Sunday, August 26, 2007

How To Drive in America

There are a few key differences between driving in New Zealand and driving in America. Luckily, I'm here to make your transition easier should you ever come to the US.

So, without further ado, How To Drive in America (or at least California):

On the Other side
It's hard to overstate the importance of this one. Almost as hard as making that long left turn past four lanes of traffic shortly after returning from NZ.

Loyal as I am to NZ, various debates on the subject have confirmed the Americans probably have the upper hand here. It is called right side after all.

Make U-Turns
Wherever the hell you like. Just go. In fact California law explicitly states that unless there is a sign at the intersection telling you not to make a U-Turn, you're good to go.

Your first few days driving in America will be a constant string of U-Turns. Partially, this will be because you are a tourist and hence, by definition, lost and confused. But mostly it will be because American roads go in a straight line for miles and have a dividing wall in the middle.

If the place you want to be is on the left-hand side you don't just turn left and go there. Not unless your vehicle is a bulldozer. No, you keep driving for another mile until the next intersection, and you make a U-Turn. In NZ, a U-Turn is a dirty little trick you employ to get back on track after screwing up the directions. In America, U-Turns are an integral part of the directions.

Use the Freeway to get Everywhere
If you're on the motorway in NZ you're going somewhere. Your destination is far enough away from your current location that the only reasonable way to get there is on the motorway. Once on the motorway you will be there at least 20 minutes.

In the US, you get on the Freeway to buy milk. You get on the freeway to go clothes shopping. You get on the Freeway to visit your friend 2 blocks away. Here is the approximate route we follow to go to the movies:

- Drive to the end of the road, turn left.
- Merge on to the Freeway
- Drive for 2 minutes
- Merge off the Freeway
- Drive into the Mall

Also, be prepared to spend vast amounts of time trying to find the Freeway. The way is usually well signposted, but only once you're already going in the right direction along the right road.

Do NOT miss your exit
Actually, you will miss your exit. Frequently. This is the primary thing that will teach you very quickly not to miss your exit.

One exit is the difference between having Google guide you to your destination, and frantically searching your map for San SomethingSpanish street. It is the difference between Palo Alto (2 million dollar houses and people in polo shirts) and East Palo Alto (imagine walking through Porirua at night wearing a "Bro-Town Sucks" t-shirt while singing "I've got a lovely bunch of Coconuts").

Americans will go to almost any lengths to avoid missing their exit. When combined with six lanes of traffic and what appears to be localized amnesia about where precisely the exits are, this makes for some spectacular driving. You will quickly learn to think of all the space before the yellow safety barrels as a "buffer zone". Sudden swerves are expected.

Do not Accidentally Take an Exit
You will have the following conversation at least twice upon arriving in America:

"Finally! We found the Freeway!"
"Hooray! Hey, what do they mean by 'Exit Only'?"
"The hell?! Where did the Freeway go?!"

Key point to remember: Upon entering the freeway, get out of the right-hand lane as fast as humanly possible, other cars be damned. The right-hand lane has a dangerous habit of disappearing and taking you with it.

Safety in Numbers
You can go as fast as you want on the Freeway... provided everyone else wants to go that fast as well. Want to do 90mph (140kph) in the carpool lane? That's fine, so long as that's what the other cars in the lane are doing.

Memorize this common refrain of the American driver: "They can't give the whole freeway a ticket". Just keep in mind that they can ticket the one lunatic going 70mph (107kph) on an otherwise deserted freeway. That's just not safe.

Honk. It will make you feel better.
Americans seem to earnestly believe that car horns are imbued with magical powers of traffic relief. So when you're stuck in traffic for any longer than a few minutes, just honk the horn. It will make you feel better, and the Americans will all appreciate that you're doing your bit.

Indicating is for Sissies and Tourists
Unless there is a policeman around, your hand stays away from the indicator. Generally, this doesn't matter as much as it would in NZ because American roads are designed such that it is usually obvious what direction you're going to be turning. There's a lane for it. The worrying exception to this rule is on the Freeway, where there's no telling what anyone is going to do (see "Do Not Miss Your Exit").

Use Google
Google maps (or MapQuest, or Yahoo or whatever company you're throwing your cyber-patriotism behind) is your best friend in the world when going anywhere you've never been before. And America is so freaking huge that this will be roughly 50% of your total driving time.

Don't concern yourself too much with the difficulty of looking at the map and the road at the same time. People will just assume you're changing lanes without indicating.

Scroll down for new posts...

I (tina) have just posted a few new posts - scroll down to see them! (They're not at the top because they come in date order, and it took me a while to find the time to finish them.)

Also, go to the page before to see pictures of San Francisco downtown. :)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I have a new job!!!

Apologies for the lack of posts recently - things have been pretty hectic. But my big news is that after very little activity job-wise (but not on my part, I assure you!), I now have a new job! I'm working as an Account Coordinator for a public relations company, which is my absolute dream job. After nothing for ages suddenly I have 4 interviews in one week, and the first company I interview with, offers me a role! And when I call the second company to decline the interview, since I only had 24 hours to accept the role, they also offer me the job on the spot! So it was a bit stressful (but happy stress) while I tried to get more time to check out the other place. In the end I decided that the first place was a lot more suited to me because it had fantastic training programs, even though the second place offered a bit more pay.

So I have just finished my second day at work, and it's pretty hectic but I'm enjoying it. BUT.... I do also have a 2.5 hour commute each way, so in a month we will be moving to San Francisco. It would be tomorrow if I could swing it but we really need to save 3 months' worth of rent beforehand. Plus moving and cleaning costs. Ouch.

Upcoming posts in the pipeline include: our trips to Reno and LA (including Disneyland and Hollywood and a real live baseball game! There will be photos. Also, a friend from NZ stayed for a week before she moved to Holland and the UK, so that was fun.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Top Eight Kinds of Nap

Since we started sleeping polyphasically, I've noticed the quality and nature of naps varies quite a bit. Most naps are just "standard" naps, but I get at least one of these naps each week or so:

8. The Paradox (AKA The Traitor, The Pan Galactic Gargle Nap)
Everything seemed to go so well. You lay down on schedule, fell asleep right away, and had a lovely dream involving cake, meadows and fluffy animals. Yet you wake up feeling like someone stuffed your head full of polystyrene and poured bleach in your eyes.

Luckily, the effect tends to fade away after a few minutes.

7. The Time Warp (AKA The Forgotten Oversleep, The WTF Nap)
Three hours have passed, both alarm clocks have been switched off, along with the light and the MP3 player. You may also have had a drink and been to the bathroom at some point. The last thing you remember is lying down.

6. The Newbie Nap (AKA Murphy's Nap, The Coffee Victim)
Your eyes refuse to stay open. Your body is exhausted. Your brain feels like it's been stuffed with cotton wool. You lie down expecting the best nap of your life.

Instead, you spend 20 minutes thinking about how badly you want to get to sleep. The ticking clock, humming refrigerator, faint noises from next door and blinking LED on the VCR also don't help.

5. The Phantom Nap (AKA The Non-Nap, The Wake)
You were awake when you lay down. You were awake when the alarm went off. You don't remember waking up. Did you sleep in between? No-one will ever know. Unless someone heard you snoring.

4. The Nap-22 (AKA The No-Win-Nap, The Nap-And-A-Half-Without-The-Nap)
You wake up feeling pretty good. Eyes open, head clear. But there's a problem. You still have half your time left. Do you get up, or go back to sleep?

If you get up you'll feel tired later. If you go back to sleep you'll feel tired when you wake up. You may as well just give up and sleep through to the next nap (not really).

3. The Micronap (AKA The Surprise, The iNap Nano)
Why did the hand of that clock jump forward two minutes?

2. The Snap (AKA The Epiphany, The Crystal Pillow)
You suddenly snap awake, with one minute left on the clock. You feel like your whole life has been a lead-up to this one moment of startling and unexpected clarity.

Work fast. You have about 5 minutes before you go back to normal.

1. The Chrono-Nap (AKA The Bullet-Time, The Saga)
You fall asleep almost immediately and have an incredibly long and detailed dream. You wake up what feels like hours later, cursing yourself for oversleeping, only to realize you've been asleep five minutes.

You resist the urge to call your monophasic friends and tell them how awesome polynapping is.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

LA, Hollywood and Disneyland!

