Category Archives: United States

Baby, please don’t go

I had bagged an absolute bargain with the mystery deal on Bookit and ended up in the Intercontifuckingnental just 2 blocks away from the French Quarter. I figured it was probably the last time I was going to get to enjoy luxurious bedding and a beautifully apointed bathroom, for quite some time. But it does feel a bit weird walking into a foyer of a 4 star hotel with a dirty backpack on. The staff were nothing but gracious.

I went out exploring straight away, wandering down Royal St with all its beautiful little galleries and gift shops.

I landed in a Gumbo restaurant, sampling the local fare: gumbo soup, creole shrimp, jambalya and rice & refried beans (which i have to say, I’m not a big fan of – and yes, I know this is going to be problematic when I get to Central America). I was served by a very handsome waiter by the name of Bennett, who had the laziest Louisiana drawl…

This was just the start of me falling in love with Nawlins boys all over the shop. These men would have to be the politest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, they clearly love women and were just raised right. I came to love the sound of their dulcet tones lingering all over my skin. Everyone calls you M’am or Miss or more often than not, Baby. I loved it.

It was a lot more humid here than in Houston. This place was sticky, and sexy, and sultry. Hot, in more ways than one.

It also struck me as being quite European. The French and Spanish influences over architecture, food and attitude was everywhere. New Orleans a heartbeat, a soul kinda feelin you won’t find elsewhere in the States. Don’t get me wrong – there’s also a terribly touristy and terrifically tacky side to all this too. Strip shows, souvenir shops selling everything from colorful shiny beads to plastic voodoo dolls.

But what got me, was Everywhere there was music. Sweet sweet music. My kinda music. Blues, jazz and old school rhythm and blues.

And a fair bit of psydeco, which really ain’t my bag, but it’s easy enough to avoid what you don’t like for what you do.

I saw bits and bobs of bands banging out tunes, all up and down Bourbon St ‘lmost every day i was in New Orleans. But the one act that sticks out the most in my mind, was an a’capella group: 5 suited and booted beautiful, big black men harmonizing their lil hearts out under a gas street light, late one night.

The Street gets going around midday and doesn’t relent until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a cacophony. Of sounds, sights, smells. And just was it was in Vegas, you got people wandering around with drinks in their hand from start to finish. It’s no dramas to buy a drink in one bar and take it into the next.

On my first day, I got caught without an umbrella in a flash hailstorm. I dashed into the nearest pub which, I later discovered, was famous for the introduction of Hurricanes, a popular cocktail right across town. Inside, it was dark as night, and people were smoking and listening to some dirty swampy blues. When I went to the restroom, i had to pass through an old venue which apparently only comes alive at night; on the stage, two beautiful old grand pianos proudly stood. I was reminded of the time I saw Christa’s dad, Dick Hughes and Leonie, the pianist from her band, dueling in the Studio.

Later that night, I met up with a guy I met via Couchsurfing, to see his band play in a dive bar on the outskirts of the Quarter, in an area called called Marigny. It was all loud experimental slash post punk slash indy rock slash slash slash. Noise. And to be fair, it was noise done well. But I got over that kind of ‘music’ in 3rd year of uni. I was knackered and bailed for bed in the witching hour.

On Wed morning, I got my hair cut by a young lass who managed to fuse countrygrl with edgy fashonista. She was all tatts and pretty red curls. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but she knew what was what. She directed me to the cool part of town- a street peppered with cafes spilling over with locals and vintage shops filled with gorgeous things i didn’t need or couldn’t carry.

I met another couchsurfer, a visiting Swede, for a tasty seafood lunch. And then we just cruised around for a while, poking around in the shops by the riverfront.

The next day, I went back to buy a beautiful hand crafted Mardi Gras mask from a vivacious Iranian woman I’d met on my 1st day. Everywhere you could buy cheap and nasty, plastic, made in China versions. This shop was the real deal. I watched her handsome cousin make one while I was there. We made plans to catch up on my last night.

In the afternoon, I met up with the Swede to take the last working paddleboat down the Mississippi. She was an absolute beauty, working hard to make her way down a big ole dirty brown river with many stories, and a lot of history attached to it.

