Tuesday, 27 September 2011

San Francisco - days 25 - 28

Day #25
My day of tattooing was here. Got up early, left Tim in bed and went to Dennys for a largish breakfast, so I didn’t get hungry during the session. Got to Tattoo City half hour before kick off and chatted to Mary and Aleph for a while (the only people working that day). Aleph was DJing in the studio, and as usual, the music consisted of some kinda 80s goth-slash-hardcore crossover band. Got down to trying the design out on my arm, and all fitted nicely, although I was a little worried about the skull in my armpit. To be quite honest, I was quite nervous about this tattoo – my last three have been relatively painful, and this was gonna be in an awkward place. As I turned out I had nothing to worry about. I’d forgotten what a gentle tattooist Mary was – and although the armpit was fairly unpleasant, it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. The whole sitting went like a dream, and Mary finished it in good time. Was a really great session, and such a great laugh – I always have a good time with Mary, and although we probably shouldn’t chat non-stop while the tattooing is in session (so she can concentrate!), we don’t stop talking about bands and films. Her little tattoo room is pretty inspiring too. Her artwork is amazing, and she has up all the line drawings of finished work, and its amazing stuff. I wish I had more time to get more stuff off her!

After the session, we head over to Marys house, pick up Little Jack (her son) and go for pizza. Unfortunately Big Jack is on tour with Swingin Utters, so I don’t get to meet him again, which is a shame. The Inner Richmond is a really nice area, very quiet, with lots of small shops and restaurants. Giorgios Pizza (where we go), is another of these fantastic pizza places, like the one we had in Brooklyn. Little Jack bounces around the restaurant, talking to whoever he feels like and generally being the little performer he is, while we have a great huge thin base pizza. Was so cool getting to hang out with Mary outside of work, and made a change from the pace of the main city of SF. Once we’d finished, the guys dropped me off at the hotel, and Mary took Jack home to bed.

Day #26
This was Tims last day. 26 days on holiday and was weird to leave him behind and now be on my own (apart from a few days in LA), but to be honest, it seemed like he wanted to get out of SF. We’d had a good run of it and had been a mega trip so far. I had to get up early to catch a coach for my Monterey To Carmel trip – which turned out to be a big disappointing pain in the butt!

Got to the wharf and caught the coach – and I was the youngest person by quite a lot. The drive to Monterey was amazing, but was gutted we never got to stop at any of the incredible beaches and cliff faces on the way down. Instead, I sat in a rattley mini coach with no suspension, getting more and more disappointed as the scenery shot past me. We had a toilet stop in a little redneck town called Davenport about 45 mins out of SF, when Suzanne texted me to see if I wanted a day out as the weather was lovely in SF. I was seriously tempted to get a cab back. The weather stayed gloomy for the entire trip, and as the trip went on, I got more and more frustrated.

First stop – Fishermans Wharf in Monterey. Forget that Monterey has some pretty stunning coastline, we ended up more or less exactly where we started. A tacky tourist spot we’d already left behind in SF. I ran off to find the nearest beach, and after an hour found some great rocks and loads of seals. This was more like it, but I had to go back and catch the coach. The rest of the trip was awful. A drive along a road full of expensive houses (bothered!), a stop at a golf course (really?) and a shopping centre in Carmel. Again I ran to the beach, took some photos, got sand in my shoes and got wet. Me 0 Pacific 1! Best part of the day!

The drive home was excruciating, and I was finally dropped off about 10pm, the last of the passengers. I immediately cancelled my Yosemite trip on Monday (no way could I do that again), cleaned my fresh and sweaty tattoo, then went to Hooters on the Wharf for beers and wings. That made up for the day big time!

Day #27
Get up late and have time to kill before an evening meet up with Suzanne. Get to the cable car turnaround and jump on a cable car to Union Square. Get some wicked new jeans from the Levi store (514s – best fitting jeans I’ve ever had), wander around Rasputins record store for an hour (and buy nothing!) then decide that I might go to the cinema for a few hours. Grab the afternoon showing of the Straw Dogs remake. Which I really enjoyed, but might have to write a whole separate blog about. It was pretty much a word for word remake (even down to the characters names), they’d just transferred everything to the deep south. I must say the bear trap scene was done brilliantly though.

Grabbed a cab and headed to Zeitgeist for a quick beer to wait for Suzanne. Didn’t get ID’d due to my Black Flag shirt, but then got slapped on my brand new tattoo for my trouble! Had a beer then headed down to Casanovas (on 16th @ Valencia) to meet Suzanne. She was already on the margaritas when I arrived and got informed I was being dragged on a Mission area pub crawl. Which I’ll say now is the best pub crawl Suzanne has ever dragged me on! Casanovas I’d been to on my last trip briefly, and after one beer, was dragged out to the 500 Club. This place was great- nice punky dive bar, big bar, great jukebox, and had the best sandwich shop ever next door. Clares Deli was incredible. I had a meatball sub, which got delivered to the pub, and was so good, I had to go back later in the week. Brilliant place and great that the bar and shop are next to each other. After chatting to some of Suzannes friends, she took me to Benders for a quick drink, then onto Dirty Thieves for a couple more drinks and a chat with one of her friends who bartends there, and is also a cracking artist. Talked punk rock, knocked back some Old Styles, then was taken to Pops, a bar that I’ve been threatened with many times before, but not managed to get there.

