28 May 2004:
Well, not quite, but I did end up in the same venue as the lad in New York, New York, of all places.
How did this happen and wtf, you demand? I, gentle reader, am as flumoxed as you.
To put the matter simply, I entered a competition and I won. A weekend in NY. I mean, wtf? I never win anything. I'm like the cooler from that William Macy film. If a bird has a choice of a hundred people to shit on, it'll choose me. Such is my luck.
However I read an article last year that said chronically unlucky folks like me could try and change their luck by trying to think positively and enter lots of competitions. So I did. I won the odd free ticket or poster and I was pleased. But I've never, ever, in my life won anything like this. I guess probability finally smiled kindly on me.
So I won a trip to New York and to attend the premiere of the Day After Tomorrow. Neat (and no, I still can't believe it either).
Of course, TPTB said I couldn't go. I'm redundant, but I couldn't go. I pouted, I whined, I stamped my feet, I pointed out that they'd cancelled my last four attempts to book a holiday. They said I could go but I wouldn't have a job when I came back (they weren't kidding either as I can't login any more). I went anyway. I'll sort it out with the union when I get back (which I will, as soon as they get in).
The ticket was for two people. My brother, incredibly, said no. So did several other folks I asked, so I ended up going with Number 6. Not a bad choice of travelling companion, though I note I only got to do two things on my list of must dos. Oh well.
At this point I'd like to genuinely and sincerely thank the lovely gals at Showtime Australia for the trip, the organisation for getting me there and back, the way they were so kind and friendly and kept me in the loop. They made me feel really special. Thanks. I'll never forget it.
I only had a week to get myself organised (including a new bag, new shoes, new clothes and a new haircut) and TPTB made everything much harder and nastier than it had to be, but at last it was Friday, I was packed, and was into a cab and off to the airport. Number Six showed up on time, fer once, and I managed to get my money changed, buy some magazines (my only chance to really do so) and a spare adaptor plug for digicam because I am so paranoid about such things. A large hot breakfast, paperwork, queueing and onto the plane.
It was a smooth flight over the Pacific (my last flight to LA was exactly like the plane ride in Day After Tomorrow re extreme turbulence) and though I was stuck in the middle of the plane, which I hate, I had my very own tv screen and I watched Cold Mountain, Paycheck, The Cooler (which I loved) and ROTK more times than was decent.
Bear in mind that it's twenty plane hours from Sydney to New York. It is not for the faint hearted or the weak bladdered and it certainly allows for multiple viewings of hobbits. At one point I thought I'd only dozed off for ten minutes or so but in fact the film had gone round once or twice while I was out.
LAX was a complete freakin' nightmare and an unhappy non welcome to the US of A. First of all they don't believe in transit lounges, floor managers, radios, phones or any other communication device including speech, coordination, management, or organisation. I had to queue to get through immigration, queue to get my bags, queue to get through customs, queue to get a boarding pass, queue to recheck my bag, queue to get up two levels, queue to join a queue. By now our plane was supposed to be leaving and we'd been made to queue to the side and had been obviously forgotten about. I finally got the attention of some LAX lackey and we were finally allowed to queue to get through security, to the rousing cheers of my countrymen.
Of course this meant I was targeted for strip searching and had my pack emptied and gone through in ways that aren't legal back home. They didn't like my collection of cameras and maps of NY (hello, tourist, not terrorist, though by now I was of a mood to be recruited, I can tell you), nor did they like my old faithful DMs which have clocked up several trips to the US without a second glance previously, but what they really objected to were my Patrick O'Brians. They were scowled at, thumped, flicked through and scowled at some more. It was a fine performance, and perhaps they just found the idea of books and book learning dangerously subversive, but I was marked as a suspect reader of POB from then on, to #6's constant cackling.
Maybe the Security Bitch had flicked open to the bit where Jack was singing loudly about midshipman's balls. Who can tell? Whatever, they did not like my POBs. No sir, they did not. Good thing I'd left behind by accident my old faithful actual travelling POBs with all the boarding passes shoved between the pages, or I'd have been even more suspect, I fear. As it was, these were brand new off the shelf copies purchased with haste and desperation at Mascot, so I am at a loss to explain the offence they caused.
