Friday, July 31, 2009

Going to America

JohnnyRebs US Travelogue 2009

Saturday 18 July
Going to America

It was a good flight over, in a Boeing 777, a smooth trusty little ship, and pleasing it wasn’t in one of those Airbus 300's that have had the misfortunes recently. This aircraft had the wingtip extensions I read about last week, that Air NZ claim substantially increase fuel efficiency.
Watched 4 movies, the NZ doco one about the bloke who got destroyed by IRD; a Clive Owen thriller; and re-runs of Utu, (Anzac Wallace and Bruno Lawrence), and Magnificent Seven, with young Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, and Napolean Solo.
Like catching up with old mates.
You get your own screen and remote.
We were all pretty pleased with the service and meals. The bloke who runs the bike hire company has visited NZ a couple of times and wasn’t at all complimentary about the standards on Quantas, so I guess the “you get what you pay for” rule applies. If you want the best of safety and service standards, you can’t really complain about the local carrier costing a little more.
On the other hand, the seats were too small for me, bit like sitting in the Wanganui Opera House for 12 hours, topped off with a stomach painfully full of wind.

San Francisco Immigration and Customs was great, contrary to a lot of opinion you hear of US officialdom. The Air NZ clerk who checked me in at Auckland was most concerned I didn’t have a US contact address any better than the hotel we're staying at for the next 2 nights here in SF, and that could have got me into trouble.
But no worries, no-one even wanted to know.
The Immigration officer who processed me was great, seemed tentatively eager to show he knew NZ was associated with sheep, after noticing I'd ticked the “been on a farm” box, and bagging me as a farmer, and asking all sorts of questions about farm size, number of animals etc. There are mission statements up all round the place about how they are determined to be welcoming to visitors and I give them a very good pass mark for that. You get both mitts finger-printed, plus a mugshot that happens while you're being interviewed, both straight onto the computer.
They took me at my word I wasn't carrying anything farmy that would jeopardise US agriculture, and the experienced people in the party agreed SF was a hell of a lot more agreeable port of entry than LA .

The cellphone latched straight onto AT&T, calls are $3/min on top of the NZ charge, so txts is all you can expect from me via cellphone. Data services cost NZ$10/mb, so that’s a bit out of it as well.
But the hotel has wifi free as part of the room-charge, so emailing is OK.

Thanks Marley and David for all your help setting things up before I left, great not to have to worry about stuff undone. Some of the others are still running things back home, with frequent phone calls etc

Thursday, July 30, 2009

San Francisco, California

Sunday 19 July
San Francisco

We got in yesterday about midday local time, to a sunny 21deg day. I got some walking in.
My room-mate is a walker, so off we went for the afternoon.
And it gets better. He's a car dealer, so we marvelled and remarked about the passing parade of novel automotive machinery.
But wait, there's more. He wanted a mini-notebook, and had found a website for an outfit called Best Buys, a US version of Noel Leeming cum Dick Smith. So off we went to the toy shop.
Bit disappointing though. The notebook Richard had set his heart on was only available on lease. The first alternative he selected was out of stock, and the final selection, an HP, was then subjected to 9.5% sales tax and a one off purchase fee of about $30US, both over and above the ticketed price. Neither would the salesman engage in argie bargie.
It still worked out cheaper than at home, but not by enough to want to do it again.
That walk seemed about 8km by the time we got nearly home, when we ran into Ken and Graeme on an expedition to locate the bike hire shop. This “just around the corner” took bloody ages, so all in all, I walked at least 16km. On top of the jetlag, I was knackered.
A couple of beers went down well, then we headed off by tram to Fisherman's Wharf for a seafood chowder dinner, served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, $9US and a stuffing feed at that.
I nodded off all the way in the tram-ride home, and got a solid 7.5 hrs sleep last night.

