich mans ongoing and incredible vain desire I believe to outdo and impress everyone around him. Its big, its beautiful (taken a VERY small chunk at a time) but in the end a reminder that money doesn’t buy you taste or sense... Living here would be like the episode of the Simpsons where the family have to look after Mr. Burns Mansion... spending every dinnertime proclaiming “LOOK HOW LOAD I HAVE TO YELL!” Its not a place I might desire to live in, it does have a nice swimming pool though...

From there we’re onto the Big Sur drive, winding north along the coast, clinging to cliffs and hang over the waves to Big Sur and Monterey. When we spoke to people about going to the US they invariably asked three things “Are you doing Disneyland?“ (yes, and we loved it) and “Are you doing the drive to San Fran along the coast? (yes – we just did it).

After such a buildup from people who know it, have driven it, seen it in movies or written about it in guide books I was expecting an out of this world experience. The road paved with rubies that looked like Scarlet Johansson’s lips, guardrails that looked like... umm... Scarlett Johansson’s arms, highway signage that glittered like Scarlett Johanssons ...?... That and vistas that made your jaw drop and angels with complimentary shots of Cabo Wabo at every turn and a White Castle in every town (I really want to try White Castle, but they’re only on the east coast).

Needless to say Scarlett Johansson is sorely missing. Its a wonderful drive, and it was a beautiful day, the sun glimmering on the sea, the fog keeping its distance, the gulls swirling and spinning in a blue sky... but the food is HORRIBLY expensive along the way, and the local towns have a grossly over-inflated sense of “cool” and self worth. You’re also just in the car most of the time, there’s a few walks and so on and a few lookouts, but mostly its just driving...It is, as I said, a wonderful drive, but don’t come 16000 miles for it or expect the best drive ever... New Zealand is much closer and puts up some mighty fine contenders for a better drive. No sour grapes, just a wake up call that not everything is the best in the world over here.

Monterey though IS pretty damn cool. Here is one town I would live in in a split second. Its not overbearing or pretentious unlike nearby Carmel), there’s some nice food, some GREAT parks, and a relaxed and down to earth feel like we’ve only experienced in a few places over here. Its easy to get around, its beautiful, and it has everything you need, including a local council that obviously places a high value on local greenery and parks – kudos to Monterey for being such a great town to relax in.

We stay on the motel strip out of town proper and use a local Jiffy Lube to change the oil in the car (I thought 10000 miles was pushing it) and had pizza from the local cafe. The US feels very familiar now, we’re used to most of the inns and outs... we feel at home here, and slip easily into the groove of local shopping, gas etc... its a far cry from arriving in Honolulu and being amazed by all the new brands, all the quirky differences... they’re all second nature and we even have out favourite brands for ham, hot dogs, breakfast cereal, milk, bread, candy, butter and cheese... it will be weird, and exciting to go back to Australia and get reacquainted with all our old favourites there.

But there’s still a few things to do before we head back home...so we buy some of our favourite brands, pack them into our food box and esky, and prepare to head out to our last national park, the big one, the one that is the third question everyone asked us... “Are you going to Yosemite?” Yes... we are... and we’re just about to find out if it was worth all the hype...








Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blue Sky Mining...

With no driving, no GPS, no fingers crossed for correct hotel reservations, no crappy Motel 6 service and with no roads travelled we wake in a different town... Machine gun toting army joes in green fatigues swagger and smoke in front of rusting shipping containers out our window, behind and above them rise billboards for cheap diamonds, Pacifico beer and behind that a wild array of radio towers sprouting like wild hair from a lush rocky hill... this is Mazatlan in Mexico – really a world away from the towns and ways of the America we’ve known for the last 2 months...

On one side of the ship lie the port and the city, spreading away to the golden sands of the bay and the hazy distant towers of the “Golden Zone” – a mashup of foreign investment and local funseekers. On the other side of the ship lies the dingy river mouth and a tumble down shanty town fighting back the ravenous jungle. Birds soar in crazy circles and a huge black helicopter judders its way through the smog of a belching factory, back into the pale blue sky and across the city.

