Published: June 6th 2011June 3rd 2011
Tuesday 18th January to Friday 3rd June, 2011
The remainder of Margy’s visit passed by much quicker than than either of us would have liked, her three day working week spent chaperoning little Henry complimented by weekend strolls and day trips in unseasonably beautiful weather. We took excursions to the picturesque Santa Anita races and the arty seaside town of Laguna Beach and locked horns in some titanic scrabble battles in which she, much to my chagrin, more than held her own causing me to expel far more vitriolic abuse in her general direction than any self respecting man ever should at his mother. Well, I’m competitive aren’t I ?
There was also the inaugural Margy Palooza, a dinner party thrown in her honor by the neighbor’s and the no small matter of the 50th birthday of Mr P.R.Kirby.
Some months prior I’d told Phil not to make any arrangements for his upcoming big day, I would assume the role of party planner I told him and would arrange something special. Then, almost sensing that his reluctance to slip quietly from middle age into the formative stages of senile dementia would instill a reluctance to enquire just exactly
what the fuck was going on I never mentioned it again, just set about organizing a surprise party that saw him entering the dimly lit District Wine Bar in Downtown Long Beach with what he assumed would be just Dana for company to find forty friends and family waiting to surprise him.
The look on his face when the trap was sprung was worth all the hard work and lips sealed evasiveness, not least by neighbor Jeff who'd produced a wonderful twenty minute video featuring snaps and vid’s from well wishers the world over. I looked across as the film was showing and was sure I saw a tear in Bazzers eye.
On a trip to the seaside hamlet of Laguna Beach Marg and I had spent the morning strolling the beach before moving up to take lunch and explore the town. Laguna is a beautiful spot, a relaxed seaside settlement perched on craggy rocks where the cars stick to the speed limit and visitor's walk at a snails pace.
Standing out like a sore thumb amongst the oil adorned plate glass windows of its quaint gallery crammed streets was a tiny restored art deco cinema which
was showing The King’s Speech and which proved a perfect haven when a solitary black cloud appeared overhead and proceeded to dump it’s load all over us. It also appeared to operate in much the same manner as an Easyjet flight, the box office seller who sold us our tickets appearing to be exactly the same person as the one who seconds later was ripping them in half and selling us an ice cream.
The setting was perfect for the movie, an intact period art house with its two movie showing sides seperated by nothing but a sumptuous red velvet curtain and the film was pretty good too, good enough to evoke a standing ovation from the twenty or so people watching even though it has to be said the sight of Colin Firth’s bumbling lips spewing forth Maddies’ rattle bite cries from next doors True Grit was a touch bewildering.
On the eve of Marg’s departure I fled for Vegas. It wasn’t the first time she’d spent her last night in LA with Jack Jones whilst I’d been gallivanting the nights away in Sin City but I was off to the international rugby sevens with colleagues
and it had been arranged for an age. My nine pm flight out of Long Beach was delayed meaning I didn't arrive in Vegas until gone eleven and it was close to midnight when I finally arrived at the open air Ghost Bar atop The Palms, fifty five floors above the strip, to meet up with the others.
The first familiar face I set eyes on was our company head Paul who immediately introduced me to his friend Rory whom he informed me had flown over from the UK for the weekend. I knew Paul was a keen rugby follower but it still came as a surprise when I shook hands with his pal and immediately realized it to be former England international winger Rory Underwood.
If you have ever been to Las Vegas you'll know that by midnight things are hotting up. People were flirting, howling and dancing like whirling dervishes all around me and as a man in a state of complete sobriety for a moment I felt like a complete outsider. Rory appeared to be positively staid too, he wasn't even clutching a beverage like every other single person in the bar so with my
thirst buds aching for action I asked him what he was having.
"No thanks, I don't drink" was his deadpan reply.
Having spent a weekend in Vegas with these crazy people before I wondered how a teetotaler like Rory may be appalled by the behaviour of his companions but thankfully his abstinance prevented none of us, himself included, from having a good time and a weekend drinking beer in the sun was had by all., Well, almost all.
As the winter months dragged on I found myself slowly but surely being overcome with an insatiable desire to be out and about in the quest for an adventure. Nothing wrong with that in most people’s eyes I agree but it was the one condition of all this intrepid exploring I insisted upon that I could see had friends and colleagues scratching their heads in bemused wonderment as to whether I was actually losing my marbles. I had to be alone.
It would have been so much easier not to mention conventional to spend a lazy Sunday lounging on the sofa watching an old movie or a re-run of the weekends footie matches from back home but that
wasn’t for me, these bicycle and train assisted excursions into the unknown invariably resulting in trips to the downtown area of Los Angeles.
For those of you that don’t know almost all American cities consist of a downtown area, a high rise business district encompassing office blocks, administration centers, the occasional theatre and very little else. LA is no different. During the week it is simply that, a business district but at the weekend it seems to attract all manner of interestingly weird and wonderful folk to its streets.
On one such overcast March Sunday, the day of the LA marathon, I left Long Beach with the double edged goal of attending the annual travel exhibition at the Convention Center and catching sight of the big race. Ads for the former plastered all over town for weeks beforehand had boasted amongst other things workshops by various renowned photographers not to mention chances of picking up a freebie or two and that was enough for me.