Pops is deep in the Mission, and is a great little neighbourhood dive bar. Total punk rock clientele, wicked jukebox, and plenty of room. Saturday night is 90’s night, and they were playing all sorts of alternative stuff, from Jawbreaker and Kid Dynamite, to whatever other 90’s emo they could get their hands on. We got free beers all night from Suzannes bartender friends, then she dragged me up to the DJ area. They were gonna play “Boxcar” and I was gonna be singing it! I had no idea they’d been doing karaoke, but the DJ area was carnage – 30 people grabbing the mike, singing their heads off and crowd surfing in an area about 15 ft square. I was given the mike, and the song started, but to be honest it didn’t really matter what I was singing. I had a couple of helpers, and the crowd went mental to the song. They played “Dammit” by Blink 182 next, Suzanne crowdsurfed, then it was time to go home! She’d surpassed herself with this pub crawl, and was an incredible night. It also opened up more places to hangout in SF, and once again, I felt more at home than I’ve even done in this city. Brilliant.

Day #28
Woke up with a mini hangover, a grin on my face from last night and for what I was gonna do today. I’d already decided I was gonna go back to Askew Grill after last Sunday, but on Weds, I’d popped into the next door pub Hobsons Choice for a quick beer before I met Tim. HC is a pub I’ve been to everytime I’ve been in SF, as the first time we went there (in 2002), the barman Chris had entertained us for the afternoon, getting drunk with us and being a bit of a loon. Turns out he still works here, and after meeting him briefly on Weds, I promised I’d come back. It’s a really normal no frills pub, with massive windows and a ridiculous vodka selection. Jumped on a bus and got to the pub for 1.30 and had my breakfast – an anchor steam. Then I decided to partake in the bloody mary bar – Chris pours a massive vodka with ice, then you fill up and make your own bloody mary with whats provided on the help-yourself bar. It’s a brilliant idea, and mine was particularly yummy.

Had some food at Askew Grill, then another quick CD stop at Amoeba Music. Then a final beer at Hobsons before going back to the hotel. Then things went a bit wrong.

Desperate to cut my hair, and having not found a decent barbers anywhere, I thought I’d cut my hair with my beard trimmers. Turned out it took 12 hours in the end, as the things kept running down the battery! I must say I did a good job in the end, but I had a fairly miserable evening mid-haircut in the Wharf that evening. Wearing my beanie to cover the half head of hair that was left, I ended up in Tiernans, a shitty tourist bar in the Wharf. I had a couple of Anchors and a nice pulled pork sandwich, but was surrounded by old tourist couples, and was subjected to the worst ear shattering teeth grating karaoke I’ve ever heard. I know karaoke is meant to be bad, but its good when its entertaining. This was just painful. X Factor rejects through and through. Not one person realised they couldn’t sing. Luckily the barmaid was on my side, and eventually got the guy to turn them down. But it broke me. I sloped back to the hotel thoroughly dejected (after ruining an ace day with more Fishermans Wharf!), and worked through cutting my hair on and off for the rest of the evening/night!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

San Francisco - days 20 - 24

Day #20
YAY! I’m in San Francisco. Home of lots of tattooed people, anchor steam, awesome bars, fog, cable cars and lots of flippin hills! I step out of the airport and already feel at home. Its been 4 years since I was last here, I’ve been desperate to come back, and was one of the mian reasons why I took this trip. Jump in a cab and get my first proper awesome cabbie of the holiday – one that actually understands what I’m saying and can hold a conversation with me! He gets out of me my “professional bum” story, and he’s impressed. So much so, that when he drops me at the Lombard Motor Inn on Lombard St, he says he’ll wait for me and drop me anywhere in the city FOR FREE. I don’t need to take him up on the offer, as I know where my first stop is.

Dump my stuff (I have no idea where Kelly, Alex and Tim are), and take my first walk up Lombard St (and my first steep hils) to Tattoo City on Lombard and Mason in North Beach to confirm next weeks tattoo appointment. Walk into the shop and am pleased nothing has changed, down to the same flash on the walls and the same tattooers and reception guys working there. I say hi to Kahlil and immediately, Marys head pops up in the window of her room. Result – shes working today! I’d been tattooed by Mary back in 2007, and have wanted to get more work off her ever since. We’d got on well the first time (we have mutual SF friends), had a fun tattoo session, and her work is amazing. Once shes finished her client, we chat about what I want tattooed and generally catch up. Its awesome to catch up with the first of my SF buddies, and once design things are sorted, I leave her to it and off I go to the Wharf to get some food and have an Anchor Steam. Still no sign of Kelly, Alex and Tim though.

Eventually we all meet up at the hotel, and its early evening. Theres various options of things to do – Tims got a gig option, Kellys got a gig option, I’ve got a bar option – but we ignore them all and go for a curry in North Beach instead (at Urban Curry, Tims favourite). A quick beer in Vesuvio afterwards and a walk round City Lights bookstore finishes the evening, and we all go back to the hotel and crash out (although hindsight proves we should have gone to Tims gig option at Benders instead!).

