A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

What’s My Name Again?

I should probably retain some level of anonymity online but alas, I am a big believer in the online world and its incredible skills in hacking regardless of how much info they have.

So back in the mid-eighties I was born and christened Regan. It’s not the most common name. While I like to tell people it’s after Linda Blair in The Exorcist, it was in fact after the daughter of King Lear in the Shakespearian play of the same name. Those who read the play or stayed awake for the play's entirety, mum and dad, will know Regan was actually not the noblest character in the play. She was an evil bitch.

I used to argue will the other Regan at school that it was in fact a girl’s name. I was the only 7 year old to prove myself right by referencing Shakespeare’s use of it as a name of one of his Princesses.

Eat shit boy. Boy with girl’s name.

I kept the ribbon on the King Lear page in our Complete Works of William Shakespeare in case I ever needed to prove my point again.

People have terrible trouble with my name, especially abroad.

What’s your name?







No, Regan.


Regan. R-E-G-A-N. Don’t worry.

Ronald Reagan really throws people awry. The only place I have ever been where I haven’t had to say my name 10 times, or get called Megan, or spell it out or write it down is Ireland, though the only place I can get my name on a pen or a pin or a novelty stubby holder is Ireland.

Given the difficulty of my first name I have an alter ego.

Her name is Sarah. Sarah is a fun loving, espresso drinker. Sarah is my Starbucks alias. For anyone who has visited a Starbucks you will be familiar with their shit-annoying policy of taking your first name for the order.

How about I just wait in line and assume the coffee you make when there is no one else ahead of me, is mine?
So Sarah orders for me at Starbucks. It is universally easier for me to be Sarah, the lover of a tall caramel macchiato and the owner of a simple 5 letter, phonetic and universal western name.

I used this alter ego several times through the US as sometimes, I can hear the aghast from my Melbournites, you have to visit a Starbucks. Unfortunately while America might be the land of the free and independence and liberty and justice for all, they make god awful coffee. Without a doubt the worst in the world. I don’t think anyone has the heart to tell them that for the rest of the world, filter coffee stayed in the 80s with perming your bangs. It tastes like dirty water with a bitterness to slap you across the face. It is truly terrible. You can go to a coffee shop and it still won't sell a beverage that has been in any way connected to a coffee bean.

To get an espresso, you have to have Starbucks, terrible chain store, pretty terrible coffee but at least it hasn’t been sitting in a dirty drip filter for the past decade. There is also a level of comfort in mediocrity.

You have to be in the mood to face a Starbucks. Americans love options at the best of times but Starbucks is an army of options delivered with break neck speed by a super friendly, smiley person in a green apron. I never knew there were that many types of sweetener outside of sugar and fake sugar.

"Hi, there!"

So Sarah usually places my order and has her name written on my cup and called out and perfectly pronounced.


Then I was wandering around Atlanta airport, both trying to kill time as my flight was delayed and find someone who spoke exactly like Holly Hunter I decided I would get a coffee but I was tired and bored and I faltered, lost concentration and as they said,

“and what’s your name”, *cheek to cheek smile*

“Ah Regan”, I said, immediately catching myself.

Regan doesn't make orders at Starbucks. This is Sarah’s job.

I looked at the girl who started scribbling words on my cup in case the idiot beside her forgot what she was told immediately.

She didn’t ask me to repeat my name so she got something.

I admired the array of artifical sweeteners available as they got to work making my coffee.
There was no one ahead of me so I knew they were making mine.


“Tall Caramel Macchiato for Raven” the girl chirped.

Oh shit that must be me.

Raven? That’s right. By forgetting my Starbucks alias I became the spunky pre-teen from Hangin’ with Mr Cooper.

That’s so Raven.

I tried not to laugh but on the other hand, I was happy to have acquired a more suitable name for the Deep South because Regan was never going to work down there, it certainly doesn’t have the sass that Raven does, and you’ve got to sass it.

I scooped up my caramel macchiato and shot my nicest smile to the smiling girl in front of me.

"Have a nice day y'all"

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 12:32 Archived in USA Tagged coffee starbucks names Comments (1)

Ghosts and Ghost Faced Killas in Nawlins

Halloween in New Orleans

Halloween: the only night of the year when girls can look like whores, boys can dress like girls and the gay boys can get about in their undies and angel wings.

