Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Days 39 - 40: Pleasanton - Fiji - Brisbane
And so to a close we draw. Cue “Closing Time” and “Time of Your Life”. Four airports, three flights and 22 hours of transiting later, and I have reached my final destination. But my life is never without oddity, as you probably would have figured out.
Airports are up there for the best places to people watch. They are possibly second only to police stations or nude beaches, but it would be a close call, thanks to the vast quantity of propel that pass through transit lounges. Take, for instance, my time in the San Francisco gate lounge, waiting for my first flight of the journey. I felt trapped between a rock and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. On one side was a man who had misread the departure guide and went to the wrong gate, only to miss his plane. The fellow, essentially Kevin Spacey after a big night on the wines, went into rage mode, and screamed enough for an audition into a Finnish death metal band at the gate staff who were both perplexed and fearful for their lives. On the other side, I was seated next to a man who was on a permanent phone call to some kind of cultural eunuch. My neighbour was probably about 55, and had a Santa-esque look to him, but was definitely from California, by the sounds of his voice. Here are some overheard words that he was saying to the mystery caller who had no idea how life worked:
“The African-Americans, they call each other ‘home dog’. This, I believe is a reference --------to dogs being man’s best friend, implying that one’s ‘home dog’ is their closest of --------------friends.”
“When I was a younger boy, my mother used to beat me when I called my girlfriend my ‘main squeeze.’ Mother always told me that I was never to refer to her as anything --------other than my ‘undoubted love.’
Sitting next to serial murderers is very disconcerting.
When I reached Los Angeles, I was worried that I would be spending my 5 hours of stop over wandering aimlessly around the terminal, however, after I had strategically spaced out my toilet breaks, duty free browsing and dinner so as to minimise boredom, I sat in the lounge of my gate, ready to board the aluminium tube. A few seconds later, the bloke who was sitting on the chair behind me turned around asked me where I was travelling. I was completely floored upon turning around to see a man who would be aptly described as Alby Mangels with a splash of John Butler. His beard, lengthful and bushy was only bested by a moustache that would have, without exaggeration, been 9 inches broad. He carried only one small carry on bag, complemented by his guitar and Gandelfish walking stick. He was a sight to behold in a modern airport. I later found out that my new Australian friend, had flown to North Carolina in July and hitchhiked across America to reach his flight out which he was waiting for in LA. He told of his adventures, from doing acid in a hot spring on a snowy mounty in Mexico on New Year’s Eve, working cash jobs in different spots across the country to get the dosh to survive, to sleeping a few nights under petrol station awnings in the desert of Arizona. He was an absolute marvel to listen to, if not to look at, were one pogonophobic. During my conversation with this prodigy of a human being, out of the corner of my eye, I spied another guy walking towards me with intent and purpose, the kind of theatrical stride you’d see from Tom Cruise in a Mission: Impossible movie. Without wanting to look over and acknowledge this crazed mad man walking towards me, I was reaching around for something to defend myself with, until I realised that the person who was steaming i my direction was none other than Jono (See Las Vegas). Conversations ensued.
To cut a long story short(ish), the next two flights were relatively eventless, as I tried to sleep enough to qualify as a human for the full day after my landing in Brisbane at 9:15 am.
Day 38: Pleasanton
Why not round off my US trip by going back to where we started? No, not hungover on an international flight? Not even in Los Angeles (although tomorrow will see me sojourn back down to Lynwood and by homies), but to my very first destination in the US, way back when, in June 2012: New Orleans. To clarify, I’m not extending my trip and forcing you all to listen to even more of this drivel, rather, I had the utmost pleasure of today attending a New Orleans-influenced, old time, jazz band in San Francisco. Yes, technically they were all from New York, except for the tap dancer who was from New Joisey, but they had the spirit, if not the suntan, downpat.
I’m not entirely sure what it is, but somehow I always manage to attract, or possibly indirectly cause weird situations to happen wherever I go, and tonight was no different. The theatre that we were seated in was a renovated version of an old jazz night club; think that joint from Gangster Squad, just less Ryan Gosling and consequently more upset women. We all had little tables and there were some small booths scattered around, with waiters and waitresses scooting around bringing people their food, drinks, cigars, tommy guns and zoot suits.
About a third of the way into the set, our waitress was bringing our drinks out, and accidentally made the decision to serve our drinks aerially, and over our neighbours at the next table. We all laughed it off like it was an 80s sitcom opening credits gag, except for one lady on the next table who decided to make quite a scene, demanding she be brought a wet towel, a fresh (and free) glass, and the hearts of twelve virgins as recompense. You would think the ordeal over, but alas, our angry neighbour continued to demand satisfaction, consistently ruining the jazzy mood of the hall to loudly and obviously tell anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t that she was so grievously befouled by the poor waitress, and eventually refusing to pay her bills. So to you, my dear friend, I offer my most sincere “get blown”.
The Winter of Love
Day 37: Pleasanton
Only two years, 6 months and 4 days since I last was there, I revisited Pier 39 in San Francisco to see if they had gotten those damned lazy Sea Lions to work in a seafood shop. In fact, I managed to squeeze in an entire express tourist day in the Paris of the West (or, by that logic, the Tromsø of the Southwest, or the Ho Chi Minh of the Occident). As they say; all’s strange that starts strange. Early on in the day a capitalist Buddhist monk silently offered me a small cardboard tag embossed with the words ‘work peacefully, exist happily’ on it, before thrusting a form asking for my one wish in front of my face. I began writing that I, like the past four suckers falling for his scam, wished for peace, until I came to the section asking how much I wished to donate for my peace of Microsoft Word-printed, thick paper. Telling him that I didn’t have any spare cash after giving it to the homeless man who I asked for directions to the train ticket booth, he ripped the lacklustrely unlaminated, shiny wish-papyrus from my grasp and stormed off in a huff. Joke’s on him though, I’d already written my wish, and under UN resolution 2196, Article VIII, there’s no backsies on that.
