Being that the calendar has just turned the page to December 1, I have roughly 29 hours to get my shit together for this three–month trip of mine. As usual, I’m far from prepared; and as usual, I’m far from stressed about it. Sometimes I worry about my attitude towards life. The “she’ll be right, mate” (translation: “it’ll work itself out”) culture bred in Australia —Western Australia in particular— may have had a lasting effect on me, and it will probably affect my international relations for many years to come, but when I consider all those far–away people with high–stress lives in high–stress cities I thank my lucky stars.
My to–do list consists of the purchase of a few simple requirements like a non–electric (for no–adaptor–required fun) toothbrush, some non–aerosol (for explosive–decompression–avoiding fun) roll–on deodorant, a power adaptor or two (the Apple world travel kit is alluring, but impractical), and the packing of my backpack. I must then, of course, transfer about seven hours of footage from Mini–DV cassette to VHS before I leave, and do the usual “get fucked up with the boys” going–away thing that we do for everybody’s departure (Scotty’s, for example) tomorrow afternoon. Then we play the waiting game for Qantas flight 574.
While I think about it, I’m considering doing without sleep tomorrow night. After all, my plane flies out at 6:00 AM Perth time, flails about in the sky for the better part of a day, then lands in Los Angeles at 10:00 AM LA time the same calendar day. If I don’t sleep the night before my flight, polish off a few glasses of merlot on the plane, and sleep the bulk of the flight away I should (should) arrive refreshed in the city of angels with body clock prepped for local time. Should.
Well, we can hope.
The response to my accommodation–related cry for help has been overwhelming, and I am very, very grateful to all of you (you can tell how grateful by the seemingly–redundant use of emphasis and strong emphasis on the same word) for writing in with offers to take four perfect strangers into your home and shelter them from the ungodly cold of your Northern winter. I’m also very sorry that I haven’t even replied to some of you yet, since my inbox has been the least of my concerns lately, and promise to try harder.
Alas, I can’t stay with all of you, since many of the offers were worded “I know my city wasn’t on your list, but…”, but you still have the pleasure of being regaled with my stories from abroad and the stories a couple of my travel buddies (both of whom tote iPods, so you know they can be trusted) have to offer in their new LiveJournals. Dave and Titty will be LiveJournaling their experiences while Mike (who shuns the iPod and sports a MuVo instead) contemplates his navel. Why LiveJournal of all places, exactly, I’m not so sure. I believe Sharples was heard to proclaim exactly how emo LiveJournals are, which Dave took as a challenge to remake himself emo in the face of insurmountable obstacles, thus sealing his fate as a not–a–real–blogger type guy. Shameful.
But again, thank you all for your generosity. If you’re ever in my neck of the woods, you know who to call, and remember; even if you weren’t prepared to offer (or even capable of offering) us a roof and a floor, it’d still be super neat (read: awesome) to catch up with some of you for a soda and a game of totem tennis (read: beer and poker).
Also, I must thank Patrick Scott (another person to whom I am yet to reply) for writing in about my troublesome ironing. The solution? Use a hot iron instead, but insulate your clothing with a tea towel or similar piece of thick fabric. I assume steam is still verboten though, and I won’t be doing too much ironing in the coming months anyway, but the advice is sound. God bless the world wide web.
As it turns out, I can’t sleep on planes. Nineteen hours in a tiny, uncomfortable, if–I–recline–too–much–the–guy–behind–me–will–get–pissy airline seat with no leg room (by my standards) isn’t the most exciting thing I can imagine, but with plenty of movies and television shows screening from the back of the seat in front of me plus a metric assload of photo tagging on my to–do, I can pass the time. Thankfully, the food was good and the free booze helped loosen me up.
To put it mildly, LA has thus far been… unsurprising. Sure, it’s about forty times bigger than any city I’ve been in before and sure, it’s dirty in places and full of crackheads in places and the root of all evil in places (depending on your particular prejudice) but for all intents and purposes it feels just like home; only with more Americans than usual. Any aberrations are being appended to my internal “crazy American shit” dictionary… singing hobos in Santa hats notwithstanding.