I asked what in my bag, aside from the POBs, had caused such problems, as I'd carefully packed according to Australian aviation regs (which are much, much tighter than US ones, a Qantas trolley dolly assured me, sharing my outrage), but Security Bitch just snarled at me.
Number Six is still yukking it up, as she's never travelled with someone more guilty looking than herself before. I'm honoured.
Anyway, I made it, last one on the plane, subversive POBs and all. Somebody should warn Peter Weir not to be packing POBs the next time he has to run the gauntlet of LAX.
JFK was a much nicer, better organised airport and we got through easily, even this highly suspect POB reader, to be picked up by a limo. Even had a chap carry our bags. Luxury.
Off we set, but it didn't feel real. We drove through what I assume was Queens and then we crested the hill and there was the fabulous NY skyline, dominated by the gorgeous old Empire State Building, the way it should be. Superb.
Number Six starts getting wildly excited as we drive up 3rd Ave to our hotel, somewhere in New York's East Fifties (heh), and there we are, arrived. The hotel is actually booked in my name (phew) and the room has a perfect view of my beloved Chrysler Building. I begin taking the start of what I will dub The Chrysler Project, some excessive number of digi shots of the CB and its many moods. It even lurks in photos I wasn't actually taking of it, like a stalking Lutheran church. Ah, I have an unnatural love for that building.
Speaking of architecture, I just love all the old buildings in NY, from the 1760s to the 1960s. Love, love, love. How come they get to keep 'em when everything older than three years is razed to the ground in Sydney? I love the scary looking art deco sky scrapers. I totally get the joke in Ghostbusters now. Zool indeed.
Unpacked and showered we toddled over to 2nd Ave and found a nice quiet Japanese restaurant. I would have gone French (they looked yummy and artery hardening) but I had a bug or Qantas belly and I was just never up to it, big budget pack of immodium notwithstanding.
Our first morning dawned foggy and we had bagels and stale Krispy Kremes (they never hang around long enough in Sydney to get cool, even) and then it was off to my favourite place: The Met. We lost track of time there and spent the whole lost in that rabbit warren. The Egyptian section alone is the size of a shopping mall, a large shopping mall. Number Six found the only piece of slashy Greek pottery in a very PG room. Go #6. At least this time I made it upstairs, albeit briefly.
Sat on a bench in Central Park for a bit, because my poor feet were pleading for mercy, then it was back to the hotel and a shower and a change and the highlight of the trip: the Hugh Jackman show. After circling blocks I managed to find the theatre (I kept transposing number, stupid me, I blame an excess of sugar) and our seats were well and truly in the nosebleed section but we still had a great view of the stage. The show itself is less than stellar as the critics said but who cares as Hugh sang and danced and charmed and adlibed and shimmied and was just wow. Totally wow. I loved every damn minute of it. I felt we should have been upstanding for "I Still Call Australia Home", aka the Qantas song. There were lots of Aussies there, cheering wildly. Kinda nice. I didn't want it to end, but it did, alas. Hugh was just bloody marvellous.
So we plodded back to 2nd Ave and were stopped at a restaurant to give an impromptu review to folks who'd spied my prog still clutched in my hot little hands and we ended up getting a table there on the street for some atmos and rather good pasta.
Sunday saw us buying a 48 hour all loops pass on the big red tourist bus (hey, up til now folks had been mistaking us for locals, even with the drawls), the tickets for which we totally flogged to death, btw. They had to stop punching holes in our tickets as we hopped off and on as we ended up with more holes than ticket. The great thing about this trip was that I had a grand's worth of spending money, yippee, which was still about US$700, so, as not to annoy #6, I spent it all on food, transport and tickets, so everything that weekend was on 'Uncle Rupert'. So nice to have a rich uncle - grin. Thanks, Uncle Rupert :)
It was a blistering hot day and I actually got sunburnt and we were snarled in traffic due to a parade making a mess of traffic on the entire island - grrr (too bad I left me 'Free Palestine' pin at home) but overall it was a grand day out. We popped into the Natural History Museum where I finally, finally saw my dinosaurs (research, you understand, never mind childhood sacred shrine) and my old friends the NorthWest Native Americans, which I'd written many an essay on, so I was happy to finally, finally get to see the display cases of what I'd read about up close and personal. Whoo.
