My blog followers (all four of you) will know that I recently attended the World Horror Convention in Austin, Texas for the launch of the small press Dark Continents Publishing. It was my first visit to USA. This is the first of a series of posts chronicling my American experience.
First stop – Los Angeles. My travel arrangements left me with nine hours between flights in L.A. “Don’t sit around the airport all day,” advised one friend, “LAX is shit.” (He was right.) Trouble was, I was too scared of getting lost/getting mugged/missing my flight/all of the above to venture out into LA alone.
“Why don’t you try Rent A Friend?” suggested my mother. Best. Suggestion. Ever.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Rent A Friend, it goes like this – registered users pay a monthly registration fee to access a database of people willing to act as paid friends. It is NOT, repeat, NOT, a dating site, although it works along similar principles. If you’re new in town (or like me, just passing through) and looking for someone to show you around or accompany you to events, you can peruse the list of likely candidates.
I don’t know if it was instinct or luck, but the first person I approached from the hundreds of LA-based Friends was willing and available to take me on a whirlwind tour of L.A. Rebecca G. was a Los Angeles native. She suggested a Skype session prior to my visit to get a better feel for my needs and wants and to steer me in the right direction. We arranged for her to collect me from the airport on arrival. Friendly, engaging and knowledgeable, she made me feel like we had been friends for years.
studied a massive floor-to-ceiling original oil painting on display in the gallery and enquired of the assistant how much it was.
“$90,000,” was the reply.
Rebecca didn’t bat an eyelid. “He’ll get that, too,” she said. “I have a friend who is an artist, but he only gets $20,000 per painting.”
Only $20,000 a painting. It was the first of many reminders that, not only was I in a different country, I was now on another planet.
The surrealism continued. Driving around L.A., Rebecca name-dropped with the casualness that only an L.A. native could sport. “That restaurant is owned by Harrison Ford’s son,” and “there’s Johnny Depp’s night club, the Viper Room,” and “that’s one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s restaurants – they sell a lot of schnitzel,” and “one of my neighbours is a New Zealander – she’s Simon Cowell’s personal chef”.
A visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame was compulsory. I shuffled, head down, jet lagged and sweating, my gaze skimming over the cement-encased stars, and felt somewhat underwhelmed – until I came across Leonard Nimoy’s “Live Long and Prosper” handprint.
Another highlight of the day was our Brazilian BBQ lunch at the Farmers Market, where you pile your plate with food buffet-style, weigh your plate at the end and pay by the pound, and where over half of my choices were things I’d never tried before, such as collard greens, catfish stew, black beans and fried plantain.
And then there was the visit to American Girl, or as I like to call it, the License To Print Money Store. I almost bought souvenirs for my daughters in American Girl, until I realized that we’d better off all round if my girls never came to know of its existence.
My time was limited, but Rebecca made sure I ticked off all the main destinations, even if it meant merely driving through or along them. Sighting the Hollywood sign – check. The Sunset Strip – check. Santa Monica Pier – check. Beverley Hills – check. Venice Beach – check.
And then it was back to LAX in time to board my flight to Austin. Going through security to board a domestic flight in USA is loads of fun (not). As I discarded my water bottle, took off my shoes and stepped into the “complete strangers can see you naked” machine, I wondered how much more absurd the security measures could get.
I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere…