Everything I got up to on my journey to America to see my favourite band
I went to America in October 2014. Why am I only publishing this post in 2018? Well, dear reader, if you're going to procrastinate, you fucking do it properly. Anyway, better late than never...
Make yourself comfortable and grab yourself a drink, as this is a long one...
As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I'm a pretty big Jimmy Eat World fan. Their album Futures was released in 2004, and was their first of their albums I got, and while it may not be their best album or their most well known (those go to Clarity and Bleed American respectively), it's my favourite, and has some of my favourite and most meaningful songs on it, primarily Kill and 23.
For years, I had told myself that if ever they did an anniversary tour for it, like they did with Clarity, I would go. No matter where it was, I would be there.
In 2014, 10 years after the release of Futures, they announced such a tour.
No dates were announced for the UK, but I thought fuck it, I'm going, like I told myself I would. This was almost certainly going to be the only chance I'd get to see this album played live, and I hoped they might also play some songs from Stay on My Side Tonight, an EP released the year after Futures, which had a song on it that I absolutely adored, Closer, but they had never played it live, and I figured that if they were ever going to play it, this was going to be the tour they'd do it on.
Originally I had planned to see the show in Oakland, near San Francisco in California, which was the first show of the tour, but I hoped they'd add one in their home state of Arizona, and eventually they did.
So, I came up with a plan. I'd go to the show in Tempe, Arizona; not technically their hometown, which is Mesa, but it's the next town along, and still essentially "home". Then, I'd go to Los Angeles for the last show on the tour, before going to San Francisco as originally planned to turn the trip into more of a holiday.
Seeing my favourite band play my favourite album, and my 3 favourite songs, Kill, Closer and 23, in the home-show of the tour, and seeing a bit more of America as an added bonus? I couldn't fucking wait. It was the ultimate pilgrimage to see a band.
With everything booked, all I had to do was wait. After the first show in Oakland, I gave in to temptation and looked at the setlist to see if they'd played Closer. And they had. And I cried and I don't even care because until then I wasn't sure if they would put it in the set, and I was so, so happy they had.
On the 26th of October 2014, it was time to go. Here's how it went.
All packed, I tried to check-in online. However, there was a problem. It couldn't find my booking number. I hadn't even left yet and the calamities had already started. British Airways had had computer and baggage issues in the few days before, so I figured it was something to do with that. I thought I'd try it again in the morning, or if not, just do it at the airport.
My dad drove me down to Heathrow, and I checked in to the hotel, being given room 113. I ordered myself a burger from room service, and settled down for the night.
I got up, had breakfast, and got the hopper bus to the airport. I had tried to check in online again that morning, but it still wasn't working. When I got to the airport, I tried to use one of the self checkin-in machine, but again, no flight found. I was a bit worried now so I went to a check-in desk, and luckily they found the flight, and I got my ticket. I hadn't been able to choose my seat, but I got an aisle seat; I'd have chosen a window seat, but in hindsight, an aisle seat was probably better.
I was flying to Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Arizona; as the first of the Jimmy Eat World references, the last song on Clarity is called Goodbye Sky Harbor, with the lyrics from this song referencing flying out of this airport, but I'll come back to that.
I touched down in Phoenix, made my way through immigration and baggage claim, and went to leave the airport.
This is where the fun really started.
It was quite late, and the airport wasn't very busy. It was here where I must have caught the eye of a TSA agent. He came up to me and pulled me to one side, asking me questions like where I'd come from, where I was going, who I was staying with etc. He asked these questions several times, and seemed very confused by the fact that I wasn't meeting up with anybody, and felt the need to confirm this with me several times.
"So, you're here on your own?"
"Yes, I'm on my own."
"Mmm. Are you meeting up with anybody while you're here?"
"Nope, I'm just gonna be on my own the whole time".
"Okay. And you're not here with anybody else?"
"No, I am not, no."
"And you're not meeting up with anybody? *confused look*"
"... no, no I am not meeting up with anybody, I'm here on my own."
"Okay then sir"
I must have had to clarify the situation a good 3 or 4 times, and I thought I'd managed to convince him I wasn't a thread to America's national security, and wasn't going to go to Guantanamo Bay.
Alas, it seemed I hadn't done enough, and he wanted to do a full baggage search. Like I say, the airport wasn't very busy, he must have been bored. He proceeded to take everything out of my bag, unrolling my neatly rolled clothes (that my mum packed for me) and inspecting my underwear.
He then called another TSA agent over to do a travel history check. He asked me if I'd been to America before, and I said yes, I went to Florida in 2007 and New York in 2011, both with my family. Unconvinced, he took my passport away to do a travel history check.
I had to try and not laugh because he was using what I swear was an Apple II computer, like a proper old school terminal (I was expecting him to start entering 4 8 15 16 23 42 into the fucking thing). After a few minutes he came back over, and it was good news, my credentials had checked out. He passed the passport back to the first TSA agent with that sort-of knowing nod thing, as if to say "he's clear". No shit.
