Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys

Seeing things for the first time


11th December 2010

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The moment I heard the unmistakable beat of "Hard To Handle" the Otis Redding song performed by The Black Crowes (their breakthrough hit in 1990 and now an alarm ringtone on Julie's iPhone) I opened my eyes and bounded out of bed almost wetting myself with excitement.

I was literally singing in the showers "If you see California, say hello .... "

For this musical journey I had decided to wear a different rock t-shirt for each and everyday and I chose my first one carefully.

It was from the Monster's of Rock Donnington 1991 where Julie and I first saw the Black Crowes. They opened up the festival alongside Queensryche, Motely Crue, Metallica and AC/DC. Ah, such fond memories especially driving home in my Dad's van thinking that someone had stolen the roof. The less said about that the better I think!

I complimented my antique Donnington T-shirt with a pair of tight jeans and some serious strutting shoes.

Julie took one look at the oldest rocker in town that stood in front of her and said "Well that's blown any chances of us getting an upgrade"

"You never know" I said parading around like I was on stage "with Virgin's 'Rockstar Service' we might still be turning left today!" (It never happened by the way. Julie was right!)

We caught the Hoppa Shuttle bus (how rock'n roll was that?!) from the Radisson Edwardian to Heathrow's terminal 3. It was our first experience of using a self-service bag drop facility. We had already checked-in on-line and simply had to scan our passports and weigh our bags to print out our own boarding pass and luggage tags. Of course we still had to hand over our suitcase at the check-in desk but all the formalities had been done. It was very efficient.

Once through security we headed to Chez Gerard where I fought against rubbery scrambled egg with a blunt knife and fork and lost. Then with breakfast over and done with we headed for the shops where Jo Malone perfume, a travel journal and our customary lucky bottle of champagne were added to our barely in weight hand luggage.

Julie had been very calm about it all until we got to the gate then all of a sudden the "shit I'm getting on a plane" anxiety came rushing up. Her ordeal was then prolonged as we were delayed for an hour and a half on the tarmac. When we finally got up in the air she did seem to relax a little even laughing through a spell of turbulence. In the past she would have soiled herself there and then at the slightest bump. She is getting better, although the 6 diazepams and half a bottle of Prosecco helped.

It wasn't long before the trolley dollies were on their way with the food. They stopped at our seat and asked "What would you ladies like?"

I turned and just raised an eyebrow. She was so embarrassed but recovered well by saying "It was because you have such lovely hair!"

It wasn't the first "dude looks like a lady" moment today either. I had been mistaken for a woman whilst sitting in the departures lounge

We had two veg curries (or I did). A few hours later I had a Spinach & Feta wrap. An hour later a mixed salad wrap. Then I exploded in the toilet.

It always happens on a long haul flight. The change in pressure must play havoc with my stomach. Mind you, my problem is that I can't say no to food, I eat everything that’s put in front of me and in front of Julie!

Time dragged as neither of us managed to get any sleep. I distracted myself by watching three films in a row "Mr. Nice Guy" (dope smuggler), "Four Lions" (terrorist cell in Bradford) and "Get Him To The Greek" (useless rockstar).

Our liberation from economy class syndrome was eventually in sight as we began our descent over the Nevada desert.

It was a lovely clear day as we flew over the city of angels. We could clearly see the skyscrapers of Downtown LA rising up at the centre of the sprawling metropolis. We could also just make out the Hollywood sign high up in the hills. It was so exciting seeing it all for the first time.

The flight attendants prepared us for landing by handing out Love Hearts. Julie fed me a "Hold me" whilst she sucked hard on "Relax". It didn't work.

Eyes shut waiting for the bang Julie couldn't bare it.

Of course we landed quite smoothly much to Julie's enormous relief. We celebrated by sucking on a "Kiss Me" each.

Smooth could also describe our passage through immigration. I was preparing for a long tedious wait but there was hardly a queue and as for Border Control staff they were bordering on being friendly! Now that’s unheard of! It must be the glorious Californian sunshine.

Perhaps the new rules of having to complete a ESTA on-line form before travel helped. Anyway we collected our luggage and stepped outside the terminal to look for the pick-up we had pre-booked.

 Whilst we stood waiting for our taxi our first LA scene played out in front of us. A motorcycle police officer pulled over a vehicle. The driver got out and started walking towards the rear of the car. So the officer instinctively reached for his gun.

Pistol packing police officers are such an alien concept for us in the UK but I guess it's just the norm here where potentially anyone could be carrying a weapon. Following standard procedure he made the driver get back in the car before he approached any nearer. It was like something from the movies, we even looked around for the camera crew.

Welcome to LA!

Twenty minutes later we were still waiting for our pick-up despite seeing several purple Starlines minibus drive past ignoring us. Apparently they weren't ours.

Finally our pick-up arrived and we jumped on board. We expected that we would whizz off straight to our hotel but our driver said he was going to try and pick up another ride. He was a short, curly haired stocky guy who looked incredibly like Maradona. (That's Maradona the Argentinian football star not Madonna the 80s popstar. Also that's the middle aged Maradona not the youthful sportsman.)

We drove slowly, kerb crawling the other Starline pick ups waiting to be flagged down.

"Man, nobody's biting" the driver moaned.

As we were about to leave the airport he turned to us and said "I'm just gonna go around again". We actually didn't mind the delay as everything was just so fascinating to watch. We drove around the mothership central hub as the sky transformed from a light shade of purple to a beautiful orange hue and then to dark skies.

