More Woo-Woo than you

Posted 21 September, 2008 by graham in usa

Reincarnation, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

Southern California was always going to be a little ‘alternative’, spiritual, or as I like to put it, ‘woo-woo’.

Americans are significantly more religious than Europeans, in a spectrum of religions ranging from varieties as dull as the Church of England, all the way to snake handling Pentecostalists. And that’s the official established religions.

Here in Santa Monica the official religion is Yoga, and ‘energy’ and ‘karma’ are common conversational terms.

I expected it, I like it, and it wouldn’t be Southern California without it. But, inevitably, some people always have to out woo-woo everyone else, and I think I found them. This is a flyer placed on all the cars on our street. Take a look.

I don’t think the upside-down image of John Adams (past and present) is intentional.

Yes, you are reading it right, it’s a conference on reincarnation, featuring speeches by a reincarnated Anne Frank and Michelango, music by a reincarnated Edward Grieg, and comedy by the reincarnation of Lauren and Hardy. Seriously. Those people are more woo-woo than you.

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Los Angeles survival guide – Transport

Posted 7 September, 2008 by graham in usa

Big car, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

First, you’ll need a car, and I do mean first. There are drive-through restaurants, pharmacies, and even drive through banks (ATM’s and real human tellers). If your car has tinted windows, you might not even need clothes.

In the first half of the 20st Century Los Angeles had one of the most extensive tram (called trolleys, or streetcars) networks in the world, covering over 1000 miles. Around the time of the second World War the tram companies were struggling. General Motors acquired them, ripped up the lines, widened the streets (trams typically ran down the middle of the road) and replaced them with buses. By 1963 all the trams were gone. Conspiracy or economics? Read the full story of the demise Los Angeles’ tram system – click on ‘Show transcript’.

In 1993 the first line of the new L.A. metro system opened, and Los Angeles now has good public transport, with a metro, mainline trains, and buses. The metro doesn’t go to the airport, or to the beach, but it serves the rest of Los Angeles pretty well. I expected it to be popular only with poor people and those who have had their license suspended for drunk driving. It is popular with those people, but not exclusively. No-one has told Angelinos that talking to strangers on the underground is forbidden, so it’s a surprisingly friendly place.

When I share my surprise to friends about the metro system, they usually turn to their partner and say “We should go ride that metro one Saturday, see what it’s all about. Do you want to do that? It’ll be fun”.

The Amtrak mainline train runs from San Diego on the Mexican border, up the coast through Los Angeles, and on to Santa Barbera. It is called the Pacific Surfliner, and it gets surprisingly close to the surf of the Pacific Ocean. The trains are massive two-story affairs. When I rode one there was no-one else there, insane amounts of legroom in sofa-style seats, power-plugs for your laptop, a well stocked bar and snack car, and it cost about $12 from L.A. to San Diego.

The overwhelming majority though, drive. This is partly because they can watch Oprah on their in-car TV when the traffic slows down (I’m not making this up), but mainly because it’s their God given right as Free Americans. And as you would expect, the freeways are BIGGER. I have counted 10 lanes in each direction on one freeway.

In L.A., more than anywhere I have been, your vehicle defines you. Men, and butch lesbians, drive pickup trucks, with macho names (Super Duty, Titan, etc), huge engines, and a high rated towing capacity. This is not because they have to haul or tow anything, but simply because they are men. Pickup trucks come in many sizes and price ranges, from small dusty student models, to 4-door family models.

Women have a much greater choice of car, depending on their age, marital status and political views. Students get a dusty Honda Civic, divorcés a soft-top Mercedes Roadster, liberals a Toyota Prius with an ‘Obama 08’ bumper sticker, and conservatives a luxury S.U.V.

If you get awarded a Purple Heart (a military medal) in addition to the medal itself you can get a license plate holder. Many more people see your license plate than your chest.

L.A’s great contribution to transportation are carpool lanes, more properly called High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. I’m not sure where they were first invented, but Los Angeles has certainly taken them to heart. Many highways have been converted so that the inside lane is reserved for cars with two or more people in them. In rush-hour being able to use this lane can make all the difference. A legal test case showed that being pregnant doesn’t count as having a passenger.

Hybrid cars and electric vehicles are allowed to use the lanes even if they have a single occupant. Partly because this is all a bit latte-sipping liberal, and mainly because the California government is seriously short of funds, there is pressure to turn them into toll-lanes.

A politicians choice of car is vital to their career. Arnie, the state governor, drives the butchest S.U.V. converted to bio-diesel. A real man, but environmentally sensitive. Now if he would just make another movie and donate the proceeds, California could keep it’s car-pool lanes.

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Family Portrait

Posted 3 July, 2008 by graham in usa

Family Portrait, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

Hi. How’s y’all doing? We are in fact still alive, as the photo proves. Doing really rather well actually.

This photo was taken at Jill (Janette’s Mom)’s retirement party, two weeks ago. She retired after something like 20 years as teacher and principal of a local elementary school.

Miss you all.

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Hang ten, world dudes!

Posted 22 May, 2008 by graham in Santa Monica, usa

We got the Santa Monica College course list today in the post. Page 76:

KIN PE 51A, Beginning Surfing (1 unit)
This class is designed to cover the fundamentals and technique of surfing.

KIN PE 51B, Intermediate Surfing (1 unit)
This class is designed to cover various intermediate techniques for surfing.

