Saturday, July 30, 2011

Twenty Two – Every day is a winding road

Tuesday, (26th July, for anyone who’s lost track) and I’ve got a plane to catch.
Pack my bags. 45 minute shuttle to the airport (Sorry Kate, you’re too expensive for me!) check in, hang around, board plane, take off…
“You’re now free to move around the cabin”
…and we’re on our way to Maui, time to take the shoes off, recline the chair and read the guide book.
“Please retake your seats for landing”
38 minute flight, including take off, landing, and taxiing. I’ve spent longer than that waiting to deplane at Heathrow!
Maui airport is nice and small so I’m quickly at the rental desk for my Mustang.
“We’ve got a Sebring for you”
Oh, well that’s OK. The mustang wasn’t amazing and I haven’t tried a Sebring in 7 years.
“… or you can upgrade to a soft top Jeep”
Now that sounds interesting. I know some of the roads on Maui aren’t paved, so a Jeep would be useful, except they still forbid you from taking a rental car on them, making it a bit redundant. But it’ll be a nice change so I take the Jeep.
Well, it’s certainly a change, and this is an adventure. The guy shows me how to drop the top…
“First, you unzip the side panels”
That’s right, a car you can enter like a tent. To a Londoner, that’s ridiculous.
“Then you unclip the sun visors, unlatch this, pull this thing, scream because you’ve caught your thumb in the joint, fold this bit, swing this bit…and you’re done!”
I’m tempted to ask him to show me how to put it back up, but hey I’m an Engineer, and fitting is just the reversal of removal, right?
I bang “Maui Beach Vacation Club” into GPS and it just shrugs. Hmmm. I check the address and click on a hotel down the street. It’s only a 10 minute drive and South Kihei road is right by the sea. But my hotel isn’t.
I don’t mean it isn’t by the sea, I mean it isn’t. It doesn’t exist.
There’s several “Maui Beach” places, but no MBVC. After a couple of U-turns I pull into the Maui Beach Resort to ask for directions.
Before I can speak the guy says “surname?”
I respond automatically, but add, “I actually just wanted to ask if you knew where the…”
“Yep, we have you booked for 4 nights.”
“Oh! …Eh? …Oh?! …OK.”
Maui Beach Resort turns out to be a timeshare place that rents the rooms out as MBVC. It has a nice pool, balconies, kitchens, and Kihei beach across the street. I’ve finally found a place where I can get up and run on the beach in the morning.
…and that wasn’t relief, it’s hot and humid in the room. Incredibly there’s no aircon, so it’s open all the windows, crank up the fans and be glad I’m upstairs.
Meanwhile, I’ve left my luggage on display in my silly vehicle. I don’t suppose anyone’s likely to be running down the road trying to loosen the load of 20kg of my socks and pants, but still…
Except I can’t get the roof up. Bollocks!
My sense of adventure starts to wane as I struggle and fight with the tarpaulin in 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity. (Probably - the Jeep doesn’t have a thermometer!) I ask the bloke from reception, he’s an islander so he’s probably seen loads of these. He doesn’t know, but he gives me a hand anyway, and teaches me a vital trick. It’s a Jeep, so you can climb all over it to get leverage.
With this added angle, I’m able to get the roof up in under 20 minutes. I’ll never complain about slow convertible roofs again! I hope it doesn’t rain around here.
But the next morning the Jeep makes sense again. I’m driving the “Road to Hana”. 40 miles of twists, turns and narrow bridges. I don’t need an off road vehicle, but the added height means I can see clearly over the barriers and down to the coast below. The best sights along the road require you to get out of the car and go for a walk. Regular readers will know this is not likely for me, especially since there’s no signs advertising the stops, but it means the road is packed with dawdling tourists and tour buses. By the time I reach Hana, the trip has been filed under “enjoyable, but not fantastic”.
Even my guidebook describes Hana as underwhelming. (Yes, I actually read something in my guidebook!) So I grab breakfast and head on down the road. Hana is only about halfway round the Eastern loop of Maui, but according to the map, completing the loop will “Violate my rental agreement”. However, it’s hard to tell what point I can’t pass, so I decide to head on until I see a great big sign.
The road gets narrower, and quieter. The tourists have turned back. It gets windier and windier, (more twisty and more blowy!) and more bumpy. I finally have the road to myself, just as the road stops being a road. But it’s still a clearly defined track. Bouncing along in my open top Jeep through dense forest, I can’t help but hum the theme from Jurassic Park.
As I swing round onto the Southern, leeward, side of the island, the scenery changes dramatically. This side doesn’t get the rain, so the forests give way to barren rocky slopes. This is more like it! I don’t understand why people, and guidebooks, would rather look at a waterfall surrounded by trees, than be able to see miles of open scenery.
I bounce onwards. The track becomes a road again, and I’m once again permitted to crash into things. Which is handy, because I’m engaged in a battle with the elements. The sun is endeavouring to burn my head to a crisp. My cap is hanging on manfully, but the wind, whipping unopposed across thousands of miles of open Ocean, is doing its utmost to separate me from my headgear.
As I reach the foot of the climb to Haleakala, I decide I’ve had enough fun for one day. It’s time to head back to the pool. I stop to put the roof up, and give my scalp some relief. I’m losing the fight when a car pulls up next to me. A bloke gets out and says:
“I have a Jeep, but mine has the hard top, would you mind if I look at your soft top?”
He turns out to be Danish, and his wife and kids sit in his car while we fight the good fight. Together, we get the roof on in under 10 minutes. I don’t think he’ll be changing car soon.
After partying in Waikiki I’m having a few quiet nights in front of the telly. Except it’s too quiet, the remote has stopped operating the TV. Catastrophe!
I have a bland remote with a Z on it, and a TV with ilo written on it, whoever they are. I manage to figure out that code 0115 will get the two on speaking terms again, and in less time than it takes to put the roof on a Jeep. Maybe I can still call myself an engineer!
Thursday. Early run, then time for another winding road. Western Maui has a very busy road that loops clockwise past the main resorts at Lahaina. It’s very busy because you’re not allowed to complete the loop around the Kahekili highway. So that’s today’s mission.
It’s a fantastic drive, a single lane road hugging near vertical cliffs, rising high above the ocean. Lots of twists and turns and not so many safety barriers spoiling the view. Eventually I return to civilisation and a car park full of people admiring views which pale into comparison with what I’ve just witnessed (by violating my agreement again), and when I say “phew” this time, it’s not from the heat!
I even succeed in getting my roof up alone, with only 5 minutes of struggling and swearing.
Friday, and time to ascend the Haleakala highway to 10 thousand feet to stare into the crater. Except today I’m just staring at grey. It’s a cloudy day and everything above two thousand feet is covered in fog. Tourists who’ve paid a hundred bucks to roll down the mountain on a bicycle, are doing so getting soaked, with no view to enjoy. The drive up isn’t a patch on the last two days and when I reach the top I don’t see the point paying to get into the National Park, when the only thing visible is the gift shop. Hopefully I’ll come back.
Although it’s Friday I’m pretty tired from spending the afternoon booking flights, hotels, and cars. I’m not sure I can be bothered with another night out, telling the same tale. But that’s going to make a dull blog, so I get my lazy backside out the door and find a sports bar.
