Things I didn’t expect

That I wouldn’t want to talk about it for fear that experiences would limit themselves to memories, and move from 3D and real, to small, confined in words.

That Australian accents would sound foreign, especially the first time I heard one, and that I’d listen for indicators that the speaker was faking it.

That my city, my view, the streets and trees and mountains I have seen every day for the last few years, would seem foreign, different suddenly.

That I’d appreciate their beauty properly for the first time, as an outsider would.

That I’d cry for a day and then readjust as if nothing had happened.

That I’d learn housekeeping tips from people I stayed with, and that I’d come home and want to apply them.

That I’m happier not doing things the old way any more, and that I’d rather change everything round than go back to old habits and patterns.

That I’d wished there’d been someone following me around taking more photos. I took a couple of hundred, and I want more.

Arnold is right…I’ll be back.

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Honey, I’m home!

I came back from my Grand Adventure.

There is so much to say, and so much to think. How two weeks in the USA can change a person so profoundly is anybody’s guess, but it did. We are all different now: my house is different, my husband, my kids, we’ve all changed by this experience, and for the better. I will talk about it here, and the changes that have happened, but not just yet. Now is the time for quiet, and for remembering, and for allowing myself to stay different and not be swept back up again in the familiar routines and thoughts and expectations.

I’m looking at my photos. A lot. Just to remember that Michigan has funny yellow traffic lights that hang on a rope in the middle of the road, and that yellow school buses are real (they really are!), that LA doesn’t have trees, that pharmacies sell beer and Walmart sells guns (YES! It really does!!). That true friendships don’t mind about the fact that you may not see someone for ten years, or that you may never have met them (or even spoken to them) in person before. That Americans are just the most kind, loving and beautiful collection of people that I’ve ever met, and that the world will always feel just a little bit smaller now because I’ve wrapped my the silk thread from my heart around and around these people and trees and shops and bedrooms and couches and clocks and kitchens, and if I squeeze myself really close I can always pull that thread just a little bit tighter.

Yeah…later

Hello my beautiful friends!

This isn’t a post sorry…it’s a message to say thanks for your comments and all your love. It’s been Thanksgiving today. Michigan is great. I’m completely exhausted, talking more than I ever do at home, socialising like crazy and having a WHOLE BUNCH OF FUN!!!

Many, many thoughts on the Mid-west. Many many more than I have the energy to write at the moment. And we’re getting up early tomorrow to do the whole thing again!

Love to you all, have a wonderful day. Thanks for coming with me on my travels,
 I’ve loved it.

Megan xxx

Some thoughts on American food

Disclaimer on this blog post: some of the nicest recipes I’ve been given in recent months have been from Americans. The food is far from all bad. Yesterday’s lunch of Calamari steaks was simply delicious, and cheap! However, in a funny kind of way I’ve come to realise that food=home. Here are some things I’ve noticed that are different:

  • The bread is sweet, like a bagel. All of it. And all of it contains preservatives, sometimes many.
  • Last night I had ice cream, and it was salty. Granted, I later re-read the label, and instead of “strawberry ice cream” I’d chosen “strawberry CHEESECAKE ice cream”, with graham cracker crumble swirled through it. But still…salty.
  • Where Aussies would go to the corner shop on a hot day and buy an ice cream on a stick, here at the 7-11 they sell small tubs of gourmet ice cream. Small meaning a litre or so. Sometimes 500mls.
  • It’s easier to find the alcohol in the 7-11 then it is to find the milk. Actually there’s a whole wall of alcohol as soon as you walk in. I thought 7-11s were like Milk bars, not bottle shops. Maybe I was wrong.
  • Our Cadbury’s chocolate is better than THEIR Cadbury’s chocolate. Ours has real chocolate flavour!
  • Apparently people don’t put butter or margarine on their bread, just the filling, and mayo or sauce or cheese or whatever. This feels wrong to me still. No wonder they don’t like vegemite, they don’t know how to do it properly. I just had breakfast at the hotel and they had bagels and marmalade and toast and stuff, and I was pleased to see little tubs of butter too. Turned out to be the whipped, sweetened stuff that you get at McDonalds when you order hotcakes.
  • My stomach still feels bloated and full, like it’s still trying to digest the baloney sandwich I ate three days ago. Actually…I think it is. Dinner last night for me was leftover lunch with a tiny tub of salty ice cream. The room service menu looked divine, but that was all I had the room (or stomach) for.
  • And speaking of the room service menu, I’ll leave you with this quote. Trust me, this IS the fine print on the bottom of the menu:

 “Chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm may be present in foods or beverages sold or served here.”

ImageThis is the view from the restaurant where I had lunch yesterday. It’s called The Virign Sturgeon, and the place, the food, the people and the prices are all wonderful!

I think I’ll stick to my leftovers and salty ice cream…

Sa..sa..Sacramento!

Sacramento. 9.34am. Airport. Starbucks. Skinny Peppermint Mocha. Small. Caffeinated. Reorientating. Here.

Got up at 4am to catch the shuttle back to LAX for my flight. It wasn’t meant to be this early, but the other flight was cancelled. I tried to reschedule for a later one, but it would have cost me an extra $460 and I would have had to change at Phoenix, which is a lot of effort for a flight that only takes 50 minutes, and so I’m here. Possibly a good thing. I’m sure there’s some purpose in today.

I met a lady on the plane who thought I was an angel, and told me she was more excited about meeting me than about her upcoming first-time week in Sacramento. She’s a gorgeous black woman with gads of style, and until she told me her kids were all in their 50s I thought SHE was in her 50s. I told her that. It pretty much made her day. I’m the first Australian she’s ever met, and THAT pretty much made her day as well. She’s from Ohio, but she moved to California to get away from her kids, and now she misses them. She got excited because she saw cars driving in the snow beneath us, until I told her it was a small plane, and they were clouds, and we both laughed and nearly spilled our orange juices. Then we got to peer out the window like little children together and discover Sacramento for the first time for each of us. Before we got off she gave me her address and told me to write her when I got home, and then she gave me about a zillion hugs, which was lovely.

Sacramento is lovely. We flew over those bare earthquaky LA hills and the hills went for miles and miles, and as suddenly as a heartbeat the hills stopped and the land was flat as paper, and divided into paddocks after paddocks of shapes and colours like a quilt, even with big green circles as if they wanted to break up all that square. It was beautiful, and you could see in the distance that those earthquaky hills started again, and sandy dirt like it was desert again, all for no reason other than that was what it was, and it was beautiful. My friend in the other seat asked me what I thought the squares were and I told her it was paddocks, but she didn’t know that word. What do they call paddocks here? Fields?

I haven’t been outside yet, but from my Starbucks table with the empty coffee cup I can see it. It looks nice. Small enough to be manageable, unlike LA airport. LAX has more people than my entire capital city, I swear. My shuttle bus let me off there at the United terminal, terminal 1, but when I got inside there was a sign at the check-in saying to go to the US Airlines terminal and check in there instead. A security guard told me I needed to get in the elevator and go down and then take the airport shuttle bus to terminal 8, which was on the other side of the airport. It would have been okay except for the elevator had buttons labelled “C” and “E” and “Basement” and things like that, so I pressed the button that felt most right and hoped I’d know when to get off. I didn’t. A lovely lady with an airport badge got in and took me to the ground and showed me where to catch the bus, for which my tired and un-breakfasted self was extremely grateful. I told the shuttle driver I needed to go to terminal 8 and he asked me to repeat myself a few times before he got it. I’m not used to people who don’t understand Australian accents. I had to go catch another elevator then to the terminal, and a Chinese lady in front of the buttons kept saying a funny word to me that I didn’t understand. Eventually I realised she was saying “ticketing”, which meant “check in”, so I said yes. I’m still too tired to talk about what happened next. It wasn’t bad, nobody hurt me, it was just…big. I felt like cotton must feel being threaded through a tiny needle. I don’t want to do that again for a while, and I’m suddenly very, VERY glad to be in Sacramento.

