Tuesday, March 31, 2009

warning: listening to bon jovi makes you break the law.

"dammit dammit dammit"

is what i'm thinking as i fly down princes highway at the speed of light (130 km).  i've just passed a policeman, who was coming the opposite direction.  

i take my foot of the gas and promptly apply it to the brake.  "what's the speed limit again?"

"i don't know," mj says (not at the same time.  that would be weird).

i saw his tail lights flash in my rearview mirror.  he was slowing down.  

"he's gone" says mj (well, just one of them, but i don't remember who.)


"dammit dammit dammit"

is what i'm thinking as the police car gets bigger and bigger in every mirror i see.  

"his lights aren't flashing," jeanne says.


"dammit dammit dammit"

is what i'm thinking as i see flashes of red and blue light in the rearview mirror.  in a way, i'm relieved that i don't have to keep wondering if he's going to pull me over or not (LIE).

as he approaches the car, i put my hands on the wheel.  i saw on tv somewhere that this tells the policeman that i'm not armed.  this doesn't stop me from asking mel "i put my hands on the wheel right?" to break up the awkwardness.

i put down the driver side window to talk to the policeman.  except that the driver's side window is on the right-hand side, not the left.     

hi, i'm walter, and i'm a dumb american.

hi walter.

 so i put the window back up and put down the real driver's side window.

"good afternoon, sir," says officer aussie, putting his hand on the hood of the car.

"hi" i say, in my idiot speech.

"you guys victorian, tourin' or what?"

"we're tourists," i say as if it ain't bloody obvious.

"where ya from?"

"we're from florida," i say.  i've always been embarrassed to about that, but i'm sure now that florida's more embarrassed that i'm from there than i am.

"they got speed limits and signs in florida?"

"hahaha, yeah they do." i'm sure glad gary's not here to see this moment.  i tell the officer that when we passed him, we weren't sure how fast the speed limit was.

"speed limit's 100 km/hr.  i clocked you at 130 km/hr."

i say nothing here.  i being to wonder if my abnormally large feet is factor in my speeding.  i decide to look this up later (LIE).

"happened to me in great britain.  unfortunately it's gonna be a paper ticket," he says apologetically.  this throws me off guard.  he's easily the nicest policeman i've ever encountered.  he doesn't throw his weight around.  he isn't condescending.  he's just doing his job.  i respect that.  

when we goes back to the car there is a moment of silence.

"it was the bon jovi," says mel.  we had just stopped at a gas station and purchased a two disc CD of top 40 hits.  the first track was a bon jovi song.

"it's my life," i say in defense.  yuk yuk.

jeanne then tells us about how she got pulled over all the time in georgia.  she said it was the speed traps.

"ever get a ticket?" i ask.

she shakes her head.

"i got pulled over once, but not for speeding," mel says.  

"what was it for?" i ask.

"for not having my headlights on."

"were they broken?" 


if you want to know more about THAT story, you can apparently read it in a book somewhere

"did you get a ticket?" i ask.

mel shakes her head no.

"damn," i say. "i wish i was a hot chick so that i would never get tickets."

when the policeman comes back to the window, he's got the paper ticket in his hand.

when the policeman gets back to the window, he tells me the amount of the ticket is $300.00 (this translates to roughly two hundred american dollars).  

"don't worry about the demerits (points), we don't give demerits to tourists."

"so i can pay for that online?"

"yeah, you can pay it if you like or you can put it in yer scrapbook."

wait, what did he say?

"my job is to make people drive a little slowah on the road, is all.  please don't let it stop from you from tourin'."  

we said goodbye and he walked back.  

"did he just say that i didn't have to pay for it?"

"i think so," said mj (but not at the same time.  that would be weird).

"i think he liked you", jeanne said.

jeanne's thought is nice but i know better.  i'm driving with two hot chics.

hot chics? no ticket.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our trip carries on...

We leave Sydney today.

This best known Australian city has been our home for the past week and a half. We've become well acquainted with the transportation system, sat under its many trees, appreciated its beautiful beaches (and people), traversed its rocky terrain, and partook in its multicultural restaurant scene.

Familiarity has not bred contempt.

In fact, the comfortability of this knowledge and experience will be missed.

Sadly, we never got to see the 'Man fields' up close and personal.

We DID, however, watch an Australian Rugby game on TV. Our host tells us Australian Rugby is a mix of Rugby and football. I love football, but this was far more entertaining and moved much more quickly. Furthermore, it seems to require a more advanced and honed skill set, as tackling is not an option and there is no protective gear. The men are in incredible shape - all of them. We have yet to determine the multitude of rules.

We are setting out, in about an hour, to head towards the airport to pick up our first rental car. We toyed with the idea of buying a car, but the logistics of that just haven't meshed yet. We'll probably end up doing that once we hit Cairns (pronounced cans) and the Great Barrier Reef.

I'm terrified of the idea of driving on the left side of the road, while positioned on the right side of the car. Today is our first experience with that. Luckily, we're picking up the car at the airport, and not heading into Sydney traffic. Left turns become tight turns, while right turns become wide. Round-abouts now flow clockwise, to the left, instead of counterclockwise, to the right.

We were watching Tommy Boy the other day and Mel commented - he's driving on the wrong side of the road! Her mind has already adjusted to the left side of the road being the correct side.

Mine, however, has not. When I first arrived, cars on the left just looked off. That was simple, because I could definitively tell you which side of the road you were supposed to drive on, simply because it was the opposite of what I knew.

But now.

Now, I'm just confused about which side of the road to drive on. Nothing seems correct anymore. Because I can't even tell you which side is wrong, figuring out which side is right becomes all the more complicated.

[Disclaimer: the word wrong simply means opposite from American standards. Neither is right or wrong, but rather what I am used to. I don't expect Aussies to conform to any other standard, it's just the simplest way to describe to you my perceptions.]

The other day, we were walking out of McDonalds (through which the drive-through flows in an opposite direction around the building as well). A lady ran past us, and banged on the hatch of the car to our right. It drew our attention (she was trying to give the passengers a bag they had forgotten) and my first connection was with the driver. He was a young boy, probably 7 or so.

Split second confusion.

Split second recognition.

He was the front passenger, driver on the other side.

It happened again later that day. We were on the sidewalk, waiting to cross the street. A fire truck comes blaring by. Mel and I both catch the driver reading a newspaper and immediately wonder how he is driving. Of course, he wasn't. But the mind was very disoriented.

Adventures in driving, day 1.
We picked up the car.

Let me interject that our cab driver, an Asian-Australian, was very interesting. He kept referring to the rental car companies as 'dictators' because they are a private company. "They're not democracies, like the public companies." He said.

He made me laugh a lot, though I'm not sure whether it was at him or with him.

I'm now writing, and surprised to be alive, at a McDonald's somewhere south of Wollongong. Driving in Australia is even worse than I thought it would be.

I honestly thought it might not be as bad as I thought; however, it's worse.

For example, I didn't consider depth perception. I'm sitting in the front seat with Walter, who has opted to drive first. And I'm scared out of my mind. I keep thinking he is going to hit the cars that are around us.

Walt is a good driver; however, he brakes a lot differently than I do. We're flying down the side of a mountain going 140 and I'm trying not to freak out.

That's 140 KM/H, not 140 Mi/H. But it still feels really fast.

Walt goes into a story about how his dad drives like an aggressive madman, claiming that he, himself, is tame compared to this.

Thank God I never have to drive with his dad. Ever. I would probably have a heart attack.

Also, I think the lanes are smaller. Walt swears it's our minds, not reality, but I don't think a SUV would fit in one of these lanes without crashing into the other cars.

We also got lost on the way out of Sydney. Luckily, we had a tiny little map with tiny little red lines on it.

We will likely be investing in GPS rather soon.

Do GPS have scenic routes within? Here's crossing my fingers.

We're carrying on South for another few hundred miles today. We have three days to get down to Melbourne, which should be plenty of time.

I miss having high speed wireless to share our video blogs with you guys.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

How we met Hugh Jackman.

Aussie men are dangerous.


The streets of Kingsford, a suburb of Sydney.

We are crossing the street. The green man is not blinking, but we cross anyway. We are jaywalking. I scurry across, following closely behind Jeanne and Walt. Both are gliding toward the opposite end of the street.

Suddenly, I see in the distance, cars barreling down the street. Walt stops in the median. I stop in the median. Jeanne keeps gliding. Right into traffic.

"Jeanne! Jeanne!"

I see Jeanne turn around, a wide, unconscious grin on her face. I see a beautiful man with long hair flowing behind him in the wind, his white shirt glowing in the sun, him passing me, passing her. I see life in slow motion.