There’s a bunch of grey haired bikers sitting round the bar as I pull up a stool. The guy next to me even introduces himself as “Gray” and tells me about his trip round the UK three years ago. They treated him well, and he wants to repay the favour by treating me well. He forces me to eat one of his ribs (from his dinner, you idiot!), buys me a beer, and introduces me to everyone who comes in the bar. There’s a live band, but they’re not playing for another hour, and I have to drive. Gray and his other half, Danielle, are leaving, but offer to show me another bar they’ve been talking about, near where I’m staying. It’s a small place, oddly named “the Sandwich” but it’s friendly and fun talking to the locals. The barmaid Trish makes a wicked milkshake sundae. I’ve still got the Jeep so when I return to the hotel I’m hoping there’s no laws against Driving Under the Influence of a sugar rush!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Twenty One - Book 'em, Danno!

After Sunday in Vegas was Saturday night, Monday was definitely Sunday. Time to recover from the days before and prepare for the flight the next day. Hard to believe that in ten weeks travelling I haven't been on a plane. I squeezed my stuff into just two bags, fretted about weight limits, dumped loads in the bin, but couldn't resist another day by the pool.
In the evening I had dinner in the "pink taco", ate something very tasty called “Sabana de pollo” and did some serious gambling. I’d tripled my investment by the time I'd eaten and was wondering whether I should stay in Vegas and make a fortune. But it was time to move on..
Actually having to get up before 6 in the morning was a real shock, but for once everything worked out beautifully.
As I said goodbye to the Camaro the guy asked how many speeding tickets I'd got in it.
"None? You've not been driving it properly!"
No queue at check in. No queue at security. A nice new plane with decent screens and an empty seat next to me. I had to pay six bucks to watch telly but I didn't mind when I saw what was on.
They had the new series of Hawaii five-0. So I could watch an action series and learn a bit about Hawaii in the process. I watched six episodes back to back and every time the iconic theme music played my excitement increased.
Despite my protestations that I still had two episodes to go, the pilot landed us smoothly and I was in state four-9!
Hmm, must have missed one. Oh well, there’s always next time around.

A nice lady called Kate drove my taxi and pointed out President Obama's high-school, where to shop and why they’re digging up the high street. She also pointed out that they didn’t have gun battles and car chases every day. TV lied!
The Holiday Inn isn't right on the beach but it's damn close, and convenient for all the shops and bars in Waikiki. Even better, my room is available.  So I’m a very happy man as I use a contemplate unpacking for the first time in 2 months.
I’m less happy when I take a walk around. The famous Waikiki beach is actually quite small, and it’s packed with people. There’s adverts for surf lessons, but the waves look even more packed than the beach. The streets are crowded with people, and all the shops seem to be selling “Aloha shirts”. I’d spoken to the Army guys about the corner shops over here called ABC stores, but I hadn’t realised there was going to be one every fifty yards! I kid you not!
I failed to buy a shirt but succeeded in replacing my broken camera. I was tired after the flight – not so much from jet lag, but from getting up early – so I gave up looking for authentic food and decided to just grab a burger. But around the corner from Mick D’s I spotted the original “Cheeseburger in Paradise” restaurant.
Of course, they don’t make any claims about the burger itself, just the location, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to get a fairly average burger! I staggered back to the hotel for an early night, but stopped for a quick one in the hotel bar cum surfing museum.
Other than the signed surfboard from Apocalypse Now (Charlie don’t surf!) the displays weren’t much fun. The barmen were though and I had a good laugh talking to them and the other guys at the bar. They closed at 9, but the main restaurant next door, “Jimmy Buffett’s Margeritaville” had a live covers band. So once again I found myself hanging out, chatting to the band and talking to randoms.
In fact that was to become the shape of the week. Unlike mainland USA where I would jump in my car and head on down the road, here I’m trapped. It’s very expensive to rent a car, and if you do you have to pay for parking. Besides, the roads are jammed with traffic.
It’s not a terrible thing. The sun is shining, the people are great, and there’s plenty of bars within walking distance. It’s just not the adventure I’ve got used to. But it’s good to take a break from the relentless movement, right?
By Thursday I’m coming down with a cold. Figures. I usually catch a cold when I go on holiday. Combination of my immune system relaxing and sharing a spending a few hours in a metal tube with a few hundred germ infested people.
I resort to pay per view and watch a movie called “Soul Surfer”, hoping to be inspired to book some lessons. It’s a good story and although it doesn’t get me in the water it gets me out of bed.
By Friday I’m not coming down with a cold. I decided it’s time to get out of the city so I rent a car for the day. Of course I can’t just get a sub-compact so I find a shiny red Mustang convertible and blast off into the hills.
…except there’s too much traffic, which I expected, and no hills, which I didn’t. Oahu’s roads skirt the green hills, and for much of the island there’s only really one road, so everyone’s on it and looking for a parking spot near the beach. I plod on, and eventually reach the East coast. Here the road runs right along the sea and finally up a rise over the hill. It’s all very pretty, but not gob-smacking. Maybe I’ve seen too much, or maybe I need to get to the other islands.
With not enough to do, I start to think:
Vegas was paradise for a single traveller, with so much to see and do available instantly. Hawaii is paradise for couples. Romantic dinners and excursions abound. There’s another contrast, Hawaii is very much about culture and history, two words that don’t exist in Vegas. How much you enjoy the island spirit may come down to whether you enjoy being enveloped in the sounds, sights and smells of island folklore, or recoil at the sight of a bunch of blokes in skirts setting fire to things.
So I wouldn’t recommend a deliberate trip to Oahu to a fellow road worrier, but it’s a handy stop off, and there’s other islands to see.
I make the most of the evenings. There’s a Hard Rock Café, a place called the Yardhouse that has 102 types of beer, a “Giovanni Pastrami” and many more. People seem even happier to talk out here than anywhere I’ve been, probably because they’re almost all on holiday. I meet Aussies, Kiwis, Americans… I get bought beer, buy beer for people. Spend a night with more military guys, this time it’s the bomb squad – and you thought you had a stressful job! I meet a girl whose come to Hawaii with no money, hoping to get a bar job. There’s a couple from Christchurch whose home was badly damaged in the quake, and they tell me the after-shocks still continue!
..and for five nights I’m happy to finish up watching the band.
By Sunday I need an early night. But the blog’s overdue, and I need to make some plans. So it’s a long session on the ‘net.
Eventually I have a plan to get me home. The next Hawaiian island lined up. Chance for another road trip, and still the possibility of a second cruise…

Best go and say goodbye to the band.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Twenty – A day in the life

“It may be Sunday elsewhere in the world, but in Vegas it’s always Saturday night!”
And the band launch into a cover of Zac Brown’s “Toes” with its hook: “Life is good today”.
Yes, it is.
But hang on, what happened to Saturday night and “Widespread Panic”? Well, the most positive I can be is to suggest that they’re an acquired taste.
The fans are passionate. They follow the “best band in the world” around the country. Most of them seem to be attending both Friday and Saturday night’s gigs, and pretty much all of them are out of their seats dancing the entire time. But it’s odd.
