My friends Need for a Bigger Chin


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Published: May 14th 2012
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1 - Sunset on Ocean Beach, San Diego1 - Sunset on Ocean Beach, San Diego1 - Sunset on Ocean Beach, San Diego

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I’m waiting in line for my 10:30pm bus out. I hear a young guy questioning security near the carryon check-in. Guilt written all over his face, giving himself away he says, “Wait! Hang on… What? What do you mean you have to check my bag? What am I not allowed to take on board?”

“You know drugs, knifes, guns, that sort of stuff.”

He stands there for a bit as if his brain couldn’t comprehend. Either that or making sure he left his AK47 at home. “Oh, okay then.”



A lady standing in front of me just missed her bus because they changed the boarding gate and didn’t make an announcement. “Mam, we can’t turn the bus around just for you I’m sorry. We have another bus that will leave at 130 in the morning.”



This is what I wanted to see. I’ve heard about USA’s poor transport system so lets test it out on my last destinations of JP5. I’ll travel along the 3 main west coast cities of California. Starting off with San Francisco than testing out the transport system in style on an overnight bus ride to San Diego and concluding with Los Angeles.



Those avid readers will recall that I briefly visited both LA and San Francisco a few months earlier but I figured I may as well give them another go as I didn’t do much. I had just one full day in San Francisco this time and walked past Union square, which changed from the ice rink of December to the beginnings of flowers blooming. I planned to minimise hills and headed out to Alamo Square. I didn’t know the name of this place but googled the words, “The house from TV show Full House.”



I couldn’t help but sing the theme song to the show that for some reason was watchable as a child despite not recalling a laugh. DJ was not there or the Olsen Twins so that should prevent people using excuses to not visit. The postcard plaza gradually raises up a grassed hill so you get these prime views of the Redwood Victorian style houses in the foreground whilst San Francisco downtown cityscape in the background.



From there I headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. It took a while and wasn’t completely enjoyable with the cold breeze hanging around. Winds were so strong that kite surfers took the opportunity to get out in the water. There are many great viewpoints of the bridge including Fort Point where surfers rode some waves. There is another nice viewpoint a bit further away near Ghirardelli Square, a nice spot for sunset if you have been around for a few days.



I used Golden Gate Bridge as a motivation tool for when I return to Sydney. One of my main goals when I return is to walk along the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not the bridge climb, I’ve done that already, but the footpath next to the road. It’s just always been there. So as I walked on the Golden Gate walkway I made a mental note. “Right you’ve done it here, now do it at home.”



The views go back to the city and the harbour with Alcatraz Island in the middle. Surprisingly the bridge has limited protection from the harbour a long way down or the road to the left. You can probably tell I like taking photos and the bridge is a leading lines dream so combining that with the bridges ‘International Orange’ colour and bright sky blue background it was perfect.



You might be wondering why twice now I have been in San Francisco and not mentioned a visit to Alcatraz. Well that would be because of a stuff up on my behalf. You have to book at least a week ahead so I didn’t even bother trying after all the online places were booked out.



I concluded with an old style tram ride up the hill to pick up my bag and head for San Diego. It costs $6 and took me up mostly Mason Street. Time was ticking so I took the clinging off the side of the tram option. In hindsight I probably would have preferred to go an extra block and taken a normal bus to save the cash.



It was now 1030pm and I am at the Greyhound bus station, the outside of the bus looks okay. I enter and it’s a different story. I look around and think, “I have to be inside this thing for 7 and a half hours.” It will forever be the worst 1st world public transport ride for long distance ever. An absolute disgrace, I thought, “How can the poorest of poor countries sometimes have better facilities than this?”



Two gleaming factors were my concerns. First thing I noticed immediately are the seats. The seats are better suited to the limited cushion of a city bus taking people to work. The seats had been cleaned but still had dirt marks on them and the floor was all scuffed up. I sat down on a packed bus ranging from some weirdos, to students and others under the poverty line. Like a guy who brought on board a big white bucket and squeegee. He was obviously heading down to the heat of the Californian south to wipe down a few windscreens - I heard this is what they do. They save the cash to move down once they are over the cold.