My instincts kick in, adrenaline rush and I reach out my hand to stop Jeanne from walking directly into oncoming cars. My mind flash forwards to a possible parallel future and I see Jeanne completely mowed down in the middle of the street by a barrage of cars. I see my best friend lying mangled in the streets of Kingsford. I see ambulance sirens, a stretcher, and our Aussie trip definitively cut short.

I imagine a long, twisted string of spider web shooting from my hands, wrapping around Jeanne and pulling her back, thrusting her in the opposite direction, out of harm's way. She flails her arms, windmilling wildly in the wind and falls backward, slamming upon the cement. Knocked out.

I am by her side. Walt and I crowd above her, anxious and waiting to see if she is okay. We try to revive her. The glowing, white-shirted man rushes over, concerned at this fallen red-haired beauty.

Jeanne finally comes to and finds herself staring up into the eyes of a strangely familiar face. It's Hugh Jackman.

"Hugh?" Jeanne says weakly.

And that is how we meet Hugh Jackman.

Okay, maybe that's not exactly what happened.

Spiderwebs did not shoot from my wrists. Hugh Jackman did not show up.


Everything else pretty much happened.

In a moment of adrenaline and a fear of Jeanne's death that was most certainly seconds away from happening, I did panic and call out.

"Jeanne! Jeanne!"

And she turns around, grinning from ear to ear, clearly distracted by this man, completely oblivious that she was about to walk directly into the pathway of a dozen or so speeding cars.

Momentarily distracted myself at this man's hotness, I also hesitated. What am I doing?! My friend is about to die!

I snap back to reality and reach out to grab her.

Later in a local pub, over steak and fish and chips, Cokes and our first exposure to Australian football in a local pub, we laugh about the whole thing.

I laugh because all I remember is the way she turned around and the way she grinned. And I know exactly what she was looking at. I was looking, too.

And if we hadn't jaywalked, the view would have lasted longer.

Next time, we wait for the green blinking man.

Rule # 7: No more jaywalking.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Everything in life sucks." Walter exclaims loudly as we sit in the middle of McDonalds eating lunch.

Mel and I both look at Walter with our eyes rolling in our mind and she calls him melodramatic.

Our internet access has been frustrating, to be certain, but everything in life sucks? Dear God, our life is AWESOME right now. In every aspect. Oh, well, except for the internet.

I raise my eyebrow at Walt as he's recording a video message, explaining why we are sucking so bad at video chatting, etc.

This McDonalds has a 50MB upload/download limit, but it's free. However, it's too slow to upload any of these videos we've been video blogging for our avid fans. And too slow to download LOST from the illegal website we used last week. Video blogs? Minute, compared to missing LOST. But to be fair, I didn't think we'd be able to be caught up with the States in regard to LOST, because Aussieland is 3-4 weeks behind.

So here we sit in McDonalds - so close to civility, but so far away.

We miss you guys. And promise to upload video blogs (a whole barrage of them - you'll be sick of us when we get them all uploaded!) as soon as we get a worthwhile connection...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


a day of Manliness

There is a magical beach in Sydney, Australia known as Manly Beach. (We thought of Precious Manly an infinite amount of times today...)

Walt, Jeanne and I traveled by ferry across the Sydney Harbour to Manly Beach today.

Upon arrival, we stepped off of the ferry and found ourselves surrounded by all-things Manly. Everywhere we looked we saw signs for Manly Paradise Hotel, Manly Italian Restaurant, Manly Souvenir Gift Shop, Manly Bank. This main drag of Manliness guided our footsteps to the shores of Manly Beach, a stretch of white sand and surf, lined by fir trees and rocks that dwarfed Bondi Beach in size.

Even more glorious and manly was the actual men on the beach. We wondered if this Manly Beach would live up to its name.

And it did.

Oh indeed, it did.

Jeanne and I came up with nicknames for each hot man we saw today, and we shall chronicle our sightings for you as follows:

The first sighting of the day was Colorado.

Oh, Colorado.

Our encounter with Colorado began as a debate with Walt as to how high the surfing waves were. Unfortunately, the intensity of the swells today prevented the casual beachgoer from swimming in the shark-infested waters of Manly Beach. As a result, the only people allowed in the surf were actual surfers. Manly surfers.

I first noticed Colorado as he sat on his surfing board, facing the water, although I didn't really pay that much attention to him. Walt, Jeanne and I began to debate the height of the waves. Walt guessed 5-6 feet, while I conjectured 7-8 feet. Jeanne settled around 5 to 6. Jeanne decided to ask this man sitting on the surf board to settle the debate. She strode on over to Colorado and engaged him in conversation. Walt and I stood from a distance. Walt commented, "That man's dreams just came true."

After about 15 minutes of conversation, Jeanne returned to where we were camped on the beach and explained to us that the waves were 2 meters (or 6 feet tall), valuable intel gleaned from her conversation with this bloke from Colorado. Hence the name Colorado. His actual name was Josh, but that is not important to this story.

Colorado later informed us of the joys of the Australian agricultural industry and Jeanne and I immediately to hatch plans to harvest cabbage at some point.

The second sighting of the day occurred when Jeanne and I were coming back from the public restrooms located by the street. She had nudged me and said the standard something-along-the-lines of "Whoa, check out that hot guy."

"Where?" I didn't see where she was pointing. A moment passes. I saw.


We later described him as a cross between David Beckham, Sawyer from LOST and a young Sean Penn from Fast Times from Ridgemont High. It was all about the long blonde hair pulled back by a ponytail. And the shades.

He and his friends started doing a lot of crunches on the sand. So we dubbed him "Crunch," a.k.a. "Captain Crunch."

Captain Crunch sure looked great playing volleyball.

And walking. And running.

Those were the main highlights of our afternoon. We also dubbed one guy Spot, due to the spot of sunscreen he failed to spread evenly on his back. Jeanne kept daring me (in her typical"Do it, do it, do it" fashion) to go help him rub that sunscreen in. The poor guy just left his blanket with this white splotch on his back. He disappeared for an hour and returned with his buddy. I thought, "Surely his friend would tell him about the sunscreen on his back." No dice. I dubbed his friend "Judas," since he failed to do his friend a solid and inform him that he looked ridiculous.

We also saw Zebra, a guy with black and white striped pants. He was too far away to tell of his Manliness, but he did do a funny little dance whilst playing volleyball.

Anyway, we--(we meaning at least Jeanne and I)--came away from our Manly Beach experience totally satisfied.

We ended the evening with drinks at the Old Manly Boathouse, and an amazing ferry boat ride back to Sydney. As the sunset faded into night, we passed the edge of the earth, with Manly Beach to our backs, and a front row seat to the brilliant vista of the Sydney nighttime skyline, Opera House and Harbour Bridge included.

It's been a good day.

Monday, March 23, 2009


so i failed the blog fast and this is how we ended up in an australian chinese restaurant on my bill.  to my right, pudge: the only white person in the room.  from the way she talks about it, i assume this never happened to her in georgia.  to my far left, beaves, the asian in residence, acronym'd AIR, as in "headed".    yuk yuk.

in my seat is me and i, of course, have eaten too much chinese food.  i have not once eaten chinese food and not felt full afterwards.  chinese proverbs tell you to eat until your 8/10 full.  kiss my butt, china, you know that's impossible with the food you put out.  or, at least, the food your other-countried selves put out.  

this is going to sound ignorant of me (surprise), but i find chinese culture so completely alien that when i hear them speak to each other i never assume they're saying anything completely banal like "oh, susie's still inside picking up the check, she'll be out in a minute."   i always assume they're unveiling the secrets of the universe in terms only they can understand, like "oh, susie remains hidden in the jade temple, awaiting the fire from the dragon sky.  tonight the seven suns will rise in the water mountain, and all shall rule where none shall live."  y'know, something like that.

pudge and beaves stare at me.  "you ARE ignorant," they tell me with their eyes.

yes, yes i am.  i'm also 11/10 full.  china's full, too.  of rubbish (that's non-american english for 'trash'.  rubbish.  it's on all the trash cans here.  i look at those trash cans and i think instead of putting horrible movies in there, not actual trash.  'ever after'? rubbish.  throw it in the can.  done and done).

when we're 15/10 full, i grab the check.  the cashier has an australian accent.  he's chinese.  i'm weirded out.  i'm ignorant.  

i exit and it hits me. "no fortune cookies," i say to jeanne and mel. 

"yeah, that's an american chinese food thing" they say.

hi, i'm walter, and i'm a dumb american.

hi walter.

"Do it, Do it, Do it"


Quite possibly the greatest city on Earth, with the exception of it being so incredibly far from the East Coast of the US.

The best way to explain Sydney is as follows: the big city/international feel of Manhattan + the trendiness of Seattle + the cleanliness and outdoorsy-ness of San Francisco.

I adore it, already. The weather has been rather warm - much warmer than we expected. It's been between 75 & 85 degrees on a regular basis. All of us lament not bringing more shorts/sundresses. Veronica - our host - tells us that for about a week in the summer it gets to around 112 degrees.