I have always been majorly jealous of the northern hemisphere and this amazing holiday of fancy dress, witches and ghouls and candy. What is not to love?

In New Orleans, or 'Nawlins' if you haven’t a trained ear, it is yet another reason to celebrate and get crazy. For the most part Nawlins is rough as guts. The beautiful French Quarter is bursting with characters from all walks of life – tramps, drunks, hobos, artists, tourists – from the downright classy to the plain down and out. The famous Bourbon Street, once the home of jazz is now the home of neon. An outdoor club as booze is sold “tigew” or “to go” again, if you don’t have the trained ear, in plastic cups. Cocktails, daiquiris and hurricanes are the local speciality typically come in a 30 ounce novelty-shaped plastic cup with discounted refills.

Apart from its violence, its semi-dodginess if you will, New Orleans is one of the most amazing cities in America because it is wholly un-American. Coming from Vegas, to me the quintessential American city, to New Orleans a little European outpost, its difference is highly noticeable. The quarter has cute little streets and double-tiered buildings with big balcony’s and iron work, a skill bought by the African slaves. The city was once French, then Spanish, then French before becoming American with the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans was also a port city, the second biggest for immigration after Ellis Island so thrown into the Creole mix were Germans, Irish, Native Indians as well as a huge population of Africans, both slaves and "free people of colour" making it a veritable melting pot of cultures.

Famous for its food, Louisiana tradition uses French recipes as it was a French colony but given the slave trade the cooks were usually African so it became French food in an African cooking style. The influence of the other cultures integrated into the Creole food, with ingredients like herbs and bay leaves from the Indians, sausages from the Germans, tomatoes and chillies from the Spanish all being added to the mix. Food like gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp, crawfish and oysters, red beans, bread pudding, pecan pies and the odd alligator sausage are all Louisiana specialities.

As an old city it is of course, the most haunted city in America making it a perfect place to spend Halloween. All sorts of colonial ghosts wreak havoc on the streets. The city is also famous for Voodoo; the magic with its origins in Africa came over with the slaves and is very much a part of the New Orleans people. Our swamp guide, a guy who spends his time skinning gators and pinning their teeth to his hat refused to tamper with a swamp graveyard where a famed voodoo priestess is buried, because as he put it, as is the general consensus, "you just don’t mess with that shit".

We did a ghost tour, didn't see any ghosts for no lack of trying. A city forever plagued with epidemics, yellow fever and cholera and the like, the city is practically built on a graveyard. There are a lot of haunted happenings in such an old city. The LeLaurie mansion, one of the nation’s most haunted houses was once the home of an upper-class socialite who it turns out had taken a shining to torturing her black slaves to death in a rather sadistic manner. One was a little girl who was seen by a neighbour being chased by the mad woman through the house and fell from the upper roof to her death. Her ghost is often seen falling. LeLaurie was discovered and ran out of town but continues to haunt the beautiful colonial mansion in the French Quarter. Nicholas Cage bought the house and was eventually evicted for tax reasons, but rumour says Madame LeLaurie is responsible for his cursed film career.
And surely plain bad taste cannot be responsible for all those rotten eggs on his CV.

It was my first ever Halloween and I was pretty excited. I wished I had a child to go Trick or Treating with but for some reason people kept guarding their offspring. Being late to get a costume I had to get somewhat creative and spent a bit of time drawing on an Angel dress I managed to find and dying it with the filtered coffee (amazing, I found a use for American coffee) and tied fake cobwebs to individual fake spiders. I was going to be a corpse bride but I wanted more face paint so landed on being some kind of Mexican skeleton bride and utilised some face paint sticks and a black eyeliner to my university level arts degree abilities.

The Mexican skeleton bride hit the tizzle of New Orleans. Bourbon St was abuzz with revellers, most tipsy but not yet shitfaced. We watched all the people pass by in costume, some amazing, some hilarious, some stupid and others just plain crap they didn’t deserve to be outside. Halloween brings out all walks of life. It is an interesting little insight into the person. Some people look like nothing in particular, some come as football player by putting on a jersey from their cupboard or just in their pyjamas, these people are what we call uninventive. Some girls just painted their boobs as their costume which does nothing but bring out the perverts who take photos, no honey it’s not because you are hot it’s because you are topless. These people are what we would call closet whores; they wait until Halloween because they think they can get away with it. The aforementioned perverts are those dressed in a half-assed costume with a sign that says “free shot for a boobie shot”. I saw a dirty old man with this sign and even stranger, his wife was carrying the promised tequila bottle. Then you have people who are amazing and clearly spend all year on a costume instead of going to Wal-Mart. I appreciate people with these kinds of life priorities.

