Monday, April 30, 2007

Pimped out friends

I have been given a couple of list of people to meet and place to visit while here in NY, with about 6 names underlined as people I really must meet while I’m in amongst the big city lights. Some of them even came with a short description so I knew what to expect and who to contact for what. I make a plan with Betsy (one of Audra’s mates), to check out MoMa and catch a couple of other things. A plan is formed and we arrange to meet up in front of the gallery at 11am. Friday comes, Aurda takes off to Memphis for the weekend and I make my way through the pouring rain to the Museum of Modern Art. Not having a mobile (sorry… cell), and going by Audra’s “you’ll know her when you see her” description made the long line and the soggy cats and dogs. I didn’t a clue who I was looking for, but the name Betsy conjured up images of a 1950s burger joint waitress with a little paper hat and roller skates. I make a phone call, we find each other (no roller skates), and her membership card jumps us in front of the cue (like a British passport when immigrating to Australia does when faced with a “bunch of illegals” from Afghanistan), and we’re in. The place is pretty amazing, with a nice collection of photography on the top floor, a fancy lot of 1920-1950 surrealist, post-modern art and an entire floor devoted to industrial design (with an exhibit reflecting on design influences). All the while, Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi scribbled a huge variety of cartoons on the inside walls of the museum, with the help of a cherry picker. We grab food and then we headed for our next adventure: Zombie TV show pilot screening.

Betsy (and/or some of her mates), worked on developing a new TV series where in the first episode all of America’s dead people come back to life and try to fit back into the life they had before they died. The premise was an interesting one, as the idea approached the zombie genre from a different angle: Zombies with feelings. Rather than just a eat brains, shotgun heads gore fest, this pilot approached to the undead walking amongst us with a humility, humour and empathy not shown in any other production I’ve seen. The zombies.. .sorry… Returnees™ interact with the living and each other in a almost playful, slightly sinister way.

After that, Betsy and I headed for food and drinks at her favourite Mexican place. Good food and rather spicy margaritas. Outside the restaurant, a homeless guy got cleaned up in a hit and run. After watching the ambos sort the guy out, we met up with some of Betsy’s friends and found our way to the 2007 NYC Ukefest, a festival devoted entirely to Ukuleles. There were so many different types of little guitars there, ranging from those made of old cigar boxes that come in kit form for $40 to little Fender Stratocaster replicas at $1,700 a pop. There were performances by a few solo acts and little bands, with a performance by The Moonlighters as my highlight. After a couple of bevies I called it a night and headed back to the apartment, completely buggered from the day’s activities. I get an email from Audra saying she’ll be back in town in a couple of days and that she’ll give me a guided tour of her favourite place in New York: Central Park.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

winding back a bit

San Francisco still uses a fog horn.

Sorry, I just remembered this as being a really cool thing about the place, but had neglected to mentioned it until now. Thank the new Björk album for reminding me about this.

Now back to your regular scheduled programming.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A city that never sleeps.. ‘til Brooklyn.

The place where I’ve been staying these last few days has been great, but my host Audra is still only present in emails. Right around the corner from Washington Square, at the southern end of 5th Avenue, my New York digs on West 8th Street are right in the thick of it.

I can walk to Wall Street in 20 minutes, Time Square in 40 and the water is about 30 minutes in either direction. Manhattan is a relatively easy place to navigate around. Avenues run north-south, streets run east-west. The distance between blocks on streets is shorter than avenues, each district waves flags of pride featuring its adopted name and the subway system is the quickest way to get around. Over the last 20 years, the city has been cleaned up and gentrified. Walk around the old artist areas of Greenwich, East Village and Soho, where all the huge studio apartments once ruled, and you’ll find ritzy clothing stores, “honest to goodness” not Starbucks (but really are if you ask), cafes and wheatgrass juice bars. I explore and find a couple of cafes, some of which had been recommended by friends who have visited NY before. I send an email thanking Audra for the accommodation and double check if I was meant to be sleeping on the couch rather than her bed. I hardly know this person, but she is totally cool with me just hanging in her apartment, using her stuff and eating the food in the fridge that would otherwise be going off.

On my third night in town, Audra came back to New York and took me out to dinner. This is the first time since the Grand Canyon that we’ve met, so we spend most of the meal sussing each other out. She works as a location manager in film & TV and has been up in Rhode Island working on her latest job, only coming back to her apartment in NYC every five days or so. She has worked on a bunch of other projects in the past (most notably The Gates), and has a true love for her job. We chat about the joys of meeting random people, discovering a stranger’s personality and how everyone has an interesting story, even if it’s just one. We go out for a drink (at an Australian bar), and I introduce her to Coopers. My homesickness grows.

Friday, April 27, 2007

and I squish you

New York City, not only has a pulse. It has a fever. So many people. So much going on. So much history. A fantastic saturation of activity that I would, if experienced on a daily basis, find quite overwhelming. And that's just Manhattan. This place and the people who live here are what I want to be amongst. There’s so many little cultural nooks and crannies for people to wedge themselves into, it’s easy to see why everyone who visits finds a place to feel home. I know someday, even for a short while, I will live in this town.

I was always coming to New York, but it wasn’t until getting an invite from Audra (a random person I met on a frosty morning at the Grand Canyon), did I have a place to stay. When we met, we probably chatted for only about 10 minutes, swapped emails and parted company. This has been a fairly common interaction with people while I've been travelling and usually occurs with no follow-up. But three days later when I got back to San Diego, there was an email from her offering up her apartment as a place to crash while I was in the Big Apple. Amazing. But this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Once I finally got to New York, I landed in LaGuardia and my bearings weren’t up to scratch as to where the city was in relation to the airport. My single-serving friend on the plane had given me the quick run down on the public transport from the airport to downtown Manhattan, with my other seat neighbour drawing up a little map to help explain where stuff is in relation to the airport. As I was waiting for my luggage, I started talking motorbikes with an Argentinean mechanic who had just returned from working on a 250cc race in California. He and his friend were catching a cab into downtown Manhattan and I suggested we should split a cab. Grand. Not even an hour into my time in New York and already I was being driven in a yellow cab across Brooklyn Bridge with the lit-up 9pm skyline of Manhattan dazzling and sparkling across the water. On the way over we discussed travel, I shared the apples I had in my bag and discussed my desires to visit (and their experience of), the glacier and volcano area of Argentina. When we got to where I needed to get out, I tried to pay them my share of the cab fare, but they refused my money telling me I would probably need it. What a great introduction – free cab ride and a cautionary about me keeping an eye on my spending. At least it wasn’t the “proper foreigner” spiel I got from the immigration guy in London. The original plan was to call past a photo lab nearby to Audra's place and pick them up from there, but as it was now 10pm, the shop was nice and shut. I find my way to a café with wifi and get the plan b instructions for getting into the apartment. I phoned Audra and she phoned her flatmate, who thankfully was home and opened the door for me when I knocked.