I'd actually tricked #6 into detouring past the NW exhibit by saying there was a ladies down there, which there was, but they were chained up. Never mind, the ruse worked and I got to see my Tinglit stuff. Yes! And I got to see those Greek helmets and the Met and those lovely 18thC French rooms. Yes.
We took the downtown loop for the afternoon which was loads of fun, bar the loud and annoying Okies whom #6 wanted to kill with her bare hands (we later found a paper that boldly stated that while murder was up, crime was down in NY, so if murder isn't actually a crime in NY, we could have thrown those obnoxious Okies overboard and the world would have been a better, quieter place.) That's the problem with visiting America: there's no off switch or volume control and it does get too much at times (and I've read enough articles to know it's not just me who feels this way).
We were rained on a few times as the promised 3pm thunderstorm rolled in on the dot (how come our weather forecasts are blindingly wrong yet overseas they can predict rain down to the minute?) but it was hardly anything like a Sydney downpour, despite #6's (an indoor kitty if ever there was one) distress and I wasn't bothered in the least. The sun came out and I was dry in seconds. I just slapped on my hat and it was all good. In fact, the tour guide said I looked like Sam in Jurassic Park with my hat pulled low. Must be an antipodean hat wearing thing.
So we covered Harlem to Battery Park and halfway back, zig zagging across the island. Not a bad day's work. I merely rode past where Keiko used to live. It still looks wicked cool. It was a great place to stay, very New York.
Not to say we only saw Manhatten from the top of a tour bus. No, that was just scouting, getting the lay of the land. On Monday, under our own steam, and armed with maps and metrocards, we went to the top of the Empire State Building - I made sure we got up early enough to beat the worst of the queues.
We started off a little later than anticipated, due no doubt to the apple cinnamon margaritas I'd foolishly consumed the night before. The tour bus had dropped us off in Times Square and #6 was desperate for a pee, the old girl, so I picked Applebee's as a likely place for peeing (it wasn't like I could wander about and window shop) and besides, #6 had never been in a tacky American theme restaurant before, and I feel it needs to be done just once, so you never make that mistake again (there was an Outback across the road from the hotel but I forbade it as heresy and insult - the horror, the horror).
It was actually rather fun and the charming yet no doubt gay waiter easily talked us into tryping apple and cinnamon margaritas, of all things, and we stuck with just starters, which were huge anyway, and I had an Oreo thick shake for dessert (because I forgot milkshake=thickshake in the US but at least I didn't fall for the entree=mains trick again). I was in a silly mood and I just had to, though it was so thick I couldn't get it up the straw no matter how hard I sucked and risked embolism. What I managed to lick from the straw tasted ok though, though an Oreo will never, ever ever ever have anything over a Tim Tam, and that's just a plain fact.
In fact the whole day was bookended with apple and cinnanmon because, unable to get any proper plain, salted porridge, the way it's meant to be, I'd had to settle for some apple and cinnamon oatmeal (that's noo how ye make porridge). It wasn't too bad, once I'd salted it, but they do love their cinnamon.
So, off to the Empire State Building, after a brekkie of below average French Toast (the cafe I patronise at home actually does it better, or maybe just the way I like it). I got us off the bus too early because I tranposed the street numbers again (too much sugar again, I swear) but we got to walk past shops and the ESB had just opened when we got there, so perfect timing. Not too huge a queue, by US standards, and we were deeply amused when some daffy Germans tried to get their coffee and muffins scanned by security. Security, a little flummoxed, said they didn't require the coffee and muffins to be scanned. This set us to giggling, then thinking of 60s spy like C4 muffins and chocolate chip detonators. Maybe they should scan muffins afterall.
So, up, up, up and it wasn't at all windy so scaredy #6 braved the observation deck and we did a circuit. Only one, alas, because #6 was still scaredy and there wasn't much of a view as the fog had refused to burn off that morning. Not that I'd minded because I had been up on a brilliant sunny day and made the most of it. Then it was gift shop ahoy. Number Six wouldn't let me buy the Manhatten martini glasses I so coveted, but I did buy a silly talking key ring that is so tacky and I love it to bits while the old girl was in the lav, again. Then it was down, down, down to Battery Park.