Day #21
Kelly and Alexs last full day in SF. They go to Alcatraz, I leave Tim in bed and go and get some washing done. We all meet up in the afternoon and head down to the Haight for some lunch at the awesome Askew Grill and the first of three shopping sessions in Amoeba Music! Lunch is incredible. Askew Grill is a place I’ve always wanted to try out, but never got round to it. The menu is wicked – they do a great assortment of burgers and skewers, with some cool sides, like garlic mash.And they have tattooed waitresses. Go for some burger or other and it doesn’t disappoint. Tims tuna skewer looks very tasty. Then its off to Amoeba, where for the first time ever I take it easy, and only buy 5 CDs, as opposed to the 100’s of dollars I usually blow there.

Manage to drag the guys over to Zeitgeist for the evening, and everyone seems pleased. Tim announces its his new favourite bar – I’m happy he likes it. Its good to be back in Zeitgeist, as its always been my fave place over here. However, this would change as the fortnight went on. We have a great evening and get suitably inebriated - as does the head barman, who is a total hoot. By the time we stagger out of there, he hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing.

Day #22
Kelly and Alex leave for the airport around lunchtime, so we hang around to say goodbye to them. Its been great getting to see these two again after their move to Aus a couple of years ago. I’m not too sad to see them go though, as I know I’ll be seeing them again in 6 weeks time in Perth. Can’t wait!

Tim seems to be in a state of pining for his missing friends, so I leave him on his bed with his laptop and head out to North Beach. Get a wicked Superchunk book at City Lights, then have a few Anchor Steams at Vesuvios happy hour. Have a pizza at Calzones, sitting outside in the sun alongside Columbus Avenue. Then I hear from my friend Suzanne, who I haven’t seen since my last trip. I met Suzanne in 2005 when she was a waitress at Thee Parkside, and we’ve been in touch ever since. In 2007, she got us drunk on a nightly basis, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing her again for ages.

I was already going to go to Hemlock Tavern for the evening, as its their punk rock sideshow night (every Monday), so me and Suzanne arrange to meet up. I arrive before she does and grab a beer and a seat at the bar. I can already hear Suzanne before shes reached the door and hugging the door guy (Suzanne knows everyone in SF!). Its not a late night, but we catch up over a few beers and agree to keep in touch and meet up soon. Its great to see her again, and I’m already feeling more at home in SF.

Get back to the hotel and Tims asleep.

Day #23
On a recommendation from Suzanne, I head down to Golden Gate Park and check out the Academy Of Sciences. I get up early, leave Tim in bed, and grab a bagel at the corner deli. Then I hop on the 28 bus and go down to the park. Unfortunately its really foggy, so its pretty gloomy down there which is a shame. However, by the time I get to the park the battery on my camera has given up the ghost, so its hardly worth being there as I couldn’t take pictures, and certainly wasn’t gonna pay the door fee for the Academy. So I grab a hotdog and head back to the hotel.

Drag Tim to Zeitgeist for the evening and grab one of their burgers and home fries from the BBQ. While I’m getting beers at the bar, I turn round and bump into some random punk guy, who then ends up sitting at our table with his two friends. Turns out its Sam Rockwell!

Next stop is Bottom Of The Hill to see Danko Jones. Meet up with Tims mate and have a few beers in their beer garden, then watch the gig. BOTH is a great little venue, with a nice high stage and great sound. Can’t take much more than 250 – 300 people, its tiny. Show was ok – I like Danko Jones, they're rocky and riffy enough, but they aren’t one of my faves, plus I should have been seeing The Stooges the same night (who cancelled). They did have Adam Willard from Rocket From The Crypt drumming for them though, and he was incredible, the guys a drum demon.

Day #24
Determined to see the Academy Of Sciences, I get up early again with a fully charged camera, leave Tim in bed and head back down to Golden Gate Park. Its still foggy. Get some great pictures around Stow Lake and get harassed by squirrels and seagulls for my breakfast sandwich. Pop into the Japanese Tea Garden quickly, and take a few shots round there. I’ve been here lots of times before, and it’s a really peaceful place to hang out for a bit, even if you have to stay away from the kamikaze squirrels (they are so tame in the park!). Head over to the Academy, and its cool to see how the area has been built up over the last 7 years. This part of the park has gone from having nothing here, to now having fountains, picnic tables and food vans, and is surrounded by the Academy Of Sciences and an art gallery (I forget which one). The Academy is awesome! Its made up of three regions – aquarium, rainforest and planetarium – which all join up together (you exit the rain forest in the aquarium etc), and is such a brilliant place to pass the time. All the volunteers there are really helpful and give the place a really upbeat vibe – nothing like the usual museum experiences you get. Took loads of photos of butterflys, lizards and fish, and stood for an hour watching a pendulum swing back and forth listening to a beardy hippyish science dude called Herb explaining how the earth rotation works, and how the pendulum proves this theory!

Once finished here, I took a walk to the edge of the park to head to Haight Street again. Passed all the drug smoking crustys at Hippy Hill and headed straight for Amoeba Music again. Pick up some more CDs, then decided to go back to the hotel to Join Tim for a curry. Took things easy for the rest of the evening, as I was getting tattooed in the morning. The curry was awesome, but i was now getting very excited for my new tattoo, esp as Mary had sent over the artwork that evening. Was gonna be a good one!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Las Vegas - days 19 - 20

Day #19
Mine and Lisas last full day together in Vegas, so we were determined to cover a lot of ground. Got up early and had another Hooters breakfast (“what can I get you gentlemen?”), then we had a quick gamble. I jumped on the cheap roulette – and lost all my money when I stopped playing my regular #19 (which came up!). Oops. Got a taxi down to the post office so I could send more stuff back home, then stood around in the blistering heat waiting for another taxi to take us back. Luckily we saw a taxi driver run into a Taco Bell for a leak. So we staked him out and nabbed him when he appeared again.