A body of water which constantly gives the people, who choose to live by it, such a hard time – but clearly she holds so much appeal they can’t tear themselves away. We saw some of the remains of the devastation that Katrina had wreaked.

People here are very loyal to the city and all it stands for. They have rebuilt and bounced back. Their attitude is about living in the moment, celebrating the now.

I got to go down into the engine room of the Nachez, much to the satisfaction of the tomboy in me. Old machinations fascinate me. Plus, I got a happy snap of me with the Captain!

The Swede had organized a meet up with some of the Couchsurfing locals, so I tagged along. A bar called Love Lost. I immediately got chatting to an interesting bloke at the bar whose job was a town planner, who specialized in the prevention of homicides. We discussed best ways to murder a person and the imminent demise of his relationship.

I later teamed up with some of the locals for some pool (those who know me, know I have a very small window where I can actually play pool and it’s somewhere between the fifth and eighth drink. I think I was on drink number 9 by this stage).

They had the coolest jukebox ever, all rock and roll and blues and GOOD singlalong stuff. None of this Shits of Summer 99 rubbish. They even had some ACDC. And it was something stupid like 8 songs for 2 quarters. I was in jukebox heaven!

It was still so warm even at midnight, and i wanted to walk home but the boys insisted on hailing me a cab. I slept well that night.

On Friday, my last day, I had a lazy day, just eating and sleeping and reading and writing.

I later met Sha’hlha and her handsome cousin for a few drinks which turned into a lot of drinks and then a lot of shots, and I think there might have been some karaoke and maybe a pash. With the handsome cousin, whose name I can’t even remember now. He walked me home.

And then I went back out. To get a shrimp po’boy. Note to self: tequila and prawns no more. I woke up at 7 for my flight, cursing my inability to expel nausea in the usual way. I just felt crook for the whole flight to Mexico. When will I learn.

11 June

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Going back to Houston

Some days my “on a wing and a prayer” style of traveling doesn’t always work out for me. I could do to be a bit more organized. In my defense, I am getting better at not holding up international flights.

So from Memphis, I had originally thought i would get a car, drive to Nashville, have a look around, and then fly to Houston from there. Mistake Number 1: I’d let my credit line run out.
I did have money but a bank transfer that should have taken hours took days, and therefore, i couldn’t hire a car.

No dramas. I’d just take the train.

Find out there are no trains direct from Memphis to Nashville.

Okay, so I’d just take the Greyhound. Next available was the next morning and meant I’d be cutting it fine to make my flight but it was doable. Provided the buses ran on time. I was assured they, yes m’am, they absolutely do.

Found out they don’t.

After a near 2 hour wait, in a terminal filled with a bunch of toothless hillbillies & a bunch of other, let’s call them ‘interesting’ characters, we piled onto the bus an hour late. Then we were asked to get back off the to pack our own bags into the bottom of the bus. I did a quick calculation, 40-something passengers… This would take at least 20 minutes. There was no way i was going to make my flight.

A bouncy haired, sassy young mother by the name of Lisa who I’d befriended in the line, suggested it was possible i could still make my flight if I drove.

I checked my credit card again, and the money had gone through. So I decided to revert to Plan A.

I tried googling the number of the car rental place up the road. Wireless had dropped out. I left my bag with Lisa and asked her to watch it while I did a mad dash about 1/2 mile in 35 degree heat with approximately 90% humidity – only to find they had no cars.

Mistake Number 2: I didn’t swap phone numbers with Lisa. Running back, I started worrying I would now miss the bus. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was worried about making a bus that was going to make me late for my flight.

I ran back just in time to see the bus take off around the corner.
Mistake Number 3: not being clear with Lisa what she should do with my bag, in the event this happened. Yes, I know, I’m a bloody idiot.

No sight of my bag. I ran to the info desk guy, screaming at him to Stop. The. Bus. My bag was on it. Nashville. Late. Flight. Houston. Missed. Yell, yell, yell. Because it’s very helpful to yell in a situation like this.

He just laughed at me, dripping with sweat carrying on like a maniac and told me to calm down – he had my bag.

Hadn’t i got my car, he wanted to know. I explained my situation to him and he and a sweet lady started helping me work through my options.

