Over & out!

It’s hard to believe, but our 5 week jaunt around America ends today.  We have been asked about our highlight.  Interestingly we both elected for our time in the Mississippi Delta.  For me this was inevitable given the States connection with the birth of the blues and my main motivation for the trip in the first place.  However it was surprising, to me anyway, that Linda also opted for Mississippi.  It is unquestionably unique in terms of it’s geography, food, infrastructure and most importantly its inhabitants.  In general their warmth, friendliness and openness was palpable.  There is also, undeniably,  real poverty to be found there, especially outside the cities.  Yet it has a charm that affected us both and we hope to return some day.  The great weather also helped a lot.  As soon as we left Mississippi and arrived in Memphis the weather changed for the worse.  By the time we got to Chicago it was positively cold and this didn’t change until we were into our first week in California.  Who’d have thought this?  They have sayings in California that I would suspect is news to most of us “May grey, June gloom!”.  Bear this in mind anyone, like us,  coming to the west coast for the first time.  Locals say that the good weather doesn’t arrive until 4th July.  Thankfully the weather has improved and with it our enjoyment of the area in general.  Oddly enough I have concluded that whilst I could live here for the way of life, laid back interesting people and excellent restaurants to be found; as a holiday destination I can think of numerous other places to chose from, many of them only a 2 hour flight from the UK.  Good job that we are all different.

Some stats:

3800 miles driven, 3 flights, 8 States visited, goodness knows how many towns visited, especially in Mississippi, 12 hotels, 2 apartments and 2,800 burgers!

In general we both agree that it has been great fun and a trip of a lifetime.  The low lights were No.1. our dealings with Budget Car Rentals who can be proud of the fact that they live up to the worst possible criticisms of their industry in general and then add a few little nasties of their own to boot.  Commercially and morally they display disgraceful behaviour at a time, as they well know, when their ‘customers’ are tired and vulnerable.  Can you sense a letter coming on? Secondly we were quite shocked by our reaction to San Francisco.  We simply didn’t like the place.  This was tempered, we know, by the weather and our very bad choice of accommodation.  Overall not bad though if this is it over a 5 week period.

All good things must come to an end and whilst we are sad to be leaving we are also looking forward to seeing our family again and catching up with friends.  Never fear folks I will have the 3 hour slide show ready for you all by this time next week!  Thanks to everyone who has followed this blog and especially those who have taken the trouble to comment.  I have tried not to be too hurt!!!!!  I hope never to drive a car again and my onetime love of a good burger has sadly been destroyed.

And finally…….

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The blond blowing our last few dollars in Rodeo Drive on the penultimate day.
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Last supper, well lunch actually, at a brilliant French Restaurant in the equally brilliant Farmers Market L.A.
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This is how I am returning our once gleaming GMC SUV to Budget Car Rentals.  That’ll bl**dy show ’em!

Toodaloo!…………..

Penultimate Post……..

It is 5.00pm on Monday 4th June as I write from Venice Beach California.  In 48 hours we will be at the airport starting our journey home.  Five weeks, in the main, have flown by.  We’re having a lazy day today so its a good time to catch up – blog wise…….

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The motivation for this blog was music.  Blues music to be precise and so it was a pleasure to meet this man – Tommy Mitchel who runs a vintage record shop in Venice. Having purchased a few old vinyl blues albums, I got chatting to Tommy who it turns out is an entrepreneur but most of all a man of music.  It transpired that he plays a mean blues harmonica (Harp) so I asked him to give me a lesson.  I sound like a child learning to play the violin, but its fun and I will persevere.  Good to meet you Tommy.

 

Here we are at the Beverly Hills Hotel having had coffee beside the pool ($24 inc tip!).  I promised Linda that I would one day get her onto the red carpet!

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Above and below, by chance, witnessing the unveiling of the new Jurassic World film in L.A.  The two stars of the film were there but we didn’t recognise either of them.

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At the same place was this incredible display of American vintage cars.  Its a tragedy that America lost one of its defining factors, in my view, by allowing these beauties to become museum peices.  There must have been 50 cars on display in total.