He then started talking to me about what I was doing here, I told him I was seeing a band, he asked who and when I told him he was like, "oh yeah, I know those guys, what about that song The Middle huh?".
I tried to just say "mmm yes" to everything he said so as to not piss him off and make him run me through the computer again, and he eventually wandered off.
The first guy then finished going through my clothes, and then left me to re-pack it all and walked off.
So that was fun. Thanks for the warm welcome.
However, my night was only just beginning. Now I had to go and find my hire car.
I had to get a shuttle to the rental depot, and when I walked in, it was basically just a massive building with about ten open-fronted car hire company pick-up points. It was at this point that I realised my documents didn't say which company was providing my car. I started to get in a tizz because I was tired and looking for a number to call to find out where it was, before I realised I could just go and try the different companies.
The one with the biggest sign was Avis, so I started there. I queued up and asked if they had it, and they said no. They also checked the system of another company a few blocks down, and they didn't have it either.
I went next door to Enterprise, who said they didn't have it, but that National do.
I went to National, who said they didn't have it, but that Alamo do.
Do they. Do they really.
Well, yes, actually, I went to Alamo, and fuck me, they had it. I got landed with a young-driver fee that I didn't initially know about, but hey, at least I had my car. I asked the woman at the desk if they had any manuals and she laughed and said "no, we only drive autos here". Sigh. Also I love how they call it "driving stick". It sounds so primitive, "me drive car, me turn wheel, pull stick". Anyway.
I went into the car park and had the choice of which car I took; alas, I could only choose a compact, so I opted for the one that looked the least shit, which was a silver Ford Fiesta. I put all my paperwork on the front passenger seat, and set off. I had no mobile signal to set up directions on my phone, so I had to wait until I got out of the car park. While I was leaving the car park though, I realised my driving licence wasn't on the front passenger seat. I stopped and started to look for it, looking down the back of the seat, down the sides, on the floor, but it was nowhere. I was 100% sure it had been there though because I'd had to show it to the woman in the booth at the exit, so I knew it was in there somewhere, so I just got back in and decided to look for it tomorrow.
Once I left the complex, I had to find somewhere to stop to set up my sat-nav, but I was straight out onto a highway, and as it was completely dark and this was the first time I'd ever driven on the right-hand side of the road, it was a lot to get used to very quickly. After turning off a few roads, I was in the middle of nowhere, parked outside a fire station where I probably shouldn't have been, in what seemed to be the bottom end of town and somewhere I was probably going to be car-jacked, but I managed to get directions set up, and was on my way.
My hotel was in a town called Surprise, which was nice. After about an hour of driving, I arrived, checked in to room 311 (so that's room 113 in London and 311 in Arizona), and settled down for the night.
22 hours later, I was there.
The first order of business on Day 2 was to find my driving licence. I'd seen enough American TV shows and films to know that when you get stopped, you're asked for licence, registration and insurance, and I only had 66% of these things. I went to the reception of the hotel to ask what would happen if I didn't have it when asked.
"You'll be sent to jail", she replies.
Great! Cool! Just what I wanted. What is this, fucking Monopoly? In the U.K. we have 7 or 14 or some other number of days to provide our licence at a police station if we don't have it on us, but in America they just throw yo' ass in jail. I guess they don't know you're whether qualified to drive, so that's the safest option? Of course, I pictured a jail cell filled with drug dealers and murderers, but what she meant was I'd be taken to the holding cells you see in the back of police precincts (still, potentially, containing drug dealers and murderers).
"I have my passport, will that be any better?" I asked.
"Oh", she says, "in that case you won't go to jail, but you will have to go to court".
That's... not really much better to be honest. Like that's still not high up on my list of things to do here. So I go out to the car, and ring my dad up at home to ask him to send a scan of my paper licence (this is how late this post is being published, we still had paper licence counterparts), to try and be able to make sure I could prove to a nice police officer with a gun that I was in fact eligible to drive. I did another sweep of the car, and figured it must have gone down the seat back, despite me having already checked. I put my arm down the back of the seat, suddenly having an idea of what it was like to be a farmer helping a cow give birth, and, le gasp, I retrieved my driving licence. How it managed to fall down into another dimension in the short time it was on the passenger seat, I don't know, but I had found it. I wasn't going to go to jail 🎉
So, now that I'd dealt with that situation, it was time to head out and fuck shit up. The show here wasn't until the 30th so I had to find something to do until then. I didn't really want to go into the city and go to museums and see the city sights etc, Phoenix and the neighbouring cities are basically surrounded by desert, so I wanted to go and explore that.