I have a rental car booked, but I’m not going to take it, strange though that may sound. I’ve been practicing driving in my head while I’ve been in the passenger seat with Theresa, and more often than not I’m mentally turning into the wrong lane still. I don’t think my underslept self will cope. My underslept self knows now that there are shuttle buses to hotels, and that Sacramento is nice and most people (probably) don’t carry guns or want to rob me at the 7-11. Well, that’s what my friends tell me at least.

I’m meeting my friends for lunch tomorrow. My American friends. I’ve only ever talked to them in emails before, and I have to keep reminding myself that they’ll have American accents, and that they may not understand me when I say the number 8. They don’t write to me with American accents. Funny thing, that. I’m smiling a lot today. I can’t wait. I’ll sleep today, and enjoy tomorrow. I can’t wait!

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The Valley of Love

LA Day 3. Raining. Postponing our trip to Hollywood until the afternoon because apparently Californians are awful at driving in the rain, and there’s likely to be an accident. Also, apparently people in LA are so unused to rain that at the first two drips out come the umbrellas and raincoats. This is a desert, after all. And the other thing that’s funny – particularly funny for Tasmanian parents who have fought the good fight to buy their children parkas or warm clothing in winter at Target and have found them sold out within the first day – there are enormous quantities of parkas and snow coats in the shops in the mall. Theresa tells me this is quite, quite unneccessary, because it never actually gets that cold. This is a desert, after all.

I do realise that I had, in fact, believed all the stereotypes about LA and completely forgotten the fact that out of all of the city’s 15 million people, many of them (most of them) are very, very normal. Yes, even here in the Valley. It’s a nice neighbourhood with nice schools and friendly people (even with the pumpkin thing). There are, however, a few strange things that I’ve learned about the place.

  1. Sometimes they charge you money so they can insist that you keep your lawn immaculate and your garbage in.

    Theresa says these are fire hydrants. I suspect they come alive at night and roam.

I know. Theresa tells me that they bought a house in an “older” area of the Valley (cicrca 1980s), because if they bought a house built after 2001 then they’d be charged a MONTHLY fee of $200-$500 by the Homeowners Association. This fee then holds them accountable to laws such as the need to have their wheelie bins in by a certain time in the morning (the wheelie bins are HUUUUGE by the way, and collected weekly), the need to have their lawns IMMACULATE (ie no longer than 2cm in length) and their houses in general to be postcard-perfect. Theresa tells me that they used to live in a rented apartment in such a neighbourhood. They didn’t have to pay the fee – that was the owner’s responsibility – but they had to abide by the rules. Theresa says once she put her garbage bags outside the door for twenty minutes while she mopped the floors, and by the the time she got them in again there was a nasty letter taped to her door.

2. They make movies everywhere.

In this previously-rented apartment their little girl went to a local kindergarten. It was in Pasadena. One time Theresa went to pick up her little girl at the end of the school day and found a bunch of strangers there filming a movie. That kindergarten was also used for the remake of the Fame movie, and featured as the orphanage in Stuart Little.  Anywhere is fair game for location shoots.

3. Even in the Valley there are “bad neighbourhoods”.

Yes. When Steve and Theresa first started looking for a house in this area their real estate agent warned them off certain districts, known as the “bad neighbourhoods”. Yeah.
Ummm…yeah. I don’t know how to say this really any better, so I just will. According to the real estate agent a “bad” neighbourhood is such because of…oh no…Small Houses, and…even worse…Train Tracks. (Everybody who lives near me stop laughing now. Pick your jaw off the floor!). Granted, “small houses” are trailer-parks (with all the associated stereotypes) but seriously, these aren’t caravans like we know them: they are literally Small Houses. With gardens, and flowers and all that stuff. Just instead of solid foundations they have wheels.

