Sunday, 26 June 2011

LA To San Diego: Travel Chaos

It's early Friday morning and, thoroughly sick of Los Angeles as we are, we decide to take another stroll down the pier at Venice Beach. We're booked into a hotel in San Diego for the next three nights (we think) but they won't allow us to check in until mid afternoon. It's about a two-hour drive so we have time to kill.

It's all very pleasant but, having walked so far over the last three days we are starting to feel the pinch a little. By late morning the expected searingly hot weather has finally arrived and we just want to get back to the hotel so that we can be on our way. We won't miss Los Angeles. We choose a short bus ride over a long-ish walk back to Hotel Marina Del Rey.

We should have known it wasn't such a good decision when we found ourselves waiting at the bus stop longer than we expected. The minimalist bus timetable information had led us to believe that a bus would turn up within a few minutes but it's more like 15, and feels like more. The bus finally arrives. At this point I suppose I should give credit where it is due. Unlike the LA tour bus, the city's public buses all have excellent wheelchair access facilities. The steps to the entrance flatten out and a ramp flips out on to the pavement outside. On most occasions the drivers make everyone at the bus stop wait until the wheelchair user has got on board. It's all a bit red-carpet, except you don't get to punch any photographers.

"Best transportation system in the United States of America." says a man as I move into position on the bus. He emphasises the 'U' in 'United' as if to highlight the enormity of such a statement. Americans are notoriuosly insular. If it's the best transportation system in the United States then it's the best transportation system in the known universe. He should have been on that bus yesterday, I think but don't say. Instead I just agree. After all, I have spent far too many nights at Queen Square having to let every 10A in sight leave without me to offer him any serious argument.

The bus pulls into the next stop. I'm truly dumbfounded by what happens next. The driver gets up from his seat and announces that it's his break-time and that this bus will not be leaving the stop for 20 minutes. He offers us the opportunity to wait on the bus but tells everyone else that they must get off. This is less like preferential treatment and more like the driver not being arsed to flip out the ramp. I feel like punching a photographer;

"Your transportation system isn't looking too good now." I say to the man who had earlier been so proud of his nation's achievements in this field. I'm getting a little tetchy by now and start to vent my splenetic juices at the driver;

"Don't you think you should have told us about this when we got on at the last stop?" I enquire, not unreasonably. He shrugs, prepared to commit to nothing other than the fact that this bus will not be leaving this stop for another 20 minutes. Well, it might be about 18 by the time we have finished arguing (unless he's adding it on. This is after all his break). We get off the bus and start back towards the hotel. We turn right and a minute later find a hotel that we recognise. It's not ours but at least we know where we are. We have cut off precisely one corner on our journey and it has taken us around half an hour to do so.

Worse was to come. We're half an hour into the journey from Hotel Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles to the Pacific Inn in San Diego when I feel the car slow down a little. I find this a little strange. Emma's a cautious driver but there isn't too much traffic around us and I can think of no real reason for her to have taken her foot off the gas so dramatically;

Hyper-ventilating ever so slightly, she offers me the following information;

"There's something wrong with the car."

I pretend I didn't hear;

"It's losing power, there's something wrong with it. Shit."

By now the car has slowed down to a crawl but she somehow just about manages to get us off the freeway and on to the hard shoulder. I'm not a mechanic. My interest in cars is something akin to my interest in water polo. Top Gear might be one of the most popular programmes on television but to me it is the most indescribable drivel. Despite all this, at this moment a million gazillion possible reasons for our current predicament flash across my mind. I try the simplest of these first;

"Have we run out of petrol?"

We had.

Emma's borderline hysterical by now and it is easy to see why. We're stuck on the hard shoulder of a strange freeway somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. She hates this holiday, she wants to go home and frankly, she's fucking terrified. Those of you familiar with the Los Angeles hotel fiasco of only a few days previous will know that we have no way of telephoning anyone. It begins to feel like an episode of Criminal Minds or some such crime drama. We're the hapless victims who break down and are helped out by a good samaritan who then proceeds to brutally torture and murder us with a set of steak knives. We're in a fair amount of strife.

A few minutes of genuine panic pass. When I'm not panicking, I'm trying to convince Emma that we won't end up on the news. Finally I sugggest calling 911. Surely we can get through to the emergency services, even if our telephones steadfastly refuse to connect elsewhere? My phone battery is dead, but Emma's has just enough of a smidgeon to make a last ditch attempt to get us out of this mess. I dial 911, trying not to think about appearing in one of those articles you read about frivolous emergency calls;

"Good afternoon, what is your emergency?"

I've never felt so relieved in all my life, but I'm mindful that the battery is still very low;

"I'm really sorry about this but I'm a tourist from England and I don't have a phone that can call anyone else. I'm a disabled person and I've run out of petrol on the freeway."

It's shameless, but I did just play the disabled card. I wanted to make it clear that I couldn't just get out of the car and walk on to the next roadside call box, but I also wanted him to feel sorry for me. I can't remember wanting anyone to feel sorry for me about my disability before. I can do that myself.

"Ok, don't worry sir, where are you now?"

Luckily there is a roadsign just to the left of us which tells us that we are one mile from Stoudemire heading west on the San Diego freeway. I relay this information;

"OK sir, I'll get someone to come out and assist you. He'll give you a gallon of gas just to get you off of the freeway."

I love this man. I ask how long it will be and he doesn't know, but to be honest I don't care. Provided we can avoid having someone career off the freeway and into the back of the car we are not going to end up on the news. Brilliantly, within about three minutes of the end of the call a white recovery van pulls over in front of us. A man gets out with a petrol can, and saves our bacon. I love him too.

He directs us off the freeway and on to the nearest petrol station. During the inquest in to how this happened it transpires that a) We just totally forgot and b) There is no petrol warning light on the car we have hired. We fill up and head back to the freeway and manage to get through the rest of the journey without major incident.

