Guest Post by Dom (@SRT40_USA): California Dreamin’

I am a wuss. I know I am a wuss, I’ve just this second been called a wuss via SMS, evidence clearly shows I’m a wuss, I am a wuss. The evidence for being a wuss has always been there, whether it be the watering eyes at the final reveal in an episode of DIY SOS or the goose pimples I get when someone’s face lights up after opening a present I gave them, there is no question I’m not one of the most hard-nosed males in existence. I will be honest that this characteristic isn’t always obvious, but it’s there, and it’s real. The most recent evidence that supports this ‘wuss’ brand occurred just a few minutes ago, it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t intentional but it was there, and it was blatantly obvious.

Standing at departure gate 23 at LAX airport it hit me, and it hit me hard. It was 6.30 pm US Western time on the 2nd November 2010 and the most amazing week of my life had just come to a close. This wasn’t a surprise to me, it wasn’t unexpected, I knew my agenda, I knew my plan, but this didn’t seem to prevent the ‘wussiness’ from crashing to the surface so surface it did. As I stood waiting for the boarding signal my emotions took over, I stood there and wept, not a complete breakdown, but tears rolled, my throat closed up, my nose began to run, there was nothing I could do, I just stood there. Moving to the side so as not to appear a complete idiot I tried to take stock of the situation, wiping my eyes, blowing my nose, thinking, mulling. I wasn’t significantly sad, I wasn’t particularly happy, I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t in pain, but still the drops rolled down my cheek.

Just moments earlier I had hugged and said good bye to an amazing new friend that had made the last week possible, the one with the ideas, the one with the plan! It had been a week I will never ever forget and one I will cherish. Consequently it had been fast paced, full of awesome adventures and was a non stop roller coaster ride (literally in many places). This was no bad thing but it was at this moment, stood at the departure gate, the first real pause in seven days, the first opportunity to think about what had occurred this week, this week was the cause for the pathetic baling.

This was the first real opportunity for everything to sink in, every amazing person I’d encountered, every amazing place I’d been, every amazing adventure I’d had, and mostly the amazing kindness and hospitality I’d been shown. These couple of people didn’t owe me anything, they weren’t indebted to me in any way, they had nothing to gain, but they had given their all to making my week a life changing one and it was this moment in the airport where is finally hit home, striking hard and fast. I was overcome, I was over whelmed  and the tears were the result of this. These people gave me just one week, but I will owe them for the rest of my life.

‘Haha, buck up douche’

So why have I chosen to recall this event in so many words? Why am writing this to start with? I’m not a serial blogger, I’m not someone who even keeps a diary, I lose interest when even reading other people’s twitter feed and that’s just 140 characters. Some of you may have been unfortunate enough to have read through the short piece I wrote about my experiences in Chicago, I wrote that so I could express some of my anger that was born as a result of some of the events that happened that weekend, in essence I wanted my voice heard, I wanted to let it been what I was thinking, whether anyone wanted to hear it or not.

This time round though, I am writing it for myself, and myself only, there’s no ulterior motive, no axe to grind, no retaliation, nothing of that sort. I want to capture this week in writing for myself, I never want to forget this week, I want to have this as a constant reminder of how awesome some people can be, how amazing some places can be and quite how awesome life can become. With this write up always at hand I can easily step back and relive the memories when I feel down.

So, how do I go about describing it, as I’ve said I bore easily, once again, those that recall my Chicago write up will recall that it was a muddle of thoughts, the same will be the case here. The tedium of ‘then I did this *photo*’, ‘then I went here *photo*’ will be nowhere to be seen, the write up will be present in its rawest form as it spills from my every more incomprehensible brain, dripping down over my forehead and splashing down on to these pages you see before you. I don’t necessarily intend to post this on the internet but the likelihood is that I will. So if I do, and you’re reading this… you have my pity, but still please feel free to comment at the end.

Why and Where?

I’ve already once described the fascination I have for the USA and my visit to Chicago just served to fuel this fire, with this mind set established a unique sequence of events finally led me to visit California, ‘The Sunny State’. ‘SoCal’ has already been a place of interest to me, it’s the place where no end of movies were born that I hold dear, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Terminator etc to name just a few so a visit one day was always going to be on the cards.

The US is the US, you can never change that, but there will always be a variation of that theme. Having now once visited another state I can at least begin to compare and contrast one state from another, in some ways they are very much the same – dollars, Twinkies, large portions, wide roads and of course the incessant and less than heart felt ‘have a nice day’ after every retail interaction, but in other cases they are very very different.

