With Blackjack and Hookers "I'm going to write my own blog. With blackjack. And hookers."

23Sep/120

Turbulence on Reentry

We've been home now for two weeks, and it's been… hard.

Getting back into the swing of the real world after spending so long in pretendy-world land is always difficult, but I think I've had some added complications which have only made things more difficult. Part of that is because of work, which has been stressful in an abstract, emotional way rather than an overwork kind of way. I don't deal well with uncertainty, and since getting back I've had a lot of that to deal with. Politics, man; they're only fun when there's a disconnect between you and them.

Another part of it is my increasing frustration with where we live. We've been in the same apartment for four years, now; in another six weeks we'll sign the lease for a fifth. Half of our relationship (holy shit, I guess we really are coming up towards eight years) has been spent in this place, and that's not inconsiderable.

It's a nice apartment. It's big, and it has a spectacular view out over the city. But the kitchen is tiny and the oven is awful, and I am increasingly tired of having to ask permission to hang pictures on the walls, deal with six monthly inspections where we get told off for not dusting the cistern of the toilet, and - well, the list goes on.

I think we're increasingly in that point in our lives where we want to start, bit by bit, putting together rooms that are exactly the way we want them, with exactly the right furniture and decor and arrangement. We could start doing that, in some ways, but it's hard to plan a room if you don't know whether you'll be using the same room in twelve months time. We can't hang our own curtains, or put up different blinds, or replace the oven.

I've wanted to buy a place for a while now, and I think Rohan is finally on the same page as me. Obviously, we're not going to be able to run out and redecorate and buy new furniture instantly, if we manage to buy, but it'd be a long-term project with achievable goals. I suspect both pairs of itchy feet would be soothed.

Of course, it's not quite that easy. The property market in Sydney is well overpriced, and the area we want to live in is not exactly on the cheap end of that. I earn good money, and Rohan is well-paid for what he does despite averaging a lot less billable hours, but neither of us really wants to spend half our net income on a mortgage. The real trick, then, is to manage to do this without having to lose too much of our lifestyle in the process. It's a tricky balance, but I think we can do it.

A lot of the really nice places in this area are out of our price range - but there's a lot that I think is potentially doable. Whatever we end up with won't be a forever-house, but it'll be stable. It'll most likely be a two bedroom unit, probably in the Gore Hill/Greenwich area which is just slightly cheaper than Wollstonecraft/Crows Nest. It will have an internal laundry (that's non-negotiable in our book), and gas (it would take a lot for us to give up on that). And for the rest… we'll see.

So that's what the next twelve months will be focused on. In August next year, we'll take a really close look at our finances and see if it really is feasible (unless prices go up excessively between now and then, I'm pretty sure the answer will be yes), and then… well. Take the plunge, I guess.

I feel better, resigning our lease, feeling (relatively) confident that it will be our last one. And in the meantime - every time I reach for my credit card to buy that new pair of shoes, or that cute dress, or whatever it is, I'll hopefully be able to give it a bit more thought. Do I really need it? Is that money better off sitting in my savings account until it can be used as a deposit? Hopefully, having more concrete plans will make that easier to stick to. It's not that I can't spend money on more frivolous things; I just need to think seriously about it first.

Because a place that is ours, with all the attendant headaches, will definitely be worth it.

In the meantime, I will stare at real estate advertisements, and, in particular, at floorplans. What is it about floorplans that are so much fun? They make me happy.

7Sep/120

Homeward Bound

And now, after everything, it's time to go home.

I am so tired I can't seem to think about anything but sleeping in my own bed - and that's still a long way away.

We arrived in Los Angeles earlier than scheduled, and thus managed to get to the hotel by a little before ten. Unfortunately, they'd lost our reservation, and despite their apologies and the 'upgrade' they were supposedly giving us for being patient, I'm pretty sure we didn't even get the room I booked let alone a better one. Worse, I'm pretty sure I paid in advance, but they charged us when we checked out; I'll have to check my credit card to be sure, and that'll have to wait until we get home, so we'll see. It'll be a pain if I have to chase them up over it, so I hope I'm wrong.

In any case, the hotel was otherwise fine, and only a block from Sunset Boulevard, in West Hollywood, which was certainly relatively convenient. We rushed the shower, and then a real bed, and that was really as much as we needed right then.

Wednesday was cool and damp but not outright wet for the most part. We witnessed a car accident within five minutes of leaving our hotel, and saw several more examples of road rage and near miss accidents in the time that followed. I am never driving in Los Angeles. Never, ever, ever.