California was apparently a very good place to begin our trip. It’s now officially winter here, but it’s exactly the same as a Western Australian winter: cold enough to require jeans but uncomfortably hot as soon as you step into the sun. By night, you need a jacket… no big deal. Most of my clothes were packed with Canadian winter in mind, so right now I’m pleased as punch a pair of shorts accidentally found their way in to my pack.
Mike and I are enjoying the company of a pair of Brits —Sola, who is here to write and record an album; and Paul, who is desperate to get home— both of whom have made it their task to introduce us to American life. I’m yet to see that much of LA, mostly restricted (without a cheap means of locomotion beyond the bus and my own two feet, as I am) to Venice and Santa Monica… which is just fine for now. Santa Monica is (again) confirming my suspicion that California is just Australia without the Australians: a beautiful city with wide, clean streets reminiscent of our inner–city malls, a smattering of bars and clubs and plenty of good shopping. Imagine the Perth CBD mashed together with Subiaco. I’ll say it a few more times before the end of this post: it feels like home.
And as much as I’d like to continue drawing large and obvious parallels between here and home, it’s the little differences that make trips like this fun. The bars don’t serve wedges —which is inexcusable— and have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re talking about when you say “can I get a basket of wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce?” — which is horrific. Further attempts to clarify by using synonyms like “chunky–cut potato”, “skin on” and “chili” have so far only scored us what appeared to be a plate of nachos served with curly fries instead of corn chips. Random. Paul took us to a Hooters for a lark, and I’m absolutely flabbergast by the place. We’re in there to have a beer and to ogle tits and asses and there are couples having dinner there. Families with children dine at Hooters, and by our minds the place is just a sophomoric skin bar. There are plenty of hot women working in bars in Australia, but paying them to flirt with patrons is the last thing anyone would think of doing… you can go to a real titty bar if that’s your thing. You end up tipping them the same, but you’ll at least get a lap dance at a strip club.
A difference that actually plusses the American experience so far has been the retail stores’ self–checking EFTPOS terminals. At the Apple store I checked the total of my purchase on a 5×7 inch LCD before swiping my own card, signing the screen with a stylus, and confirming the purchase… brilliant. Faster, more secure (in a “your card doesn’t leave your person” way), and more convenient than anything I’ve seen in Australia.
Speaking of which, the Santa Monica Apple Store is treating me well with their supply of free wi–fi; and I’m interested to go see the LA store at the Grove —one of Apple’s flagship “glass staircase” stores— to see what all the fuss is about. Nice atmosphere, nice staff, and the biggest collection of Macs and Mac–related merchandise I’ve ever seen in one place. I had absolutely no luck looking for a SendStation PocketDock in Australia, but here they’re just lined up on the rack with all the other merchandise. The attempt to make their stores a cool place to hang out is clearly working, the joint has been jumpin’ every time I’ve visited, doing a helluva lot for Apple’s mindshare. One would hope that once we get an Australian iTMS they might consider porting their retail stores; with the iPod gaining traction in the usually slow–to–adopt Australian market, I would assume Apple will start paying a little more attention to the land down under.
More news as events warrant… which basically means every day.
Still staying in Venice, we’ve managed to broaden our horizons and see a little more than just the streets of Venice and Santa Monica by way of a friendly Pennsylvanian named Becky we picked up at a club. You’d be inclined to believe, at that junction, that either she or we were dangerously naïve to jump right into an unidentified stranger’s car —or to let unidentified strangers jump into her car— at such short notice, but given everyone’s incredible friendliness thus far we’ve almost come to expect such things. Actual conversation extract:
- Random girl
- Hey guys, you havin’ a good time?
- Yeah, great. This is a pretty cool place.
- Random girl
- Where you from?
- Australia. Well, Western Australia.
- Random girl
- Oh my god, you’re from Australia? I love Australia!
