Friday, 8 July 2011

San Diego: Top Gun, A Seal And The Gaslamp

Sunday in sunny San Diego, California. The threatened continuation of storms from earier in the week has failed to materialise. It's not exactly baking hot, but it's t-shirt weather. We opt for a stroll down the harbour.

San Diego is a seaport city founded by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and was part of Mexico until 1850. It is famous for it's U.S. Navy association and it is here that you can see the oldest active ship in the world, the Star Of India which is thought to have circumnavigated the planet no less than 21 times. That's like from where you are now to Barrow-In-Furness.

Which putrid geekery leads us to the San Diego Maritime Museum, and the possibility of taking a tour by sea. We find the tour salespeople every bit as pushy as those in Los Angeles, but these people are fortunate enough to be armed with accessible tours that might actually be of some use to us. Within minutes we have agreed to buy tickets for the SEAL, a large bus which at certain times of the day is convinced it is a boat and has the bollocks to prove it.

First though it was on to the Kansas City BBQ, an otherwise little known bar which is notable only for the fact that it was the setting for scenes filmed for Top Gun. Legend has it that director Tony Scott was absent mindedly cruising around San Diego looking for possible filming locations for the 1986 Tom Cruise cheese-fest, when he happened upon this unremarkable establishment and asked if they would be interested in closing down for a couple of days to allow filming. Disappointingly, this is not the bar in which they filmed Cruise's much mocked and painful rendition of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling', but some other schmalzy nonsense which Emma did explain to me when I was not really listening. She lost me at 'hello'. No wait, I'm butchering some other Tom Cruise film there.

Regardless, Emma is under strict instructions from her Dad not only to visit this bar but to pick up the obligatory souvenirs. As we enter I'm disappointed to note that it is not really a bar as such, but more of a cafe. I suppose the name Kansas City BBQ implies as much, but then I was prepared to believe that if it wasn't in Kansas City then there was every chance that it wouldn't just be a place where you could buy barbecued chicken. I was wrong. Neither of us are hungry and so we sit at an outside table and just order drinks. The server looks at us as if we have just ordered two plates of boiled dog, but wanders off to get the drinks anyway. I wait at the table while Emma goes inside for the goods.

Before she even sits back down I can tell the mission has not been altogether successful. It's one of the things about being with someone for so long, I suppose. You can just tell. Well before she has opened her mouth I know that this place has failed to meet expectations. There are no fridge magnets. Imagine. There are t-shirts, caps and all manner of other junk, but no fridge magnets. Emma's dad used to collect fridge magnets as I recall but I think he must have stopped because she doesn't dwell on it as much as I had expected. Perhaps she can still surprise me now and again.

She hasn't taken any photos either. The juke box is not one of the old fashioned ones like you see in the film, but a much more modern, digitised piece of kit. As such it is just like any other juke box in Western civilisation and unworthy of photographic posterity. The words 'damp' and 'squib' are springing to mind, although since I have never liked Top Gun anyway my fall is somewhat softer. All that need for speed puke is just puerlile macho posturing to my mind. In terms of quality, you could squeeze what Will Self would call an anorexic cigarette paper between Top Gun and something like........Days Of Thunder. Cruise has much to answer for. I attempt to use the toilet and am met with doorways the width of Maria Sharapova's tricep. The bemused server from earlier seems to notice this and is suddenly taken by guilt. She refuses to take any money for the drinks, and we leave with only a short, token argument on the matter.

It's time to get on board the SEAL. It's big, painted blue and designed vaguely in the shape of a seal. Yet that's not why it is called the SEAL. It's called the SEAL because it travels over SEA and Land. Or should that be SEa And Land? Either way, you get the idea. It's another miracle in the field of wheelchair access as the 'captain' and his 'first mate' lug this enormous, allegedly portable lift over to the port-side of the vehicle. See, it's called the port-side. It must be a boat. The enormous lift uses a pulley system, and is operated by the captain winding a handle like an ancient grammaphone. Some days later we get to the seating area and I bail out of my wheelchair. There's something not quite right about sitting in my wheelchair while travelling at sea. I don't know what, but I don't like it. As you know, I'm not normal.