Market St, SanFran
Some first impressions.
The cars on the road don’t seem all that different to what we have, size-wise and % of Japanese makes, (although the models differ), no noticeable presence of yank tanks, but the big utes are nice.
The people are as human as you'd see anywhere, but I would comment the blacks are much more charismatic in the flesh than I gave thought to. Even the down and outers sitting on the street, or in cafe corners look like Denzel Washingtons, Samuel Jacksons, or Stevie Wonders, with the same sonorously rich yo bro voices. The black women are very attractive, the well-turned out ones quite stunning.
The place is full of tourists, but I'd guess something like 40% hispanic, 30% black, 20% asian, 10% white. When we get a couple of hours out of town it'll switch to 90% white, with deepening religiosity, so i'm told.
There's a sort of a slightly out of control feel about the place, litter, 3 armed cops helping traffic control with a street re-surfacing gang, over-manned job preservation in some quarters, and too little being done in others.
The computer salesman didn’t care too much about not totally satisfying Richard's purchase. Take it or leave it prevails, just gimme the money. The customs man supposed the unions controlled the shearing of my sheep. Wonder how much the tipping culture has on attitudes. Am getting a bit worn out on this.
However, there's a more polite interface between people than at home, you don’t feel the underlying aggression of youth.
You don’t see much idle youth, full stop. Have only seen one boy-racer car, a Ford Mustang. There's a lot of young cops, so maybe that’s how the testosterone is kept off the street. They don’t look at all like hard men, but they're all carrying side-arms. Find that comforting somehow.
The panhandling and begging was a bit of a novelty for a start, but it was getting a bit wearying this afternoon. You can’t let eye-contact happen, but the faces are so interesting it’s hard not to want to get a peek. Lots of homeless looking sorts, all their stuff in a rubbish bag or suitcase.
And the signs........ Yesterday I spotted “San Jose” on a road-sign, hey ............, “do you know the way to....”.

A Maser' down at Fisherman's Wharf
For $11 today we got an all day pass on the cable car, which we reckoned paid for itself on the first ride. We got talking to the brakeman who gave us a run-down on how the cable system works, and helped diffuse the angst he was building coping with the tourist load, 16 cable cars, and around 20-30,000 tourists around the route at any one time. We were come upon by a “professional” guide who dispenses advice for a tip, and he was worth it. We dodged the 1000 odd queue and got aboard a couple of blocks up the street, and have spent most of the day riding up and down the “Bullitt” hills, poking nose in shops and bars, incl a spin round and up and down the Wellfield Plaza shopping mall labyrinth.

Tomorrow we pick the bikes up.
I'm getting an ST1300 Honda. The Yamaha FJR I ordered got pranged last week

World's crookedest St
Down at the Wharf, Alcatraz in the background

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eureka, California

Tuesday 21 July

Hi folks. Sorry about the odt file and your inability to read the last message. I’d tried to write my diary in Star Office, and maybe they use a different format, (or Farmside do), so this message I’m doing in MS Works in the hope MS format is more compatible. I can also embed pics into the text so here goes. Let me know how this goes.

Picking up the bikes
Yesterday, we picked up the bikes and headed off for a familiarisation ride, through the streets, (our hotel’s 2 blocks off Market St, one of the main drags), and out across Golden Gate bridge. Seemed pretty scary at the time, but left hand drive isn’t too hard to get to grips with, in the big city you’re mostly working in one-way traffic. Just go where all the other cars go, and pray you make the right turn-offs.

The bridge, as usua shrouded in fog, but we got the customary photo shot, with everyone, including the touristas, joining in for camera and pose swaps.

Golden Gate Bridge
Then back across the bridge and right to South Beach, deserted because it was so cold. I think Baywatch only happens on TV. And a navigate back to the hotel, during which the lead pillion took us into a 4 lane one way street, from the wrong end, which earned us a few toots and light flashings before we found an alley to dive down.
Main thing about left hand drive is to think through your entry into the traffic. Most incidents occur, mindlessly pulling out of laybys and off-road parks. Once you’re in it’s easy enough. But I spent a good half day getting spooked by traffic appearing on corners, coming at me on the wrong side of the road, without a driver!