Come to think of it, there’s barely been a person we’ve spoken to in a bar that doesn’t say “I love Australia”… which is a little freaky, but it also gives us the impression that Americans are way friendlier than the silver screen would indicate. Even the bums have been friendly, though I would proffer that is because they’re living in a tourist district; the nicer you are to tourists, the more likely you are to get some change.
So, after organizing for Becky to pick us up the following afternoon and drive us down to Orange County, we finally got away from LA for a day. The bars on Huntington Beach are easy to recommend (atmosphere, price, company), as are the sights around Laguna Beach and Newport, though we were mostly stuck in the car because of rain (rain!) and our distinct failure to pack umbrellas for this trip.
Monday morn saw Dave and Titty burst into our room —fresh from the airport— which means our awesome foursome of Australians is now fully assembled for the next two months of North American travel. A short orientation later, and we settled in to a night of heavy drinking to mark their arrival. By far one of the most remarkable things about the nightlife in California is the liquor licensing: drinks can’t be served after 2:00am. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with how the rest of the country works, but being from a nation of beer lovers and hearty partiers I’m dumbfounded by this legislation. Clubs can stay open after two o’clock… they just can’t serve alcohol. In the end, it means that everyone just heads on home at 2 and readies themselves for another day. In Australia (and, I’m sure, many many many other parts of the world) if a bar closes at 1:00am or 2:00am and you still feel like partying, you just head for a club that is licensed until 6 o’clock. If dawn comes and you still feel like partying, then you’re probably out of luck; but if you feel like waiting it’s only three hours ‘til the bars re–open.
Given that Dave and Titty had arrived, it seemed like the time to settle in for some real tourist crap: namely a day trip to Hollywood. The metro is a piece of cake to figure out, so instead of spending forty bucks on a guided tour we caught the bus and decided to take things at our own pace.
Yeah, yeah, we did the walk of fame (where “did” means “walked over peoples’ stars on our way to more interesting places”), the Kodak Theater and Grauman’s Chinese Theater and it was all very cool and flashy. Blade Trinity was premiering last night, which meant a whole bunch of cement handprints were inaccessible, but we made do. Tempted as we were to hang around for the premiere to ogle Jessica Biel and give approving thumbs–ups to Wesley Snipes and Ryan “Van Wilder” Reynolds, we figured we had better things to do: we needed a guitar.
One thing that we had planned a long time ago for this trip was to buy Dave a new acoustic guitar and hardcase and make sure we had plenty of musical entertainment for the trip. After all, all four of us are musicians of some bent, and our long–held tradition of taking a guitar on road trips was not ready to be broken. And given that we’re in the same town as the world’s biggest guitar shop, it seemed like the right place to do it.
The Guitar Center is depressing in its magnitude: some of the finest guitars in the world (though they only seem to stock Fender basses, curious) and all at rock–bottom prices. A Gibson Les Paul —the same guitar Dave bought back home for A$3000— was tagged at US$1200… and Mesa/Boogie amps at a third of what we’d pay in Australia. It’s enough to make a grown man cry. We settled on a nothing–special Takamine with a hardcase for $400 and headed out in search of a souvenir store: it’s our aim to buy a sticker from every town we visit and plaster the hardcase in the quintessential traveling–musician’s style. By the time we reach home this guitar case will be a testament to our youth, and our hunger for stickers will be unyielding.
Lousy tourist–store sticker vendors of the world, beware.
Travel is an invitation you extend yourself to become a restless, nomadic zombie.
If we weren’t always being told how much greener the grass on the other side was, we’d never even bother.
Following our day trip to Hollywood and with our departure from Los Angeles inching ever closer, our gracious host and all–around nice girl Becky decided we should all go see a show at the Roxy — the very same club on Sunset Boulevard where NOFX recorded their 1995 album “I Heard They Suck Live!!”. Plus, since she garnished the invitation with the (later proven fallacious) claim that Keanu Reeves’ band would be playing there, we were even more excited by the prospect.
I mean come on. Keanu Reeves’ band? Don’t you realize the quality of the heckling material that provides us?