The Pacific Inn is in a splendid location very close to the downtown centre of San Diego. It's modest but comfortable, and following the earlier drama I'm even prepared to forget the fact that I can't get my chair into the bathroom. I'll have to just bail out. I've faced worse odds today. We get a quick change and take the tram out to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team. They're taking on the Seattle Mariners. They lose 4-1 and are pretty dismal, truth be told.

But it just feels good to be out of LA, in San Diego, and in one piece.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

LA Bus Story

So we're at a bus stop somewhere in downtown LA. We're very pleased with ourselves because we have been spared the laborious walk back to Union Station. Even the lengthening queue in front of us is preferable to that turgid fate.

We need to get on the 437 to Marina Del Rey, otherwise known as the commuter. And for good reason. The people in the queue all look as though they have done a dull day's work in some city office somewhere. This is not tourist LA. It's suits and brief cases rather than shorts and flip-flops. Good. I can't fucking stand flip-flops and would like to use these pages to lobby for their criminalisation. I mean, who wants to look at other people's feet? My holiday experience would be greatly enhanced were people forced instead to wear wellingtons at all times. Honestly, the scrotum is less offensive.

So we board the bus. I take out my wallet to offer the driver the $4 it requires to get the two of us back to the resort. He smiles at me and waves a dismissive hand as if to say 'no, no, this one's on me.' Embarrassing as this is, I am quite used to this kind of gesture. I remember as a child being given £1 by a stranger in McDonalds who told me to buy myself a burger. I was mortified but my friends thought it was a great bonus. I can't remember which one of them ate the burger. It's ironic really. We live in a society which cannot steel itself to regard me as an equal in so many respects, yet is quite prepared to bend over backwards to offer me preferential treatment in others. Where one day you might not be able to tour Los Angeles because the drivers have all forgetten to equip their buses with planks of wood, the next you will be offered hamburgers in McDonalds or free rides back to your resort.

I return the man's smile and decide not to insist on paying him. It's so often a tedious process and they never accept in these circumstances. Eventually the situation just develops into a spectacle, so I stop my chair and put my wallet away.

"Uh uh." chirps a voice from behind me. It sounds like another wronged chat-show guest and, though I don't see it at that moment, is doubtless accompanied by much head-shaking and finger-wagging and a general air of 'you-go-girl, uh-uh'.

I look round and see a woman delivering exactly those actions, fuming at the injustice;

"How come he don't have to pay?" She demands;

"I'm sorry, uh-uh, if he don't have to pay I don't have to pay. I want my $2 back."

Sensing an international incident, I take out my wallet and offer again to pay. The driver is still standing in front of me. He has not quite made his way back to his seat after checking on my seat-belting arrangements. Again he waves a hand at me to refuse payment, turns and walks back to his seat. The woman follows him;

"Uh-uh." she uh-uhs for the umpteenth uh-uh-ing time, complete with obligatory head shake and finger wag;

"If he don't have to pay I don't have to pay. I want my $2 dollars back."

She moves to put her hand inside the container which holds the dollar bills that have been collected from previous fares. She's deadly serious about getting her money back. The driver is unmoved, refusing to open the container to allow her access to any money;

"I've offered to pay twice and I will still pay." I say, taking my wallet out for a third time;

"It's not a problem."

But it is a problem to the woman.

"It's too late now, he don't get to say who pays and who don't pay to ride on this bus. I work for the city." she adds, confusingly;

"I work for the city and I'm gon' have your job." she warns the driver, who by now is looking at her in shell-shocked wonder. To his credit, he doesn't move an inch and the woman does not seem to be in with any chance of getting her money back. A fourth attempt at paying now seems futile, and anyway by now the woman is back in her seat, on the phone to the bus company to report the incident.

She's on the phone for what must be a good 20 minutes, repeating the same old complaints about how everybody should have to pay and how the bus driver should not get to choose who pays and who doesn't. She's right of course, from a certain point of view, but it's $2 for fuck's sake! And it's $2 which I have repeatedly offered to pay. At one point I can even hear her telling whichever poor customer relations employee has been unfortunate enough to take her call that $2 is $2 because it's hard times for everyone. As if somehow the global recession has rendered her unable to afford bus fees willy-nilly. And oh, did I mention I work in the city?

Some minutes into this silliness I put my own customer relations head on and actually try to think what it must have been like for the person she was talking to. I have taken complaints from people which some might think are trivial, stupid even, but if you have to do one thing it is treat them as if their complaint means something to you and that you understand perfectly. So there was someone on the other end of that line trying to sympathise with the view that $2 matters enough to relieve a bus driver of his duties, and that it doesn't matter that the unpaid money was offered three times because it's the principle, right? Wrong, you mentalist.

When she is finished talking on the phone the journey remains tortuous. There's a deathly silence. There hasn't been an atmosphere this tense on a bus since Dennis Hopper tried to blow up Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. The woman is no doubt still fuming, but doing so silently, while Emma and I are trying to pretend that we are anywhere else but here. The discomfort of everyone is palpable until the woman gets off. I feel responsible for the whole episode. When she does get off the relief is felt by everyone. It's like the air being let out of a balloon;

"What was her problem?" someone asks, and a lady sat opposite goes on to relay the story to those who might have got on later and missed the start. She seems to think I was spared payment because I hold some sort of pass, which I don't, but my inability to convince the driver that I should pay my way has caused enough bother for one bus journey so I stay silent on the matter. There is genuine disbelief that anyone could get that wound up about $2, even in recession-hit America. When we get off the bus the driver gives me some papers;

"For what happened." he says in his broken English, and I assume that it is some sort of complaints or incident report document that he wants me to fill in on the off chance that the woman gets anywhere with her quest to take away his job. I thank him and apologise once more for the whole saga, and he smiles in a not-a-problem-it's-only-my-job sort of way, and drives on.

