America 2019: Day One (Saturday 18 May)

It’s whispered from a tractor on a flat Midwestern plain
The fields are dry and dusty, there is no sign of rain
It floats out a kitchen window, somewhere in the south
If the river gets much higher, they’ll float away no doubt
You can almost feel it in the air, an American prayer

                                                                                                                                        – Dustin Lynch


Saturday 18 May

Great to be back in America. Saturday night finds me (along with two of my best friends in the world, Nathan and Katrina) a few hours south of Los Angeles in San Diego, enjoying a small dose of springtime Southern California-style.


It’s been a long day – been on the go for about twenty-four hours now, and as I type this, my eyelids are very heavy. I’ll definitely sleep well tonight. Probably had about 4-5 hours of broken sleep on the Virgin Australia VA1 flight over, and the flight doesn’t seem as long as it used to. Early on when I visited, the journey of thirteen or fourteen hours felt like an eternity. Now, I break it down into three- or four-hour blocks and it doesn’t seem anywhere near as long.

The world-famous…

Kat and I met up with Nathan in Los Angeles, fresh off his Qantas flight. Although we were supposed to arrive first, we were delayed on the ground in Sydney due to the late arrival of the flight from Los Angeles, which set everything back more than an hour– cleaning, loading, take-off – but we managed to make up about 45 minutes in the air, leaving us landing at LAX only about fifteen minutes late, as compared to our posted time.

Me and Rose, my newest American friend.

So, happy days (until we found out about the election results, anyway). For the first time in a long time, I was right at the very back of the plane, so we were amongst the last to get into the mammoth arrivals hall in Los Angeles, which meant that there was a sizeable line in front of us to clear customs. Last time it took me less than twenty minutes all up, to be on the other side, but this time it was more than an hour. I actually got a smile from the blue-shirted immigration officer, which was weird. He seemed fascinated by the fact that we’d come all the way for the Indianapolis 500.

Me, Kevin, Rose.

The lady ahead of us in the line was trying to make a connecting flight at 8:00am. Which was probably never going to happen short of a perfect arrival, on time, and a clean run through customs and immigration. They tell you to never book your next flight for less than 3 hours after your arrival due to the crowds you sometimes get in customs. Clearly, the lady in front didn’t get that memo, and she was stressed like crazy. Felt like it was going to be a long day for her.

We picked up our hire car out at one of the many lots near LAX (which is chaotic in a way that gets you ready for the chaos of Los Angeles itself) and went straight to Denny’s. This is Kat’s first time on the mainland in a long time, and what’s more American than a big breakfast at Denny’s, right? I enjoy the diner atmosphere even if the food isn’t as good as it is in some other places. I also like that they give you coffee immediately if you ask for it, and that suited me just fine yesterday.

Driving south, we were in San Diego by lunchtime and took the opportunity to have a shower and freshen up at our hotel – the Days Inn on Hotel Circle – which felt really good. I must admit, I was feeling pretty second-hand in the car on the way down, but it’s amazing what a shower and actually doing something physical does for you.

Our first port of call was the nearby Best Buy outlet (in the middle of a Westfield’s mall, no less), where we bought SIM cards for our phones – we’re now the owners of nice, shiny, new Southern California cell numbers. After that, it was off to the world-famous San Diego Zoo for the afternoon under mostly sunny skies, with nice temperatures.

Tim Tams for ALL of America!

Look, the zoo is good, but I’m struggling to put it in the same category as Taronga back home. Maybe I’m biased, or maybe it’s the harbour views that make it particularly special? I mean, all zoos are essentially the same (this one even has a gondola like Taronga!) so it’s the surrounds that elevate it, and is there anywhere more spectacular than Taronga, looking out over Sydney Harbour to the bridge and Opera House?

The zoo’s “Skyfari” gondola ride.

Still, a fun afternoon walking around – which we needed after having been sitting down for so long – and my biggest takeaway was that Australia has by far and away the biggest and most impressive collection of poisonous animals in the world. Seriously, every second animal we saw (especially in the reptile area) was from Australia, and it was highly venomous. Nice to be leading the world in that category, if no others.

PSA: Not a real lion…but very impressive!

After the zoo, we drove to the house of our good friends Kevin and Ashley. For those unsure, Kev was one of the first people I met on my initial visit to Chicago ten years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. It was an honour to be at his wedding two years ago, and I knew for sure that tonight was going to be memorable.

Never change, Denny’s!

It didn’t disappoint. We met a new person – Rose, one of Ashley’s friends who was also visiting, in town from Phoenix, Arizona; my (only slightly jokingly) stated quest to be able to couch surf my way across America just took another step towards fruition – drank a few beers, rode (uncomfortably at times) in some Ubers, ate amazing tacos and laughed so hard that, at times, my cheeks were actually hurting. Of course, the “night before” story of Kevin’s wedding got a run, and it’s as funny as ever. In short, it was a fantastic night with great friends new and old, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start what I know is going to be a really memorable trip.

We get to see Kev and Ashley again for brunch tomorrow. In the meantime, it’s sleep time!

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