Archive for August, 2000

10 August

Today I felt that I should take some time out from my hard routine to catch up with you all. So after getting up at the crack of noon, I ran to the nearest net cafe & wrote emails. To rest up from this I sat in the sun in Central Park & read my book, wrote a few postcards, that sort of stuff. That and confirmed just how small the world is. I was chatting to a couple of Aussies at the hostel who knew a couple of friends of mine from varsity who were now working in London. Gotta go a long way to get away from that type of stuff these days.

11 August

For a change, I will spare you with the details of today, except to say that it consisted of a lot of wandering around and looking at various stuff, which was interesting to me, but the details won’t be to you. That and I went out again & discovered why so many people in New York do cocaine. The reason is twofold. One is that they can’t afford beers, and the second is that people do drugs trials where they pay you a couple of thousand for you to take cocaine for a month & submit yourself to a few blood tests and such. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my plane tickets extended so had to go to London and get a job as an accountant rather than a coke head. Bummer huh?

12 August

Alas today was my last day in the Big Apple. Woe is me. So after packing up I went to Coney Island with a couple of the other people from the hostel. There we a few of the least motivated freakshow acts in the world. The dwarf was good enough to take time out from bleaching his hair to mumble something at us while tying a balloon in an unrecognisable shape. After dragging ourselves away from this we went and had a bit of a look at the Atlantic (a lot like the Pacific actually & very calm as well), and of course went on the ferris wheel. Do many people start wondering what the design life of ferris wheels was at the turn of the century after they have got on the thing, or is it just me?

So then there was a bit of a rush to JFK, because NY public transport never runs on time, and I got off at the station before the one I should have and staggered around lost for a while. Bummer that. But once the bus driver actually got moving, he seemed to sense the urgency, and got a move on. That or he was practising for a role in Speed, unaware that in the next sequel, the bomb is in a passengers bag, which will go off if it gets lost. But it is an odd feeling to be in a bus that is doing the slalom track down the motorway, running the odd red light, and generally acting like it is a much smaller vehicle in a bigger hurry. But we made it there, and I even got off at the right terminal.

13 August

I arrived in London and was given the regulatory grilling by the immigration agent. It appears that merely having the requisite visa is not enough to get into the country , you should also meet a few conditions that they make up on the spot. Luckily, being an accountant, with sufficient money to last for a while and having a couple of interviews already arranged with recruitment agents seemed to knock out most of the reasons the immigration agent could have for not letting me in the country. It seems they have this dread fear of Kiwis & Aussies coming here and bludging off the dole. This might be justified if we could actually get it & London were not so much of a dump of a place to be with no money. Oh well, it is their country I guess.

But, in an absolutely amazing display of kindness, I was actually met at the airport by Lisa (Sarah’s sister). Remember that I arrived at about 9am. Again people are being amazingly nice to me. Dunno why.

Lisa dropped me to Pauls place, who had been good enough to offer me his floor to sleep on for a while. Paul just happens to be living & working in a pub at the moment, so I was forced to spend the day experiencing a typical British Sunday by sitting in the pub gossiping. I could sense that this living for free in a pub was going to get a bit expensive.

8-9 August New York – yet more museums and galleries

8 August

A couple more museums today, the least impressive of which was the Gutenberg. It is a pity that they don’t pay as much attention to how they display their Monet’s as they do to the design of the building. A fantastic building with lots of paintings stuck to the wall is about the best you can say about it.

Later I found myself walking past Bloomingdales & felt that I should wander in. Shortly after entering I got the feeling that I could not afford anything in the store. But it does appear that torn jeans are back in fashion. For USD80 a pair you too could have some. Now instead of looking like a bum with no money & old jeans it seems I could be mistaken for someone who feels it is important to keep at the cutting edge of fashion no matter how stupid and overpriced it is. Oh well, I am sure they will go back out of fashion again. They probably are already.

It seems though that the designers of this store took their inspiration from ancient labyrinths. Once getting in I wandered for ages trying to find a way out, only succeeding in making my way deeper into the depths of the store, where all but the most determined shoppers fear to tread. I am sure I saw a sign saying “Abandon cash all ye who enter here”. But it may just have been a halucination brought about by the panic of knowing I may never leave alive. Eventually I did make it out though, but only by being sucked into the grasp of the jewellery department, which had some very nice pieces, and the attendant was very nice. She seemed very disappointed when I turned down her offer to look at some of the jewellery , and seemed even disbelieving when I said that I doubted there was anything I could afford. Which when based on the ones with prices, was, I thought, a safe bet. But then again maybe they didn’t show the prices on the other stuff because they were embarrassingly cheap.