Speaking of cold, I went to go to sleep but the cold penetrated through the glass and I tried to pull the curtain across to block the coolness a bit but there was none. I looked around the whole bus and there is not one window with a curtain. I’ve never seen anything like it. How has this ever come to be?



I read an article on my last day in America saying that the US after September 11 2001 are finally going to open the doors more welcomely and encourage foreigners to come and visit. An economy that’s struggling needs international tourist dollars but they are missing out on such a lucrative tourism market. The backpacker would love to see what I’ve seen but where is the encouragement when you are on these horrific buses, that are not cheap with poor late departure times.



I transferred in LA to take a dirty bus but more comfortable seating and arrived in San Diego heading for Ocean Beach. (I’ll clarify horrific – Its not Africa horrific but unacceptable in a 1st world country.)



Most of my friends told me to head for Ocean Beach in San Diego because it’s the alternative spot whilst Pacific Beach is more posh. Hoping for some nice weather, beach was my only option for the daytime. And because of poor bus scheduling, seising just after 10pm, Ocean Beach was my only nightspot.



During the days I got clear skies but a cool breeze so lying out in the sun sometimes had to be cut short forcing me to walk back and head indoors. There is a major feature walking along the promenade and that is the sight of bums on the street. It’s a free country so do what you like and some of these people choose to sleep on the beach at night and hang kettles off their backpacks for a cup of tea from the mornings bonfire. They congregate generally in a small part of the beach and you start to think, “What the hell do you contribute to society?”



These are the people who the Republicans complain about and associate with the Democrats for a cheap shot. The same as the redneck of the south who the Democrats crap on about their blinkered view of the world. Some of these guys are intelligent but something’s gone awry here. Whilst some play some music that entertains the strip, others just sit, do nothing and try and create a conversation to eventually trigger off the staple saying, “Can you spare me some change?”



USA society is very tolerant on beggars and loitering. When I was in Boise the last tents of Occupy Boise was on its last legs that was going on in every major city since I arrived in September. Whereas in Australia and pretty much any other former UK colony it has been instilled in our culture to stick your nose up at bums on the street. We try and make sure they feel unwanted, disrespected and in most cases don’t exist.



With the homeless community living in what seemed harmony why would they choose Ocean Beach over the rest? Well a more tolerable society is one. In your alternative town of artists and ‘foreword thinkers’ it is accepted. Contrast that to some other parts where you hear people talking about Veteran soldiers begging on streets. Some feel for them whilst others think, “Why should I feel sorry for you? You knew what you were getting yourself into!”



(The basic salary for an active US Army Private in 2012 is $20,056 with less than 2 years experience. Navy 18K. Obviously you go up the ranks and experience and it increases, some include education degrees but man it is not much. Compared that to Australia’s army which is $32 799 for a soldier in military training.)



But back to why a homeless person would choose Ocean Beach as their home. It has one of oceans great sunsets. A large pier goes out into the Pacific and in April it sets behind it to your left. The colours are amazing. Your typical shades of oranges, yellows and blues. But its about 15 minutes after the sunsets when this amazing blue illuminates the sky one last time before draining away to give way to night. If I were a bum in the states I would choose here.



Also if I were a dog I would want my owners to live in Ocean Beach. At the north end of the beach a special sectioned off part is specifically for dogs. On Easter Weekend it was packed of nearly every dog you could think of - It would be paradise for a dog. (There was not much dog poo around in the sand for those playing at home.) So once I finished with this sight I realised that I’ve had my time with Ocean Beach and started to explore the rest of San Diego.



I woke up early the next day, an Easter Sunday and went to the Old Town a, small village formally under Mexican rule in Presidio Hill. It was the birthplace of San Diego, in turn becoming the birthplace of California. Nothing gets going until 10am so it was a quick visit and back on the trolley to Balboa Park. I don’t think the cities public transport is that bad it’s just that there is never a direct route, you always have to transfer, sometimes more than once to get where you want to go. Actually that does read annoying doesn’t it.