I opened up Google Maps and saw a place called Usery Mountain Regional Park; as the second of the Jimmy Eat World references, one of the songs on their very first album from 1994 was called Usery (from when they were shit and still playing in garages), so I went there. At the booth where I had to pay to enter, the woman asked me if I was going hiking; I had to pause for minute, because to my mind, hiking is a bit more involved than what I was expecting, like climbing mountains and shit, but that's just what Americans call going for a walk on something that isn't a pavement apparently.
This is a map of the park (or you can view a PDF version here: https://www.maricopacountyparks.net/assets/1/6/usery-8x144.pdf)
There were a lot of routes I could have taken around this park, but I went around the circular "Merkle" route first, before going up along the middle "Vista" path. It was about 30 degrees and there was no cloud, but luckily I'd stocked up on drinks before I set off. There were some quite nice views from here, the terrain just went on and on as far as you could see.
After this, I was pretty hungry, so headed back into the city to grab some food. I had heard about In-N-Out Burger so found one of those, and got a pretty decent burger, fries and drink for £3.44.
I decided to go back to the Park for the afternoon and go on one of the longer routes. I started out on the red "Blevins" route, then around the "Moon Rock" path, and then I think I went along Blevins, and then up either Blevins or Cat Peaks. I may have gone on the longer route a bit further south, I honestly can't remember.
It was still just as hot, and it went on for a bit longer than I thought it looked, but it was still really enjoyable. It was pretty much all just a desert but there was some pretty cool wildlife, little lizards and things, but the highlight was a tiny little hummingbird feeding on some nectar that I was quite close to before it flew off.
Along the whole trail there were hundreds of massive cactuses, some of which were as much as three times as tall as me (and I'm 6'4").
I eventually got back to the car, very hot, tired and thirsty, but I'd had a good trek through the desert.
For food that evening, I went somewhere a bit special. I went to Ninth and Ash on a Tuesday night.
As the third of the Jimmy Eat World references, this is a line from If You Don't, Don't from Bleed American.
“You know I miss you.
Don't you know that I miss you?
Ninth and Ash on a Tuesday night”
When planning this trip I decided to Google this to see if it was a real place, and I found out it's an oyster house.
I knew that I'd be in the area on a Tuesday, and I checked the menu and they did other food too as oysters aren't really my thing, so I thought that while I was here, I had to go. So I went to Ninth and Ash on a Tuesday night. Isn't that just the cutest thing you've ever heard. it was a really nice place, like an open outdoor area covered with a wooden roof, and a stream or some sort of water feature. It was pretty peaceful. And I had my second burger of the day. Fuck it, I was on holiday and in America, I was allowed to.
Looking at Google Maps again, I had seen this road going out of the city towards a lake.
Now, I love driving on twisty country roads so I had to go and check this out. I put it into my phone and set off, aiming for the lake.
The journey was amazing. Heading out of the city, the road went through the desert, completely flat on either side, with massive mountains in the distance, that seemed to go on forever and never get any closer. With a sat-nav commands of "in 45 miles, turn right", I knew we were heading out into the desert. Half of it was wide open road and half was dual carriageway, but there were lots of nice sweeping bends, going past lakes, before opening up to massive valleys filled with cactuses, and stretches with rock-faces on each side. It was a great road with amazing scenery. I didn't take any pics but here's some street view snaps of some nice bits.
That was the junction where the next navigation direction was "in 45 miles, turn right".
And some more desert.
I stopped on the way to get a sandwich and some petrol (which I needed help with, they have weird pumps), before carrying on. Eventually, I got to the lake.
I stopped to take those pictures and eat my sandwich, before heading back.
That night I looked at the map again, and suddenly thought, "hang on a second, that road wasn't very twisty... where did I actually go?"... and realised it wasn't where I had planned to go. This was the route I had actually taken:
Hmm. Yeah, that's not where I actually wanted to go. Don't get me wrong, even though it was 124 miles each way it was a great drive, and I was really glad I'd gone, but I still wanted to go on the little white road I saw originally. So I decided I'd go out again the next day, and go on the right road this time.
I tried to set directions to the lake again, and no matter what I did, it simply wouldn't plan a route on that road. I could see it was only a minor road as it was only a small white one on the map, but I thought it must be passable surely? I just set a course for the junction just before the road started and would just carry on from there myself.
I set off again, got to where I'd put my map marker, and carried on from there. And this road was even better than the last one. This is what I came here for. Hairpins, little chicanes, switchbacks, on-cambre and off-cambre corners, steep drops on the outside of corners with no barriers, it had it all. The speed limit was as low as 25 or 35mph in places, and I don't know what the statute of limitations is for speeding in Arizona, but I probably didn't spend much time below 50/60mph. The only downside was the car itself - the poor little automatic Ford Fiesta I was driving didn't really cut it, but I put it in "sport" (I use that term losely), flicked it into the sequential manual mode, and did the best I could. Even with a shitty car, it was probably the best driving road I've ever been on (sure, Europe has hundreds of miles of better driving roads, but I've not driven on those so 🤷🏻♂️). If I was able to drive my E28 along that road I would almost certainly be killed but I'd have died with a massive smile on my face.