You know when you see someone dancing and you think: “He must be wearing earphones and dancing to his own tune”? Well, this was like watching a couple of thousand people dancing to their own tunes. They certainly weren’t dancing to the bass-line! Still, they were having a lot of fun, although that was probably helped by the amount of sweet smelling cigarettes being smoked. I guess there must have been a lot of card carrying Californians around!
WP knocked out a good version of “All along the watchtower” (though I’ll take Jimmy’s version) and the crowd went wild. Made me wonder, if they’re so good, why do the fans seem to prefer the covers?
After 90 minutes they stop for an interval, and I head out to see the piano guys. No Bonnie tonight, but a guy named Mike who keeps up the standard. Again there’s not many people in, so they’re playing great tunes. They rock harder than the band, so I don’t go back for any more guitar noodling, and I’m enjoying the repartee when the gig finishes at 1.30 and we’re invaded by drunken nutters wanting to hear another song “the panic” like to cover: “sympathy for the devil”.
…woo, WOO!
But that was Saturday night in Vegas, I’m supposed to be blogging Sunday, sorry, Saturday night in Vegas.
It was a struggle to get up, but the football was about to kick off. It might still be “soccer” over here, and “girls” at that, but it’s the U!….S!…..A! in the World Cup Final so I’d best get to a bar quick.
Er….. no. Nobody seems to care. There’s a few people gathered around screens, but there’s room at the bars, and no real atmosphere. The main priority is getting out to the pool, and gaining a wristband for “rehab” which I may have given a passing mention in chapter 15.
There’s a bar with TVs by the pool, so I might as well watch the game out there. A small but vocal crowd forms around me and as the clock runs down I find myself explaining the rules of extra time to several girls. Given that they’re all wearing small bikinis it’s quite distracting and I’m glad they’re not asking me to explain the offside trap.
I talk to Donnie and Chris who turn out to be in the army and have been stationed in Hawaii so I get some more tips to try to remember. Their buddy Brian is still in bed recovering. I then overhear a girl with an English accent saying that there aren’t any English people around.
Kirsty is from Leicester, but looks like a blonde Californian. They must get a lot of sun in Leicester. She’s on holiday with her boyfriend Lee, and her sister, Laura. I start out thinking “poor Laura” for being the spare wheel, but after trying to get a word in edgeways with the excitable pair I think “poor Lee”!
Kirsty complains that the Americans don’t seem to want to talk and I’m gobsmacked.
“But I chat to new people all day”
“Yes, but that’s your job” comes the puzzling, though not entirely inaccurate reply.
The USA score. We all cheer, except the Japanese barman, and I have to explain to some more girls that it’s not over yet. (I’m not suggesting the guys knew the rules any better - I just let them figure it out for themselves)
Japan equalise, barman grins, Chris is almost in tears  - he’s got money on this, and…
…well, you know what happened. It would have been good to see the USA win, but it wasn’t the massive social event I was expecting, and nobody seemed tempted to trash the city when they lost.
Probably because we still had Rehab.
I described the 4th July party. This one was less attended and slightly tamer, but still freaking awesome! I spoke to an Irish guy afterwards who said “where else in the world can an ordinary person spend the afternoon partying like a rock star?”
I meet Brian, the third member of the army trio. He got up late because he was partying late. He got separated from his mates, hooked up with a hotel manager and spent the night hanging out with Michael Madsen, getting in at 11am.
Well, he says he did. Vegas is such an extraordinary place that anything’s possible, so truth and fiction get blurred, but who cares.
Even after the party’s over, the fun continues. After the Irish guy in the snack shop, I meet a guy from London in the toilets, a couple of English girls in the taxi queue…
They’ve been touring South America for 5 months and are having a quick hurrah in Vegas before heading home. For once I’m trumped in the travellers tales as we share a cab to the strip.
..then I meet two sisters from San Diego in Toby Keith’s “I love this Bar and Grill”, before the band start up. (Isn't this where we came in?)
After an hour of decent country music (yes it is possible) I head to Gilley’s where it’s the girls turn to ride the bull.
I talk to a Canadian stag.
He asks how they enforce a “quality standard” on the girls, since they’re riding in bikinis. I suggest that ladies who are older or, er, larger, probably don’t want to be flying around on a mechanical bull in a bikini, following good looking young girls.
How wrong can you be!
Still, I discover the young couple next to me, Glen and Alex are from Connecticut (From those names try to figure out who is whom!). They’ve driven across the country, so we swap entertaining travelling stories.
Alex says he’s found foreigners a lot more fun to talk to than Americans. I suppose it’s perspective – they’re meeting people who are travelling so are likely to be friendlier than fellow yanks. I’m meeting people who are interested in the fact I’m not a fellow yank.
Then there’s a special surprise visit from a rock legend. Willie Nelson has popped in for a drink. The MC spots him and asks him if he’ll sing us a song and he obliges with a version of “Can’t help falling in love with you”
Incredible. Actually, the Canadians are asking “is that really him?” Well, he looks like him and he sounds like him. But this is Vegas, where it seems just as likely to run into a real rock star as an impersonator, so who the hell knows!
The Connecticutians call it an early night, and I’m not tempted to stay for round two, so I head back to the HRH for a final dose of pianos.
Todd, Lee and Mike are in full swing. Again there’s only a dozen people watching, but the atmosphere is livened by some rowdy aussie girls in the corner. Lee spots me and slows it down for a spot of Pink Floyd – “Time” which is a meaningful song to listen to when you’ve decided to risk a career break to see the world:
“No-one told you when to run”
Ironically, the party livens up as the clock runs out. More people and requests stream in as we approach 2 o’clock. The army boys show up, and I make another friend when a lady buys me a drink for outbidding the Aussie girl who wanted the last song to be Kelly Clarkson.
I’m not against Kelly, but versus Living on a Prayer? Come on!
The guys go over their timeslot, even succumbing to fan pressure for a genuine encore. We’re all up and dancing like fools and it’s a great end to a great day.
But the army guys want another drink with me, so we stagger to another bar. I talk to a couple from Fresno who’d been enjoying the duelling pianos. Again I find they’re fascinated by my trip, tell me what I’m doing is great and wish me the best of luck.
“Americans don’t want to talk to you”? Are you kidding me?! J

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nineteen – Sin City

Barstow Holiday Inn is on one of the remaining bits of the original route 66, but I didn’t get any kicks. I did a fair bit of research for options for my onward journey. I even looked into another cruise when I discovered that the “Pride of America” sails around Hawaii every week, so I could catch it while I’m there. Trouble is they make you pay for a whole cabin so it’s not cheap on your own. Anyone for Hawaii?
I ran my late checkout to the wire as usual, then headed for Vegas, and the five star ph tower. It’s the posh bit stuck on the back of the already quite fancy Planet Hollywood. So even though I was in one of the cheaper rooms I still got huge windows and remote operated blinds in a very swanky room.
I headed over to New York, New York’s decent sports bar and got chatting to the girl next to me who, would you believe it, works on the Pride of America! Unfortunately she’s not been there long so didn’t know anyone who could get me a discount. I went to the “Rok” nightclub in the hope that they would play “rock” music, but it was just like the other clubs in Vegas, playing RnB and Hip Hop.