That is flipping hot.

I haven't even told you the worst part about that: Australia does not have central air conditioning.

But despite the hot summer weather (which won't be around for a good 6 months), I'm enthralled with this city.

We have been down to Circular Quay (pronounced Circular Key) several times to see the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. We've toured the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hyde Park, and Tumbalong Park . We strolled across the Bridge. We've been to Bondi beach, which you've already read about. Today, we went to Sydney Wildlife World, which is in Darling Harbour along the water. SWW contains numerous venomous spiders and snakes. It also contains the cutest freaking Koalas I've ever seen (granted, they are also the only ones I've ever seen). We met Charlie and Ella. They sleep about 20 hours a day, because they have so little energy from eating food with such little nutritional value. They'd wake up every now and then. We paid an extra $20 (between the 3 of us) to go into the Koala area, pet one on the butt (no, really) and take a picture with them.

I wanted to steal one, but Melissa wouldn't let me.

Koalas take me back to my childhood. I couldn't begin to tell you how my brother, John, and I got obsessed with Koalas, but we did. I distinctly remember having a stuffed Koala named Joey. John had one named Ben and a second one later, but I don't remember his name. I had an earlier Koala, too, but I also don't remember his name. They were ALWAYS boys. We also had statues from zoos that were koalas. Mel gave me a koala clip that lived on my ceiling fan as encouragement to save money to do this whole Aussieland trip. I was so happy to finally meet a real Koala up close. Highlight of my day, I think.

The kangas were really adorable too. Oddly enough, to me, they were laying down on their sides like cows, chilling and sleeping in the shade. Walter commented that maybe this is why we've been sleeping so much here: 'everything in Australia sleeps a lot.' It's true - we have been going to bed much earlier than we expected. But when you're out walking around in downtown Sydney for 8-10 hours, the last thing you want to do upon arriving home is go back out again. So we hibernate for the evening.

We also saw a few other random Aussie animals. The spider/kanga guy liked me. I like Australian men.

In addition, we have spent every single day thus far in a park of some sort, which has been so relaxing. We've taken books every day, but today is the first day any of us bothered to read. And we only read for probably 10 minutes. There's just so much to absorb, to discuss.

Melissa and Walter like to climb trees. I forgot not to wear a dress for only this reason, so I end up taunting them from below, trying to get them to jump 10 feet from their branch to the ground. In all seriousness, I used to do this when I was 10 years old (from the top of the monkey bars) and I don't get why they are so scared.

"Are you going to pay my medical bills if I break my ankle?" Mel asks me. I nod convincingly, replying, "Your travel insurance covers that!" She looks freaked out, and I keep saying, "Do it. Do it. Do it." She then asks if I'll feel bad if she breaks her ankle, and I tell her, "Nope. It's your decision, your action. I'm not making you jump." She looks indignant as she chooses the safer way down. I call Walt "ENTWuss" and he calls me the devil on his shoulder.

When they get down, Mel agrees that the tree wasn't really that far off of the ground. Walt keeps up his charade of it being a silly decision.


We stroll back down Elizabeth Street - which we've also been down each and every day we've spent downtown - towards the Starbucks, scouting out a bathroom along the way. Australia, like Europe, is very different about their public bathrooms. They just don't have them. I suppose it has something to do with being a large city or having a large homeless population (which I should interject I haven't seen if they do exist). It's odd to us. We already know the Starbucks doesn't have a bathroom, because we've tried that once already. So we're walking down the street when we spot a 'toilet' kiosk along the edge of Hyde Park.

You have to pay 50 cents to use this toilet. Mel throws her 50 cent piece towards the slot and the door opens from right to left very slowly. We all peer in to check out the inside and the door then slides back into place with Mel inside.

"I feel like I've just been to the future." Mel comments as she comes out. The toilet flushes and the floor washes itself as the door opens. The sink has a soap/water/dryer output in the same piece.

Weird. But cool.

On to Starbucks, where a cappucino is tasty, and a long black is the closest thing to American Coffee/Cafe Americano. We sit on the patio area of Elizabeth street, watching the passer-bys. Random conversations ensue, as usual.

As we walk back down Elizabeth St to catch the bus back to Kingsford, we spot a shirtless Aussie guy playing football in the park with his friends. Mel nudges me and we stop to try to take a picture... because everyone keeps asking us to do so. It's funny, the awkwardness of trying to capture an attractive guy on digital for your friends without being obvious. Mel and I sit down and fake-self-portrait it. Walt is standing in front, watching us,, and I sense his eyes rolling behind his mirrored aviators. We are cracking up, because the picture we take is a horrible attempt. Walt grabs the camera from Mel, pretends to take a photo of us, and somewhat zooms in on Shirtless Guy. Mel and I continue to laugh hysterically as he snaps the photo for us.

Good sport.

So we have captured one cute Aussie on film. And he's not the cutest we've seen. Or even the guy with the best abs, although his abs were pretty rad.

When we were walking down the sidewalk at Bondi, we strode past a guy doing reverse crunches on the bench of the workout area alongside the sidewalk.

I've never seen a legit 8-pack in real life, until now. Even Walt appreciated the guy's physique. I'm fairly certain the guy's career involved maintaining his perfect 8-pack.

From cute Aussies to church.

We went to Hillsong yesterday for the 11am service. It was NOT what I was expecting. We caught a bus to Central Station, where a Hillsong Courtesy Bus came by and took us to the church itself. We were about 15 minutes late, because we didn't plan the bus schedule thing very well. We pull up to the church, which is the city campus, and it's considerably smaller than I expected. We rush inside and take some of the last available seats, near one of the cameramen.

We arrive in time to sing the last song before the speaker comes on. I fall in love with the song; I've always loved Hillsong's style of music. To be honest, most of their songs have the same structure, but there's just something very genuine about it. There must be 10 people on stage singing and playing instruments, plus a group towards the back that acts as a choir. The song isn't released yet - in fact I think they might be recording it next weekend. More on that later.

The speaker is Hillsong's main pastor, Brian Houston, is extremely engaging as he presents James and the 'word' sermon in a slightly new light. He's a funny guy and his accent keeps me on my toes while listening. He calls people who twitter twits (which I find extremely funny) and he speaks of how it can be so easy to read a beautiful blog while completely disregarding the spirit of the person who wrote it.

I found this part to be thought-provoking. If the words are beautiful, but the spirit is angry or bitter, what does that say to be reading it? It set my mind into motion and I'm still considering his point.

We lucked out, because Hillsong is going to be recording their album next Sunday night at the Sydney Entertainment Center. We had been planning to leave Sydney on Saturday, but thought the experience of being part of Hillsong's next album was too much to miss. Therefore, we are staying an extra two nights. I'm STOKED about being there for the worship, with the added benefit of being on the recording itself. Like I said, I adore Hillsong's music!

I suppose this is a good stopping place for now. We are going to go to Manly Beach tomorrow - shout out to Presh Batmanly! One thing I did NOT expect was to be tan after 6 days in Sydney. I'm gonna work on that some more tomorrow, even though the darkest part of my tan came from simply walking around the city.

Off to eat some Asian food - see? I'm growing already!

- JC

Saturday, March 21, 2009


We call him Wally, Smally, Smalls, Walt, and very, very rarely, Walter. Usually when we're telling someone else about him.

He told me a story of how his dad, Walt Sr. (AKA Richard Alpert in some circles), punched a guy in the face once for calling him Wally. But you can tell that deep down, he loves that we've nicknamed him. He is the king of nicknames, I tell him. He warns us that if anyone else starts to call him Smally or Smalls, he's not going to take it from them. It's our nickname for him - nobody else's.

So I'm warning you now. He had a mean gleam in his eye.

The first time I met Walt was the night we went to see Wanted. The movie was horrible, save a few really cool scenes and Angelina Jolie's character's dedication. 6 of us crammed into Gui's Explorer, with someone being stuck in the backseat. Gui's new friend, Walt, shows up to the movie late, and is down a few rows. I'm sitting beside Gui, and he and Walter are tossing comments back and forth down the stairs during the movie.

We walk out to the parking lot, and decide to go back to the house to chill out for a bit. Walt pulls up behind Gui's car to see what the plan is and to follow Gui back to our house. I size him up through the driver's side window, then graciously invite myself into his car so that I don't have to cram into the trunk of Gui's car.

It was only a 10 minute car ride from the movies to our house, if that. I had never even set eyes on Walt before this night, but in that 10 minutes, we had an INTENSE conversation.

I got out of the car wondering what happened and how that developed so quickly. I was kind of shocked by it, I think.

Fast forward several months later, to Walt's birthday in October. Walt and I were associates through Status and he was in our Praxis, so we saw each other regularly. Even so, we didn't really know each other very well.