We enjoyed the revelry of New Orleans in costume, I liked seeing people sit in restaurant dressed up and many people dress their baby or dog to match them which i love and hate at the same time. One lady brought her two small children down Bourbon St, not suitable at the best of times and the poor child stood frozen on the spot, terrified of the people around her. I could see her staring at me and I smiled but I still would have looked terrifying to a 3 year old. There were tears. Everywhere you look there is oddness. You have drunken human chicken sitting in a gutter, zombies carving up the dance floor and Cruella DeVille just walking a Dalmatian down the street.

In all the hoopla on Bourbon Street that night it turns out there was a shooting, because that’s how some people over this way settle arguments. Banning guns is one thing Australia got right. So one was killed in the shootout on the corner of the busiest tourist strip in New Orleans which meant eight others were injured as they passed by in all the merriment, no doubt highly intoxicated and unaware they were in the way of stray bullets. Of course being Halloween with all that fake blood it would have been hard to tell who was shot.
There were 5 shootings in Nawlins that night, well it might be a little European town but your still down the trigger happy south.


Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 12:25 Archived in USA Tagged halloween new_orleans louisiana Comments (0)

Viva Las Vegas

Where gamblers, hookers and fat people happily coexist.

Las Vegas is both flashy and tacky to the extreme. The America of excess, grandiose and flashing neon.
The strip is home to the famed Vegas casinos, all big and over the top expensive establishments where high rollers lose their savings on poker and tourists try to win back the cost of their holiday on the slots.

I was quite pleased to see Las Vegas at street level after my hell flight (see previous entry). We descended and came to a bumpy, screeching halt in a city of odd shaped buildings surrounded by desert – a few high risers, a Sphinx and an Eifel tower. Just the usual.
Of course I knew I was in Vegas straight away because there were poker machines at the airport gate on arrival, then again in baggage claim, then again in the gas station then in the restaurant and that’s before you even set foot anywhere near a casino.

The Las Vegas strip is recognisable from movies and from the fact that they have ripped off a bunch of world landmarks and popped them in the middle of the desert. These casinos make so much money off us morons that they have enough money left over, after no doubt shouting themselves anything they could possibly want, to then build a 30ft Statue of Liberty, a roller coaster, a lion exhibit or a series of man built canals.
That’s a lot of chump change.

Of course with all the grandness of the strip, the flashing neon, the shopping and the glitz there is also tacky Vegas. Sin City. The original area of casinos now lies north of the strip, slightly garish and a little less loved. Sitting there like a sad hooker, its lipstick wiped to the side and its mascara running. Here the somewhat less classy folk sit all day on the slots. BBQ sauce stains on their shirt from their lunchtime baby back ribs. Up here cowboy hats and denim is the attire of choice. It’s a place where you can nick out between Blackjack deals and marry your broad in a drive-thru chapel then down a 40 ounce cocktail from a novelty guitar-shaped container.
It’s all class.

The term ‘off-strip’ refers to all that which isn’t in the fancy part of town.
When we returned to Vegas after our Death Valley adventures we arrived late, down a dark, unnamed street at our off-strip hotel.
Now the arrangement during road trip times is my travel buddy is responsible for driving, hotels, waking me up, time keeping, organisation – most things really, and I am in charge of navigating and entertainment. The later mostly means me singing along loudly all day to 90s on 9 radio station.
The shabby hotel had been painted yellow to cover up the misery, Route 19 passed right behind and it sat under the harsh glare of a highway billboard, the only illumination in the dark, prime murder location streets of off-strip Las Vegas. This was not a hotel that she would have knowingly booked. It is the type I would have booked.

It was an off-strip hotel slash whorehouse and crack den from all appearances. A little dishevelled. A bit dirty and broken. The floors hadn’t been vacuumed in a while and were stained with the blood of many a drive-by, gang related shooting. It was the perfect place to bring your hooker or engage in an extra-marital affair.

