Health Via VISA

It started the day before I saw Los Campesinos! (who were, as ever, excellent, and I did bump into a few members of the band as I was walking through Echo Park waiting for the doors to open. But you never know exactly what to do in those situations, do you? Do you say ‘Hi’, when you’ve never actually met, but you’ve chatted with them on Twitter, and even sent them chocolates and sweets in a rather odd way of saying goodbye to the UK. Yeah, it was probably a good idea I didn’t say anything, I guess. Concert was great, a little less energetic than the last UK one I went to (along with a lack of vitriol screaming along to “You could never kiss a Tory boy”), but I didn’t feel as if I was the eldest person in the entire venue. Including the bar staff.)

Er, yes, it started the day before. A pain in my finger. I ignored it, because my fingers normally hurt once a week for some reason, and bleed once a month simply because they can - plus I bite the nails, and sometimes I bite down too far. So, didn’t really think about it. On Saturday, it was throbbing a bit, so I stuck a plaster on during the daytime, though again, I didn’t really think much about it. Another plaster went on when I came back from the concert. Now, I should have realised something was up when I had to take the plaster off at about 3am, but I was distracted by the arguing couple next door.

Sunday came and went, still with a sore finger, and then back to work. It was sometime on Monday afternoon when I looked at it properly for the first time since Friday.

It was bulging.

It was also getting considerably more painful. I did what any respecting thirty-two year-old would do at that point. I took a picture of it and sent it to my mother. “Does this look like an ingrowing fingernail to you?” I asked. “Also, Ow.” The response came back that it looked infected, which was what my internet research was suggesting as well. Monday night was very very painful, as the finger was so sensitive that even the slightest touch of the bedclothes was pure agony.

On Tuesday, then, the suggestions to go see a doctor started. I was resistant, because I hadn’t done that here yet, and I wasn’t actually sure how it all worked. Instead, I went to the pharmacist, who took one look at my finger and told me to go see a doctor. Ignoring him, I went back to work, actually feeling a bit better due to all the ibuprofen in my body, and thought I was over the worst.

The fever kicked in around 2130 on Tuesday night. Not fun. Really not fun. More unpleasantness followed in the morning (strangely, preceded by unpleasantness being heard from the room next door, to the point where I do wonder if part of my issue was a hotel-wide bug, but I digress). The suggestions of a doctor’s visit turned to pleading, and I was a bit worried myself by this point, so I printed out my insurance card and wandered off to the nearest Urgent Care facility.

It was somewhat smaller than your standard UK doctors - a tiny waiting area plus an office, with the beds and consulting rooms in the back. I obviously flagged their suspicions with my accent as I came in, but I surprised them by pointing out I did have insurance, so they gave me a bunch of forms to fill in and I sat, dizzily, waiting for somebody to see me.

“Er, Sir? I’m afraid we stopped taking your type of insurance at the end of January.”

At this point, I was starting to feel sick again. It was my own fault, of course - I had just assumed that places just took insurance. That was alien enough to me, being able to walk into an NHS facility back home, so this extra leap hadn’t occurred to me at all. The receptionist did however have the name of a clinic that would see me and said it wasn’t too far.

Unfortunately, what he meant was it wasn’t too far by car. On foot, mind you, it was a forty-five minute walk. Which I could handle. Just about. However, it then became clear I would have to walk alongside traffic on one of the busiest sections of the Pacific Coast Highway with no path, oh, and a 20-foot drop on the other side.

I seriously considered it, but even I’m not quite that crazy. And I had almost fallen into the road about three times by that point, so I wasn’t entirely confident about my abilities. I trudged back to a shopping complex and ordered a taxi. And then ordered another one after the first one was stolen right in front of me (though revenge was had the next day when the taxi driver phoned me up to see if I had left my umbrella behind - obviously he didn’t have the contact details for the guy who was really in the cab).

Eventually, I got to the second clinic. And they still took my insurance. After handing over the $20 co-pay, I got to see a doctor. Who I’m happy to report, was almost the spitting image of Dick Van Dyke, and acted in a similar manner (in a Diagnosis Murder way, not Mary Poppins, obviously). Two viral infections were diagnosed, and I was sent back to the local pharmacy armed with a prescription for antibiotics.

