America 2017: Day One (21 October)

I was midnight blowing my Midwest money
At the whiskey on the Sunset Strip
Just trying to catch a buzz, listening to some Guns
You dug I wasn’t trying to be hip

With those Malibu eyes, Hollywood smile
You know I couldn’t leave you alone
‘Cause you make me feel like Beverly Hills
On the cover of Rolling Stone

Oh, L.A. woman
That’s gotta be the shortest dress I’ve ever seen
Ooh, L.A. woman
I know I’ve been drinking, but I’m thinking you’re falling for me

                                           – Frankie Ballard

Saturday 21 October 2017

Los Angeles, California

It’s been a long day – two days, actually – and after a fourteen hour flight that didn’t seem quite as long as that, thanks to more than a few hours of sleep, it’s really good to be back in America.


This warm, summer-like Saturday in Los Angeles is the first of forty-two days between now and December 1 that I’ll be touring across America. As usual, one of my best mates, Nathan, is along for the ride – he loves America as much as I do, though it must be said that neither of us loves it unreservedly, especially these days – and it wouldn’t be the same without him. I’m sure one day I’ll be here and he won’t, or vice versa, but not this trip.


We’ve taken on two extras this time around: my parents are getting their first real look at the United States. They’ve been to Seattle and Alaska, but nothing else, and years of me suggesting that it’d be a good idea to get on a plane and fly across the Pacific Ocean have led to this: a big six-week itinerary, covering the east coast, west coast as Midwest. We’re going all over. Well, not quite literally, but certain a good cross-section of this vast and unique country.


Our Virgin Australia VA1 flight landed just after 6:30am this morning, and we’d cleared customs, met Nathan and picked up the hire car all in the space of ninety minutes. Nothing like a breezy run through US customs before the place becomes a madhouse after seven o’clock.


As we couldn’t check into our hotel that early, we headed down to Santa Monica, one of the nicest places in Los Angeles. After organising dad a SIM for his cell phone (he’s America’s newest T-Mobile customer) and eating breakfast at Johnny Rocket’s, a 50’s-inspired diner chain, both part of the large Third Street Promenade shopping strip, we walked a few blocks west to the ocean.


Like I said, the weather here is amazing, warm and sunny, just like summer, and the famous Santa Monica Pier was teeming with people. We hired bikes and rode the bike path that parallels the iconic Los Angeles coastline, travelling more than six miles all up in a very leisurely fashion, then walked to the end of the Pier, Forrest Gump-style, and snapped a few photos.


LA traffic, notorious for being as brutal as anywhere else in the world, was kind to us on the way back to our hotel near LAX airport. We checked in, had a reviving shower – nothing feels better than a shower after a long flight – and headed downtown to meet my friend, Nate.


I’ve known Nate for ten years and he always makes a point of fitting me into his always-busy schedule when I come to town. This year was no different. We had tickets for the LA Clippers game  at 7:30pm (that’s the other LA basketball team, for the uninitiated) against the visiting Phoenix Suns, and decided to meet early at a sports bar across the road because the big college football game between the University of Southern California and Notre Dame was on from 4:30pm.


Well, the game didn’t go so well, but we had a fun time nonetheless, drinking and eating before the game. We put mum and dad into an Uber ride back to the hotel around 6pm and went over to Staples Centre, where we found that our seats were basically four rows from the court: by far and away the best view I’ve ever had at a basketball game. Staples is a good venue no matter where you sit, but getting to watch Clippers star Blake Griffin do his thing literally five feet away was amazing.


It was the first Clippers home game of the season, so there was lots of hype, music, flame throwers and fireworks when the roster was announced before tip-off, and the crowd was really feeling it on a Saturday night. There’s always plenty of optimism in the first home game.


The Clippers won big  – the final margin was forty-two points, a belting, and Griffin had 29 points in amongst some epic highlight-reel plays – and were leading so heavily that we departed in the fourth quarter because, after more than a day with minimal sleep, Nathan and I were pretty much dead on our feet.


One thing is for sure: I’m going sleep really well tonight.

Tomorrow: south to San Diego.

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