Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Christine and Robert

Leaders or Laggards?
Monday February 6
“Anyone who thinks that the United States is not leading the world needs to think again” (Barak Obama 2012).....degrees Fahrenheit; mph; month/date year/ wtf?! Hey guys...wake up! The rest of the world has moved on! American scientists have gone metric but no one else here seems interested. US Customs have acknowledged that everyone else expresses the date as day/month/year by doing their forms that way, but once through the gate, the months assert their primacy and push the days back down the queue - which turns out to be a problem when you thought that you had booked your pick-up from Los Angeles Airport on the 5th of Feb, only to find that they weren’t expecting you for another 3 months, until the 2nd of the May!! ... but not a drama. Grabbed a cab and headed off through the spaghetti of freeways, turnpikes and overpasses of LA for our hotel bed on the Queen Mary after an otherwise uneventful 24 hours of travel from Perth via Guangzhou (by which means we came to learn how China Southern Airlines can offer such cheap fares).
Waterfront at Long Beach

All aboard the Queen Mary   
Tuesday February 7 

The term “Grand old Lady” is often over used, but it does indeed seem appropriate for this impressive bit of jetsam that has been cast ashore off Long Beach. After years of carrying the rich and famous as well as British troops around the world, it now spends its retirement as a very cool hotel across the water from long beach, accommodating the wealthy, the amorous, those who picked up a good deal on a windowless internal cabin via expedia (us), and a few brown pelicans, cormorants and kelp gulls that call it home each night. Have to admit, we were surprised at how romantic it was. Even though it wasn’t going anywhere, it sort of felt like it might at any moment. A full moon over the stern also added something special.

Conversations on trains
Wednesday February 8
Yes, we were on the first days of our big adventure, and yes it was romantic aboard the Queen M, but there was a whole lot of crap that we just had to deal with .... phones to get talking: computers to get internetting; cameras to get photoing (can’t believe spell-check let that one get by); campervans (RV’s here) to get camping; and only public transport to get us between all of the places that we needed to get to to make this all happen - can’t believe how spread out LA is! So ... a lot of time aboard the trains and trams that, seemingly, only Hispanics and African Americans use - which made it all the more rewarding for us. When we told a white guy in the computer store that we had just spent two hours getting to his store by public transport, his response was “Oh, I’m so sorry”.
But there is nothing like train lines and local buses to take you behind the scenes of any city. Some overheard conversations....
Two African Americans sitting behind us, one older with a couple of days growth, the other younger. The older talking - a lot ...the younger offering enough acknowledgment for the other to  keep going.  A discussion about comparative religion!  You’ll have to add the drawl of lower socio-economic, black LA: “Well, I thought that I was pretty religious, but those Muslims, they really believe.  They’ll go strapping bombs to themselves and blowin’ ‘emselves up for their God. I don’t reckon we’d do the same for ours” At which point, another guy comes through from the next carriage asking if anyone could spare a dime for someone doin’ it tough, to which the older guy responded: “I reckon I’m as poor as you are, but here’s a tin of tuna you might be able to use.” We gave him a dollar as he came by us. If the poor are prepared to help each other out, then looking the other way isn’t really an option.
The free buses around Long Beach are fantastic. A few tourists were using them at this time of year, but so was everyone else who needed to go somewhere else but couldn’t afford to pay. One morning, a very well presented and cheerfully friendly lady got on by the water front. While the driver abandoned his passengers to run off down the road to buy breakfast, we all got chatting and she informed us that she had been camping out in the park by the waterside, kept company by sea gulls, raccoons and the same full moon that we had been admiring from the stern of our very comfortable ocean liner / hotel. As if this was nothing unusual, the conversation then flipped to one about another woman’s dogs and cats and the relative merits of different breeds of pets! 
And always a good natured banter between the drivers and the passengers - a young lady who couldn’t pay her fare but was allowed to travel, so long as she was prepared to maintain a dialogue with the driver, who then gave her directions for other buses she would need to take to get to her destination, as if the absence of money was not going to be a problem - we certainly weren't in Perth anymore!

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