So I survived my first brief encounter with the American health system. Have to say that on balance I prefer my old way of doing things, but having insurance does make things run relatively smoothly here, at least for the little problems.

Sorry for the lack of updates since I got back to Los Angeles. Haven’t had a huge amount to say, and I thought I’d spare you all a long series of posts about Watching. Back in Durham for the weekend, then back here again for a few more weeks. Almost Spring.

We Regret To Inform You That We're Revoking Your Hipster Food License

One of the fun perks of the consultant life is expenses. As long as you’re not trying to eat at The French Laundry, the company credit card pays for breakfast, lunch and dinner (though it tends to be just lunch for me during the week). However, there is a little hitch, one that was brought to my attention over the Christmas break - people look at your receipts. Which makes sense, obviously, but it wasn’t something that I’d really thought about. But it means your eating habits are being tracked. They know I go to the same four restaurants during the week, they can cast an intrigued eyebrow - “Oh, The Cheesecake Factory again?”, (in my defence, it was during the 24-hour shift phase and it was the closest place to the hotel), and the sad shake of the head - “Quiznos? This boy will never be allowed to eat at any place in Durham once they hear about this!”

(Of course, they probably just file and process them without caring, but you know me, I’m the worrying type)

I’m now on my third hotel, though I haven’t moved much more than about a hundred metres from the previous one. I feel a bit like Goldilocks, though; I still haven’t found one that’s just right. The closest is probably the Courtyard Marriot at Marina Del Rey, which is closer to the offices than any of the others, though it’s cursed with horrible, horrible wifi. Couldn’t even get a decent torrent ratio going for Sherlock. Plus it’d take me about forty minutes to watch an episode of Father Ted. Thankfully, the current hotel has a more reliable connection, though it’s a bit further away, but just about within walking range to work and back. It does lack a fridge, but I’m only here for a few days.

(the other hotel - the Jamaica Bay Inn - was a bit odd in some ways, but has really nice rooms and great wifi, and the staff were always friendly, even spotting me in Target on occasion. Which, I’ll admit, may trip over into the realms of stalking, but they did it in a friendly manner! Plus they were upset that I was leaving after a short stay this time around)

Finally, I think I’m almost over this virus. I haven’t had to blow my nose for about two hours, and the chills and cotton wool head have stopped completely. Which is a bit annoying that it took almost the entire weekend to clear out, obliterating my plans for the past two days, but to be honest, I’m just happy to be feeling mostly human again. Hopefully, it’ll mean that tomorrow I can walk outside for more than twenty minutes without wanting to come back inside and lie down for the rest of the day.

And this weekend, back in Durham! For three days.

On My Own (Once Again)

“There’s too many repeats on the BBC!” A refrain heard up and down the land of Britain. All I’m saying is sit for a week in a car tuned to NPR, and you’ll be begging for Only Fools and Horses. The amount of repetition is mind-boggling; although, to be fair, it did allow us to plan a voyage to Pasadena and get a rather splendid cheeseburger and a mac’n’cheese that used Valrhona white chocolate. So, perhaps worth it, but I heard the trials and tribulations of a voice-over artist far too many times for my sanity.

For the past week, I’ve been lucky enough for Stacie to come over and visit. Not just Stacie, but a rented car, too! It’s a little depressing that in the first night, we went further into the Los Angeles area than I had been during the past three months (and taking my LA food truck count from zero to three). Still, I can’t grumble with eating Italian, Japanese, Austro-Hungarian, German, Chinese, and yes, even a humble cheeseburger (made with rib-eye steak and two different artisanal cheeses, obviously. We’re nothing if not foodie hipsters). Oh, plus two different farmers’ markets. We also went to a science museum where I came face to face with an A-12 Blackbird, which was a bit of a flashback to my childhood. It was actually smaller than I expected, to be honest.