The Staten Island ferry terminal looked like and was a construction site so one poor commuter ended up leading over 100 people (made up of a large school groups and several packs of tourists) through the mud and girders to the ferry like a pied piper. He was a very good sport though, and now he can say that he's actually led a parade.
That's the thing about Americans: they're either super absurdly over the top nice or rabidly offensive and nasty. There's no inbetween, no mellow middle ground. Fortunately 7/10 of the Yanks we met fell into the super nice category.
So, onto the ferry which was huge and we disembarked with nary a shudder or jolt (unlike at home) so the only way I knew we were underway was the fact that we were moving away from the pier. It was free, too, and I highly recommend it (especially if Uncle Rupert isn't picking up your tab). It was a longish ride across, past Lady Liberty and back. On the way back I was leaning on the rails, feeling as though I was on the harbour at home, only there was no bridge, when out of the haze emerged a vision of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, causing me to do triple and quadruple takes. They must have their own coathanger, I realise and partially recall. So Bridgeadoon slips back into the mists and we headed back to the city and back up to Grand Central and the Chrysler Building. Took loads of photos and was approached by a surly security man only once, and that was in the Chrysler. Still, it was worth it, just to record the architecural pretty.
I also caused distress to the local Starbucks, across the road from the CB, by trying to buy a much needed chai latte with my Starbucks card. The staff had never seen its like and there was much peering and examing and holding up to the light and discussion until the manager was called to ok it. Heh. Number Six declared me to be a deliberate troublemaker and she'd be right but it was a proper Starbucks card and I was in a Starbucks and the George St store never had any probs honouring my US vouchers when they opened up at home.
This was actually my only Starbucks the entire trip because #6 would never let me stop for one no matter how much I whined and sulked and pouted and the Starbucks down the road from the hotel was never open. City that never sleeps my arse. City that keeps Nana hours and is in bed with a nice hot cup of Ovaltine by 7pm more like. I suspected it wasn't a real Starbucks but merely a front for something. I mean, even my local Starbucks is still open by 6pm. Good grief.
Oh, I should mention that no matter where we went in the city, we ran into Will Smith fiming some fillum I'll never go see (because I just can't stand Will Smith). We couldn't turn a corner without running into trucks and trailers and surely PAs. I swear, Will Smith was stalking us.
And while I didn't get to do the tv location tour as I'd hoped, I did stumble across some familiar sites in my travels. Spider-Man, I've discovered, is very I Spy-like when it comes to setting the action in front of some very touristy locales.
So, back to the hotel to shower and preen for the big night which would unfortunately be the anti-climax of the trip, if not a big sucking black hole of unfuness. Now, Showtime Australia arranged everything marvellously. Twentieth Century Fox, not so much. The limo was late, and the moment I got there I was grabbed by a big security gorilla on the pretext of trying to crash the do and he wouldn't let me pass until I coughed up the names of my contacts.
I was marched over to the plebian marshalling area to demonstrate my right to be there with my tickets but of course there were no tickets, were there. No, of course not. It was only a small consolation that none of the other competition winner tickets were there, either.
By the time some tickets were finally found (taken off press, I think), the super celebs had arrived and I was not allowed to walk down the white squishy carpet or go near the celebs or media crews, where I was supposed to be interviewed on camera for Fox re winning my trip. And I'd put on lippy and everything. The guy guarding the carpet told me to sod off in no uncertain terms and security frogmarched me off to the bottom of the stairs, bypassing all the fun. I swear, the folks at home saw more of the premiere on tv than I ever did.
They also had a snow machine which was pumping foam out everywhere and it was all wet and slippery and ruining cameras and brand new shoes. At least I only ruined my $50 PayLess shoes. Kirsten Dunst was bitching and moaning about ruining $500 shoes. Yep, I did bump into one celeb, entirely accidentally, while being frogmarched up the stairs by security. She was very nice. I've never really like KD on film, I find her a bit cold and calculated, but up close she's quite nice, very normal. I mean she looks and walks and talks like a real girl, like you'd find in any office building, not those hideous string bean actresses who look and behave like they're aliens from another planet (and I've had the misfortune to meet a few, in my fangirl pursuits).