Today is hotter than the last if possible, and I break into a sweat just thinking about going outside... thankfully its much worse than I anticipate... within seconds leaving the ship we’re waving away a barrage of taxi offers and walking towards downtown... A few seconds more we’re begging for a taxi and a fresh towel to dry the profuse sweat that’s carving a canyon down my back and pooling on the cracked sidewalk. We slug into town in a converted VW beetle and soak it all in. Its busy and relaxed at the same time, so much going on, banners and flags and stall holders at the market vying for attention, the spires of the cathedral flashing in the hot sun and the cool shade of the trees in the plaza providing respite before I urge us ON! ON! There’s too much to see – we buzz on in another taxi to the golden zone – sounding like something from a John le Carre novel or a Bond movie – its nowhere near as exciting. A bunch of jazzed up shops catering to tourists need for a bargain (though in no means providing one) and tropic frayed hotels teetering over a too thin beach... we spend an age trying to find a good place to swim – there really isn’t one here – it all “looks” good but the swimming is... underwhelming. So we fake our way into the restricted area of a very up-market resort and spend some time using their pool and facilities... Thanks El Cid! Not only did we have a better swim, but my inner cheapskate was well pleased...

The next port though, Cabo San Lucas was stunning. Even though we were awakened in our cheap cabin by the clanking and goings on of the ship preparing to send us ashore by tender it was worth it. A stunningly beautiful day dawned out the window over the desert town of Cabo, perched at the end of the Baja peninsula and surrounded by water so clear that I could almost see the bottom from my cabin window.

The tender drops us in the heart of the marina and I feel a sense of déjà vu – the lighthouse across the bay looks somewhat familiar... then it strikes me... Cabo... CABO! That bloody tequila I trapesed across the whole of west LA looking for, for Chris, the famed Cabo Wabo – came from here – DUH! They’re practically giving it away on the wharf, sales ladies ask me if I need a free six-pack of the stuff – the locals use it for cleaning the dishes with and watering the window gardens they have! Actually though, and much to my inner cheapskates eternal thanks I got it for the same price in LA that they sell it here for – with NO duty troubles...

Like Mazatlan the taxi drivers swarm us – but here they all drive glass bottomed boats instead of cut down Vee-dubs. We shug out to Lovers Beach and spend our time in the clearest water I think I’ve ever seen... its beautiful, and we watch our ship float majestically in front of us and I drink Pacifico beer play with the girls in the surf and watch the waves and the birds and the buzzing town a few miles away which we haven’t even entered and life is good until I get a stupidly blazing dose of sunburn – oh the irony –I’d been happily pointing out all the burnt idiots on board and laughing maliciously... until now – ouch. Stupid beer.

I walk across a spit of sand to the western edge of Baja and look out. The Pacific is my favourite ocean, the bright blue sky and deep blue powerful swell remind me not to mess with it, and I don’t jump in. With the hot sand burning my feet I turn my back and walk through the bright sun past the white rocks to the clear bay and our playing children and the jumping fish, and our little glass bottom boat comes to take us back to the Marina, and our tender to our ship. We set sail, round the southern tip of Baja, then full speed back to Long Beach and the United States of not Mexico...



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bryan Ferry would approve

It’s called "dead air" and that’s what we were for the last week... a gaping hole in the blogosphere, static down the wire...

What the hell where we up to? Where did we disappear to? What kind of magic removes a man who needs the internet like the tide needs the moon (or Ponting needs a whinge when not winning) from his world wide security blanket the internet... More interestingly... what on earth could make a man who talks underwater in his sleep stop blogging for such a period?

After raging our way across the dusty innards of America, poring over the geologic entrails of dead seas, the dry scars of dead rivers and climbing the bones of giants its quite simple - we felt the call of the seas... to be more exact that curse of the Emerson-Elliott family, that of salt water blood without being able to sail for nuts set in - we hit the high seas... We - the cheapest and skimpiest of families who camp rather than take discount hotels, who eat chili from a tin rather than takeout succumbed to excess took all the money we'd saved during these last few months and blew it on a dammed cruise. Not just any cruise though - oh no! Not for us - for us it’s only the best! And by best I mean the only one that fit in with our itinerary. We were to be flung across the raging (placid) seas to far flung (not that far) exotic (strongly familiar) Mekk-heeeeee-CO (Mexico)!(.)

