17.11.2014 - 22.11.2014
...or so said Frank Sinatra. If that is true, his girlfriend was fat, smelly and weird.
The last time I visited Los Angeles in 2003 I concluded that it was over-rated - too big, too celebrity-obsessed, too polluted and full of nutters. I wasn't expecting things to be different this time, and so it proved - but I'm going to describe what happened anyway.
Minus the car now in San Diego, I had to get the Greyhound to LA. Not that I minded too much as this at least meant I didn't have to glance at Google Maps every five minutes to check I hadn't gone wrong, and I could still listen to my Richard Herring podcasts.
This time, my hostel dorm was an 8-bed all-male affair with some interesting characters - a Swiss bloke who thought he was too cool for school, a Russian angry that his new iPhone wasn't working, a lazy Aussie who spent more time in his bed than out of it, an American who tried to sell me a hat, an English bloke who thought it acceptable behaviour to answer his phone at 5.30 in the morning and an oddball of unknown origin who talked to himself.
The hostel itself was a couple of minutes' walk from Hollywood Boulevard (the one with all the stars on it) on one side and Sunset Boulevard on the other. Pedestrians on Hollywood Boulevard fall into one of three categories: beggars, out of work actors dressed up as cartoon characters and tourists not looking where they are going. I try not to be drawn into anything to do with 'celebrities' but I quickly found myself joining category 3 by walking along gazing at the floor wondering who the next star belonged to.
The hostel put on a free bus to Santa Monica, famous for its sandy beach and the people-watching (i.e. weirdo-watching) at nearby Venice Beach. I get bored of beaches very quickly and I don't like sand, but I made an effort here and took my shoes & socks off and had a paddle for a few seconds. This did mean that my feet got covered in sand but at least I could say I'd been in the sea. I was later kept amused in a restaurant by a woman's bag that periodically shook and made growling noises.
Due to the atrocious traffic it took over two hours on the bus to get back, most of which I spent sat next to a smelly gentleman who was only wearing one shoe.
That night I popped out to a nearby English pub for a quick pint. I noticed they were doing a quiz so I entered - and came comfortably last due to my lack of knowledge of American toys, breakfast cereals and television (amongst other things). However I did win the bonus round, guessing nearest to the number of stars on Hollywood Boulevard (there are 2,534 after Matthew McConaughey got his earlier in the day). This won me a pitcher of beer, so one pint became five.
I escaped the madness for a while by walking up the Hollywood Hills in Runyon Canyon Park. This gave great views of the city, although you could see a distinct band of smog covering it. Later that night a barman complimented me on my T-shirt, and then firmed up his position by stating "anyone that doesn't like your shirt is an asshole".
For some reason, Americans seem confused about my accent. I have often been accused of being Australian, one girl in San Diego even saying she thought I sounded like Crocodile Dundee. A girl working in a Mexican fast food joint here thought I spoke Spanish due to the "perfect accent" (her words) I deployed whilst ordering my taco. Outside the place, the crowds were gathering as the nearby premiere of the much-anticipated (by no-one) sequel to Horrible Bosses - "Horrible Bosses 2" - was about to take place. I went back to the hostel.
The next day I was very pleased with myself as I managed to accomplish two tasks I detest - buying shoes and getting my hair cut. Nothing interesting there you might think, and you'd be right.
However, the chap who cut my hair was quite a character. As I walked in I noticed he'd clearly had far too much plastic surgery - you could even see the stitch marks under his jawline. His name is Steve Erhardt and he brands himself "a beauty consultant for the elite rich and ultra famous", and it turns out he used to do the hair of Michael Jackson ("when he looked good") amongst others. He claimed to hold the world record for the most cosmetic surgeries (over 50 separate operations!) and has featured on several TV programmes including Richard & Judy and a Louis Theroux documentary. Louis Theroux was "obnoxious" apparently so Steve didn't like him. I hope they didn't stitch him up.
He also claimed that his eyebrow trims had changed people's lives so I let him loose on mine. I will let you know if I experience any life-changing eyebrow-related events.
After 4 days I'd had enough of LA and was looking forward to moving on. Fortunately for me, I was moving on - and into Mexico. I had been in the US for 88 of my allotted 90 days and enjoyed it immensely. It may have cost me a fortune but it was well worth it - it really is a beautiful country, under-rated as a holiday destination in my view. Admittedly it is hard to find a healthy meal, you have to add tax to prices and tip heavily, their television consists more of adverts than actual television programmes, most of them thought I was Australian and they are a bit on the fat side, but almost without exception everyone I met was friendly, polite and happy to chat whenever I felt like it - and when I didn't.
The time between setting off for my bus to the airport and getting into bed the next morning would prove to be by some distance the lowest point of the trip so far. I'm sure there must have been a good reason why I'd booked a flight at 00.30am but it escapes me currently. The journey fell into 6 distinct phases:
1) Walk to bus stop
Someone had sneaked a couple of breeze blocks into my backpack.
2) Bus to airport
Another passenger had said he was late so the driver took this as a challenge to get there as fast as humanly possible. He suddenly thought he was Lewis Hamilton driving the bus from Speed that wasn't allowed to go under 70mph. I was so anxious I couldn't concentrate on my podcast.
3) Flight to Mexico City
No legroom whatsoever - I could hardly get my feet under the seat in front of me and my knees rested against the hard edge of the seat pocket.
4) Mexico City airport
By this time it was 6am. After disembarking the plane and learning to stand upright again, I approached the queue at immigration to find around 200 other people there in front of me. It took over an hour to get through. I was now so exhausted that I went through customs and out the airport before realising I had forgotten to collect my backpack. So I had to go through a load more faffing about to get back in and out again.
5) Taxi to hostel
The hostel blurb said it would be about 150 pesos, the driver wanted 300, I haggled down to 250. He didn't know where the hostel was and I couldn't get a phone signal to bring up a map. I had to get out the car while they filled up with petrol so thought he was going to drive off with my bags.
6) The hostel
It seemed to be in a run-down area but all I cared about was getting to bed. It was 8am - I checked in, carried my stuff up 3 flights of stairs and clambered into the top bunk of a small dorm. The hostel bloke had forgotten to give me any bedding but I was past caring. I managed around 2 hours' sleep before the others woke me up. One of my room-mates spilt Coke all over the floor and buggered off without wiping it up.
Add into all this that I had a cold so was feeling awful anyway. So, an inauspicious beginning to my Mexican adventure but at least things can only improve.
Well, I've had a bit of a grumble so hopefully this satisfies those of you that have been clamouring for an upturn in the amount of whingeing. Buenas noches!