We left SF early this morning. One of the Harleys wouldn’t start, so we’ve lost the trip leader and a rider, haven’t made it to the hotel yet, hope they got a fix or a replacement bike.

Over Golden gate again and up the coast on R1 the road was small and twisting, a huge Paekakariki-like climb and descent, and that was the pattern most of the way up the coast to Ft Bragg and Mendocino. The countryside was sort of Northland/Otago/Blenheim, rocky outcrops. If you were Aussie you would have felt at home going through gum tree groves, and if a kiwi, roadside fennel, blackberry, and variegated thistles. And gorse! Bloody poms been here too. Passed a few farms, disparate looking outfits, a few animals gathered around the barn, obviously hand fed. No stock on the hills, lot of rank grass, but very dry.

Nearing Mendocino
The run from Mendocino was great motorcycling, twisting and climbing, perfect surface, went inland where it was heaps warmer, then back down the last 70 miles through sequoia-lined, bloody freezing, 4 and 6 lane motorway here to Eureka, pop 28,000, at sea level again.

The traffic behaviour is great. Something to ponder on while riding, (bit like philosophising while you’re dagging or mowing the lawns). What is it that these peopIe have that we lack, that causes the average NZ driver to be the self-righteous, aggressive, bad-mannered prick that he is.
I decided it’s the wagon-train mentality. To make it out west, the pioneers best chance was to travel in wagon train convoy, and the co-operative inter-reliant spirit has stuck. We rode for hours today on no passing permitted roads, and all was cool.
And again, I didn’t see any gatherings of idle youth, or groups of girls tittering around. How much effect is the deeply religious ethic having?

Honda Ridgeline

Looks like the Japs won the war too. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, rule the road. I’ve seen my next car, a Honda Ridgeline, 4 door, all wheel drive, open deck ute.
Out of 57motoring mags surveyed, its rated 2nd most popular ute in USA behind Chev Avalanche. V6 petrol, but I can live with that till they put in a diesel.
It starts at US$28k for the basic, $32k for the auto highest spec.

486km today, and we’re still in California. 600km tomorrow up into Oregon. My bike went nicely but something sounded a bit noisy when we pulled up. A few of the boys are worried about their Harleys.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bend, Oregon

Wednesday 22 July

The group are pretty much in agreement that Americans are a great bunch of people. After just a couple of days, I'm on their side, they just need to get their voting and representation right. Northern California must be on the redneck side, Obama doesn’t go down all that well.

We had breakfast in a Eureka diner, pancakes, bacon and eggs, bottomless coffee, complete with a couple of sherriffs deputies, cruiser parked outside.

Roadside treats all the way
The local rag had a great cartoon, Obama on a ladder up the side of a big tank marked "public services" in his hands, hanging over the tank, wringing the neck of a chook marked "private enterprise."

The cost of local and state services is a hot issue in the letters to the editor columns, just like home, rates are too high, and unsustainable. Nobody's worked out johnnyreb's theory of what causes recessions - simply, it’s when the costs of services get too expensive for the target market to afford. All Arnie needs to do to fix California's cot-case budget is to halve state salaries,
but pigs might fly.

More laughs from the local rag. An off duty police officer was following a ute home, driven erratically by a group of youths. When he accosted them the driver engaged in some wrestling, putting the cop to the ground, who pulled his gun and shot him dead. The rest of the youths and their father are claiming there was nothing to identify the off-duty cop as bona fide
a black university professor returning home from a trip overseas, couldn’t find the key to his house, so he enlisted the help of his black taxi driver to try and prise the door open. A passing white woman, seeing 2 blacks outside the door with a duffle bag, phoned the cops, resulting in the professor and the taxi-man being cuffed and arrested, nobody believing the likely story.
Only in America, but it could happen at home.