By the time the train pulled into 7th Street Metro Center however the overcast skies had become possessed by the blackest clouds I’d ever seen. It was as though the angels of
Duped. When Will I Ever Learn !
Last ones standing at Phils 50th.
Angeles had suddenly decided they’d had enough of delivering the most pleasing climate on the planet, reason enough to attempt to prove they had other strings to their bow by venting their fury in the form of the most persistently torrential downpour I’ve had the misfortune to be caught up in in a long time, not only drenching the thousands of hypothermic runners who I'd discovered by-passed the downtown area by a few miles but also me and my trustee wheels.
Within minutes of emerging into the submerged city streets I was sodden to the core but unperturbed and on the naïve premise that it was only water I headed for the convention center. Deprived by geography not to mention my lack of preparation from seeing one of my goals the other proved to be a huge disappointment, a couple of presentations by these supposedly top travel photographer’s being nothing more than excercises in the bleeding obvious accompanied by an assortment of sales pitches for various travel agents. After only and an hour I decided to call it a day and head home.
By now attempting to avoid the lakes that engulfed the roads and sidewalks was proving
an exercise in futility and I was ploughing my way back to the station resembling a Thames River launch when I noticed the bright lights of the Staples Center attracting thousands of hunched, brolly carrying zombie like folk. It resembled a scene from Day of the Dead and I immediately altered my path to investigate and soon discovered that LA’s second basketball team, The Clippers, were playing at home.
Basketball is the one major sporting event I have yet to witness in the flesh. Tickets for Clippers stable mates The LA Lakers are as elusive as rocking horse shite and I was doing nothing else so having discovered from the box office that the venue was sold out I responded to one of the numerous touts sheltering outside who had enquired if I needed a ticket by asking him how much. In the manner of a back alley dealer he discreetly removed a ticket from his trouser pocket and replied “sixty bucks”.
I’d already been told that the game was currently at the half time break, a fact alone that would demand an instant discount so I countered with an offer of twenty, his response, one that showed
he had a bite accompanied by a wry smile that said ‘get back on yer bike and fuck off’ being to meet me half way and a short bout of market place bartering later I was having my bag checked by the security girl on the door feeling slightly proud of myself that my take no bull bartering tactics had ensured I’d got my price.
With my camera having surprisingly passed the security check without so much as a by your leave all feelings of cold and wet dispersed. I was excited at a job well done and presented my ticket to the elderly black gentleman scanning the tickets at the next check point. He took my ticket, flashed a red beam of light across it from his hand held scanner and without looking up nonchalantly handed it back.
“This ticket’s already been used”
“Huh. What do you mean ?”
He repeated his words as he held it out to me with the clarifying line “It’s just a stub”
I felt a look of horror sweep across my face as the realization dawned on me. I’d been duped ! No wonder the unscrupulous tout had
been so easily persuaded to accept my offer.
“But I just bought it from some guy outside” I proferred in the optimistic hope he’d take pity on the drenched fool stood before him and simply wave me through but still waiting for me to take what was now quite obviously only half a ticket back from him he simply held his arm out and quite without emotion responded; “well you better go and sell it back”!
I staggered outside, scanned around briefly for sight of the conman who was by now probably wearing a grin like a Cheshire cat and sipping on a cold one in some nearby dive joint and dejectedly trudged to my bike. As I walked I contemplated about exactly when I would actually begin to realize when some merciless twat was attempting to rob me blind before quickly realizing I probably never would. I saddled up on the jet ski and rode to the station.
On another occasion, an altogether more pleasurable Saturday afternoon it has to be said, I was cycling through the streets of downtown Long Beach in the hope of finding something of interest to photograph when I turned a
corner to be confronted by the entrance to a building which I drive past every day on my commute but of which I had no idea of its existence.
Long Beach Central Library, hidden in much the same way Hitler’s second home was, underground and beneath a large bund of grass and concrete, I soon realized a place I could lose myself in for hours and after spending half an hour dashing from aisle to aisle like a kid in a candy store familiarizing myself with the layout for my next visit I mounted up to return home.
The ugly concrete plaza which houses the library is also home to what must be the largest percentage of LB’s homeless people in the city. The place was teeming with cardboard boxes and overladen shopping trolley’s and groups of unkempt, dirty bodies lay strewn haphazardly around, the majority swigging from brown paper bags and emitting random howls of nonsensical jibberish.
As I manouvered my way carefully through the plaza to the sanctuary of the city streets one woman, sat alone on a bench staring fixatedly into space and with just a shopping cart piled high with blankets and plastic
bottles for company caught my eye. The lonely man of LA pictured in a previous blog had obviously aroused my curiosity as to how and why he had got there and as I cycled past her I had an insatiable urge to hear her story. I vowed to return so having picked up a subway sandwich I circled round, approached cautiously like the way a hygena would a rotting corpse and asked if I could sit down. She shrugged with a look that said she couldn’t give a damn and carried on staring into the void.