So eventually finding my way out onto the safety of the New York streets with wallet still intact I wandered downtown some more. I eventually found myself in Soho, where the urban decay look is very fashionable, and you find expensive fashion stores around the comer from a real dive. They really do have some interesting stores. I went into one, which was set up like a swanky apartment, with flash stereo, nice looking kitchen, odd bathroom, all of that sort of thing. About the only thing it didn’t have is anything that was obviously for sale.

Still confused by this and wondering about the meaning of shops that didn’t sell anything, I sat in a cafe for awhile & drank some coffee while watching some models do a photo shoot outside. Those smiles, it is amazing what they can do surgically these days.

9 August

I got up a bit late today, not feeling that well, I must have eaten something a bit dodgy the night before. I couldn’t think of any other explanation for it. So after finding something stave off the dehydration I walked down to the Museum of Natural History. A little pointer here. This is a very large, very impressive museum, one which you could easily spend all day looking at happily. But when you are not feeling on top form, it is just a bit less appealing.

But the most amazing thing I saw in New York I saw tonight. I went out with some German guys from the hostel. The guy who was over 21 forgot to bring ID, and the other 2 had ID, but it said that they were 18, because they were. Said Gennans actually tried to convince the bouncer that you had to be 21 to get a credit card in Germany, therefore the fact that they had them meant that they were 21. The amazing thing was not that this attempt did not result in grievous harm coming their way, though it didn’t. The amazing thing was that it worked. The bouncer probably let them in so they would stop arguing with him & hassle someone else. Maybe the Poles felt the same.

6-7 August New York – those buildings really are tall

6 August

As my backpackers was under a block from Central Park, I decided to go downtown by the scenic route through the park. It was a very nice walk, watching all of the diligent locals running, jogging, biking and roller blading through the park on a sunny Sunday morning. It is a pity there were no coffee stands, I could have sat and watched them for hours.

Most interesting was the horses though. There were several people riding their horses through the park. In a city where it costs hundreds of dollars a week to get a car park, I would have thought that keeping a horse would be impossible. But neigh, people do.

5th Avenue of course looks very impressive, even on a Sunday, when most of the shops, are shut. New York in general was impressive. I could have snapped off a roll of film just taking photos of the buildings, which for me is a lot. I even would have if my camera was not broken.

Of course when wandering down 5th Ave, you just have to pop in to the Metropolitan Museum of Modem Art, so I did. It was pretty good, a lot of design exhibits, which was interesting more appealing than just pictures. But they did have some great Dali’s, some ok Van Gogh’s & of course a pile of Andy Warhol stuff, some of which even looked ok.

7 August

Another day of wandering around looking at the sights (isn’t that a surprise?). One of the more impressive sights was the USS Intrepid. This was an ex WW2 aircraft carrier, which upon reaching the end of its useful life was parked up in NY & turned into an aircraft museum. Because this was such an old ship it was a lot smaller than the modern ones. But it was big, The main hanger floor inside the ship was just huge. As wen as a lot of interesting planes, including a version of the mach 3 Blackbird spyplane, which had a pretty interesting blurb about them. They were designed & built in secret for the CIA. -Several years later the airforce found out that they existed complained that they didn’t have toys that much fun & several years after that, even managed to get their bands on some.

Inside the hanger there was a number of informative displays on how the US navy, and in particular the Intrepid won WW2 against the Japanese. Apparently there were a few conflicts in other areas, but these were not too major. But considering how the Americans often do the glory of their fallen soldiers thing it was not too bad. Just across the wharf was one of the original nuclear missile submarines, and that was small. We toured through that and you came out wondering how they managed to fit that many people in such a small space for so long.

After looking at all of the 40s & 50s stuff designed to knock things down, I wandered back into town to have a look at the some of the things they were trying to stop other people from getting a chance to try to knock down. And the best of these was the Chrysler building. Thegroovyest building in a city full ofgroovy buildings. Unfortunately, other than the lobby , which was fantastic even down to the level of having great looking mailboxes, you couldn’t go in. The Empire State may be taller (but only just), but it has nothing on the Chrysler. Pity their cars aren’t as good. Mind you in the 30s they looked better than they do now.

So, not having enough of the big buildings I wandered south to the World Trade Centre, which is simply a pair of very tall shoe boxes laid on their ends. But getting in is no easy matter. Sure you can just walk in to the shopping mall below it, but to actually go up a lift you need to go through security. Togo to the top this included full airport grade metal detector treatment. I am not 100% sure what the point of this was because based on past evidence terrorists can just park their van in the carpark below, and unlike a plane, you cannot demand to be flown to Libya from inside a building. Especially one 108 floors high. But then again it may have been to stop people getting pissed off in the huge queues for the lift & clearing a passage with their Uzi (which they carry solely for personal defence of course.) But eventually 1 made it to the lifts and the lifts made it to the 107th floor and stopped in the normal manner, unlike what happened a couple of days later when they were stopped by the roof. Better than being stopped by the basement I guess.