Balboa Park covers a massive area of immaculately kept gardens with Spanish Colonial buildings, replicating the Expo buildings of 1915-16 and 1935. Out the back it houses the world famous San Diego Zoo. I almost visited but when you think of the animals in their natural environment I’ve seen in Africa, diving around the world. I didn’t want to spoil it by having a zoo as my last animal thought. So instead I walked through the park thinking I could spend a whole day here on just art museums.



There are two pools called the Laguna de las Flores. If you weren’t aware of the Navy influence to the area than this may get you thinking. In WWI the pools were used to teach new sailors how to sail and swim. It’s not that big a pool but there you go. In WWII they deepened the pool as it was close to the Navy’s hospital and was used as a rehabilitation pool for wounded soldiers.



Time was ticking a bit so I headed to Gaslamp Quarter and the Convention Centre area. A walk along the promenade takes you to the Marina Park where across the water you can see the Navy complex. It was getting close to 1pm and it was time to see Americas game. The game that united a nation – Baseball.



I have a friend back home who is a baseball tragic and asked him for some details to get me by - I know most of the rules of baseball; the movie Major League helped me at a very young age - But just a bit of info on the pitchers. Perhaps if there are any Australians in the team currently or previously? Its always good to show a little knowledge so then when the fans do talk to you they don’t degrade you with a comment like, “See the guy on the mound he is called a “pitcher” and he throws to the guy bending down behind the “plate” he is called the “catcher.” I don’t want that.



This friend than asked me to purchase him a cap to add to his collection. 7 3/8ths was his hat size. I immediately responded with jealousy of his great fraction to come along with that very strong number 7. Not really sure if that was a large or small head size I too was hoping for an odd looking fraction either a 3/8, 5/8 or a 7/8. Lord I wished I wasn’t just a plain old 7.



But I wasn’t sure if San Diego would be my team, so should I purchase a cap? It has never seen too much success and for once I was thinking I needed some American team to be a winner. But like with your head size you are given what the good lord gave and after questioning myself for an entire match I finally bought myself a seven and three eights hat… That’s right I too fit an odd looking fraction!! 7 3/8ths so happy!!



For those of you wondering if that finally confirms that I have a big head… Well think again it makes my cranium 58.7 centimeters on the round, which means I have a large head. Not extra, extra large just large. And lets not forget I am sporting long hair at the moment so I could even squeeze into a medium down the track.



I entered the field and as I was finding my seat I stopped to listen to the national anthem. And I’m sorry but what a massacre of an effort. What is it with the US and trying to make contemporary National Anthem songs? These two guys put on sultry voices whilst playing the anthem in acoustic form. The bleeding gums Murphy version in a very early Simpson’s episode is still true to this day. “Oooo say can you… I’m askin’ can u… ccccccc!” The 7th inning stretch song for this game was a more traditional version of ‘God Bless America, My Home Sweet Home.’



A crowd of 19 000 in a large stadium felt more half empty than full which I was not expecting since it was a traditional Sunday game and Easter but still it had its moments. They play 4 times in a series of games whenever a team comes and visits and this was the 4th game in a row. The Dodgers were looking to sweep the series after winning the first 3. But the Padres started strongly scoring in the first innings.



My friend gave me the information that the San Diego Padres had a good young pitcher starting this day and the (new partly owned Magic Johnson) LA Dodgers had a former Padres pitcher for the game. An email was given to me the day before from the Padres of the pitchers facing off and when the pitcher Clayton Richard came to the mound I noticed the Padres pitcher had close similarities to someone I know. His photo came up again and I was like, “Gee get out of here! That looks exactly like my baseball fanatic friend! The only difference is that this guy has got a massive chin.”