A couple of guys from New York – the city, not the hotel – said Tao at the Venetian was the place for Thursday night. As for Wednesday, I headed back to ph in the hope of catching “red light vegas” in the casino, but there’s another band on weeknights who were pretty tame.
After the incredible Hard Rock Hotel, the ph towers pool is pretty naff. In a swanky place you expect more than a 3 foot deep rectangle surrounded by breezy decking. Still, it was fun talking to the various groups of guys on stag dos.
The ph does have an awesome buffet though. I’m unable to eat like an American, but “all you can eat for 20 dollars” does compel you to fill to bursting!
In the evening I found another sports bar and spoke to a guy whose name I’ve forgotten, and Dorjon, who proudly showed me his licence to carry medicinal cannabis in the state of California. Apparently more than 500 thousand people have them now. I then made my way down the strip towards Tao, checking out various bars and stopping for a beer anywhere that had a live band or pianos. Most of the “duelling pianos” places were packed with drunken holidaymakers requesting the same old Elton John, Billy Joel and “Sweet Caroline” so I kept going. The queue for Tao was ridiculous, and the people reminded me of what to expect inside so I crossed over to Treasure Island. Woody was there again, beating all-comers at the bull ride.
I staggered back down the strip, bemoaning the lack of rock music in this town when I discovered 4 rough looking blokes playing a set in “O’shea’s”. It was still covers, but they knocked out some Offspring, and Rage Against the Machine so I finally got chance for a mosh!
Friday, and another game of “messaround” with the post office when I tried to send some winter clothes home, but I won’t bore you with that. Then, despite various suggestions for where to stay from my friends on facebook I decided to return to my favourite place in Vegas, the Hard Rock Hotel.
“Weren’t you here 2 weeks ago?” said the girl on reception.
“Ah yes, but I’m travelling around the world and I ….”
…and thus I blagged myself a corner suite with awesome views of the pools and the strip. It’s incredibly black in true “Hard Rock” style, even down to the black ironing board and iron! It’s also massive, with a massive comfy bed, a massive TV, and a massive shower you could play squash in.
I could get used to this.
Friday night and I take up gambling. Black Jack’s the game and there’s a whole dollar on the line! Well there was nobody to talk to while I waited for my food so I played the machine set into the bar. It’s not exactly a thrill, but it passes the time and when dinner arrives I’m 25c up!
Duelling Pianos at the HRH is far better than the ones on the strip. Mainly because there’s only me there! Several groups of people come and go through the evening, but I get to make lots of requests, and because we don’t have a large crowd we get a wide range of music. A few piano standards, some rock songs, some country, even some Pink Floyd.  I even get to hear some original tracks from two of the performers, who are great. So I’d encourage you to check out and Todd Dunnigan at
Lucky Lee is also performing and blitzes Jonny B Good before giving a great rendition of my anthem from Whitesnake.
Time to hang out at the pool and work on my tan for the big party tomorrow. Even without a party the pool’s a rowdy place. Pounding music and 50 dollar minimum booze spend if you want a lounger! I talk to a couple from Boston who recommend tonight’s gig in “The Joint” (where I saw Tiesto). It’s “Widespread Panic” whom I’ve never heard of, but they’ve been going 25 years and their fans are extremely devoted.
Not for the first time on this trip, I’ve got a ticket and no idea what to expect!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eighteen - 'til I die

Saturday night. No sign of Joe, but Dustin returns and Kimmi’s behind the bar again. We decide to celebrate my birthday early, despite Dustin having to work in the morning. Kimmi makes us a special drink with one hell of a kick, though I’m not sure if it’s from the alcohol or the combination of sweet fruits. Rick, the manager, buys us some beers and tells us that he’s moving on tomorrow. Maybe I should enquire about the vacancy.
The karaoke man arrives and Dustin makes a run for it. But Jojo and her mum show up for a second night, so I’m not drinking alone. They’ve come from Arizona to escape to the beach for some respite from the heat. Jojo likes to rap, so she puts her name down for “ Ice, Ice, Baby”.  In another bizarre coincidence the trio of girls on before her have chosen the same song, from a list larger than most telephone directories! The threesome giggle their way through a faltering attempt. Then, before they’ve even sat down, the song starts again and Jojo kicks it, Tucson style.
No contest.
Even the three girls are applauding, and karaoke seems like a good thing, before normality is restored by some fool warbling “The Final Countdown”. No, it wasn’t me. I made it through the night without belting out “Here I Go Again”, but I did indulge in the Cuban Shuffle.
It was a great pre-birthday bash and I’m glad I stayed.
Sunday, and it’s finally time to move on, to at least get a rest!
I decide to spend Monday night aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach. That gives me two days to pootle up the coastal highway. The drop top comes into its own, I can cruise, tan and hear the positive comments yelled from bystanders.
Laguna beach is a nice spot. You know you’ve stopped in an upmarket neighbourhood when you see two Lamborghinis in ten minutes. I grab an ice cream and take a wander along the beachfront.
I then find a Days Inn away from the beach and chill by the pool before a quiet night in front of the TV watching “Money never sleeps”.
Monday 11th July.
It’s my birthday so I celebrate by getting infuriated with administration. Remember the speeding ticket in New York state? Well here’s the staccato version of the saga:
Get ticket in NY.
Post form in Maine.
NY court imposes 100 dollar fine (fair enough), plus 85 dollar “surcharge” (because they can) then posts response to the UK.
My good buddy in the UK very helpfully scans form and emails it to me, by which time I’m in Vegas.
Finally find a printer in Holiday Inn, Oceanside. Take form to post office on Saturday. Post office has shut 3 minutes ago (Seriously)
Take form to post office on Monday, queue up, ask for money order (The NY police think it’s OK to write your credit card details in a letter and post it, I don’t!) but they can’t sell money orders on a credit card, and the machine thinks my debit card is a credit card, and they don’t have an ATM.
For pity’s sake!
Drive a mile to the nearest ATM, park in strip mall. Fight shoppers.
Return to Post Office. Second helpful post office bloke lets me jump the queue, then seals my envelope without selling me the money order. What the hell did he think I went away for? some saliva?
Finally, finally, the “cheque is in the mail” and I can hit the beach!
Huntingdon beach today. Looks a lot like Baywatch.
But I’m more excited about reaching Long Beach. Despite my lack of planning I managed to contact Everette, who was at my table on the QM2 and has worked aboard the Queen Mary for 30 years. He’s going to meet me on-board.
So I check in and explain it’s my birthday to get a really nice room with a view of Long Beach Harbour. I take a walk around the ship to get my bearings. Then I prop up the Observation Bar until Everette arrives.
He’s a wealth of knowledge about the ship, about the Cunard line, about ocean-liners… and I’d never been on anything bigger than the Mersey Ferry until I boarded the QM2. I get a personal tour of the ship, and some goodies for my birthday including a fascinating book on the construction, signed by the authors.
The QM is quite incredible. So much effort went into every part of the design and building of the ship. From the 56 different kinds of wood, to the intricate detail of the glasswork and the incredible paintings and decorations, the phrase “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” has never been more true. For the price of an average hotel room you get to spend a night in a museum. But it’s not just a stale collection of exhibits, it’s an immersion into a time where beauty was more than skin deep.