Thinking that that event would be the strangest, I was sorely mistaken, because there are two things that San Francisco has more of than weed and hippies - homeless people asking for money and lone wolf charity collectors asking for money for homeless people. But they aren’ your run-of-the-mill charity collectors; your avoid eye contact with Dennis from World Vision as you shuffle on into Dan Murphy’s at Chermside collectors. No, these guys are hardcore. Down by the Pier, I was innocently eating my Ben & Jerry’s, reading an information panel, when a man stealthily appeared behind me and told me that I unfortunately had to receive a written warning. My first thought: “Crap, I’m on candid camera.” My second thought: “No, crap, its a cop.” My third thought: “Why weren’t those last two in reverse order? Is that healthy?” Turning around (slowly, so as to not get mistaken for an ethnic minority and unfairly and racistly shot in the back), I was happily surprised to see a squat Indian man holding a smiley sticker up to my face. “Crap, I thought, I spent most of my last cash on this ice cream, now I'm going to look like a right wanker when he undoubtedly asks for my money.” And look like a wanker I did as I rifled through my pockets and wallet to scrap together some money for my happiness assassin.
Thankfully, the psychological torture was over, but unfortunately, my physical torture was yet to begin. In San Fran, one of the coolest (literally) ways you can get around the city is on the historic cable cars, which are best described as a box attached to a catapult filled with people and pain that is thrown in front of traffic. We got onto the car at the beginning of the line, guaranteeing us one of the very few seats. These things are capable of holding probably 30 - 40 people each, but have only maybe 10 seats in total. After a few stops, our car was overloaded with people and I was squished up against a wall in an awkward position, such that I couldn't get up to offer any newcomers my seat while I hung off the side in on-coming traffic. That’s when anoterh passenger decided to squeeze on, filling the space that my long legs were occupying, leading to me sitting atop my testicles for approximately 20 minutes as we were flung around corners and up and down hills. Sorry, Balls, I will hold a memorial service in your honour soon.
All Bets Are Off
Day 36: Pleasanton
We’re a shady bunch, the Higgins Family Crime Syndicate. Running illegal gambling syndicates, supplying alcohol to minors and blatant jaywalking are just part and parcel of a regular day for us. A day, possibly, like today. The largest racket to be established on the west coast of America in the past 35 days struck again today, operating a betting pool on the results of the Golden Globe. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen results, and what would appear to have been a failed attempt at rigging the outcome (I’ll be taking care of business with those Hollywood Foreign Press Association goons later), I lost $5 to the all-reigning queen of poorly managed gambling rings, Loretta, who’s late-game changes saw her charge home on a wave of Boyhood-related wins.
Aside from our shady activities, today was spend in downtown Pleasanton, exploring a quaint little town centre that looks like cross between the set of a horror film before the zombies come, and the location of a ‘California’s best’ vegetable competition (if I had to guess, I’d say pumpkin).
He's Really Showing Us What A Man With A Cannon In His Chest Can Do.
Day 35: Pleasanton
Shock revelation: sports were never my thing. I’ll give you a second to recover from that bombshell. They didn’t really engage me that much, and I was never a particularly aggressive or competitive individual, so a lot of the time, I just didn’t have the drive required for sporting activity. That was probably the only reason I was never asked to join the Harlem Globetrotters.
Luckily, however, I did manage to get to see them today, and I got to marvel at just how good I could have been at basketball if I had channelled my obvious talent into a professional team like those talented contemporaries have done. Between the talent for ball handling and shooting, and the lithe athleticism that they displayed, the Globetrotters make being a an exhibition basketball team look as easy as I would have found it. But beyond that, the most impressive thing about the Globetrotters was that their games aren’t dissimilar to a stage production. The game I saw tonight would have been a very similar game to all of those played by the team over the past few years, but this is so far from a negative that it is extraordinary.
Yes, that particular play of events would have been practised ad nauseam, but that is no different to a regular game of basketball, where a team runs thousands of drills, plays and exercises to get them as to become as familiar as a well-worn toilet seat. The only difference is that the Globetrotters have the opportunity to stage manage their opposition as well, to create a perfectly scripted and played out game of basketball that more closely resembles a semi-improvised piece of theatre or a television broadcast. And they were just as entertaining as you could possibly have hoped.
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Day 34: Pleasanton
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Day 33: Pleasanton
I guess you just have to meet as many people a you can in a country to understand them as a collective. For instance, today, when we went to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, I came across a bunch of people who were so genuinely happy and cheerful that I think I was legitimately talking to Oompa Loompas. For a tour guide who takes people on a 40 minute walking tour of jellybean mosaics of Ronald Reagan’s face day-in, day-out for a living, he was overly cheerful. As was everyone in the factory, right down to the 900 year old lady working a packing machine who was clearly only there for the insurance benefits. Perhaps I’ve judged Californians too harshly. Perhaps I’ve not accounted for how much crack a human can smoke in one day. Or perhaps I just don't understand what it means to be indentured labourers for an eccentric Gene Wilder in a building with a chocolate river.
Stranger Than Fiction
Day 32: Pleasanton
Just when I thought I would be through reducing an entire day’s story to one television program, Mum and Abby again pull out an absolute corker. Happily enjoying my day non-traumatised, listening to music and reading, I hear a musical “Ma-ax” float down the hallway. It was the kind of tone you hear from a small kid who just put a white cat in the washing machine with his red socks, and, knowing that the feline’s pinkish hue will see him found out, decides to proactively break the news to his parents (who, one would hope, are the cat’s owners). Generally, with my mother, there are two tones that I will hear my name called in. One is a short, sharp yap, usually utilising the full “Maxwell”. That’s the trouble tone. The other is this more musical two-tone yodel, and that usual means that some crazy shit is about to go down.