There's just time to eat before the end of another exhausting day in LA, but when we sit down in The Warehouse on the Marina we wait until the waiter brings us the complimentary waters to decide that we don't want to stay. We've already been informed that they'll only be open for another hour because of a private function going on in another room, and when the menu comes it is full of expensive, barely edible items that we just have no appetite for. We walk along the Marina and I run over a dead chick, which lets out an horrific squealing noise as the air is forced from it. Ten minutes later Emma gives up, saying that she doesn't want to walk around here in the dark any more. We decide to go back to the hotel to eat.

The Hotel Marina Del Rey's restaurant is nothing flash, so I stick to a burger but indulge in what we believe to be a bottle of house wine costing $29. Only it's not. Yet another waiter who can't speak English has decided that we ordered something by Franics Ford Coppolla costing $40. Emma complains and the waiter seems unmoved, but after a little more of a dispute he goes away to 'see what he can do'. Eventually he agrees to charge us $29 and we trudge out $11 better off, but with the distinct feeling that we won't be back here for breakfast in the morning.

Friday, 17 June 2011

LA Story - Part Three

Endless hours spent bussing (if I may invent such a word) around Los Angeles in search of a theatre and a pavement might put the average person off more tourism activity, but not us.

No, we're back on the road to more buses again early Thursday morning. The plan is to take a trip to downtown Los Angeles, and this time we know which bus wil take us there. Only it's a long, long way away from Marina Del Rey. Really, really long.

After negotiating the various avenues and boulevards of the area (only briefly getting lost around the marina itself) we are back on Washington Boulevard. You remember that? Site of the hotel that wasn't. ONLY four miles from Santa Monica pier. Soon we are heading towards Venice Beach, and something which finally looks like the Los Angeles that we had pictured, and that we had heard existed. There's sand, sea, people relaxing and enjoying themelves, even.

We stop for breakfast at a cafe, the name of which completely eludes me. It's a very nice place but it could probably do without it's mix of Cuban and Carribean music. And the waiter could use some help. It looks like he runs the place on his own, so it takes him a while to get around to us. When he does he serves up a fine breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon (or sausage in the shape of a burger), house fries and 'hat' tea. You must make sure you ask for 'hat' tea. Otherwise you will be presented with all sorts of herbal concotions, none of which are remotely fit for human consumption.

Just across the street from the cafe is the pier at Venice Beach. Still with plenty of time on our hands we take a wander out towards the sea. It's fairly busy for the hour of the morning and, though I hadn't really expected it, there are some eyebrow raising sights to be found. At various points along the way there are viewing areas overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Courteously, they have even managed to take a chunk out of the wall to create areas from which the view can be enjoyed from a sitting position. The wonders of modern technology, eh? You can stick your city tour bus with it's view of Arnold Schwarzenegger's illicit groping den.

The major activity at present involves surfers. Well, when I say surfers, I mean men dressed in wet suits holding on to surf boards waiting to be devoured by large waves. They are really not making that much of an effort to actually ride the waves in a standing position. Yes, I know, I'm not one to criticise, but I'm not going through with the pretense. There is one brave soul who makes a few token efforts, even managing to stay on the board despite being submerged on more than one occasion. He never really gets the hang of it, but his efforts are noble compared to one or two of the others, who merely bobble around like lost extras from Titanic.

We decide to move towards the far end of the pier, where the viewing areas are packed with fishermen. As we make our way out towards them I notice a trail of red leading along the pier. I look up and there's a man wrestling with what looks like a large fish. It's wriggling around in some distress. I take a closer look and find that it's a shark, and it appears to be the victim of what can only be described as a gutting. I don't know why, but I am genuinely surprised to find a man gutting a shark alive at the end of the pier at Venice Beach. You just don't get that at Blackpool, I suppose.

It's a grisly, awful sight. There's bloody everywhere and I feel slightly nauteous. Time to head back to shore.

Oh, one more thing before we do. We're ambling slowly back towards the street trying to erase all thoughts of shark guts when one of our wet-suit clad 'surfers' from earlier jogs along the pier in our direction. He takes a step to his right, quickens his pace and leaps off the pier into the sea. That can't be safe. That can't be legal! I'm not very good at gauging heights and distances but I can safely assure you that he fell what you might term A Bloody Long Way. Nobody but us seemed to even look up. There was hardly a splash, never mind any audible gasps from the many other onlookers. Then again why would there be? This is a place where gutting sharks is normal practise.

By contrast to shark blood and death defying surfers, the walk along Venice Beach is peaceful and idyllic. But long, very long. Where on one side there is the beautiful scenery offered by the beach, on the other there is a hive of activity as shopkeepers and street vendors try and sell you everything from tacky postcards to lingerie;

"Red underwear?" I say to Emma inquisitively, optimistically even. She may not even remember. She barely looks up, giving the Los Angeles comedy element it's chance to shine;

"No man, it's your girl who's supposed to have the lingerie." quips some ear-wigging wag passing by in the other direction. Brilliant. Richard Pryor lives.

So now we are plodding on down the cycle lane which winds around the shore, populated by the many dog-walkers and joggers speaking far too loudly into their hands-free kits. One man has even chosen this location for his morning yoga session. I'll spare you any Ryan Giggs jokes at this point. You can make your own up, I'm sure. Go on, it's easy. Yoga keeps you supple and is apparently the key to Giggs' ability to go on for so long. Titter. Eventually we are on the corner of something and something looking for something, and it is not long before the beauty of Venice Beach is replaced by more samey looking, bus-stop defficient streets.