Back at Hooters and suddenly I found I couldn’t open the lock on my case. I had to get the security guys to open it using a bolt cutter. After that brief interlude, we headed over to the Monorail to go to the other end of the Strip to check out some of the other casinos. By this stage the heat had become unbearable, and was a real mission to get anywhere. Popped into CircusCircus because of the “Fear And Loathing” connection, however we were a bit disappointed when we discovered it had been turned into a child-friendly casino, with a theme park and sideshow games. I guess we needed to be on acid the get the desired effect we were after, as we thought it would be a bit weirder. However, one of the doormen thought me and Lisa were a gay couple who had got married, and commented “you wouldn’t do that in front of the Queen, would ya?”!

Decided we needed to get back to Hooters for our evening shenanigans. On arrival, I had a dip in the pool and another poolside beer (Jenny had been replaced by another miserable Hooters girl). Then me and Lisa had another Hooters meal before the “Raack’n’Roll” Strip show we had booked to see.

By the time we got into the tiny venue, me and Lisa were already a bit tipsy. The show consisted of 4 girls, dancing around to various classic rock tracks, flashing their boobs intermittently. Me and Lisa couldn’t contain ourselves. If they played AC/DC, we cheered. If they played Led Zepp, we cheered. Everytime someone flashed their boobs, we cheered. By the time we left, I was absolutely hammered. We got a photo taken with the girls, then we plopped ourselves down at the nearest slot machine and started gambling again. Oh, and I finally won on roulette!

Day #20
My final morning was a painful start. Had a bit of a hangover and was totally shattered. I feel Vegas had finally taken its toll on me. Said goodbye to Lisa and crashed out for another hour. Was gutted to see her go, as we’d had a blast. I’m so pleased she’d come over to Vegas, especially as we’d been talking about having a holiday together over the last few years. Eventually got up, got packed, had breakfast, and dragged my sorry arse over to the airport for my flight to San Francisco. I was looking forward to getting to my favourite city, after 4 years of being away...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Las Vegas - days 15 - 18

Day #15
I think it’s a Monday! Catch my flight from SD to Vegas no problems, and it’s a quick one, although very very bumpy. Jump in a cab and its off to the HOOTERS CASINO HOTEL, my base for the week, to meet up with my best mate Lisa who flew out to join me for the week.

So Vegas – what I didn’t know (or didn’t realise). Its reeeeeeeeeeally bloody hot. The Vegas Strip is MASSIVE (something not mentioned in any tour guides I bought), and old Vegas is totally separate and miles away from new Vegas. There are no clocks, so you never know what time it is and its always later than you thought, esp after all the walking through casinos. The main casinos are ridiculously huge, and you get lost in them easily – the Lonely Planet guides should have maps of the casinos, not the strip!

I really liked the Hooters hotel, esp after seeing the MGM, Excalibur or Mandalay Bay (the neighbouring hotels). Its small, has enough machines to keep you occupied, has cheap Black Jack and Roulette, and you can find the lifts, the bar and the pool easily. One day it took us nearly an hour to exit the MGM. That’s just ridiculous!

First night I basically hung out with Lisa, getting my mind blown by insanity that is Vegas. It’s a lot to take in, even though I only stayed down the bottom section of the Strip. We had a buffet at The Excalibur (the only one we had), which was great, and learnt how to play roulette. Then we played roulette. And lost.

Day #16
Started with our free Hooters breakfast (where the serving fella referred to us as “gentlemen” the whole week, much to our amusement), then we headed off to the Vegas Gun Store to shoot guns. Didn’t realise how long the walk was, and after nearly dying in the 100+ degree heat, we finally managed to catch a cab down there. We blew $150 each on taking the Zombie package once we got there (they obviously knew we were coming – how could we resist), where you get to shoot all the guns you’d use in Left 4 Dead (cunning!). Kitted out with our ear shields and eye guards, we headed into the range and began shooting the guns. First was the .45, then the HK33 rifle, then a 12 gauge shotgun, and finally an Uzi 9mm. We were excited, but nervous at the same time. Especially when the guys next to us on the premium package kept letting off a S.A.W. (I’d shit myself, then laugh uncontrollably). The .45 handgun was prob the worst. It was like letting off an explosion in your hands. The kickback was insane, esp coming from something so small. Scary stuff. The other guns were nowhere near as bad (surprisingly). The HK33 was a heavy bugger to lift, but had barely any recoil and was easy and accurate to use. My fave gun to shoot, but would be utterly useless in a zombie holocaust for me as I couldn’t lift it. The shotgun was a tad scary as I couldn’t pull the trigger at first – and when I did, the thing basically flew out of my hands. Once I got used to it, it was cool, but no way can you use a shotgun like people do in films. Like the Uzi. Again, a great little gun to shoot, but if you held your finger on the trigger too long, it bounced out of control. Short bursts is what you need to maintain some kind of accuracy. This was an amazing experience, as its something I’d NEVER do. I’d do it again, no question. It definitely gives you perspective on something you have no idea about coming from the UK. Scary stuff, but brilliant.