Ribbon of  road north of Eureka
The bar outside could be anywhere in NZ. Again we all agree on the driving standards far exceeding NZ's. Americans are spoiled for roads. While humming along a 4-6 lane highway in mid summer I passed, perhaps 4 other cars per km. Most of the roads are double yellow lined, meaning you aren't allowed to pass. Every km or so there is a "turn-out" bay for pulling off
but mostly the wagon-train syndrome applies, people are happy to stay in line, well apart. Others in the group have picked up on the religious aspect perhaps contributing to responsible behaviour, but I guess the other reason people behave is the cops have guns.
I think it’s great here, but I dunno about arming kiwis. It’s a bit like the notion of us having a kiwi president - who would you elect?

Passed by Crater Lake Natl Park, where we purchased our Natl Parks annual pass. $80 US gets us into any natl park.

Bend's an ex timber town, mostly into recreational service now, pop 81,000.

Crater Lake, Oregon
The bloke i asked directions of when i got stuffed up on interstate-5
said, on his way out the door of the general store with a dozen beer under his arm, 'Hey, you're a kiwi.
'How you know dat i respond?
Oh, I work with a kiwi gang up in the forest, George Wynyard, you know him?
Yeah, yeah. nah, yeah, I respond, and international relations get another boost!

Gotta go
tomorrow's another day

Monday, July 27, 2009

Astoria, Oregon

Thursday 23 July

Hardware on the street at Sisters
Bit of a quiet day today. Pattern we're settling into is up and ready to roll early,
find a rural diner 20-40mls out of town for breakfast. Today's was at a town called Sisters. We pulled up to start with, to watch a family of deer walk across the side-street, behind a shop then across the main road, halting traffic both ways.

Today i got poached eggs, real pan fried hash brown, toast, and a 5 rasher bacon serve for US$8.45. Coffee's free, but awful, and you tend to have too much because they keep filling you up.

Over the Cascade Ranges
Over the Cascade Ranges, not ranges like Tararuas, but big hills, the road topping out around 4000', going down the other side at 65mph i got a roar at my left shoulder and turned to see a woman blatting past on her Harley, nazi helmet, and thin strap top.
People who wear armoured jackets round here are pussies. Most of the blokes are in T's. This is the land of the free after all.

Still, looks like traffic settles at 5mph above the speed limit, wherever. I get left behind most of the time, and spend most of the day on my own, which i'm pretty comfortable with. The bike’s going OK, the noise happens when it gets hot, i need to keep the speed up in the heat for better cooling. 97degF did i mention, yesterday? The tacho's red-lined at 8500 to 10000rpm. The bike does 80mh at 4200, to show you how restrained i'm being. Done 1500km so far, and i'm impressed how little it has cost for gas.

Detroit Lake
At the gas station further on at Detroit Lake, the woman at the till eyed me up with a smile and said you're too good looking to be a biker. Detroit Lake is a dam, about 5-10mls long. When summer's done, they drain it out, and it fills with snow over winter.

So, as we got lower, the redwoods gave way to sycamore-dappled highway
with red and blue wild pea flower along the verges, into Salem, Oregon
skip over Interstate-5, keep heading west toward the coast.

On the way to Tillamook
The farming’s a heap more serious here - 5 International header harvesters working in a line, stubble straw pressed and on the move, crops in the sun  ready for harvest.

At Tillamook, an old airforce base, stopped for the Blimp Museum -
during the war a base for blimps used for Pacific coast and fleet escort submarine patrol. There's only one hangar left now, the other burned down in 1992 - 1072' long, 15 stories high, 296' wide, 7acres in area the guide said,
built totally of wood, douglas fir milled locally, first one took a year, the second, 27 days! 

There are 6 doors at each end, each door weighing 30 tons rolling on railway lines. In the cafe there's a photo of the day some clever dick flew a plane through doors open each end. There's several oddity planes, but most memorable is a Grumman Tomcat, the swing-wing carrier jet retired from duty in 2006, it required 50 man hours maintenance for every 1 hour in flight service. The swing wings were computer controlled, out as the plane slowed down, and in as it speeded up.

Dairy farming district here.