I looked around the field and photos of every new batsman. It was like if you don’t have a big chin you won’t make it in the Majors. Maybe that’s why my friend didn’t get the call up. Too much of a small chin? It must be all the tobacco they chew at a young age, it must widen the chin?



I can see now when they are making cuts during Spring training they go, “Sorry we have to cut you.” Points to the chin. “You just don’t have what it takes to be a baseball player.” Actually, if I were an advisor to Brad Pitt’s Moneyball character for Oakland A’s I’d say, “Just go for the players with big chins. That’s how you win a World Series.”



Look at the past World Series winners. St Louis last year, Yankees in 09. They all had big chins. I heard that is what won the White Sox’s first World Series since 1917 in 2005. (They whitewashed the Houston Astros. I think the Astros had one chinless player from memory? Didn’t he produce some errors in those 4 games!)



If I somehow become a billionaire and buy out a franchise I’ll call my team the Chins! Don’t you think that Wyoming deserves an MLB team? How about the Cheyenne Chins. Maybe a more financially viable option could be the Beaverton Bearded-Chins playing out of Portland, Oregon! Nike the sponsors and the best beer sold in the league!!



The game pretty much had everything you look for in a game, stolen bases, a few bunts, hit by a pitch, even a grand slam to kill the game for the Padres first win of the season. The only thing missing were the dugouts coming in from all sides and a pitcher bulking. So in the end I was happy with my experience but probably would have preferred to have been at the game with someone else. It’s a bit like going to the cricket and have no-one to talk to.



Most sporting events thank the troops and have a person sing the National Anthem who has served their country. But the Navy is part of San Diego since 1922 so here it is more prominent. A section up near the bleachers was dedicated to Navy youth, which I saw at the end of the game heading into old school buses outside the field. They would have been only around 18-19.



During the Navy Seal Appreciation Day (even though that special day was meant to be another day) we all stood up, the game halted and the announcer asked for a round of applause after most didn’t need the invitation to. I didn’t know what was happening at first because they were blocked off by the stands above but I soon cottoned on.



The Padres wore the Navy colours for the game and in fact I purchased this colour team cap. Throughout they would show soldiers with their families in the stands on the big screen. I can’t help but see this as propaganda because this is the kind of stuff we see on TV about North Korea or Russia. The pride in their military, the ever present military and here it is done that ever so subtly. You are constantly reminded that the government is there to protect you.



Actually on my way out of San Diego I decided to give the public transport the flick for only $10 more ($40) you can cut the time travelling by 3 hours and get a door to door service. Called Hostel Hoppers it covers the major cities of the west coast. (www.thehostelhopper.org) On the way the driver points out some things and we passed a military training ground fitted with a replica Afghan village.



Is it just me? Or is it necessary to have that in public view so easily as to right next to the major highway from Los Angeles to San Diego? See that’s what I’m talking about. This is what I love about Australia we don’t feel it necessary to go bandying about with fighter jets roaring across a packed football stadium. Actually we do that only once a year at Grand Final days in Melbourne and Sydney. But take that away and it’s not seen in our every day life.



I think I just went off on a tangent and have moved on from San Diego so lets get to the point of being dropped off. You should try the shuttle its an America and Uruguayan couple so we chatted the whole trip and it gave me a chance to reminisce on the one that got away 5 years ago. Oh where art thou Miss Uruguay?



So here we are the final 4 days of JP5 dribblers. It hit me a little but still with so much to see and do there was no time to think about it. So until those 4 days were up concluding JP5 was still not a complete reality.



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Here's that door to door service again. Especially if you are going to be slightly over weight with your baggage (greyhound can charge for excess baggage) than this will work for you.

www.thehostelhopper.org



I actually double checked to see if I got the right link for the site before pressing publish and sure enough they have put a photo of yours truly arriving in LA from their service on the home page. Very sneaky guys, very sneaky. I've done so well to avoid being in these photos throughout my travels and I get stung on the 4th last day. I'm sure I'm in some hostel promo drunk as so I'll cop this one.


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