It takes the best part of an hour to get to downtown LA by bus, and what seems like something similar to work out a sensible way back to Marina Del Rey. Emma has a telephone conversation with someone who is apparently there to help, provided you can speak Spanish and you don't need to know what time your last bus home might be. It's baffling but not surprising to note that Union Street Station in LA has information about every single bus in the Americas except the one which might be heading back to Marina Del Rey this evening. Eventually we establish that if we get back to the station for around 6.10 we should be able to catch the direct commuter back to Marina Del Rey. We had tried to get on it this morning, but the sign helpfully told us that it only runs at rush hour. Unhelpfully, it did not elaborate on exactly what hours of the day rush hour might be. We can only speculate, even now.

Soon we are back to doing what we have done best in Los Angeles, wandering around. We wander for an hour at least. A man taps me on the shoulder and hands me his business card. His business is repairing wheelchairs but what he hasn't factored in to his plan is the fact that this being me, if my chair was about to suffer any mechanical catastrophe it would do so when I am out of Los Angeles and therefore not within reasonable distance of a man who repairs wheelchairs. I'm leaving Los Angeles tomorrow but I take the card anyway. You never know, I might commit a heinous crime and if the British prisons are all full they might send me back here. For a week this time. Christ's bowels!

We move past an important looking building which resembles a courthouse. We always seem to see a courthouse or court-related building no matter where we are in the world. All of which is a shame for Emma, who you would think would be desperate to get away from such things. She photographs it nonetheless, which seems to me to be like some kind of humorous masochism. We pass through Broadway, a street in which, as the name might suggest, theatres are very much the theme. Every building looks like a theatre but most are now just various types of shops, trading in all sorts of different areas. Perhaps they all originated as theatres, and maybe one or two of them still house red carpet affairs in the film industry. It's hard to see Tom and Katie emerge from their limo, all big smiles and flashbulbs in a street like this, but then having seen Hollywood yesterday maybe it's plausible.

We make it right across to the other side of downtown LA, finally landing at the LA Grammy Museum. We had seen this in the leaflet for the tour bus and thought it might be worth a look. In the present circumstances it's appeal rises immeasurably and so, after stopping for a drink in a fish-related restaurant (how could we after the shark episode?) we pay a visit. Next door is the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball team. It's shut. You would think, being American and loud and apallingly capitalist, the Lakers would make the most of their off-season revenue opportunties by running tours of their home. This sort of thing does a roaring trade for tourists at the likes of Anfield and Old Trafford in this country, but bafflingly not in LA;

"They don't let anyone in there unless there is a game on." we are told by the waiter in the restaurant, looking at us in a genuinely bewildered 'why would they?' fashion.

If I told you that the LA Grammy Museum was four floors high you might be impressed. However, only the top floor holds particular interest. That is after you have waded your way through the entrance, met as we are by huge video wall footage of Grammy presentations of the past. There's Kelly Clarkson wailing and crying, Will Smith shouting about nothing very much and Elton John performing with celebrity homophobe comic Eminem. At last you reach the main exhibits, with large amounts of space afforded to John Lennon and Roy Orbison in particular. I had wondered about this, and learned later that the exhibits change every few months just to keep the museum looking fresh and give a different perspective.

All of which is very interesting. Orbison's story is perhaps less well documented than Lennon's, but is no less harrowing. Did you know that he lost his wife and his child within a few years of each other, and then died himself of a heart attack at just 57 years of age? Set against that backdrop, Pretty Woman doesn't seem like such a terrible crime after all. And anyway, he had nothing to do with the casting of Richard Gere or the revolting, schmalzy plot and script.

Almost every other genre of music you can think of is covered by the exhibits in the rest of the museum, provided it has made an impact on the American consciousness and therefore, comes under the radar of the Grammys. Don't go through this door if you're expecting to find anything about Robbie Williams or Oasis. When the LA Grammy Museum boasts about reflecting the glorious history of music it means music in America, bought by American people, rated by American audiences and critics. Shakira makes the cut, Bob Marley has an entire floor dedicated to him.

The long walk back to Union Station never happens. En route I notice a bus stop with the number of the commuter to Marina Del Rey written on it. It's quite the most outrageous fluke since Cliff Thorburn's opening red at the start of his 147 at the Crucible in 1983. What follows on that bus journey is equally bizarre, and is perhaps best saved for part four of what was supposed to be a trilogy.

Well, if the director of Scream can get away with it.........?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Ignoring great trowels-full of abuse and patronising looks I pressed on regardless and attended a Take That concert last night (Tuesday).

Many of my male friends could not understand nor accept this. It is just not what a man my age is supposed to be doing. I should apparently be listening to Pink Floyd or Kings Of Leon, not people who harmonise. How can I rate anyone who doesn't play their own instruments? It's so uncool.

Sitting in a wheelchair is uncool. Being bald is uncool. Being overweight is uncool. I'm uncool. Get over it. A refusal to appreciate something like Take That because it is not specifically aimed at your gender and age group is, to my mind, nothing but dullard pseudo-machoism. Besides, you can like Take That ASWELL as the things that your socialisation has pre-ordained for you. It's not a choice between Pink Floyd and Take That, between David Bowie and Robbie Williams. You can enjoy all of these things and the sky will still not fall in.

But Take That are so commercial. Christ's Arse, they are a pop act. They dance. And men really shouldn't dance. Well yes, they are commercially successful, dare I even say massively popular. This in itself is a crime some people can't forgive. These are the people who are willing to ditch their favourite bands as soon as they start to enjoy a wider appeal. Muttering 'sell out' darkly under their breaths, they forfeit their passions because the rest of the population has caught up. Months earlier, the cool people had been scoffing at the failure of the majority to 'get' the music. It's hard to placate these people.