The next day I spent walking the length of the southern part of Manhattan. I ventured down to the financial district to have a look at where the World Trade Centre used to be. Being in an area where an event that redrew the rules of the world and influenced major personal change occurred was a weird experience. Walking towards the site, a Back to the Future scenario played repeatedly in my head, where Marty McFly emerges from the subway, picks up a newspaper, reads the date and the camera pans around to finds the towers still standing there. Once I got to Ground Zero, I was disappointed with the plaques and tributes to the victims, with heavy use of emotive language and the vengeful tone some of them took.

One of the common questions you’ll find hidden amongst a long conversation these days (especially if you're from New York), is “so what’s your 9/11 story?” – and talking to Americans about their experience and the environment revolving around them at that time, you get an interesting variety of answers. This was one of my favourite responses to what the general feeling amongst the American people was during the aftermath: “We wanted to kick some ass. We just wanted the finger pointed at someone. Anyone! If Bush came out and told us Sweden did it, we’d have no problem invading them and kicking their blonde Scandinavian butts back to the ice age".

When I was in Hiroshima in 2005, I spent a day wandering around the Peace Park memorial reading the stories, looking at the exhibits and being quite. I found the language used to describe the bombing of Hiroshima from a Japanese perspective much more respectful, both to the memory of the victim and to the judgement of the reader than the boards twist tied to the cyclone fence surrounding Ground Zero. The Japanese presented the facts of what happened at the end of World War II neutrally (almost clinically), leaving the emotion to the personal stories of the victims. Not being a terribly big sop, I was surprised that for most of the time I was there I wept and sobbed. When I read the plaque at the A-bomb Dome (we leave this structure here in an effort to ensure that this never happens again), I spontaneously started to cry. Afterwards, I felt I walked away with a greater understanding of the victim's suffering and further questioned the mindlessness of war as a whole. All I walked away from Ground Zero feeling was disturbing sense of emptiness, a lack of grief (especially for a city I am smitten with), and a feeling that those who suffered at this place had been cheated by the memorial they had been given. I felt guilty that instead of being upset, I walked away thinking the terror involved here was no less terrible than that experienced within the confines of a conventional war between countries. I guess Japan was the surrendering party. Don’t get me wrong, what happened here 6 years ago was a terrible, horrible thing and my sympathies go out to all those who were touched by the shit that went down that day. I just wish my (and the rest of the world’s), compassion for America wasn't soured by the way the Bush administration reacted.

I imagined our leaders seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted to talk about Democrat versus Republican, white versus black, or any of the other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public discourse. I imagined our leaders going on television telling the citizens that although we all want to be at Ground Zero, we can't, but there is work that is needed to be done all over America. Our help is needed at community centers to tutor children, to teach them to read. Our work is needed at old-age homes to visit the lonely and infirmed; in gutted neighbourhoods to rebuild housing and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots to baseball fields. I imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity of spirit and create a new unity in America born out of the chaos and tragedy of 9/11, a new unity that would send a message to terrorists everywhere: If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, and more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of the fire, we will be reborn.

And then came the speech: You are either with us or against us. And the bombing began. And the old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their neighbour for any suspicious behaviour.

An except of a speech given by Tim Robbins to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. - April 15, 2003

Enough politics...

The water front was next on the cards, with a possible jaunt across the bay on the Staten Island Ferry up for grabs. I ventured around the water and ran into a Japanese guy taking a photo of a lamp post. He wasn’t actually taking a photo; he was making a frame with his hands to simulate what a scene would look like if he took a photo of it. This looked interesting so I started chatting to him, excitedly forcing my broken, unused Japanese upon him once I found out he was from Japan. We chatted for about 5 minutes and then parted ways, only to bump into each other again about 20 minutes later. We decided to hang out and catch the ferry together, comparing notes on what brought us to the big city. Koji had come to America to study English and work at his hairdressing career. The ferry ride took about an hour to the island an back again. On it I spoke with a lady from Scotland and a photographer working for the New York Times. Once Koji and I got back to Manhattan, we wandered up to the subway and separated at Time Square and I haven’t seen him since. I think this may have been my poor rendition of the OK boku jo (wave hands in the air) joke which seemed to work so well a year and a half ago in Japan.

Once I had my fill of Time Square (I hadn't realised that there are two corners covered with TVs and lights. I assumed that there was only one corner that regularly changed it's appearance), I headed over to 9th Avenue to check out the photographer's Mecca - B&H. It's a fairly impressive store, almost up there with the eye burning complexity of a Yodobashi Camera Mega Super Happy Fun Time Store. One of the first thing I noticed about B&H is that the majority of staff are Jewish Orthodox (with the hole skull cap and ringlet thing going on), a sight that isn't that common in Australia. I ventured over to the lighting department first as I'd been flirting with the idea of rigging up a hand flash unit after seeing some guy in SF use one. The guy serving me was totally enthralled by his Windows solitaire game, and flicked between that and condescending answers when I asked questions about flashes. I figured he was either a jerk or was just having a bad day and moved over to the lens department, where a few smiles were floating about behind the counter. I lucked out and got another jerk, sighing, groaning and yawning (a little too dramatically), while I asked to look at a few lenses. I guess you can get away with being a total douchebag when you work at one of the best know camera stores in the world.