Once at the l07th floor you can stand right at the edge and look straight down. It is a long way. But then you have to go up onto the roof. This was somewhat freaky .It was pretty windy up there, enough to make the building sway quite noticeably. A lot of the other people didn’t seem to notice this, leading me to conclude that my sense of swaying buildings is more heightened than most. Probably one of my many highly attuned survival instincts.

But the swaying building was not the oddest thing. The roof of the building was not flat. We were on a central area, then there was a drop of several metres and a high fence, which was in turn set in from the edge of the building itself. This fence was odd. It was topped with razor wire, which was in turn electrified. I did not see machinegun towers, but I guess that you are not allowed them in downtown New York. Or at least not in the areas the tourists go to. But my question is this.

Why? What are the odds of someone breaking into the building by climbing unnoticed up 108 floors of sheer glass? I doubt that anyone who is determined enough to achieve that is going to be put off too much by a fence at the top. Especially when the alternative is climbing back down again.

After getting down onto solid ground, I did as any accountant would do, and popped over to Wall Street. Unfortunately the market was -closed, but I think it is like sausages. If you like the finished product it really is best not to see how it is made. It was an interesting street. Very much a concrete canyon, tall buildings lining both sides of a very narrow road all the down. With one exception. On the corner right opposite the exchange is the JP Morgan building. When the land was bought, it was the most expensive land in the US and probably still is. Therefore to get any sort of efficiency you you would want to build the tallest building you possibly can, like the rest of the street. Or you could build a small. 4 storey office block, because efficiencies are for people who have a shortage of money.

I figured I should continue to work on the aversion therapy while I was at it and so wandered up to the Empire State. The outside viewing platform on this one (at least the one which was open) is only at the 86th floor, so it is not that big. It still gives a pretty good view of the city by night though. Unlike the World Trade Centre the fence here is at the edge. I was beginning to become very aware that I was standing at the top of a 70 year o1d rush job (it was built in a very short space of time, partially as labour was pretty easy to come by at the time). It was amusing to watch all of the people try to get better shots with their video cameras by holding them outside the bars of the fence. While this makes sense, those bars did mess with the view (and provided zip reassurance about the potential reawakening ofgravity in this area), I really think that actually putting your hand through that strap they tie to the comer of a camera may have been advisable. I wonder how many very broken cameras are lying on the sticky outy bits of the building 10 floors below. I suspect quite a number. Bags not being the guy who has to go and clean them up though.

Alas the lifts from the 86th floor to about the 80th, where you caught the lift to the bottom, were out of order. Out of order in one of those vague non-specific we don’t want to cause alarm ways so we had to walk down the stairs for a few floors before catching a functioning lift down the remaining 80 floors. Unfortunately when I asked people on the lift on the way down if they knew what was wrong with the other ones had the cable snapped or something exciting like that or had they just got stuck 1/2 way between the 82nd & 83rd floors no-one seemed to know. Couple of people looked like they didn’t want to know though.

3-5 August GP to New York – a muggers dream

3 August.

Today was raining. Damn, that meant I couldn’t paint that fence. Don’t you just hate that? So today we bummed around some, like being on holiday really. I did decide to go forth and do battle with the evil money machine. Armed with a pen and paper to report it’s misdeeds to higher authority, and ensuring that it was aware of all of the unpleasant things I would do to it if it did not co-operate I stepped forth. And it gave me money in a suitably chastised manner. Who says that threatening a machine doesn’t work?

4 August

Being my last day in town, I felt that the most appropriate thing to do was bum around some more & rest up.

Brenda took the Blazer to the dealer for a checkup because it was just about to run out of warranty. This was helped a little by the 6000kms we had clocked up in the past month or so. Big place this. Especially as we only covered a little bit of it. Amazingly the dealers found nothing wrong with the car. It seems then that they are all a complete pile of junk. Must remember that if I am ever in the market for a 4 wheel drive.

In the evening I flew to Calgary where I stayed overnight with Brenda’s mother.

5 August.

Brenda’s mother was even good enough to drive me to the airport at 5am. This was amazing, thanks.