My sister in law says that the best thing about travel is meeting people, and she is right.  Especially here in America where everyone is so approachable and friendly.  Second only to this, for me anyway, is food.  Specifically seeking out the best examples of local food.  These pancakes were mentioned on a TV programme we watched, so we went in search of them in Santa Monica.  Oh boy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The batter is made by folding in whipped egg whites to make them as fluffy as clouds.  Utterly delicious………

Why is Long Beach California kept as a secret?  No one told me what a great place it is.  It has everything from a great water front, shops, restaurant and amazing beach.  If I came back to California I would base myself here.  In a country riddled with national debt, around $24 trillion I believe (UK £1.6 trn) and crumbling as you look at it, it was a pleasure to be in a city which has clearly received massive local investment.  Everything looks well designed, laid out and constructed.  It is a city to be proud of and should be promoted.  However, apart from The Queen Mary, I hadn’t a clue that it was a destination that should be on everyones itinerary.  Oddly, it reminded me of Dubai as everything around the marina is shiny and new.

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Just in case you were worrying that the USA was becoming less entrepreneurial.  Only in America!

 

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More food!  Just as we are leaving, we discovered this Japanese supermarket just around the corner.  In addition to provisions it serves delicious looking meals from 5 different food stations.  We’ll be eating there tonight before going onto a blues club in Santa Monica.  It’s open jam night there so I may take my harmonica along and see if I can clear the place!

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One of the joys of renting an apartment as opposed to staying in a hotel is the sense of temporary integration with the local community.  Because of this we have met many very nice and often interesting people.  Walking around the streets we have picked up numerous ideas for our garden in Spain which has a similar climate to the LA area.  We’ll be going down the succulent route in future.  Of the many and varied gardens we came across this one today.  Well it is California!

Toodaloo……………

 

Living in L.A. (a brief update!)

We’ve been in LA for a week now and getting into the pace of life here.  Our apartment is in Venice Beach and therefore away from the madness of LA itself.  This, we have decided was a good decision.  The city seems permanently grid locked with traffic and therefore highly frustrating to get around.  At last the weather has picked up.  Until yesterday it had been overcast and cold.  However it rose to about 21 degrees yesterday which makes a real difference to ones outlook – well mine anyway.  Below are a few brief highlights of the week since the last posting.

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The Getty Villa in Malibu is a replica of a Roman Villa created by J Paul Getty. It is spectacular and a fine example of money, good taste and attention to detail coming together.  Incredibly he never saw it first hand himself.
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On Malibu Pier where we had lunch.  You can tell what the weather was like from the leaden sky.  Behind Linda are examples of the much lauded beachside homes..  Some are impressive, other have seen better days, none looked like they do on the telly!  I asked our waitress how much they sell for, she said $100m. This I checked later on. In fact they go for a mere $13m!  Talk about market forces at play.  Most of them are literally and simply wooded constructions on stilts.  The world’s gone mad.
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I was introduced to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright via the Simon & Garfunkel LP Bridge Over Troubled Waters in 1970.  “So long Frank Lloyd Wri-ight” (are you humming it?).  I can remember purchasing the album and still have it.  I don’t know why, but he has always held a fascination for me, so it was a pleasure to visit one of his most famous houses, Holly Hock House in Hollywood.  This is an aerial photo taken shortly after it was constructed in 1921.  The surrounding area looks nothing like this now.  Frank, as was his want apparently, went four times over budget, fell out with his client and the development was never fully completed.  Nevertheless it’s well worth a visit to see first hand his incredible creation and unique designs.
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Terrible photo I know, but what do you expect from an iPhone, David Bailey?  In case its not obvious, this is the blond pointing at the Hollywood sign.  Well we are on holiday!

I think I have mentioned this before, it is a great sadness to me that America allowed  its iconic car industry to fall into decay and replace it with bland Japanese models.  The only slight exception today are the GMC, Ford and Chevy etc muscle trucks which I think look great and very fitting to American streets anyway.  They are also remarkably cheap.  Thankfully a few dedicated folk restore some of the beauties of yester-year.  Above is a 1955 Ford pick up truck, which Joseph its owner has devoted 8 years of his life and $100,000 to restoring.  He tells me that its market value is $60,000 but he has no qualms about this as it was always going to be a learning project. It really is a work of art.  Joseph recently threw in his well paid job with Netfix’s to do this full time.  Lets hope the next one shows a profit.  Hell of a nice guy.

The one below I have no info on whatsoever.  Possibly a Sting Ray?  It displayed no means of identification. No matter it’s an aesthetic treat to be sure.