Jaded and empty handed (I need passion from my sales assistant to part with my money), I walked down 9th Avenue, then hit 8th on my way back down south towards 5th avenue, seeing little famous bits here and there along the way. I somehow ended up at Madison Square Gardens and spoke to John for a little while, then beelined straight back to home base. It seems that ever since being mugged, I have a subconscious almost Cinderella alert that says "It's going to get dark soon. That's when pumpkins turn into thugs and then you get robbed". Audra was still out of town, so I made food for me and her flatmate, who then proceeded to tell me about this guy that she just met who was putting all this heavy emotional stuff on her in the early stages of their friendship. She explained the relationship, the difficulties of working with the guy and the back story to her life, the universe and everything. I agreed saying it would put me in an awkward position if someone who I had just met started unloading all their troubles and emotions onto me - then said goodnight and went to bed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cross dressing in Montana

As the previous post details, getting to Bozeman Montana was a trial. But why am I here? Last year while I was in Hungary, I met an inordinate amount of Americans either travelling or studying there. And while staying with Andy and Laurie in Budapest, I was hooked in to a constant supply of Yanks, Canooks and Aussies. One of the groups I had the pleasure of meeting was Erin, Lorie and Charlie – the Montana Massive. They were a lot of fun to hang out with while they were in Budapest, giving me a nice hot dose of Western, native English speaking culture. As always while travelling, when you meet someone on the road, the age old offer of a place to stay when you’re ever in either one’s home country is put on the table. At that stage I had no plans to come to the States on this trip, but I thanked them for their offer and returned the gesture. Fast forward to March this year, when, by accidental design I arrive in California and by chance, the Montanans get curious about my whereabouts and look up my blog. They email me, and within a week a plan forms to go to Montana and check out their home town.

Just writing this now, half a dozen offers of a place to stay or a person to catch up with have flooded back to me. The Peace Core girls in Mongolia. The couple from Alaska who found my email address in a book left in a hostel in Pingyao. The retired couple travelling the Trans Siberian who had a collection of ducks I wanted to meet. The dudes in Budapest who christened their local bride “Steven Colbert”. The shit tonne of Mormons (Hungary, Germany, Mexico) who, for better or worse, have invited me to Utah.

Montana is gorgeous. This truly is a beautiful part of the world. I can understand why people are proud to be from here. But the vibe I found here was a little unexpected. The people love and respect their guns, but are fairly liberal minded. Aware of the environment around them, Montanan ranchers are more in-line with Gore inconvenient attitudes than the Bush Clear Sky attitudes. The small town attitude carried by the young people here is complimented by an understanding for the world outside and appreciation for further education. As the Rocky Mountains track their way through the State, a diversity of landscape opens up and different subcultures develop. To the people from the plains, the mountains are full of hippie Democrats. To the people from the mountains, the plains are full of Republican hicks. There doesn’t seem to be much of a tolerance for gay men here (Brokeback Mountain wasn’t able to be filmed there because locals didn’t think that real cowboys sniffed each other’s shirts), but the governor is looking to become energy self-sufficient within 15 years through bringing in hundreds of wind turbines. One thing that impressed me (being the tree hugging, snowboarding, constantly at odds with the environmental consequences of my hobbies person I am), there is a snow resort up here that only uses green energy to power their lifts and resort facilities. As long as you are an environmental rancher with a taste for the outdoors, women, steak, snow and guns, Montana appears like the place to be.

Waking up super early and missing breakfast to go to Salt Lake City airport to make sure my bag was checked in on the correct flight, I was told that there was no need for me to recheck the bag manually and that it had been put on the Bozeman flight. I walked away from the baggage counter in a fairly sceptical, “we’ll just wait and see” attitude. Once I arrived, I waited a good 20 minutes near the baggage carousel for a bag that wasn’t even in the state any more. I had a chat with a rude arse Delta clerk (“of course your bag isn’t here, your ticket clearly says Billings” – umm fuck you too). My bag, it seemed, had gone AWOL and he couldn’t tell me where it was. You’d think in these Amber Alert times we live in, keeping track of someone’s luggage would be a fairly standard procedure. No. – Anyways, I’ve whinged enough about my bag going missing. Thankfully the wonderful Erin was there to pick me up and take me away before I slipped into the unpleasant, pissed off customer from hell. What this does result in is two days in Montana and only what I had on for clothes, with nothing to keep me warm or dry while walking around outside. Cue the mystery, “unisex” vest (with a badge shaped like pickle pinned to it), which had magically materialised in Erin and Mandy’s flat 6 months previous. When I put it on, I couldn’t help imagining a diner owner asking me why I was wearing a life preserver and if I had jumped ship recently. Sure, from the outside, the vest appeared like any other. But I knew that the tag resting against the back of my neck had a “W” printed on it.

Mandy, Erin’s flatmate gave me the 20c tour, meeting up with Erin in the downtown area. We kidnapped Lorie from her work and took her to the local for a couple of beers, making plans for the evening. After I cooked up a nachos storm in their kitchen, a group of us went to the pub we frequented earlier and had a few of their “Long Island Ice Teas”, which tasted nothing like, nor provided the anticipated kick, but weren't wholly unpleasant and were consumed with guster.

The following day, Erin and I headed to Yellowstone National Park. We got there a little after 1pm, and found the roads down to Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone had just opened for the first time this year. Walking around the hot springs, Erin was able to use her primary school teaching prowess to give me an educational tour of the park. I now know that these things are called travertines, that most of the park is sitting on top of a super volcano (which if it erupted, would take a fair chunk of the US with it), and that most of the park is mostly in Wyoming and Idaho, with only a little bit of it in Montana. Mammoth Springs are really impressive, with the back of it looking like the Moon and the front like Mars.

We then headed to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, where a diminutive, but still rather impressive, natural recreation of the Grand Canyon has been dug out by the Yellowstone river. As we walked up to the edge, it started to snow, just like my time at the real Grand Canyon. Looking down into the canyon and over at the massive waterfall (which a skin of frozen water covers during the winter months), the view would be welcome in any Lord of the Rings movie. After that we headed to the Paint Pots, a collection of multicoloured hot springs dotted around an small hillside. The “Pots” have really vivid colours, which a dramatically contrasted against the drab, grey surrounding. A little way up the hillside, a bunch of hot mud pits bubble away like saucepans full of porridge. I gt adventurous and threw a chunk of solidified mud into the eye of one of the bubbling bits, only to have it thrown back at me in the form of hot mud. And thanks to it being off-season, we only saw about a dozen people the whole time we were there. We skipped a few things to catch Old Faithful before it got dark, and found a small group of people huddling around one another to keep warm. According to them, the last time it went off was about an hour prior to us arriving and it was due to go off any minute. There were a few fizzes and farts and for about 15 minutes, Erin, myself and the other people standing around watching it were convinced that that was all we were going to get. As we walked around to get a different view, we passed a couple (who had been there for over an hour in the snow and cold), who were about to give up and walk back to their car. As they did, the show started and sure enough Old Faithful remained true to form and spewed steam and boiling hot water about 20 metres into the air. Spectacular stuff. I would like to come back someday and explore the geyser field which dots the surrounds of Old Faithful, but I’m guessing that’s off limits.