Long time since breakfast - just had a 14oz rib-eye, best steak i've ever tasted
at a rather odd karaoke bar just up the corner. Have put in the hotel view off our room deck. The accommodation's been great. Ken says the difference between digs like this and winging it day to day between camping and motelling, if you can find them this time of year not booked out, is only about $1000 on a tour of this duration. The strain on relationships within the tour group arguing about where to camp, or try for accommodation, isn’t worth the saving. 

Snippets from the local rag:
Oregon state governor has just ratified the buckshee installation of power generating small windmill, solar heating, home insulation, and double-glazing to home-owners, the cost to be capitalised out on the monthly utilities account. How forward thinking is that! It’s not just the power and generation resource saving - there's the stimulus to related manufacturing industry.

The local environmental agency is mounting an investigation into how they can reduce soil nitrate contamination from urban septic tank systems...
alleluia...... an urban body putting the blame where it belongs, not dumping it on the farming community

That's it..
back home we have power companies who were so supportive at the start, they refused to credit for reverse metering.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Victoria, British Columbia

Friday 24th July

Hi folks

It was early start this morning, a boat whistle just outside the window woke us at 5am.
The Astoria hotel rooms are on stilts over the water
slower wake up for some, we got tangled in a karaoke bar last night
I did a pitney 'Town Without Pity', then beat it to bed.

Astoria Bridge across the Columbia
So it was off in the mist and drizzle at 6am, (over the bridge in the background of last nights hotel room pic)
Astoria's out on the coast of Oregon, mid-left of Seattle and Portland.
Headed for Port Angeles to catch the ferry to Vancouver Island at midday
so we were under some time constraint
meaning we were batting the bikes along on a wet road,
cold too, leggings and ice-breaker on.

Struck our first taste of American angst...
the bike train got stuck behind, then split in half, by a logging truck that wouldnt pull over.
We came upon a road-works traffic light, so those of us at the back lane-split to the front of the semi
the driver jumped out and abused us, rather pathetically
as in "do you's think i left this gap jest fer you's, gard dammit"
funny little man with a big puku and a walrus moustache
but we didnt argue, just in case he was carrying.
Anyway, we raced off at the end of the works, round a corner and down to a long straight, quickly up to 65mph
when, rooomf.......
the logging truck sailed past, probably doing all of 85mph, fully laden, i counted 20 logs, 30' long.
My roomie just chipped in, 'he went past like we were stopped'
A few miles further on we turned onto a freeway, and we simply lost sight of him.
Nigel, who copped the brunt of the tirade, said he was het up because he had to have his load somewhere and he was late.

Ken organising the troops at Port Angeles Ferry
So were we...
luckily the road dried out
but in accordance with murphy, having hardly seen a cop up to date
this road was infested with them.
We just made the ferry in time
Ken had us pre-booked so we coasted to the front of the queue
looks about 20mls across, and now we're in Canada!

Lovely day...
we're here for 2 nights, chance to stretch the legs, and do some laundry
although have found a good drier for my smalls
drape them over the top of the table-lamp, only takes a couple of hours.
Gee, Ken's done a great job, another top room all booked
we all know where we're going to be each night, so dosent matter if we get mis-mothered during the day.

Customs was a simple procedure
now we have to get some canadian currency from an ATM, just enough to do the couple of days

Feeling quite converted to left hand drive now, coming naturally today
and curiously disconnected from back home RHD

Just a couple of pics
me on the ferry
and the shot out of the hotel balcony, see the french architecture on the building to the left.

The customs man said 'bon jour' and 'how you doing' in good english.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Victoria, British Columbia

Sat 25th July

Took a bus tour, open top bus
clean affluent city, oozing wealth
old money families who founded trade here
must have been a bit of a gateway to the Pacific.
Apologies about my geography booboo last letter too
heading up to Port Angeles we left Oregon and into Washington state

Some famous old hotel
Spaniards here early on, then Capt Cook, the man's been everywhere
same old story, settlers squeezed in beside indians
did a treaty deal to reserve them their patch
then gold got discovered and the patch got too valuable for the indians to have anymore
so they got moved on, the tour guide didnt say where to.
I havent seen any around, but he did say they were settled for 10,000 pounds per family
whether this means hapu or whanau or iwi size family I dunno
but you could hazard a fair guess.
Actually, I felt a little sick about it, surrounded by so much sense-palpable wealth
as the tour bus took us round and through the snob rock mansions.