I know its pathetic, but this is my highlight in LA so far.  As a collector of guitars and an avid blues fan, one is very thankful to Youtube for all it offers in terms of information and education on each of these subjects.  To this point, let me introduce you to Mark Agnese, the general manager of Normans Rare Guitars.  Norman Harris is a world authority on the subject of guitars (unfortunately not on site yesterday).  He began trading rare guitars in the 60’s as a means of supplementing his meagre earnings as a key boards player.  This sideline grew into a multi million dollar enterprise.  If you want the best in rare guitars, go to Norman.  If you are interested, have a look on Youtube for ‘guitar of the day’.  There you will meet Mark who talks about and demonstrates a different model each day of the week.  I have learned so much from him over the years and therefore it was real pleasure to meet him and his team in person.  The words ‘cool’ & ‘dude’ were invented for Mark.  He’s exactly the same in person as he is on Youtube.  We were on site for about 3 hours and Linda wandered around chatting to everyone while I indulged my hobby.  It was a forgone conclusion that I would leave the place carrying something made of wood and shaped like a guitar.  My relatively modest purchase was a 2001 Martin 000-28EC Acoustic (EC for Eric Clapton).  This is a replica of the model he used on his masterpiece 1991 album Unplugged.  Eric had to be persuaded to make this album as he wasn’t convinced that anyone was interested in an acoustic record by him.  It is now one of the best selling records ever.  Last time I looked it had sold over 30,000,000 copies.  Mark handed me an original just like Erics which played like a dream and carried an asking price of $90,000.  If Linda asks about the one I bought, can we run with the replica story?  I wish!  Tune into guitar of the day on Youtube.  You don’t have to be collector to appreciate Marks knowledge, enthusiasm and musicianship.  Many thanks to Mark, Nick (a Brit), Jen & Joel for all their time and hospitality.  What a day!

We we are into our last few days of the trip and have much to pack in.  The weather forecast thank goodness is showing continuous sunshine and improving temperatures.

Toodaloo!

 

Alive and kicking!

Thank you to the dozens of people, well two actually, who have been wondering why I haven’t posted anything for a week.  The answer lies in a simple mathematical equation (distance x age x too many burgers = knackered!)  In truth I, and it would seem my rented Satnav, seriously underestimated just how truly vast this country is and how long it would take between overnight stops.  Siri tells me that Seattle to L.A. is around 1,150 miles.  A journey we planned to do in 4 stops.  In the end we reduced this to 3 stops which meant 11 hour days on the road and restless nights in between.  I must stress that the travelling was mostly fun as we decided to take Highway 101 along the coast rather than the more direct Interstate highway.  Great fun but much farther and at times relentless.  So the thought of settling down to write the blog at the end of the day became too much to face.  We have now been in LA since Thursday evening, 3 nights, and my batteries are now fully recharged thank goodness.  As older age creeps up, the conversation often turns to “do you feel old”.  Many of you will be familiar with this topic.  It usually goes hand in hand with an around the table comparison of everyones latest ailments.  A subject that no one discusses until they reach a certain vintage.  A phenomenon which suddenly appears without any warning.  My usual response is “no, I don’t feel old, but then I don’t feel young either”.  Generally, internally, I’d put myself around the 40ish mark.  This cruel trick of the brain is immediately shattered if one stupidly takes a peak in the mirror.  I’m convinced that there is a market for mirrors that can lie.  Take note IKEA.  Please understand that I’m not looking for sympathy here.  I recall this true if not cynical saying ‘never tell anyone your problems as 80% won’t care and 20% are glad’!

We have now driven well in excess of 3000 miles and are pleased to be settled into LA.  After checking into a dozen hotels en route, many for just a single night, it was good to get to the apartment we have rented in Venice Beach for the remainder of our holiday.  One more night living out of a suitcase would have sent Linda into a rage and been seriously bad for my health as a result.

In order to leave Seattle last Sunday, we first had to pick up our rental car from Budget Cars.  Anyone who has confronted this process will know that it is always stressful.  I won’t go into great detail here, other than to say that it took 2 hours during which we were offered 4 different cars (3 of a lower standard than we had paid for and various insurances etc that we didn’t need.  Sound familiar?  By this time it was 2pm and neither of us was in the mood for the 7 hour planned drive ahead of us.  So we had lunch and headed south to Portland for the night – a mere 3 hours away.  I know why these rental companies behave the way they do, it’s because they can.  One is generally tired from the journey and under pressure from family etc to get going.  They have also perfected the the art of scare mongering around the subjects of insurances etc.  Understandable maybe, but also immoral in my view.  As a businessman and capitalist myself I nevertheless detest the attitude of profit for profits sake at any cost, including and especially the customer.  It is not the way to build a trusted business in the long run and I wait for the day (in vain?) when these charlatan industries are brought to book.  I could go on about the general lack of good customer service these days but won’t.  Just to say that it’s rapidly becoming a unique commercial advantage to any company that cottons on.  End of rant!