We spent the day in Beverly Hills, since we’d passed it on the way to Hollywood a few days prior, figured it was a nice touristy place to visit, and didn’t come away disappointed. Not that we did anything in particular there beyond walking the streets, but the general quality of those streets is what impressed me most. Cool cars, hot women (well, hotter than Venice and Santa Monica at any rate, but the relative attractiveness of America’s women is a post for another time), and some great stores to peer into: Armani, Versace, Ferrari, Georgio… all that jazz. Beyond that we had only one thing on our agenda: be at the Roxy by half seven. Hardly a demanding schedule.
The one thing everybody is dumbfounded by when they speak with us is the sheer distances we have traveled by foot since we arrived. On the first night we met Becky in Santa Monica, whilst driving us home to Venice she commented “you couldn’t have walked this far… I think you’re lost, do you really know where your hotel is?” and she was wrong. So very wrong; a few
hours minutes later we were home. Hey, when you don’t have a car and you’re new in a city, you walk; and we traversed that distance between Venice and Santa Monica between two and six times a day. I won’t miss that walk, even though it was the one thing that would likely prevent me from packing on some serious pounds during this trip.
So when we arrived at the Roxy and answered the fairly simple question “how did you get here” with “we just walked from Hollywood up to here” (West Hollywood), they didn’t believe us. “Naw, that’s like, twenty blocks!” — “well, yeah, we walked it” — “you couldn’t have” — “we just did… we started around 7000 on Sunset and walked up here: 9009”. It’s not a tough concept to grasp, although Dave kept singing “Walking in LA” by Missing Persons, which might explain the locals’ mindset. Truth be told, there’s probably less distance between my house in Perth and the CBD, but I’d never want to walk that — I have a car, fer chrissakes.
The show at the Roxy was… entertaining. I won’t say the bands were fabulous, because even though they were very tight and oftentimes inventive, they were more of the same ol’ SoCal emocore blandcore mediocre punk rock we’ve been hearing come out of that city for the last decade. Mike made the aside: “I can’t believe there’s a 21+ market for this music here, at home you grow out of it before you’re 20”… which is probably true because we get the drink at 18. If you start a punk rock band in your garage at age 16 in Australia (like we did), you’ll be playing gigs at bars by the time you’re 17 or 18 (like we did) and be totally over the whole scene before you’re 19 (like we were). Here, you’ll be rehearsing and writing songs for five years in your garage —maybe playing some all–ages gigs around the place in the meantime— before you start playing to pub crowds; it’s a whole different dynamic that seems to foster this particular music culture.
As was mentioned earlier, Keanu didn’t play. I can’t say I’m disappointed —I honestly doubt I missed much of anything— but it would’ve been fun. Instead, I had the pleasure of having some aggro bitch try and pick me up all night in front of her boyfriend. She even introduced me to him, before pulling me down and whispering in my ear “I dumped him like a week ago, but he keeps calling! I told him I’d come to this show with him if he paid for my entry and paid for all my drinks, but he keeps following me around, it’s really annoying!”
Bitch has problems, clearly.
- I’ll be really pissed off if your boyfriend comes over here and smacks me one in the face just because you’re being a slut.
- Nah, he’s a pansy. You wanna come to the after–party with me later? I know the guy on the door.
After the ‘slut’ remark, and after calling her ‘a bad person’ a few times for torturing her ex–boyfriend, she finally got the message and disappeared. I pity the fool who actually did end up going home with her.
So, after a post–gig visit to the Hustler store on Sunset and a bus ride home, we readied ourselves for the next day: the train ride to San Francisco. I can’t say I’d like to live in Los Angeles, even though Santa Monica was kinda nice and reminded me of home, but it was a good place to start the trip. Now, onward and upward.
I can’t be bothered recounting the drama of our train boarding at Los Angeles… so I’ll let Titty do it.
At least one area where the US has Australia beat hands down is porn. Since most of the western world’s porn is (likely) filmed here there’s a massive massive massive selection; and all the really filthy shit is A–OK even at your corner video store. Mike snapped off a few shots at our local store in Venice, where titles like Semen Demons are just jumping off of the shelves.