I’d change my flight. It would cost me an extra $50. But I still had to get to Nashville. The next bus was cutting it fine again, and i certainly didnt want to go through this whole ordeal twice in one day. And besides i wouldn’t get to Houston until midnight.

Or I could fly from Memphis for an extra $400. And still get there at 7pm. By this stage all I wanted was a solution. And a couple of shots of tequila. It was only 1030 in the morning. I took the flight from Memphis.

We stopped in Dallas, and the flight was delayed for about an hour. I think for Morgan Freeman.

When I arrived at Houston, I did my usual thing of freshening up in the restroom before going to the baggage claim area. Let everyone else scrabble for theirs first, mine’s usually waiting for me. There were a couple of bags circulating restlessly but mine was nowhere to be seen. Then I got a tap on the shoulder by an airport official. Not what anyone wants.

“Did you just come in from Dallas, m’am?”
yes.
“Do you have your bag identification tag?”
yes.
“Come with me, please”

I feel my blood pressure rising for the second time that day.

“Your bags are still in Dallas, m’am”
I justed started laughing.
of course they’re in freakin Dallas. Where else would they be.
“pardon me, m’am?”
nothing.

Basically I wouldn’t get my bags until the following day. They gave me a toiletries bag. I asked them if they had spare pairs of panties. They laughed. I was being serious.

I got to Dave’s quite late. Jamie greeted me with a big hug. Dave handed me a beer and introduced me to his gorgeous wife, Rita. I reckon that was the best beer I’ve ever drank in my life. I was very glad to be in Houston. Finally.

***

That night, we went to a few different places to catch up, drink and listen to music. The thing that has struck me most about the bars, pubs, and clubs right across the States is there really is such a diversity in look and feel… Pubs in Australia tend to be quite homogenous by comparison.

We spent the weekend at a music festival called Freepress Summerfest. Started by a street press publication, it is now in its 3rd year and has already featured the Flaming Lips and Yeasayer on the bills. This was a “small” festival for Texas, with just 50k odd goers. It was damn hot all weekend with temperatures peaking at just over 40 degrees. I met a good bunch of Rita and Dave’s friends and a big day was had on the 1st day.

We had some dramas on the 2nd day, because I hadn’t been issued with a festival wristband, only an alcohol wristband. I got into a lengthy argument with the volunteer gatekeepers, who were insistent that I would have received one. I hadn’t. They were clear they had no intention of letting me in because I was supposed to have kept it on. This then escalated into a very heated debate with various other people who couldn’t help me and a couple of arrogant hick cops on a power trip. I was insisting on seeing a paid event manager, and was starting to lose my shit. I was almost at the point of getting myself arrested when Rita and a couple of good cops saved the day. We were escorted around to a side gate of the festival and I was given a new wristband and told to avoid the front entrance when leaving that night. We ended up having a great day (a bit more subdued than the Sat, but fun nonetheless) and I was especially stoked to sneak backstage to congratulate Cut Copy, who one of the last acts of the day, on an awesome gig. They have a massive following in Texas, and were a perfect way to end the weekend.

The next day I just mooched about the neighborhood, poking around in vintage clothes shops looking for a pair of cowboy boots (sadly none to be found) and got myself organized for New Orleans over a couple of iced teas.

I shared a lovely Tex Mex meal with the boys, Rita and her cute-as-a-button little girl and turned in early for a stupid o’clock flight bound for Louisiana.

7 June

Walkin in Memphis

Ironic then, that I ended up in a place called the Pilgram Hostel which was housed in a church. This was situated in sleepy part of town called Cooper Young, a ways from downtown. I arrived at 730am. Note to self, no more overnight flights. Public transport was sparse, so I rented a bike and started off on a 7 mile ride in the 35 degree heat. I got so hot and bothered, and hit a wall (not literally) that I turned around and came home for a kip.

I freshened up and had some beers and a late lunch at one of the local bars, smiling all the time at everyone calling me m’am and the coolest playlist of Etta James, Bill Withers, Howlin Wolf.

