Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
217Trip End Ongoing
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The rest of the flight was rather uneventful, although painful at times. The only way to elevate my twisted ankle was to stretch from the middle seat across Mario in the window seat. But that position can only be maintained for so long!
Our Independence day flight was fully booked. That meant no upgrade, no emergency exit seats, not even a 3-seater for the two for us :(. Damned ash cloud! But we're still glad we flew Air New Zealand though as it's the only airline that continued flying throughout. So the only real gain from my pain was getting to board first with infants, the infirm and "those who may need longer to board". That was all the encouragement I needed!
Border control was uneventful too, even downright friendly! In any country even with a visa, it's always down to the officer's discretion and mood at the time of your arrival. Post-9/11 we've heard anecdotes that the U.S. is especially tough to get into, so we were prepared for a drilling, even rehearsing a few Q&As. But instead we had a nice little chat! Perhaps we have Tony Blair to thank for that?
We'd effectively time travelled, leaving Auckland at 5pm on Monday 4th July and arriving in L.A. at 11am on Monday 4th July. We've gone back to the future! We had also gone from being 10 hours ahead of London (plus 1 for Cape Town) to 8 hours behind. Too much to get our heads around, too much thinking... ouch!
Quick online research led us to believe that last minute accommodation in L.A. would be easy. Most hostels had availability and some had free pick-ups from outside the Starbucks. So the "plan" was to wait there and hitch a ride with the first backpacker van that came along. Who would win the lotter-LEE? Backpacker's Paradise! aka Trade Winds hotel aka Adventurer's hostel. We have sassy Steph (from London) to thank for that. If she had not called for the shuttle, none would have come
Picture Melrose Place... you know, palm trees around a swimming pool, most rooms leading from the courtyard. Then add some edginess. We gradually discovered that we were surrounded by a gangster's paradise in the notorious suburb of Inglewood. There were a few folks wandering about that looked very much at home. So we figured out who was who in the zoo - hostel staff, regulars, locals from the neighbourhood who hang out at the pool bar, the random pensioner chilling poolside with his lunch, families staying in the private rooms and then there were the homeless folks! At first we thought he worked there when he topped up the popcorn machine. But the tog bag that trailed him made us wonder... plus the fact that he was always the last man standing...hmmm... then Tamir, the Libyan guy working at the gas station next door explained that the homeless folks visit according to a schedule (to avoid double-booking?)
There was one guy who got everyone's attention when he crossed the courtyard. He has to be Inglewood gangland poster boy - American-born, Korean parents, long-haired, topless, sagging jeans, 60% tattoo-ed, hard-knock-life, questionable past... When he came over to chat the last thing we expected was a sermon! He was also happened to be a born-again Christian
This was a delicately balanced eco-system that needed to be understood and respected. It could so easily go wrong! There are some gems in the rough though. One night we got chatting to (and continued chatting to) a Tanzanian-born/Kenyan-raised guy - the coolest, chilled and soft-spoken guy we've met. Ujama is a rusta who hasn't cut his dreads since 1987! Now THAT's commitment! Turns out he's not just a pretty face, he also manages Jamaican Reggae artists, The Melodians, the band that wrote and recorded "Rivers of Babylon" made famous by Boney M and covered countless times!
Our first impression of LA overall? The definitive urban sprawl. It's nearly impossible to fully explore this city with public transport and definitely impossible with a hobble. The main roads stretch across at least 4 lanes in one direction, taking forever to cross but you have about 25 seconds according to the countdown. We'd love to know what came first - the supersized roads or the supersized cars that fill them? A Mercedes is tiny alongside the myriad of 4x4 beasts roaming the streets. Size does matter!
Retail stores are every, everywhere and fast food outlets are every, everywhere, featuring all the usual suspects plus less universal ones like Taco Bell, corn dogs, jambalayas and our personal favourite, El Pollo Loco (The Crazy Chicken!)
We've been pleasantly surprised and amused by a few retro pop culture elements that have popped up - Blondie and Dagwood comics in the newspaper, Ruffles crisps in stores, Secret Lovers by Atlantic Starr playing at Santa Monica pier amusement park! We haven't seen/heard that for yonks!
Visiting the States after 11 years is refreshing for me (it's Mario's first time). Being back has reminded me how vast and complex the country is. The media and movies portray the stereotypes that we all love to hate (and yes, they are alive and well! But really, there is so much more to America and Americans. L.A. has provided Mario with a skewed view too because thusfar we've met mostly minorities. Unlikely we'll get to see "Middle America" this time round, I doubt it's anything like "Middle Earth" from whence we just came ;-p
So we used Inglewood as a base for Santa Monica and Venice beach (see pics coming soon). Now to leave the "safety" of poolside gangster's paradise and venture over to gaze upon the glamour of Hollywood. Now where did I put my star-shaped sunglasses?
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