Fortunately I am quite easy to placate, and this spectacular extravaganza at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium did the job expertly. What was not to like? Opening with a rousing rendition of 'Rule The World', Take That rattled through their now extensive and impressive repertoire with not inconsiderable brilliance. Performing Robbie-less for the first few numbers was a shrewd move, a deserved nod to what they have achieved in his absence. When he finally arrived for a breathtaking solo set, Williams was every bit the showman he has always been. In terms of live pop music, there can't be much better than witnessing his performances of 'Come Undone' and 'Angels' in particular. These tunes are the soundtrack to the lives of a generation of people. For every thirty-something bloke sitting in his black-walled room ranting about Williams' populism and the demise of The Smiths, surely there is one who can do nothing but sit back and admire Williams' achievements. He's pure entertainment. Pure Box Office. The lad is rock and indeed roll. I should very much like to be him when I grow up.

There were some low points that the show could have done without, but at over two hours in length it is difficult to provide total consistency. Rudebox should have been dumped into the trash years ago, while one would think that a group of men approaching middle age would have moved on from the comic dance routine which accompanies 'Pray'. Yet these seem churlish complaints given the quality elsewhere. The atmosphere during 'Never Forget' was something that is difficult for a small-time hack such as myself to describe, for example, while failing to enjoy 'Back For Good' and 'Greatest Day' among 65,000 people requires a level of moribund grumpiness that even I can't muster.

How very uncool of me.

The Things Kids Say

Just as a little footnote to all of this, my 12-year-old nephew came round to my house to watch Saints on Sunday night. He was telling me about how his mum went to see Take That the previous night;

"I know, I'm going on Tuesday." I said;

"What?" he said, as outraged as any thirtysomething Pink Floyd fan;

"Even though they're Tories?"

I'm suitably ashamed, of course.


I'm taking a short break from telling the story of the American trip. There's something I need to say. Call it catharsis, call it therapy, call it tragic fandom bordering on hysteria. Call it what you like, I don't care cos this is my fucking blog.

Besides, this won't take long.

In the news today is the story of two sub-human little runt-bags who have been arrested in connection with a plot to kidnap and murder Joss Stone. Now, I realise that most of you don't share my unhealthy obsession with Ms Stone but as I said I don't really care because this is my fucking blog. The point here is, why would anyone want to kidnap and murder her? Or any harmless, innocent 24-year-old? I can just about fathom in the darkest recesses of my mind why people might not like Joss, and even why someone might think she is a prime target for a robbery. After all, she is worth around £10million. Doubtless there are plenty of valuables at her Devon country home worth nicking. But kidnap? Murder?

It is reported that police found swords, rope and a body bag when they arrested the festering scumbag pair just outside the house on Monday morning. Honestly, if this sort of thing turned up on a crime drama on frigging Universal you would think it too far fetched and switch over to The Only Way Is Essex. Yet to think it actually happened, and that the target was someone so inoffensive just beggars belief. Just to re-iterate, Joss Stone is an angel, and one of the greatest English singing talents in a generation. If this plot had been successful well then I for one would have had one less pleasure in the world. Oh shush now, I'm talking about the music. The absence of which would only leave lager, and all bets are off after that eighth bottle of Bud. Actually, it's more like five these days.

Thankfully, Stone was not at her home at the time of this filthy, borederline treasonable incident. She has issued a statement to let freaks like me know that she is fine and getting on with life as normal. But for how long? Her unpopularity, while baffling to me, could well attract the attention of other sickos with similarly disturbing intentions. The authorities should now do what they can to lower the probability of this by hanging these two excuses for human beings at the first available opportunity.

There, I feel slightly better now. Did I tell you I have been to America? Oh, and to see Take That too.........

Friday, 10 June 2011

LA Story - Part Two

If you had asked us when we planned this trip what we thought we might be doing on our first full day in Los Angeles, moving hotels might not have been high on the list of possiblities.

Yet that is exactly what we find ourselves doing at just gone 8.00am following the farcical episode yesterday afternoon. Over breakfast at Fawlty Towers we read in the paper that it is absolutely bitching down in San Diego. We are due to arrive there on Friday. It is now Wednesday.

Shortly after a pointless grapple with a waffle-making machine, we are packing up the car and moving on. We had booked in to Hotel Marina Del Rey the previous night when we got back from the baseball. Memories of sleepless nights worrying about how to get home from Berlin were all too fresh to leave it to chance until the morning.

It's only a short journey to Hotel Marina Del Rey and so soon after 9.00 we are at the reception (having made it along the seemingly endless driveway) and keen to start again. It's almost like our first, farcical moments in LA never happnened and we are filled with optimism again. Even the further delay of THREE failed attempts by the hotel staff to give us the correct key for the disabled access room do not dampen our spirits. There would be plenty to do that later.

Foolishly, we take a taxi down to Santa Monica pier, the departure point of the Los Angeles city tour bus. It costs $20, which surprises us given that our friend Jesson had claimed yesterday that Santa Monica pier is only four miles from Washington Boulevard. Maybe Los Angeles cabs are expensive, I don't know. It's the first and last one we use during our stay. Once, in Tenerife, we had no choice but to go everywhere by taxi which cost us hundreds of Euros by the end of the week. Somehow, and wrongly as it turned out, we expected better from Los Angeles.

I don't want to go on about money, but it is $100 for two tickets for the Los Angeles tour bus. Admittedly this includes unlimited use of the bus for two full days. They call it hop-on, hop-off access, but forget to mention that if you find hopping a physical challenge, you're screwed. After paying the money at the kiosk to two very pleasant but staggeringly ill-informed ladies we make our way through the maze of lifts and ramps and doorways to the bus stop, only to find that the bus pulling in is not accessible. Of course.