The ship loomed like a damn intergalactic cruiser as we approach it on the freeway... wait we can see it from the freeway?! Damn strait Mr. Rhetorical question we can - from like 5 miles away this monster of a ship towered over EVERYTHING. Even the building which used to house the world’s largest plane is now used merely as a sitting room you pass through on the way to boarding the Carnival Splendor. 450 Bajillion metric tonnes*, 45 decks*, 27 bars*, a full size replica of Laguna Seca raceway*, two zero gravity bowling alleys*, 4 planetariums*, 6 cirque de so lei shows* and close to of one of the biggest ships to be cruising the Mexican east coast out of Long Beach on a Sunday with this particular name. If not the biggest...

It’s pretty exciting being herded on board, in that it was pleasant - my only other experience of cruising was just after the iron curtain fell and some nuclear powered ex-Russian navy "cruise" ships plied the Australian route back in the early 90's and you were ushered on board with complimentary borscht and vodka - and that was for the kids!

The decor is a bit disorienting at first - orange carpet and a proliferation of pink vomit on the walls and blue lights to discourage shooting up in public (I imagine?). Though try as I might I couldn't help but slowly start to fall in love with the ship.

There’s something about being at sea, pulling away from the wharf and knowing you're on your own, nothing in any direction but miles of sea... feeling the slow and comforting rock of the ship as she rides the swell, the distant but constant hum of the engines and the quiet whoosh of the bow waves as they break outside your cheap cabin... Which though, yes, cheap, was VERY nice, a great bed, and exciting for the girls to have fold down bunks and a fun little light to play with each. It’s cozy yet spacious and on our first night Lib and I stood mesmerized watching the sea and all its mysteries play out before us as we glided down the Baja peninsula - and not a hint of pink vomit in sight...

Cruise life would send a guy like me mad - just sitting around on deck trying to look cool/pretty/hip/tanned/intelligent... thankfully there’s a lot more to it than that - and the entertainment staff kept us well... entertained with trivia, karaoke (yes really - admit it - you play sing-star, and you LOVE it - it’s just like that but worse)...

Just as we’re getting into the swing of things (much like Bryan Ferry would!) we arrive in bloody Mexico – talk about bad timing – now we have to go out and explore a new and exciting town deep in the tropic west coast of (for me) this unexplored land. And, true to form we fit right in, and within 20 minutes I’ve found us a lovely gay beach with some wonderful waiters and exciting new friends... at least Lib feels at home (not gay, she just knows she not on show here like some other beaches...)

We buy a few drinks, swim in the bath warm seas and watch as alien birds circle in an alien sky with the towering office blocks and relentless jungle spilling up and over us like some Ralph Steadman landscape. I then reacquaint myself with how BLOODY hot and sweaty it is carrying a child on your shoulders up hill in the tropics as we wind through back streets in search of a taxi back to the ship. Its different here, I’ve felt this type of country before – its like being in S.E. Asia again but with Mexican food, Mexican shops and Mexican “bargains” you just HAVE to be told about around every corner...



We fall back into the arms of the ship as she pulls away again into the night... to sleep... to dream... to awaken, like magic at our next port and our next adventure – we love it...





Monday, September 14, 2009

Avalon...

Like an electric shock the freeways of L.A. jolt us back into real life. Disneyland disappears as we float over concrete and palm covered suburbs and workshops, billboards for weight loss, past the towering monoliths of downtown, under the LA metro lines to the glittering sea again. I keep getting "Disney artifacts" in my vision and thinking though... I keep thinking the car runs on rails or the jack-knifing gas-tanker in front of me is a good 3d effect... I'm pretty sure some of the people serving at the hotel are animatronic, I'm sure I see fireworks out of the corner of my eye but when I look its always just some gang related shooting going on...