She was waiting for Jake, with very much the air of a GF getting increasingly pissed off as she waited and waited and waited. I tried to loiter in the corner and wait too, just for a glimpse, but I was dragged off by security again so I never did see Jake, not that entire evening (I swear by this stage my luck had started to revert to its normal lacklustre self).
Once inside I was searched and my cameras were confiscated, so no photos (and Showtime did ask me to take photos but this cut no ice with security) but at least I didn't have any POBs on my person. Heavens, no. Sorry guys. I really wanted to take photos.
Then it was through the maze of the museum to a classy old theatre deep within the bowels of the old building. The film itself wasn't as bad as I feared. I mean, if you go in expecting a subtle work of depth and layers you're an idiot, right? The FX were very neat, but I miss the old school disaster flicks where it'd be just a group of characters you'd stay with for the whole film, and you'd learn about them, before they were offed in the sparingingly used fx, nastier folks first as was right and proper. This was all over the place, with all the character development of a print ad and very clunky messages almost stamped over the top of the OTT script. We even skipped the one bottle moment where the kids spend a subfreezing night together. Still, it was interesting to hear the Yanks laugh at a bumbling President. Heaven forbid that I should mock, but at least they got a few laughs. They even cheered the end of New York as we know it (here if you mock the US they call the Feds and the Embassy down on you).
I was annoyed by the opening hailstorm though. Not at all right and a quick call to Sydney would have solved that. In Sydney it didn't go plink, plink, plink, it all fell at once like someone opened a shute and made an unholy roar, the sound of which I'll never forget, and our house was too far west to get damaged (heh). It would also do no good to shelter under awnings as they did in the fillum because I saw fist sized holes punched through a friend's roof and ceiling as the ice slammed through to mess up their stuff.
Other than that it was neat to see landmarks we'd just visited get thoroughly trashed, and at least I saw Dennis from anear and afar. Never got to speak to him but that was probably for the best as I'd have gone all fangirl. I've not seen a lot of his later work but there isn't a thing of his from the 80s that I haven't seen. Not a one. He was quite the highschool crush.
So, off to the after party held in the Hall of Biodiversity. It was a pretty tame and drab affair compared to anything I've peeked into locally. And alas our contact had gone home all wet and fed up so there was no one to introduce us around to a room full of snooty New Yorkers. Put off my stroke by everything so far, and very, very intimidated and feeling like Cinders sans the magic makeover, I did what I usually do in such situations: stood in a dark corner and got drunk (with a very bored and cranky #6).
I was pushed out of the way by Tim Robbins and a haggard looking Susan Sarandon and her clan. I must been blocking the way to the loos or something. Somehow I didn't give Tim that much needed clip around the ears for what he'd said about the Oz film industry (thus negating any respect I ever had for him). I did get a few people to talk to me: a guy from Greenpeace, some exec whose wife looked at me like I was shit on her shoe, and some guy from the New York Times. It was all a bit boring to be quite honest and an enormous disappointment. If I'd been in fangirl mode I could have made more of the opportunity but all that manhandling by the security guards had put me quite in my place, and after numerous cons I equate fangirliness at cocktail parties with instant ejection by burly security guards. So I stayed put. The other competition winners seemed to enjoy themselves though, except for the guys from Portugal who'd had a worse time getting in than we did, apparently, and looked very subdued and miserable as a result.
So, Tuesday, our last day. Perhaps because I was hungover, sleep deprived and miserable over my complete lack of Jake (but just as well because he hates talking about the gay cowboy fillum, apparently), but I'd had enough. I started walking my normal walk (not #6's little terrier walk, and my sore feet and blisters ceased instantly), talked my normal talk and asked for things in Australian, just to annoy people. We had our last breakfast in NY in our most favoured cafe with service that would make the Soup Nazi blush and I bought a huge block of froot loop crackle that had been amusing/horrifying me everytime I saw it (but alas it never made it home, it fell out with everything else when that gentleman helpfully got my bag down for me from the overhead locker and handed it to me upside down.)