Anyway, a fun week, though it’s sad to be back on my own again. Still, the size of my stomach will probably be helped by a diet of cereal again in the evenings. Plus, I have a few new places to go back and explore this coming weekend (the farmers’ market in Santa Monica on a Sunday looks like a great place for breakfast or lunch. We had plans for ramen instead last week, so I get to return!).

Still, despite all that, I will be very happy to get back to Durham next weekend, if only for a few days. There’s changes afoot, some of which will be sad, and some hopefully will be great, but more of those in due course.

I’m off to watch the State of The Union like a good citizen.

But I Really Love My New Friends

Allo Darlin' - Tallulah from Will Botting on Vimeo.

As the hip kids say on Twitter, this is current jam. It’s the bit at 2:27 that currently cuts me to the core.

I do seem to be falling inescapably into the well of nostalgia on this latest extended visit to LA; finding myself watching Father Ted and The Fast Show, reading the George Smiley novels, realising that I haven’t had a McVitie’s Digestive for almost six months, and so forth. It probably hasn’t been helped by not really going anywhere except back to the hotel room for the past couple of weeks. All I’ve done is drift between Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, before getting bored and heading back to be distracted by the Internet instead. Today, I went to work for a few hours, partly to make up some time, but honestly, because I had nothing else I wanted to do.

Hopefully, that’ll change when Stacie gets here on Tuesday. Not that we have any concrete plans, but having somebody else around (and a car!) will probably make things more likely to happen. And I suppose I could get my act together and work on other things from my hotel room. I do have a range of new kitchen ideas to try out…but no kitchen just yet. Maybe in February…

2011 And All That

Goodbye, then, 2011. You were long, drawn-out, interspersed with big highs and deep lows, but you’re gone now.

I’ve had my family with me for the past two weeks, the first time since August. Which was fun, but also difficult, because I knew that they wouldn’t be here long, and that no matter how long I spent with them, it wouldn’t be enough. But, I got to watch Die Hard with my sister, so it was a good visit.

Meanwhile, 2012 is starting out in a similar way to the last few months of 2011; on a plane across the country to go to work. Not something that I expected at all, to be honest, nor whom I’m working for. Back home in Durham, plans are afoot for food adventures, of which more will be revealed in due course. And with each return visit back to our new house, I’m slowly making my mark on the place (although a lot of that is just filling it up with stuff).

2012 will also be the year of the next US Presidential election, of course. I’ve already made my first donation to Obama 2012, and will see what else I can do as the General Election looms closer and closer. In the meantime, I continue to enjoy the GOP’s long desperate hope for somebody, anybody, no matter how crazy they are, just as long as they’re not Mitt Romney. Eventually, though, they’ll settle for the man in the magic underwear, and then the real fun begins. First caucus in Iowa tomorrow!

As for resolutions, I’ve long stopped trying to hold myself to those, but I do have some things I want to do this year. Be a little more creative, at least start some of the side-projects that have been whirling around my head for the past year or so, write more, read more, experiment in the kitchen, be a little more active, and try to settle down and explore the new world I find myself in. That’ll do for a start. Plus, chocolate (as I’m sure you’ll all hold it against me if I don’t!).

And now, back to Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and California.

postscript: The Lunch Hour is one of the few British farces I’ve actually enjoyed - a two-handed 1962 film where a typically British attempt to avoid being straight involves a sad ending for all concerned. You can get it as part of the BFI Flipside series (I bought quite a number of the collection before I left, in a transparent attempt to take my culture with me. And The Likely Lads. Champion!).

Are You Hanging Up A Stocking On Your Wall?

Being in a different country, I don’t reall get to hear my four favourite Christmas songs on the radio. So here they are; have a Merry Christmas and lots of fun. Apologies to Simon Sweeping The Nation, who should think about visiting here during the festive period to get a break from The Pogues…

He's Back, He's Back In Durham

Okay, so the title is a little out-of-date at this point, but come on, it’s just begging to be used (for those of you who aren’t fans of seminal British indie bands, just shake your head sadly and carry on reading. And for those of you that are, you can most likely do the same).