Santa Monica beach sweeps gracefully along the pacific coast mere miles from Hollywood and its myriad of adult shops and visitors hoping for a glimpse of something more meaningful. Its most likely not there - and it may not be in Santa Monica either - but this is a far nicer place to pass the time.

The beach is wide and inviting, the pier flexing its muscles out over the water with a multitude of overly expensive attractions encrusted on it like salty barnacles. Mexican restaurants line the alleys that run back from the sand offering cool water and shady respite from the heat and every second pedestrian zooms by on funky roller-skates. Its not as inviting a beach as Laguna was, but its more exciting, there're lights, sound action everywhere... even musclemen working out on muscle beach and moaning about how tired their arms are just so you'll stop and watch them (they must love that). I studiously keep my eyes averted, its not like I stand around in public with my donkey kong handheld moaning about how tiring it is to get a high score...

Back from the beach lie avenues of wonderful shops just waiting to be explored, if only we cared a hoot about shopping, but we dont, so we wander past them and think how double-edged a sword it would be to enjoy shopping: more fun in a place like this but a huge cost... I'm actually glad we dont like shopping, our purchases so far consist of some dresses and shoes for the girls and some camping equipment. That actually changes in Santa Monica as I pass a video game shop and drop in for some bargains... sheesh...

Our jaunt into Mexico is coming up - so we do our best to do some laundry while avoiding getting involved in wonderful dispute at the 7-11 next door as some large lady screams about her "damn soda cup" which is "just behind the damn counter - I paid for it! Dont make me call the cops!" Thankfully we get out of there before the cops or the inevitable drive by shooting attempt happen. We find a liquor shop and grab a bottle of Cabo Wabo for Chris back in Australia. Its a very old bottle, the cashier literally has to go out the back to wipe all the dust, grease and blood off - I hope it ages well.

I take a walk out before we leave, into the heat and the back streets of the suburb, Bryan Ferry (who I had grievously under-rated in my youth) on the headphones (and what a lovely twist in that video too - quite moving)... The fires bloom into the sky, their huge mass creating striking white plumes of pyrocumulous. Apart from that its much like any suburb. Buzzing insects, trees, letterboxes and crisscrossed wires... As I stroll down one road, mechanics and beauty salons on one side, a lush and manicured cemetery on the other I bump into a wonderful surprise...

Its like my guardian angel, here on this hot day, pushing along a small hand painted cart with jingle-jangle bells tinkling is an ice-cream man... I can't see a house for miles and its a quiet Saturday... I wonder where he came from. He charges me a dollar for a frozen fruit bar and then jingle-jangles off into the semi-suburban maze again, leaving me with my dripping but very much appreciated frozen ice treat and the muted sound of the freeway and cicadas in the trees... L.A. is a pretty cool place like that...




Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dekka's long awaited Disneyland post

As far as I'm concerned there are two types of adults who go to amusement parks. Those who have a deep sense of self preservation and those who don't. Jue and I fall separately into each category. I was quite young and at the Canberry Fair when I first found out I was a wuss. Over the years I've tried to conquer my motion sickness by going on rides such as the corkscrew roller-coaster at Sea World and Wipe Out at Dream World - still tame by many peoples' standard. It frustrates me that some part of my brain kicks in...or doesn't... when I'm on thrill seeking rides and I panic. Jue on the other hand is a Goody - he'll do anything, anytime, anywhere. Disneyland is for everyone. It gives both types the time of their life and provides an amazing range of experiences no matter what your "in to". Of course the girls loved it too, how could they not? They had been counting down the days and knew from You Tubing before we left Australia, that they would be meeting real princesses.