California is a vast state with a vast array of people  and cultures, some of which are familiar whilst others are barely recognisable, some you see passing in the street just once or twice others are more prominent, the close proximity of Southern California to the border of Mexico for example is more than obvious. This isn’t to say that that is a good or bad thing, merely that when you are someone who comes from a country when the term social and cultural diversity peaks with a Polish guy repairing your drive and going for a Chinese meal, being faced with constant reminders of a country’s roots and tradition is a new thing and is not always at the forefront of your mind until you see it.

Another aspect that is a natural indication of how southerly California is the weather, sure it’s easy to say ‘yeah it warm’, this is a given, it’s just a typical Geography GSCE fact, but still, to experience it is an unusual thing to behold. Waking to the sun beaming through your window at 6am on a November morning whilst then donning t-shirt and shorts to head off to the beach takes some getting used to.

It’s easy to appear a typical ‘Brit’ and complain it’s too hot, and well, I guess relatively it may well be, but I still have at least one niggle with it – festiveness. I may be picking at straws and to be honest I loved the weather, the days were fabulous, it meant my time there was glorious, I even tanned a bit, in October, but if I was there come December I think I would be less content.

This is easily solved of course, this is the unique aspect of this region of the country, head 200 miles one way and guarantee yourself roasting hot weather, redirect yourself 200 miles in the other and you are guaranteed icier climbs with skiing and snowing aplenty, so if you need your festive scenes, I needn’t moan, I should just go and find it!

So, the weather, we UK-ians love to discuss weather, too hot, too cold, to wet, too dry, you name it, in this case though it was perfect for my trip, it made every action packed day a joy to behold, the sun shone, a slight breeze kept you at a comfortable temp and in the odd case it was chilly you were only a degree or 2 away from being ‘just right’. The sun does obviously have its challenges, if you were to view the scenes of this region on TV you’d soon be reaching for the remote control with complaints about whom on earth had been fiddling with the contrast /colour settings but you’d be wrong, there had been no fiddling, it’s exactly as it is. The sun definitely has a starching effect on every scene that sprawls its way out before you in California, there are no sharp bright colours, no vividly crisp scenes,  instead everything has had that sepia effect applied at 100%. There are obvious attempts to reduce this, sprinkler’s for example are in abundance, rivers run down the road at night as the irrigation systems fight the battle against the daytimes scorching and whilst this succeeds in at least keep lawns and foliage alive the vivid green images of home are long lost. This isn’t meant as a complaint, nor as a compliment, it is what it is, it is California.

Observing this starched scene for the first time was from main LA freeway, a total of up to 14 lanes of vehicles old and new making their way up and down the state, some quickly, some slowly but all hoping to reach their destination as soon as possible. Debris still scatters the road in the same way observed in Illinois and again cars with bumpers, fenders in fact any car part you care to imagine absent from various vehicles as they attempt to limp their way along the concrete path that lays ahead of them. Pounding along in the Car Pool lane though at an legally unhindered 70mph(+) the over whelming thought was that I could live here, I really could, and by the end of the week it was really beginning to feel like a home from home… I would have to import a European car though (Clio V6 anyone?), most vehicles available in the US market do look hideous, there’s no denying that!!

Getting the Munchies

Food, and lots of it formed a theme for this trip, not intentionally per se, but we had to eat, so why not explore various outlets during the course of the week? Exactly, there is no reason why not. America naturally has a large selection of food types and styles, leeching off of many a culture, adapting and making it their own but I was primarily interested in having typical classic American food. In my mind this is burgers, chicken wings, pancakes for breakfast and a whole host of other sweet and savoury snacks.

During my week I must have attended a dozen food outlets, some private, some chain, some small, some large, but ALL of them tasty! My guide host directed me to many an establishment that ranged from a 50’s diner that included dancing waitresses, Corvettes in the seating area and huge burgers to a back street chicken outlet where the menu contained one item and you simply went to the counter and stated that you wanted a quantity  of ‘One’ in order to place your order. Other places included traditional Mexican restaurants where I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, breakfast cafes where I could enjoy pancakes sat on the beachfront of a 25 deg C morning in St Clemente and  chain chicken restaurants that showed American Football on no less than 25 TVs scattered around.

All of it was good though, there is no doubt that everything appears fresher, I may have been spoilt with where I was taken but these places included a Wendy’s and a concessions stand in a theme park amongst other things and well, both looked 5 start compared to what can be obtained at the Britannia on London Road in Oxford! All meat appeared succulent, made in house and was tasty, burgers were juicy and fresh, chicken perfect and gorgeous and cakes and pastries fresh and moist along with being freshly prepared.