The first mate is called Tyler. And Tyler can talk for America. He's like Robin Williams on amphetamines. From the moment the other passengers board (some time after me as it happens, reminding me of a Virgin Atlantic flight) to the moment we disembark some two hours later his mouth is moving at a rate of......well.....knots frankly. He's often amusing and entertaining, but Emma doesn't like him because he picks on her at one point. He makes a gag and she laughs, and he proceeds to announce that from that point onward every time he makes a bad joke it is Emma's fault for laughing at the first one. I should have predicted this. She laughs at all of my bad jokes. It is probably the principle reason why we are both here today. I can't think of another reason that she would choose this madness. There really is no accounting for tastes.

Anyway, Tyler is offering everyone a blanket now. San Diego is a fairly breezy place and it's only going to get worse when we get out to sea. He even reminds us to keep all valued possessions inside the window-less vehicle, lest we risk seeing them blow down the coast to Los Angeles. I resolve that no part of my being, be it attached to me physically or sentimentally, is going anywhere near Los Angeles ever again. I keep my valued posessions inside the window-less vehicle.

The on-land part of the tour is mostly accompanied by a deluge of information about San Diego's association with the U.S. Navy. Some of it interesting, some of it not. Tyler tells a story about dolphins being used to detect and violently embarrass rogue swimmers in restricted areas which Emma's brother, a member of our own Royal Navy, later tells her is a myth. True or not, it's entertaining. At sea we cruise around an area occupied exclusively by sea lions. Some of these are sleeping, but others are flapping around and yelping a little, and the very adventurous among them are swimming alongside the SEAL. Tyler informs us that we might see dolphins in the area too, presuming they are not busy capturing rogue swimmers. Emma sees a dorsal fin but I'm distracted and miss it. Never mind, I saw lots of dolphins in Salou two years ago and my main memory of that is of 75% of the passengers throwing up over their complimentary sandwiches.

The blankets are coming in handy now as we take a left and Tyler points out the coast of Mexico. I'm rubbish at geography for which I make no excuses, but I always thought it was further south than San Diego. It is not. From where we are it's just a lump of land, even less iconic than staring at the white cliffs of Dover if you have ever been on a ferry back to England from France, but the thought of being so close to it is somehow exotic. It's more interesting than say..........Old Swan.......which I could very easily be travelling through were I not out here. Instead I am in the middle of the Pacific Ocean looking at Sea Lions and Mexico, and being told that no building in San Diego can be taller than 500 feet because of the close proximity to the airport. For the geeks, the Manchester Hyatt hotel is the tallest building in the city at 495 feet. A passenger airliner swoops in just above it moments later, one of a continuous stream jetting into San Diego International.

Later, we catch the tram to the Gaslamp area, San Diego's main hive of social activity. We partake in a few beverages in bars which, as is the norm in the States, persist in the ritual of displaying large screens showing baseball games. Frighteningly I'm developing an interest so we move on to another large-screened, baseball-showing bar. We think about having food in one such place, but are disturbed by a man interrupting our conversation to inform us that the bar over the road used to be a brothel. Correction, a gambling hall (winks). What's more it was a 'gambling hall' owned by Wyatt Earp. Yee-frigging-hah!

Eventually we get hungry enough so that Emma orders a pretzel. It's a sparsely populated bar and it seems like the catering staff are intent on off-loading all of their stock to us. This is the biggest bloody pretzel I have ever seen in my life. Far bigger than anything which might have choked Dubya. I feel compelled to make an effort at sharing but I don't get very far. Pretzels really aren't my thing any more than they are Dubya's, so I just nibble on a few chips and Emma has the offending product bagged up for later.

We move on to an Irish bar where a couple of lads are playing live music in the corner. Again there are not many people in this Sunday night, but the duo are pressing on gamely, offering us their best shot at reprising something by Green Day.

"Hi guys...." the singer shouts over, hopefully;

"What would you guys like us to play for you tonight?"

"Do you know any Take That?" I ask, in the manner of Brian Potter asking one of the Phoenix's prospective live acts if they can dance. He doesn't. He's not booked. We go through a whole range of distinctly British and Irish bands, the only one of which he can bring to mind is The Script (Emma's choice). He's heard of them, but he doesn't play anything by them. He continues on his Green Day theme, and it is enjoyable for a while but one obscure Avril Lavigne tune later the pair are at the bar taking a break. We leave.

We are informed that we have missed the last tram back to Little Italy, although on the walk back I am almost certain that I see one still in service. We stroll back, bladdered but somehow satisfied with what we have seen from San Diego. The morning brings another three-hour trip, this time to Palm Desert for an overnight stay before we head back to Las Vegas for the finale.

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