Contrast that to Australia, where all our porn is imported (with the exception of some of those “all natural aussie girls” sites… not that I’ve been looking for people I know or anything) and it’s illegal to sell anything above an R rating except in Canberra. Canberra, our nation’s capital, where our politicians go to work and play.
Roll it all together with the titty bars dotting the urban landscape, the 25¢ peep shows and the hookers, and we’re talking one seriously deviant nation. And we haven’t even started with Las Vegas yet.
OK, so sue me: the title of this post is a bald–faced lie. The train part is true enough, I really am on a train —the Amtrak Coast Starlight if you insist on details— and I did just leave San Francisco, but I have all kinds of crap to complain about. For one, we’re just pulling into Portland at 8:09pm… a stop that was scheduled for 3:40pm. Yep, more than four hours late. At this rate, I’ll be arriving in Seattle at 12:45am… a stop we were supposed to be approaching now.
Well shucks, that’s really all the complaints I had; and late trains are something we’ve just come to expect by now. The only real downside to train travel is the lack of internet access (and the disjointed posting time associated with that), but what do I care?
San Francisco was beautiful. Better than beautiful, it was fantastic, and I’m sad that we only had two nights in which to enjoy it. On arrival on our first night (late, as mentioned) we barely checked in to the Union Square Backpackers’ Hostel before the desk closed at midnight. Dumping our bags and stowing our valuables, we headed out for a stroll to discover what wonders the surrounding three blocks had to offer at that time of morning. As it turns out, quite a few. Union Square with its enormous Christmas tree and festively festive downtown festivities; the impressive–looking department stores, the likes of which I’ve never seen; the flagship “glass staircase” Apple store, with the security guard inside playing with a G5/30" Display setup; the assortment of pubs and clubs that we didn’t venture into given our appalling state of dress (and the fact that we’d only just got off the train); the liberal smattering of art galleries with some very nice stuff on display, if I only had a few mil to spare; the fag–hags and their beaus; the women with significantly smaller asses than Southern California had led us to believe is the norm (must be all the hillclimbing); the steam rising from grates in the street; the trams; the lights; the skyline… it was all quite breathtaking. And, unlike Los Angeles, definitely the kind of town I could live in.
I’m of mixed opinions concerning the hostel we stayed in: on the one hand, it was a tad dingy, with some of the strangest people on staff I’ve ever had the uh… experience of talking to and some of the worst plumbing I’ve ever encountered, anywhere. But on the other hand it was in the most brilliant position of any hostel I can imagine (right off Union Square, duh, though I will admit my imagination is a little rusty), was cheap, had DSL terminals on every floor, and supplied a most scrumptious continental breakfast every morning that I devoured without hesitation. Any muffin that enters these hands is doomed, but a plate full of muffins… that’s a massacre.
San Francisco by day (you’ll notice I’m avoiding that most hideous of contractions: “Frisco”), while not as breathtaking as it is after dark, was still most enjoyable. For one, the stores are open —a serious boon when you’re still on a mission to find a decent pair of gloves for the winter— and the streets are flooded with people. We’ve all become quite acclimatized to the traffic here, taking advantage of the serious power American cities give pedestrians over the flow of traffic and still remaining cautious of the cars approaching from our left (Australia being one of the few countries still driving on the left, along with Great Britain, Japan, and New Zealand).
Our search for a nice pair of gloves took us to the Macy’s Men’s Store, at which point I’ll say this: any department store that takes the time and effort to erect a building, separate from its main building, dedicated solely to men’s fashions —five solid floors of it— has my immediate blessing. And Macy’s wasn’t alone: Saks has done the same thing! Still, in the world’s gayest city, this is perhaps to be expected… but you know I like to shop: this city was built for men like me. And gay men. And women, who I am led to believe also like to shop. And any other of the wonderful shopping–loving stereotypes at my disposal. OK, enough of that…
During our first day, aside from buying some Ralph Lauren gloves from Macy’s (resisting another leather pair marked at 50% off) we managed to fit all the touristy crap in (Coit Tower, Pier 39, Alcatraz) and find time to buy a block of Miller, salad vegetables, some steak (the first real meat we’ve had since arriving in this country: don’t you people have butchers?) and make a damned fine meal of it. After some juvenile fun with the hostel payphone (more on that later) we suited up and headed out. Beers, bars, and beyond.