Note that for Intermediate Surfing you’re expected to bring your own wetsuit and surfboard. Class meets every Wednesday, 7am – 10am, in classroom code BEACH, by lifeguard tower #26.

Locals can get a grant to study this, and those units count towards your university degree. If you’re not a local, like me (and before you ask no I’m not signing up), it costs $195.
Now, if you divide the cost of the Iraq war ($1.2 trillion) by the population of the world (6.6 billion), you get $182. Assuming Santa Monica College is making a profit on the foreign student fees (which they are), then instead of the Iraq war we could have taught every human being on the planet to surf! Off the wall, Bro!

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Santa Monica

Posted 29 April, 2008 by graham in Santa Monica, usa

Santa Monica, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

We’ve moved to the beach, to Ocean Park, in Santa Monica.

As you may know, Santa Monica is the historic home of bodybuilding, skateboarding and Baywatch.
On the corner of our street is Euphoria Vegan Raw-volution, a massage studio and a yoga center. The local cafe has more tea than India, and advertises Ecstatic Ritual classes. Our landlord is an actor (a real one who actually acts). Neighbors cycle and walk (and skateboard and surf).
I love it.

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Exercising my Second Amendment right

Posted 12 February, 2008 by graham in usa

One of the great pleasures of travel is the perspective it provides.
In France children get sent home from school for wearing religious symbols, such as an Islamic headscarf. Religion is dangerous.
In England, only special units of the police are allowed firearms. Guns are dangerous.
Here in America it is illegal to import unpasteurized soft cheese. Cheese with flavor is dangerous. Guns, however are not. Oh no.

To celebrate Jeff’s birthday, we went to the San Gabriel Valley’s biggest indoor firing range, and got us some firearms. The vetting procedure is stringent – you need to bring a friend (the no-suicide rule), and you need to be over 12.
Once through that process, the fun begins. You select your gun, your target, and get shooting.

Our friends picked a Glock 9mm, a light. modern handgun popular with law enforcement. Jeff picked the Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum, the largest and most powerful gun he could legally rent, which can only be described as a six shooter version of the gun Rambo pulls off the side of a helicopter in Rambo 2. I selected a Colt .45 with a rifle conversion kit and laser scope, featured on the left.
We also selected the most human shaped targets they had (and I can’t really justify that part). On the range you hang your target from a hook, use the powered winch to send it down to the other end, and blast away.

The laser scope and rifle kit made our gun very accurate, and almost took the fun out of it. We swapped with friends, and I got to fire the .44 Magnum. WOW! Despite the warnings, nothing could of prepared me for the noise, the recoil, and the flame that briefly seems to engulf the weapon when you fire. I can see why Dirty Harry liked it.

Afterwords we went to dinner, and chatted happily about what, in the United Kingdom, would of gotten us at least five years in jail. Vive le difference!

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Merry Christmas from Pasadena

Posted 31 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Santa’s jazz band, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

We’ve just spent Christmas in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. The area we are staying is amazing – each street co-ordinates so each house on that street has the same parkway decorations. Ours are Xmas trees and presents (photo on Flickr). The local association co-ordinating it hands out awards for best overall decorations, best parkway decorations, and best religious decorations.
Christianity sits uneasily with political correctness here – officially everyone celebrates the ‘Holidays’, which includes the Jewish Hanukkah, the invented Kwanzaa, and why not the more ancient Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – but many Christians resent the atheistic-izing of what they perceive as their holiday.

Luckily, the shops don’t take sides, selling inflatable nativity scenes alongside this marvel, Santa’s Jazz Band. Each character stands about human height, the whole inflatable plays jazz music, and each festive musician lights up when his instrument is playing. Happy Holidays!

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Wine tasting in Sideways country

Posted 28 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Tre Anelli, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

With our friends Jim and Valerie we went wine tasting in early December around Los Olivos, North of Los Angeles. This is the area the film Sideways is in / about.
The wine is mostly Rhone varietals, which happens to be some of my favorite grapes.
The photo is of a very friendly bartender / wine consultant at the last wine tasting room we visited, before dinner. The wine here was much better than what I have tasted in Napa.

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Fremont street

Posted 17 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Fremont street 3, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

At the bottom of this picture is Fremont Street, Las Vegas, a pedestrianized street in downtown Vegas, where all the action used to be before the strip took over – now it’s less classy and more fun than the strip, with better odds.
Up there catching your eye is the biggest big screen on the planet, the central part of the Fremont Street Experience. Only in Vegas.

We spent one night in Vegas with fantastic friends we met on our trip in Africa – it’s great to be shown around by locals. Janette won loads of coins from a slot machine.

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A Grand Canyon and a bigger tear

Posted 16 December, 2007 by graham in usa

The Grand Canyon, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

The last stop on our South West leg was the Grand Canyon. It’s very, very Grand (in the French sense). When I first set eyes on it it took my breath away.
We hiked the 12 miles (~20 Km) round trip on the Bright Angel Trail (that took my breath away too, especially on the way back up!) to Plateau Point, near the Colorado River which carved the canyon. We passed Bighorn Sheep on the way down and Mule Deer on the way back up.
Grand Canyon National Park was sadly the last of our camping, so we made a big fire to burn all our wood, and had us a personal party involving posh s’mores and good beer.

The morning of the 2nd November 2007, 141 days, or 4 months and 19 days, after we set off from London for Uganda on the 14th of June, we packed our camping gear for the last time of our trip and drove down Route 66 to Las Vegas, feeling very lucky indeed.

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