After breaking the ice with a bit of small talk about the weather and having offered her some of my sandwich, something she refused on the ground that she’d just eaten she started to open up. Charlotte, a desperately sad looking woman in her late fifties with shoulder length white hair that you could have wrung the grease out of and a leathery weathered Red Indian face had, she informed me, been homeless since her mother had had her New Jersey home re-possessed.
This seemed a bit strange, particularly as her mother must have been nearing eighty at least, but she went
on to tell me how she’d spent the last four years travelling across country stopping off at every single homeless refuge along the way for refueling and the occasional snooze in a real bed. I asked where she slept when she didn’t have a bed and she replied matter of factly ‘ just around’. How sad.
As we chatted a group of much younger hobo’s who I was keeping one cautious eye just in case were sat on the grass drinking and shouting obscenities at each other just yards behind us. One of their number, an unshaven man in his late twenties and wearing his jeans so low they were almost round his ankles staggered to his feet, started unzipping himself and proceeded as he struggled to remain upright to begin peeing against nothing at all, nothing except the gentle breeze which was blowing in his face.
It seemed an age before he realized that no matter how hard he pushed there was no way he was going to propel his piss far enough to prevent it blowing back all over himself and when the realization finally dawned he took one step back and in much the manner
Duped. When Will I Ever Learn !
Rugby Sevens, spot the England international.
of Del Boy in the wine bar toppled like a felled oak and smashed his head onto the concrete that bordered the grass letting out a huge cry as he landed.
For a very brief second I considered going to his aid but sheer common sense put paid to that. Besides, his companions beat me to it, laughing, goading and prodding him and seemingly not caring a hoot that the poor guy, who was now simply emitting a continual low groaning sound could have been the brand new owner of a fractured skull.
I spent half an hour on the bench chatting with Charlotte who occasionally gave hints of her real reasons for being on the streets, insanity, breaking off from our seemingly normal conversation without warning to come completely out of the blue with some bizarre observation about, amongst other things, how much concrete there was in the world and the reasons why grass is green !
I must put to the record my pleasure not to mention huge relief at the sight of Norwich City returning to the hallowed halls of the Premiership. I’ve followed their super season with as much enthusiasm and pleasure as
is possible in a country where football is alien from day one, watching the seasonal opener against Watford via a computer link to my extended lunchtime office desk and the penultimate game against Swansea in the much more desirable annals of Shannons Bayshore.
Quite how we do up amongst the big boys remains to be seen but back to back promotions under the leadership of the messiah, Paul Lambert is more than I could have dreamed of two years ago and I can't wait for the season to start. Altogether now,’On The Ball City’ !!!
One particular surefire sign summer is on its way is the onset of festival season, in the wests case the Coachella Arts and Music Festival being the highlight. Four nights spent under canvas and a hot desert sun, it was 110 degrees on the Saturday, is admittedly not everyone’s idea of a good time but is one of the highlights of the year for me, even if the musical bill did little to arouse my senses.
Despite the fact I’d never heard of most of them there’s five stages of artists performing for three days solid and thousands of other reasons that
mean you simply can’t fail to have a good time. Who can beat spending an early afternoon in a sun drenched campsite, shirtless and lovingly chugging on a cold beer, hunched into the feotal position in a desperately futile attempt to squeeze yourself into what very little shade can be attained from a Jeep baking under a vertical sun ?!
I now know exactly how devilishly clever those Apaches were in devising their ways of inflicting torture on captured troopers and pioneers. There's nothing quite like boiling someone alive !
It could have been worse though, for some reason the whole of the campsite with the exception of Phil, Dana and I thought that the shower block at the end of our road was V.I.P only. We probably would have too if it wasn’t for a eviction risking gamble by a desperate man. Walking past the shower truck and thinking it was closed due to the absence of queuing I noticed all the stalls were open and even better empty. My path took a right hand turn and within seconds I felt like I was crying tears of pleasure as the cold water gushed into my face.
For two whole days of cold showers taken at will the secret remained intact until word got out and spread like wildfire. Before long the lines of towel bearing dirty bodies were snaking randomly through the tents and our five star festival experience was sadly over.
On many occasions during my time living here I have sat on my balcony looking out to see a full moon lighting the flickering waters and realized exactly how lucky I am to live in such a wonderful place. All that however is about to change.
With his daughters heir loom no doubt in mind Phil has finally taken the plunge and splashed out on a house, a three storey four bedroomed place in the neighborhood of Belmont Shore where we currently live. I know, I never thought I'd give up this place either but when his water front purchase is literally a hundred yards up the road and means my rent will be slashed by more than a third there is no thinking to be done.
The deal is currently going through and in a couple of month's we should be in. The ground floor will be mine and I
And that’s about it. The three year anniversary of my arrival on American soil has passed since my last blog, my 48th birthday too and we’ve just had our first public holiday of the year, the one that signifies the beginning of summer. Work’s good, I’m unofficially courting a lovely lady named Liesl and in two weeks I board a plane for blighty with a week in Portugal thrown in to boot. Now, where the hell did I put them golf clubs ?
There are more photos below