Quizzing the local streetlife produced the suggestion that we go to “Norbitch” (probably better known as “North Beach” to people with adequate control over their articulators) and see what it had to offer: advice we took to heart. After hanging in a self–proclaimed ‘sports bar’ for a few minutes trying to figure out which of the women were waitresses and which were hookers, a voice over the PA announced that the Jello wrestling would commence in fifteen minutes.
Oh. My. God.
Jello wrestling is about as juvenile a sport as dialing 1-800 numbers from a payphone with various combinations of numbers following so as to form dirty words and to discern which of the numbers are phone sex lines, like 1-800-HOT-FUCK, and which are Ford dealerships, like 1-800-DOG-CUNT. It’s all about watching girls fight in a tub of lubricating semisolid and maybe, just maybe, getting nekkid in their quest to win whatever prize money was on offer. There was no nudity, sadly, though were were a lot of wedgies and one particularly butch women who won the title, but by far the highlight of the match was the sexually ambiguous woman standing next to me saying “Wow! She has a great ass. Don’t you think she has a great ass? I wonder if that’s really Jello they’re wrestling in. I’m gonna check when they’re done” … before licking the face of that round’s loser to determine that yeah, it really was Jello.
Did I mention San Francisco was entertaining?
This post is about four days late now, due to a lack of connectivity in Seattle. Right now I'm in Vancouver and loving it, so if keep your panties on I’ll update the rest in good time.
We pulled into Seattle after a godawful train ride with some serious bags under our eyes. Sleeping on a train, whilst considerably easier than the same on a plane, is still quite uncomfortable; and while I tried to give sleep the red hot go it deserved I ended up demolishing Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons instead. Decent book, worth a read, and if you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code you’ll no doubt see Robert Langdon push through this prequel with even more of an Indiana Jones vibe than you’d previously detected.
Dave, Titty, Mike, and I had had a bet running since way back in Los Angeles as to where we’d see snow first. As ‘mediterranean’ climateers, though, most of us have never actually seen snow up close; thus the bet was a big stupid guessing game and my guess of Eugene, Oregon, was met with some amusement from the other boys. Other guesses closer to Canada (or at least a bit further north of California than Eugene) were more common, but in the end I prevailed: snow’s first sighting was three stops short of Eugene… and remarkably we haven’t seen snow anywhere since.
As this is the part of the post where I give everyone the lowdown on Seattle (after you’ve already made at least some assumptions about it because Frasier is set there and the Omni Group has offices there and Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins live there), I’ll try to be gentle:
If I were sleeping the whole time I wouldn’t have missed much.
Yeah, Seattle bored me. I’ve heard Perth described as a boring town in the past (with serious media frenzy accompanying… as though the state government ought to be doing something about how tourists view our city) but at least we have sunshine… and attractive women. If I had only five words with which to sum up Seattle, they’d be “goddamned freezing, didn’t see anything”, which can be up to eight words depending on how much of a stickler for contractions you are. But seriously. We went up the Space Needle, that was about it.
Never mind me, though: ignore the previous paragraph. I hate hate mail. Seattle’s upside was the availability of a beer known as Natural Ice, something I hadn’t seen anywhere else during our trip. US$6.84 for a 12–pack, at 5.9% alc/vol. I only had about seven of the things and I was ratshit. It’s as close to an Australian lager as I’ve found anywhere else in the world: bitter and very alcoholic.
Seattle is also supposed to be one of the top ten wireless cities in America… and despite the fact that I had a page listing dozens of hot spots I wasn’t really in the mood to go sit in one of Seattle’s billion coffee joints and spend fourteen bucks on coffee just so I could check email. The place we were staying had some very dodgy Lindows boxes… so I made do with webmail. Though, while I’m on the topic, what’s with all the coffee joints? My god, I thought LA had a lot of Starbucks.