Despite this before we left, I wanted to visit Jimmy Hendrix’s grave in Renton, also his birth place.  As mentioned before, they do cemeteries very well in the USA, that is for folks with money no doubt.  They had to move his remains to this rather ostentatious site, as the previous one, which was in a secluded area and out of sight of the office, was frequented by all sorts of ‘lovely’ fans who would leave copious gifts for Jimmy including hypodermic needles!

After driving to Portland were happy to be joining the 101 south.  They call it the coastal road. In truth, only about 20% of it offers sea views but when they do loom into sight it’s spectacular.  In all I estimate we covered around 900 miles of this road which is mostly dual carriageway and therefore relatively fast motoring.  The last time we did any extensive driving in the states was 2005 when the speed limit was restricted to 55 MPH.  Now, thank goodness some roads permit speeds of up to 70 MPH.  Radical!

The drive west from Portland to Eugene to pick up the coast road south is stunning.  The whole state of Oregon would appear to be impressive and beautiful (snow covered mountains, fur trees, rivers and streams and lovely country side).  If you haven’t do so already and find yourself close to this area, do pay a visit.

Our first sight of the Pacific ocean from this side of the world.  Don’t we look happy!

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We stopped at this tiny harbour town for lunch. Its was very beautiful and had the added attraction of this half submerged boat completely covered in sea weed.  Presumably once used by Green Peace!

That night we stayed in the attractive and evocatively named town of Eureka.  It was a terrible place actually.  Even so we found a micro brewery in town that served really good food.  I couldn’t help wondering if certain people gravitate to this town to find themselves?!  No photos for obvious reasons.

Further along the road we passed through the appropriately named ‘Giants Avenue’.  This road goes on for about 50 miles and is spectacular (I will be using this word a lot).  Giant Redwood Trees and windy dapple roads for mile after mile.  The second photo is of what looks like a giant tree house, now in a poor state of repair.  Our grand children loved tree houses.  We had one built in our garden for them, but not on this scale.

And so onto San Francisco.  Did I mention that since arriving in Chicago 11 days ago we have been feeling cold. After 33 degrees of the Mississippi this came as a shock to the system.  Not unexpected in Chicago may be, but Sanfran?  Here we discovered the well kept secret that not only is SF chilly most of the time, even in August, due to the micro climate created by the bay, but that California itself doesn’t really get going, temperature wise until July.  How did this key info escape us?  It’s far warmer in Spain now and even the UK is basking in hot weather as we freeze (not joking) in California.  Unbelievable! The trouble is we didn’t pack for this weather so I’m having to wear all my new blues related tee shirts at the same time.

Photos above from left to right.  1. The famous windy road.  We drove down it the following day.  It’s much narrower than we imagined. 2. Fishermans Wharf area.  Like Blackpool but without the sophistication. 3. We had a meal at this Thai restaurant on the strength of the newspaper article proudly displayed in the window.  The food was reasonable.  It wasn’t until we left the place however that we realised the article had been written in 1966!  Reminder to self….always read the small print. 4. All Police bikes should look like this. 5. Anyone remember the car chase in Steve McQueens 1960’s film Bullet?  This is where it took place.  Its on six levels and much harder to drive up than down, but it had to be done!  Great fun.

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En route to Sanfran (as my daughter tells me it should be pronounced) we stopped at this original fast food place which specialises in hot dogs of every description. It must be at least 70 years old. Occasionally you come across one of the distinctive, iconic original McDonalds buildings.  I love them as they reflect a period in history long gone.  I hope at least some of them will be preserved as they are every bit as important in telling an architectural story of a country. 

As mentioned we made it to Los Angeles late on Thursday evening having bailed out of Sanfran a day early due to the cold weather.  It was a long day on the road of 11 hours (the satnav said 7 hours).  The weather is better here but nothing like as warm as we’d been expecting.  Yesterday was sunny but struggled to get above 17 degrees.  We have rented an apartment in Venice Beach so that we can spread out and cook some decent meals including such exotic ingredients as fresh vegetables.  I’m not sure that we will ever again eat another burger and chips which is a shame as I used to love them.  The beach is vast and impressive, unfortunately this isn’t true of the back drop which is lined with tacky shops and unappetising looking eateries.  This area we have discovered is definitely geared up for young people who clearly love it.  Not for us old gits though.