Unfortunately many guests seem to expect all the amenities of a modern hotel, so it’s a shock  to turn corners and find a pepsi machine, or Dance, Dance Revolution! Despite the best efforts of Everette and the genuinely friendly staff, the ship shows signs of age. As Everette puts it, she’s a seventy year old ship, built from bio-degradable materials, sitting in salt water. So I’d urge you to pay it, sorry, her, a visit soon!
I really enjoy talking to Everette about ships, cars, travel, and life in general. We complete the evening with a sumptuous meal in the award winning restaurant, Sir Winston’s, then I retire to my cabin to collapse in front of my flat-screen TV. Not all the updates are bad!
After a fine breakfast I bid farewell to Mary. It’s also farewell to the coast. I endure the Hell A freeway system and head for the hills.
I’ve spotted the Angeles Crest Highway, which looks like a fun way out to the desert, across the San Gabriel Mountains. I smile as I pass the “44 miles of twisty road” sign and for the next two hours I average 27mph and 12mpg without being held up once. I particularly enjoy driving a V8 convertible through the two short tunnels, what a sound!
Then I’m back in the desert and back in Barstow. I make an early stop at the Holiday Inn and…
They’ve a decent wifi connection. I desperately need to start coming up with some plans and get booking stuff for the next few weeks, but there’s so many choices, so many unknowns, I don’t want to get stuck, but don’t want to commit to staying in places I haven’t seen, at  the expense of seeing other things. …and expense? There’s a huge difference between grabbing the first price and finding the right price, but waiting could cost more…
So I stop and write this blog. Because:
No, I don’t know where I’m going.
But I sure know where I’ve been…

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Seventeen - Coasting

After Vegas I needed a quiet night. So I paid a rare visit to Mcdonalds. For some reason Barstow Mickey Ds is formed from a collection of railway carriages. Which I’m sure has some significance but enables the sound of screaming kids to echo through the building undampened. They also had problems with the Air Con which isn’t funny when it’s 102 outside.
At least it’s a dry heat right? Well, no. It’s unusually humid in the desert this week, so the only solution is to hang out in the pool. Luckily, some inspired genius has put the washer and dryer next to the pool so I can (finally) do some laundry at the same time!
Morning …er, must have been Wednesday, and I decide to head through the Joshua Tree National Park. There’s some great desolate roads on the way there and it’s afternoon before I pull up next to the ranger hut to pay my fee.
“Watch out for animals crossing the road” says the Ranger as I pull away. I nod but I’m too busy checking out the Corvette coming the other way. It’s driver is admiring my Camaro and we share a moment of mutual admira….
Hang on, what animals? It’s the sodding DESERT! There’s nothing living out here, that’s why it’s called a desert! What should I be expecting to see legging it across the road? Rattlesnakes?!
Well, nothing ran or slithered out in front of me, but all around me were Joshua trees and, er, nothing else! It’s quite a sight. There’s no other plants, just boulders. Lots and lots of boulders. The rocks are pushed up through the earth’s crust by some intricate process described in the guide that just blew out of the back of the car…
(Rescue guide, take pictures of car looking shiny)
So you can look at the pile of rocks that looks like a scull, or the pile of rocks that has a flippin huge rock perched precariously at it’s top, or the pile of rocks that.. well, there’s lots of rocks.
More impressive is the view from the top of the hill. There’s a 5 mile road up to Keys View and at its end is a staggering view across the valley. Of course it’s all shades of brown and not picturesque like Yosemite, but it’s quite something to see, especially because it sneaks up on you!
I head out of the park and spurn the interstate for the lure of a smaller road. I’m glad I did as the road twists and turns its way through a desolate canyon. I’m wondering whether a HUD in a car is a brilliant device that allows you to see your speed and gear without looking down, or a completely distracting number floating in your primary point of focus. Best switch it off, don’t fancy scraping a tyre down here!
No, not a tyre, that was an audible representation of the visible change. I’ll try again:
In an instant my whole world changed. The road emerged from the canyon across a railroad track and I was surrounded by 6 foot high vegetation! It looked like a vineyard with an almighty collection of equipment distributing water to the plants from a huge reservoir. It was stunning after hours, no, days in the desert!
I’d reached Mecca.
Well I don’t know what all the fuss is about because Mecca’s a crap place. No hotels, no Subway, not even a bingo hall. It must be very disappointing to make a pilgrimage to here.
So I consulted GPS. There’s one motel 10 miles South which is the way I want to go, but there’s loads 10 miles North. However the one South is by an inland sea, the Salton Sea in the town of Desert Shores. That wins easily!
It’s a crummy motel but it’s a few hundred yards from the beautiful sea, shining like a mirage in the desert. Except like a mirage I can’t actually get there. The whole sea front is fenced off with no trespassing signs. Great. Which is probably why it looks like nobody ever stays here!
North then, and the Indio Economy inn. It’s a nice little place with bungalows around a swimming pool area. A little run down, but they’re working on that. I chat to the owner’s son and he recommends all sorts of Mexican food and drink. Unfortunately I‘m still Vegas’d so I have another quiet night. It’s still over 100 degrees and the swimming pool feels like a bath.
Back past Desert Shores and then the final stretches of deserted roads before heading over the hills into civilisation. Time to drop the roof and crank the stereo then.
…and before you know it, I’m there:
San Ysidro
Forget Mecca, this is the real destination for this drive. The most South Westerly point in the United States. The Fourth Corner. The End.
It feels like I’ve overshot and hit Mexico judging by the Spanish signs and dark skinned faces. It’s crowded, noisy and dirty, but still the USA so I can be a wuss and eat in Subway. Or I could if there was anywhere to park, and somewhere to go for a pee. Hmm. Maybe I’ll just hit San Diego.
So for the first time in, who knows how long, I turn North. Into San Diego and I find somewhere to park, get out of the sun, get something to eat and yes, have a pee!
While I’m eating, a guy recommends PB, which stands for Pacific Beach, and apparently has a mile of bars leading to the ocean, about 20 minutes from here. Sounds great. So I take a wander round the “Gaslamp district” then check my map for PB.
OK, Sat nav?
Never heard of it.
Well I’ll just drive along the shore, how hard can it be?
But this is a city, and cities mean traffic, confusing signposts and junctions, and a few detours thrown in. Stuff this. I’ll get out of the city and back to the coast ten miles up, that should be good for PB.
I pass through La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya), Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encenitas but no sign of PB. I ask a gas station attendant, but she can only point at the ocean and say “it’s all Pacific Beach”
Something’s troubling me about these beach resorts. I’m not tempted to stay here because they don’t seem right. All the beachfront property is privately owned so the hotels are along the main road, a couple of blocks back. What I want is a place where the road follows the beach, perhaps with a promenade alongside. Where the hotels line the other side of the road with views out to sea.
I’ve travelled halfway round the world and I’m looking for Morecambe!
Carlsbad comes close. There’s a promenade and then you get to the hotels. Jim talked about it back in Tahoe city. So I try to stop but the nice places are over 200 bucks, and the cheap places are full. Oceanside is the next town up, but is no better.
It’s getting late so time for the fallback plan. Whack “Hooters” in the GPS, and hope for a hotel nearby.