However, nothing could prepare me for the extent of the craziness that was in the midst of proceeding downwards. Expecting the usual pointed satire from a mother who is known to be rather comically judgemental of reality TV contestants (ie. the Bachelor), I was mildly scared when asked to sit down to watched a full episode of the TLC future classic My Strange Addiction. I’ve gone back since my psychological episode, and found that this show usually serves up ‘my strange addiction is that I eat toilet paper’ or ‘ my strange addiction is that I sleep next to my husband’s urn’, but TLC pulled out the best for us today.
What has seared itself so painfully into my brain was the strange addiction of people who dress up whole-body latex body suits, complete with moulded genitalia and faces so as to take on the form of something that's lost half way between poorly executed drag and poorly executed face transplant. Now, I'm not knocking the people who do this; whatever floats your boat people, you go crazy with it, but I think I will just take five minutes to process what I saw.
Just so that we are all onboard with what I’m talking about here, imagine that you went a little Hannibal Lector and cut off the face of a ‘realistic’ looking sex doll then you wear that, along with a complete rubber skin and get up to your day to day looking like a concoction that the Joker would use to mess with Batman. It is seriously creepy looking stuff. Rubber faces, which look just real enough at a distance and when covered by enough hair, make you fill your pants with fear when a head turns but the face stays in place.
You’re probably just sitting there thinking that I have gone crazy from suffering two winters in one year, but I think this is an important part of understanding American culture or some bullshit, or maybe I just needed to share this before I get committed to an asylum. And I thought Mums were supposed to protect their children from psychological trauma…
|As I said, something from Batman. Note: Joker's face is removed.|
The One Where You Get Bored
Day 31: Pleasanton
I would like to apologise for the disaster of the Bachelor recollection from yesterday. I didn’t want to do it, you didn’t want to read it, but it had to be done. It was like confronting the author of the book you studied in Year 9 English. Today wasn’t a whole lot more exciting than what you had to endure with the reading. I combined my passion for not wanting to die prematurely of diabetes and the convenience of the local park to go for a run, which went as disastrously as you would imagine after reading the first clause of that sentence. I made it a full 30ft before succumbing to death and reverting to a brisk walk again, much to the enjoyment of the derisive audience of squirrels and mothers standing by as their children try to roll matchbox cars up the slide.
Purely so that I could undo what little good I had done today, we revisited a favourite burger joint in Pleasanton where I could engorge in the East Bay’s best Tri-tip steak sanga. Yeah, I told you today was boring. You only have yourself to blame.
Day 30: Pleasanton
Please excuse me a moment. I don’t really want to do this, but I feel like a specific combination of events has led to this. Today was again a pretty quiet affair; post-German depression has set in, and so we decided to have a day’s silence in respect. Come night time, though, and I had been bribed into sitting on the couch to endure the US version of The Bachelor in exchange for Tim Tams. What can I say; those chocolate biscuits get me.
The Bachelor over here seems to be a huge phenomenon, far larger (and only slightly less of a farce) than back home. This year, US audiences are unfortunately going to be put through the social media trends of Iowa farmer Chris hunting ploughing through his newest bach (<— DOUBLE PUN) of women as they vie for his attention and ABC-sponsored wedding ring. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow breakdown of The Bachelor. I would just like to cover some of the highlights.
Firstly, it would appear that Germans are genetically bred to have already seen some crazy shit. When one of the women, a cruise ship entertainer, busted out of the limousine to meet her potential new husband, she decided she would begin by bringing a children’s pink microphone and speaker and singing him an introductory song, wherein she poorly attempted to rhyme ‘meet’ with ‘teach’. Mum, Abby and I lost our collective shit laughing at this young lady’s poor comprehension of rhyme scheme, rhythm and tone (although 10 points for having the balls to bust that out on national television), meanwhile, Simon sat there totally cool with the train wreck he was witnessing in front of him. Not an eyelid was batted.
Secondly, I would like to have a small chat about the effects of PCP and going on TV. One young woman who had been introduced to farmer Chris early on in the piece seemed to get collectively more confused and bug-eyed as the night progressed. This continued until the point where she went from being confused to blatantly tripping major ballsack. During a one-on-one interview with the camera crew to discuss how she felt about this year’s program, she stopped in the middle of one of her sentences, looked off screen and proclaimed “Is that an ONION?”. She then would not continue the interview until the camera turned to inspect the dark area of shrubbery that she was referring to. The show cut to some other women chatting to our farmer, only to cut back seconds later to the acid-dropper, who restarted her interview with “Nope, hold on, I have to go find out if that is an onion. But it may be a pomegranate. If thats a pomegranate, God bless it.” she waltzed over to the patch of shrubs and wrestled a pumpkin sized fruit out of a tree, only to become saddened. “Darn it, it’s a pomegranate. But I feel so POWERFUL.” This, kids, is not how to go on TV. If you do find yourself in the situation where you have accidentally imbibed a large quantity of LSD and you are asked to be in front of a camera, politely decline, and never, I repeat, NEVER look for an onion in a tree. That shit is a root vegetable.
Guten Tag, bis zum nächstes Mal
Day 29: Pleasanton
Today is a sad day indeed. After 13 days, the German contingent of this great United Nations has returned back to Deutschland. Our great alliance, which has weathered the cold, the alcohol, the excessive amount of food, the linguistic difficulties and the Americaniness of our host country must be concluded and drawn to a close. You have to hand it to those Germans though, they can pack a bag exceptionally well. The efficient stereotype is very true. Phil, who arrived with quite a heavy, fully packed bag and bought quite a lot of clothing while he was here managed to not only have enough room to pack it all in (bar his new blazer, which he wore to show how much of a serious business man he is), but seemed to have lost baggage weight.