I thought about calling the next following points ‘oddities’ but this would be doing them a disservice so I will instead merely refer to them as unusual, the first of which is ‘Doggy Boxes’. The thought of going to a restaurant in the UK and having the remains of the meal scrapped and slopped into a box so you can stick it into your bag amuses me. In essence it must be as a result of a flaw somewhere, either you’ve ordered too much or you’ve been given too much. I’m not sure I see the point in this service, it’s kind of gross, and to be honest once slopped into a box and left out for a day I’m not convinced any one eats the stuff they take home! Still, I know the odd place does this in the UK, but in the US it’s everywhere, HUGE polystyrene boxes leave the premises with each and every customer. I guess having the option is handy but personally I would always just leave the leftovers there.  Second on my ‘this is not a rant’ list is tipping. One word, why? If they want to add a service charge just add it, its simple, its annoying enough the price on most things is tax less to start with so add in another unknown and I’ve never any idea if I have enough money! A listed $5 meal then needs to have a 12% tax added on before finally you add your own 15-20% at the end, why it’s this amount I’ve no idea but m told its typical. I’m like ‘DUDE!’ (yes I was getting into the dialect by this time), ‘Just freaking make up a set cost for something and charge me that!’. My hosts laughed in response, I think I amused them most of the time. Lastly was the closing statement to each and every transaction, ‘have a nice day’. Sure I will, but you don’t really want me to, you don’t care a jot! But it was amusing all the same, I’ve been trying to think of the UK equivalent sign off at the end of every purchase but I can’t think of one, do we have one? Perhaps that’s why we’re seen as rude, rude but honest at least! Oh, one last ‘oddity’ but this one I love. Free refills. I know one or two places have started doing this in Uk but it’s still rare, if your cup drops below half its automatically taken away and refilled, I’m used to having to cough up £3 a time to have a new drink, we know streamed soda (Christ, im using American words with out thinking now) costs next to nothing so come on UK, keep us happy, free refills is the way forward!

Final closing point on food, In-N-Outs rock!!

Internet and Interacting.

Most of you may be reading this as a result of being linked to it via Twitter or Facebook. The former being regularly updated with photos during the holiday and the latter being updated via the places functionality. It’s the first time I’ve been so regularly active during all these means for a longish holiday and I have to say it adds to the experience, being able to interact with people back home is fun and is in essence the new postcard, I will admit that talking about this is a tad dull and not the kind of topic or blog style I would ever choose, but thoughts from those that followed me would be cool to hear.

Interaction and communication, an interesting aspect of any holiday, my time in Chicago was fairly solitary and any conversing with ‘an American’ was limited to retail transactions and the odd question in the street, this time though things were different, very different. I’m not sure if I’m alone but I well and truly had the Ninja Turtle dialect in my head for all Californians, and within reason I was pretty much bob on, there was plenty of ‘dude’ and ‘awesome’, in fact my host had the delightfully clichéd dialect trait of going higher tone towards the end of each and every sentence whether it be a question, comment or anything in fact! I’m ashamed to say I did take the mickey, but in truth it was kind of cute and endearing, and don’t for one minute think I wasn’t getting grief back.

Talking to Californians required a very precise version of the Queens English, if you were to be understood first time and avoid having the fellow conversation partaker turn to my host for a ‘translation’! Amusing but not annoying, but does show slightly what kind of bubble America seals itself in, I’ve yet to talk to an American in the UK that I don’t understand, in fact I can’t see how that would even be possible, yet stateside it appears the Irish, Australian and English accent are all exactly the same, and if not careful could result in a confused blank facial gesture upon asking a question. Lastly I kept accidently using the word ‘ta’ upon receiving food, money etc, what did I learn? That this is the easiest way to plaster a confused look upon a persons face.

My comments on this appear to coming across in a mildly negative trait but this is not what I intended, infact as the week wore on, the more I felt settled and my confidence in my new surroundings amidst the California sunshine grew tenfold.

‘Things to do’

To say we completed a fairly typical tourist attraction type holiday could be a slight understatement, but to say there was no twist to our plan would also be underselling it. Despite my obstination I feel  I am forced to describe each event in turn, pretty boring but I think it’s the easiest way…

Universal  Studios – Not really much introduction needed here, it is what it is, a movie geeks dream mixed with a theme park. All the rides were much better than I imagined, the interactive shows hugely impressive and the exhibits involving and interesting. I didn’t mean to sound quite so surprised when I voiced this point but I guess I had it coming when the response ‘course it is!! Its UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!’ came flicking back at me. It’s a valid point though, on the back lots the back To The Future Courthouse, the Psycho Motel, the Desperate House Wives road and such could all be seen and when coupled with the tram interactive experiences it makes for an awesome tour around the back lot!