Maradona's luck was in and we picked up another passenger before leaving airport. Once again we didn't mind the detour, as we dropped her off in a residential area of Culver City.

It was all so interesting to see.

We soon came to familiar streets names like Wilshire, 3rd Street and Roberston where the driver pointed out the quaint white picket fence of the Ivy Restaurant . "This is where all the celebrities come to eat" he said "all the paparazzi sit over there." We didn't have the heart to tell him that we had a reservation for lunch on Tuesday.

At the end of Robertson we turned towards West Hollywood driving up Santa Monica Boulevard.

"This is a popular party place" he said pointing out the hundreds of Santa Clauses spilling out of the bars and onto the street. It was such an unusual sight, everyone wore variations on Father Christmas fancy dress. "It's also popular with the gay community" he continued before going on to talk about a store called Leash & Collar. "A friend of mine got a call to pick up from this store. Around here he didn't know if he needed to look out for a pet store or one of them adult stores!"

We turned off Santa Monica Blvd and drove up a surprisingly steep hill to reach Sunset Boulevard where our hotel was located.

From the outside the Mondrian looked quite unassuming which was in complete contrast to its interior. The chic lobby was subtly lit with creams and copper tones giving it a warm welcoming designer vibe.

The staff were equally copper toned and welcoming.

We checked in and were given the room key only after the embarrassment of our credit card not working. We had to use our debit card instead which we were told would take $750 out of our current account to cover any hotel expenses.

"That would be one hell of a mini bar bill" I joked to hide my relief that the payment went through.

Room 419 was a lovely large room with floor to ceiling windows. We had a great city view. As Julie lounged on the comfy bed browsing the room service menu I stood at the glass staring at the skyscrapers of Downtown LA in the distance.

We looked around for the television but we couldn't find it straight away. It was cleverly disguised as a large mirror but when it was turned on the TV screen magically appeared.

"Now that's one television you won't be throwing out of the window!" joked Julie.

Sunset Boulevard has got to be the most famous street in the history of rock 'n' roll. I was so excited to be looking out of our hotel window towards the Riot Hyatt (now the Andaz Hotel) where Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones began the rockstar tradition of throwing televisions out of hotel windows. I couldn't stop smiling.

Back on the bed we turned on the iPad and connected to the internet (at $10 per day). Using Google maps which immediately pin pointed our location we had a look at the nearest places to eat. Then a few clicks further and we were browsing their menus on-line. We had the choice of Saddle Ranch Chop House which promised "Steaks, Bulls and Rock and Roll" and Carney's which boasted "probably the best hot dogs and hamburgers in the world!".

It was slim pickings for the vegetarian but we decided to try Carney's because it looked really cool set up inside an old Pacific Railway passenger train.

We set off on foot down Sunset Boulevard past the Andaz hotel and first came across the Chop House. There seemed to be a great party atmosphere inside, full of rowdy Santa Clauses and great loud music.

A little further just past Starbucks we came to Carney's. The atmosphere was completely different with only a few burnt out Santa Clauses recovering with a hot dog in hand. The train carriage concept was really quirky but we changed our minds and headed back to the lively Saddle Ranch Chop House.

We stepped inside just in time to watch Mrs. Claus riding a broncing bull. It was quite a sight. The place was full to the rafters with people in festive fancy dress. We found out later that it was the 2nd Annual Santa Monica Santa Claus pub crawl .

There didn't appear to be a spare table anywhere but our friendly host evicted two hapless Santas from a table near the bar so that we could sit down and eat.

With it being a chop house their specialities were flame grilled meats so Julie had to go for the rib eye steak. Having already eaten all the airplane food in sight I wasn't especially hungry so I just ordered the mac & cheese with black truffle appetizer.

When it arrived I couldn't believe the portion size. This was meant to be a starter? It was served on an aluminium plate in a deep cast iron frying pan the size of an old 45rpm vinyl. It was larger than most main courses. If the macaroni wasn't enough to bust your gut it came with four large pieces of garlic bread to finish you off.

Then the side portion of fries that I ordered thinking that I was only having a small appetizer arrived. Of course that was also oversized, I would say the equivalent of 10 portions of McFries. It was just ridiculous!

Once I started eating however I couldn't stop. I couldn't help myself, the Mac & Cheese was absolutely delicious and I cleared the pan.

When I stopped I realised my stomach was expanding beyond its limits. Thankfully I hadn't eaten the fries and bread otherwise I would have exploded again and that would have been messy.

After a while the place began to empty as most of the Santa Clauses got on board two yellow school buses waiting to take them to the next bar stealing the party atmosphere away with them.

They left behind a few stragglers who decided it was better to stay on the barstool they were sat on. The place now had that late night feel to it, like it was 4:00am and the end of a busy shift. It was actually only 8:00pm, although our body clocks thought it was 4:00am!

We soon left the chop house and made our way back to the hotel. Despite being absolutely shattered we decided to have a look at the Mondrian's SkyBar, a once popular hangout for a-list celebs and still popular with the locals.

We sat poolside looking across at those sat in the window seats trying to spot a Hollywood star but there weren't any. Dimly lit by candlelight the bar had a really cosy feel which didn't help us to stay awake. Before the waitress came around to take our drinks order we decided to call it a night and head for bed.

Back in the room we immediately crashed out on the bed. With the curtains left open we fell asleep watching Los Angeles glitter before us.

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