My first Thanksgiving in America was a bit of a disaster. I’d link back in the blog archive to the posts in 2002 that detail the misery at length, but it seems that I enacted a great deal of self-censorship at that point in time. To sum up, I got thrown out of Carmichael dorm, got assigned a room with six other people in Odum Village, and instead spent the entire weekend in the Computer Science department, sleeping in the Graduate Students’ common room and using their showers every morning. Not fun.

However! My second go-around at Thanksgiving was much better - dinner and a great day with Stacie’s family (plus Thea and Kyle), stopping off to visit some other friends on the way back home (damn, I now really want mac’n’cheese with truffle oil. Stacie, we must do this when I get home!). And all this plus Black Friday.

Black Friday is one of those things that gets America mocked around the world. We’ve all seen the footage; riots in department stores, people getting trampled in order to get to those bargains, having queued all night in freezing temperatures. And tonight, that was going to be us. I was, I think understandably, a little afraid. But it turned out not to be such a horrifying event. Okay, somebody did get pepper-sprayed in Los Angeles. But she was only helping that person have one of her five-a-day, wasn’t she? We, on the other hand, had a leisurely stroll through Wal-Mart, avoiding the insane queues for XBoxes and waltzing out with $5 pillows. We then headed to Target to track down a new phone to replace Stacie’s rapidly dying iPhone 3G. This time we had to queue, but the atmosphere was quite lovely. For once, Americans obeyed the British laws of queuing to the letter (look, I’m at bus stops a lot, and if I may be frank, it seems they just don’t teach that here. So it was quite a surprise!), while Target employees handed out energy bars to everybody in the line. The only odd thing we saw was a girl dressed in a very shiny gold short skirt that seemed to have wandered in from some other climate. Or maybe she was late for Hallowe’en on Franklin Street. We got in, found the phone, and then proceeded to do grocery shopping because that side of the shop was completely deserted. And we found it amusing to do so. Hey, we’d been up a long time at that point!

Anyway, survived Black Friday. Enjoyed being in Durham. Briefly. Back in Los Angeles. Missing the South. Listening to Christmas songs and The Long Blondes. How was your Saturday?

Goodbye Courage

Earlier in the week, sometime around 1am during a weekly workload that would make a junior doctor feel like she’d had a bad week, it hit me that all over the world, millions of people are running my code on their machines. Browsers are downloading JavaScript that I wrote, and it’s doing its job quite well. That’s…a little daunting, actually (especially in light of some of the services I’ve been hitting), but also pretty awesome.

Moving on to more important things: for the past week, I’ve had a copy of Hello Sadness, the new Los Campesinos! album. And it’s quite good. This comes as something of a crushing disappointment. I suppose my problem stems from what the band means to me; they’re likely to be that scary thing - the last new band that I get wrapped up in. The last band that I make sure to visit on every tour. The last band that I sign up for a membership club. The last band that really cuts deep into me. I can remember how Hold on Now, Youngster soundtracked my Quixotic attempt to design, edit, and write a 100-page book in about three days, singing along to Knee Deep at ATP at 3am in the morning (and yes, as it turned out, it was very appropriate). There was the thrill of being at the Electric Ballroom in 2008 where Gareth sang the start of Kenickie’s Millionaire Sweeper as an intro to You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing, and there was the time in 2009 where I listened to The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future over 150 times in a week (there was context to that, but yes, it was an odd time). I’m a subscriber to Heat Rash, and heck, I even sent them a box of hand-made chocolates before I left the UK. I am, a fanboy on the level that I haven’t been since I scrawled gushing praise about Johnny Boy, or when I wore glitter and went to Kenickie concerts.

(no pictures exist of the latter events, by the way. THIS IS A GOOD THING.)

My first thought about the new album was that this is Gareth’s record. My second thought was the niggling feeling that something was missing. Something didn’t feel quite right. Given the notoriety over my music collection, it took me three listens for it to whack me over the head - it’s missing Aleks. While Kim Campesinos makes an appearance in The Black Bird, The Dark Slope, most of the female vocals on the album are relegated to backing. This is Gareth’s record.

And so it doesn’t quite work for me - I loved the interplay between Gareth and Aleks on the previous records, bouncing each other, fighting over different sides of the channel, but all of that seems to be gone. To be fair, you can look at the last three albums (we’re dropping the pretense that We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed isn’t an album, right?) and see the progression to this point, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

And yet; perhaps the annoying thing is that I like the album, I really do. Songs About Your Girlfriend is typical Gareth in Straight In At 101 mode, funny whilst being romantically tragic, and yes, I’ve come to love the Hello Sadness chorus. But the back half of the album is only slowly growing on me, unlike the immediate rush of the previous albums.

(also, there’s no brilliant song titles this time around. You have to love a band that can pull of a title like _This Is How You Spell “HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics”) or A Heat Rash in the Shape of The Show Me State; or Letters from Me to Charlotte. The new album can only offer Every Defeat a Divorce (Three Lions) which promises more than it can sadly deliver)

Still, I’m rather upset that I’m not going to be able to see them in DC this week. But I will be seeing All Your Science in my front room, which is exciting all by itself. And I now even have flight details. I’m really leaving here on Friday, if only for a week…

The Orange Juice Diary

As I come to the end of week 3 on my LA Adventure, I have been keeping up my sterling record in blogging. You know, when I was at UNC, I’d feel bad if I missed a single day. Now, this did mean there were an awful lot of entries consisting of a single paragraph, or an assortment of links, but I feel as if I was giving you better value. Apologies.

Life as a consultant has a few quirks, one of which is the issue of expenses. This, at first, seems great. “You’re giving me $50 a day to spend on any food that I want? HELL YES!” After the second week, though, the thought begins to creep in: “I’m eating two large meals a day, and I spend eight hours of the rest of it sitting down typing at a computer. I foresee problems.” At long last, I think I understand why every hotel seems to make a big deal about its gym - it’s not for us tourists, but the scary people who live from hotel to hotel. Yeah, 32 and making that leap. I’m a fast learner.

(not that I’ve ventured into said gym, which is advertised by a large poster stand as soon as you enter my hotel. It’s far too scary.)

Okay, still not a huge amount to report, seeing as how I’ve been mostly at work, or working over the weekends so far. But! There is the tale of turtle racing that I need to relay to you, dear reader. Yes, turtles.

It started one Monday, when my boss and I related the discovery of a bar near to our hotel that made a big deal about how it had turtle races every Thursday. Needless to say, our interest was piqued. How do you race a turtle? How do you tell them apart? What on Earth did it have to do with an Irish pub? We mentioned it to our colleagues at work, and a plan was formed. On Thursday, we would see those turtles race for ourselves.

The night started well enough, listening to somebody at the bar who had heard my British accent and decided that he was going to spend the evening telling me how great Winston Churchill was. That’s not the best way to get on my good side, but I wasn’t particularly looking for an argument against the continued defication of the drunk old sod (there’s an extended disco remix of it in my diatribe against The King’s Speech. I perform it on request!).

At around 9’o’clock, we headed out to the back patio of the bar where the races happen. We started to see how the races would work; there was a set of two circles painted on the tarmac, one inside the other, about 10 feet total in diameter. So it looked like the turtles started in the middle and the winner would be the one who made it to the outer circle first. Simple!

It was supposed to start at 9, but time rattled on, and it wasn’t until almost a quarter-to-ten that the race leaders came out to announce that for the next fifteen minutes you could rent a turtle for $5. A queue of people, from a suprisingly large crowd started lining up to rent theirs. I was a bit perplexed at this; there didn’t seem to be any point, but the queue was quite impressive.

Eventually, the turtles were rented, and we were told the rules. No pointing at the turtles. And they’re serious, charging $10 for a first offense, $20 for a second, and $50 for a third (people got the message that they were serious during the first round, so pointing was at a minimum). Having done that, it was time for the first person to claim their turtle.

And, just like that, the idea of turtle racing was about to change. You see, what I didn’t register when people were queuing was that they were all girls. And as the first girl picked up her turtle, I wondered what was going on, as she exaggerated bending over to place the turtle inside the middle circle. And then she was red-flagged, so she had to do it all over again, conveniently enough moving around so another part of the audience could see her bend over.