KnottsBerry Farm – A quaint theme park located in the middle of an industrial area with which it was wrestling with its surroundings for space, I could bore you with history but lets leave the one fact that the Channel 4 roller coaster ident is filmed at KnottsBerry Farm out there at least for you to enjoy.  We arrived a bit later than expected but as such it basically became a Challenge Anneka theme park visit, the challenge was on, ride to ride, could we fit them all in? We did, it was tiring but epic, thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Queen Mary, Halloween – The U.S of A do not do Halloween by half, people turn their houses into Haunted House Mazes, they deck their WHOLE house with decorations, they have dedicated Halloween costume stores and events all over the place, one such event is held on the now permanently docked Queen Mary cruise liner. This usually resides as a hotel/restaurant in dock at Long Beach but for one week only the dockside is transformed into a Halloween village and maze.  Firstly dear reader I need you to do something, by this point you will have created a rough mental picture as to what this setup looks like and what the mazes consist of, now I need to erase these thoughts and re imagine something about 1000 times more impressive. The mazes wind around the confines of the ship, in the darkness the original 1900s swimming pool can be seen in its long lost state, rooms are decked out to look like haunted hospital rooms and movie spec special effects fill every corner. On top of this there are loads of actors all playing their own parts, basically scaring the bejesus out of you at every opportunity. The quality of this setup you will never have seen anything like it in your life in the Uk, it’s a very impressive setup and freaking scary with it!!

San Diego – A whole day was spent seeing the sights around San Diego. This place is hugely underrated, it is an amazing place where you can experience the dawn of America as we know it and the ‘new city’ within just a few miles. For the first part just think ‘Western’ and you have it, wooden buildings, sandy roads, Saloons etc, you get the drift, not mockups, but all the original places, all still being used for trading. The Mexican influence can also been seen here, with many traditional hand craft outlets selling traditional Mexican goods. One such Mexican event is ‘Day of the Dead’, which appears to be a very well know celebratory day, where people no longer with us are remembered. Quite nice I thought, but the fact the day is celebrated with model skeletons, skulls and other such stuff seemed slightly less poignant but still, it’s what they do.

Moving to the GasLamp quarter, aka, downtown, you begin to see what San Diego has become, basically a beautiful bustling city, I didn’t think SD would quite strike me like it did, but I loved it, amazing place and somewhere I would love to go to again!! Close to Central San Diego was the U.S.S Midway, a WW1 and 2 aircraft carrier. Now it would be easy to roll out a load of facts but to be honest that’s what Wikipedia is for, I will just say it’s a fantastic insight and tour in and around an original War Vessel. What made it particularly interesting was that my hosts father was stationed on this vessel during its time in service which just added to the interest, and credit where credit due for what he did during that time!

LA – a flatter city than I imagined, the multitude of buildings reaching for sky in the style of Chicago was no where to be seen, well it was a bit, but not on the same scale. Our ventures around LA were a tad different to the typical sight see-er. Instead they included meeting the one and only Dan Ackroyd in person at a cash and carry, finding multiple shooting locations for back to the future and dressing up for a Halloween costume carnival in West Hollywood. All these events were amazing and to be honest the pictures at the end can do the talking, but each and every event was unique. One worth expanding on though was the Costume Carnival, quite the eye opener, this area is a thriving gay community and well, they’re not shy, bare arses and deep cleavages weren’t the main theme though, costumes ranged from the awesomely impressive to the completely outrageous, some appeared to be purchased of the shelf, but most had the owners heart and soul put into them, my hosts for instance was scratch built from the ground up and it was truly impressive, my mum would be hugely impressed with the costume, catsuit, gloves, everything hand sewn from the ground up.

People.

So far I’ve mentioned that i am hugely indebted to a couple of people, One gave up his free time on several days to someone he’d never met before and hardly talked to in order to transport me around to my geeky movie locations amongst other places, as well as allowing me a place to kip after the Hollywood night. As such, he is by default just a fab guy, his name is Tin, anther fellow engineer and a good general all round awesome bod, personally I think he’s on the same nerdy level as me so I would bet that infact the movie locations tour wasn’t as arduous as it appeared!! I don’t think I can ever repay him for his hospitality but if I ever have the opportunity to I will insist I do, perhaps I won’t thrash his arse on Forza too much as kind gesture… possibly…

The second person had to tolerate me for the entire duration of my week in California. Many of you who will be read this will know me quite well and these people will also know that tolerating me can be a testing experience (which I think worryingly im quite proud of). I’m not unpleasant, some  may disagree but personality traits can be unique to every individual some challenging others less so, some funny, some endearing, to describe a few of these can show what traits an individual can have.