(Click on the pictures to make them bigger.)

In the immortal words of Alex K on his own blog post about his trip to LA - "I won't go into too much detail, only as much as time permits." (I think he forgot that on blog posts, you do have a certain amount of creative licence...) So this is Tina, writing on Brendan's comp. As much as time permits (i.e. before bed-time.)

So. LA, Disneyland and Hollywood. Monique (a friend from NZ, who's been working in Alaska for two months and is now en-route to the UK via Holland) was staying with us for a week to help get over her horrible Alaskan experience, and kill time while she waited for her flight out. We decided on the spur of the moment to make a trip down to LA. The plan was to drive down early Saturday morning, spend half a day in Hollywood, and go to Disneyland the next day.

Driving down the coast, we decided, was the most scenic route, even though it would take an additional 2.5 hours. Driving back late on Sunday night, we would take the 5-hour, boring inland route. Brendan's Dad Wal had recommended Big Sur so we were really keen to see it.

The only flaw in this plan, was the fog. We drove down along the number 1 highway along the coast, through the Big Sur national park and almost all the way down without really seeing anything of the supposedly gorgeous scenery - it was too foggy. We were extremely disappointed.
This is at the start of Big Sur - peoples' private homes overlooking an incredible bay. On the right, there was a swimming pool cut into the hillside.

We made a bathroom stop at Hearst Castle - the home of famous newspaper tycoon Hearst and
the inspiration for Citizen Kane, widely agreed by most film critics (and this film student) one of the greatest movies of all time. You can only go into the building at the base of the hill - tourists are carted up the large hill some miles away by bus. Unfortunately, where you could normally see the castle, and I was hoping to show Monique at least a little bit of it, you could only see fog.

Big Sur would have also been impressive, if we'd managed to actually see anything! We did make one stop - we saw a glimpse of an amazing drop down the rugged cliffs to the ocean.
What we did see the one time we stopped, in Big Sur. Look how far down the sea is!

The most annoying thing, though for this part of the trip, was a certain motorist. The trip took far longer, at least an hour, because of this (-suppresses urge to use harsh names-) man. This guy drove a jeep with the boot loaded to the maximum - he most certainly had only his side mirrors. The road was narrow, winding and one-laned each way, with "No passing" lines in the middle. On the left was a cliff not unlike the Rimutaka hills; on the other, a steep drop down in the mist. Every so often, the road would narrow even more with the signs of a slip. So there was no chance of passing. And it was far too dangerous.
Look! There he is! Look how far we have to go still!

The road speed limit said, 30 mph. Which was probably the most appropriate. This man went 20 mph, and he braked - braked! - heavily on each and every corner so he was going 10 mph. Despite numerous passing lanes, one maybe every 200 metres, he never pulled into any such lane or even probably looked behind him using those mirrors for the entire 75 miles that we were on that stretch of road. It was extraordinarily frustrating, made worse by the fact that we didn't have a horn. (It needs to be fixed; after this, it will be.) Otherwise we would have tooted when he slowed down on every single corner! So we drove for 75 miles behind this extremely inconsiderate person at a pace far far below an appropriate speed, with about 6 cars behind us. On an otherwise deserted stretch of winding road.

Behind us, a nice black Ferarri (Brendan says it was; I don't know cars so you can look at the pic and judge for yourself) passed round all the other cars until it was just behind us. We could hear the driver honking his horn heaps, but the car in front never wavered. It was like the tortoise in the story, except that the reason the tortoise won the race was that he never let the hare pass. Brendan (who was driving) and I spent 75 miles muttering angrily - poor Monique. Finally the road straightened out and we and the Ferrari passed before the roaed again, leaving about now 10 wretched cars behind this driver. As Brendan pointed out, it wouldn't have been so bad if we were able to enjoy the view! (remember to click on the picture to see the car)So eventually we arrived in Hollywood, and spent a while wandering around Hollywood Blvd being touristy. Which was lots of fun. Although it was not nearly as grimy as I expected from Alex's description, it was certainly pretty tacky and filled with tattoo parlours, of all things. I doubt any stars go there unless they have to for Oscar nights. I never realised that the stars went all along the street, not just at certain places, and that they charged each star or their estate / fans to put one in.The view on either side of the street...