The next day, I helped Erin move house with her mum, uncle and aunt. Really friendly people with refreshing views from a Montanan perspective. Later that night, drinking and pool were all the go with Erin and her mates. We all had a good laugh when I met Jess, the owner of the vest. The next day, we ventured out to Virginia and Nevada City, two tiny ghost towns which played a big role in the gold rush and wild west era of the US. Again, being before Memorial Day, the place was totally empty, thus adding to the ghost town feeling. A dog followed us around for the better part of the day, whose insatiable appetite for stick fetching and rabbit chasing led to some close encounters with death.

Thanks to the Montana Massive - Erin, Charlie, Lorie and all their friends – for showing me a great time in their beautiful little city of Bozeman for the last few days.

Now, after 10 hours of planes, trains and automobiles, I'm in Gotham.

Friday, April 20, 2007

delayed. cancelled. late. diverted. lost.

My flight from Oakland (San Francisco's auxiliary airport) was initially delayed, and then cancelled due to faulty alarms. Most of the terminal, including myself, was made to walk out past security, but when the fraud was discovered, I had to go back trough security. By the time I got back to my gate, the flight had been cancelled and I was put onto later flight to Salt Lake City, but missed the connecting flight to Billings by 5 minutes. I was really nice and friendly about the kaffufle, and managed to wangle a flight directly to Bozeman and a free night's accommodation at a nearby hotel. For most of the night, it snowed pretty hard. However, the hotel's idea of "luck" was making it onto the 8am shuttle bus to the airport, their idea of chicken cesar salad involves grinding Paul Newman's Italian dressing in a mortar and pestle until it turns white and their idea of breakfast is like finding the theoretical value of the "x" in an impossibly impossible algebra equation. I got on my flight to Bozeman, and the view of Salt Lake City looked gorgeous, but my luggage somehow made its way to Idaho and took until today to arrive. This was my first experience with internal flight in the States. I don't need a crystal ball or naked pagan dances around a fire to see that there will be a stern letter and travel vouchers in my future.

Now I'm in Montana - Big Sky Country

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Half dome toupee

Aside from the gun craziness here in the US, my last few days in California were great. Last weekend, I helped out with the construction of a band stand (made out of car bonnets, recycled wood and computer motherboards), with the girl I was staying with and a few of her friends. A project involving a bunch of Burning Man veterans, the bandstand will be about ten metres high and about 18 metres wide and will be set up in a park here in San Fran sometime in July. I was chuffed that my idea to sort the motherboards out in order of colour and then nailed up in a gradient of light to dark was taken on. Looking at the plans and seeing what we had put together on the first day of construction, this thing will look amazing. There was a brief moment of KBE where I was chatting with the guys about going hiking on the weekend with some random San Franciscan. When I mentioned I was going with this guy called Tim who works with a local theatre company, they all said they knew him and that I was going to have an interesting time hiking with him. As it turned out, the hiking guy's name wasn't Tim, and he worked with a totally different theatre company and wasn't the homicidal axe murderer that I was warned about.

Sunday brought another day of suffering from the inordinate amount of wine consumed on Thursday night. I should have either vomited or gone hair of the dog to sort it out earlier. I spent the morning hanging out with Amy until she went to help a friend dig a garden with her friend in Oakland. Earlier in the week, when I thought I had been caught short with accommodation, I emailed a few people asking about staying with them. One of the answers I got was similar to one I got while I was in Austria. Sure you can stay with me, but you have to do it while I do this cool amazing thing. I'm going to Yosemite. Hadn't seen too much of the national parks here in California, so I jumped at the offer. Around 4pm, I walked the 3 miles over to where we had organised to meet up and there I found three guys packing camping stuff into a car. Two Danish guys who had been travelling with each other for a few months and our guide, Ted (Tim.. Ted.. I was close). On the drive up, the city thinned out like my granddad's hair until eventually we were in Red Barn, Americana farm land. We stopped for food and petrol and were greeted with a waft of cow shit. We're not in San Francisco any more Toto.

We get to the park and drive trough the unmanned entrance. While Ted has a yearly national pass, it appears that if one arrives after 6pm and then leaves the following day after 6pm, one can avoid paying the $20 required for entry. Dodgy. There are signs everywhere telling visitors to not leave food or drink in their cars, as bears will either sniff it out or spot it through the windows and then proceed to peel your car door open as if it was a sardine can. We sorted out our stuff, enjoyed an overpriced beer at the local and bunked in for the night. An early morning followed, and we made our way to Half Dome, via a collection of fairly grouse waterfalls. The Danish boys took turns in singing Danish pop songs, Monty Python anthems and defending their language.

When we got to about 2 kms from the base of Half Dome, we turned back as one of the Danish blokes has a blood sugar issue and hadn't brought enough sweet stuff with him. That and the weather looked as if it was blowing in. The park is a beautiful place with plenty of random trails, that after the magic mile mark, the amount of not so keen hikers thins out. Later that night, I met some of the guys who worked in the camp. They were fairly entertaining and told me about the joys of seasonal work in the park and the economic advantages of drinking booze in the cheap seats ("Out here, beers cost $1. In there with the tourists, they cost $6). Initially when I approached the group of friends, I found one of the guys was rather against chatting with a tourist. But he turned out to be one of the more entertaining people to speak with, having that quick, slightly competitive streak in his tone that most young American guys carry. It's weird speaking with Americans in their home country. Having only been exposed in any great quantity to their accent via the TV, sometimes it can be a little surreal interacting with the American accent, something that up until recently I only found in fiction.

After that I went into the main area (the $6 beer place), and saw the Virginia Tech shootings unfolding on the TV in a confusion of phone videos and second hand reports. On the table next to me, an Australian family expressed their dismay at the most recent of school shootings here in the States. We agreed Australia, while being close to the US in many regards, had some fantastically wonderful distinctions. They were here on a two-week family holiday and they had just arrived in the park for a couple of days of hiking and sightseeing. I sat down and chatted about the last year with them. What's been going on in Australia, what I've been doing, the motivation for the trip, how they were taking in their family holiday and eventually collectively fending off the advances of one of the drunken, non-cheap seat workers on their 14yo daughter.