It was shopping day so I picked up a brace of Sharpies for super cheap ($6 for six pens, not $6 each, and while #6 may scoff, nothing but a Sharpie will write on cds or cases or vhs boxes like a Sharpie) a couple of magazines for $20 less than they cost at home (while #6 wasn't looking) some gel bandaids that you just can't get here, chocolates, dvds, handbags that said Macys in big fat letters for posing purposes down the local shops and shoes.
Yep, my NY shoes. Imagine our horror when we walked into the much lauded NY shoe shops on 5th Ave and find nothing but thongs (flip flops/jandles, etc) and ugg/ugh boots as far as the eye could see. Egads, everyone in NY has turned bogan. No wonder they like Poida. No wonder they admired my Boganville bought blouse. I mean, holy crap. Back home these shoes, if you could call them that, are considered so white trash and slovenly that they're banned from most buildings, venues and offices. Yet here was NYC, bogan happy. We saw at least half a dozen folks at the premiere in thongs. Try that at home and see how far you get.
Typical of Topsy Turvey Land, bristles #6, still being thrown by traffic that goes the wrong way, having to walk on the wrong side of the footpath, small servings that are larger than our largest large sizes, taps that turn the wrong way, light switches that work the wrong way, and price labels that never reflect the real price (illegal in Oz). To get around we decided to do the opposite to what we'd normally do as a guide but we still came a cropper, and we still got slammed into on the footpath (going around is beyond the ken of a New Yorker, apparently).
Anyway, I bought lurid Perkins Paste pink things on 5th Ave, just because it amused me to do so. I can just imagine trying to wear them here: "But they're from New York..." Yeah, right. I might get away with them down the street, Bogan Central as it is.
I also managed a dash through the Frick Museum, thanks to a rec from a friend. Thanks. Loved it.
Then we had to run 20 blocks in 20 minutes to get back to the hotel and there was not a bus in sight. Managed to beat the hire car, grabbed our bags and after a long windy trip we got dropped off at the wrong terminal (I'm so glad I had no change left for a tip). Managed to find the right terminal, then it was off home without too much bother. Security at JFK was much more relaxed, oddly, but maybe that's because the POBs were by now hidden in my checked bag (not taking any chances, though I missed flying sans Jack and Stephen).
It was an American Airlines plane west and they played Everybody Loves Raymond the whole way to LA (arrrgh! Let me out! Let me out!) but fortunately I was near a window and the chap didn't mind me peering over his shoulder at odd intervals. Least ways he was from Virginia and far too polite to say otherwise.
I didn't get to see the patchwork like farms due to cloud cover, nor the great lakes, as I'd hoped, but I did get to see the badlands, canyons, mountains and mesas. Neat. Very neat.
LAX was much less of a hassle getting out, and it was great to get on a Qantas plane at last, among my own kind. I was up near the trolley dolly station so we had a group bitch session about LAX and apparently not even cabin crew are immune to LAX security taking an irrational dislike to them, despite having every bit of paper and security check known to man. So I felt a bit better. I guess they just like to persecute Aussies. Charming.
I watched Mystic River, 21 Grams, Somethings Gotta Give and Win a Date With Tad Hamilton - which had me in hysterics at sseveral points, hitting home a little too much methinks. Well, it was made by an Aussie, and I appreciated the humour and gentle Yank skewering. Fun.
Now I'm home in bed with some rabid flu I picked up on the plane. I haven't even unpacked. Just through the door and into bed. Work will not be pleased but getting up isn't even an option. I feel awful, but I had the time of my life.
I like to think I did rather well on my first totally unescorted trip to the States. My US friends should be proiud and relieved that I attended their teachings so closely.
I hope #6 didn't think I was too patronising, explaining how America worked, as much as I understood it, but I'm sure she noticed how a lot of New Yorkers were neither kind nor patient with dumb foreigners who don't know any better, so I tried to teach her what I knew of their ways, strange though they are.
You know, it's been so long since I've travelled, I'd forgotten there are lots of people out there, leading completely different lives in completely different places. I mean, I read, I watch, but it's not at all like smelling it and standing there. Not at all. I'd forgotten how amazing, exciting, scary and frustrating other places could be.
Damn these itchy feet. They're not cured. Re-infected, morelike.
Still, what an adventure. Thanks Showtime, thanks Uncle Rupert.