I found out at Praxis that his birthday was the following night - Friday night. I asked him what he was doing and he gave some nonchalant answer like, "Just something casual, maybe with the family."

Problem? I love birthdays. His plan sounded boring. I love celebrating birthdays. A LOT. (See: Kristin Wiig in surprise birthday video SNL skit). I talked him into going 80s dancing at Backbooth instead. 1) We love dancing. 2) We love 80s dancing. 3) We love birthdays. 4) Why not? 5) Photo Booth.

'Nuff said.

He needed a bit of prodding, but he came out the next night, with his familial entourage.

I don't know if you know Walt's family, but they are pretty rad. Especially at 80s night. They know all the words to every 80s song, even obscure ones. I asked him about it once and his response? "Misspent youth."

Thus began my friendship with Walt. He still teases me sometime about being the 'random girl who threw him an awesome birthday party' and I laugh about it. It just made sense to me.

Fast Forward to Australia.

Walt accompanying us on this trip was entirely unexpected and supremely impromptu. The kid booked his ticket long before he had a visa, or even a passport, and only 2 days after we jokingly proposed the idea to him over steak.

Little did we know that rule #5 would become: When in doubt, eat steak.

Melissa and I did a few 'trial run' short trips within the US to determine our compatibility before traveling abroad for up to a year in a foreign country. DC, Seattle, and NYC showed us that we could get along beautifully for short periods of time.

We didn't have time to do this with Smalls, so lucky for us, he's a great travel companion.

I feel that I should add a tiny snippet of our going away party here: Before we left, we spoke to Precious Batmanly (aka Gary, Walt's best friend) and Richard Alpert (aka Walt Sr, Walt's Dad) about what we needed to know about Walter before we left the states. They gave us great advice on Fences and Eyebrows; without this information, we would be much further behind than we are now.

Walt is very unique. He has this engaging, and sometimes ridiculous, bubbly personality. It's huge, this character of his. He is constantly joking around and nicknaming and quoting movies (he and Mel can do this for hours on end). However, you can have an utterly serious, intense, thought-provoking conversation with him about anything from Quantum Physics to Marriage to Cynicism to Relationships. He said earlier today, that without the 20% of sincere, heartfelt conversation, the remaining 80% would be exhausting.

Strange how that works.

We've only been together for about 2 weeks (maybe a week and a half?) but I feel like we've been good friends forever. It's an odd combination, the three of us, and sometimes everybody gets on my damn nerves. Even me. But with enough music, reflection, reading, or quiet, I return to my deep appreciation of these two souls.

I guess, too, that having two people who can see through me rather easily, one of which is very like me internally and the other who is simply intuitive, is unnerving. Vulnerability was never my strong suit, despite my common claim to be extremely open and have a short fence (shrubs?). Sometimes, I want to hide things from even myself, so it's difficult to be challenged in such a manner.

As this trip progresses, I wonder how our friendships also will. I pray and hope that they strengthen, turning into deeper levels of appreciation, intimacy, and understanding, while maintaining their ease and flexibility. But I'm also realistic in realizing that we are all people and we are all going to have issues with each other. I get on their nerves and they get on mine. I want to be alone sometimes and so do they.

But Smalls, Pudge, and Beaves are sticking to rule #6: Always stay friends, no matter what.

Thanks, pretty eye guy; we appreciate your wisdom.

Stay tuned for the next installment: Why Melissa is Amazing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

look around, tell me what you seeeeeyeeyeyeeyeyee

looking around the bus, the realization disheartens me: there are more hot guys in this city than hot chicks.  

"kate said the australian women she saw in europe were some of the most beautiful women ever."

"yeah, well, that's the problem, i think: they all leave here and go to europe."

as i say this, we pass what must be a soccer field (it's "football, you idiot"/"i'm still american, shut up!"/"you shut up, you're ugly."/"what?"/"yeah, sorry, that was uncalled for.").  on this football field are about thirty or so dudes, huddled together, shirtless, glistening.

"there goes the man field," mel says, referring to a joke i made a couple days ago and am still fond of.  even though it's a joke, it may be true: they might really grow men on some kind of plantation, cause they are dead sexy.  this, of course, is not the point.  i don't mind a bunch of hot dudes, i'm just big on balance.  (BALANCE...CHECKING! (for you, precious.  oh, sorry, i mean gary.  nah, i like precious better)). 

"jeanne told me that there are some hot dudes here and i expect her to be sending me some pictures" says carolina over im chat.  sheesh.  at this rate, her account will be shut down due to the influx of picture mails.  what do i have to send precious?  what treasures do i get to capture on film for him to savor while he sits in his fortress of solitude?

bats.  i send him bats.  

"at work, they called precious batman."

"they called him precious batman?"

"no, just batman."

"precious batmanly."  when i'm ready to have kids, i'm going to invent a time machine, go back to 1986, kidnap 3 year old melissa, and bring her back to the present for me to raise.  actually, lemme go back and get 5 year old jeanne, too, and i'll build a treehouse for them and give them lemonade, cause i'm convinced they'd be the cutest two kids ever.  pudge and beaves, forevah.  forevah-evah. (forevah-evah.)

i'd love to see them in some kind of children's fantasy flic, like the never-ending story.  this is perfect, because the sydney opera house reminds me A LOT of the empress' castle in the never-ending story 2.  i suppose that would make me the annoying bird, who drops one of his feathers in the water to show pudge and beaves that it's acid.  this is fine with me, all to allow for the possibility that the two of them could go on these kinds of adventures.

pudge: this place is so beautiful.  i want a hamburger.

beaves: FALCOR!

(enter FALCOR, creepy lizard dog.  they hop on him and whisk away, disappearing as a rainbow into the sky.)



Thursday, March 19, 2009

on the rocks

It's 6:30 a.m. and my first full day in Sydney. The sun is just barely up but my mind is wide awake. I creep out of bed, trying not to wake Walt and Jeanne and head for the dining room. The forecast had predicted clouds for the day, but the sky looks completely clear.

I catch up online, chatting with a few friends and answering emails before Walt and Jeanne soon join me. We eat peanut butter toast and fruit and begin to plan our day.

We set our sights on Bondi Beach, 30 minutes (or so we thought) outside of town. This trek ended up taking a bit longer, since we initially took the bus in the wrong direction. Due to this happy accident, however, we discover an enormous shopping mall complete with a Target and K-Mart.

A few hours later, we have navigated the Sydney public transportation system and arrived at Bondi Beach. I look at the sky above and the sand and think, "This is my life."

Walt, Jeanne and I spread our sheet and towel upon the sand. The air is warm and the breeze is perfect. Veronica warned us to stay between the red and yellow flags if we swim in the water. Something about lifeguards paying attention to that section and that you swim elsewhere at your own peril. She also casually mentioned that although people usually don't die from shark attacks, they've been known to lose an arm or leg.

No big deal.

Bondi Beach is a small crescent shaped beach which tapers off into short cliffs on both ends, where we can see foamy water breaking at the base. It's a regular tourist/backpacker stop and the streets are lined with surf shops, hostels and restaurants. The cliffs on both ends look inviting and the three of us vow to explore them later.

Twenty minutes later, Jeanne and I take a stroll down to the water to test out the temperature. It's frigid. We walk a bit further and watch a beginning surf school attempt to master the waves. Many of them fail awkwardly but I can't laugh, since I would be the same.

We return to our blanket. Jeanne puts on her headphones and I dive into this book that my friend Josh lent me. It's called "An Invitation to Discipline" and it's about the process of spiritual formation. There's one chapter in it that explores our Myers-Briggs personalities and our tendency to gravitate to particular forms of spiritual disciplines and neglect others. I'm reading the section about prayer and it makes me think. I breathe deeply and begin to pray. I also begin to fall asleep.

Somewhere in the midst of this, Walt declared he was going to brave the freezing water. He returns, smiling and shiny from his dive into the water. I soon summon the courage and dive in myself a few minutes later. The cold water is shocking for 3 seconds, then refreshing. The Pacific Ocean is saltier than I was expecting.

After a couple of hours, we decide to explore those cliffs on the northern side of the beach. As we round the bend we discover the cliffs actually mask an entire tidal pool that wraps around the shore. Years of incoming and receding tides have carved out a weird, beautiful landscape, covered in barnacles, shells, moss and deep pockets and crevices filled with crabs, fish and other creatures.

We begin to walk, hopping from rock to rock, careful not to trip and fall on the slippery surface. We don't say much to each other. It feels like we have discovered a new planet. Silence seems fitting.

Jeanne seems lost in thought and lyrics as she pads on ahead, silently and agilely negotiating the slippery and rocky tidal pool. She's as sure-footed as a deer. Walt seems as awe-filled at me at the secret beauty we stumbled upon.