After about 15 miles of this wonderful road, I suddenly discovered why I hadn't been routed down this road to begin with. It just ended. Like, they'd just stopped building it, and became a dirt track, like they couldn't be bothered to finish it.
I carried on, albeit much slower, to see if it went back to a normal road at any point. It wasn't long before I was driving along what was essentially a loose gravel rally stage. It was just dirt and dust, driving on what was basically a bare desert road. I drove past other people in 4x4s, who were probably a lot more comfortable than I was, and got a few funny looks of them (was I not supposed to be here?), but carried on. After about half a mile or so, just before my spine became separated from my head, I realised the road wasn't goint to get any better. Also never mind my spine, if I carried on much further the car would literally be shaken to pieces, or I'd end up with a burst tyre, shattered alloy, or broken suspension or shock absorber. I gave up and turned round, got back to the asphalt, and zoomed back down the road. It was even more fun going down hill, even if I did nearly go off the edge a few times. I got down to the start and pulled over to have some lunch (I say lunch, I had half of a massive bag of crisps and some chocolate bars, it's all the petrol station had), before deciding what to do for the rest of the day. And I thought, fuck it, I'm gonna go up again. So I did. And this time I knew some of the corners so I could take them a bit faster, so it was even more fun. When I got back to the dirt road section I turned round and headed back down, before getting back to the start again, and I thought, eh, I still have some time, so I decided to go for one last run. I still nearly went off at the same corner even on the third run, but it was 60 miles of joy. Also, it looks like they've now built more of the road in the time since I was there... I may have to go back ;)
By now, it was getting late, and I had a gig to get to, so I waved goodbye to my little road and headed back into the city.
I triple checked I had my ticket, put on my Clarity 2009 shirt I've worn to every Jimmy Eat World show before or since (other than the very first show as I didn't have it at the time) and set off. I found it okay, parked up, and queued outside, and couldn't wait to get in. I was a fair distance back in the queue, but I purposely hadn't brought a jacket so I wouldn't have to check it in (plus it was still so hot anyway). I got in and went straight to the front, like I always do at gigs despite being 6'4" (I was in there first so suck it short arses). They started off with a musical intro to Futures and the last chorus before the main intro riff kicked in, and we were off.
“Say hello to good times
Trade up for the fast ride
We close our eyes while the nickel and dime take the streets completely
We close our eyes and the nickel and dime
Take the streets
And I loved it. Every last second of it. "This is home!" Jim said.
I'd never seen Just Tonight... live before, which was the first song I'd ever heard by the band, so was great to hear it. Work, Kill (my favourite song ever), The World You Love (for the first time), Pain, Drugs Or Me, Polaris (for only the second time), Nothingwrong, Night Drive (not one I usually liked but was pretty good) and finally 23, my third favourite song. And then they went off, as that's the end of the album.
But obviously they weren't finished. Oh no.
They came back out, and the next song up was Over from Stay on My Side Tonight. And then they played Closer. And oh my word. I wasn't as emotional seeing it being played as I was expecting, I just stood and took it in. Some years ago some demo recordings from pre-Futures leaked, with early versions of songs and some that didn't make the album and were on the EP instead; the early version of Closer was called Lying Dressed, and during the long guitar solo/bridge bit (the best bit), the little riff was played through it, and since I first heard it I preferred it and thought it should have made the final song. But on these shows, Jim was playing it like the demo version (which I'd known since listening to the recording of the first show) and it was just perfect.
She said smiling
Write my name
Touch and taste
Fades with space
I'll never be
Who you dream”
After this they played Ten from Clarity which was really nice and unexpected, I'd never seen this live before and it's a really nice song. They were playing it in memory of one of their old producers who worked with them on Clarity who had recently died.
“We left behind the busy crowd
So it seems we slow down
Meet me with a way out through the lies
Nowhere, going nowhere, in the fake yellow light”
A few songs later they played Disintegration, the last to be played from Stay on My Side Tonight, and this was really cool because they had a second drummer at the side playing with Zach.
Everything else they played was more well known stuff from more recent albums that I'd already seen before.
After the show, I hung around for a bit to try and soak up the atmosphere a bit more, and then left to go back to the hotel.
I got back from the show quite late. My flight out to L.A. was the next morning, I was tired, and I was hungry. The hotel had frozen microwave pizzas in a vending machine ('Murica), so I checked where the nearest hospital was to make sure it was within range and bought one. And it was exactly what you'd expect from a frozen microwave pizza from a hotel vending machine. It hadn't cooked properly because it wasn't spinning round in the microwave (I didn't realise there was a little dish inside), and even after cooking it 3 times, because I wasn't convinced it was cooked, I was too tired to care, so I ate it. And I didn't die so that was the bare requirement met for that meal.