Jue's childhood dream to go on Space Mountain began back in the 70's when he saw a map of Disneyland on the back of a Disney Annual. It was awesome to see him grinning from ear to ear after coming back. "You have to go on it. It's great!" And then it started. That churning feeling down in the lower half of my stomach. I'm trapped. I could refuse but then know that curiosity will chew at me and tease me that this ride just might change who I am and take me to the other side. I remember that it is a roller-coaster in complete darkness with sprinkles of star-like dots of light. Dad had gone on it back in '88 and it definitely wasn't on my agenda then. A day had passed when I realised that it was now or never. I went to the toilet. My eyes scanned the photos of people faces taken during the ride. I went to the toilet. Walking quickly through the space where lines of people would be waiting in the peak of summer I'm able to avoid time dwelling on what I was going to put myself through. With barely a pause I'm directed to my seat and I'm comforted that a woman 30 years older than me sits in front. The ride starts. It's not so bad. I can do this. It takes about 5 seconds for my confidence to be wiped flat. I begin to groan. The lady in front will just have to deal with it. When the ride is over I apologise and make my way back to the sunshine.

For me and my type, Disneyland is about fun adventure, spectacular shows, enchanting animatronics, tear jerking sound-tracked fireworks and lovely rides such as spinning tea cups, it's a small world, flying dumbos, rockets and yoghurt containers and Lucy's favourite, 'Heimlich's Chew Chew Train'. The fat caterpillar takes passengers through a giant dripping watermelon and a cookie box blowing the warm, sweet smell of freshly baked cookies. In three days and thanks to quiet Wednesday, we were able to pretty much cover everything including California Adventure park - a new addition since my first visit. It was here on 'Soarin' Over California' that I had the most beautiful, wonderful and emotional experience of any fun place in my life. People clap at the end of it.

This is definitely a place for everyone's life to do list. It is a dream theme park. I agree with Walt Disney who once said, "Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future."



Screenwriter's Blues

I'll admit that I hadn't really been looking forward to L.A... Its a big city. We've been in the wilds for so long... I was worried that it might not live up to the wonders we'd seen before - be a bit of a step back as it were. I imagined it was full of valley girls, washed out wannabes, freeways, smog and broken dreams. I couldn't have been further from the truth.

Its a great town, all 20 something million souls of it, all umpteen billion miles of freeway of it, all "a palm tree on every corner" of it. Its energetic, its both industrial and imaginetic at the same time, spinning you along past strip malls, freeways, tangled spaghetti junctions, billboards, the ocean glistening like a bed of jewels, unimaginable wealth and those who got left behind. It infuses you with a sense of the possible and an understanding of why the dreamers and pragmatists come here to work together.

And its not movies I'm talking about either (Hollywood was a dreary couple of streets we passed through, and didn't stop at, on the way to the architectural triumph and treasure-house that is the Getty Centre, perched high on the brown wooded hills above Bel Air with a glorious view of the huge city sprawling below and the large station fire to the east) its not movies at all. I'm sure they're made here but the 20 million people dont work in movies. Its school after school, mall after mall, workshop after workshop, factory after factory, foot by foot of concrete, canals, playing fields... suburb after suburb of either Brady Bunch type bungalows to Pulp Fiction like apartment blocks and everything in between...

It doesn't matter which, they're all part of the tapestry that is LA. I'm not sure what it is, but the mix of it all is intoxicating. This is a real city, big beyond what a small Canberra boy can probably grasp, you can feel its pulse as you travel the freeways, it grips you, I even find myself not worried by the snarled traffic, thats just how it is here - you live with it. You go along to get along. If I had to pick a town to live in over here, to experience for a long time, it'd be here (or Seattle, but thats a different beast). You can feel in the air theres just so much here to be done, seen, felt, its real. I'm most likely being a naive tourist in that regard! But if you are over this way - dont turn your nose up at LA - its a great town, well worth the visit... I'm glad we're not done with it yet.

We also explored the southern beaches of Orange County... its like the Northern Beaches of Sydney but with worse traffic (if possible) and less snooty residents. Fishing fleets ride the swell in the bay meters from art galleries, gas stations, charity shops and haut coture shops, a mix you dont really get in Palm Beach, thats what it feels like here. The beaches are almost as good too - we had our first real swim in the ocean at Crescent beach in Laguna, it was great to get back in and get smashed by some waves then float, back down, toes cooling in the breeze, bobbing up and down beyond the breakers looking back at the city. Rivers and pools are all well and good but the beach still provides the most refreshing way to take a dip.

