Thank you to my wife for her lovely words in the previous blog. Not wishing to be too mushy it has been remarkably easy travelling with Karen and despite our many personality disorders we have enjoyed spending so much time together. So, all I can do is reply in the time honoured fashion of men who have had nice things said to them such as "I love you" ….
…. ditto Karen, ditto.
Big mouth strikes again (1 pint Gary)
One for Gary Floate.
Rita Rudner gave a very informative lesson on understanding women. They hear and read things that are never said. So with that in mind Gary when you make musical requests for "I'm the one for you fatty" she doesn't see the musical challenge that you have laid down to me. No it becomes a personal comment about how flattering the pictures are.
We love to receive messages and comments on blogs and pictures (more please). We have now got Skype up and running for anyone who would like to call us online. Our address is "karen.barker22" . Karen doesn't like the way she looks on the web cam so we don't do visuals. I would be quite happy to broadcast my mug not least because it will probably ensure that the calls don't go on too long!
Sunscreen leaving Las Vegas - Wednesday12 October 2011
Just like the rest of Las Vegas, the airport has many unsubtle ways of screwing every last penny out of you. There are very few seats before you proceed to your gate (except by slot machines or in restaurants) and the price of simple food is almost offensive. Being an expert at the tight fisted miserable British tourist approach (I will make a superb whinging pom in Oz) I loudly huffed and puffed as I surveyed the prices on menus before projecting my catch-phrase of the day "I'm not paying those prices, no wonder Las Vegas is making less money" across the airport.
Our only supply of sun tan lotion was confiscated after I forgot that anything over 100ml cannot be taken through security. I was hauled to one side as my ruck sack was examined by a very bored and patronising security guard. His small victory seemed to cheer him up. I could understand his concern as I read later about plots to bring down planes by undermining the confidence of Southwest Airlines pilots. Small groups have been trained to rush cockpits before smearing pilots with factor 30. Being Californian surfers during their down-time, the pilots tans will quickly fade and lead to them being ostracised by their peers. The evil plotters hope that the resulting depression would turn into anger and eventually result in the vain young men plunging their next flight into the nearest casino. Seriously I should have packed the lotion in my case.
Joe le taxi
Or rather mad psycho Slobodan the cabby.
A short time after landing we had picked up our bags and approached the taxi rank outside the terminal in Los Angeles. Cabs outnumbered the people requiring their services so we did not have to wait. A monosyllabic eastern European cab driver pulled up with the slightly shabby vehicle that would be our chariot for the trip from LAX to Marina Del Ray.
The driver shouted slavic abuse at a pedestrian as we left the domestic terminal and that set the tone for his driving - barely controlled aggression - all the way to our hotel. He kept asking us where the hotel was and claimed he did not know the location. He kept driving and I kept repeating the address, emphasising the street number more and more so that he had no excuse not to get us there in good time. It cost us 40 dollars to travel a few miles. I gave him a very small tip and was pleased by the grumpy non-response as he heaved our luggage out of the boot.
Our hotel was the Best Western Plus Inn at Marina Del Rey. It is an excellent place and well located at the southern end of Venice Beach (famous for the outdoor weights area, Muscle Beach) and only three miles from Santa Monica. Los Angeles is a tourist trap and the studio tours, Hollywood and other sites didn't appeal to us. We chose this area as it was near the airport and allowed us the chance to walk to along the sea front. The weather here has also been above the seasonal norm in the last few days - topping 100 degrees inland - with temperatures not seen since the 1950s when records were set. The coast has been well above 80 but much more pleasant place to be. I've topped up the t-shirt tan nicely!
King leer Venice Beach and Santa Monica - Thursday 13 October 2011 (2 pints Gary)
This was an enjoyable day out but began with a very disturbing moment on Venice Pier. An obese scruffy gentleman was using his binoculars to stare at women on the beach and made no attempt to disguise as we walked past to take in the view of Los Angeles from the end of the pier.