Luckily, we managed to get in one last tear-filled, fat-filled burger session at the San Fran airport before everyone parted ways and the Germans got lead through the security screening process to get their very own prostate examinations. Hopefully the TSA go easy on our Eurotrippers so that they can sit comfortably and get some sleep on their journey home.
Day 28: Pleasanton
Wowzers, I am really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for things to talk about for these quiet days. Its becoming quite the challenge to nurse the flickering light of an idea into an out of control bush fire of overstretched analogy and mediocre at best anecdotes. But I’ll be screwed if I don’t try so hard I push you over the edge. Instead of a full essay today, I thought I would just drop a few tidbits that have been irking me, but which don’t need their own full piece.
- 2008 style scene/emo/pop-punk fashion apparently isn't dead here. It’s totally a normal thing around the streets, which is strange because I feel 14 again, and 14 wasn’t a great year for me. And my skinny jeans are less ‘almost-hipster’ and more ‘awkward throwback’ now.
- I saw a white guy in San Francisco yell, to large group of African-Americans “back up n*ggers, let some of us n*ggers through” and the recipient group just turned and smiled, waved, and let him through. WHAT? Everything I thought I knew about the use of that word and the reaction it would garner in the wrong context is laying in front of me shattered. Either that or San Fran is just so relaxed that nothing phases anyone.
- On menus, ‘sandwiches’ are burgers. NO. Bad America. Learn the difference.
- There have been 3 earthquakes in the last 7 days. I only know this because a friend posted me a link to the USGS page; I didn’t feel any of them. I completely forgot that I was standing atop the San Andreas fault line and at anytime I would be turned into human Aeroplane Jelly with crunchy bone bits.
- Dr. Pepper sucks. Still.
- I still can’t figure out if the sign that says “Peds wait here” on the side of the road is a form of entrapment or a brilliant ploy by the CHiPs.
Day 27: Pleasanton
If I may borrow this portion this portion of your time, I would like to attempt to be a little sappy and a little heartfelt, both things at which I am ill-equipped to be, so this could end up being one of the more hilarious of daily postings. Today was the 22nd wedding anniversary of my two housemates who also coincidentally call themselves my parents. Way back when, in yonder year of 1993, two shenanigan-prone, single-parent, half-decent types managed to woo each other (believe me I don't know how either, between Dad’s love of short shorts and Mum’s killer permed mullet), and had the bright spark idea to get married. This was a pretty good idea, both for them, and the as-yet-non-existant me, as they started to bring together the coolest little family under the Queensland sun.
After I entered their lives as a bundle of joy and perpetual happiness, the family was complete, and ready to begin our reign of world domination. However, just this once, enough about me. For the last 20 and ¾ years, my parents have been the absolute best role models in the world for myself and my siblings. They have shown us how to love each other and respect each other and how to properly operate as best we can in this fucked up world. Yeah, there have been ups and downs, but which family doesn’t have those? Not to mention, there were far more ups than downs, and through it all, my Mumma and Pappa have been there, weathering the storm, to offer advice, comfort, or just to listen to shallow complaints.
Mum and Dad, thank you for being the raddest of rad, the coolest of cool, the nicest of nice and the funniest of funny. Thanks for being there when I needed it, and when I thought I didn’t. Thanks for not killing me. Thanks for birthing me, even though you didn’t really have much choice in that regard. Thanks for making me proud to call you the best housemates that Gumtree could let me find. Most of all, thanks for finding each other, not being too off-put by early-90’s fashion and not killing each other in the 22 years since. Love you both.
We Don’t Take Kindly To You People Here
Day 26: Pleasanton
After the adventures of last night, there is no way that I was going to arise at any time before midday, which is why I was out til 2pm, enjoying dreams of an idyllic world where moist towelettes came standard at fancy restaurants and no one looked down on you for making a mega straw by putting all of your straws together. Alas, I awoke into this judgemental dystopia and never left the house due to my depression. That is why today, we get to explore my essays on American stupidity the third, entitled Away From Carmen Sandiego: Where In the World Does Max Come From?
Mark Twain once wisely said “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” It was one of his more widely circulated quotes, more so than his more mundane ones such as “pass me the salt, please Olivia.” However, Twain was right on target with his assessment on Americans’ ability to comprehend the distribution of landmasses on this planet. Aside from the (mostly true) stereotype that Americans love the US and only the US, they have a tough time being able to estimate not only where someone comes from based on their accent, but also, once having gleaned the location information, figuring where one country is in relation to any other apart from ‘not in America’.
For instance, last night at the New Year’s celebrations, when Philip and I were accosted buy our throng of fans who wanted to tell us that we were attractive twins (let me live in my glory for one minute), we were constantly asked from where about our strange spoken twangs originated. At one point, having identified myself as Australian, a girl told me that she regularly visited Ireland because of some family connection that I failed to pay attention to. She also informed me that she has always considered going to Australia when she is in Ireland, because it was ‘so much closer than here.’ Now, I'm not entirely sure if that girl was on crack (entirely possible, this is California), or she just had absolutely no clue. Part of me would like to think that she confused Australia with Austria, however, I don't think she had the brain cells to be able to know that Austria and Ireland were close, so I prefer to think that she believes that once you go past Great Britain, the rest of Europe, Asia and Oceania is compressed into 600 miles.
Similarly, back in LA when Ash, Tyrone, Nicko and I were walking from the train station into the Staples Centre to watch the Lakers play, a man who had overheard us talking asked if we were from Ireland. When we explained our true nationality to him, he responded with ‘I knew I was in the right area’. Sir, either you are exceptionally well versed in the history of Australian linguistics and completely ignorant to the sound of a nasally Australian voice, or the Californian geography curriculum places Ireland and Australian in lost proximity on maps. Other great guesses that we have heard so far on the trip include Scotland, England, Canada (really?), New Zealand and South Africa. Get it together aurally, Yanks.