Not that I'm a subscriber to digging up the past...
in previous mention about the % of cars on the road being predominantly Japanese
I omitted the other noticeable marque is BMW, and mercedes
so i reckon, if you get onto a scrap with honkies, the best plan is to lose as long and magnificently as you can
then beat them at their own game later if at all possible, (or marry them if they arent too ugly).
Speaking of wealth, did notice in the Oregon newspaper, a political protest movement run by a white woman against financial control by the wealthy...
this is the land of the free after all!

Lots of machinery to drool over here
Canadians, definitely un-hillbilly compared to the Yanks...
you can feel the difference, and a natural 'kinship' leaning towards you.
In a sports bar last night we were intrigued by a couple of girls engrossed in game of aussie rules on the big screen...
the were aussies!
Richard struck up a conversation with a scottish couple on house-swap 5 week vacation, a retired Glasgow policeman, mentioned the sectarian violence in Glasgow, (ie Catholic vs Protestant), was actually worse there than in Ireland
which is basically a Northern British Ireland vs southern Irish Ireland problem.
I forget exactly what colour he said, but like the Mongies and Black Power back home, it's patch related
reds vs greens, or whatever, so you be very careful what colour scarf you wear.........
just by way of a bit more trivia for you.

Local Parliament Building I think
Speaking of colour, the Canadian money is nice, big notes, bright colours
bit better than ours I think.
The US dollars are quite dowdy, you have to be careful shelling them out, its very easy to confuse them
and they're real nutters at using $1 bills for change
but i suppose its better than a pocket full of shrapnel.

Just read the local rag, found some indians, First Nation they're called
they're down on the west coast of the island, looks like a reserve, main centre Tofino
where the streets are dirt streets
pretty incongruous so close to all this affluence.
One of their chiefs has just been elected national president of the First Nations council
and the local iwi are hopeful its going to lead to an improvement in health, substance abuse, housing, and employment issues...
sounds familiar.
We've passed several tribal casinos on the way up
some of them seemed so remote you'd wonder they get enough patronage.

Seem to have their share of murders here too
and even here, you get panhandled, hustled, and otherwise touched up in the street
2 per block this morning.

GST is a  big issue. They're in the thro's of trying to combine sales tax and a thing called PST which is discrimanatory on all sorts of items (underprivileged get a food PST rebate), into a general 12% GST so we're well ahead on this one.

Also on the cellphone business too...
global roaming is simply a worthless dog outside of main centres
and i dont know if Vodafone's carrier partner AT&T are any better.
I've enquired about buying a local sim card but it simply isnt worth it, coverage is so bad.
It looks like competing carriers have set up in each state, so national coverage is a joke
and within-state coverage less than 50%.
With 97% 3G coverage, NZ's in dreamtime compared with the leading nation in the world.
My cellphone GPS isnt working, GPS chews battery power, and the bike dosent have a power outlet
and havent yet been able to work out how to enrol for Nokia maps USA, when the cellphone dosent work anyway.

But free wifi internet at all hotels, working as well as it is, incl email service, is a worthy alternative
we can just google map the tricky bits night before.
I've bought a couple of post-it pads, (yes, you can get them here, all bic stuff as well)
put each intersection instruction on consecutive pages
stick it on the tank, or in the dash glovebox, and peel and go.

Found a pub screening the AB 's Springboks tri-nations game this afternoon.
Thought the boys played well, Stephen Donald much improved steady game, Conrad Smith tackled and worked well, Isaac Ross too, Piri was naughty holding that ruck feed so long.

nice place Victoria, but a bit expensive.
Asked the room service girl where i could get a good steak
she didnt know because they didnt eat out, nice place to live, but very dear, about sums it up.