Having been accommodated above and beyond my own usual standards of late I still slept like a baby, the passing traffic of Route 19 whirring me to sleep mere metres from my left ear. My friend had a restless night worried ever so slightly by the filth and miserable environment we were in and sometime between midnight and daybreak had decided this place was not somewhere we were to be spending any more time in.

While the bed head being only rested against the wall and the bathroom door not fitting its frame were fun, the highlight of what then became our one night stay in the crack house was our included continental breakfast the next morning. At least we get breakfast we had said.

We went downstairs to eat and beside the vending machine was a cereal dispenser packing Cheerios and Fruit Loops, a few polystyrene bowls, plastic spoons and milk.

That my friends is an off-strip continental breakfast.

Needless to say we cancelled our next night and returned to our arrival hotel which had big comfy beds, that’s what we told reception when we arrived, really it was the waffle machines at the buffet breakfast. It pours out the batter then you pour it on the iron, close it and spin it over and 2 minutes later you have a waffle.

Never one to turn down Fruit Loops I ate the whorehouse breakfast anyway, thankfully it wasn't a filling buffet as 30 minutes later I was upside down on a roller coaster above a fake New York skyline.

The USA isn’t one of the world most obese countries for no reason. Las Vegas is a dream for us fatties. There is no such thing as stairs in Vegas, it’s an escalator world here. Even outside. Once when there were steps ahead of me and I almost flat out refused to climb them as it just quite frankly wasn’t the American way.
The meals are massive, burgers, fries, steak, ribs, mostly burgers. Even I, a lover of large quantities of food couldn’t finish a meal in these parts. There is a lot of all you can eat and a lot of people that could never be able to have all they can eat. They reward big people and big appetites in here. If you can eat a whole cow in one sitting you'll probably get it free and also get a complimentary string of Mardi Gras beads. It won’t matter if you get fat on holidays here; they just give you a seat belt extension on the aeroplane trip home.

Of course the main aspect of Vegas is the casinos. I’m no gambler, most slot machines are too complicated and take too long to take your money for my attention span but here in Vegas you get to pull the lever and actively, instead of passively, see your money disappear. With all the alluring glitz and glamour of neon, coins tinkling out of the winning machines and washed up ex-hookers bringing you free cocktails it’s easy to get sucked in to the casino life and gamble. You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em and here in Vegas you definitely need to know when to walk away and not be tempted. Obviously I immediately lost $2 on the Happy Days slots which played the theme song every spin the moment I set foot in the first casino.
Oh my god Happy Days...
Damn you Ron Howard.

This is when most people get addicted. I however then spotted a Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks and a myriad of other food offerings. The streets of NYC are recreated inside the New York, New York casino and you can eat outside makeshift New York cafes along your signed famous streets. Not to mention Lady Liberty out front, a replica Brooklyn Bridge and a roller coaster on the roof. It’s all very cool. And again reminds you how much excess money these people make.

As a lover of New York and of Venice, the Venetian was my other main interest along the strip. Standing outside the casino is a recreated Rialto Bridge but remember this is Vegas, so it had escalators over it to save you the effort of walking. There was a recreated Doges Palace and man-made canals with Gondoliers atop gondolas taking people for a romantic ride. The canal flows into the depths of the casino otherwise you can walk through the recreated streets of Venice but instead of shops selling tourist Venetian masks and gelato its Chanel and Gucci. Why actually go to Italy! This version is much cleaner.

Tacky is the key to Vegas. Everywhere you go you have to avoid the people handing out booby cards as I called them. Oddly enough it wasn’t pervy men giving out cards like pimps, it was middle-aged Latino women wearing an oversized bright orange ‘Girls Girls Girls’ t-shirt over their dresses. It always amused me when a couple would walk past and they would try and hand the male a boobie card. He obviously declines because he wouldn’t dare take one even if he wanted to. The female evil eye gets thrown around left and right.

So that was Sin City, I didn’t win my fortune on the slots in fact I left Vegas in the red, including the $2 I lost at the airport gate waiting for my plane to board. No unspeakable riches but I did discover a love of both coconut and pretzel m&m’s and got a margarita from ‘Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville’ so I guess that’s a prize in itself.


Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 11:06 Archived in USA Tagged vegas Comments (0)

Two Girls and an Alien in a Desert Bound Impala sedan.

USA Road Trip: Wish we were dessert bound instead.