I later went for a walk in the balmy dusk and reveled in the pretty architecture from another era, old white wooden houses, with swing seats on their verandahs. I imagined myself on one of those, sipping on a long tall glass of ice cold tea.

I turned in for an early night, a happy girl.

The next day I headed to Graceland. My fondest childhood memories are of my mum teaching me how to rumba and samba to a bunch of Elvis tunes.

We would watch these dreadful films, which i think i knew were dreadful even as a little girl. But it didnt matter coz the hero was so handsome and he could sing, and dance, and fight, and he drove really cool cars really fast. What more could a girl want?

The mansion is a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Elvis bought this place for just over $100k when he was just 22 years old. He’d only cut his record at Sun Studios 4 years earlier.

Elvis’ taste in interior decorating sent a shudder down my spine and made me squeal with delight all at once. Offensive color combinations, faux animal fur and green carpeted ceilings, animal skulls and stained glass windows, awful paintings, interior waterfalls, indigenous artifacts. Clash clash clash! Loved!

The rest of the grounds is dotted with exhibits, such as the car museum – my favorite was the purple convertible cadillac with fins. But what nearly pushed me over the edge were the ELEVEN gift stores. I was in Elvia merchandising heaven! Thongs, oven mits, shoe shaped handbags, a Mr Potato Head version of Elvis (why?), and pretty much anything you could think of, they had it. I had wanted to get a wobbly figurine for my dashboard, and was stoked to find a suitable alternative. Dangly legs swinging from an Elvis torso, complete with suction cup for my car’s rear window. Perfect.

Later that afternoon, I poked around the hallowed grounds of Sun Studios and heard original recordings of everyone from Roy Orbison through to a very young and handsome Johnny Cash *sighs*. I was most definitely born 25 years too late.

I bought an album from a cool lil record store on Beale Street. I cooled off with a beer inside BB Kings House of Blues and listened to a cool local band doing their bit to keep the dream alive. I flicked through a local rag, diggin on the names of the acts who would play lat that week…King Beez, Blind Mississippi Morris, Juke Joint All Stars and my favorite- The Black Dahlia Murder with Beast in the Field. How could they not be good?

So here i was in a seminal place where country and rockabilly and blues and soul all came together to give birth to rock.

I loved it.

3 June

La La Land

I saw Martin off on his flight home to Edinburgh. It had been so good to see him again.

At LAX, they wouldn’t let me check in for my midnight flight until a couple of hours beforehand. They didn’t have left luggage facilities. They didn’t have a visitor information service. In fact, no service of any kind.

I ended up booking a hostel room just so I could store my bag for 6 hours. Stupid.

Downtown was just over a one hour bus ride from the hostel. I jumped on another hop on hop off bus tour just so I could see the sights of LA in my limited time. I was lucky enough to get the bus all to myself, so had a private guide Lucas, who was in actual fact, a film producer. Naturally.

To be honest, LA left me absolutely cold. It just seemed like it had no soul. And unlike Vegas, nothing else to hold my interest for more than 5 mins. All I could see was billboards, chain restaurants & bars, palm trees used a class dividers, and tourist gift shops full of stuff I didn’t want.

I was looking forward to getting to Memphis. I was ready to sell my soul to the devil.

1 June

Californication

After the madness that was Vegas and San Fran Part 2, Martin and I flew down to LA and hired a car. We were originally going to drive but discovered that the prettiest part of the coast road had fallen into the sea, so thought better of it.

Just over an hour’s drive from LA, Orange County reminded me a little of Noosa but bigger. It’s a lot more hazy due to the pollution from LA.

We had a lovely room at the Laguna Cliffs Inn and an excellent piece of barbequed fish at RockinFish.

Martin got some beach time. I had my first ever swim in the North Pacific Ocean. A very quick dip in a cool 16 degrees.

It was good to just chill out for a couple of days, where our biggest decision revolved around where we were going to eat.

31 May

Viva las Vegas

We agreed they should have this song playing full belt as you walk through the airport. Which is the only airport I’ve ever seen with slot machines in the arrivals area. And that’s just the beginning of the crazy.

I met Martin at our hotel which was Bright. Gold. And right by a large pyramid. For aesthetics. I think.