I think, looking at the place, the majority of suburban Australia, especially the areas built in the post-war era, would be considered a “bad neighbourhood”. And, train tracks? I think that makes most of Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Hobart “bad neighbourhoods”. Its the Valley.

So that’s LA. Today I get to do my best Billy Joel impersonation and “say goodbye to Hollywood” (okay, bad joke). Tomorrow…Sacramento!

Thanks for coming with me on the trip. I’m loving your company!

La la la…Los Angeles

I MADE IT! I’M IN THE USA!

I dragged my stupidly tired and jet-lagged self off a plane at 6.30 in the morning yesterday and waited in a stupidly long line with passengers from two other planes while a gorgeous Hispanic lady with so much make-up you’d think she was about film a TV show (oh heck, this is LA…maybe she was!) herded us through and into our places and made us giggle, which was no small feat considering we’d all been on a plane all night.

I caught a door-to-door shuttle bus to my friend Theresa’s house. These are amazing things, like group-taxis kind of, and it cost me $65 for an hour-and-a-half ride with a wonderful Lebanese-American man who told me heaps about LA and even bought me a coffee from Starbucks. Yes. Americans are wonderful.

The first thing I noticed was how much it looked like Melbourne. We didn’t see any of Downtown LA, but the suburbs are just…Melbourne…but bigger. And MORE. They even have Westfields, to complete the illusion – that IS a Aussie company, isn’t it? I felt the need to keep half an eye open for stray Banjos Bakeries, and felt sure that any minute my Lebanese-American driver was going to tell me he was really Lebanese-Australian, and that we’d be approaching the Dandenongs any time soon. Then I saw the mountains.

The mountains behind LA are beautiful. More than beautiful. They are spectacular. THey rise up out of the flat valley floor like a wrinkle in a blanket, and they’re wrinkly and ancient looking and at the same time look like the hand of God could come along and smooth them, blanketlike, at any time. My driver says they were pushed up by the movement of the earth plates. They are the result of the famous San Andreus Fault Line, and they go all the way up the West Coast of the USA and into Canada. I wanted to go and climb them and explore all over (which is not possible this trip). Theresa later told me that there are coyotes there, and it’s rattle snake season. Their house backs onto a sandy desert hill, and it’s not safe to explore there either, for the same reasons.

But I love it here. I love seeing old friends, and being able to hang out and relax and chat and simply spend time together. Any amount of sleeplessness is worth it to spend time with these lovely people again.

Here are the main bits of difference I’ve noticed day 1:

Milk comes in gallon-bottles.

There’s garbage disposal.

All the houses are made of stucco. There are no brick houses anywhere – they’d crack with all the earthquakes.

In this neighbourhood every second house has a US flag hanging on the front porch (I’ve been told this was for Remembrance day) and pumpkins out as decorations (go out for Halloween, stay out until Thanksgiving, and as soon as they come in the Christmas decorations go out). But they still don’t EAT pumpkins…only ones in cans.

I’m told it’s really hard to buy electric kettles. Most people have the old-fashioned sort that you put on the stove top and take ages to boil. Theresa bought her electric kettle in a Camping shop. (Yes. Because I’d pack an electric kettle if I was going bushwalking and living in a tent for a week too!)

Theresa’s kids are petrified of house flies. There was a tiny one outside on the deck, and the youngest screamed and ran inside. Here there are no flying insects! No flies, no mosquitos, definitely no enormous blowflies like at our place at the moment.

You can’t say the word “toilet” (Theresa’s kids don’t even know what it means! I told one of them I had to go to the toilet before I played another round of cards, and she looked at me funny and said “what?”) although you can – and should – wear ugg boots* in public. Here that is not at all Bogan. Here it is the height of fashion!

So Aussie friends, when you boil your kettle today think about America. And then, when you go to the supermarket and see people in ugg boots, congratulate them on their excellent fashion sense – even if it is in the wrong country.

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*I presume everybody knows what ugg boots are. Sheepskin boots. In Australia we think of them as bedroom slippers, and only wear them outside the house in desperate times…or if we forget.