And that, folks, is Arizona done.
Aside from the trouble at the airport, I really enjoyed this leg of the trip. The scenery on my walks and drives was amazing and as I love driving, I was really glad I'd found the roads I had.
I think the thing that took me a bit by surprise was the size of these places. They're huge. Phoenix and the entire metropolitan area around it is more than 2 and a half times larger than the whole of Norfolk; Phoenix is large, but then Tempe, Mesa, and several more, they're all cities in their own right too.
On one journey I went on while I was here, I can't remember which day, I had to stop because of a freight train going over the road, and it was the longest train I've ever seen in my life. We were sat for at least 10 minutes and it must have had at least 300 carriages.
The real highlight though was obviously the show; seeing my favourite band in their home town was really special, and seeing Closer played live, as well as all of Futures and some other surprises, was something I'll never forget.
I mentioned before that one of the songs on Clarity is called Goodbye Sky Harbor, named after the airport Sky Harbor in Arizona. This song is 16:14 long, and ends with a long drum outro. I've read various theories on why this was, most posts saying either the guys just wanted to use the rest of the tape up and Zach wanted to do the drum thing, but also that the length of the whole song is the same length of time it takes to take off from Sky Harbor and reach cruising altitude, and the lyrics were meant to match what you see while taking off.
So, obviously I had to try this. I even specifically made sure when I booked the trip that I would fly into and out of this airport.
Unfortunately I didn't get a window seat as my booking reference didn't work again, but I was going to try out the theory anyway to see if this guy was right. As we took off, I started the song.
“So here I am above palm trees so straight and tall
You are smaller, getting smaller
But I still see you”
The theory was that you'd look out the window and see palm trees, and you'd see the city getting smaller and smaller. While I didn't have a window seat. I could still see out my side, but we banked the wrong way so I had to try and peer out the other side of the plane, and I couldn't really see much. In the end the song ended about 30 seconds before the fasten seatbelts sign went out, so whether the song was actually about flying out of the airport, or Zach just wanted to use the tape up, it's fun to think it was intentional, and was a nice song to listen to while taking off regardless.
We landed at LAX, and of course I made the obligatory Lost reference when I checked in to the airport on Facebook.
Yes. Yes it had.
Now, this is where the second day of complete fuck-ups started.
I was only really in L.A. for the last show on the tour, and wasn't really that fussed about doing much else here, other than the obvious sightseeing stuff. My hotel was booked in Anaheim, which is where Disneyland is, I guess it was cheaper there. The woman in the travel agent said there should be good travel options to get around.
Well. At the airport, I waited for a taxi, and told him where I was going. I asked him how much he estimated it would be, and he said about $90. I thought that was quite a lot but not a lot I could do.
The journey took over an hour, and it was at this point I realised that my hotel was 35 miles away from the airport and downtown Los Angeles. Not ideal. I got to the hotel, and the taxi fare had risen to $100, which then became $123 with the 20% that American culture forces you to tip people for literally anything they do for you (okay taxis are fair but still). I checked in to the hotel and flopped down on the bed, screaming internally, and just thought "fuck". I knew this wasn't going to work. I'd have, at minimum, 5 trips to make; into town to see the sights, back again, to the show, back again, and to the airport. I was looking at either $600 in cab fares, or 2-3 hour journeys, each way, on public transport. The woman in the travel agent said I wouldn't need a car here as there'd be good public transport options. Yeah, right.
I looked around at other hotels, and found one much nearer. $680 for a Queen size room for 3 nights, which was only slightly more than the cabs would cost, but so much more efficient as I'd be nearer to everything. With that booked, I told reception I was checking out and wouldn't be staying the other two nights, and found another cab to take me back, for another $139. So I blew $940 (~£730) doing this. Pro-tip: always take a credit card with you when you go abroad. It can save your trip.
The driver was an Iraqi, and was a bit more friendly than the other driver, but I put my headphones in to try and wind down and he left me to it.
When we got to the hotel, he jumped out and unloaded my suitcase from the taxi for me, and carried it into the hotel. It was quite large and he was a pretty short guy, and I said I was fine, but he insisted. It was Hallowe'en, and the hotel reception desk had a little bowl of sweets on it. The taxi driver looked around briefly, cheekily took one and ate it giggling like a child. He then gave me a little bow as he went off. He cheered me up.
Straight after this, I met my man Troy.
Troy was a fairly thin black guy, looked a bit like Snoop Dogg without the beard, and was wearing a black fedora. He greeted me just how I expected he would.
"Heeyyy dude, what's up man?"
He also upgraded my room for free because this guy was a fucking legend.
"Hey man, sometimes you've just gotta show people a bit of love y'know, and that's what I'm doing, I'm just showing you some love".
