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…

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