I eventually arrived at the hostel at 9pm, and as there was only 2 timezones difference, this was a long day. It was made an the longer by the fact that United doesn’t serve beer on North American flights. Thought they did decide, like most airlines, that they should showcase the finest in local cuisine. But I am not really a great fan of cheeseburgers, so I wasn’t that impressed.

US immigration did not live up to the surly reputation that they have. Then again it was in Calgary. The only conclusion I can make of this is that it is not the immigration people per se, merely the fact that they are on US soil. Understandable.

As you arrive on the plane at Newark, you can look across to Manhatten Island and see the Chrysler Tower , World Trade Centre and Empire State, just sitting there, telling you that you have arrived, despite still being in New Jersey. It was a great sight.

In my befuddled state on the way to the backpackers I couldn’t help noticing that almost everyone on the train seemed to be wearing large amounts of gold jewellery. This seemed unusual. Wasn’t New York the sort of place where you were wiser not to go around showing large amounts of removable & portable wealth. Then it slowly dawned on me. These guys weighed approximately as much as I did. When my backpack and dive bag were added in. They probably had less to fear from muggers than I did Although any mugger who wanted my bags at that point would have been welcome to them. When you add dive gear and work clothes, and a few other toys which you can’t do without when you shift countries to the stuff you need on a trip, the weight increases some. No-one was going to grab my bags and make a run for it.

After a day of travelling, the city that never sleeps had to do without my help tonight.

31 July- 2 August Edmonton & Grande Prairie – the biggest job list in the world

31 July

Deciding that it would be good to catch back up with Shari & some of Brendas other friends, a day at the mall was arranged. The mall was West Edmonton Mall, which is so named as it covers most of West Edmonton. Or if not most, a lot of it. It proudly proclaims that it is the biggest shopping mall in the world & is complete with such facilities more women’s clothes stores than you can shake a credit card at, almost. as many souvenir shops, a wave pool, a rollercoaster and an ice skating rink. Now I can understand the reasons for all but the last. They tell me it gets a little nippy up this way in winter, so they have shopping malls so you can buy stuff without dying of hypothermia. But I still can’t quite see the reason for going to a lot of effort to have an ice skating rink inside when they happen by themselves outside.

Of course I went on the roller coaster, the Mindbender, which was was the biggest covered roller coaster in the world- they seem to have a thing about being the biggest here. Brenda decided that she would rather not go on the roller coaster, as when she was working in the mall one of the carriages fell off and bent more than a few minds. A flaw which they have obviously fixed, because it hasn’t done it again, but Brenda remained unconvinced. The roller coaster was pretty good, but alas did not bend my mind as much as it has been on previous occasions.

So after the ride we caught up with Shari, and learnt that while the baby was very ill, as they had known it would be, it was doing reasonably well considering.

Some news was not so good. My money card was still playing up, though this time the machine was polite enough to tell me to stuff off in english rather than french. When we returned home an email to the bank saying “help” was sent.

It was decided that I should be exposed to as many facets of Canadian culture as possible, so we went to a baseball game with Brendas father in the evening. To be fair it was more exciting than cricket, and may have been better still if the Trappers (the Edmonton team) were not losing 10 nil. But it had its moments, not least of which was the fact that if the batter only clipped the ball (which they did reasonably often), there was .a fair chance it would end up in the stands. This required some level of attention to be paid

After the game we went for a bit of a tour around the other side of town. This was much less suburban than the west side, probably partially due to the influence of the varsity being over here. We stopped for a quiet in the Suburban Hotel & listened to a great blues band. This place fair rocked, I would have loved to see it on a Friday or Saturday.

1 August

My bank, probably sensing the concern that the malfunctioning plastic was causing me, emailed me back sharply. Unfortunately, all they could say was “it looks OK at this end, please send us some details like the exact message & location of the machine so we can look into it further”. After this little bit of news we headed off to Grande Prairie. This takes about 6 or so hours, and there is not a hell of a lot to see (those prairies you understand).

2 August

After arriving in Grande Prairie & getting a good nights sleep in a bed for a change, I leapt up at the crack of noon and was promptly told to start on Brenda’s expanding to do list. This enabled me to see a little of Grande Prairie, on the way between places where Brenda had stuff to do. This town was getting a dangerous one to be in. Alas there was no time to start on painting Brenda ‘ s fence, a fact that disappointed me deeply.

In the evening we wandered out to the stables & Brenda rode Jim (her horse) for a while. He was a bit snakey because he hadn’t been ridden for a while. This was mainly because he frightened the girl Brenda had asked to ride him on the first time she attempted to do so. There is a perfect opportunity here to make comments about similarities between Brenda and her pets, but I won’t, even from this far away. Not that I am scared or anything though.