I could have cried.
He gave me my key... room 311. I stayed in room 113 in London, room 311 in Arizona. There was an odd theme forming here.
I went to my room and settled down a bit. I decided to go and ask Troy if he knew of anywhere good to eat.
"What do you fancy?"
"Just a good burger or something really"
"Ooooh yeah, I know just the place for a burger. Fatburger. Best burgers at Fatburger"
He gave me directions and asked if I'd planned on going on any sightseeing tours, and that he could book one for me. I said I'd think about it when I was out.
I found the burger place, and it wasn't bad actually. I came back and said I would book onto the tour the next day, and he rang up and booked it for me, putting his more professional voice on in the process.
I went to bed feeling a whole lot better about things and a lot more optimistic that this leg of the trip wasn't going to be a disaster.
A bus came and picked me up in the morning, and took me to the tour guide centre. We stopped off at a few other hotels on the way, and a British girl got on at one of them. We got to the tour guide centre and checked in, and went to queue for the coach. I saw the girl waiting on her own and went over to check I was in the right place, and explained I just gravitated to the British accent. So this was how I met Hannah. We chatted a bit about what we were doing here, she was doing a Chemistry PhD in Berkeley new San Francisco, and was here for a short sightseeing break. I asked if I could tag along with her for the day so I wasn't on my own and she was cool with that.
We were right at the front of the queue so got the seats at the front of the top deck of the coach, and we had two Aussie guys in the seats next to us.
We went round all the obvious tourist attractions; Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills (where every car was a super car and every shop was something like Louis Vuitton, Channel or Hugo Boss), near-ish the Hollywood sign (which is much further away than it always seems to be on TV unless you go right up into the hills), the Hollywood Bowl, and just generally around L.A., around various famous sites, like the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are hosted, and the Farmers Market for lunch (where the Aussies said they saw Nick Frost).
We made it a fun day as the tour guide kept holding a board up with a clock on it to remind everyone how much time we had left, kept saying the name of every place every 10 seconds, and telling us to watch our step - we'd joke "do you know how much time we have left here because I have no idea", "oh is this the Hollywood Bowl, he should have said", "hm, I feel like we should maybe not be walking so clumsily".
At the end of the day I added her on Facebook and as she knew I was going to San Francisco next, offered to catch a drink when I was there (which I didn't in the end but still).
I got back to the hotel and couldn't be bothered to go out for food so I asked Troy if I could order pizza to the hotel, and he said sure, and I offered to get him one too, which he was very happy about, and he also asked how the tour was.
"Oooh, I'll just have a chicken pizza, and I like it crispy, real crispy"
So I went back to the room and ordered, and a while later my room phone rang.
"Hello sir, you have a pizza delivery at reception" - Troy was putting on his professional voice again.
I went down and he was back to "heeeey man", happily started eating his pizza and I went back to the room to eat mine.
He wasn't going to be at the hotel again when I was there, so later I went down to ask him how the pizza was and thanked him for helping me out with the room and the tour, and probably gave him a fist bump, I can't remember.
Having done the sightseeing tour, I pretty much just had to wait for the show now. L.A. has various theme parks, and obviously the beaches, but I had no interest in any of that. It was an F1 race weekend, coincidentally the US Grand Prix so it would be on at a practical time, so I was going to watch that and head out to the show later. But first, I wanted to try and get some pictures of the Hollywood sign.
This is where I met my driver, Gregory.
Gregory was Russian, and very talkative. He asked about where I was from and what I was doing while I was here. I asked him to take me to the Hollywood sign, as close as I could get.
At first I didn't know if I wanted a talkative driver but I soon realised he was actually quite good to talk to. He drove me around some other sights, including the Church of Scientology, to which his comment as we drove past was, in a thick Russian accent, "ughh, that's where the the uhhh Scientologists go... bullshit, it's all bullshit, they're all fucking crazy". Well, he's not wrong there.
I found out he also had somewhat of a Dr Pepper addiction; he used to drink Coke but switched to Dr Pepper for some reason I can't remember. He asked if we could stop off at a shop, because he needed some more, and also wanted some Doritos. He then started driving again while opening his drink and Doritos, and turning round to offer me some, while driving down a rather narrow street with cars parked on either side. I was basically like, "umm no thanks" while internally thinking "what I'd really like is if you could just focus on the road pls", but I soon realised he knew exactly what he was doing and that's just how people drive.
He drove me up the hill towards the sign, navigated the traffic, and found a parking spot close to the observation area. I asked him if he could wait and keep the meter running and take me back down, as I only wanted a quick look and a few photos as I wanted to get back to catch the race.
I don't know why you'd want to see these grainy as fuck photos compared to ones on Google, but just to prove I went.
I was only a few minutes taking my photos and came back a bit sooner than Gregory was expecting as he'd just lit a cigarette, which he promptly stubbed out; feeling bad, I insisted he could finish it, but he said it was fine and he would take me back.