I spy a monstrous rock in the distance, jutting majestically into the sky like a proud peacock. With a nod and smile from Walt, I set off to conquer this miniature mountain.

The waves crash and foam around me, spilling over barnacled, mossy rocks, daring me to succeed or be swept away. I circle the rock, finding a lower ledge that seems a bit more surmountable. I grip the edges, finding a handhold and thrust my weight up. I lacerate my leg upon the rock--a gash about six inches long--but I don't care. I've scaled a 250 ton rock that's been perched on Bondi Beach since some monstrous gale swept it upon the shore 97 years ago. Walt is video blogging this moment and I smile triumphantly at him and the camera.

Walt soon follows suit and once again laughs maniacally, claiming the ocean is his. Although I don't see it, he claims the waves crashed up spectacularly, accenting his bellow with natural sound effects.

We stand and stare at the blueish white foam that relentlessly swirls and crashes again and again upon the rocks. Watching Jeanne disappear into the landscape ahead of me and watching the waves crash, I hear a song begin to form in my head. I write the lyrics down. Walt and I stare at the waves some more. It's entrancing.

We look off in the distance and cannot see Jeanne anymore. It is as if the cliffs have swallowed her up. Walt sees her, and suddenly she appears, perched at the top of the rocky cliffs, like a lone Greek goddess on to of Mount Olympus. How the heck did she get up there, I wonder.

Walt leads the way and we scramble upon the rocks, up and up, winding past more rock formations and caves. We circle around, trying to find our way up to the high place where Jeanne is sitting. Walt goes up the difficult way, scrambling up a steep rock face as easily as Spiderman. I opt the roundabout way and soon join them. The three of us sit, high above the rocks and the waves and stare out into the ocean. I feel very small.

I look around me and see broken beer bottles, abandoned blankets and other traces of other people who have come here before us, scaled and scrambled upon the same rocks. We are not the first travelers to sit here and stare across the sea, nor will we be the last.

But as we sit there, laughing and joking and contemplating and wondering out loud as the sun disappears behind us, I like to think that--like each incoming, persistent wave crashing upon the rocky shore--maybe we've changed the landscape a little, just by being there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fiji and arrival into Sydney

It's 6:39 am, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. We arrived into Nadi Fiji's international airport about an hour ago on Air Pacific.

The flight we just disembarked was PHENOMENAL. We found a one way ticket to Sydney through Fiji last September for $755.00. I think we both wondered how legit this airline, Air Pacific, could be when Qantas (the Australian airline) was charging upwards of $1000 for a one way. But we, on a whim, booked the tickets and decided to deal with whatever awaited us in the distant future.

We boarded the airline, row 54, and settled in. The plane was scheduled to depart around 11:30pm PST, and we had gotten up around 8 am that morning, so we were all approaching exhaustion. Add to that the frustrating ordeals the previous hours had contained, and we were definitely ready for a long night's sleep. As we were waiting for the remaining passengers to board, the flight attendant walked by and said: The flight is rather empty tonight, so in about 15-20 minutes, feel free to spread out a bit.

We claimed our rows immediately - all of us successfully securing a 3 person row to ourselves. With those rows came 3-4 pillows and blankets. We popped sleeping pills - just in case - and settled into a long sleep. I think we all slept for 8-9 hours. We woke up to breakfast - fruit filled pancakes and sausage for me; Omelets and sausage for Mel & Walt - and soon arrived into Nadi.

We walked directly out onto an elevated sidewalk and into darkness accompanied by massive heat and humidity. To be fair, it was only 76 degrees, but the humidity made it feel more like 90. Especially considering I was wearing my fur-hooded jacket.

Walter got attacked by the bugs that were previously attacking the light. I've never heard anyone hurl so many curse words at a bug, but it was fairly entertaining.

"That's one fuzzy bug."

We made it through the transit area successfully and are now waiting at Gate 5 for our flight to Sydney in about 2 hours or so. We scored free internet - again thanks to Air Pacific - and sat watching the sun come up over this beautiful land.

I was surprised to look out into the sunrise and see that the land is quite lush and green. I realize, now that I think about it, that I shouldn't have been. All of these islands which were formed by volcanic action are extremely fertile. However, I had in my mind an idea of beaches and sand and deserts. I often don't think things through, I suppose.

So the sun is rising over the green mountains in the distance, casting beautiful whites, pinks, and slight blues over the sky and land beneath it. I tried to capture it through the window with my camera, but it's a lame attempt at best.
We got on a plane headed to Sydney about 3 hours after we landed in Fiji. This flight, which was only about 4.5 hours long, seemed infinitely longer than the first 11 hour flight. This seems to be because we slept most of the first flight. We all seem to find ourselves lost in our own books, thoughts, or music on this flight. Finally, we come in over the Pacific and land at Sydney's International Airport.

We stand in line at customs and I admire the native Aussie men. So much to look at. Customs is an absolute breeze, especially compared to the US. The man who is looking over my card asks me a series of questions, ending in: Did you bring any chills from Fiji? I smile my biggest smile and ask in my naive accent: What are chills? Chills, like a chill necklace or bracelet. I smile and shake my head at him. (He means shells, by the way.) I love the accents, but clearly I can't understand it all. Gosh I love the accents.

I ask a cute security guard if I can stand there and wait for Mel and Walt. Of course I can, he tells me. More eye candy as we head out to catch the train.

As soon as I grab my bags and start towards the train, I regret bringing 50 pounds of luggage + a carry on + a laptop bag. If we don't get a car soon, I'm definitely shedding this suitcase. We make our way to the train that heads from the airport down to Circular Quay, which is where Veronica works. Veronica is hosting us while we are in Sydney; she is a friend of Melissa's friend Chalis. The train system is so simple and in just minutes we've arrived at Circular Quay. This is the area of Sydney that overlooks the Harbor/Opera House.

We head straight for Veronica's office, because we've got too many bags to deal with. After about 10 blocks of misery, we make it up the elevator. As we're getting off, we run into a blonde lady who looks like she might know us. "Are you...?" She begins. We nod and ask if she is Veronica - indeed she is. She tells us that she's not feeling well, so she's planning to take us back to her place instead of finishing the day out at work. We grab a bus from Circular Quay down to Kingsford - the area she lives in. As we get off the bus, the smells of the many Asian restaurants overcome us. We are hungry. We couldn't even tell you what time it was the last time we had a meal, because we've crossed way too many time and date zones. We don't even really know what time it is here. We drag our suitcases upstairs (luckily, they have an elevator) and drop them in our home for the next week or so.

Veronica is originally from Canada. She met Melissa's friend Chalis through Bible College. I think they went to Hillsong, but I'm not sure. So Veronica met and married an Australian and she has been living here for the past 5 years. She loves it. She is very sweet and soon takes us out for Thai food. We eat Stir Fry Chicken w/ Garlic sauce and Fried Rice with Tofu. It's pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.

It's almost 5pm as I'm typing now. We are sitting in our makeshift room, which houses a full futon and a twin bunk bed. Smally Wally, as we've nicknamed him, gets the top bunk and Mel and I are going to share the bottom futon. The room is crammed, but it almost makes it feel a bit more like home. We've got very limited internet, because there are no unlocked wireless networks around and Veronica only has 1 hard line. We do a pretty good job at sharing, I think.

Items of note:
- While we were riding the bus from Circular Quay to Kingsford, I didn't notice until about halfway through that we were driving on the left side of the road. Initially, it just seemed like a one-way street. Once I noticed, I was very uneasy for a bit. It will definitely take a bit to get used to this idea, especially if we get a car.
- Veronica affirms that we should try to get a car. She tells us that if we stop by hostel bulletin boards, we should be able to find a good deal from backpackers trying to sell one.
- Veronica also affirms that a cell phone will be a smart idea. I'm pretty sure we're gonna buy a pre-paid with an Aussie number so that we will have the capability to call locally.
- At one point, Mel referenced recent weather as being '50 - 60'. Veronica asked us to convert that to Celsius, but we didn't know the exact number. I think it's somewhere around 20, but I'm not sure. I note that we are going to have to work on this idea, becoming used to the metric system.
- I checked the weather yesterday for this town they call Sydney. Tomorrow is supposed to be around 80. I think we're going to go to the world famous Bondi (pronounced Bond-I) Beach! I'm pretty stoked about this, because I've heard it is amazing. I think it's about a 15-20 minute bus ride.
- The public transportation system here seems amazing. Veronica has told us we can go anywhere from Bondi Beach (pretty far south) to the Blue Mountains (pretty far north) on the metro system. Until we get a car, this is brilliant!