So, with all this incredible excitement and our fabulous opinion of Seattle set firmly in our skulls, we decided to cut the stay short by a night and move on to Vancouver… which is something I’ll save for another post. (preview teaser: Vancouver is fucking awesome)
The booze situation thus far has been pretty interesting. I mentioned in San Francisco that we’d bought a block of Miller damnably cheap at Safeway and that we’d enjoyed Budweiser at the Red Rock in West Hollywood for US$2 per pint, while noting in Seattle that we’d drunk ourselves stupid on “Nasty Ice” for a little under 60¢ per can(!). The consensus had been that despite the annoying reality that “if you look younger than 25, expect to be asked for ID” that drinking in North America was going to be a joy.
Then we came to Canada.
As far as I can tell, Canada’s position on alcohol is remarkably similar to Australia’s, except worse: hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em low, pocket the taxes. At least back in Oz we keep the hits above the belt. A block of Molson’s Canadian, a local brew, is CA$58 for fuck’s sake. Even the swill is expensive.
Thankfully I’m not restricted to beer. While most spirits in this country suffer the same ridiculous tax rates as the beers, Canadian Club manages to remain reasonably priced, making CA$30 for a 1140mL bottle a bloody bargain. With the better part of a bottle under Titty and my respective belts before hitting Vancouver’s clubs, we ended up spending more on cover charges than on drinks. Throw a random girl buying people shots for no discernible reason into the mix —something I’m very happy I managed to walk in on— and you have a recipe for a pretty decent night.
The one thing we all knew would be a huge deal for us going into this trip was the weather. We’re missing our summer, people. Don’t you know how important our summer is? Summer. Vitamin S. Even the goth kids make an effort to cheer up during summer in Australia, and it’s all because of three little words: beers, beaches, and bitches. Beaches have now been replaced with ski fields, bitches with “I share a room with three guys, privacy of any kind is not really an option”, and beers with… well, some things don’t change.
I held snow in my hand for the first time today (incidentally we’re in Whistler right now, even though my Vancouver writeup is still forthcoming), and as remarkable an experience as that was it was still just plain cold. All of a sudden I have a legitimate reason to wear a huge jacket, thick gloves, and thermal underwear. It’s bizarre.
But by far the worst part of what is an otherwise exhilarating experience is the central heating. Outside: -9ºC. Inside: 25ºC. What part of “I’m wearing eight layers of the thickest clothing on the planet” don’t you understand? One minute I’m freezing my buns off and the next I’m sweating (and not just physically, I’m also figuratively sweating at the prospect of going back out into the snow while soaked in sweat and becoming a human ice cube). I’m sure this is all very amusing to all you sick, snow–loving bastards, but coming from a country where I can comfortably walk from my bedroom to the beach to the cinemas to the pub without changing my shorts and t–shirt, it’s exhausting. Every time I walk indoors I have to follow a complex ritual of velcro unstrappage and pullstring undoage and glove removal and jacket unzippage and the wafting of cooler air to the parts of my body that suddenly require it, and after spending that five minutes picking up a sandwich at the local Subway it’s time to rug up again.
If it weren’t for all the beautiful scenery I’d wonder why you people settled this land.
Vancouver, Vancouver… how to describe Vancouver without looking like a tool. Brilliant? no, too British. Fabulous? no, too Queer Eye. Splendid? no, too British again. Superlative? no, too… strange. Bah, screw it, you’re used to it by now; the crass approach is often the best approach:
Vancouver is fucking awesome.
Vancouver is, as I’ve been told, like any major Australian city. Things cost roughly the same amount, there’s some similar architecture, friendly people, availability of kebabs (or ‘gyros’ as they’re called here), strange affections for the Queen… I could go on. Plus, since it averaged 10ºC over the days that we stayed there, it was almost exactly like an Australian city in winter (disregarding the part where 10ºC is a warm winter’s day for Canada and an incredibly cold winter’s day for Australia). So why, aside from my obvious desire to be home at times, do I think Vancouver is so fantastic?