Monique and a man with parrots.. note the Paris Hilton lookalike in the background you have to give them tips to take pictures with you - oops! We totally didn't realise for a while... and we had no money. Next to the Kodak Theatre - if you squint real hard, you can see the Hollywood sign right between the bottom bridge bit and the first flight of stairs...

Then we took a tour bus round all the Hollywood houses. This was well worth it, since we had no idea and wouldn't have known any of it. I enjoyed the celeb-stalking, and I think I saw a few people. (Also, they wave cos they want it to be a nice photo!) We went all along Mulholland Drive, through Bel Air and Beverley Hills, and along Sunset and Rodeo "Ro-day-o" Drives. My particular favourite house happens to be the new one that Elton John is building - it's shaped like a grand piano!

We stayed at a youth hostel in Fullerton, just 6 miles from Disneyland. It was set in a park at the end of a golf-course, and well hidden from the road. It felt a bit like being in the country, but we were in the middle of LA!! Brendan and I stayed up til about 3am talking to some guys from Canada and America, in true student-hostel style.

The next day we drove down to Disneyland, and parked our car in the mammoth car parks. Our parking level was named Daisy (2nd floor). Everyone had to wait for a little train-like series of golf carts to take us to the main park.

A big factor in Disneyland is that everything takes a lot of time waiting in lines.
Indiana Jones - Monique's favourite ride.

Brendan put his bag down in the front pocket of one of the rides, to keep it safe. He heard a chink but thought nothing of it until later. Until he opened his bag. Inside, a large can of drink had been broken by his keys, and the bag was waterproof. Everything was floating inside - video camera, cellphone, keys . Brendan tipped his bag upside down and tipped out the energy drink. He took out his cellphone, and washed it under a tap. It didn't work. The camera, luckily, did. The automatic lock/ unlock fobs on Brendan's keys, however, were both on continuously. This wasn't a pain until we tried to go back and have our midday nap in the car. Because the on signal was on continuously, the car refused to lock, clicking on and off with the lights flashing and the car not wanting to start as it usually does with our mysterious locking system. It made so much noise we couldn't sleep for ages.

The rides were fantastic. My favourite was the Pirates of the Carribean - automated mechanical people singing songs and doing various things. Brendan's favourite was the spaceship one, where you shot round and round on very tight turns to flashing lights. The Finding Nemo submarine ride was new, so we didn't get to go on that - the wait time went from 2 hours to 3 to "unknown". We decided not to waste too much time on waiting. The Fast Passes were also good - if you booked one with your ticket, you could come back in an hour or so and do the ride then. The only bad ride was a sort of Dodgem, where you had little go carts that only went one speed, "slow" around a track where you were stuck on a rail underneath so you couldn't actually race or even go near the other person. Very boring. Apart from that one, I really enjoyed the rides. Now we have to go back, to California World right next door.

I took anti-nausea pills, which were wonderful - motion-sickness ruined some of my trip to Rainbow's End a few years ago with Brendan! So I wasn't keen to repeat the experience. At one point, I felt myself feeling sick, and then the pills kicked in. I think I'll use them a lot from now on.

Eating vegetarian and healthy was a bit of a problem - you couldn't take your own food inside the park, but they had almost no vege options. And the high-end restaurant we looked at, considered macaroni cheese "vegetarian". For $20 even before tax and tip. Yuck. Macaroni and cheese is disgusting, especially the American version. It has no redeeming qualities of taste or nutrients at all - simply macaroni, and what passes for cheese here. (More like orange cheese sauce. Anyway...)

But the highlight of the whole thing had to be the fireworks. When you see the image of the castle on Disney films, with the fireworks behind, that's literally how it is! Amazing fireworks, with "shooting stars" and a flying "Tinkerbell" - it takes away all the cynicism you have.

The 5-hour drive home was disgusting. Brendan drove most of the way, since I couldn't sleep when it was my nap, and hence almost drove off the road for the hour I did drive. Brendan slapped my bare leg, hard, and I woke up. And pulled to the side of the the freeway. Immediately. We got home at 4am, glad to collapse into bed.