Not only that, but NONE of the Los Angeles tour buses are accessible. A specatucularly frustrating and pointless conversation ensues, embarrassing for the driver and utterly futile for all concerned. It transpires that all of these buses should have an on-board ramp. This one does not. Even if it did, the fact that the others do not would entirely defeat the object in any case. Hopping off an accessible bus is an enormously bad idea when you are then going to be unable to hop back on any subsequent buses. It's a two-hour wait before the one that you hopped off reaches you again.

As I feel the weight of your (Yes YOUR, able-bodied scum) society conspiring all of it's efforts against me I am dealt another killer blow. A woman rolls up alongside me in a rather more cumbersome, cheap wheelchair. Brian Potter would baulk at this piece of kit. She stands up and WALKS on to the bus! No access on the bus? No problem, just walk on, what's the matter with you?

Able-bodied scum.

Beaten all but into submission by this, we trudge back to the ticket kiosk to cause seven kinds of blue murder. Only the pleasant ladies are all apologies and we didn't knows, and can't return our money fast enough. It's genuinely hard to be angry with them, able-bodied scum though they are. They advise us that it is pretty easy to get around the city on public buses which are, they are certain, accessible to everyone. They scurry around scribbling on maps, circling points of interest and being apallingly nice. They are as helpful as they can be under the circumstances and, devoid of any choice in the matter, we embark on the epic quest for public bus access to Los Angeles' main tourist attractions.

While trying to figure out the best route (frankly, the pleasant ladies just confuse us), we drop for a drink in a small cafe near to the bus information centre. It is here that we meet possibly the rudest person in America;

"I'll be right with you." barks the lady behind the counter, not even looking at me, nor doing me the honour of allowing me to actually ask for something first. This dismissal is accompanied by a wave of the hand normally reserved for guests on the Ricki Lake Show who don't think you have a very valid point of view. She wanders off. Somewhere in the distance behind her, she might hear me ordering a couple of drinks.

Later, as we are about to leave Emma attempts to glean some information about bus routes from her. It's the mistake we should have expected it to be;

"Oh, don't talk to me about buses. I don't take the bus, I don't know anything about buses."

All of this is delivered as if we have asked her for advice on how best to strangle a kitten. She's clearly affronted by our insolence. We leave.

The plus side of being lost in Santa Monica looking for the right bus stop is that you get to walk around what is actually quite an attractive little city. If we hadn't spent our whole time there trying to get to somewhere else perhaps we could have enjoyed it's beautiful coastal scenery and it's vibrant city atmosphere. I'm more than certain now that we should have just stayed there and got blasted on vodka. Unfortunately, we were trying to get to Hollywood, which if we had listened to Michael Buble in the first place we would have known was a mistake.

Hollywood is indeed dead.

It's lunchtime and we are back at a bus information centre, trying to find out about the RED bus that will take us to North Hollywood. Everything we have seen so far has been related to the BLUE bus which will take us to downton LA. One day. Maybe. At one of the desks there is a man talking very loudly. He's a real slice of America, mulleted, moustache, hat that is pure country;

"What do you mean I can't have my cane?" he screams at the unfortunate person behind the glass;

"You have to show us your ID, sir."

"I ain't got no ID, I told y'all, I lost my ID. And my phone, and my god-damn cane! God damn it."

Or something.

He begins to mutter obsceneties under his breath as the receptionist goes to consult with someone. In the meantime I can hear him on his mobile phone trying to convince someone that they should pay for the privelege of listening to him play his guitar, which until that moment I hadn't noticed him carrying;

"Well sure, we're loud but when they hear us play they're gonna know how awesome we are!" he boasts, genuinely convinced of his own musical genius. We forget about him until a while later when, as we wait for the second of two buses we have to take to reach North Hollywood, he's busking to pass the time.

Earlier, and to a chorus in my head of Hallelujahs, we had found THE RIGHT BUS STOP. It was opposite a Hooters bar, though I resisted the temptation to delay us further. There'll be one in LA, Emma assured me. If there is, I thought, I hope it differs from this one in that it does not have a man sat outside it talking to himself. He appeared to be entranced, spouting some kind of religious drivel about what we're all doing wrong in the world. A little further up the road there sat a man who looked like a friend of mine. It obviously wasn't him, but if you had told me that after pushing around Santa Monica for two hours I would end up back in Thatto Heath I wouldn't have been that surprised. Things were going that way.

Finally we are on the second bus, crazy guitar man on board also. Though not for long. He takes an age to get on to the bus, staggering around on his one good leg (I had been wondering about the need for a cane), while trying to carry his guitar and said cane. At some point someone in the queue behind him lays his hands on the cane. Cue another bout of neurosis;

"Where's my cane? Who's got my god-damn cane?" he demands, all of a fluster. It's passed back to him. The joke's over, and people just want to get this bloody bus moving again. Especially us. We've been travelling for days, it seems. Guitar man is still muttering as he fumbles around for something approaching currency with which to pay for his bus ride. The bus is very busy, so he's perched awkwardly at the front, arms, legs, canes and guitars everywhere.

No more than a couple of blocks down the road, he's gone again;

"Stop the bus, stop the bus." he shouts, still stumbling around trying to keep hold of his many posessions;

"I wanna get off this bus, you're driving it like it's a god-damn go-kart!" he tells the driver.

As soon as she can, she stops and lets him off. There's a final showing of his stumbling idiot routine before he then announces that he has lost his phone. Presumably the phone he was using to try and book a gig for his band earlier. So, not only has he lost his cane, his ID and his dignity today, but also his phone. The last I see of him he is on the opposite side of the road as the bus pulls away, still muttering to himself. He's kicking a nearby wall and patting the back of his jeans in a frantic bid to find the phone. You get the feeling that there might not be a gig tonight after all. At least he still has the guitar.