We quite liked West Hollywood, though I am still not really a fan of Los Angeles in general. We spent quite a lot of time wandering, before eventually heading to find a bus to take us to Santa Monica, where we were eventually due to meet up with a friend of Rohan's. Unfortunately, it turns out that only some of the 704 buses go all the way to Santa Monica - the rest stop short. Guess which kind ours was? Oh yes.

So we ended up walking the 4.5 miles to Santa Monica, which just about killed me. My joints ache. No matter.

The smog, once we finally got to Santa Monica, was intense. It made the whole thing seem almost post-apocalyptic. I am well and truly spoiled by Australian beaches, I think. We had restorative cocktails in the pier, and then walked down to the end and enjoyed the kitschy tourism of it all. When we walked back, long tables had been set up in the park: right next to all the decadence, there was a mobile soup kitchen handing out dinner to homeless person after homeless person. There are so many of them - it's just awful.

Later, we were picked up by Rohan's friend Ashley and her boyfriend, and we all had a pleasant dinner of vegetarian Indian food; they also saved us from the public transport system by driving us home. Where I promptly collapsed, swearing never to walk again.

Clearly, not a statement I intended to actually live up to, especially since we'd decided somewhere along the line that since we had to check out of the hotel by midday, and our flight was not until 11:50pm, we might as well go out with a bang and do Universal Studios.

More walking was definitely called for.

But first we had breakfast at a 50s style diner (which was surprisingly tasty), and rustled up some internet access to check messages - and then there was a cab ride through Laurel Canyon, past Mulholland Drive, and out towards Studio City.

I'd been to Universal Studies before-- I want to say it was in 1998, when I was last in LA, but it's possible it was before then. In either case, it was a long time ago, so I was pretty confident things would have changed since then. Actually, not everything had. I'm pretty convinced that the Waterworld show was on when I was there-- despite still not having seen the film, I probably enjoyed it more this time. Although the script is terrible. That, and the Studio Tour, were obvious highlights, and definitely made the day worthwhile. The whole thing was kitsch and over-commercialised, but still fun.

Our cab on the way home took us through Hollywood itself, so I guess we ticked that box this trip, too, even if we didn't walk down the hall of fame, or see anything in detail. Not really important to us, in the end.

We filled our last few hours with (more) cocktails and a shared pizza, and now we're killing time at the airport.

I can't say it feels as though this holiday has disappeared in a flash, because it's honestly hard to remember when we left home. I will be glad to get home, though that definitely doesn't mean I'm looking forward to the hundreds and hundreds of emails waiting for me at work... or being at work at all.

When do we get to go away next?

Filed under: Travel, USA: 2012 No Comments
5Sep/120

Train, Train, Train~

I am writing this entry right after writing the previous one, so this is sort of a continuation, but it's really separate, so too bad, who cares.

Amy dropped Rohan and I off at the train station early on Monday morning, right after Rohan finally got an espresso shot he really liked. There were loads of PAX people at the station, which, in retrospect, shouldn't have surprised me: the train is a long, but economical way to get back down the coast, and it has the added benefit of having more room - which means it's easier to socialise and play games. It turns out it's actually an annual thing, organised over the internet, for a lot of these people - a chance to continue the PAX experience.

Rohan and I paid extra to get a sleeper rather than reclining chairs. The basic sleeper isn't huge (during the day, there are two chairs facing each other with a pull-out table in between them; at night, one bed is placed across those two chairs, while another folds down from the ceiling), but it's cosy enough for two. Including in the price of the sleeper is all meals (but no booze), which is fun: there's no guilt about 'do I want dessert' or 'do I want a side of sausage with my breakfast', because it's all included anyway. You do still need to tip, which is where it's helpful to drink alcohol - otherwise, you run out of change pretty fast.

The food is tasty, but nothing special; there's been enough choice that Rohan hasn't had to eat the same vegetarian option for lunch and dinner. Sleeper car passengers can enjoy free wine and cheese tasting for an hour each afternoon, too. Plus, there's champagne when you first get on.

And the scenery is spectacular. I think that's my favourite thing about train travel: there is stuff to see out the window, and it changes constantly. We started off seeing the outskirts of Seattle, including Boeing Field, and later moved onwards, following the Sound down through Tacoma and onwards for hours and hours. Eventually, it all turns into pine forests as you climb upwards through the mountains - and then when we woke up this morning, we were in California, and it was scrubby and barren, rather more like the scenery we're used to.

