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.

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