Day 25: Pleasanton
What in the name of Jehovah happens to people on New Years’ that makes them to damn entertaining? On this day of split years, wherein Australians have been told not to spoil the beginning of the year by telling us in America what happens, everyone seems to go a little stir crazy. It all started when we were getting on the train to head into San Francisco to watch the fireworks…
As I have said previously, the BART is probably the easiest way to get around. Everyone else had the same idea, so about 3 stations into our journey, we were comfortably sitting while everyone else’s asses were pressed up against each other, and the sides of our heads as more people packaged themselves into the sardines can of a carriage. Some miles down the track and I noticed that a damn attractive (and equally as drunk) blonde girl keeps staring towards Phil and I, but, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t? She pipes up, asking if we are twins, and after I identified that we were not only not blood relations, but not even from the same country, she loudly proclaims to the train “Two countries, one hole.” Damn you, drunk girl, not even I have the audacity to shout that out in public.
The stroke of midnight saw Phil and I separated from the main group once more as we lined up to use the bathrooms along with 95% of California. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like a countdown to ring in your pee stream and fireworks to celebrate a piss well pissed. The fireworks were a beautiful spectacle, launching off of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, synchronised to Ariana Grande’s string of 2014 ‘hits’.
However, on the ride home again (after a huge 40 minute crowd to get into the train station), we were impressed with how everyone managed to make complete fools of themselves. A small group of teenagers were jamming to their wireless speaker, entertaining the whole train with their pot-fuelled dance moves and commentary. When one of them spectacularly caught a hand rail to stop herself from falling over, an elderly man standing against a wall noted her reflexes. She was so pleased that he had recognised her agility that she offered the elderly man a high five, but, just as he reached out to claim his skin-to-skin congratulations, she told him “No contact though, you is terminal.”
Not too long after that, a roughly 16-year old boy came running shirtless into our carriage, bowling people over and crashing into the walls. He looked fair perturbed, however that could have just been the pills he’d dropped a few hours earlier. He stopped just a way up from us and shouted at the world “WHERE ARE YOU? COME AND FIGHT ME!” The next I saw that young lad he was being led away from the train by police, clapped out by the whole trains-worth of passengers. San Francisco, I love you and your drugged up hilarity.
Day 24: Pleasanton
New Year’s Eve Eve brought with it nothing much of interest, besides tornado levels of wind. When December 30 is only going to reach a maximum of 10ºC and there is a wind chill factor brings that down a little further, the last thing you want is for the power to go out and the central heating to stop working. That may be the last thing you want, but it certainly was the first thing to happen today. So we took refuge from the cold in a house by going to a semi-outdoor local shops, because apparently we have lost a large portion of our braincells to the cold. While at the Livermore outlets, we got to experience what it must have been like to have been Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz if the movie had been set in Lappland.
Just to top off this mort boring of posts, later in the evening we ventured down to the local cinema to bawl our eyes out watching The Imitation Game, the story of Benedict Cumberbatch learning how to make friends and kill Nazis. The movie, while sad as all hell was offset by the cinema, which offered beer, wine and reclining chairs and lounges, so really, who could be crying half way through a pint in a Lazyboy?
These Wheels Keep On Turnin’
Day 23: Pleasanton
Today was another of those quiet sitting-around days that were spent in trakkie daks playing Minecraft. So let me spin the wheel and see which of my prepared essay topics you will be on the receiving end of… And our winner is… “Roads and Transport”.
The United States was the birthplace of the motor vehicle. The United States was the mother of the highway. The United States was the proving ground for majority of the world’s traffic rules and formations. While none of the above statements are true, a large portion of Americans certainly do believe that they are, and so drive accordingly. Though not as chaotic and hodge-podge as continental European drivers, US drivers for the most part also don’t possess the associated skill level that is packaged with being able to keep one hand on the horn, one on the gearstick, a knee on the lower portion of the wheel and your eyes on the Arc de Triumph.
By contrast, US drivers seem oblivious to the idea of indicators and also seem to lack a concept of fluidity. When I was in Italy, drivers on the hectic roads around the Terminus in Rome were able to both completely ignore all traffic signs and avoid collision with each other and pedestrians. To cross a road, one would simply walk out onto the crossing in front of moving vehicles, and like some school of vespa-bound fish, the drivers would move around you. Here, if I were to stand within 40 feet of the side of the road, I would be likely to receive a sharp blast from a horn of a worrisome yank who wouldn’t know how to react if I pressed the crossing button. The same applies on the road - if you were to politely indicate merge into a driver’s lane a good 50 yards in front of them, they would have no option but to blast you because they are afraid of the flashing light near your rear bumper.
Furthermore, road design here seems nonsensical. Lacking the humble roundabout in most cases, suburban streets are plagued by four-way stop signs. These are the realm of the Lucifer, and all possibility of common sense, order and manners are turned into the Genesiac void of randomness. It is a case of first-come, first-serve, however, with various definitions of ‘who got to the intersection first’ cropping up, it is more closely resembling of an epileptic janitor sweeping a muddy patio in a thunderstorm.
And not that I am referring to all Americans with sweeping blanket statements or anything, but I love all generalisations.
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Day 22: Pleasanton
Crap. I’m drunk. Don’t tell my Mum. Shhhh. Also, if you see a spelling mistake, keep it to yourself. Drunk Max doesn’t care for that stuff. And if you see a spelling mistake in the rest of my writing, also keep that to yourself because sober Max doesn’t care either. Obviously, you’re thinking ‘how could such a lovely, good lad like Max be drunk?’