Jackpot. 3 miles to Hooters and when I get there, there’s a Holiday Inn next door!
In Hooters I chat to Dustin from Alaska who works on the PGA tour erecting “bleachers” so travels a lot, and we swap stories about life on the road. The bar girl, Kimmi, is a lot of fun and very good at her job so I’m never without a drink. It’s a good night and a shame I won’t be back tomorrow.
Sod it. I’ll have another night here.  I need to contact people and sort some stuff out, although I spend most of the day by the pool. Everyone is at the beach leaving me a pool to myself to relax by. I’ve finally acquired some “Australian Bronzer” so it’s time to lose my one-armed driving tan!
Back to Hooters. No sign of Dustin, but Kimmi’s here, and so is Sarah. She’s about four foot tall but cute as hell, and we enjoy watching her attempt to fill 3 foot “towers” of beer. I’m sat next to Joe, who could be the quietest American I’ve met. We prop the bar up until Kimmi throws us out to close up. I bid them farewell, but Kimmi says “see you tomorrow”, she’s probably right.
It’s madness, it’s chaos, it’s …breakfast. The weekend has arrived, and all the kids with it!
I’d like to head back to PB. It turns out to be the area of San Diego I missed when heading out of town. But the hotels are expensive and full.
Sod it. I’ll have another night here.  
“Didn’t you say that yesterday?” asks the receptionist.
Yes. Yes I did. What the hell, I’ve ten days to get back to Vegas.
So I take a drive to PB. Sure enough there’s a strip of bars, and quite a few attractive people walking around. But I’m still high on the memories from Vegas, so I head back to my pool.
My toilet flush handle breaks off inside. I don’t mention it to the cleaner as I don’t want to be moved to a crummy room (Mine has a balcony over the pool) or have hassle with maintenance men, I can still make it flush, and I’m going tomorrow. Definitely this time! But while I sit by the pool, the cleaner discovers the problem, someone fixes it and I return to a clean room and a working toilet.
Holiday Inns rock!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sixteen – Leaving Las Vegas

As the sun ducked behind the buildings it was still hot, so the party continued. Clouds gathered and light rain began to fall but that’s not really an issue at a pool party. What is a problem, is lightning. A fork crackled across the sky, we cheered, but the party poopers decided that lightning and a thousand people in a pool was a bad combination. They cleared the pool with only a light resistance, promising to continue the party once everyone was clear of the water. But the storm grew more intense and within a few moments everyone was running for cover. Well, they ran for the casino, most people didn’t bother putting on any cover!
After Tiesto and Rehab I was knackered. But this is Vegas, you can’t just have a quiet night in. So I looked around the HRH and found the duelling pianos were on again, but with 3 different performers to last night. (The 3rd person means they can rotate off for a break without stopping the fun). People came and went. There were only ten to twenty people in the bar, but being Vegas we made a lot of noise. It also meant we felt part of the performance, being heckled for making obscure requests, and encouraged to join the singing or dancing. Songs ranged from “Ice, Ice, Baby”, the ubiquitous “Sweet Home Alabama” to Barry Manilow. Though Barry was only used to encourage us to come forth with more requests!
I’m refreshed by 3 dollar cans of Budweiser (Happy 4th July!) brought by a blonde waitress called Britney (Of course!) and when “Lucky Lee” announces that it’s approaching their 2am finish I’m stunned to realise five hours have passed! We end the night with everyone singing “Don’t stop Believing” and I stagger off to bed wondering what happened to my quiet Sunday night.
Monday is 4th July. There’s another pool party going on, but it’s a smaller version of yesterday’s. All the same music but less atmosphere. I swim around some of the other pools and pass a guy who looks like an aging rock star and is urging the lifeguard to get some Van Halen on the speakers.
I find a hot tub and chat to a couple of middle aged guys about Vegas. One mentions that he spotted Sammy Hagar, and the other guy is awestruck.
So that’s who he was! Now if I could just remember which bands Sammy Hagar was in…. possibly Van Halen, but didn’t they have David Lee Roth singing?
The guys go to talk to Sammy and his entourage, and I lounge around. Sammy’s shouting random celebrity names at passing people, and I smile as it reminds me of the QM2 where Neil and Aidan had celebrity lookalikes for most people we met.
As “Ross Perot” swims past me I pass Sammy to be greeted with a shout of “Joe Satriani!”. I stop to talk to Middle Aged Guy No.1 who points out yet another gorgeous brunette.
“She’s going to be on the cover of the new Chickenfoot album”
Ah yes. Sammy was the singer with Van Halen after DLR. He recently formed Chickenfoot with Joe Satriani on guitar.
Sammy comes over and we talk about why there aren’t more bands with a saxophonist, given the edge it gives a rock band. We share a thought for the passing of the great Clarence Clemons, then Sammy’s off playing Rock Star with other people’s girlfriends, and they don’t seem to mind.
(I shoulda learned, to play the guitar…)
Monday night and I’m ready for a quiet one, having been in a bar every night since San Fransisco!
But its 4th July in Vegas, so I really can’t stay in.
Only a fool would walk the mile from the HRH to the strip in 90 degree heat, and its unusually humid tonight. So as I saunter down the street trying not to sweat I’m wondering where the fireworks are. It turns out I’m not the only one wondering this. When I reach the strip I can barely move for people. There’s thousands of them lining the sidewalks, gazing expectantly skywards. From the general hubbub it seemed nobody knew if there’d be a display, they were just hoping or assuming.
9pm had just passed and the Bellagio fountains were swishing around across the street. It was hard to judge over the hundreds of heads but I reckon the Mirage Volcano was better.
Didn’t I mention it last time? As I staggered back from the Western bar on Friday night I happened to reach the Mirage at bang on midnight. Tribal drums bang and bong, accompanied by wailing voices. Flame spits into the air, building to a crescendo with the almighty volcano eruption. It aint Tiesto, but it beats Pirates vs Sirens into a three pointed hat.
Back to Monday, and I found a rock band playing covers in planet hollywood. Fitting with the bizarre coincidences on this trip I arrived as they were playing Van Halen’s “Jump”. Unfortunately they then took a break, so I headed off to New York.
NY NY have their own duelling pianos show, purportedly the best on the strip. I arrived to find them playing “Sweet Home Alabama” and realised I didn’t fancy another night of similar requests. So I found the Coyote Ugly bar and was impressed when the doorman wished me an early happy birthday! (One week to go!)
Inside there was a lively atmosphere. The bar’s based on the movie, so picture waitresses on tables, soda hoses being used to spray the customers etc. There’s also plenty of stuff that wasn’t in the movie!
I’ve stuff to do in the morning so I drag myself away from the craziness after midnight and head back to find the rock band are on another break. Dammit!
Still it gives me chance to talk to a cute blonde girl from San Diego (who’s too young for me) and her mum (who’s too old for me) and I get some free blackberries!
The band finally show up and play some hard rock. I think they were called Red Light Vegas, though I’d be careful googling that! My mate Sammy H pops in to encourage the band. He’s involved in the Cabo Wabo bar next door.