There was a television in our bathroom. And a phone in the ‘restroom’. Perhaps for emergencies. Or ordering room service.

We caught up over lunch, the first of many meals ranging from really fucking ordinary to completely inedible. Then we lazed about by the pool, where they pack ’em in on those sun lounges like sardines. Well, Martin lazed. I fidgeted.

A walk down The Strip proved more stimulating. Each casino seeing the next one’s ridiculous, and raising them one. Each one had their own distinct feel, and in the case of the Excalibur – its own distinct smell (a combination of old pee, cheap perfume and airport antiseptic).

The Bellagio by comparison seemed beautiful. But i can’t be sure, as I do fear I was starting to lose my sense of perspective.

We threw a little money at the roulette table and I played a couple of hands of blackjack. We lost, but that’s to be expected. We had a late shitty dinner and then watched the spectacle that is the fountains out the front of the hotel. Picture this: fountains move like Chinese ribbon dancers, in a choreographed piece to the painful cries of that godawful Celine Dion tune from that godawful film, the Titanic. The fountains spurt, gushing, and explode… growing more & more animated as the song reaches its crescendo.

The next day we hired a car and took off for the Grand Canyon. Martin and I played the old married couple game of “You’re a shit navigator. Well, you’re a dumb driver.” Which is always fun. Especially when driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in a place you have no knowledge of. We got through it, and it was well worth it in the end.

There are many words you could use to describe the Grand Canyon but “breathtaking” does the job for me. Because there were several moments when i literally gasped.

We spent a little bit of time walking around a very small part of the South Rim, and a lot of time wishing we could stay overnight.

I’d been hankering after a helicopter ride (thanks for the heads up Brad George) and Martin had spotted the aerodrome on the way in. We dropped in, not favoring the odds of us getting on board. We completely lucked out, with 2 spots on a chopper in 20mins time. I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of amazing things in my life but this was absolutely incredible.

The view from above, had us both nearly in tears. The sheer scale and beauty of this place has to be seen. I could bang on and on – pulling out all sorts of appropriate adjectives and suitable superlatives but, you know what? I just wouldn’t do it justice. I will say this: go.

Quick travel tip: I would highly recommend organizing yourself, as opposed to taking the tours they offer you at all the hotels – we had more ground time, did it all at our own pace and for a lot less money.

Many hours later (it’s at least a 4.5 hour drive each way), we went into the old part of Vegas, which is a lot more down and dirty… The 50s style flat roofed hotels with their mult-colored doors, and old school bulb lit billboards… We passed a lot of quicky-marriage chapels, including the drive-through that Elizabeth Taylor once took advantage of. It made me wonder, are people who get married multiple times, the eternal optimists?

In our own optimistic search for a green vegetable, we stumbled into a very unlovely piano bar with a bunch of youngns who were getting happy and singing for their supper. They were good, so we stayed for a drink.

Don’t even ask about the disaster that was dinner at 2am. It should be noted we had consumed exactly 2.5 alcoholic beverages between us by this point.

Next morning we visited some of the other casinos, including one called the Venetian which featured gondoliers serenading overweight tourists in a man made internal canal, against a Truman Show sky. Yes, seriously.

I was starting to trip out. This version of Fear and Loathing was a lot less fun than Thompson’s. I don’t think I could have handled any LSD. Although maybe it would have resulted in everything looking normal. While it had been a fun, whacky ride- I was glad to be getting off.

I fell asleep on the flight for San Fran even before take-off, having vivid dreams of broccoli falling out of slot machines in a major pay-out.

26 May

If you’re going to San Francisco…

First observations are that it’s far more spacious & sunny than NY.
There’s hills. and homelessness. Amazing architecture. Pretty parklands. Cable cars. And finally decent coffee!
I noticed more gays, Asians and surprisingly, a lot of people in wheelchairs.
It’s the perfect place for a livid lesbian or an aging activist. If you want a soapbox, you’ll find one here, complete with an audience… I witnessed a few mini protests.
I was relieved to see they take their recycling seriously here. Not like NYC where, as Angie pointed out you’ll buy a coke and they’ll give you a straw wrapped in paper, then throw it that into a plastic bag with a dozen napkins. None of which you need. Except maybe the can of coke. And even then, thats dubious.