The women folk.
Remember how I kept complaining about the lack of T&A in the states? Well, after Bush got reelected they clearly all hiked up to the border and started shagging your neighbors to the north, because this city is chock full of hotties. Staying downtown, we were also in a very good position to check out the nightlife (there were probably fourteen pubs on our strip) and catch a movie (three or four cinemas, too), which we did whenever the desire arose. Blade Trinity is precisely as Tama put it —the world’s longest iPod advertisement— but otherwise a fun little show. Ryan Reynolds’ badass beard encourages me to grow one of my own, since there’s the whole “insulated from the winter chill” thing to consider, so don’t be too surprised if there’s a period in the photolog where I age ten years or so. Beards make me look old.
Vancouver aquarium was a decent way to spend the day, and frankly a much better investment of twelve bucks than the Space Needle. Plenty of shows involving steller sea lions (not a typo: although they were quite stellar), dolphins, belugas and the like… and plenty to explore. The park surrounding the aquarium, better known as Stanley Park, is also quite pretty… but without a compass and with an overcast day blocking our view of the sun, our ability to navigate was severely hampered. Long story short: we got lost looking for Beaver Lake, then found ourselves again on the way to the Lost Lagoon.
If there’s one thing I must say about Vancouver (or at least downtown Vancouver, Granville street in particular) is that there is a surfeit of porno stores here. You can’t walk fifty feet without passing some kind of adult book store or video store, most with their own 25¢ peep shows (not live girls, we checked), but in the same breath you can’t find a liquor store without crossing six blocks. Every corner deli in the states seems to sell liquor, but here a sixer of beer is an ask–the–concierge–for–directions away; and expensive.
Staying at the first truly laptop–friendly hostel we’ve seen thus far, I took the opportunity to plug my Airport Express into the wall and roam free in the (comfortably appointed) common room. We laughed, we loved, we blogged. Throw in a four–hour videoconference we’d organized with our families (thank you iChat AV) and you’ve made probably our best hostel experience to date; even if spending a few hours talking to everybody made me homesick as hell.
All in all, Vancouver == good. And that’s all I care to say about that.
Three hours north of Vancouver by omnibus, nestled in the mountains, is a town best known to geeks for its proximity to the code names of several major Microsoft projects: namely Whistler, Blackcomb, and Longhorn. Whistler Village is the quintessential tourist town —so much so that I doubt there is such a thing as a ‘local’ here— a town where four out of five people you meet in the street or in service jobs have non–Canadian accents, while three of those four are Australian or English. Clearly this is a town where the “G’day, howahya?” pickup line doesn’t wash.
But these things are to be expected in a town that literally only exists because of the mountains. It’s a ski town, pure and simple, and that’s why we’re here.
Unfortunately for us, a recent heat wave has meant that the conditions on the mountains have been somewhat… sub optimal. In a nutshell: it’s icy as hell. And hard, icy conditions don’t bode too well for someone who strapped a snowboard to his feet for the first time only a few days ago. While I’m at least confident enough to tackle some of the beautiful runs Whistler has to offer, my right ass cheek and right shoulder are in serious repair mode and really really don’t want me to hurt them any more. But despite the pain of learning to ride on very firm ground —and the pain of knowing my money might’ve been better spent on hookers or cheetos— I persist. It’s like blowing a grand on a gym membership that only lasts you a week: even if every muscle in your body screams for you to stop, you just have to get your money’s worth.
We’ll be spending Christmas here in Whistler Village, with plans (as best I can tell) to snowboard on Christmas day. Without families or gifts or turkey or a tree, Christmas really feels like it’s just going to blow on by this year… and for the first time I think I’m going to regret that. Christmas is something I normally wish would just hurry up and pass, but since we haven’t watched a lot of TV and haven’t spent a lot of time in department stores during the lead–up this year, I haven’t had the opportunity to become sick of it. A shame, really. The first time I’ve really wanted to celebrate Christmas in years… and I’m 10000 miles from home. So if I don’t get online before the big day, Merry Christmas, and I love you all.