Roaaaaaaad trip! Hold up, not yet first we need to spend some quality time in the car lot at Avis working out how to use the rental car. Turns out you have to manually open the petrol tank but the car is fully automated when it comes to moving the seats. It can move you up, down, forward, back and tilt you and tip you out, however that’s if you find the lever and know what it’s for.

Success! The accelerator could be reached. We buckled up, headed along the Las Vegas strip and out into the depths of the Nevada Desert en route to Death Valley National Park. Within minutes we were cruising down the endless highway, driving into miles and miles of nothingness. I soon found the 90’s channel on the radio and began what was pretty much 3 days of non-stop singing along to all the songs I forgot I loved.

There were a few stray towns off the highway, the first of which that offered “services” was a little place called Lathrop Wells. We pulled in to the roadhouse, which along with the roadhouse on the other side of the highway encompassed Lathrop Wells.
This little stop had a gas station, a store, a 24-hour brothel and amazingly enough, a brothel museum – the only one in America it claims, so one can get a little culture with your titties, which I think adds a touch of class.

It was also advertised as being the last stop for gas before Area 51. As we drove north from Vegas the entire area of the desert to the east is ‘military’ area, in the hills and rocks lays many military airbases and government secrets. The Extra Terrestrial Highway runs parallel on the other side of the mystery lands hence Area 51 and its infamous stories of UFOs and secret research centres.

We didn’t need gas, thankfully, because gas was a major operation usually involving me having to go and ask the cashier a lot of questions regarding how the hell to get the petrol to come out. Then getting a blank look until I said gas. Turns out stealing petrol is a pastime so you have to pre-pay before the petrol comes out, made more difficult when you don’t know what a gallon is or how many gallons fit in a car, luckily $15 can buy you half a tank in a small car.

Lathrop Wells sold your basic crap, some inedible foodstuffs like jerky, trucker caps, hookers and inflatable aliens.

So we left Lathrop Wells with a packet of Starburst, a coke and green Alien named Rodney, who was to accompany us into Death Valley. We were going to take a hooker on a day trip too but space in the back seat was limited.
Rodney took to the road trip lifestyle well, buckled in the back seat, he had a brief sing along to Whitney Houston early on but then just watched on quietly as we drove deeper and deeper into the middle of nowhere on the California and Nevada State line.

We left the highway and took the little roads into the depths of Death Valley National Park. I have always wanted to see a ghost town. It my mind it would be a little wild west town with a tumble weed rolling along its main strip and the saloon door off one a hinge and swinging in the wind. It wasn’t exactly like that. Rhyolite was once a thriving town of 10,000 during the mining boom, then when everyone realised living in Rhyolite was shit, everybody left. Segments from the brick buildings have remain abandoned amongst the rocks now for nearly a century.

As we drove on there was a small road snaking off the highway into the middle of the mountains. According to my map it was an unsealed road leading to a canyon with a ghost town en route. The main roads are straight and long, so an opportunity to turn off on a desert adventure should always be taken. I think it was Bear Grylls who once said that the number one rule for surviving the desert is to take random, unsealed back roads.

Ooo sounds mysterious, so away we went turning off the main road in our Chevrolet Impala sedan. It said 4x4 ‘recommended’ but as it only recommended and not ‘required’ we kept driving along a windy, rocky narrow path through the landscape, in and among big, towering rocky ledges, between gorges and up and down the mountains.

There was not a soul around as we drove amongst the depths of the canyon. We passed another little ghost town created apparently by lies of greatness, 300 odd people arrived in middle of these canyons expecting a town.

It would have been something like this:

A carriage rolls to a stop.

*stretching* “we’re here guys”, says a lively chap waking from his boredom-induced slumber.

“I’m going to go bowling first thing”, says one miner as he grabs his giant foam finger and rave whistle in anticipation.

“bowling?”, grumbled the old one, “why, I am going to sample the local rum then pass out in a mine”.

The three men jumped out of the carriage and landed on to the dirt road with a thud, looked around at a solitary tin shed on the valley slope among the rocks, then down at their brochure, then back at the shed.

“Where’s the swim up margarita bar from page 2?”

“....Ahhh shit.”

Needless to say, given that in 2011 it took us over an hour by dirt road to get to it, it’s no surprise living here didn’t quite take off and the town died out after a year.