So, I ended up in San Fran twice, the weekend before meeting up with Martin and then again, after Vegas.

It turns out it’s the sort of place I could return to again and again. The deeper you dig, the more you’ll find. It’s colorful, diverse, rich with historical moments & strong linkages to famous people. Harvey Milk, Joe DiMaggio, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Keraouc, and the beat goes on. It’s a pretty city, people are friendly and food is good.

Part 1

The first weekend I stayed at Faith’s beautiful house close to the Mission. She has two lovely flatmates who very generous in letting me stay in her room. Faith unfortunately, was in New York. I met Matt at Mojo Cafe and we shared a bit of banter. He shouted me a lovely beer by the name of Death & Taxes, made by a local couple.

Next day I did the hop on hop off bus. I wouldn’t normally, but SF is quite spread out and rather hilly. There are also 4 different types of transport not including the cable car, so it was just an easy way to get my bearings, see a bit of the city and get some interesting insights into the history.

I went down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a seafood lunch (touristy) and then linked up with Matt for a couple of cocktails and my first ever furnet at a cool lil dig called Davla.

Next day, a nice Russian brekky and the perfect coffee at a place called Bluebottle.

I spent some time ambling through the Beat Museum, and was fortunate enough to stumble into a room where some journalist students were interviewing an 83 year old woman by the name of ruth weiss who was part of the whole scene back in the day. I shared a beer with an old hippie, Hal and made my way to Oakland.

I’d been invited to a barbie by a girl I’d met in Turkey. Maya and I had stayed in touch the old fashioned way and I was seeing her and meeting her husband and kids (she’d just given birth to their second the week before!) for the first time since 1998. It was just super to catch up.

On Monday, I finally got to see Faith over The Best French Toast I’ve ever had. I later did the Alcatraz tour (this is a must do even if you’re not into tours) and then caught the cable car up the hill to meet up with Faith & her sister and friends for dinner. This form of transport makes you feel transported…hanging off the sides, imagined I was a philosophy student back in the 60s, with flowers in her hair.

On Tuesday I flew to Las Vegas to meet Martin for a bit of fear and loathing. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Part 2

We arrived back in SF quite late on Thurs evening and were absolutely desperate for food that was fresh, included nutrients of any description and didn’t involve cheese, sour cream, heavy sauce or fries. Or a packet of crisps as a non-specified, no requested side (WTF). We were lucky to happen upon a late night ramen noodle place with a small queue of Japanese people. Always a good sign. Some melt in your mouth sashimi, green soya beans, and clean spicy soup hit the spot.

Next day, the weather was a bit dodgy, so we treated ourselves to a luxurious massage in a beautiful old hotel at the top of Nob Hill. The pool (not snooker) room had glorious views over the city, and it started fining up.

We decided to bike over the Golden Gate bridge (thanks for the tip, jendowd). I was all like, a bridge is just a bridge is just a bridge… but up close, I realized not all bridges are created equal. It’s a gorgeous piece of modern architecture. I stopped many times to take in the scenery and photos of the bridge itself.

A short ferry ride from Sausalito afforded us a different view of Alcatraz, and the pretty cityscape. It was almost ruined by a godawful ugly snogging couple sitting opposite us. Why ugly people feel the need to engage in PDAs is completely beyond me. We moved seats.

We met up with Faith and her friends for cocktails (mixology is a very serious business in this city and I’ve developed a taste for smoky tequila cocktails.)

On Saturday we had decent enough yum cha (although nothing like the Golden Unicorn in Maroubra).

We visited Martin’s old stomping ground in the colorful Castro, sunned ourselves in Mission Delores park and strolled thru a Latin American festival before hitting up an old bikers bar with Melissa, one of Faith’s flatmates.

Early evening, Martin’s old uni friend, Nicola met us downtown, and Martin shouted us all a beautiful steak & a nice glass of red at a a cute little French restaurant.

Our last day we had a traditional American breakfast in an old 50s style diner complete with checkered floors, red leather barstools and a waitress who looked like she just stepped out of a scene from Happy Days.

And then we started off for the southern Californian leg of our holiday together…

29 May