Friday, 12 June 2009

Planes, trains and automobiles

I escaped the creepy man of Seattle and made my way back to San Francisco. I was pleased and delighted to find that the freezing fog that has clouded my visit on my previous trip had lifted and the weather was now warm and pleasant.

What was even more delightful was my friend Amanda- the travel agent I met whilst trekking in Tasmania- was coming for a long weekend with her step-mother Kay. It was just a coincidence that Amanda had decided to make the long journey to San Francisco the same weeekend, but what a lovely one at that. As I mentioned, the continous formation of new friends has been taking its toll of late and it was so nice to slip into easy conversation. What was also nice was having companions for activities and we had a delightful day at the art gallery and a slightly wind swept lunch. In the evening we dined at Francis Ford Coppola's restaurant. We were initially a bit put out as there was a massive group of Americans next to us, one of which I can only desrcribe as a wailing banshee. The waiter, a lovely chap called Tim (I think), was so apologetic for the noise we got free deserts and coffee!

On the Sunday, Amanda had organised for us to go ona wine tour of the Napa Valley. The tour guide was a German woman who was definately hungover and made little or conversation until the last ten minutes when she was angling for tips However, her narration was not required due to one of our fellow wine taster compainions, a Texan woman called Debbie.

Now, I'm not one to judge- oh to hell with that, I definitely am, but this woman was everything a sterotypical Texan woman should be apart from the fact she wasn't grossly overweight. She was loud, obnoxious and between wineries she was shotting tequila- I kid you not. At one stage rather than use her spitton, she threw a glass of wine over her shoulder and narrowly missed me. She hung on to everyone, slapping them 'affectionately' and generally made a nuisance of herself. To cap it off, on the bus ride back to San Francisco she began to bemoan the possibility of public health care in the US as she thought it could be no good thing that the poor and needy should get free health care.

That evening Amanada, Kay and I went to a chinese trestaurant with the rudest waiter known to man (I personally think he was mentally disabled) and had the bottle of wine we had got from our tour. We then went to a bar called 'Top of the Mark' a rooftop bar in a hotel and had devine cocktails. It was so high up, I felt I could have tickled the moon (if I had been brave enough to go near the window) and if you squinted very hard, you could see the Golden Gate Bridge. After all the alcohol of the day, I made a fond farewell to Amanda and Kay and went back to my hostel. I was leaving the next day and had neglected to pack earlier. I must recommend not packing whilst drunk as I did so in a most peculiar order and during which I narrated much to the bewildement of my Malaysia dorm-mates.

The next day I caught a plane to LAX and stayed overnight in a airport motel. I was due to catch an 11am flight to New York the next day and I was too nervous to fly on the same day. Also I was looking forward to ordering room service- a treat for myself. Now I have never ordered room service before and I was quite diasppointed. However, I suspect that fact I was staying at the cheapest hotel should have been an indicator that the meal was not going to be fantastic.

Anyway, the next morning I dutiful arrived at LAX only to discover my flight was delayed 2 hours. Never mind, it was Tuesday and I had booked a hostel in MYC for two nights and then a bus to Philadplephia on the Thursday. I was no real rush to get to New York, especially as it was my intention to withhold sight-seeing until my friend Anthony comes to join me in a couple of weeks. Two hours turned into three and then boarding was announced. As the plane load of people aprroached the gate, suddenly a voice told us the flight was cancelled! This came as somewhat of a surprise and no reason was given. However, as I said I was no hurry and I wasn't really bothered. Not so some of the other flyers who were furiously phoning travel agents and getting very cross. I met a lovely Australian girl who needed to get to NYC by the early Wednesday, but she was managingto be perfectly polite and we went together to the help desk to get ourselves sorted out. Fortunately she managed to get a later flight that day and to my great delight because of 'my great inconvience' that they couldn't get a flight for me until the next day, I got put up in the Hilton with 20 dollars worth of food vouchers. What a trauma.

By late evening of the next day, I finally made it New York where again transport difficulties were thrust upon me and I got stuck in an airport shuttle bus in traffic for nearly 2 hours. But as I said no hurry. From my brief, inital impression, the city seemed large and intimidating and in many ways I was pleased that my exploration of it was going to wait until I was going to be accompanied by a friend.

The next morning I made my way to the 'Port Authority' Bus stop, made famous by various TV shows and films. In a word (if it is one)- unglamorous. However, I got chatting to nice middle aged couple whilst we stood in the queue for our bus in the terminal buidling and I felt relaxed. That was until I herad shouting coming from the adjacent bus stop to ours. Earlier I noticed a rather large middle aged black man patrolling the building talking to himself loudly about wanting to get to California. I suspected that, not just from the fact he was talking to himself, that he was a little nutty as to get to California on a bus would, I predict, take weeks from NYC. Well, this chap had forced his way past the bus driver of a bus to Newark (approximately 80 miles form NYC) and was refuing to get off the bus. The bus driver, a portly man was having an absolute hissy fit and screaming at the man, something I suspect is probably not the best way to deal with the mentally ill and rather scary for the passengers of the bus. Eventually, 8 armed poilcemen appeared and dragged the man from the bus in handcuffs. Despite my alarm at this unfolding scene, it amused me to note that of the 8 officers only one appeared to be over 5 ft 6 and it did make me wonder about the assocation between the fondness of smaller men and big guns.

After all that excitement we got on the bus (the middle aged couple I was in line with were most apologetic and assured me this had never happened before to their knowledge) and our bus driver proclaimed to love us all and was a very jolly chap. I must admit by the time I got to Philadelphia, despite the rain, I was most pleased to arrive, safe in the knowledge that I was booked to stay for 5 nights and that I wouldn't have to board any long distance transportation for a quite a few days. Steve Martin and John Candy, eat your heart out!

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