London, England?

Once again, this is very overdue and I’m trying to write about stuff that happened nigh on three weeks ago. What can I say, time flies! The title is a reference to something I’m suddenly hearing of late; we’re used to people asking us where we’re from, but the last two times, it’s been, ‘London, England? Or London, Ontario?’ Now that can mean one of two things. One, that Americans are so ignorant of the Great White North that they assume they must all speak funny there, akin to us English folk. Or two, the worst case scenario, that in our attempts to avoid social awkwardness we have in fact acquired our own American (or Canadian?) accents. It was mildly amusing when the man doing a customer survey at Disneyland asked me which country I was referring to when I said ‘London’, as he didn’t even mention Canada- but anyway, that was LA, and so much happened before then! The best way to do this is probably to write in reverse chronological order, sort of- starting with that brief snippet of LA above, and the mention that we are now back in New Jersey, and progressing with our time in Yosemite. We were only in Yosemite briefly as we cut it short to prolong our time in Vegas. Naughty I know, to savour gambling and sin over natural beauty, but what can you do? It’s lucky we did of course, as the hotel outside of Yosemite was pretty shocking! Luckily, Yosemite itself wasn’t, and offered plenty of Kodak moments. We drove round the park and stopped off at various ‘points of interest.’ Highlights included stopping off at a waterfall and climbing some very precarious looking rocks, and an over-enthused Japanese man keen to get the perfect photo of the two of us. So keen, in fact, that he even gave me a lift up onto a massive rock for a photo, and made Craig and I stand in all manner of poses in order to get the perfect shot of us from below. He seemed a bit nutty, and I was sure he’d have run off with my camera were it not for the rocks! We also got to one point where we could peer through a telescope at the 7000 ft high rock a few miles ahead of us- I could hear people using it saying ‘there are people up there.’ Of course, I was cynical- it was only when I screamed ‘Jesus!’ while I looked for myself that I confirmed that they were in fact telling the truth. Who stands atop a rock 7000 feet in the air? How does one even get that high? Mentalists. After Yosemite we made the journey to San Francisco. The hotel was a pleasant enough Comfort Inn with very few amenities surrounding it; San Francisco, it would seem, is one of those places where staying in the centre is three times the cost. Still, it was a short (ish) bus ride to all the places we wanted to go, including the Cheesecake Factory! On our first day we took a bus into town to the Golden Gate Bridge. The buses in San Francisco are a little strange; when I asked for two returns to the bridge and presented a $10 note, the driver just said ‘no, you need exact change’ and waved us on. We sat for the next minutes like frightened criminals pondering what to do if a ticket inspector got on the bus, but as it turns out, a $2 ticket will give you unlimited rides within a certain time frame, so when we bought one on the way back, we didn’t feel quite so morally wayward. The bridge itself was obviously stunning, if not a little cold, and made for some excellent photo opportunities of San Francisco over the sea. We walked across it and back, and the whole trip took up most of our day, so we savoured the views of Alcatraz, knowing we would be there the next day. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Alcatraz. Luckily, Craig made me download ‘Escape From Alcatraz’ the night before so I had some clue, but for some reason I was still going in with a sort of Auschwitz mentality, expecting to see all sorts of horrific images. As it turns out, it wasn’t too brutal; in fact, for an isolated island it was very welcoming, with all manner of cheery tour guides. We went to watch a video first off, and learned that it wasn’t in fact ‘just a prison’ but had a very colourful history; for example, it was taken over by Native Americans after the prison shut down as a protest against the invasion of their land. We then had a tour from a very enthusiastic guide who told us all the secrets of the escape attempts and the movies that had been filmed on the island, before taking an audio tour around the prison itself. There was a certain creepy feel to it, and the prison cells were so tiny that it’s hard to imagine people used to reside in them, but I just kept convincing myself I was walking around a film set rather than the living space of some of the world’s most notorious criminals such as Al Capone. The tour ended in the food hall and on a rather profound note; there was an exhibition called ‘Life After Murder’ which housed huge photographs of ex-murderers and their life stories after being re-introduced into society post-prison. The most moving part I guess was the ‘thought wall’ where guests were encouraged to write their thoughts about killers being given a second chance on a post-it. It was incredible to see just how unforgiving the public were; I’d say about 90% of them were ‘did their victims have a second chance?’ and the like. I’m still not sure what I think about it, but it was interesting to read their views. On the boat back I set about arranging to meet up with a family member. It really is a small world; my very own cousin who I hadn’t seen since 2007 just so happened to be in San Francisco at the same time as me! We decided to go for dinner that night with his friend (feeling slightly bad at making them go to the Cheesecake Factory despite them having gone there for lunch…) which inevitably ended up in going out for a few drinks afterwards. San Francisco is certainly a colourful place. After one awkward drink in a very quiet, pedestrian bar and about a million recommendations of where to go next from the bar staff, we found ourselves in a taxi on the way to a karaoke bar armed with a sense of dread. The bar was quite something. Dark and dingy, it instantly gave off a scary unwelcoming vibe, and we were greeted by the sight of two punks doing Iron Maiden on karaoke. So far, so scary. The bar staff were in fact only too happy to see us, and as the vodka flowed, even encouraged me to sing Bonnie Tyler amongst a sea of heavy-metal karaoke tracks. Suitably liquored up I gave ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ my best shot, even standing in the tactfully-placed cage adjacent to the microphone stand, making the moment every bit as dramatic (cheesy) as I could. Total Eclipse is always a crowd pleaser, and as the night progressed, turns out the songs did get cheesier, in between various wannabe serial-killers shouting their way through the whole musical repertoire of the Bloodhound Gang. As you do when you’re drunk, I naturally made friends with a ‘quirky’, shall we say, group of girls, and sang ‘Living on a Prayer’ with them, before dragging my cousin’s friend up to finish with Bohemian Rhapsody. Before we knew it, it was 2am and I’d put the world to rights with my cousin, keen to sing another power ballad, but woefully rejected as it was kicking-out time. Very drunk at this point, I found the death-ride home in the cab hilarious. The driver was clearly some sort of Nascar wannabe, and took the opportunity to race the cab beside us, whose patrons were screaming at us to flash them. Again, inebriated, I cheekily flashed my bum at them when I got out of the cab, but luckily none of the rest of my party managed to see! My cousin and I made an alcohol-fuelled emotional goodbye and we headed our separate ways, not thinking about the ensuing long drive to San Louis Obispo in the morning. And that’s where I’m going to sign off for now, as it’s 6:45 in New Jersey and I can do a 24 hour check in for my flight soon. I will endeavour to fill you all in on our adventures in LA after dinner!

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