The pier is featureless and is mainly used by fisherman to capture mackerel type fish. From all of the warning signs I saw, most of what you capture from the sea there is unfit for human consumption due to the pollutants in the water!
The pier offers good views to the south, where the major seaport for Los Angeles and oil terminals can be found and up to Malibu and beyond to the North. We retraced our steps past dodgy Benny Hill and headed North on the boardwalk.
Venice Beach is described as bohemian and seedy in the guide books. It is certainly that. The smells and sights reminded me of the periphery of the punk and hippie festivals I used to attend in the 1980's. Tat, old t-shirts, Bob Marley themed goods, kitted gear, psychic goods, Buddha statues and incense was on sale amongst tattoo parlours and food stalls cultivating bio weapons for the Defence Department. The cleanliness and attire of the patrons matched the smell and feel of the area.
That said there were some very nice shops and impressive art amongst all of the weird paraphernalia. Well drawn murals covered many walls and some shop fronts and hard-working people did their best to attract you into their shops. The atmosphere was relaxed and fun. The street people added to the positive, independent feel of the place rather than introduce a note of melancholy as they had in so many of our stops. There was a real sense of community.
Santa (Monica) Baby
After Venice, Santa Monica beach was fairly bland but nice enough. There were lots of gymnastics equipment on the seafront and a pleasant pier with fun fair rides and cafes.
After the pier we headed into Santa Monica and browsed the shops before s quick coffee break prior to heading back to the hotel.
Doctor Doctor Venice Beach (the walk back)
On our way up we had noticed a number of "clinics" that would certify you as needing weed for medical reasons. Young men in white coats would call out to passers-by to advertise the services of the doctors inside.
One shop had a busty white mannequin dressed in a very skimpy nurse uniform outside. On our return trip, the mannequin was accompanied by a young lady similarly attired who gyrated as the young medical orderly next to her advertised the goods inside. The poor girl had all of the rhythm and sexiness of a cat with epilepsy.
Just along from Venice's Harley Street we espied what can only be described as a Jimi Hendrix Rasta tramp skater with a fully amplified electric guitar that made him sound a lot like Hawkwind. He looked about 80 but was probably 100.
I nearly lost my lunch next! A vision materialised before I could cover Karen's eyes and avert my gaze. It looked like one of the guys from Cameo had turned up in his budgie smugglers - not a pretty site as he was older than Jimi Hendrix Rasta man and age had withered him! For those of you who remember the band, he still had the flat top, tash and some neat body jewellery but he had unfortunately left the house without his codpiece.
Pulling mussels from a shell
What about Muscle beach I hear you say? Well there were only about 20 muscles on show and they were all on one bloke. Nothing to see ladies, move along.
Jolly boating weather Marina del Rey- Friday 14 October 2011
The hotel is on Washington Boulevard, a road that is perpendicular to the coastline and meets the sea at Venice pier. Over the road and a few hundred yards nearer the sea is the marina complex where there are a couple of walks. We decided to walk around the marina to the other side and another beach next to a more residential area.
At the beginning we passed a section of sidewalk designed as a fitness circuit. It had warm up areas, parallel bars, log jumps, sit up stations and a running route all marked with instruction signs to aide users. Karen wanted me to pose for silly pictures but I said "No Karen - I am not your plaything to be posed for the amusement of others". I see my Where's Wally 'photos as social commentary on an ever more selfish and homogenous world where the rights of the individual are lost in the monstrous tentacles of the corporate beast. I only hope that my stance influences people to take to the streets of the world's financial centres thereby forcing bankers to use their helicopters to get into work rather than their chauffeured limousines. Only by sitting unwashed in the middle of the street, stroking our goatees and playing acoustic guitars will the world change. As Wolfie Smith would say "Power to the People".