That evening we went to see Rancid and H20 at the House Of Blues. Or House Of Rules And No Fun, as we christened it. Gig was utterly sterile and boring. And $12 beers. Rancid started off well, but decided to play 40 songs, including an acoustic segment. Got old very quickly. YAWN!!! Matt Freeman is still the man though, and remained the coolest band member throughout.

The day ended with more wandering through the MGM, which got utterly tedious. So me and Lisa ran off to Hooters, gambled what spending money we had left and called it a night.

Day #17
Up early and off to the Valley Of Fire in a lovely bright pink 10 seater 4WD jeep! Valley Of Fire was incredible, and was so cool to be out of the flashing lights and bleeping noise of Vegas. First stop was a mad Indian Truck Stop that had slot machines, crappy gifts and masses of fireworks. Lisa wanted to stay and gamble, but luckily I managed to drag her away. Valley Of Fire was wicked. On entering the park, we were treated to playing on big sandstone rock structures – which unfortunately didn’t last long as we got dragged off to see more mad shit. Lots of insane rock structures, cliff faces, all bizarre colours, indian petroglyphs. Was an incredible place, especially as the scale of it was pretty huge. There was nothing there for miles, just loads of mental coloured rock faces. We had lunch, then as it started to get really hot, we came back to Vegas. Where I had my first dip in a hotel pool. Which was bloody freezing. Then I fancied a beer at the pool bar, but had no money and no ID (a mega no-no in Vegas). Christ knows why Jenny the Hooters barmaid felt the need to let me off, but I got two beers charged to the room, without an ID, and got treated to listening to the most disgusting and rudest americans I’ve ever met. These Hooters girls put up with a lot!

In the eve, we all descended on the Doubledown Saloon – which during the day was like the scariest punk rock dive bar EVER. Totally dark, and populated by some very dodgy looking people. Who as it turned out were all ok, esp the barman who was a total riot the minute we sat down. Jukebox had some awesome punk rock stuff on it (we blasted The Methodones, RTFC, Radio Birdman, Descendents, Black Flag while we were there), and was a nice place to hang out in the end. As the evening progressed, we got involved in the Punk Rock Bingo – which I can only describe as being like a punk rock version of a Vegas show. The huge tattooed bingo caller read out numbers and abused the square tourists throughout the eve (she was cool with us), while a freak show performed in the intervals. One guy bent an iron bar in his mouth, then sat on a chair of nails while a bowling ball was thrown on his chest. Then he wrestled a midget lady. The midget lady was part of a bunch of regulars that included the hottest tattooed one armed lady I’ve ever seen, It was all a bit much to take in. Me, Lisa and Tom were lapping it up, but didn’t think Alex was too impressed. Eventually it all got a bit too David Lynch for everyone, so we headed back to Hooters for a final gamble, and a so called early night (3am???)

Day #18
Woken up at 5am by an alarm call for our Grand Canyon trip. Now, the Grand Canyon was AMAZING. But the trip was horrendous. 4 hours there and back, mainly due to all the faffing around. Change one coach, then another coach, then get on a shitty coach to the canyon (cos they don’t wanna mess up the posh coach) which was scary as shit as the driver was a lunatic. Going there was vaguely bearable. Coming back was INTOLERABLE. We stopped at the Hoover Dam, but that was a mega disappointment. I’ve wanted to see this place for years, and although we did see it and got a great view, we were nowhere near it, so you didn’t get an idea of the scale. Considering what a mega piece of engineering this place is (and its prominence in Xbox’s Fallout: New Vegas), I was disappointed we could only see it from a distance. But onto the canyon. First was a drive through the isolated redneck town Dolan Springs, where me and Lisa want to go for a holiday one year. Then we got dumped at the base of the West Rim, where we caught buses to the different points within the area.

The Canyon is simply AWESOME. As in the proper use of the word. You can’t even really gauge the scale of it, its so huge, especially when you look down into the Canyon and realise the grass you are looking at below are 20ft high trees, and that dot flying through the Canyon is a helicopter. It makes being up the Hancock Tower or Rockafeller Centre a bit redundant. Maybe its cos your brain has never seen anything like it. Its hard to take it all in to be honest, but is incredible to actually stand on the edge of the thing (ignoring all the other spazzy tourists that could trip up and knock you into a 3000ft drop at any minute!). Our favourite place was Guano Point (or Bat Shit Point as we named it). We spent ages there. Had an amazing lunch served by the Indian fellas (stripped beef and mash!), which we ate surrounded by the Canyon. Then we walked around the basin, which had a 360 degree view of the area. It blew my mind – even though I spent the whole time freaking out cos Lisa kept going to near the edge.
I’d love to go back – but I’d definitely spend more money on a smaller tour, and maybe look into getting a helicopter and a boat. For info the Pink Jeep Tour people (who did Valley Of Fire) go here as well, and I reckon its gotta be at least an hour and half quicker to get to the Canyon rather than on the coaches.

Once back, me and Lisa headed to Fremont Street to experience the retarded cheaper side of Vegas. Fremont St is full of old couples and rednecks with no teeth from middle America. And was amazing. Lost lots of cash on the electronic roulette in Fremont St casino, then watched a Kiss display on the neon roof that covers the area, and got treated to a cheesy glam rock band playing in the street. Either side of the band were Golden Gate and Glitter Gulch casinos – that made Hooters look classy.

