Friday, June 23, 2006

The Amazing Misadventures of Simon and Karen

<--Simon (prior to this excursion)
The Amazing Misadventures of Simon and Karen

This is the travel diary of Simon and Karen. I used to work with/for Simon in Te Awamutu. They have recently gone to North America for a wedding in Canada…among other things….

The Kiwis Visit North America (aka the Clampetts hit Beverley Hills)

It was much like Jethro and the Clampetts hitting town as the Kiwis flew into LA and immediately demonstrated their sophistication. Examples include :
Simon and Karen, when confronted by a half-full toilet, immediately calling on a plumber. He walks away in disgust as soon as he sees the normal Northern Hemisphere sanitary levels in place. (Whilst this type of toilet does present a cleaner surface the splash factor is most disquieting.)
Chris and Rowan hailing a taxi, and while the driver is putting bags in the boot, Chris hops in the driver’s seat. This promptly alarms the driver who believes he is being hijacked, and is about to call for help. In the meantime Chris sits obliviously in the front seat waiting for his taxi driver to get in the car.
Lance, who works within the telecommunications industry and is too savvy to spend $25 on a phonecard, makes calls to his beloved from the hotel phone. Upon being presented with a US$540 bill he informs the concierge he has already paid for his accommodation, to which he is advised that this is in fact his phone bill. Lance pays his bill and purchases a $25 phonecard.
Simon, well versed in road safety rules, looks right before crossing the road, and narrowly escapes being flattened by the Chevy coming from his left.
Karen signs on for a tour of a shopping market to see how products are stacked, stored and sold in another continent – apparently there is a whole aisle dedicated to cans of different beans.
Neil, on a roaming phone, rings home. He knows he has to dial 09, being the Dargaville area code, and the international access number, 011, first. He dials away, dropping the 0 as he is ringing from overseas, but is staggered when the LAPD answer the phone. Mistaking him for some sort of terrorist, Neil spends the rest of the holiday changing names, hairstyles and hotels.


Ah, airports, a refuge for the weary traveller, a haven for the temporarily displaced, an oasis of certainty in a land of confusion. Actually, not as much fun as everyone makes out.

Entry into the US didn’t start of on a promising note as we approached security. All our pockets had to be emptied, bags separated and hash hidden. Unfortunately, shoes also had to be removed…

Time for a flashback - Karen is packing her bags for the big trip, carefully considering what should be taken, and what must be culled. Winter shoes are discarded, but only one pair of summer shoes remains. She reminds herself to wash these before she packs them.

Back to the present – Karen starts sweating, she’s forgotten to clean her shoes, the burly law enforcement official is demanding she take of the hush puppies, she shakes her head, he calls for backup, she tries to make a run for it, the dogs are called. She realises the game is up, and tearfully complies with directions. Soon she is joined by everyone else in crying heavily, but the cause of the crying also sets of the smoke alarms, drenching the States largest entry port in a spray of sprinklers.

However, Karen gets through, aided by the officers being distracted by the death of three sniffer dogs who got too close to the shoes.

We stayed in a hotel close to the airport which, according to our agent, was to be luxurious and exclusive. In a way she was right – the luxury was excluded.

Lance, who was staying at an adjacent hotel, decided to walk a few blocks to experience the local culture. As he walked under a bridge he was confronted by a young woman – commonly referred to in LA as a ho – who asked him for some money. When Lance politely declined to give her any, presumably as she had not done anything to warrant such a payment, the ho became quite agitated and started yelling at Lance. As he walked ever faster away she followed him, hurling abuse for over 3 blocks as he tried to escape her in the crowded footpaths. The locals didn’t even bat an eyelid, they were used to seeing all kinds,even people who looked like Lance… Finally managing to evade the shrieking harpy Lance found a liquor store and enjoyed a different route home.

A Jappie Lance met at his hotel told him how he had been having breakfast at the MacDonalds between our hotels when he was approached by a man who said he was a plumber and who demanded $50 to get to work. When the Jappie, being of Dutch heritage, declined the man became agitated. The Jappie told him he had no money on him, so the plumber insisted he go back to his hotel and draw out some cash which he could then hand over. It seems that in the US there is no Ronald MacDonald, the mascot instead is a plumber.

We then went toManhattan Beach to see the sights. A nice part of town with a fantastic beach and good surf it was also the “it” place to go out for dinner. This was where we encountered our first difficulties with tipping, which by the way is a vile and complex system designed to gouge the customer far more than the service and product deserve. Lance and I paid for our meal with our credit cards, including a tip for the lazy waitress with a fake smile. However, she then came over to us, nearly in tears, complaining how she knew we didn’t give her a tip. Seems her boss had simply added the tip to the bill as part of the meal costs, leaving her out in the cold. Lance was the only one moved by her plight to pay her a further tip, so that for a few tears she got tipped twice. Must remember to break down more when clients come in.

As we were walking down the street we saw a squad car parked by the road with two young cops talking to some crippled guy who wanted a ride home. They weren’t keen to do that but when Kaz approached and had her photo taken with the cops they became quite keen to handcuff her, arrest her and take her back downtown with them.