The band finish with a rousing rendition of, of course, “Don’t Stop Believing” and it’s bedtime. But not til after one last gawp at some of the memorabilia in the HRH. There’s Tom Morello’s guitar, and Christina Aguilera’s chaps. It’s annoying being off the strip, and there don’t seem to be as many things to do as most hotels, but the décor at the HRH is in a different league. Also, where others have muzak and the incessant racket of the slot machines, the Hard Rock has a never-ending string of great rock songs issuing from speakers at a reasonable volume. It’s been a great place to stay.
Following the inertia principle, I’m loathe to hit the road again. Perhaps I should just stay in Vegas for 2 more weeks?
But I should see San Diego, I’ll probably get bored of Vegas (?) and I’ve a new toy waiting at the airport.
After six weeks of faithful service I’m abandoning my Toyota. We’ve come through a lot together, but I can no longer bear to be part of the “car as a utility” collective. A car should make you say “wow” whether that’s by driving it or simply looking at it. To achieve both I’ve booked a Chevrolet Camaro
6.3 litres, 400bhp, sod-all mpg
But this means another game of “Doing the mess-around”. Deep breath…
Take Hertz car to Avis return. Park outside on meter to avoid getting trapped.
Big Queue, argument about satellite radio, finally get Avis booked and back to Hertz car just in time to beat the meter.
Take Hertz car into Avis lot, attempt to get a Camry’s worth of stuff into a Camaro convertible. (quart into half-pint pot!)
Off to return Camry to Hertz, with time running out, then realise I’m supposed to return full so dash to petrol station. Pump wants to know my zip code! “Oh for the love of Pete!” Cross to other petrol station, fill car, back to Hertz, drop off car, wave goodbye. Back to Avis.
I then head out across the desert, where it’s raining! It’s a straight road with a lot of hold-ups so time to play with my new toys. I’ve a Heads Up Display, and a satellite radio with killer speakers means I can roll down the highway listening to country music.
In need of a rest and to do some Laundry I stop early and contemplate how I’m ever going to make boot space so I can actually drop the roof of my convertible.
Well I didn’t get where I am today by doing things the easy way!
…and where I am, is Barstow, in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


This time I’m prepared for Vegas. A few days at Stateline is a good warm-up for the casinos, and I’ve driven in enough cities not to be overwhelmed by the manic traffic and nonsensical intersections. But I’m not prepared for the hotel.
As usual I pull up to register and am directed to a couple of 15 minute parking spots. Fine, except it takes 5 minutes to reach the reception desk and 5 minutes to queue. I’ve booked a pyramid room so I jump in the inclinator and head all the way up to the 19th floor to drop my bags off, wondering if I’ll make it back in time, then I’m stumped. My room number isn’t on the signs.
“What the deuce?”
The bloomin’ woman has put me in a tower room and not told me! Now I’m not too annoyed , because the tower rooms are more pricey, but it’s a long trek out there. Then it’s another long trek back to rescue the car, park, and then another long trek back to the room. …and it’s still 100 degrees outside! At least the room’s nice and I’m getting some exercise after the long drive!
I spend the evening exploring the Luxor and cross the connecting mall to the Mandalay Bay. I stop for Shepherd’s Pie in an Oirish pub, then in the Bay I’m given a VIP card to “Mix” so I wander up to a dark counter in a hallway and ask what it gets me. The guy takes the card and says:
 “Get in the elevator and hit the button”
This is all a bit James Bond, so I brace myself for the piranhas, but get a different shock. The glass walled elevator takes me up to a bar on the 64th floor with a fantastic view right down the Strip. I stand on the balcony and talk to an English couple about what’s good in Vegas and how it has changed. There’s several fancy new casinos, but they’ve moved away from the themes of the old ones and are attempting to be less tacky. That’s not very Vegas!
I don’t fancy the Titanic exhibit (Why does that film seem to be following me? I’ve found it on TV 3 times!) so I hit the bars and clubs of the two casinos. I have a late night, but it’s not as wild as Stateline was, perhaps because it’s Wednesday.
In the morning I don’t feel like dashing to the Grand Canyon and back. But I’ve only booked one night. I quite fancy a different hotel but which one? I find a message from Ben Ackland (a previous colleague of mine) that he’s staying at The Mirage with his girlfriend Alex for a few days so I think “What the Heck, I’ll stay there”.
This gives me time to look round the South end of the strip. I visit The Excalibur, The Tropicana and the Hooters casino where I stop for lunch. Then back through the MGM grand, across to NY NY and back around. It’s odd how the casinos are so different yet so similar.
Then I realise the downside of Hotel swapping in Vegas. While Ben and Alex are sunning themselves by the pool I’m carting my stuff around in 100 degree heat! At least this time I know to park the car first, then map out my route without heavy bags or a time limit!
The Mirage is really nice. The receptionist is also nice and gives me a superb room on the 17th floor with a view of the mountains, pool, and the strip! I meet Ben in the bar downstairs and it’s great to finally hang out with someone familiar. Ben and Alex are travelling around the world in 3 weeks and are on the last leg before heading back to New Zealand so they’re understandably jet lagged. But the energy of Vegas must be helping as they’re excited at the prospect of a trip to Hooters. Unfortunately I’d had lunch there so didn’t want to go back, but I’m always willing to put myself out for friends.
In Vegas Hooters seems quite tame. The Hooters girls are wearing more than most bar staff. Alex and Ben enjoy the place, and I enjoy watching Ben order enough food for the Roman Empire, then struggle to eat it.
We taxi back to Treasure Island as it’s next door to the Mirage and we want to watch the pirate ship battle. This is no longer kids’ entertainment as the pirates now battle the sultry sirens, but it’s extremely tacky, and not in the slightest bit sexy.
Ben and Alex prove quite adept at gambling on the slots, whereas I lose my 5 bucks with incredible speed and lack of fulfilment. However they soon succumb to jetlag, and I succumb to the lure of Gilley’s. A Wild West pub with a mechanical bull and an expert bull operator, who really knows how to make people look silly. The waitress outfits can only be described as “Chaps with Baps”, there are drunk girls happy to be thrown around and jiggled on the bull and the “Toughest Cowboy” competition is won by a guy called Woody who has a cowboy hat, boots and his own rodeo glove!
Friday I take a wander around the North end of the strip. Ceasars, the Bellagio, the Cosmopolitan, Planet Hollywood, Paris, the Imperial, Harrah’s and the Venetian. It’s 110 degrees and I’m knackered. B and A are watching the Beatles Cirque de Soleil show so I find somewhere to eat. I end up in another country bar, where there’s a live band, go-go dancers and some fun people to hang out with.
Saturday and time for another hotel swap. I’d previously booked the Hard Rock Hotel so I would be there for the Tiesto gig on Saturday night. By an amazing fluke I run into Ben on my way out of the Mirage so we have a beer before wishing each other Bon Voyage.
The HRH is a lot less tacky than most hotels in Vegas, though that’s reflected in the price. The big attraction is the stunning collection of pools, and the stunning people who hang out there. I try to forget I’m a pastey old bloke and relax by the pool. It’s a toss-up what the most important thing to have here is – sunscreen or earplugs. The sound system is phenomenal for outdoors, and I’m regretting my choice of room with a pool view as the bass pounds through the window. Still, I wasn’t planning on sleeping much!