Evening ended with a trip back to Excalibur where we met up with Lisas tattooist and their friends from Liverpool. And what a fab bunch of people they were. Was so cool to catch up with them.

Day #19 deserves an entry all to itself….

Awesome Fest part 2 - day #14

Day #14 – final day in San Diego and final day of Awesome Fest

I dunno about the other guys (Tim and Tom) but I was out-banded. Most of the bands I wanted to see had played already and I really couldn’t be arsed today. So the three of us took it easy.
When we finally dragged Tim from bed, we headed back to Toronado for more pulled pork burgers and groovy beers – and stayed there until we could be arsed to go and check Iron Chic at The Office (a little gutted I missed Underground Railroad To Candyland at the same time instead, but whatever). Iron Chic were – ok. I guess if you knew the songs they probably are a lot better. But from what I could tell, they were a post Latterman copy band, where everyone that knows them ends up onstage with the singer. The songs are pretty anthemic, they have an amazing drummer, and the singer does his job, blaring out his vocals with total apathy to the chaos around him (which is kinda cool). I liked them, but couldn’t not think about a hundred Latterman copyists I’ve heard before. These guys kicked arse, but I wish they were the only band that sounded like them.

Then it was back to Toronado. Was funny to find out the cute tattooed barladies were all in a newpaper article about the pub. I must check out the SF branch to see if the staff is similar. Dead To Me sat behind us, which was kinda bizarre.

Eventually we dragged our sorry tired arses back to the final few bands. Big Kids sounded like a punk rock Sebadoah and stood out as being one of the more intresting bands of the weekend, Unfun barely managed to complete a full set (what i heard was ace, but it wasn't much!), and M.O.T.O blew everyone else away, and ended the Fest on a high. Playing a set of songs that any drunk person could sing, M.O.T.O proved once again that being punk rock and awesome didn’t mean you had to be clever and intellectual. Repeating the song “ I Hate My Job” proved that, and made me and Tom grin like utter tits. Add to the fact that Paul (main M.O.T.O) is the nicest guy on the planet, and you have a winner.

One final point – I loved San Diego, but didn’t really like the punk scene there. Everyone in our gang expected the Fest to be like a mini Gainsville Fest, with lots of cool people hi-fiving in the street. Instead it seemed to be a lot of HELL YEAH guys, except hidden behind beards and checked shirts. 90% of them were utter morons. Apart from the Awesome Fest organisers, who were brilliant throughout the entire weekend, Dave from Taaang Records, and Bonnie, the barmaid from U31, who hung out with us on Sunday night and proved not everyone in San Diego was a cliquey wanker. She ruled, big time.

Late night, early morning – and off to Vegas…

Monday, 12 September 2011

Awesomefest Part #1 - days 11 - 13

Day #11 - #13
So – onto Awesomefest…

Thursday we spent the day shopping, mainly back at the Vans store in Downtown. Then it was onto the Awesomefest Happy Hour at the Livewire Bar, where we got mega cheap happy hour beers and was treated to DJing by AF organiser Marty playing AF bands on the stereo. Tom and Alex smashed some pool balls around, while Tim and Kelly played “at being wasted” and took it easy for a couple of hours.

Then it was onto Bar Eleven and Soda Bar for part one of Awesomefest. Bar Eleven was small, but did great beer and had a well sorted gig area (capacity around 100?). Soda Bar was bigger, but did shitty beer and had a weird slanty stage that didn’t fit the venue – I guess capacity was 100+ if you could deal with standing in a crappy place with no view of the band!

The gigs were pretty empty – but we saw Lipstick Homicide, New Creases, Fake Boys, Eddie Murphys Law and The Anchor. The Anchor had a metalhead dude as the lead singer/bassist and played fast punk rock with glammy tunes. Great fun. Fake Boys were like a hardcore Weezer. Eddie Murphys Law were your basic pop punk thing and they spent the entire weekend going nuts to every band in the audience. Lipstick Homicide (4 young kids from Iowa doing mega pop punk via the Fastbacks) and New Creases blew my nuts off, and went on to re-blow-my-mind the following day. Was pleased I’d found two new bands that kicked my arse already. Final band of the night were Stymie – a band Kelly and Alex wanted to see. They sounded like – every other fest type band that listen to Dillinger Four. A bit yawnsville if you ask me – heard this stuff a million times, over and over again.

Friday daytime was spent swapping hotels to the Fest hotel in Highview (the Gay village of SD). Once we checked in, we registered for the festival and joined a few friends for beers by the pool. Then it was back to Eleven and Soda for Awesomefest part 1. Spent most of night 1 in Soda, as my line up for preferred bands were playing there. God Damn Doo Wop Band were first, who did a grungy 4-part girl-harmony doo-wop thing (like The Pipettes, but dirty) followed by Lipstick Homicide, who were as ridiculously ace as the previous day (these guys and girls don’t know how great they are). Then it was Gateway District and New Creases. Gateway District included a Soviettes member, and did the girlie pop punk thing brilliantly, including enough sass in frontwoman Carrie to remind me of early Blondie and lots of other old random girl bands, and they were also brilliant to watch. New Creases kicked arse for a second night in a row. They’re a girl/boy vocal three piece fronted by a crusty metalhead geezer bassist and a cute Joan Jett-alike guitarist. They play breakneck speed punk rock, like a mix between ThIs Is My Fist and The Distillers, with full on vocals, and ridiculously complicated guitar riffs. The Soviettes finished the evening, and were a total let down. The inclusion of Mikey Erg on drums (the US punk equivalent of a rent-a-punk) meant the band didn’t play any of the third album-male vocalled tracks, and drunkenly crashed through a set of early stuff they’d barely rehearsed. Vocalist Marens voice had blown during Gateway Districts set, so she was a write off, which left the bass player to be the entertaining band member of the eve, shouting at the audience and downing tequila shots. Well sloppy. Mega disappointment of the weekend.