The answer is that my sister booked me (and the rest of the family) into two wine tastings at two different wineries in the Pleasanton/Dublin/Livermore area, which were, in short, completely rad. The Concannon (not the college at USQ) and El Sol (not the actual sun) wineries were very gracious to a sneaky 20-year old who was willing to be a ‘grown up’ and taste fermented fruit to fuel his alcoholic fix for the day. Worse than that, between the wineries, our very (non-)astute fully-stocked-limousine driver Vaughn (or Von or Van or Verne or something) allowed us to hit the full bottles of scotch, bourbon and vodka in his vehicle to top up on our libations.
I think that today has really let me stretch my Sommelier muscle, knowing the palate difference between a fruity wine and a brick wall, and the obvious mouthfeel difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a donkey kick to the teeth. Furthermore, I was able to showcase my DJ skills in the back of a limo with a great mix of Michael Jackson, Hanson and Footloose.
I would like to apologise to any reader who has the misfortune of trying to decipher the exorbitant number of brackets involved in this post. It makes sense in my head…
No, You Didn’t Click The Wrong Link
Day 21: Pleasanton
Due to the fact that this end of the holiday is going to be a fair bit more quiet on the action front, I have decided that after days in which I don't get up to much, I will share my observational sage advice and wisdom that exactly 0% of the population asked for. Today, I would like to cover the awkwardness of American advertising.
On US television there are two types of ad, or so you would be led to believe. One is the advertisement that is trying to sell you medicine/medical treatment. The other is a law firm informing you that you are eligible for a litigation payout because of the medical treatment you just bought into (or the motorcycle accident you just had, the secret disease that your military service has gifted you and the faulty massage chair/sushi chef combo that you bought out of the Skymall Catalogue that can’t differentiate between its ‘thinly sliced Salmon’ and ‘ball warmer’ settings).
Back home in Australia, we have very strict laws against how medicine can be advertised to the general public. In short, it can’t. In long, the closest any pharmaceutical company can get to actually telling you about a product is to simply run an awareness campaign on a particular medical issue, hoping you will go to the doctor and that the doctor will prescribe the intended product. This is because doctors know more about health than the general Australian does, and they should be left in charge of which medicines we are and aren’t putting into our bodies. I’m looking at you, anti-vax assholes. However, over this side of the pond, pharmaceutical companies assume that the average American, the same person who demanded to see Obama’s birth certificate and who paid money to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a fully certified health practitioner and that they can demand specific treatment from their GP.
That is why you will see ads for everything ranging from aspirin to anti-depressant medication with 15 second closing statements that contain the words “side effects may include the onset of gastroenteritis, recurring nose bleeds, suicidal thoughts (especially funny for Anti-D’s), bifurcation and death.” Furthermore, it would seem that there is no restrictions on what can be advertised and at what times. During the mid-afternoon, when one might expect primary school children to be tuning in to arvo cartoons, you are just as likely to be graced by advertising for catheters and Erectile Dysfunction, the latter of which literally has the phrase “ask your doctor if you are healthy enough for sex”. My friend, if you aren't healthy enough for sex, you don't need to call a doctor, you need to call an undertaker.
The advertising companies however, do know that the average human being isn’t fully qualified to deal with the intricate details of their own medication, and so they have established a safety net to protect those that they themselves damage - court proceedings. Between all of the ads for Asthma medication and angiographies, the majority of advertising is aimed at Americans, (/illegal Mexicans) who have been in slightest manner put out by literally anything. While some of the ads are there to honestly protect hard-done-by citizens, ads like ‘if you ride a motorcycle, you WILL have an accident, and it WON’T be your fault’ just lead to bad behaviour from a populace who think that they can be protected by Atticus Finch.
Who Is Even Boxing?
Day 20: Pleasanton
I’m twenty days into my adventure, and for the life of me, I just can’t think how to begin this post. I can’t think of a stupid story. I can’t think of a tedious-though-witty-if-you-think-about-it-for-long-enough lame pun. I can’t even think of a shitty pun. 2014 is running my creativity dry. I sure hope that this creative lull doesn’t continue for the next few days of delightfully ignored story telling. So let me jump into the deep end on this one.
Today, Boxing Day, is traditionally the beginning of the legally sanctioned fights in shopping centres season back home, however, as most of the insane savings are to be made on Black Friday after Thanksgiving here, today just sort of slips under the radar. That doesn’t stop people from going to the shops, and while I was relaxing at home with Abby, the Germans braved Stoneridge. From all reports, it was a complete Taco Bell bathroom shitstorm of bodies and savings.
Between refreshing the cricket score and binge watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix (Netflix, if you warp the Australian service when you launch it next year, I will personally come to your offices and poo on your windows), not much was particularly achieved today. It was a day to recover from copious amounts of drinking and eating vast quantities of food by drinking vast quantities and eating copious amounts of food. I have to keep my humours in balance.
Day 19: Pleasanton
Don’t let a nine year old wake you up on Christmas morning. It ruins your peaceful sleep vibes. God, what was the sentence that I just wrote? “Peaceful sleep vibes?” I guess I am near San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury must be wafting across the bay. Nine year olds, when it comes to Christmas time, are the smiling devils. Their happiness and excitement is so contagious, that after only a few minutes of semi-lucidity, I was just as keen to see what Santa may have brought me as he was.
A sad realisation that I am 20 and Santa stopped visiting me a long time ago later, and I was slotting into the traditions that I love so much. Croissants with butter for breakfast, being yelled at for not getting the right kinds of cloves from the shop yesterday for the baked ham, laughing at the idea of a baked ham just being a cop getting high in a car, its all so nostalgic. However, there was one stark reminder of what was different this year: the fact that the mercury never climbed above 15°C. Not quite cold enough for a white Christmas, but certainly cold enough for me to be appreciative of the idea of Glühwein and for me to reconsider my stoic plan to listen to the Boxing Day Test in the pool.