I suppose that is about all the new details for now. My immediate impression of Sydney is that it is amazing. The areas we have been in have been very clean and urban. Hyde Park, as seen from the bus, is beautiful. We drove past a field of males playing football and Mel says to Walter, "Look, there's a whole field of men! Can you appreciate that?" Walter commented, "Oh my gosh, men! They just grow in the field! You can buy man seeds at the store and grow your own men!" I think he might be on to something. There are a ton of hot guys here, I can't even lie. Although the hottest one I saw so far did have a fauxhawk. He would have been much hotter without that... but I can't hate. It's a beautiful city thus far.

- Jeanne

why i hate l.a.

Yesterday was probably the most stressful day of this trip so far.

I think I just have to resign myself to the fact that I AM scatterbrained, and quit denying this trait of mine every time I do something irresponsible or inane. I tend to be defensive, and chalk up these so-called "isolated incidents" as exceptions to the rule.


This is my long, convoluted way of saying that I lost my debit card.


I still am not sure what happened to it. The last time I used it was Saturday night, when I used it to withdraw some money by Big Wang's at West Hollywood. Jeanne swears she used the ATM after me, so there's no way I could have left my card in the machine, but I'm thinking that's probably what happened to it.

Ah well.

Also, I've decided that whatever shape or form hell takes on, it must somewhat resemble L.A.

L.A. is this breeding ground for animosity and unhappiness. The traffic is every bit as horrendous as people claim and there's just way too much concrete, glass and litter for anybody to be truly happy here.

After we dropped off Tiffany at the airport, Walt, Jeanne and I took a detour for breakfast at IHOP before continuing on to Manhattan Beach. This place I have deemed to be the one bright spot on this L.A. trip. There were several streets lined with upscale shops and eateries. A beach pier stretches into the Pacific blue, and there was even a tiny aquarium at the end of it, which we explored. The water was freezing cold, but the sand was actually warm and slightly therapeutic to walk on.

We debated about driving to Malibu Canyon--I would have loved to drive on the Pacific Coast highway for a bit--but we decided there was simply not enough time to drive all the way out there, and then still make it back in time to do laundry and pack before our 11:30 p.m. Monday night flight.

After we were done with Manhattan Beach, we decided to head back to the apartment. Jeanne and I wanted to run, so we ran through the L.A. ghetto around Sunset Boulevard to Hollywood, back down Normandy and then back to Santa Monica Boulevard. I realized that the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack makes me want to run faster than is normal for a human being, so it took everything within my willpower to slow down. When that last song gets going, I just want to sing "Jai hoooooooo" and go and break the sound barrier. Jeanne has to shout at me to slow down. She's absolutely right because there's no way I could maintain that pace for 3 whole miles.

The run was a little rough because of the heat, but that's mostly just because I'm a pansy. The constant crossing streets and waiting for lights to change forced us to take frequent breaks anyway.

After a three mile-ish run, Jeanne needed to ship her refurbished iPod back to Amazon, so we tried to hunt down a Post Office. I mapquested the nearest Post Office. It told us 300 Los Angeles Street. The directions told us it was an easy 13 minutes away.

However, in L.A., you must take the estimated Mapquest time and multiply it by 3 to get an accurate estimate. Or 30.

We get off the exit and only see gargantuan Police Headquarters, City Hall and federal buildings tower before us. Where was the Post Office?

We asked bystander waiting for a bus if she knew where the Post Office was. She wasn't sure but she said she was sure there was one in the federal building across the street. This large, windowless, imposing structure with no parking lot next to it? Yes, that one.

At this point, it was 4:15p.m. and the post office closes at 4:30. There was definitely no time for parking. Unfortunately, I can't drive a stick, so Jeanne asked if I would mind jumping out of the car and mail the iPod for her while she circled the street. I don't mind, so I jump out of the car and start jogging in the wrong direction. I found myself in front of the Police HQ before I realized I was in front of the wrong building.

I'm sure at this point it was 4:20 and there was no time for dilly dallying so I start sprinting. There's a security guard in front. Great. I have to go through security now in order to mail the package.

I put my bag through the X-ray scanner.

One guard pulls out my Canon Powershot from my purse. "Is this your camera?"

Who else could it belong to? "Yes."

"I'm sorry you can't bring this in the building."

Fine. I didn't want to take a picture of the post office anyway, Slim. "Okay. Can I leave it with you then?"


What? I'm standing there in my workout clothes, a sweaty mess in my jogging shoes. Do I look like a terrorist to you? "Can I please just leave this with you? I only need 5 minutes to go and mail a package."

"Where do you need to go?"

To mail something? Seriously? "The post office. It really should only take five minutes. Can I please leave my camera with you."

Finally, he nods his head. "Just be quick about it."

"Thank you." I make a mad dash for the post office, hoping against hope it's still open and that there is no line. There isn't. I purchase a box and insurance, scribble down the address, pay, and then send the box off into the U.S. Postal Service. 2 minutes to spare.

On my way out, all three guards give me a hard time as they hand me my camera. I don't mind.

Jeanne picks me up and we navigate the hell of L.A. traffic as we look for a Target. Wonder of wonders, there is actually free parking in the Target parking lot for the first hour.

As we round the bend looking for electronics, I see a bald Asian man pushing a cart through Target. Masuka! From Dexter. I'd bet my life on it. Erm. Maybe not.

"Hey, aren't you that guy from that show?" I stutter. Mel's finest moment of eloquence and wit.

"Yes, from Dexter," he replies. Jeanne and I gush about how much we love the show. We probably should have told him how much we hated Season 3. But we're polite. He asks us our names and shakes our hands. Then he goes on his way.

Meeting Masuka in Target and Manhattan Beach are definitely one of L.A.'s rare bright spots.

Jeanne buys her iPod from Target and we head back home. We decide to pump some extra gas to refill Sydney's Ford Focus which she has been kind enough to lend to us. It is at this point as I am attempting to purchase gas when I realize I no longer have my debit card. Oh no.

Jeanne, kind soul that she is, after refilling the tank for me, graciously suggests that I find that Filipino food that I've been craving all week. We're staying near the historic Filipino section of town and there are many Filipino restaurants and grocery stores in this area. Despite the fact that crazy L.A. drivers and traffic are stressing us both beyond belief and making us both edgy, Jeanne senses that rice will make the Asian girl feel better, and insists that we stop to pick up some Filipino food.

I pick up a whole mess of rice and pancit (Filipino noodles) and siopao (meat pastry) for a cool $3.25 in a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant that reminds me of my grandma's kitchen back in New York.

Twenty minutes later, I'm happily polishing off the rice, noodles and siopao. Jeanne knows how food does wonders for me when I'm hangry (hungry + angry) and I'm grateful for her presence of mind to stop for food. I'm still anxious over canceling my card, figuring out where to send the replacement card, how the heck I'm going to survive the next 2-3 weeks without any immediate access to cash, do my laundry and pack in under 3 hours when I leave America for probably up to a year.

I sigh and take a deep breath.

I do hate L.A, but I'm on my way to Australia. And I'm pretty okay with that:)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

San Francisco

It's official: we all three have fallen in love with San Fran.

Susie, whom I've already raved about, is a fantastic host. On Thursday morning, now that Leslie and Tiff have tacked on to our trip, we get up and go down to Chrissy Park. This is a park along the bay, which has a stunning view of both the GG Bridge and Alcatraz. Mel and I do a 2 mile run while Les, Tiff and Walt take a stroll towards the bridge. We eat along the water and then decide to walk the 4200 feet across the GG Bridge.

The bridge is currently being painted, so there are people in carts constantly zooming by us. Walter gets hit by a biker who is whizzing by, and turns around to apologize. "I'm sorry, man!", he says, as he throws his hands up in the air. Apparently, the biker mistakes his hand gesture as one of malice and yells something degrading back at Walt. From here on out, Mel and Tiff are his alert system for bikers. I think Walt just gets wrapped up in the conversations and forgets to look ahead.

Les and I beat the three of them across by about 10 minutes, so we sit on an overlook with a beautiful view and wait for them. We then head over to the headlands, which is across the Sausalito side of the bridge. We can see the Pacific from this view. As we walk through the tunnel, we come out the far side and Susie tells us that this is the battery. What she means by this is that there used to be a large gun (similar to that on a tank) that was housed in this tunnel to protect the West Coast during WWII. This fascinates me.

We head back to the house after a few minutes of this peace and calm. After showering and getting ready, we head out to explore downtown San Francisco. We hit up the Fisherman's Wharf for clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl (or chili, for those of us who aren't fond of seafood), and Pier 39 for the California Sea Lions. We then take a cable car - my favorite experience of this city! - from the pier area down to Union Square. We all jump on the right side of the cable car ("Do NOT call it a trolley, Susie tells us, Only tourists call it a trolley!"), on the step that has vertical rails to hang on to. I see the jealousy in the other riders' eyes as they watch the 5 of us giggle with glee. We carry on a conversation with the two people we are standing in front of: they are from upstate NY. When we are lucky enough to travel downhill on the cable car, it really feels like a roller coaster! It is SO much fun. We sing the Ricearoni theme song and Walt and Tiff get through at least part of the Full House theme song. The trip lasts about 15-20 minutes.