On the way back, he asked me what else I was doing and I told him about the show. I told him where it was, and he offered to come back to the hotel there to take me there, and bring me back afterwards, to make sure I got home safely. What a kind thing to offer. I gave him my mobile number, and he said to give him about half an hour's notice for when I wanted to be picked up, and he would come.
I watched the race, and later in the evening, text Gregory to come and get me, and sure enough he arrived. I bought him two bottles of Dr Pepper from the vending machine as a thank you which he was very grateful for; "ah Matt, you shouldn't have, I had just run out, how did you know?" Probably because you drink it like fucking water mate, but you're welcome.
He took me to the venue, and got out and started looking around, trying to find a good place for me to wait afterwards. He told me not to wander off to certain areas, and to stay somewhere open and well-lit. He was genuinely concerned about my safety (in a protective way not because it was a shithole area), and made sure I knew where to go afterwards.
I went off to find something to eat, having yet another burger, and realised I'd left my spare phone in his taxi (I'd just got my iPhone 6 but I had my 5 with me as a backup). I text him to find it for me and went to find the venue.
I wandered round and could see where it was but there wasn't a queue and I was super early, so wandered round the block first, but then when I actually went to queue up, noticed the queue wasn't where I thought it was, and was inside and upstairs, and there was about 100 people in front of me. Fuck.
Still, I managed to get to the front. There was a little area at the front that I got into, and at some point this was shut off to other people, so they were all behind a barrier.
They played the same set as the previous show, so I used this second show as an opportunity to take some videos. Yes, I know, people moan about that, but I'd come a fucking long way for this, held my phone in front of my chest to try and not get in people's way, and even let the woman and her daughter standing behind me to go in front, so I was at the back of the group at the front of the stage.
I wish I'd have recorded The World You Love, Polaris, Ten and Dizzy, but I didn't think of it at the time. Just Tonight... went a bit wrong as I started recording it a bit late and then realised I had the flash on (I loved the flash at 1:38, that shit was bright). I also loved the lighting colour in Closer.
And that was that. The shows were done.
The guys always take a photo of the crowd after each show, I was too far near the edge at the first one, but I was in this one.
Near the front on the right, blue shirt with white writing.
That's me :)
I went out to text Gregory to come and get me and waited where we agreed. I used Find My iPhone on my main phone to track where my other phone had been, and could see Gregory had been to the airport and Beverly Hills that night, but sure enough, he came straight to me to pick me up. I really appreciated him going the extra mile to make sure I was safe as I probably wouldn't have been the biggest fare he would have got that night and he drove a long way to come and get me.
On the way back we talked some more, and he told me about how his wife had died and he had two children. He told me to let him know if I was ever back in L.A., and he would be my driver again.
When he dropped me off at the hotel, he turned round and said "Well, Matt, I met you, we had some fun rides together, take care" and shook my hand. I wished him well and left.
And that marked a lovely end to my time in L.A.
This leg of the trip could have gone horribly wrong being so far away from everything, but the people I met in just these short days made it such a memorable experience. I wouldn't change a thing about it, as if I hadn't been booked at a hotel miles away, I would never have booked my own, and none of these events would have happened.
The shows were done and dusted, now to turn this into a bit more of a holiday.
This was the only flight I could book my seat on as I had a different reference for some reason, and I paid for an upgraded seat for a little bit more. It was a smaller plane and a shorter flight but at least I had a window seat this time.
I had another hire car here, a Honda Accord or something, shitty but not quite as shit as the Fiesta, and although I got another young driver fee, I didn't have any trouble getting the car (and didn't lose my licence this time either).
I got to the hotel and got told I had to pay $40 a day to park. And this wasn't underground parking or behind a gate or anything, it was just to let you park out the front, with a two-foot wall separating the car park from the pavement. $40 a day.
I checked into room 133, completing the set of 113, 311, 311 and 133 at all 4 hotels (okay, the one in Anaheim was a different number, but I didn't actually stay there so it doesn't count).
By this point in the trip, I was absolutely exhausted. The flights and everything I'd done up to now had caught up with me. It was only mid afternoon but I put the TV on and went to sleep, woke up in the evening, ordered room service, and slept right through the night.
I couldn't come to San Francisco and not go and check out all of the big tech company HQs while I was here.
First stop was Apple.
This is the only place in the world where there is an Apple "Shop", where you can buy official Apple merchandise (t-shirts, pens, mouse mats etc). At the time we had an intern at work who was Apple obsessed and worshipped Steve Jobs (when I told him I was going he said “Oh my god, are you going to go to Steve Jobs’ parking place and be where one of the greatest men that ever lived was? You have to do that”). I promised him I'd get him a t-shirt, and I did, and he was over the moon with it when I gave it to him and put it on in the office there and then.