After my stellar performance as Jesus last night, it was only fitting that I double-billed as Santa (albeit a very cruisey Hawaiian version thereof) for today’s festivities. Critics are calling the double act “Enthralling!” and “Conceptually groundbreaking!”. But who listens to Roger Ebert’s force-ghost or Margaret Pomeranz, anyway? I think everyone this year scored well in the presents haul, but if you'll allow me to toot my own horn for once (something that never happens), I scored the best with a wicked watch, the box set of Batman ’66 and Nick Offerman’s book, among others. Thank you present givers for being far more thoughtful and thorough with your choices than I ever am.
Another big thank you must go out to Simon’s mother, Edel, my Aunty Catherine and Uncle Tony, as well as my own mum, Mum, for putting together the last two days of feasting and drinking. I would also like to thank myself for being a great child for 364 days a year to allow myself Christmas to cut loose and have a beer for breakfast. Mum and Dad - be thankful for your angel child.
Day 18: Pleasanton
It only took 18 days (give or take 10 hours for travel time) but we have arrived at the main event for the whole trip - the beginning of Chrismas festivities. In Europe, Christmas eve is the regular celebration instead of the actual day, which doesn’t seem to make much sense, but I would love to implement the idea of a birthday eve to override Abby’s inferior birthday.
During my early morning pre-celebration haze, I commanded the good ship Berta the Beetle across the country side in search of Ugly Christmas Sweaters, however, we weren't able to track down any of the elusive woollen gold. Upon my return to the homestead, I was met with grave news - I had to attend church to fulfil the one requirement necessary for me to refer to myself as an occasional Catholic.
The grave news became more dire, as we were forced to stand against the wall of a packed house in the place of worship because every suit in Pleasanton was dusted off to come to mass. While I rocked a t-shirt and cardigan. Awks. However, between Ron Burgundy on the jazz flute playing Christmas carols and hymns, and not being able to understand the Vietnamese priest (the only lesson I took away from the celebration was that I had to be God’s rice… whatever that means), mass turned out to be entirely hilarious, though I doubt it was intentional.
Luckily, when I got home, I could replace Jesus induced gut-chuckles with the swiss feast, raclette. I have talked about raclette (aka Ragnarok) in my series on my trip to Germany. If raclette doesn’t have a motto, it should totally take on ‘makes you feel like Jamie Oliver, make your food look like Jamie Lynn Spears’ train wreck life’. But that stuff tastes delicious.
Hours later, after the feast of the 4000 (chicken and bacon melt raclette pans, not people) gift exchange began. In Germany, it is a tradition that instead of Santa Claus coming to drop off the presents to the good boys and girls, the baby Jesus delivers to the youngsters. So, as to not put out my German relatives, I dressed up as a completely realistic and non-offensive Christ to deliver the gifts to the masses. And deliver Christmas miracles, like getting Sony to release The Interview.
A Prison to Myself
Day 17: Pleasanton
I am learning lots on this overseas tour. Like that Los Angeles was the capital of the Mexican territory of Alta California before it became part of the US. And that the Golden Gate Bridge is the second most popular suicide location in the world. And that I am completely incapable of handling foreign public transport on my own. This morning I was due to head into San Fran for a trip out to Alcatraz to hang with a few of my good buddies, Al and Kelly.
The getting there went fine; I was perfectly able to navigate the throng of people who were late commuting to work and get down to Pier 33, with time spare to watch a small child wrestle a large pigeon for the fate of a empty bag of chips. The child lost spectacularly. At Alcatraz itself, we were treated to a slickly executed (pun intended) audio tour that put you right in the moment, feeling the desolation of the windswept rock in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. It also put me right in the moment of wondering whatever happened to that series Alcatraz… You know, the one with Sam Niell? That was a really good show. Fuck you, Fox. Sorry, sidetracked.
No, the problem didn’t arise heading to, or even in, San Fran, the problem occurred when I disembarked the BART at West Dublin/Pleasanton station. It turns out that I actually wanted Dublin/Pleasanton, and being too far to the west would create problems. West sai-eeed represent. On trying to get out of the station, I found that because my Clipper card (the equivalent of a Go Card, but less crap and with less Campbell Newman) was low on funds, I would not be able to leave the station. And the top up machines only accepted cash - something that I was running low on at that particular moment in time. Cocaine is expensive in this part of the country.
Accepting my fate and mentally planning out my life inside the confines of the train station (I had planned a beautiful home just under the USA Today newspaper box), I was pleasantly surprised when a stranger who had seen my ordeal offered me her spare card to let myself out. Then I was stuck with trying to get to the next station with nary a train, and no cash.
Deus Ex Machina, and my dinner at Cheesecake factory was delicious…
Ok. I just paid for a cab on card. But it sounded better with the suspense.
All Quiet On The Homefront
Day 16: Pleasanton
Sing along children, even if you don’t know the lyrics.
Naaaaaaaaaaants ingonyama bagithi Baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama
Naaaaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama
Ingonyama nengw' enamabala
Sorry, I had to take the opportunity. Today was the first time, in a LONG time that I have seen dawn after having been in bed since the sun set. So I held a dog up against a window and reenacted my African dream.
But to move onto my regular day. After my initial moment of being awake at 5:45am on the winter solstice (that wasn’t the reason I was awake), I retreated back to my sleepful coven to recover from bad decisions until 12. That’s better, right? Upon reawakening at a proper time, it was too late for a real day, so I moved onto my main task for the day; collecting some Germans from an airport. That’s not even a Call of Duty objective.
Simon’s family flew into the town of pleasantness this afternoon, and so Prime Deutsch and I embarked on a 4 hour trek to retrieve them. 4 hours encompassed two train rides, both of which I didn’t die during, despite the BART police’s track record (See: Oscar Grant, aka pre-Michael Brown), and a full plane load of filipinos and taiwanese people before the Germans were made available. But it is lovely to have the Germans with us again! And so, as everyone else comes inbound to Pleasanton, let the Christmas celebrations begin!