There's wireless in the lounge car that the sleeper cars have access to, but it's come and go, with rather more emphasis on the 'go'. I've more or less given up trying to use it - and it's ok. I've been curling up and reading for hours, taking naps, and just watching the scenery pass on by. I'd much, much, much rather travel this way than fly. I'd actually argue that this trip - even in a sleeper car - is cheaper than flying and paying for a hotel and food. The same can't be said for some of the other trips we'd like to do (like the Indian Pacific or the Ghan in Australia), but I think it'd still be worth it.

And sleeping on a train is much easier than sleeping on a plane, in my experience.

We've also had some interesting conversations with people we've met - some PAXers, some individual travellers. Rohan has found someone to talk game development with, which has been making him very happy, which is fine by me. I do kind of like the communal aspect of dining in this kind of situation, where you do end up talking to people you might not have otherwise met. Not all of the conversations are going to be good ones, necessarily, but there's the potential for interesting things, certainly.

We've just passed San Luis Obispo, so we still have a few hours of travel left, but not so many. It's all farmland at the moment (it looks like grapes, I think, but we're travelling too fast for me to get a proper look), but we'll hit the coast in a while, and then follow that for a while, and I'm looking forward to that.

As enjoyable as the trip is, it will be nice to sleep in a proper bed tonight. And nice to sleep next to Rohan, instead of above him (on a different bunk, obviously).

And nice to have internet access again.

I guess.

Filed under: Travel, USA: 2012 No Comments
5Sep/120

10 Days Later

And then I stopped blogging for nearly two weeks.

Seattle was… a completely different kind of trip, I guess. Visiting people, as opposed to visiting a place - although we did that, too. I was pretty apprehensive beforehand about how it would work; before this trip, I'd only ever met two online friends before, and in neither case was I staying in their home. Or seeing them for this long. My apprehension was all for nothing, though: online friends really do translate into offline friends perfectly well. I've known all of them for years, and they were largely what I expected they would be, and that made it a really easy transition.

For me, anyway. I know it was a little different for Rohan, who had spoken to a couple of these people on skype before, but didn't really know them the way I do. It's something of a reversal from early in our relationship, when I was being introduced to all of his friends for the first time. Still, it worked out.

The Space Needle

The Space Needle

And instead of coming back to my computer in the evening after dinner, I tended to be talking to people instead. (Which does not mean that Amy and I did not hold conversations on our laptops while in different parts of the house.) It's unusual for me, that I was so able to cope with that much social interaction without just shutting down; normally, I'm not so resilient.

And no, we did not spend all of our time talking about the online games we all play.

We also did do a fair amount of sightseeing. Seattle is probably not a city I would have visited were it not for having friends, and that would be a shame: I really like Seattle a lot. It's a very food-focused city, which suits me perfectly. They have farmers markets where you can buy all kinds of amazing fresh produce, for example, and an amazing chocolate factory that is doing some pretty cool stuff with fair trade (and have salted caramels to die for). And then there's Puget Sound, which is huge, and all the lakes: it's a very water-focused city, which suits me fine. In other words, it's the kind of city I could actually see myself living in. It probably helped, however, that we had ten sunny, warm days there - I know full well the weather is not always that nice.

Cinnamon Rolls

We made these!

We ate some amazing meals at places like Mistral Kitchen, RN74 and Purple. We went wine-tasting (and Rohan even went whisky-tasting). We took a ferry across to Bainbridge Island, and went to the Pacific Science Centre. I finally got to go to a Fluevog store and try all the shoes on in person. Rohan went to PAX Dev, and we all went to PAX itself. We did the Seattle Underground tour, which was fantastic. Some of us went kayaking, toured the chocolate factory, and-- well, the list goes on. There were cinnamon rolls. And sadly, I'm already having trouble remembering what we did on all the different days.

In short, I was so busy doing stuff and talking to people that blogging did not happen. Or e-mailing. Or... much of anything online, really. Whoops.

I think Rohan and I were both sad to leave. We had amazing hosts (people we would definitely hang out with on a regular basis if we lived close enough to do so; alas), and between them and the others in our group, there was no shortage of good company. It's a little strange, really, going back to the kind of trip where Rohan and I see huge amounts of each other, but not necessarily anyone else.

The group of girls

Together at last!

Someone needs to invent teleportation now, please, so that we can do this more often.

Filed under: Travel, USA: 2012 No Comments