Tiesto won’t hit the stage until midnight so I look for somewhere to go first. The HRH is a mile from the strip so no wandering out. There’s no good sports bar and grill so I eat at Mr Lucky’s cafe, then wander into a bar with live music. There’s two blokes on “duelling pianos” which actually entails two synthesisers, so one can play percussion while the other plays piano and sings requests. The guys swap over each song and it’s a great show. It almost seems a shame to leave to watch a guy play records!
The Joint nightclub is more like an arena. A big dance floor, VIP sections with seats and waitresses, and two floors of balconies. The support guy is pretty good at ramping up the excitement, then there’s only a short wait before the man himself hits the stage.
Tiesto used to be God. In the early 2000s he was the greatest DJ on the planet, and just watching the DVD of his concert in Arnhem sends shivers down my spine. Over the years he’s come to America and adopted a more commercial style. So it was never going to be the greatest night of banging tunes…
But as Tiesto takes the stage, the synthesisers rise to a deafening crescendo, matched only by the screams of the crowd. The lights flash wildly before reaching a single blinding image and then…
The bass kicks in.
It’s anarchy, it’s madness, it’s beautiful.
A few thousand people go completely mental, and in that moment it’s better than anything, ever.
It’s a great couple of hours. Tiesto slips in a few classics, and most people are happy to dance to the new stuff, but I just don’t find House as energising as Trance, and the crowd is slipping away by 4am so I call it a night.
Sunday at the HRH means only one thing: Rehab.
It sounds like a relaxing party around the pool but it ain’t. They can fit a few thousand people in the Hard Rock pools and it feels like they’re all in the main Rehab pool. There’s so many gorgeous, young, tanned, skinny girls here that most normal girls stay away. There’s lots of muscle-bound blokes here as well so it’s hard not to feel self-conscious but what the hell!
The DJ drops another deafening wall of synthesiser insanity, water’s flying everywhere, everyone’s going crazy. Then just for a moment, because it’s July 4th weekend, the DJ stops for a tribute to the troops, and plays God Bless the USA.
…and for once, I can’t argue.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


After five nights at Lake Tahoe it was something of a struggle to get rolling again. Though that was a lot to do with the sunshine by the pool in the morning. I then had to fight traffic to get through South Tahoe and into the hills. It was like fate was telling me to stay put. Even the mountain roads were slow-going, due to road work.
But soon I was up in the Sierra Nevada mountains and grinning like a monkey with a squirt gun. They’re not as well known as the surrounding attractions so the roads are clearer, but the views are spectacular. Route 108 wound it’s way up past 9600 feet where there’s still a good covering of snow. So I was able to have a snowball fight in June! (Although the car didn’t put up much competition)
As I whizzed down the road I passed a place called the Strawberry Inn. Actually, I didn’t pass it. Maybe the extended stay had done me good, because for once I stopped early. It wasn’t as cheap as I’d hoped, but that was because of the lack of competition, which meant carrying on could have been a long slog. It also happened to be next to a pretty river and I talked my way into a discount and a view of the river.
They had a bar attached so I didn’t have to trek out. The Russian barmaid was on her first day, didn’t speak much English, and was utterly useless. Being kind Americans the guys in the bar didn’t complain a bit. Though I suppose it could have had something to do with her being 21 and gorgeous.
Tuesday morning I headed on to Yosemite. I stopped at the massively disappointing “Rim of the World” viewpoint and then had another crisis. GPS wouldn’t wake up! I stroked him and cuddled him, made sure he was cool and out of the sun, but he wouldn’t come back to me!
OK, think. I’m in the countryside so there’s not many turns to take, so I can manage. But it could be days before I pass somewhere to get another one, and I’ve just paid for a fresh batch of maps including Canada. Dammit!
So I stop again, hold both the power button and my breath…
There’s a light!
Wahoo, he’s back! …I mean, oh good, it’s working. I then fashioned a little hat to keep the sun off the sensitive parts and got back to the business of gawping.
And there’s a lot of gawping to do in Yosemite. I almost passed on the valley drive, having seen it all before, but popped out of the tunnel to what must be one of the greatest views in the world (Well, second to the Hard Rock Hotel pool, but we’ll get to that later). The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the waterfalls are full with snow-melt and a single view let’s me see right down the valley. El whassisname, and the half-jobby are soaring majestically into the sky. (What? You expected me to read the guide? ..and can a mountain soar?) … and so I join the slack jawed tourists pootling around the valley staring skywards.
Then it’s onwards and upwards over the 9999 foot(ish) Tioga pass. It’s disappointingly dull. Just trees and the occasional glimpse of distant beauty. Oh well, time to crank the stereo and head on.
But no. Yosemite isn’t done yet. Once I’m above the treeline I’m gobsmacked again. It’s ridiculous. I have to give up taking photographs because I don’t know what not to shoot. I could be here all month! The packed campgrounds make a lot of sense when you see how much there is to appreciate.
I’m going blind from all this beauty as I drive out of the park and down the hill towards Lee Vining. But it just gets more incredible. The glacial landscape gives way to a moonscape as the road plunges down the mountainside. Then, the final impact. Mono Lake.
That’s the sound of me gulping and swallowing my tongue. The lake is an alien colour, there’s an incredible island rising out of an extra-terrstrial lake. These colours can’t be real? It’s like an airbrushed painting!
Oh, hang on. My tinted sunglasses are enhancing reality! It’s still blooming gorgeous without them though. (Though I definitely recommend viewing the world through bronze lenses!)
I remember staying at Lee Vining on that trip back in 2000. Though the hotel wasn’t great, so this time I plump for the Lake View Inn.
Well, I must be getting better at chatting to receptionists because the girl gave me a discount and put me in the biggest hotel room on the planet! It was 8 metres by 8 metres, had a 4x3 private balcony outside, a sofa, and a la-z-boy! Unfortunately she wouldn’t go so far as bringing some friends up for a party, simply to help me utilise the space better you understand.
So where to next? It’s a bit soon to hit Vegas, so I’ve time to see the Grand Canyon. But there’s nowhere between LV and the GC except the other LV. It’s going to be a 340 mile slog into a big city so I book ahead. Going with the theme of 2000 I book a room at the Luxor before I go to bed.
I awake to the sound of rain pouring down. It’s 43 degrees outside. This was to be expected so close to Death Valley, but I’m talking Fahrenheit!
The answer is altitude. As I head East I fall thousands of feet, the temperature rises to compensate. By the time I reach sea level it’s 108 degrees. But that’s not so bad for Death Valley in July, and it’s a dry heat, so you don’t suffer like you do when…
Holy Toledo!
The wind’s blowing a gale. In 108 degrees. In a place that’s mostly sand. Time for a sharp exit!
Luckily I’ve seen the tourist stuff before, and I don’t see the point in photographing DV. Well, not with a basic camera. The majesty of the area comes from it’s bleakness. So any pictures I take will just be bleak, and who wants to look at bleak pictures? So that’s my justification for ploughing on across the desert.
I have a surreal moment in the middle of nowhere, when a helium balloon with a yellow smiley face on it comes bobbing across the road ten feet off the ground…
Otherwise it's onwards to Vegas. So don’t be surprised if the next blog seems oddly disjointed and sporadic.