I could be someone that quite simply won’t be told what to do. I could be someone that is hugely intolerant of ‘popular’ things and will become exponentially more resistive and obstinate the more something is forced on me as being the ‘must have’ thing. This includes iTunes. I could be someone that becomes spikey and opinionated when forced to go a certain direction, this could include anything from films I ‘should’ like to being told that I can’t take a certain route home. I could be someone that gets very easily annoyed with people that don’t pay attention when im trying to show them a cool bit of my favourite film. I could be someone that hardly ever plays a whole song on the car radio, instead flicking from song to song as I tire of them even after just 1 minute. I could be someone that insists on driving around with my front fog lights on just because it’s cool. I could be someone that tears around the motorways finding each and every little gap I need to be on my way. I could be someone that is easily angered by slow drivers on the road often showing my thoughts via hand gestures and/or my horn. I could be someone that won’t bow to paying hand over fist for content from the internet and instead finds means and ways to get stuff ‘free’. I could be someone who persistently screws my face up when I’m told yucky seafood is gorgeous.   I could be a lot of things.

Not all things need be so resistive, some can be endearing. I could be some one that becomes quite excited about the theme tune to my favourite 80s cartoon. I could be someone that gets far too excited about Soft Close drawers in B&Q trying each one it turn within the kitchen demo section. I could be someone that takes great nerdy pleasure creating costumes and props of my favourite childhood TV characters. I could be someone that finds it hard to resist some quality retail therapy, hording things that could ‘always come in handy at some point’. I could be someone who struggles to parallel park despite 1000s of attempts,  I could be someone that always has a health plan just around the corner that usually turns into just eating cookies. I could be someone that reckons that the Xbox Kinect system is awesome and is prepared to blow several hundred notes on a pre-order. I could be someone that can quote Ghostbusters 2 word for word. I could be all of these things.

Some things could simply classed as interests. I could be someone that loves to do drive my car hard and fast and grins every time I bomb up a slip road, I could be someone that loves doing little mods to their car to make it their own. I could be someone that picks Windows Mobile purely for the love of modding and making their phone their own (and moving to Android for the same reason). I could be some one who does like their cool gadgets, but can bore easily and only likes ones that the world isn’t forcing onto them. I could be, I just could be.

At this point I know many of you may be nodding and agreeing with each and everything I say, recalling the times you’ve endured these instances with me, but when I tell you that the person described in every single point  above is not me but is in fact my host Rachel J Nichols you already that know that we clicked from the off and got on like a house on fire (you may also be amazed or dismayed to discover that two people from that same mould can actually exist!).

The End

What made this trip so utterly outstanding was that I wasn’t a tourist, I was part of the American way of life, I was living the dream you could say, with Rachel guiding me through to the best spots I could experience America  at its top presented layer and then down and beyond to find the secrets beneath, as such I utterly fell in love with this place, the people were as helpful as they were amusing, the scenery was amazing and the experience a total one off. The area I stayed around Dana Point is now one of my favourite places in the world, with Chicago and San Diego not far behind, it is something I will remember for life.

One thing though will especially always stay close to me more than any thing else, and that is the fact that when I arrived in California I was greeted by a ‘twitter mate’, but when I departed  I was seen off by someone I considered to be an amazing new life long friend,  this makes me smile and weep simultaneous,  I can’t help it, as I said at the start, I am a wuss… period.

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post by Dom (@SRT40_USA): California Dreamin’

  1. Brilliant!
    I think we need to start a fund to send Dom on more trips so that he can blog about them. I do love meeting folk from Twitter and finding out they’re exactly the same in real life and then counting them as a friend 😉

  2. Awww, I love the fact you cry at DIY SOS.

    Dom, you’ve written an amazing account of a fabulous holiday. I loved reading your updates on Twitter and this blog post adds extra character and emotion. I did nearly cry at the end, but not quite.

    I now really want to go back to America, just to re-experience diners if nothing else. (Did you go to Denny’s? I spent the first day of my honeymoon and two wedding anniversaries eating there.)

    Texas GP?

  3. Glad you enjoyed the U.S. Dom…but next time make Rachel tour you north from SoCal to Portland and the PNW. You’ll love the hospitality and the sights (Portland’s official motto is “keep it weird”)
    My best
    mIKE

  4. A warm and fuzzy moment reading that my friend….. been a long time since i’d heard your “Dom drivel….lol”…
    But seriously… ‘Top Blogging’… keep it up, looking forward to the next instalment of “Around the world with Phileas Dom”.

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