Waking up late on Saturday, we headed straight to U31 for the second days day-section of Awesomefest, and dived straight into the beers to liven us up. Me, Tim and Tom headed next door to The Office to watch The Anchor and Fake Boys open up the proceedings. The Office was a weird venue – its obviously normally a little hip hop type club, and it felt like it had wandered into the venue line up by accident. Good stage and good view though. Terrible beer. Both bands played really well – Fake Boys did what they did the previous night, whereas The Anchor added a few more hardcore type songs into their glammy pop punk set. We then moved over to U31 for the rest of the afternoon. U31 was definitely the venue of the weekend, and should have been used for the evening instead of Soda. Big room, stage could be seen from all directions, fairly good sound, and excellent barstaff. We hadn’t been there for a week, but on entering, the bargirl – who we found out was called Bonnie, and who was also at Awesomefest – remembered the round from last time. Next up was The Steve Adamyk Band. I’d been wanting to see these guys since Chicago (they’d pulled out of Weaselfest), and had been playing the album a lot for the past few months. They were amazing. On record, they are like an 80s power pop type thing. Live they were more garagey, much faster and more aggressive, and tight as anything. They also possessed a horrendously drunk bass player who was thoroughly entertaining, and they ended the set with a cover of NOFXs “Bob”. Definitely one of the bands of the weekend for me, was blown away. Following them was Toys That Kill. I’d been aware of this band for a while, but never heard anything before. They were also bloody great, and also very weird. Again, they were on the face of it an old school pop punk band, but with some bizarre differences. Their songs didn’t seem to have any endings – they’d just stop as soon as they got going. They played repetitive riffs, and were quite heavy with the bass and tribal drumming (like early Wire?). The singer sang in a totally different key (on purpose). Absolutely loved them! Final band of the night were Scared Of Chaka. They were good, but I don’t really know what to say about them. Apparently they influenced most of the bands on the Awesomefest bill and it was a reunion show. I couldn’t hear the similarities at all…maybe someone else can explain?

There was a gap between sessions so we headed to a bar called Toronado, round the corner from the Office. It was a cool place that did mega beers, great food, and was staffed by cute tattooed barmaids. I settled for an awesome pulled pork sandwich with mac’n’cheese on the side, and a pint of some ace german beer. Was a cool place to hang out and we’d be heading here again.

Evening session was back to Soda. Turned up during Vacation Bible School, that I can only describe as being a skinhead oi pop punk band (US version). Next up were Be My Doppleganger and The Creeps. BMD are a band I’ve seen before and really enjoyed. They kind of have that beardy fest thing going on, but are far more rock’n’roll than those kinda bands and have some great tunes. The only trouble was, Mikey Erg obviously felt he was being left out today and spent the whole show being “annoying punk guy that has to prove he knows the band better than everyone else”. He was fucking annoying throughout the gig, trying to get onstage, hitting the bass while it was being played, and distracted the focus of the band onto him. Get a life dude. The Ergs don’t even exist anymore and you’re not even that well known. Get over it.

The Creeps were a mix between the Misfits and Alkaline trio, and were a great surprise. The drummer played perfect fast 4-4 speedy drums like the Ramones or the Buzzcocks, and lyrically, they were as weird and miserable as Alk3. It was a great mix and I’m surprised no one else does this so obviously as these guys.

Final band for me were White Wires. I watched half the set but buggered off to the hotel totally knackered. Three piece 60s power pop type thing with a girl drummer. Very poppy garage type thing, clean guitars, big choruses, kinda like what the Marked Men do but less punky. Really liked em, but was flagging. I knew tomorrow was gonna be a slog, so gave up and crashed back at the hotel.

Part 2 and more insights into the San Diego punk scene next...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

San Diego - days 7 - 10

Day #7 – Day #10
One of reasons why I wanted to do this blog was to provi
de details and links of places to go/places to stay for anyone searching online. I searched loads of travel blogs before I started this one, and links of places to stay are few and far between. Maybe people are keeping the details to themselves! Anyway, I’ll post an update of all the US hotels another time. In the meantime, on with San Diego. I’m gonna write up the first week as a block rather than a day-by-day account, as we pretty much did the same thing every day.

So, first of all, its hot in San Diego. Really hot. And not humid. And really sunny. Every day. This is awesome! Another awesome thing was actually having Kelly, Alex and Tom joining us for the next part of the trip, as it meant I had people to go to breakfast with (and could leave Tim in bed). The days we did manage breakfast, we either ate at the hotel or
The Broken Yolk in downtown. The hotel was a bit expensive and could be a struggle as no one understood my accent (for example, I ordered a tomato juice and got the check!!), and we didn’t really understand the people serving us. It was a bit of a palava. The Broken Yolk on the other hand was amazing. I was happy as I could get a really basic breakfast of a couple of eggs and toast, and the others were happy with their very yummy Mexican style omelettes. On the first trip there, we got served by a beefy tattooed ponytailed guy called NAILS who was a bit of a character. Tom decided to take the Iron Man challenge – 8lbs of omelette and home fries. Eat it within an hour, and its free (and you get a tshirt and go on the wall of fame). When the gigantic portion arrived, Nails announced the challenge to the whole restaurant, and Tom tucked in. He managed to eat half of it – which was a valiant effort considering the size (it was four inches thick in the middle).