Two and a so hours later we popped out the other side of the canyon like baby being born, popped out from the giant, dramatic landscape towering above us into vast nothingness. The mountains on the horizon were even blurred. We were in a big valley surrounded by rocks and rocky mountains. We survived our inland trek and by all accounts were in the guts of Death Valley USA.

The Impala was fine, a little dusty, well a lot dusty, there was dirt everywhere even in the boot. That night I casually read the guide to driving the park and about making sure to carry fresh water, food, petrol, warm clothing, hats and all sorts of supplies if you go off road. Let’s just keep it to ourselves shall we that we hit the treacherous roads of Death Valley in a sedan, with half a bottle of Mountain Dew and a half packet of Starburst. But really, where is their sense of adventure?

My road trip responsibilities are navigation and entertainment. The navigating duties when there is one road and you can see it disappear into the horizon ahead, are not particularly demanding so I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride, control the radio, sing to Mariah Carey and TLC (something I deem as falling under the entertainment umbrella) and enjoy the feeling of being 100 per cent in the middle of nowhere. I came momentarily into play again as we set off to find Stovepipe Wells, the town we were to spend the night. We passed the welcome sign, drove passed a building/gas station/store and out the other side of town in approximately 4 seconds. The town was the hotel. The hotel, store, gas station is all one complex, and makes up the entirety of Stovepipe Wells. I really don’t know where people who work here live.

Death Valley has some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen, mountains, rocks, cliffs, vast flatness, sand dunes and salt flats all here together. It is the lowest point in America it is also the driest and hottest. You would fry in the valley in summer with temperatures having reached .

While Rodney made friends at photo stops and enjoyed being the scenery. It wasn’t long before he met his maker. Kicked the bucket. Took the early bus. His thin Alien skin just wasn’t cut out for a rough and tumble life in the desert. One carefree October morn we were playing in the Badwater Basin, the salt flats of Death Valley. I had him propped up by some salt chunks, and salt, may I just say in its natural form, is solid as a brick, one thing led to another and I grabbed him to pull him free and in the process he received a fatal graze to the lower leg. He yelped, I yelped. He deflated. But not without screaming in pain for several minutes as he lost air.

It was undoubtedly an untimely death for an Alien but I think if Will Smith films have taught us anything, it’s that Aliens don’t survive long on our planet with our oxygen levels as they are. Rodney, may he rest in peace, passed away in the lowest point of North America, 80-odd metres below sea level. The valley in this part looks like snow, as white salt expands across its floor for kilometres. So not a bad way to go.

After a lot of rocks, lots of mountains and lots of mountains made of rocks we headed back towards Nevada, through miles of nothingness and onto the main interstate. By now Rodney was nothing more than a flat piece of Alien shaped plastic still seat belted into the back seat.

We got back to civilisation, back to Sin City, Las Vegas, if one can call it civilisation. The car was an off shade of white, and I threw some windscreen cleaning water over the windows which made them streaky and muddy, rubbed out my name that I written in the dashboard dust and we returned the hire car and slipped away before they could ask why there was dirt everywhere and the suspension was a little off.

Or why there was a dead alien under a sheet in the boot.


Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 09:46 Archived in USA Tagged desert rental car death_valley vegas aliens nevada area 51 Comments (0)

Hell Flight Over Nevada

I like to sit at the best of times, I like free Coca Cola and I like TV so there’s not a lot about plane travel I can disagree with except for maybe the length of time it takes out of my life.

I was always a good flyer. I like planes. It fascinates me that they can stay in the air, fascinates me enough to look out the window and wonder however not enough to go to a library and borrow a book about on aeronautical engineering or gravity. I never had a problem flying but as I go on I am starting to become a more nervous flyer.

It’s almost as if now I’m just testing fate. Before it was like, what are the odds? But now, my number must nearly be up. Statistically, surely my numbers up.

A large proportion of this holiday has been spent in planes and in airports. I have taken 11 flights in the past 4 weeks, from 45 minutes to 8 hours and on all different sizes and quality of aircraft.

I had a scheduled flight from Guatemala City to Las Vegas but I had to go to Los Angeles and make a connection. I had low expectations for what Guatemala City International Airport would have in store for me but Guatemala was a dream, I boarded a lovely big plane from a newly renovated airport. Given my buff physique I was obviously asked to man the emergency exits. Both rows. I was ready to engage my flashing beacon and blow on my whistle to attract attention in my emergency life vest if need be.