On the second day, the Danish guys and I walked up to the Mariposa Sequoia Grove for some big tree touristing. This time, Ted took a back seat to the adventure and let us "youngins" explore the woods by ourselves. The sequoia trees are amazing to see up close, with their soft bark, massive circumferences and their unexpected low height. Walking through the handful of trees left in the grove, you get the idea that once upon a time, there were hundreds of these guys huddled together like an Ent meeting.

Our trip back was fairly uneventful, with a visit to In-N-Outs coming as a little bit of an anti-climax. The boys dropped me off at the Bart station and I trained it back into central San Francisco, back to Amy's place. In the morning we walked down the street for a coffee - good coffee - and said goodbye. I spent some of the day sorting out some future travels and saying my goodbyes to the city. San Francisco has been my highlight as far as culture, architecture and community attitude goes. There's a bit of snootiness and snobbery there, but I guess if you want to be like a European city, you need to behave like one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

We the people...

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The recent shootings here in the US has kick started the guns debate.


I was reminded of a chat I had with an Arizonian pawn shop owner when he was showing me a Magnum 44 handgun he had behind the counter. I said to him "back at home, we don't have crazy big guns like this.. ", he said to me "yeah. your government's really screwed your country up by taking away your rights". Ok then.. Whatever you say crazy man with big gun. To their credit, the Howard government, as much as they are a pack of wankers, did the right thing with tightening the gun laws in Australia after Port Arthur. But people shouldn't need to be shot dead to inspire leaders to act in this way. Nor will the 1996 changes to Australian gun laws mean that there will never be another shooting in Australia.

I see gun laws like I see bike locks. If someone really wants to steal my bike; they will, no matter how big the lock holding it to a Stobey pole is. But simply putting the flimsiest of locks on it acts as a deterrent to every Tom, Dick and Dirty Harry that thinks "I think I might bugger off with this untethered ride". That said, I still think the person who pinched my bike from uni three years ago should be shot, but this is where the analogy gets itself lost in the woods, only to emerge 3 years later, shooting classmates and postal workers.

So what does America do? Would a government which led the charge in disarming its citizens be taken down just as the constitution predicts? What about the media's role in this? Replaying the footage over and over (ala 9/11), could inspire copycats. Sure, guns act as a great plot device, dramatic focus and fancy looking prop in the movies, but movies aren't real. In reality when you fire a gun at someone, they often die. I love action movies. They are so distanced from reality and based in a world of adrenaline fuelled fantasy that the violence experienced vicariously through them is a pornography of sorts. So ridiculous that it can't be real. Sure, everyone has sex, but when does it occur with minimal, pool cleaning related dialogue, with a group of plastic breasted lesbians, living in a frat house all wearing high heels and bikinis? I should be back in LA pitching that idea to someone.

Next time you go to the movies or video shop, take a look at the posters promoting the latest action, adventure movie. You'll probably find some handsome/muscle-clad guy with a panting beauty hanging off of him, while he's pointing a gun somewhere out of the frame. Just think. That gun is pointed at someone with the intention to kill them. Lucky it's all make-believe. I remember the big deal made about cigarettes appearing in movies, leading kids to believe that it was cool to smoke and all that. Have you watched many Australian movies from the past few years? The Proposition. Two Hands. Chopper. All fairly violent, gun happy movies - but still Australia has low gun related death rate.

Hey America. Less guns = less people being shot.

By the way, the American Constitution shares centre stage with the Bible for contradicting itself and being interpreted in many different ways here in the States. All I want to know is, what happened to the "well regulated" bit of the second amendment?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

cable car

A couple of nights ago I checked out San Francisco's version of free cinema in the park. The movie was Breaking Away, the 1979 flick with plenty of bike riding sub-plot and a message about small university towns in the US, where the local kids fight with the rich out of towners who come to study there. Even at 25, Dennis Quaid is still the same actor he is now, albeit all buff and young looking. Run by a group of friends, the night is as much about bringing the community together as it is about watching movies. It reminded me of the movie nights we would hold back at home, across the road from MacKinnon Parade during summer. Only this one in SF is better organised, has a proper screen (no enormous bed sheet hanging over a cricket screen here folks), way more people and even a guy selling popcorn. Held in Dolores Park, a few blocks away from Mission street (think Smith street in Melbourne, but with more bars and music venues), the guys put on a movie on every second Thursday during the warmer months. This was the first, slightly chilly night for the season. Before the movie starts, a small band performs for the crowd, a couple of trailers usually run before the movie and then the crowd votes on the next movie to play. The options were Chocolat and the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Too many links between Chocolate and Johnny Depp for my liking) – Willy Wonker won the vote by a clear majority.

A British guy sat down on the grass next to me and we started chatting. After a couple of minutes of speaking, the guy in front of us turns around and say: "dude.. what are you doing in San Francisco?" Turns out that they knew each other in London through a mutual friend, but had lost contact since. Somehow, randomly they sat next to each other 9,000 km away 2 years later. The world isn't just small for me. As I was buying popcorn, I got chatting with one of the dudes that ran the night. After expressing my respect for the event and my envy of their operation, I handed him my email address. To this he replied: "Is that a George Lazenby reference?" Being one of the few people to get the reference, while I've been travelling, my admiration for this guy grew. He then asked "what was it that George Lazenby's Bond do that none of the others did?" I reply, "he got married". A respectful punching of each other's fists followed. We had bonded.

I drank too much wine and not enough water and spent the next day wandering around hungover as shit. Thankfully, a friend Roxanna’s (my CS host), gave me a guided tour of the suburbs around central San Francisco. We checked out a few cafes, sat in Dolores park in the sun, ate rice pudding and I was even treated to a free manicure. Later I went back to the apartment packed up my stuff and said my goodbyes to Roxanna. She’s been a cool host and showed me plenty of her version of San Francisco. One of the cool things about Roxanna’s place was I could use the cable cars as a legitimate form of public transport rather than just a hokey touristy thing to do.

Now I’m staying Lower Haight with a chick who works as an architect with a fairly strong sense of being socially responsible. She has a cool Australian mate who works for a small IT firm here in SF and they're both keen bike riders. Last night we grabbed Indian food and checked out the lobby of the SF Hyatt, a really impressive structure to look at, and I was reassured that architecturally, even though the designer is a complete arrogant wanker to meet, his designs are usually quite giving to those who use his structures. Architecturally speaking that is. It was an impressive place to see and you don't need a architecture degree to appreciate it and is worth a look. I also gained a new appreciation for the discrete drainage system used in Mission Square. Architecturally speaking, that is.