We stop in at H&M, Urban, and Forever 21, but few of us bother to buy anything since Mel, Tiff and I have bags exceeding 50 pounds - the airline limit. I kid Tiff because she's come out for only 6 days and her bag is as heavy as my bag for a year. She just nods and laughs. She's the same one who brought 4 bags to Miami when we went to hang out with Marcus for less than 24 hours...

We stroll through Chinatown and head down to Rogue, a local pub that Susie has recommended. Susie meets up with us for dinner around 7, and we all order delicious burgers, except Mel, who has Fish & Chips. We have a game of 'close the door', because the beer garden porch is freezing, but they keep opening the door so that these patrons can get back inside. Finally, when it's my turn to be stealthy, I kick over the bucket and duck back inside, just to have the door shut only halfway. "Fail." I laugh to Leslie and turn back to close it. A cute guy from the porch is about to fully open it back up when I get there, so we compromise at halfway. We get applauded when we leave right at 8pm, because there is a group of about 20 who want to steal our table for trivia. We should have asked them for free beer.

The next morning, we head out to Muir Woods for a 'hike'. Mel keeps calling it a stroll in the woods, which is fairly appropriate. The easy trail, which we start out on, is concrete. Hardly a real trail. We walk through this forest of huge California Redwoods. It's beautiful. We all make jokes about Twilight because the scene is so reminiscent of the forest scenes. "How old are you?" "17." "How long have you been 17?" "A while."

We finally find a route back that involves an actual elevation and hiking trail.

Our next stop is Sonoma, for the winery. We head to Benziger, which is a family owned vineyard. We have a picnic lunch including: Strawberries, Apples, grapes, various cheeses and breads, olive tapenade, wine and chocolate. I love Susie for this idea. I can absolutely classify this lunch in my top lunch category, possibly even at #1. We take a tour of this winery, and find out is a biodynamic vineyard. Susie tells us this is very rare, that it's beyond organic.

As defined by their website:
Biodynamic-is the highest form of organic farming. It goes beyond the elimination of all chemical inputs. It incorporates the environment in and around the vineyard and works with nature to apply the knowledge of life forces to bring about balance and healing in the soil.

For example. they have an insectary. In this area, they plant trees and plants to attract the 'good bugs' that will be predators of the 'bad bugs'. The insects they attract also help to pollinate and other functions that are vital to a good grape crop.

The vineyard as a whole has an attitude to eliminate waste and utilize the environment to its fullest possibility, with efficiency being the goal.

We are all quite taken with this concept of a biodynamic vineyard. We continue down the road to Imagery, a sister vineyard, for a bit more wine tasting. We then head back to Susie's home in downtown San Fran.

Her son, Jonathan, meets us back at her place and we head to a local seafood place, Neti's Crabshack, for dinner. All I can think of is everyones' recent discussion of the Neti Pot, and I'm glad I don't like seafood. Walt and I split the beef brisket, Mel has crab cakes, Tiff ate clam chowder, and Jonathan had fish and chips. We wind up the evening with a hearty theological discussion on the Church's role in Christ's second coming - and walk back to our temporary home.

This is our journey through San Francisco. We have all professed our love and adoration for this city and its beautiful scenery, vibrant outdoor life, weather approaching perfection, neighborly residents, and fabulous eateries. We joke about moving here and sharing a closet (at least 4 of us, to cover the rent). Mr. Lipps tells us that the rent for a 1 bedroom studio in his area (certainly one of the most expensive areas, if not the most expensive) is roughly $2500. We all sigh and realize that we will probably never be lucky enough to call ourselves San Franciscans.

But we can dream.

After all, Australia was once a dream, and now is a reality.

We bid adieu to our favorite city of the trip and fly into LA this afternoon. Tiff was scheduled to fly a United flight mirroring our time frames, but she's stuck at the airport even now (4 hours later) because of mechanical failures.

We are here until Monday night at 11:30pm, when our flight will depart LAX for Fiji and then Sydney.

Part of me reflects on the oddity that we've only been gone for 6 days (this time last week, we were at Carolina's for her birthday, laughing at Mad Gab's ridiculous attempt at phonetics). We went to 4 different states (Nevada, Arizona, California) in our first three days here. It's been a whirlwind trip so far, and it's the very beginning. Relationships are evolving and transforming; conflicts have even arisen already. And yet I find myself sitting in this cozy living room near Sunset Strip, incredibly content and excited about the forthcoming days to be spent in a foreign country.

And so our LA chronicles will begin...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

blackjack: Mel's perspective

So a couple of nights ago, Walter and I tested out the blackjack waters of the Hard Rock Hotel Casino.

I have never been in a casino before in my life, much less had any interest in playing blackjack in real life so this accounted for a very interesting--an intimidating--evening. Walter had never been in a casino before either. Jeanne headed for the blackjack tables fairly early on. She's a seasoned blackjack player and hit the tables early so we left her alone to her own devices.

Walt and I really had no idea how to play blackjack. I mean, I know the point is that you get to 21 but that's about it. We were both nervous about looking stupid or uninformed or amateurish, so we casually strolled through the Hard Rock lobby a good two or three times--"casing the joint"-- before chickening out and grabbing a bite to eat at the 24/7 restaurant. Over a 14'' barbecue chicken pizza, we discussed our possible ways to infiltrated this Vegas casino lifestyle with our pathetic, paltry blackjack knowledge.

Walter suggested we google how to play blackjack. I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes at him. If I were an ENTJ, I would have given him an intimidating eyebrow lift. But INFP that I am, I just shrug skeptically.

But yes, despite my initial protestations, we sunk to those depths.

After polishing off that pizza, we headed upstairs to our hotel room and swiped some free internet from the hotel across the street to look up basic blackjack strategy. We spent a good 45 minutes absorbing information--when to hit, when to stand, how to double down, when to split--always double down on aces and 8's, but NEVER split on 4, you're generally playing for the dealer to bust, not to necessarily beat him/her--and other basic tips that are forever inscribed in this legendary and sacred Blackjack Book of Secrets.

After 45 minutes of perusing websites and quizzing each other in rapid-fire motion, I finally turn to Walter and say "I think it's time we play at a real table." (Or something along those lines)

We descend into the glittery, pulsating room full of slot machines and card tables, and after strolling through and eyeing the tables once more, I felt ourselves cower again before the intimidation, and Walt suggested we grab a drink at the lounge. I quickly agree and exhale a sigh of relief.

We sit at the bar and order a couple of drinks. We decide to have an unofficial practice run on the little electronic blackjack machines at the bar. After a several good runs of playing and not completely being clueless, we finally decide enough is enough.

Well, until we saw the slot machines and once again chickened out on playing an actual table. I actually find luck at one machine, and after putting in a couple of dollar bills, Lady Fortune smiles upon me and I'm suddenly up $88. I taper off at around $70 total.

Feeling lucky, Walt and I decide that enough is enough. It's time for real blackjack.

We stroll over to a $10 minimum table and try to act like we know what we're doing. Walt promptly loses the first $10 he puts down. We soon realize it's probably better start much higher than the minimum bet. I feel better just watching Walter, alternately reminding him of what Google taught us about blackjack, berating him when he stands on a 9, and hits on a 17, cheering him on when he actually gets a blackjack. Some rambunctious guys come up behind us and join in on the cheering, making us feel like a million bucks.

Although we lose all our money, we have a blast doing it. I only wish Jeanne had been part of our initial teaching process.

But that's okay, because the next evening, we hit up the New York, New York casino, the three of us finally united under a beautiful, heady evening of cranberry vodkas, vodka tonics, dwindling stacks of chips, laughter, inside jokes, sung and spoken song lyrics, a cool-headed guy named D, a Chinese sage dealer Jenny, a nice man from Colorado, a blur of other faces, more laughter, a string of bad luck, cheers and smiles and time tossed about so carefree and casually.

As we stroll down the street, shortly after seeing the Bellagio water fountains splash and sparkle and soar and finally retreat into stillness, I think to myself: I like this Vegas.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Leavin' Las Vegas

The alarm goes off; I hear it through my earplugs and I groan. Loudly. "Is it really already 4? I swear I just went to sleep." "You did. We've only been asleep 2 hours."

Lucky for us, we packed last night before we headed out to the casinos, so all we have to do is get dressed and check out. We all stumble, zombie-like, towards the lights and then the bathroom. We finally make it downstairs with all 5 bags and 3 Macs and head out into the early morning. I feel like putting on sunglasses, these Vegas lights are so freaking bright.

We get into the taxi and tell the driver that we are heading towards McCarran airport, United Airlines. There's silence as we drive those 15 minutes; I think we might even have fallen asleep. 