Of course all I did was watch TV for 3 hours and lounge across all three seats and use all three blankets and pillows.
Now is probably a good time to reiterate that Americans have their own way of doing things. Their toilets have to flush differently, the shower handles have to be a mystery. Airports are no exception. American airports are a nightmare. By the time I make it to my plane and sit down I need a stiff drink and a lie down they are that stressful.

Firstly you have to make your way through an airport where terminals are called concourses for no reason other than to be difficult I gather and so us tourists stand there like chumps going where’s the gate? What the hell is a concourse?

When you arrive internationally, in the allocated time between your flight landing and your connection you have to disembark, or ‘deplane’ which is a word the Americans made up I’m sure, walk behind slow moving wheelie case walkers, wait behind people on escalators because Americans do not, and will not, walk up an escalator nor will they stand to one side to allow you to. It’s the American way and I’m okay with it unless I am in a hurry. You then have to join a long line and go through immigration. All the basics for a security paranoid country, eye scan, photo, left thumb, left fingers, right thumb, right fingers, a few questions and a few ma’am’s.

“How long are you intending to be in the United States ma’am?”

“Place your left thumb please ma’am, your left thumb, that’s your right ma’am.”

A bit of paperwork but hey, I’m not of any undesirable ethnicity so I’m cleared for entry to the USA.
I then have to wait until the machine decides to spit my bag out onto the conveyor belt, because at this stage you are on a schedule, this usually means it will arrive somewhere within the last 5 bags.

Got the bag, throw it onto a trolley the clock is ticking.

Then on to Border Security which is only referred to as FSB or something like that. We were like what’s a FSB? Mustn’t concern us lets go to the exit line which turns out to be for crew.

“Ma’am why are you in this line?”

Wrong line, mind you there was no one in either line, so we had to go back out and in one of those rope mazes they set up in airports. We went under to save time and back to the same desk albeit a longer route. They then obviously wanted to further screen my travel buddy because they had nothing else to do and we climbed under the rope which no doubt pissed them off.

I had a connection earlier than hers so I grabbed my bag off the trolley as she was wheeled in for anal probing and to swab the bag for drugs.
Then you have to recheck your bags to your next destination. Another line. Another interaction with customer service.
The clock is still counting down from your one hour connection they have given you.

Recheck the bags so they can scan them again because they don’t trust the Guatemalans I suppose then resticker the bags and send them to your final destination. They do not like to send bags all the way through that’s for the rest of the schmucks in the world. It’s not the American way.

Then obviously security clearance again, in case you have managed to rig a bomb in the underwire of your bra while in the immigration line.
Then to find your gate. Well first your concourse. Then your gate. Is it in terminal A,B,C,or D and north or south?
Nightmare. So you come to a screeching halt outside gate D36, a 300km trek to find yourself back at about where you got off your first flight. Exhausted.

The chance of all this going smoothly and you making your connection is slim. You should actually get a free upgrade if you can do it. When I arrived in Boston, four people were doing immigration for the 4 international long haul flights that had arrived. Needless to say we waited an hour and a half to get through. The family in front of me, grandparents, and two mum, dad and daughter sets who were en route to Florida to go to Disneyland. They had to get through this mess, pick up their bags and recheck them. I was tired and grumpy and I was not 2 years old like them and I wasn’t missing my flight to see Mickey Mouse. Needless to say they missed their flight while waiting in a stupid queue within the airport.

LAX is notoriously bad but I made my flight. Things are going my way.
Or so I thought.

I got on board and to my sheer disgust it was a 60 seater, two seats on one side, one on the other. It was small and I prefer my planes to be the trucks of the sky, big and steady with room to move.

We were a little late getting off the ground which was fine as my friend was on the flight after me so it gave us a chance to bridge our gap. I was happy to have made my connection. So I thought.

The flight was a little bumpy. Given, it was a small plane but we still seemed to be going up and down a lot, and side to side and generally bumping from cloud to cloud like Carebears.

So I am sitting there casually minding my business, my ears are popping because this moron cannot fly this plane.

Then boom.

With a rattle the oxygen masks fall from above our heads.

Everyone looked around in disbelief.

What the what?

This moron not only can’t fly a plane but is going to kill us all.

I stalled momentarily as others started frantically pulling for their oxygen masks.

I opened my window shade, as it was mid-afternoon it was quite bright and I’d closed them after take-off. I figured I may as well watch my own demise.