I still really need to buy some new shoes. I really don’t want to let go of the Keens I’ve been wearing for the last year. All the separate parts are still in relatively good shape, but it’s just the seams and joints have started coming apart and the soles are wearing away in typical pigeon toe fashion. This combination of footwear malfunctions collaborated in the dampening of my socks this rainy morning, at the Farmers Markets. Damn good coffee though. Anyway, I just can’t bring myself to part with them using the excuse in my head that no matter what shoes I look at and find interesting, if I don’t find exactly the same pair of Keens, I’m not shelling out for another pair of shoes. Thankfully the day has cleared up and a walk to the park is in order. A detour to the kite store in China Town beforehand may provide entertainment for the afternoon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Real tales of San Francisco

I'm totally crushing on this city. Everyone is super friendly and chilled out. There's plenty of things to see and do. The art/music/interesting stuff scene is alive and well. And the place itself is really pretty. Is it legal to marry a city? I now pronounce you man and municipality and all that guff.. I will first need to divorce the In-N-Out burger I married last week, but maybe we can come to an arrangement involving some really bizarre love triangle. I've spent the last few days riding around getting a feel for the city's layout and working the last few months of not having regular access to a bike out of my system. These hills are great. They're steep enough to be a challenge, but have little flat bits breaking it up along the way that even the worst hills don't have the hellish feeling of hell rides from hell. And when you get to the top, there's a new view and a downward slope to shake your hand on a job well done. I was chatting to an Irish bloke the other day who was telling me that on one of his first nights in the city, he and his girlfriend offered a taxi driver $50 to drive at great speed over a couple of them. Being 2 in the morning, the taxi driver took the challenge and fanged his cab over a couple of hills, getting enough air each time that even Pedro and Napoleon would be proud. He said that they were so buzzed by the experience, they gave the guy $100. If you want to see an entertaining SF car chase involving such jumps, check out the 1988 Dirty Harry movie Dead Pool. The remote control car is my hero, even if it does take out Callahan's partner with a fiery death.

Yesterday, I walked into a print shop to get more cards printed up. Sitting at the computer, I start chatting to the girl who works there. After I say I'm from Australia and have been travelling for about a year she says: "Do you have a blog? The kevin bacon something? I randomly found it a couple of weeks ago while on the net". Small world. After some food, I checked out Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's version of a big city park. It's a pretty place, especially since the weather here is so beautiful. I saw my first gopher, a couple of dogs play fighting and met a nature photographer who's lenses were bigger than my legs. I rode the length of the park all the way to the coast and sat down for a bit, staring out across the peppered sand and choppy waves thinking about the beach I sat on 8,500km away in Hamamatsu, Japan in 2005. So much has happened since then. Some of the more hokey views of San Francisco are visible from around this area, with a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding headland framed by sloping streets and sun-faded wooden Victorian town houses. I took some photos, but they really don't do it justice, so you're just going to have to see it for yourself. I can recommend the corner of 43rd and Fulton for the full effect.

While riding around yesterday I listened to KUSF, San Francisco's University radio station. Plenty of random American music I would never have had heard if I had chosen an iPod for my music playing experience. Sure, they're pretty, have a lot of space and there are entire shops devoted to accessories for them, but there's no radio on it. What's the go there Apple? From what I've heard, Californian radio is pretty decent. I figured you guys would have switched onto this. Anyway.. The great thing about listening to local radio stations is that occasionally they tell you what bands are playing in the area. I heard the magic words "Lightning Bolt" and "Tonight" mentioned in the same sentence, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and made me return to the apartment likity split. Back in 2003, I bought a bunch of DVDs off the net with random clips recorded from TV and submitted from backyard doco makers. One of the clips on there was edited highlights from a 2002 documentary following Lightning Bolt on tour. There was about 5 minutes of frantic, ear blistering, highly energetic live performance shown, and ever since I've wanted more. Jon Dale hooked me up with a copy of the full doco in 2004, but there was one vital piece missing to my own personal Lightning Bolt experience: Seeing them live. Last night I got the chance.

I caught the bus down to the Mission (an area in SF with plenty of great pubs and live music venues), and found the place (12 Galaxies) where they were performing. A little sign on the door politely told the large, disappointed looking cue that the performance was sold out. Crap. I asked a couple of people of if they had spare tickets, eventually finding this one guy who said "how much do you want to see them?". I pointed out the loaded nature of his question and we chatted for a while about the band. A lady asked us for money and showed us a photo of her son Diante, which pushed some valuable names out of my head. He handed over the free ticket details and I was in, with the promise of a beer for him after the show. The night was being held by Club Donuts, a group of girls who organise, manage, DJ, VJ and place doughnuts on tables throughout the night. And they made a sweet job of it too. The support acts were well matched to the headliner, with the in-between bits filled in nicely and the visuals (provided by a Mac running Final Cut connected to 3 projectors), were simple but effective. They also run a pirate radio station on 93.7fm, 3D Radio's frequency.

Lightning Bolt were amazing.

After the show, I caught up with the guy who had helped me out with the ticket. Turns out he's known one of the guys from the band for ages and flatted with one of the bar staff a couple of years ago. Once I had finished bouncing between conversations for an hour, I walked out and my bus was right there waiting for me. Awesome.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Leaving Los Angeles

Before I start gushing about how much I love San Francisco, a few words need to be said about my last few days in LA and the trip up here.

I spent one day walking around Santa Monica and then down to Venice Beach. Being a weekday, I missed out on seeing the freak show that everyone was talking about, but I think I saw the guy from the Blublockers Ad. I found a 1963 Ford bus, with some guy living in it. He said he had been parked there on an off for the past 12 years, occasionally travelling around to do public access television appearances, update his website and get parts for his bus. He said his name was Happy and was working away on his laptop, trawling craigslist for some new tyres for his bus. He told me that the local government had redeveloped the beach around him 3 times, with his bus being factored into the changes. Now that the local government was stacked with assholes, he had to start paying money to be there. The weather was overcast (read: smoggy), and there was a bit of a chill blowing off the ocean so the crowds were thin and the homeless people outnumbered the tourists. It still gets to me that one of the richest countries in the world can have such a turn a blind eye attitude to homelessness. It was one of the thing I saw in London that disturbed me, next to paying $9 AUD for a pint of beer.

