Due to a lack of time at the moment, I will be coming back to my European trip at a later date. In the meantime, for those of you unfamiliar with my rantings, I'll be filling these pages with entries from my previous travel blogs and books. We begin with the United States of America, a country in which I have done a great deal of wandering in my time.
Please bear in mind that the following entries, unless noted, have not yet been updated and may contain out of date information as well as being written in a different style from my previous blogs on OffExploring. I was younger and less experienced at writing when much of this was penned, so please don't be too surprised to find the style a little more like that of a personal journal in places - and until I get a chance to go over them in detail and scream at the horrors of my past scribblings, please don't be too surprised to find the odd reference to Ronald Reagan or the moon landings. Okay, perhaps I'm not quite old enough for that last one. Of course, culture and politics change over time - but scenery generally doesn't unless you leave a couple of million years between visits, so much of what you read here will still be valid today. Just don't get too upset if you decide to visit the USA on the basis of what I've written here, only to find that they've paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
The following entry is from February 1999, with minor updates.
Travelling by domestic air within the United States, at least you don't have to go through the process of being grilled by customs each time. Instead, you just have to contend with the ever-present smiling bald guys in the departure lounge who stop you on the way past to ask you if you've found God and would like to live in a compound in the desert somewhere. I usually tell them that I haven't, but that if I see him I'll be sure to let him know that they're looking for him. Why is it that people in airport departure lounges never ask me to join one of those cults where you get to watch TV all day and have endless sex with a stream of wives? I could go for that. It's mainly the ritual suicides I have a problem with.
On my first night in mainland America, I have somehow been booked into a hotel within the golden triangle of Beverly Hills - a small area bounded by Wiltshire Boulevard and Beverly Drive which is considered the upmarket area of the city. I'm starting to think my travel agent must've fancied me or something, because this is the second hotel I've had in America which seems totally beyond my means, the first having been in Hawaii. I certainly have no complaints, that's for sure. The rooms at my hotel start at $180 a night for the most basic, but that doesn't really come as a surprise to me considering I'm only one block from Rodeo Drive - home to the most expensive shops in the world. On Rodeo, I didn't see any famous faces but couldn't really think of many other people who could afford to shop there - chic boutiques sat alongside jewellery and clothing stores such as Tiffany, Gucci and Cartier, all displaying prices that resembled telephone numbers on items that could probably be bought outside of Beverly Hills for a fraction of the price. A few of the stores, in fact, are so up themselves that they don't even bother to open their doors unless you phone for an appointment beforehand - and then they send a limo around to collect you personally, so you'd better be planning on buying something.
There's nothing particularly spectacular about Rodeo, and if you're expecting me to tell you that the streets are paved with gold or that the shopfronts are studded with diamonds then you might be a bit surprised - in fact, you could easily walk straight through the place and never know you'd been in one of the most famous streets in the world. The shops are all plain white fronted stores which don't even particularly look much like shops, but then nobody goes to Rodeo for the architecture. On the corner of Rodeo and Wiltshire is a more traditional shopping arcade called Via Rodeo, a winding modern street of shops and cafes where you can actually afford to buy something and say you shopped on Rodeo. Tourists usually choose to stand on the grand stone staircase leading up to the precinct and have their photographs taken under the Rodeo Drive sign. This is where I discovered just how helpful Americans can be - I was approached by a young lady who just happened to be passing, who offered to take my photo under the sign as I was clearly on my own. As soon as I had positioned myself and she had lifted the camera to take my photo, we were both approached by another passer-by who assumed that we were a couple and wanted to offer to take our photo together under the sign. Although embarrassing for all concerned, this really was a great introduction to the friendliness I can obviously expect from this country over the coming weeks.
As soon as I step out of my hotel in Beverly Hills, I am surrounded by beautiful people in "Hey, look at me" cars and wearing Versace everything! There's a small café a block down which is open twenty-four hours a day and would happily sell me a donut if I re-mortgaged my house to pay for it, but apart from that there isn't really an awful lot to do. About the only thing I wanted to do before heading for Hollywood was the obligatory tour of the local movie star's homes - everybody who comes here absolutely must do this, it's the law. Before leaving Los Angeles, you have two choices. You can buy a ridiculously expensive map to the movie star's homes from an ever-present street vendor and then walk about all day striding up to heavily fortified gates and peering through, which, lets face it, must really piss the stars off. Alternatively, you can pay somebody to drive you around in a bus so that you can point at large mansions and say to the guy next to you how disgusted you are that somebody has wasted all their money on a big stone monstrosity like that while secretly seething inside that you can't afford to live there yourself.
The tours are run in small mini-buses which take punters on a two hour drive around the community areas within the most famous zip code in the world - Beverly Hills 90210. According to the large signs outside the imposing gates of the mansions, most of the star's homes are heavily guarded by high tech security equipment and wired up to a privately owned local armed response team - so anybody thinking of paying an uninvited visit can probably expect to have men with dogs pointing assault rifles in their face before they get up the driveway, but that's probably the sort of over the top response you might expect from the famous. In Britain, we actually have policemen to protect our citizens and don't usually allow local companies to set themselves up with heavy duty weaponry and offer to come round and shoot anybody stepping over our property line without permission, but we're funny like that. The residential areas of Beverly Hills are the only part of the city not on the block system, so streets here are pleasant palm tree lined winding avenues like in Europe - and the average price of property in 90210 is between three and nine million dollars, so if you want to live here you'd better start saving now. The fire hydrants are all painted silver instead of red as they are elsewhere in the States, and, according to the guide, are filled with Mineral Water. I don't actually believe this, of course, but you have to give the tour guides here a little leeway - winding the tourists up a little is probably the most fun they have all day. The funniest comment I read about the fire hydrants recently was on an internet message board, where somebody had innocently asked why they were painted silver in 90210 - the first response suggested that this was because the dogs in Beverly Hills all urinate silver plating. Most of the residents of the area over the years have traditionally been old time movie stars like Ronald Reagan, or TV personalities of times gone by such as Lucille Ball. However, the younger generation are starting to get in on the act as well - Leonardo DiCaprio has an enormous place up in the hills - although most of the younger crowd still tend to stick to places like Miami and Malibu where the nightlife allows them to behave badly on a more regular basis.
About Simon and Burfords Travels:
Simon Burford is a UK based travel writer. He will be re-publishing his travel blogs, chapters from his books and other miscellaneous rantings on these pages over the coming weeks and months, and the entry on this page may not necessarily reflect todays date.