First day, Alex wanted to go record shop shopping, and we wanted to check out some of the
Awesome Fest bars ahead of the following weekend, so Tim lead us off on one of his walks. On the map everything looked quite close. In reality, it ended up being a three hour hardcore TREK to North Park, first through the gay village of Hillcrest, then through blocks and blocks of nothing! Managed to pick up a good bunch of stuff at the first stop Taang Records (that had rare Misfits 7”s on sale for $900), then we all pitched up at a cool Mexican restaurant called Jimmy Carters for Sunday lunch. Another great thing about San Diego – full of excellent Mexican restaurants, far better than what I’ve been used to eating elsewhere. Final stop of the day was a bar called U31, which is where all the daytime Awesome Fest shows would be, and would come into play the following weekend. Everyone was so tired from the walking, we all just dropped ourselves into a booth and stayed there drinking – until a Dancehall Reggae Party started and we decided to leave!

Tourist trail wise, we went to
San Diego Zoo and the Old Town. The Zoo was cracking, and absolutely massive. Usual mad array of creatures, in varying sizes of compound – was weird that you’d see a lion in a small cage looking pissed off, yet the Orang Utans and Gorillas had MASSIVE open enclosures. There was also a very underwhelming Panda exhibit, where the little buggers had all managed to hide for the afternoon. A couple of highlights included Tim managing to stroke a giraffe (that took one smell of him and wandered off from the crowd of people, obviously pleased to find out that humans do indeed smell of cider), and seeing a zookeeper taking a leopard (or was it a cheetah) for a walk. Tom was disappointed cos he wanted to give it a cuddle, but he was warned off. Prob the best idea seeing as the keepers were literally feeding the thing meat every few steps.

San Diego Old Town is a historic village (or town?) just north of downtown. Its populated by Mexican restaurants and gift shops, all set in authentic old style buildings. It felt a bit like walking into the Mexican segment of Red Dead Redemption. I kept expecting a bunch of cowboys to appear and stage a mock-lynching, but luckily we were spared the cheesy actor exhibition. Ate in town fantastic restaurants, Coyote Café and Fiesta De Reyes that did incredible margaritas, which went down very well the day we went there for breakfast. This place also included an insane mariachi band that did covers of the Doors, Led Zepplin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. One of the gift shops was an incredible hot sauce place, where the shop keeper would hold tasting sessions for all the different sauces. We could have easily stayed here all day, as Tim happily kept proving that the hotter the sauce, the less impressed he was. Some of these sauces were insanely hot, almost like eating napalm. While we were all choking and coughing, Tim just stood there grinning.

Most evenings ended up with us heading to
Gaslamp District, and moving between three pubs. The first was Stout, an irish bar, that had a 5 hour happy hour and served strongbow (much to Tom and Tims delight). I really liked this bar. It was always empty, there was plenty of room to sit, and the barstaff were all really friendly and helpful. Next we’d move onto The Hopping Pig, where by the last couple of day in Downtown, the barman was getting the round ready before we’d even asked for it (2 ciders and a hieneken right?). This bar did excellent burgers, was weirdly quiet considering how busy the area was that surrounded it, and had an extensive beer list – not all of which were as drinkable as they made out. Poor Kelly spent one night grimacing through a 7% IPA that they’d described as “drinkable”. Kelly thought it was more like “drinking an arse”. Once we’d exhausted the beer possibilities here, then it was time for Tim and Toms favourite pub of the holiday, Patricks. This was a tatty irish bar that had live blues and r&b bands every night, did strongbow, and attracted lots of mental single middle aged (and probably married) women on the prowl. There was a businesswomans convention when we were in SD, and every night in Patricks, another lot of drunk middle aged women would show up and shake their arses to the band. Tom insisted making friends with these nutters – these included Margarita Monster, a 70 year old biddy in a baseball cap that would flirtily lick the salt off her margarita glass at you, a soccer mom that lived in San Fran and was an ex-punk rocker and used to follow MDC, and a chauffeur lady that tried to fix me up with her daughter, and actually phoned her from the pub to try and get her to come down to meet me! The guys got to know the bouncers quite well, including a tattooed skinhead type, who didn’t ID me cos he was far too excited that I had Bouncing Souls tattoos!

Oh yeah, we also hit up the San Diego Hooters, which I loved. It was a much bigger, more touristy Hooters than NY or Chicagos was (the restrooms were called restrooms rather than "crappers"), and was pretty busy with holiday makers. Had my usual wings and fries, and finally picked up the classic black Hooters shirt at last. It kinda reminded me of th Hooters you get in Orlando, and is up there with one of my fave Hooters restaurants.

I guess that’s about it…5 days of tourist downtown San Diego. On the Thursday, it was gonna be time to change hotels, move districts and head for Awesome Fest. So far I really liked San Diego – I could definitely live here, and already have a groovy business idea for the downtown area that they are seriously lacking!