Towards the end of this tortuous ride I catch the merest glimpse of the famous Hollywood letters. It is only a glimpse, but it at least let's us know that we have arrived somewhere close to where we need to be. When we finally get off the bus opposite the Chinese Theatre, we are immediately accosted by a man trying desperately to get us on to another tour bus. If only he knew.... This one took in all of the Hollywood homes, but if you are trying to sell me a product you are barking up the wrong tree (or even on the wrong bus) in offering me the words Arnold and Schwarzenegger. Besides there is no time. We have wasted an awful lot of time not knowing where we are, and we need to see the theatre, and the walk of fame, before figuring out how to actually get back to Marina Del Rey before September.

Staggeringly, while we are busily trying to snoop around the theatre reading all of the messages from all of the famous names outside we are again hassled by someone trying to sell us the original bus tour. You know the one? The inaccessible one from the beginning of this story? She insists it's accessible, consulting all sorts of people associated with the company until eventually we have a laughable conversation with one particular agent. He can't understand why we don't want to pay $50 each for a hurriedly arranged, whistle-stop tour with no prospect of any hop-on, hop-off. Like a night out in the Springy.

I have my photograph taken with a man dressed as Darth Vader. Why? I hate having my photograph taken but the awful truth is that I do have a strange obsession with all things Star Wars and in particular Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker. It's just the greatest story ever told, and the only piece of science fiction that I don't regard as utter camel faeces. The exception that proves the rule, if you like. I pay him $5 for the privelege and he's genuinely surprised and grateful. If everyone paid him $5 he could go home before tea-time. I wouldn't advise him to take the bus, though.

There's a Hollywood-themed store across the street which, just because the other attractions have failed to capture my imagination, I spend a significant amount of time in. Yet all I'm doing is looking at movie stills. Rocky, Star Wars, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, The Godfather, Goodfellas, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, Scarface, Chinatown, Nightmare on Elm Street, Gone With The Wind, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. I don't buy anything, not even a tacky t-shirt or another mug for my absurd collection of unused mugs. Frankly I'm tired of Hollywood, let down by LA, and bewildered at the prospect of having to get the bus back to Marina Del Rey. Buses, I should say. Plural. This feeling is not helped by the fact that we then miss the last guided walk on the history of the chinese theatre by a matter of minutes.

We can't even go for a drink in Hooters. Well we could have, but so crushed was our collective spirit by then that I declined to make the effort. As Emma had predicted there was a Hooters bar on the very same street as the chinese theatre and the walk of fame. Unfortunately there was a couple of steps leading up to the main bar area. There was a lift, one of those awkward-looking white things that travel at slug-speed and are at best, erratic. The truth is I just couldn't be arsed. Who needs large-breasted women in tight tops when you've had your picture taken with Darth Vader? Right.

Instead of Hooters it's Hard Rock Cafe, but it still isn't straightforward. The only tables low enough for me to sit at are in the restaurant area. We're not having food. We'd already eaten between bus stops at a Jack-In-The-Box complete with toilets unlocked by the serving staff using an electronic switch. It takes more negotiation than should be necessary to convince the bar staff at Hard Rock to let us sit in the restaurant with just our drinks. Ironically, this is arranged through a girl at the bar who is barely an inch taller than me, and would probably struggle herself with the high chairs and tables which dominate the bar area.

We sit down with our multitude of maps and leaflets and plan a visit to Downtown LA for the next day. Even then we are questioned by more bar staff as to why we are using the lower seating in the restaurant if we are not going to have so much as a single french fry. Two beers and a well-earned rest later, we are back on the bus. We pass the bus stop where we had got on the bus earlier (we'd found a different route back, somehow) and there is a man sat there in an armchair. We presume him to be homeless. A large number of people in Los Angeles are, or at least purport to be. You can see them at various points half-heartedly begging for change, otherwise engrossed in a novel or strumming a guitar. Not all of them are lucky enough to have armchairs. At our last stop we wait patiently on a main road while buses marked 'Inglewood' pass by, and locals direct us towards Venice where they think the tourists should be. It's just possible that we are out of our depth here.

It feels like we've been lost all day.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

LA Story

It's taken an unreasonable amount of time to check out of Circus Circus thanks to it's complex geography, but finally we are in the lift with our suitcases heading towards our next destination. An older couple make small talk with us while we travel down the 13 floors;

"So, you guys heading back home now?" says the lady, having sharply spotted our luggage;

"No, we're going on to Los Angeles for a few days." I say.

She looks at me like I've just deffacated on her expensive rug. Seemingly in shock, she turns to look to Emma, mouth still open, quizically awaiting an explanation.

'Did it just talk?' you can hear her thinking;

"Oh, no we are going to Los Angeles." confirms Emma on my behalf. The woman understands, and her expression changes to one of possibly overhwelming relief;

"Oh great...." she says, her rug apparently rescued;

"Well, y'all have a great time now......."

It's 284 miles from Las Vegas in Nevada to Los Angeles in California. This is roughly around the same distance between London and Newcastle. At the very least it is a four hour drive, nearer to four and a half.

Of course, we knew this before we planned this trip so we're prepared for a long journey. Still, it's funny how 284 miles doesn't feel like such a long distance until you are actually trying to cover it. I suppose because America is so vast compared to the UK you imagine it might be impossible to travel between cities in different states without leaving the ground. When you find out that it is actually just about within the boundaries of reasonable driving distance you feel inspired to do it. Tben you try and do it.

Almost five hours have passed by the time we reach the street that our hotel is supposed to be on. Except it's not there. We're booked into a Holiday Inn for the next three nights. We've used them because Emma has family who work within the company and we got a little money off thanks to some 'friends and family' tarrif that they offer. Yet without going into figures, it is still expensive. Certainly expensive enough to expect the hotel to be where it is supposed to be.