Photos: top left a scene of how the town takes its name, a blond on the beach and a weird tree that exists along the coast.  It think they must suffer from vertigo and they seem to avoid heights.

Hoorah!  10 minutes from Venice is Santa Monica and sanity.  Now this is more like it in terms of a quality town and restaurants etc.  Despite this I’m showing photos of probably one of the crumbiest bars in town.  Tacky yes, but also very atmospheric and fun.  I watched the Champions League final from here on one of their dozen or so screens.  The vast crowd was around 99% ‘Spanish’ and a very friendly bunch.  Real Madrids 3 – 1 victory over Liverpool may have had something to do with this!  We’re off to Malibu Beach for lunch with the Beckham’s today.  Well lunch anyway!

You know how your heart sinks when someone says to you “come round for supper and look at our holiday snaps?”  Quite!  For this reason I won’t be posting for a few days as our itinerary is packed with all the things and places designed for holiday makers, which most of you will have seen anyway.  The one exciting destination on the horizon is our visit to Normans Rare Guitars later in the week.  You will have to curb your excitement though for a few more days I’m afraid.

As always apologies for any typaloos!

Toodaloo!

 

Omission corrected!

Apologies to my guitar collector friends following this blog.  The guitar store I visited in Seattle is called Emerald City Guitars.  Owner Jay Boone.  www.emeraldcityguitars.com

I was chatting to him for an hour and he never once tried to sell me anything.  With stock like this he is in the enviable position of not having to sell.  These guitars sell themselves. He also has a wide range of vintage Amps, including some very good (condition) Fender Tweeds.

And so, onto phase 2…..The West Coast……

Friday 19th May

Linda and I have spent a lot of time up and down the east coast on holiday and business; even sailing through part of the Inter Coastal Waterway into the Chesapeake river in 2001, but we’ve yet to visit the west coast.  Today we put this right having flown into Seattle on Alaska Airlines (never heard of them but excellent service) from Chicago.  Seattle was meant only to be a means of getting from point A to point B, to collect our car for the drive down the west coast.  Thankfully we decided to make time to visit down town Seattle.  It is a beautiful, open and seemingly relaxed city sitting alongside Elliot Bay.  In fact it is surrounded by water and islands which can be reached by ferry.  There is a fabulous old market where just about every fresh food, especially great sea food, can be  purchased together with a wide range of restaurants.  The bonus for me was that I discovered it also contains one of the best guitar stores I have visited.  If you haven’t been there and find yourself anywhere nearby in future, then go.  You won’t be disappointed.  Sadly they also have a big problem with homeless people on the streets, many of whom seem drunk and display traits of mental illness.  A lady on the plane warned us about this and I can now see why.

Pike Place Market.  These photos do not do it justice.  This place must have grown like topsy over many years.  It is anything but modern and uniform which adds to its charm.  Why doesn’t Winchester have something like this I wonder?  Surely one remedy to the increasingly dysfunctional and deserted high streets around the UK?

The waterfront is pleasant but definitely under exploited in my humble opinion.  This could have something to do with the weather which is akin to the UK they tell me.

Surprise surprise the highlight for me was discovering this guitar store.  I can’t believe that I’ve never heard of it before.  My new best friend Jay, who started the business 22 years ago, has created something truly special.  Probably the best overall range of vintage guitars I’ve seen.  Including Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. For instance he has 3 Fender Broadcasters, one in mint condition on sale for $350,000.  Only 100 were ever made (probably less than 70 left in existence today) in 1951.  Leo Fender was forced to stop production as he was being threatened by a rival with the same brand name.  It went onto be called the Telecaster.  This is very rare and special for me to see it on display.  Jay is a great guy, very friendly and knowledgable.  He is not a guitar retailer he is an enthusiast who happens to sell guitars.  The legendary blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa is a personal friend and customer.  I will definitely be keeping in touch with Jay.  He is the real deal.

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Try to contain yourselves, but I went to the barbers today for the first time in nearly 30 years as I objected paying £10 for 5 minutes in the chair.  As Linda doesn’t have her ‘sheep shearers’ with her I was forced to pay this visit.  Meet Donny who has been cutting hair for over 20 years.  I lost count of the times he changed the razor head presumably in an attempt to justify the $20 (inc. tip) fee.  In my case I estimate this to be approximately $240 an hour.  It will have to last until we get back to the UK!

We collect the car tomorrow.  Let the holiday proper commence…………..