Turns out that turtles are not really the draw at Brennan’s. Girls in tight jeans and short skirts, on the other hand, very much so. However, the highlight of the night was probably the people behind us. They had never been before, but within ten minutes had inwardly digested all the rules (girls were made to re-place the turtles if they bent over too fast, or bend their knees, for example) and began haranguing the referees. Two hours later, and yes, I think I ended up seeing a lot more of almost every girl in the audience, including the person who I ended up talking to for most of the evening. That was a little awkward.

Los Angeles is strange.

This Ain't No Country Club

Yes, I’m aware just how much the title dates me. I also worked out today that there’s more distance between Mansun’s Attack of The Grey Lantern and today than there was between it and Hounds of Love. I am old. I have also found myself saying “well, this is nice, but where’s the tune?” in relation to a song. In fairness, the point of a dubstep remix seems to be destroy the original as much as possible in a way that would make Throbbing Gristle proud - which I can respect, but that’s a fair way from it making my iTunes playlists. I shall wear my trousers rolled.

(to add to this digression, even though I haven’t got started yet, I have also got excited buying kitchen things. It’s almost enough to make me pack everything in and join a commune. Or buy a convertible, despite not being able to drive)

Anyway, Los Angeles. I have to say that I couldn’t beat the entrance. Arrived at LAX, and driven in a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway for a Thai dinner near Venice Beach. Have to say that I felt like one of those rockstar programmers you used to see back in the 80s, before they tried to invent games that cost £50 and didn’t bother with pesky things like VAT returns. Or something out of the dot-com era, for those of you who didn’t grow up with a Sinclair Spectrum.

(I still can’t talk much about the work itself. Though I can probably say that it’s not exactly what I expected)

I’ve been here two weeks now - most of it locked away in offices coding, but I’ve been out and about a bit. The first weekend, I took off to the buses to explore Downtown LA, after explaining to my co-workers that saying “I’m going to use public transport tomorrow!” wasn’t me fishing for a lift, but actually me being excited about going on a bus. Did I mention I’m old? Does it help if I include a metro system in there as well? No? Bobbins.

It turned out that the bus to Downtown let me off right in the cavalcade of tents that is OccupyLA. Being a sympathetic sort (I have little truck with the anarcho-syndicalists and the crazies talking about how 911 was planned by the Government, but the main thrust of income inequality and how banks have been let off lightly after the Crash of 2008, I can definitely get behind), I wandered around the tents, taking a few pictures, and eventually found myself running slap-bang into their planned march. I did what any right-thinking European Socialist Loony Leftie would do, and joined them for a bit.

After leaving the protest behind, I headed to Union Station for the metro to Little Tokyo (amusingly, it took me right back to the road behind the tents. Oops). I have never seen so much pink in my life. Seriously, I think the Sanrio store may have etched pink Hello Kittys onto my retinas. And then there were the anime body pillows. Which will not speak of further, because I cannot and will not process the horror. Oh God, the horror.

Eventually, I found my way back to Marina Del Rey and decided to stay on the bus to visit Venice Beach. I’d been warned a few days before that the beach was something of a let-down, covered in kelp and full of rather nasty smells. Luckily, they must have something of a kelp clean-up, as it seemed pretty pleasant by the time I got there on an earlier Saturday evening, though it was had to push the image of an American Blackpool out of my mind whilst walking down all the tourist shops on the beach front. I did, however, find a street some way back from the beach that reminded me an awful lot of sweet, dear Durham. Or at least a Durham crossed with downtown Raleigh (I know, I know) - it even has its own Motorco equivalent with food trucks!

Sunday was spent visiting Santa Monica and stepping back from the Apple Store after seeing the place overflowing with people, and pop art pictures of Steve Jobs outside, covered in flowers. He truly was Tech’s Diana. Not sure if even I, noted Apple-fanboy, can really get behind the outpouring of grief (and I say this as somebody who shared in a toast to his life the night we heard the news). I’m not entirely sure it’s healthy.

That was the first week in LA. Already, it seems like an age ago…