It's supposed to be on Washington Boulevard. The thing is, we're on Washington Boulevard and unless Holiday Inn have downsized dramatically in the last few months it is not here with us. The satellite navigation insists that we have arrived at our destination, but all we can see is grubby bars and bashed in buildings in what looks frankly like a bit of a run down area. Eventually we find semi-civilisation at a burger bar on the corner of the street and decide to go in and ask about the possible whereabouts of the Holiday Inn.

We've already tried to phone them, but Emma's attempts to make her phone usable in the States appear to have failed. Predictably I am far too irresponsible to have even made any attempt to prepare any lines of communication. I'm on holiday. I don't necessarily want to be contacted. Not by you, at any rate. Surprisingly there is no real debate between the two of us about how we arrived in this situation. I'm more than prepared to believe that Emma's phone providers are too useless to have set up communication for her, and one operational phone should, probably would have been enough. There was no need for me to have my phone available. Until now.

A few minutes after entering Emma returns from the burger bar none the wiser. The people there have never heard of any Holiday Inn on Washington Boulevard. They don't speak very good English anyway. Of course they don't. This is a major world city and everybody knows that nobody who lives in a major world city is actually from the same country, much less that city. I remember driving around Edinburgh many years ago with my best mate Paul looking for a place called Niddrie. We were supposed to be playing a basketball game up there but every time we stopped to ask for directions we were met with unhelpful replies in verying degrees of broken English by Norwegians, Danes and of course, the bloody drunken Irish. Sadly, Paul is no longer with us but one of the first questions I might ask him when I eventually get to see him might be whether or not he ever found Niddrie. I bet he didn't.

And we never found Holiday Inn. Having found the burger bar civilised on the outside but useless on the inside we stop at a building further down the road to ask again. We are told that the only hotel on that road is the small white building a few doors down, but that it is no longer a Holiday Inn. The implication seems to be that it had once been a Holiday Inn, so we explore. We have very little to lose at this point other than what is left of our collective marbles.

There are two men outside the building, and it looks as though they are carrying out some kind of refurbishment on the premises. They're not American (of course), but they know enough English to tell us that this is not a Holiday Inn but that it is a hotel and it is open. Confused and staggeringly underwhelmed, Emma runs in to ask the manager what is going on. It transpires that this used to be the Holiday Inn, but that it is now just the plain old Inn at Marina Del Rey. It's small, miles from anywhere that you could picture in your mind if I gave you the phrase 'Venice Beach', and what is more it is, as we suspected, undergoing some sort of renovation. The pool is out of use as a result of this and there is no bar or restaurant.

Emma passed the signpost marked 'The End Of Her Tether' some time ago, and it soon becomes clear that we will be moving again. Understandably she is very upset at this shambolic performance, and even more so with the fact that nobody from either Holiday Inn or the company who now run the hotel have deemed it right and proper to let us know about the change of ownership and the refurbishments. We're heading for some sort of consumer rights television show with Nick Knowles or some such pleb, except at the moment it's not very funny. The manager (ably assisted by his patronising asisstant Jesson. Jesson? Come on.....) is refusing to reduce the rate or to offer any satisfactory explanations about the breakdown in communications that has led us here. Emma's becoming more upset and it's all getting a bit depressing.

She rings Holiday Inn customer services, and is put on hold for 45 minutes. That's not even an exaggeration. It's time enough for me to have another conversation with both Jesson and the manager after which it becomes clear that we are going to have to stay here tonight and try to find something else on the internet in the morning. Free internet access is just about the only redeeming feature of this hotel. Eventually Emma is told by someone on the phone that it is not the reponsibility of Holiday Inn to let customers know should they decide to arbitrarily shut down their hotels. It's up to er..........somene else anyway. Jesson and his boss stick to their party line too, that it is not up to them to let us know. Finally, the manager agrees not to charge us for any cancellation fees or for either of the next two nights if we just stay one night and look for somehwere else over the internet. He recommends Hotel Marina Del Rey, more on which will doubtless follow.

For now we have a baseball game to get to. We've booked tickets to see the LA Dodgers play the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodgers Stadium. Jesson tells us it's about a 45-minute drive so we don't have a lot of time thanks to the accommodation shennanigans and the refusal of Holiday Inn Customer Services to answer their bloody phone. Yet we didn't come all this way to let bad management spoil the party, so we get a quick change and head out.

Dodgers Stadium is not in a very affluent area of Los Angeles. In fact our visit would leave us doubting that LA has any such areas. The area around the stadium is quite residential which I suppose in many ways is not dissimilar to the location of the Anfield and Goodison football grounds in Liverpool. It doesn't look like the sort of place you would want to be walking around late at night unless there's a game on. Even then Dodgers Stadium is apparently a dangerous place. A couple of days later we read in USA Today about an incident there on the opening weekend of the season in which a San Francisco Giants fan was beaten to death by a group of alleged Dodgers 'fans'. All of which is terrifying and explains the large police presence outside the ground when we left. I don't remember that level of security when we left Tropicana Field in St.Petersburg, Florida last year.

The Dodgers, like their stadium, like the city of LA so far, are awful. Luckily for them the Brewers appear to be worse and, though Emma is a closet Brewer thanks to friends and family based in Wisconsin, we enjoy most of the home side's 3-0 win. Obviously we indulge in the obligatory 'Dodger Dogs', ludicrously large cokes and pretzels, but the most important acquisition on the night are our Clayton Kershaw 'wobbly head' dolls. Clayton Kershaw is a Dodgers pitcher, and the doll is supposed to look like him. Except it's head wobbles. One assumes that Kershaw's head doesn't really wobble in this way but I can't vouch for that. The vagaries of the MLB clubs' squad rotation systems mean that he doesn't play tonight, though the Brewers do have a pitcher by the name of Randy Wolf. Superb.

Perhaps Kershaw was at Holiday Inn all along.