LA has a population of 15 million people and 10 million cars. This is self-evident when driving along the freeway, with a multitude of motor vehicles jostling with jalopies and juggernauts, all beating the approx 100km speed limit by between 40 to 50 kms. We are told the rationale of all drivers is that there are so many of them they are unlikely to get caught, but if it happens to be their day then so be it.

This was a philosophy which I decided to happily espouse when commencing driving in Canada on our way to Niagra Falls. The tricky part is to remember everything is done on the opposite side. Even giving an offensive hand gesture to a driver who cuts you off has to be done with the left hand.

Somehow, the only little driving error was venturing up a freeway onramp on the wrong side. The screams of the passengers – clearly alert to the situation as they had all been sitting bolt upright praying to their various deities – helped wake the driver, and a violent swerving manoeuvre across various lanes of traffic rectified the problem.

There is a certain freedom in cruising along the motorway – the surface is smooth and reliable, you can pass on either side, and there is always someone else up ahead to catch up to, race, and then burst clear away.

This freedom saw me in the fast lane, tapping away at a gentle 120km when a 4WD skids past. The challenge is laid. As I gently press on the accelerator with both feet I glance in the rearview to see if any more luggage is falling out the back – and I see BEAR ! A Smokey is right on my tail and getting closer. Preferring not to get into any protracted dialogue about a non-existent international driver’s licence, and trying to keep a low profile, I surreptitiously indicate to move into an adjacent slower lane.

Panic sets in when I realise the hazard lights have been turned on. In a mad flurry of limbs and levers the lights, wipers, squirters and airhorns are activated and deactivated before the right indicator is found and we slide into the next lane. Fortunately, the Bacon Wagon must be on the hunt for donuts as it simply cruises past, giving us the perfect opportunity to go back to the fast lane and follow behind.

One of the highlights of the trip. Sitting on the bleachers, sunny day, good and close game ensuing our hearts are further warmed by watching the army of yellow-shirted beer vendors traipsing the aisles. You simply need to raise your hand and a beer is passed to you – a Mexican wave became the most effective way of acquiring mass amounts of the golden ambrosia.

The most effective vendor was the older guy who’d walk along, hiss “Iccccccccccee…”, walk a few more steps, then croak out “Cooooooooooold”, before taking a couple more steps and finishing with a throaty rumble – “Beeeeeeeeeerrrrrrr”. We loved him, he loved us, we loved his product, he loved our cash.


Along with the Te Awamutu Rose Gardens and the Huntly Power Station this is truly one of the 7 wonders of the world. Split into two massive outpourings of water by the Canadian/US border , this is an awesome spectacle to which the crowds flock. We went on a walk behind the Horseshoe Fall – the larger one on the Canadian side shaped like a, um, like, well, it’s hard to describe, sort of a bananaish, u-ey kind of shape. We were forced to wear plastic yellow raincoats that I wore for most of the rest of the trip until Kaz forced me to put something else on for the wedding. It’s hard to appreciate the immensity of 158 million litres of water crashing over a 54 m high cliff every minute but it is a sight few will ever get to see. Fewer still if you leave the video camera at home.

One of the features is the ability to cross the bridge and be on the US side where you can get your passport stamped. We ventured over but were not allowed through when an official saw some other official had removed our greencards from our passports. This meant we had to pay more money to get new greencards which could then be removed from our passports by some official. We refused to do so and were asked to leave US soil. At last, I had attained a lifetime goal … I had been deported.
Other highlights

Coming back from dinner to find a cheery Lance in the hotel bar. He had a Lance S sticker on his shirt, memento of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce Business After 5 drinkies he had found his way into.

Kaz, walking through the Van Helsing Haunted House at Universal Studios. Feels immensely proud she hasn’t been screaming at the various surprise horrors, or clutching at Simon’s leg in the dark (as has some other unseen patron). Walking through the exit when a 2 foot 4 ewok jumps out from behind a curtain and causes her to fully vocalise her strong Welsh lungs. The ewok sniggers to itself and scampers back behind the curtain while Kaz’s piercing shrilling is still resounding throughout the complex.

Oh, the wedding too. Bride and groom looked great in the beautiful castle settings on the shores of lake Ontario. The grounds were picturesque, everyone basking in the warm afternoon sun, whilst Lance perspired so much his eyeball fluids trickled down his legs. The speeches were fantastic, the food sumptuous and the company cheerful.

There was also the perfect mix; good bar, dance floor, a crazy DJ … and a piano.

The following day we drove to a town nearby – although with Peewee’s shortcut we saw a lot of British Columbia too – where there was a Nth American bbq for family and friends. We came anyway.

After stuffing us with great tucker, with the temp hitting 34 degrees in the shade, and the kiwis starting to feel the previous nights exertions we were challenged to a game of touch rugby by some young Canadian rugby playing dude and his mates. His team also grabbed Lance (as a handicap everyone believed) and with the young first-five leading the way the Canucks scored some quick tries.

Pride was on the line so the kiwis sucked it up and did the hard yards. Pretty soon, with Lance busting his ankle with a resounding crack, and some late high hits on the first-five, we were back in the game and Chris scored 4 pacy tries on the wing. The Canucks weren’t used to rucking in a touch game and this told in the end as we won by 1 try – that, and me keeping the score.

Meantime Lance had been taken to the hospital where he was simply given some strapping (tape, not a caning) and sent home. The price ? Nearly as much as his phonebill, $450.


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