The Marina is huge and chock full of all types of pleasure craft, fishing boats, pleasure cruisers and ferries. Our old friends the sea lions, pelicans and cormorants sat or slept lazily on the jetties, oblivious to the craft moving in the harbour and the men working on their boats by the quays. We walked the second half (on the Venice Beach side of the Marina) on the day we flew out - that side was flanked by condo's apartment blocks and weekend retreats. Noisier sea lions could be found resting up amongst the more expensive boats - perhaps hoping for some caviar off the Russian owned super yachts.
On leaving the marina we walked alongside a canal leading to the sea next to the Marina channel. The UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) aquatic centre sat on this spit of land between the two bodies of water. The aquatic centre houses the rowers and sailing clubs of this world famous university. The emblem of UCLA's club is proudly displayed on the bank next to the slipway. The graffiti of other rowing clubs can be seen on the opposite side.
We crossed the canal near the sea and found ourselves on a wide beach straight out of Baywatch. Huge expanses of sand were dotted with Lifeguard Towers and the boardwalk continued for miles into the distance.
I found a joke from Rita Rudner particularly pertinent when we (i.e. Karen) were shopping in Las Vegas and Santa Monica. Rita stated that she always took her husband with her when clothes shopping but there were times when she refused to leave the dressing room to get an opinion. Her view was that there are "times when you don't want witnesses".
As our departure to Fiji has approached, Karen has been looking for certain beach items. I have had been waiting outside dressing rooms, sometimes allowed to view the clothing and offer an opinion (if I like it, Karen seems to take that as confirmation that she doesn't) and other times the Rita rule applies.
According to CNN, the new iPhone has a better camera and has a voice activated system that answers questions. I think that this could replace men as shopping partners. All women have to do is take a picture of themselves in the potential purchase and then ask the iPhone for an opinion. The iPhone can be programmed to answer truthfully or as a man would.
In North American terms I am way behind on the shorts fashion front. My shorts are normal hiking shorts cut above (but still decently) above the knee. Everyone here has huge shorts - Hispanic men in particular. With the cap, the gold and the tattoos the look can be quite effective if not a little intimidating but on some of the more runty guys it looks like they have escaped from some Hispanic version of It's a Knockout.
My three quarter lengths have had to go. They always made me look like a hobbit but with my weight loss I was starting to look like a cross between Bilbo Baggins and MC Hammer. Not the look for autumn 2011.
I have had an even more radical haircut than the last shearing. I now look like a snooker ball but feel like a snooker table. Karen doesn't like it but my hair was growing too long and I was starting to look like Prof Pat Pending from Wacky Races.
The crop was courtesy of Paul's Barbers, a short stroll from our hotel. It's a fascinating place, old fashioned seats old Barber paraphernalia and the red pole from the days when barbers were surgeons too. It reminded me of Demon Bills (the hairdresser I used to go to as a small child) but without "the something for the weekend sir" shelves and the desire to make small children bleed that Bill seemed to have.
The friendly Hispanic barber was short, thick set and smooth headed - just like Oddjob in Goldfinger. He even had a small black hat next to his sink. Slightly unnerved by his appearance I covered my groin and looked around for a laser above the chair. Thankfully I made it out alive and as far as I know, the US' gold is still safely tucked up in Fort Knox.
A cool Hispanic guy was getting a very complex short haircut before me. Much to my amusement, the barber put some shaving cream on his forehead and started to shave.
Whilst men are not happy at losing hair where it is wanted they are much more concerned that aging leads to hair growing where it is not wanted. My amusement at my predecessor on the barber's chair was short lived as Oddjob proceeded to shave the light fuzz off the top of my ears. He asked me if I wanted my eyebrows trimmed but I said "no, you've had a enough of my hair today".
When will I see you again?
I am finishing this blog off as I wait for the shuttle to take us to LAX airport for our flight to Fiji tonight (15th October). We are not sure if we will have great internet access at our next destination so we may not be around for a little while.
Keep an eye out and keep in touch. Most of all ….
…. remember, say what you see