That night, a group of us went out to sushi. We were trying to work out if the couple on the table across from us was on a date or just mates. The low cut top on the girl and the nervous fidgeting of the guy firmed up our theory. They ordered an unbelievable amount of food, and we flirted with the idea of asking them for the leftovers. Then Will gave us a lift back to the flat in his Prius. The little screen saying how much energy was coming from what motor and how many miles per gallon the car was getting was as enthralling as a cliff-hanger Lost episode. And when we were standing still, the car is so silent and feels like it's off. I don't think I could actually own one without crashing it or constantly thinking the car had stalled. Driving in that slice of the future made me think about the things humanity will be giving up over the next 50 years. It was a bit like an electric kettle, you know the one that turns itself off when it's done, rather than whisltling to let you know when you need to take it off the stove. Sure, our planet will be cleaner and human kind wont have to go searching other planets to fuck up for a few more centuries, but nothing beats the growl and whine of a twin turbo flat six Porsche engine sitting 2 feet behind you.

The next day, Fabian (the German), and I went looking around Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. Having someone else to bounce ideas off helped me come to the conclusion that unless you're really a part of it, LA is a dive. The Walk of Fame reminded me of my granddad's scalp, having a clump of healthy, well know celebs around the centre (some double parked with one another). But once you walked away from the neon and gift shops towards the boarded up restaurants and crack dens, the "stars" became these no name, no frills people we had never heard of. Fabian was really happy to see David Hasselhoff's star and posed accordingly. For a laugh, we went into the Scientology building for a free stress test. Man those guys are funny. We both took turns on the E-Meter. I watched Fabian get quizzed for 10 minutes or so about what stresses him out in life and then see the magic powers of Scientology being dangled in front of him as the solution to all his woes. When asked to provide a happy and a sad feeling, Fabian said Icecream and Murder. All class from the German. When it came my turn, I grabbed hold of their modified multimeter and took the test. She asked me questions about all the bad things in my life, adjusting the E-meter as she went to factor in the minute muscle tensing the continuity tester picks up on. To fuck with it, I applied pressure on the paddles when talking about good stuff (ice cream), and then relaxed when I spoke about bad stuff (murder), providing contradicting readings to the subject matter. The technique she was using on me felt as if she was trying to back me into a corner of negativity, with Scientology as being the only out. It reminded me of the speech a Herblife friend gave to me once. They're not my friend any more. For the rest of the auditing process, I just relaxed my arms and hands so the metre didn't move at all, answering all of her questions as honestly as possible. Serious brainwashing shit for the unsuspecting and vulnerable. I asked her why negativity and fear was being used to recruit me into their church. She didn't have an answer for that one. I didn't buy their book.

We left, crossed the road and entered an army surplus store. We started chatting with the young guy behind the counter. He said he was from Texas and that when he went to an NRA training meet up, he was really disappointed with their organisational skills and the day of shooting didn't match his expectations. He said that there was no point with joining the NRA, as who wants to have a legally acquired gun when shooting someone? He said if we wanted to get a gun today without all the hassle of cooling off periods and IDs, we should just walk a few blocks east and buy one from the Chinese. The next store we visited was a music shop full of old synths. I chatted with the guy about his store, Stevie Wonder's warehouse of equipment and the pseudo-mythical Yamaha GX-1. Fabian and I then made our way to the Farmers Market and the Grove. The Farmers Market food area was pretty cool, with an entire stall devoted to hot sauces (keep on eye on the letter box Luke). The Grove was just another soulless mall full of credit card fuelled obsessive compulsion stores. There was a big clothing store hosted by semi naked models, and after walking around looking at jeans that cost the GDP of a handful of Pacific islands, we leave. As we are walking away from the area, we run into two people wearing price tag shaped name badges. This could only mean one thing: The Price is Right. Sure enough, around the corner we find the CBS studios where the show is filmed. I get excited about being on a game show and sell the idea to the German. We make our way over to find out about how to get tickets. We have missed out on getting into The Price is Heiß (the German name for the show), but there's a chance we can squeeze into the Late Late show. Nope. No tickets. I convince Fabian that he should sign up for the next day's taping of The Price is Right. I wonder what the deal is if you take home the showcase while you're travelling?

A week or so ago I had organised a ride from LA to SF through - I was contacted by a few people, but settled on going up with Raymond, the first person to respond with an offer. I'm glad I did, because he was one of the coolest people I've met while travelling. In his 50s, he is now retired living on his pension, helping as many people he can with his time and money. Great guy. If you are ever in need of a ride between LA and San Francisco, I can thoroughly recommend tagging along with Raymond as he does the trip every couple of weeks. Funny part is, the couchsurfers who had stayed with the people I stayed with a couple of weeks ago also travelled with Raymond.

The place I'm staying in is fairly central to everything here in SF. A block or so away is the bit in the Bullitt car chase where the Mustang appears in the rear-view of the bad guy's Charger. Roxanna, the girl I'm staying with, grew up here and knows the city backwards. The night arrived, we went to a friend of hers birthday get together and then on Saturday another friend's going away party. Yesterday, I borrowed her bike and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the nearby hills. I met a guy from Melbourne and ended up hanging out with him for most of the day. I caught the tail end of the BYOBW (Bring Your Own Big Wheel), race where once a year on Easter Sunday, adults ride kids bikes down Lombard Street.

Today, I'm doing what I did in Prague paying homage to the super V8 styling of cop movies from the 60s, 70s and 80. Man. I'm on Dirty Harry's turf.. This is fucking cool. The one thing that is flipping me out about being in the States, is that most of the places I'm visiting I already kind of know through film and TV. San Diego = Top Gun; Las Vegas = Fear and Loathing, LA = Pulp Fiction, Terminator. Now that I'm here in San Fran, where many of the late night cop movies I watched on Channel 7 as a kid were filmed, I'm a little spun out by the living movie set around me. I'm in a place where so much of the mythology of my youth is set and it's a real mind spinner. A living fiction. I think part of my time here has to be spent chasing bad dudes across roof tops, hanging out with pimps and jumping cars over the ridiculous hills.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

does hope come in metric too?

Andy and Laurie decided to spend a couple of extra days in Hawaii leaving me to my own devices for another couple of days. Their toilet didn't work too well and I had to perform some fairly inventive plumbing techniques to get it kind of working again. I hung out with the next door neighbours on a couple afternoons. They were all moving out of their sweet two storey sharehouse in the hills of Del Mar. Sighting the metastasizing gentrification of Southern California as the motivation behind their landlord giving them the flick, the guys suspect their cool old beach house to be replaced by several tiny beach apartments within 5 years.