Sometime last evening, before we left the Hard Rock for the Vegas strip, we saw about 50 random people dressed in 70s attire. We wondered at it for a few minutes, but had no real idea what they were doing, so we forgot.

This morning, one approaches me after we've checked in. "Hey, where are you going?" "Cali" I say to him, barely acknowledging the fact that he's spoken to me. It's 4-freaking-30 am. Leave me alone. "What part of Cali?" He continues to pester me. "San Fran" I reply, trying to give him the hint by my short answers. "Us, too!" Luckily for me, Walter walks up from finalizing his check-in. I look at the guys and cut them off, "See you on the flight."

We make it to the gate and we are deliriously tired, but mildly entertained by these 70s clad 20-somethings. 

We proceed to file onto the plane, promptly falling asleep before we even hit the runway.

We come off the plane and our bags get there just as we are walking up. I swear, I think that we are the only people who checked any bags. The 70s crew just went overnight, so they had nothing. But there is nobody standing by the carousel and no other bags in sight. St

Susie, the freaking awesome lady who we are staying with in San Fran, pulls up to the curb and we pile our bags into her Camry. How the heck she got all of them into that trunk, I don't know - it's much bigger than I could have imagined. 

We settle into the car, trying not to fall asleep as we talk to her. She's so nice, so friendly, and so hospitable. We drive to Chrissy Park, which has an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. We take a few photos and march back to the car, ready to head home to an early morning nap. We stop at a Romanesque affair that was built for the Worlds Fair sometime in the early 1900s. I'm utterly intrigued by the ladies upon the top. There are these box structures, which are surrounded by 4 women each at the corners. The women are peering into the boxes, with their hands at their temples. Walt muses that they appear to be freaking out at whatever they are looking at. I make a mental note to check out this intentional design later. It's fascinating to me.

** I just looked this up, to find out this: 
"There were ochre columns, topped by boxes, mixed with pale green ones. The boxes were originally meant to house small trees and hanging vines, but these were not planted for budgetary reasons. At each corner of the boxes stood statues of women looking inwards, sculpted by Ulric Ellerhusen. They were meant to represent the melancholy of life without art. The colonnades stood along the side of the lagoon, as can be seen in the second image, with the reflection of the tranquil water adding a pleasant element."

This meaning and symbolism is magnificent. I love it.

We finally make it back to the 3 bed/2 bath apartment that they live in. My mouth hits the floor: this place is GORGEOUS. We walk into the living room and the dining room, which have amazing and sizable windows that look out on both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, where we are planning to go later today. Susie, sweet as she is, makes us at home and asks us to treat her home as our own. I wish she was my second mom, even though my real mom kicks ass. (That's a shout out to my moms, even though she'll be mad I cursed...)

We all 3 settle down in our new and temporary bedrooms for a 2 hour nap. Susie leaves to pick up Tiff from the airport, and we all take showers. 

I hear Tiff a few minutes before I see her. "Thank you, Oh my gosh, thank you so much!" I hear her exclaim. I know, from an experience with heavy luggage and the stairs earlier today, that some random stranger is helping her lug her huge suitcase up the stairs. I run to the door as Susie opens it and give Tiff a huge, heartfelt hug. She's so cute. She's telling me how the man outside winks at her and says, "Chivalry is not dead!" as he pulls her bag up the stairs to the door. What a sweetheart. 

We eat delicious bean soup for lunch with Susie. "A 2 hour nap, a shower, and this freaking soup, and I feel like a brand new woman." I say to the crew in the kitchen. Tiff has nicknamed us MWTJ until Leslie arrives, upon which we will morph into MWJLT. She says we can be a sandwich. She makes me smile.

We leave to tour Alcatraz - all of us are stoked to see this infamous prison. Walt and Mel continually quote Sean Connery from "The Rock" regarding Alcatrez, which then transforms into quoting him from Indiana Jones. They are cracking themselves up with their Irish accents. We arrive on the Island and take a tour of the buildings: the warden's home, the guard's locations (we find out some of them live there with their families, which is unbelievable...), the cells, the rec area, etc. The place is absolutely fascinating. Everyone does the audio tour, which tells of Al Capone, "The Birdman" and "Machine Gun" Kelly. Walter laughs that Al Capone was finally brought in for Insurance Evasion, as he was able to avoid being associated with other crimes he was overseeing.

We leave Alcatraz after about 2 hours and head into Ghiradelli Square. I love this place, and immediately remember my sacrifice for Lent: Desserts. It's bittersweet, because it's a tribute, but I adore Ghiradelli and I have to avoid the free samples. But it's worth it, entirely.

I forgot to mention we finally had an In-N-Out Burger near Fisherman's Wharf. The burgers are decent, but the fries are certainly overrated.

We head back to Susie's house and are now sitting around her beautiful and homey living room, chatting about her trip to London, blogging, photos, etc. Tonight is going to be a chill night, because none of us got more than 5 hours of sleep last night. Leslie comes in around 10 tonight and I'm excited to see her.

Tomorrow promises to be fun, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, and various other San Fran favorites.

- Jeanne

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jeanne's Blackjack night at the Hard Rock

Today we are in Las Vegas. We arrived here again last night from the Grand Canyon around 7pm. We checked into the Hard Rock hotel, which is just off the strip, and hung out in the gigantic room for a while, trying to recover from the 5 hour drive.

I needed alone time last night, so Mel and Walter went off on their own. I went downstairs to play Blackjack. What I love about blackjack is that if you sit down at the right table, you can have a fantastic time with the other players. I love players who are excited and optimistic. They stand up, or sit down, and they ask for the cards they want. They do it like they are commanding an army, demanding pushups or something: "Come on Dealer! Give me that 4! You know I NEED that 4!" And sometimes the dealer gives them a 4, and sometimes the dealer gives them a 10, but they usually don't lose their optimism. These are my favorite types of people to play with, especially on a hot table. They dance around, yelling for blackjacks and tens like they are preaching on a Sunday morning, inflamed with excitement and obsession. These are the type of people who make you look across the casino at their table and consider leaving your own perch to join their fantasy world, where the house doesn't always win.

So, I sit at a table with 3 guys (I tend to gravitate to these tables, because often they know how to play BJ by 'the book', thereby increasing my own odds of winning. I sit at 'Third base', as they call it, which is the seat directly before the dealer. I also tend to gravitate to this seat or 'First base' (the first chair, always the first hand dealt). What's interesting is that the luck of Third Base is constantly changing as people sit and leave, where First Base is always the first hand dealt. So I sit by this guy, I forget his name, but I'll call him Timmy for kicks. I sit down by Timmy and immediately like him. "What's your name? I'm Timmy." "Jeanne" I reply, "How's this table doing tonight?" So we carry on the intro conversation that's so common at these places. He makes me laugh, even though he's more of a pessimist than an optimist. He's also one of those guys who consistently interacts with the dealer, calling her by name, tipping her, etc. One of the other guys at my table is quiet, so he doesn't talk much. The final guy is a German from Bavaria. This makes for an interesting time when the dealer changes and a Bosnian-American sits down to give us our cards. She talks A LOT more than the last dealer, giving the German a hard time, casting out her opinions on everything from discipline for her stepkids to German-Bosnian relations to how effed up (her words, not mine) America is, despite her adoration for it.

At first, the dealers are consistently taking my money. I'm winning a few hands, so I stick around, but I get down to about $25 out of my original $100 after about 45-60 minutes. But then our table gets a great shoe (8 decks, the place the cards are dealt from) and I go on a roll. A while later, I'm up about $75, and I leave the table as it cools off. I head to another table after wandering around the Hard Rock lobby a bit, and win another $25.

I find a $10 single deck BJ table (my favorite type of black jack) and stand behind it. There are 5 guys at the table, with 1 seat open. I ask one of the guys if I can sit and he nods his approval. I sit after the deck finishes. These guys are AWESOME. They are what I would label biker-rockers. They have long dark hair. One of them has on a cowboy hat - but it's a rocker cowboy hat, not a genuine one. The first thing the one to my left says as I sit down (because I don't look like your stereotypical BJ shark) is "You better know to hit a 16 against a 17." I smile grandly at him, because I adore his no bullshit introduction, and assure him that I know most of the rules, and I ask if I don't. There is an audible sigh of relief as I tell him that and we play the game. Despite the fact that I lose $87 in probably 15 minutes, which is most of my winnings, this is my favorite table of the night. They tell me their favorite parts of Australia (Brisbane being the best, apparently) and wish me goodbye as the dealer takes the last money I am willing to part with.

This is how I end my evening - walking to the cashier's cage with $113. I realize that many people see gambling as wrong (and it certainly can be addictive and destructive), but it's purely entertainment to me. I walked away $13 richer and several hours of enjoyment later, I am happy to head to bed.