The girls make 5 minute friends and build sand castles on the beach together, we chat with the locals who range from the retired to tradesmen to day traders to unemployed... the beach is the great leveller, no matter who you are you can come to the beach, the houses above it might cost several million but hey - for the day you're closer to the ocean than them - and it didn't cost a cent.

After exploring the beaches we retire to our hotel and the girls discover the game of shuffleboard. None of us know the rules - but that just adds to the fun. Theres some tension in the air as the girls head off to sleep though - Disneyland is up next, and the hopes and dreams for two little girls (not to mention Lib and I!) will be realised beyond imagining or dashed come the morning...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Now you've done it...

So there I am, late at night by the window in our Vegas motel... laptop glowing, searching the internet in vain for an exciting family outing in the Vegas area that does not involve gambling, hookers, drugs, the mafia, Liberace, hamburgers or humvees... I was getting kind of desperate.

"Okay.." I thinks to myself, "its a big town, theres bound to be lots of things that normal people here do..." Apparently normal people in Vegas if they don like gambling, hookers, drugs, the mafia, Liberace, hamburgers or humvees, they ah... they must play golf? There's more golf courses here in the waterless desert than there are social services I'd wager. BUT, finally, at last, like a bolt from the blue came the answer.

One word. One quarter. Two flippers. Hours of entertainment...

PINBALL!!!

Las Vegas hosts the International Pinball Hall of Fame... not so much a tribute to those who can play well - but to those who LOVE to play. In an out of the way location, miles off the strip, in a plain shopfront with no great fanfare lies the greatest indoor fun I've yet had in the states... row after row of pinball history... from baseball simulators that ran on magnets from the 40's to childrens amusements of the 50's to fantastic and innovative pinballs of the 60's and 70's to (what I consider to be the pinnacle of Pinball Games) the best selling pinball machine of all time The Addams Family and beyond, right up to new machines like CSI and Batman. EVERYONE in the family had a fantastic (and cheap - even better!) time. Jammy played her first pinball, Mario World - how awesome is that! The best of both worlds Mario AND pinball!!! Lucy played her first game - too! We spent a few hours here just soaking up the fun, quarter by quarter...

Theres some fine machines out there - I have no doubt now that in my family room of the future there's going to be a pinball machine - an Addams Family if I can get one. I say to you now, the unconverted, those who have not played pinball in years, or worse, their life - GO - find a machine, play it, enjoy it! Its simple, its honest, its fun and has a certain magic that even at ages 3 and 6 my little girls could relate to.

It was great to leave an attraction in Vegas, not because we'd run out of money - but because we'd had enough fun - it was the highligh of our stay in town, I could have gone back happily for a few more hours the next day but it wouldn't have made it any better... it was just perfect. If you're in Vegas you must visit. If you're not in Vegas you must visit Vegas so you can take this in.


To finish our stay in Vegas off we decided to spend an evening off the strip and get OLD SKOOL.. we headed downtown, were Vegas used to live (and technically still does as the strip is outside the actual boundaries of the city of Las Vegas).

The casinos here are older, dinosaurs, lovable dinosaurs compared to the sleek gambling mega-complexes of the strip, but endearing in a way an old safe cracker is as opposed to a white collar fraudster... still, endearing only gets you so far - the place was dying - so a few years ago they closed the main street and put a huge canopy over it making a mall, not just any mall though -that canopy overhead they turned into the worlds largest damn video screen - and whoo boy - what I thought was a gimmick was actually pretty cool to see in action... its about 200m long, 30 or 40 wide and every hour they present amazing footage overhead. The video we saw for Don McLeans American Pie was by far the most interesting take on the song I've ever seen put together, from casting Altamont as the 'day the music died' with Mick Jagger as the devil, to Janis Joplin as the girl who sang the blues, with Bobby and John Kenndy and Martin Luther King as "the three men I admire the most - the father son and holy ghost" ... the rest you'll have to see for yourself if you get over here.

The next morning we packed up, said goodbye to Vegas and headed off for the west coast. The real west coast, the ocean. We were headed to the OC, Orange County... centre of all things consumerist and I was prepared for the worst...





 
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