I rode around San Diego for the last couple of days I was there, spending time in Balboa Park, Downtown and around Del Mar. There's a cool old horse racecourse over the other side of the hill from A&L's place. As the Rat Pack used to go there to bet on the nags and chat up the ladies, I thought it would make for a cool place to photograph. What I found was an Auto Customs show , celebrating all things Chrome plated, shiny and American. So many beautiful old cars, but catching bits of people's conversations here and there, the general consensus between all the car owners was that it was better in the old days.

I got a lift up to Irvine with Laurie and then caught the train up to Los Angeles. I've been in LA for the last 3 days staying with and meeting a bunch of cool peeps. Bit of a shitty place to visit if you don't have a car and have to rely on their public transport system. Although their subway is pretty flash, the bus system is sketchy, with the majority of drivers I had the pleasure to deal with being a bunch of rude so and so. Have you seen that Simpsons episode where the family go to Itchy and Scratchy land, homer goes up to the ticket booth and the attendant suggests that he purchase Itchy and Scratchy money (Like real money, just more fun), only to find he can't use it anywhere in the park? I just experienced a similar doh when it came to the Metro tokens I was sold at Union station when I first arrived. Sure the maths worked out really well, getting you $16 of travel for $11, but when it came to actually using these tokens on the subway, the machines weren't designed to take them and there are no conductors to help you. Only guards with night sticks and glocks to remind you that you have the right to remain silent. I was instructed to find a bus, flag it down then buy a metro ticket from them. The bus driver eventually handed over what I wanted with a big "you are a massive fuckwit wasting my precious bus driving time" sigh and groan.

Eventually I found it to Hollywood and subtly made my way around with full pack for a couple of hours, checking out the stars on the footpath (Walk of Fame). I addressed all the impersonators by assumed character name, although I think the Elvira was the real deal I used to have this recurring dream in my early teens, where no mater what the context or subject matter the dream contained, somewhere a bottle of cheese whizz would appear, giving me a "yep.. I'm really in a America" feeling all over. Now that I'm here, I've not seen any.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Do not underestimate the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is really impressive. There are signs posted around the rim trail warning people not to 'underestimate the Grand Canyon'. They're not joking. Like with any impressive big natural thing in the world - photos just don't do them justice.

On my first day there, I drove into the park and paid the $25 entrance fee. Ouch. This did give me 7 days of access to the park, so I figured I'd stay there for a little longer and skip on hiking in Flagstaff. It was early, and I was keen to hike down to the bottom and check out the Colorado river. San Diego Andy had said I could reach the bottom and then hike back up easily in a day, provided I left early enough. It was 9:30 and I figured I could make it. I parked the car and rode up to the Hermit Trail, which took a little longer than expected, thanks to all the stopping and looking I did on the way. I got to a nearby hut, bought a coffee and considered my options. There were clouds off in the distance, but they didn't look like a threat to the day's plans. It was now 10:20, and my time was looking a little tighter. As I made my way to the rim, the wind began to pick up and there was a fresh chill in the air that was absent in the morning. The sun was still out and I figured it was still cool and I hiked down.

Along the way, I met several people coming the other way with full packs, returning from their adventure in the wilderness. I asked about how to organise the licence to camp in the Canyon. Most of them told me that they had booked in December and that the likelihood of getting a pass for today/tomorrow would be next to none. Bummer. I ran into a couple of families, where the dad was clearly hell bent on providing the best damn holiday he could for the rest of the family. The rest of the family looked tired and not nearly as enthusiastic their fearless leader hiking up ahead. They reminded me a lot of the Griswold's taking their trip to Wally World, or driving around around London. Look kids: Big Ben, Parliament.

I spent a couple of hours getting down to a spot called Santa Maria hut, about a third of the way down. The day was getting on, and the dark clouds I had seen earlier had stealthily crept their way across the sky and were looking a lot more ominous and foreboding. I decided to avoid getting drenched and check out the rest of the Rim Trail instead, then try my luck at reaching the river the following day. As I walked up, I bumped into a few people coming the other way. I got chatting to one of them, and he said he had friends in Adelaide. Turns out this guy had gone to university with Deane Hutton, one half of The Curiosity Show. Small world. I met a few guys down from LA and a couple of girls from Spain. There was this young guy walking in with full pack, obliviously planning to spend the night camping at the bottom. He was from Oregon and had been looking forward to doing this trip for a while. When I got back to the top, the fresh wind from earlier in the day had picked up and become much more icy. The clouds were almost directly above me, the sun was covered over and things looked as if nastiness was on its way.

I get my bike and start riding back to the car, about 2kms away. On the way back I stop off at the lookouts I had missed on the way up and stop to take photos. I get chatting to this woman next to me and it turns out she is the mum of the young guy from Oregon I had passed on the way back out of the Canyon. Again, small world. While we're chatting, it starts to snow. Arizona? Snow? Huh? As we're both going in the same direction (me on my bike and her in her car), we stop at the same lookouts on the way. After about half an hour of stopping at the same places, the low cloud covers over the view and it begins to snow harder. She offers me a lift and we go back to the cafe to chat about all sorts of things. It was really interesting hearing about her (Kathy?) life, spending time in the meditation sanctuary during the 80s and all that stuff. Regardless of whether I totally agree with someone's world view, I'm always keen to listen to their opinions and get a different perspective on life. There's a little ad stuck to the back of a nearby chair featuring a photo of this buff looking mountaineering type, standing all Free and Brave, with the line "We rescue around 1,000 per year from the Grand Canyon. Most of them look like just like him". I reconsider my trip into the now snowy Canyon and opt for the much safer, non-freeze to death option of sight seeing in the park instead. We finish chatting around 5pm and go our separate ways.

I returned to the car to find it all iced up. I clean off the windshield, drive off and try and catch the sunset, but it's obscured by the snow storm. I leave the park and find some food at a town just out of the park. Curious to see that most of the little diners I visited on the road carried a fairly decent, albeit limited vegetarian option on their menus. I found my camp site, and by this stage it was really cold, so I decide to sleep in the car. I get up really early to catch the sunrise, but that too is covered in cloud. There was a cool fog drifting through the huge cracks of the Canyon, and from where I was standing it looked like milk had been spilled on a cracked wooden floor, slowly bleeding into the gaps. After the calmness of dawn, the weather closes in again and I decided not to try and camp at the bottom of the Canyon. I get in the car and start the drive back to California.