There I was, about to meet my maker somewhere over the Nevada Desert.
I grabbed my mask and pulled it down, thinking I should probably take in a bit more of the safety demonstration instead of ignoring it in favour of the Sky Mall magazine. I didn’t really want to put the mask on because it smelled like plastic and what’s the point of breathing clean air if you are going to plummet anyways? Just to muffle your screams?

What was running through my head?
I wasn’t necessarily scared, though my heart was beating out of my chest. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. I just felt overwhelmingly inconvenienced.

Oh great, I’m going to die, now, in this shitty desert in the middle of nowhere, I haven’t even got to finish my trip. On all the flights, in all the world, this crappy little 1 hour flight was going to bring me undone.
I was mad that this pilot wasn’t doing his job well.

I looked out the window into the vast nothingness and the scarred earth of the Nevada Desert expecting to feel it’s hard surface anytime now. The plane hadn’t done any major moves since the masks came down.

Eventually Captain Moron comes on and explains that while the oxygen masks have been deployed, there is nothing to be concerned about. We are not going to die.

So it turns out the pilot not only cannot fly well but doesn’t realise that if he jumps around that much the cabin pressure will change and the masks will come out. I know that and I failed all sciences I could get my hands on (except when the assessment involved making a diorama)
So he casually informed us that we would be on the ground in 30 minutes. Hurry the hell up then idiot was the general consensus. Everyone took their masks off and casually just went back to what they were doing like thinking you are going to feature on Air Crash Investigations is an everyday event. The masks just dangled there for the rest of the flight as a cautionary reminder of your fate.

What concerned me more than anything else, mostly because I was under the impression this almighty douchebag wouldn’t even know if an engine had blown out and we were losing altitude rapidly is that the masks wouldn’t come out because they were already out. No warning signs. Just death.

Eventually my heart returned to its normal, soft jazz percussion beat and I just stared at the chair in front for the rest of the flight.

I couldn’t even play with my split ends because my hands were shaking.

We landed on time. A little shaken especially considering it was already one of the worst flights I had taken before the near death experience. My friend casually arrives an hour later on a safe, bump-free, controlled oxygen level flight.

I felt sorry for those waiting to take this flight back to LA as they were going to have to replace 60 masks but at the same time, if they knew why they were delayed they would be glad they weren’t flying on that plane.

That was my brush with a dramatic death. No time to dwell, I was to be flying again in about three days.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 20:45 Archived in USA Tagged planes flying flight airports Comments (0)

The New York Marathon

Yesterday was the New York marathon. People choose to run 26.2miles across the city for fun.

Meanwhile only several blocks away I was undertaking a marathon of my own.

A pastrami sandwich from the Carnegie Deli.

I had to take a few pit stops, fight the meat sweats, throw a glass of water over my head but I got there.

After my successful completion of a $20 sandwich I walked up to Central Park to see the end of the marathon. It started at 10am and at 5pm these poor bastards were still running. The athletes obviously finished several hours ago. The ones left were the troopers. Jogging, or rather that sort of shuffle that’s kind of half way between a walk and a jog.

It was a really nice atmosphere. There were still people out cheering. These were the ones doing it to raise money or doing it for themselves and their soul not for the glory. People in the crowd were shouting out encouragingly to them as they shuffled by.
“Good job Gail”
“Come on Andrew”

Some runners had their names written on their shirt. The nice thing is, they weren’t taking the piss, they were genuinely encouraging these people who had been shuffling for the past 7 hours all over New York. People were shouting reassurance, telling them that they were nearly there and were doing great. They really were. I mean clearly these people cannot run and many were old but they were about to complete the world’s biggest marathon which really is a feat for any fitness level.

It was positively inspiring.

It made me have faith in humanity. It made me want to have positive Americans around for moral support whenever I was challenged. I would have liked a cheerleader and hour earlier at the deli.

"Come on you can eat it. If you scrape off that bit of fat it will make it okay you just consumed half a kilo of cured meat and three pickles. Good job. Good eating"

And it made me, for the second time this month consider investing in runners and maybe becoming semi athletic.

Looking at these people run this last kilometre utterly exhausted, I soon came to my senses and thought better of it.

I’ll stick to sandwiches.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 20:12 Archived in USA Tagged new_york nyc marathon deli carnegie pastrami Comments (0)

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