Christmas Shopping Sucks Candy Cane
Day 15: Pleasanton
What is it with Hispanics and bringing the entire extended family tree out to the shops to get Christmas presents? It’s a really good idea in theory, so that you can get all of your siblings’, cousins’, and grandparents’ presents in one fell swoop, but in practice it just means that I can’t sit down at a table to eat my Panda Express. And that is NOT OK. This Beijing ‘Beef’ needs to be eaten within 15 minutes of being bought before the natural diseases hidden within its questionable meat are reawakened.
Stoneridge mall - or the maelstrom of Wham! and Irving Berlin Christmas covers, as it is formally known - seems to be quite a large shopping destination, however, when every man, woman, child and non-human person is in Brookstone trying to buy a magnifying glass lamp, it makes the place feel exceptionally small. At the best of times, I am never a fan of Christmas shopping, but between being asked whether I am Scottish, Irish, Swedish or Martian and what language we speak back home, it just makes it more annoying. Furthermore, it would seem that the number one crime in California is credit card fraud, because every time you pay with a card you have to provide a form of photo identification, your fingerprints and a 10,000 word affidavit that details your employment history and your last five residences. Still, better than my demon-French-dream-nightmare woman.
Do You Know The Way To A City Northwest of San Jose?
Day 14: Las Vegas - Pleasanton
After yesterday’s roller coaster entry, you would be expecting something just as insane and over the top for today, but I am going to have to disappoint. I spent the day sitting down. And not even in a mildly interesting, sitting-down-because-I-have-Ebola-and-therefore-I-am-waiting-to-die way. Just sitting in planes and airports and cars. Heading from Las Vegas today let me relive one final Fallout: New Vegas moment as I got to walk the halls of (Camp) McCarren Airport. Unfortunately, just in time to ruin my final moments of video game reality, Dad got a little cocky in the line for security screening, and tried to walk through, only to be told that unless he is 75 years or older, he isn't allowed to completely disregard every sign, verbal instruction and visual cue. It was Tyrone (formerly of West Africa), however, who had the hardest time, after a stressful repacking of bags led to him attempting to take 3 pocket knives, two pounds of plastic explosive and a brick of cocaine (two of those may be fake) through the security check point only to be forced into a small office for some squatting and coughing practice.
Post-prostate exam, Tyrone rejoined the rest of us (slightly cowboyish in his walk) as we settled in for another piece of travel between two cities. This evening has found us in the city of Pleasanton, CA; my final destination for the trip, as well as the longest, as I settle in to spend the next two and a bit weeks staying with another sister - Abby, along with Brother-in-Law, Simon - over Christmas and into January. So a bit of a shout out to the Blacow Bungalow for letting me crash on the couch instead of joining the rest of the council kerbside collection.
Get To Tha Choppa!
Day 13: Las Vegas
As we flew low and slow in formation over the ridge, the enemy scattered like ants in a rain storm. Flight of the Conchords Valkyries blared over the loudspeakers mounted on the front of our skyborne steeds. Horizontal plumes of smoke trailed behind our outbound ordinance. I could feel the wind sweeping my hair and feel the rattle of the machine in the frames of my slightly cracked aviator sunglasses… Then with a violent shudder, I awoke from my dream.
The warmth of the early morning sun replaced with the warmth of an early morning bed. The hum of rotor blades replaced by the hum of a slow-to-wake or late-to-bed Vegas (depending on which side of the bar one had been on during the night before). However, I lamented not, because in no time at all, I would get to experience it all, and this time in full surround-sound and 3D reality, not in a dream.
Today was the day I got to go and experience the Grand Canyon, but instead of driving out to North America’s asscrack like the plebs, I was flown out in a helicopter like some kind of rockstar military general who enjoys picnics. Along with some stellar aerial photography from yours truly, the cabin was treated to an array of information and anecdote from our pilot Jace, who was able to finally clarify the story of the sunken B29 bomber in Lake Mead and was able to explain to my sister what all of the ‘criss-crossy lines on the ground’ were (roads).
The Canyon itself was without a doubt one of the most spectacular nature wonders that I have ever seen, and I have caught a cat pooping once. With walls standing well over a kilometre high and 5 kilometres apart, the canyon lives up to its moniker. And that is before you take into account the sheer volume of water that flows through it every day. Other highlights of the trip included slow, sweeping turns in front of some concrete wall, and a quick whip around Boulder City. However, probably the coolest moment of the whole adventure was when we were taking off to leave the bottom of the canyon. Just as Jace powered up the rotors to get lift off, he hit a switch, and the crackling tones of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” blared through our headsets. We then sped along the river, low and fast, curving around the rocky walls, and I for one, felt like I was straight out of 1971.
Another aspect of Vegas that has enthralled me is the never-ending supply of overstocked and widely various buffets in this town. Every casino/hotel has it’s own buffet, and like every piece of entertainment, they have all been rated “Vegas’ Best”. One morning we found ourselves in the Paris hotel for breakfast where we were able to choose from a variety of French foods like crepes, and croissants, and ‘French’ foods like English Muffins and egg, and slabs of bacon. I managed to pick up a couple of slices of roasted prime rib that was so rare that Rick Harrison might have offered me a good price for it. Prime rib, crepes and honey carrots, all in a breakfast buffet. My kind of style. But that one wasn’t even the most outrageous. This morning we managed to make it to the ridiculously early Caesar’s Palace breakfast buffet, and we were treated to offerings of crab with melted butter (not a disease or euphemism for a disease), steamed BBQ pork buns, pizza, a mountain of burritos and an ice cream dispenser. Vegas, if I'm g