Other than the shop, there wasn't anything else to see here, you could just drive around Infinite Loop and that was it.
Second stop was Google.
The Google campus is massive. They don't have a closed off area as such, they just own whole blocks of buildings. You come off the freeway, down a few streets and then suddenly start seeing people on these bikes, and you're in the middle of their campus.
I couldn't go inside their buildings, but I did go and find the Android statues they have.
Third stop was Facebook.
There was nothing else here to see other than the sign unfortunately.
Fourth and final stop was Twitter.
Whereas all the other (much bigger) campuses are more remote and off the freeway, their HQ is just in an office block in the middle of town, more an office than a campus.
Still, there we go.
Next I went to the obvious main attraction here. The Golden Gate Bridge.
There was an observation point over the other side so I headed for that. The lanes in the road felt strangely narrow, I had to really concentrate on not crossing into another lane instead of looking out into the sea or looking at the bridge itself.
I then saw there was a cliff edge to the side that you could drive up, and I ended up finding the runs the runs along the headland. The road weaved up and there were observations points every so often. I kept going until there was a gate across the road, so I parked up and took a few photos.
I walked up a path to where I could see some people, and it turned out you could see the bridge, out over the whole bay, and across over the ocean.
I have to say, this was one of the best places I've ever been. I must have been sat on a bench here for at least half an hour, watching the sun go down behind me over the bay. I'd been having a bit of a rough time that year, falling out with a close friend, and things generally weren't great, but this was the most at peace I'd felt for a long time.
I went back to the car and took a couple more photos.
With the sun started to go down I headed back, but not before taking a few last photos in the light from the sunset.
Then I headed back into town.
For food that evening I managed to find a greasy pizza place around the corner from the hotel. I ordered a "medium" meat feast pizza, and this is what I got.
Now, let me tell you about this pizza. It was the densest, heaviest pizza I've ever had. It easily had enough cheese for two, maybe three pizzas. If it had any more cheese it would have had its own gravitational pull, or maybe that's how it got so much cheese on it in the first place. I couldn't stomach finishing more than half of it, so I took it back to the hotel to have later, and ended up just throwing it out.
I'd seen the Muir Woods redwood forest was just a bit further beyond the bridge, so I decided to go and check that out.
You can see a map of the various trails here: https://www.nps.gov/muwo/upload/muir_woods_pad_map.pdf
I think I went around the Ocean View Trail, across the Lost Trail, up the Sierra Trail, along the Panoramic trail, and then back somehow, I can't quite remember exactly.
Anyway, the trees here are all huge (well, they are redwoods).
I went further up, and you could see out across the forest, and over to the ocean.
That evening, I went and walked around the streets of San Francisco, seeing how steep some of the roads were, and went around some gift shops.
I left the big one until the last day. It was time to head to Yosemite.
Yosemite was a 4 hour drive away, so I had to get up early to make the most of the day. It was a lot more of a whistle-stop tour than I'd have liked, I pretty much just drove around the roads throughout the park, stopping to take photos at scenic areas. You can camp at the park, or even just staying nearer would mean you could make more of a day here.
I'll just post all the photos I took here for this one.
Not bad, huh.
Heading home, I zoomed down the twisty mountain road in a little convoy of cars, eventually made it back to town 4 hours later, and finished off the trip with the ultimate meal.
And just like that, my trip was over. It was time to head home.
Of all the places I went, San Francisco would be the place I would come back to first. I enjoyed it here as much as I went to New York (it's a shame they're on complete opposite coastlines and pretty much as far away from each other as physically possible). I would love to go back up to that viewpoint looking out over the bay, through the redwood forest, and around Yosemite again. Hopefully one day I can.
So that's it. That was my trip.
As a bit of a negative, I complained to Thomas Cook about various aspects of my bookings. The whole point of going to a travel agent is that they are supposed to have knowledge of the areas, or have access to information to make sure your trip is going to go smoothly. I complained about the flight booking reference not working meaning I couldn't pre-book a seat, not having any hire car information, not informing me about young driver fees, booking me a hotel in L.A. that was fucking miles from where I needed to be, and about not telling me the San Francisco hotel would charge $40 a day for parking. Overall I'd had $1,325, or £840, of unexpected extra expense, and that's not what I'd expect when booking through a travel agent. In the end, they claimed they couldn't do anything because I didn't phone them up at the time (what, because my first thought is to make an international call from my mobile and wait for someone to spend fucking ages to sort it out), and all they refunded me was the £216 for the unused hotel nights in L.A.
That aside, the trip was amazing. Several people have told me they were really impressed I even went. I've always been very reserved, and before this, the furthest I'd been away from my parents on my own was Birmingham, when I drove up for a gig and drove back that night. But, I managed to fly across the world, spend 11 days away, and not get lost, not get shot, and not die. I'd call that a success.
And I am so, so glad I went.