Casinos and Motels…life out of a bag.

After two nights at the crappy, but excellently-located Imperial Palace I knew that I wouldn’t quite be ready for the 800km drive from Vegas through Nevada to Lake Tahoe on Saturday morning after Brooke’s actual birthday. So I drove the Beast down the Strip to Sahara for a $40 “mellow'” Saturday night before I hit Hwy 395 on Sunday. Vegas, as usual, was a trip – almost as hard on the body as the last 30th birthday I went there for (although that was for 5 days!) It’s always great to meet up with mates from back home and party with them on the other side of the world. Thanks Reuben and Brooke, Thommo, Zac, Timmy et al.

I got a mental boost just before my long drive as I passed a sketchy photoshoot for 8-Ball Bail Bonds, complete with some ghetto cruisers and hoes out front. But this site wasn’t enough to keep me going and after 7 hours on US395, passing Shady Lady and the  Wild Kat out in the desert, by the time I got into Reno I was ready to crash. I checked into Boomtown, 10 minutes towards Tahoe on I-80. The fake cowboy theme is awesome, and I was impressed by the attention to detail in making up the bathroom. Another 40 bucks well spent!

The next night in Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, was less impressive – i’m sure that all you are really paying for at the Sun ‘n Sand Inn is the private beach access. It was pretty terrible. But it was interesting to see a fog of smoke floating way out down near South Lake.

And finally, it was one last night living out of a bag – after picking up Darragh Walsh at Reno Airport we checked into the incorrectly named Terrible’s Sands Casino. It was anything but terrible, with a huge clean room and bargain basement price of $32 between us! And it was much better than the motel we could have stayed in across the road. I counted it up – after that last night I had stayed in 4 casinos, 2 motels and 1 youth hostel in just over a week. I was more than ready to settle into our Tahoe apartment and unpack the bags for good…

Los Angeles to Vegas, Baby!!!

I don’t know where the time went in LA – I flew in late on Monday afternoon and hit the highway northeast to Vegas on Thursday. The major task in LA (besides doing a bit of shopping at the Beverly Centre) was picking up my car, the Black Beast Chevy Tahoe SUV. A friend from Red Bull had been graciously looking after it for the last 6 months I’ve been back in Oz…and she treated it great, giving it prime position with an ocean view down at Manhattan Beach.

I thought I’d live out some of my Keanu Reeves fanstasies by taking the bus from the backpackers in Santa Monica down to Manhattan Beach…but unfortunately there was no-one near as good looking as Sandra Bullock onboard, and with all the traffic and frequent stops there was no way the bus was ever going to get near 50mph. After a 2 hour trip with transfer at the picturesque LAX transit centre/metro station (by car direct it’s only about a 20 minute drive!) i found the car, had the keys to start her up…but the battery was dead flat. I hailed down a passing pimped-out Toyota FJ Cruiser and the ripped, tight-t-shirt, long-grey-haired and be-spectacled, goateed driver tried to jump start the beast with leads from his ride. The battery was so dead, and i must have loked so pitiful that my knight in shining (matt black duco) armour gave me a lift to a mechanic’s 15 minutes away in Redondo Beach, and took me back with a replacement battery! How nice of him. And chatting in the car it turns out he was involved with UFC from the start and had to rush off to go teach a mixed martial arts class at his school. Who knew that MMA fighters had hearts…

Somehow the rest of my time in LA flew by, however I did get to check out the monster winter swell hitting LA down at Manhattan Beach, and then neighbouring Hermosa Beach the next day. I do know that besides getting over jetlag, dealing with freeway traffic (and monster-sized road hogs: see photo) I remember a couple of trips to the DMV, bank and mechanics. But before long i was champing at the bit to hit Interstate 15 out to Vegas to meet up with some Falls Creek crew for Brooke van-der-something-dutch’s 30th Birthday!!! I really don’t need much of an excuse to hit up Vegas…And once I hit The Strip six and a half hours after I left, i quickly forgot the hellish 100km of LA freeway traffic jams once that first beer was thrust into my hand…But one nice thing on the drive was the glimpse I got through the smog of the huge snowcapped LA mountains (and whet my appetite for our magazine trip there in a few weeks time).

Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away…

A tiring flight with not much sleep aboard V-Australia…and I got stung for an excess bag even though I managed to swindle a free flight from Richard Branson! I guess it shows you should read the fine print: V Australia allow you two checked-in bags, but only to a total weight of 32kg! I was about 12 kgs over with my snowboard bag and wheelie suitcase, but strangely they just charge a flat $135 fee for the bag that is excess weight, but as mine was a snowboard (ie sports equipment) I only paid 50%, or $67.50. This is certainly unlike any domestic or international airline excess baggage arrangement I have ever come across.

Fortunately the seats are quite spacious and the on-demand inflight entertainment has quite a lot of choice, and even an MSN-Messenger sort of thing where you can sms/message other seats if they accept your ‘friend request’. But don’t bank on getting a sneaky exit row seat for extra legroom (as i usually do…and need for my 196cm frame!) – V Australia charges you $150 for the privilege of having customers to open the emergency doors and save everyone on the plane. And unlike domestic flights where there is also an extra charge, the femme-bot flight attendants firmly with their sexy smiles deny anyone sit in the exit row seats unless they have forked out the cash. So that was another negative to add to having to change planes and terminals in Sydney.

V Australia now have direct flights to LA from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne…so try and make sure you book one of the direct flights to save a lot of hassle.

Despite all the inflight movies, surf and snowboard documentaries, I got a little bored so took out my camera to entertain myself while everyone slept.

Photo 1: the full moon and wing out the window, holding the camera steady on long exposure – who would have expected that there were all those colours in the dark of the ocean and sky?

2. The self-service refreshment stand…a huge fat guy who needed the seatbelt-extender to buckle up around his gut cleaned out all the packets of Smiths shortly after this.

3. The cabin has cool mood lighting and glamourous flight attendants to get you in the right frame of mind…

4. With the fisheye lens out the window I got a funny sort of self portrait reflection.

Roadtrippin’ through the middle…

After the Oz winter, a literal seachange was in order. My brother, El Rad, had moved down from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and had a spare bedroom…so it would have been remiss of me to not take up his offer of a place to stay 150 metres from the beach and within 15 drive minutes of four world-famous surf breaks! If i could handle the heat, it would be a great time to learn to surf better and generally just enjoy the good life the Goldy has to offer.

So back in early November i packed up the orange beast and headed north up the Hume, Via the Newell Hwy through the middle of NSW and into Qld. It was two days, 1800km and 18.5 hours of driving time according to my dashboard. I had my serious camera gear with me, but i always like the flexibility of small, pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras. I have a little Sony Cybershot 8.5 megapixel camera, as well as a couple of Minolta film instamatics that i often load with slide (transparency) film and cross-process for interesting and unexpected results. It keeps photography fun!

Here are some of the photos i took of all the weird things along the way… Click the heading to see more:

After the Oz winter, a literal seachange was in order. My brother, El Rad, had moved down from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and had a spare bedroom…so it would have been remiss of me to not take up his offer of a place to stay 150 metres from the beach and within 15 drive minutes of four world-famous surf breaks! If i could handle the heat, it would be a great time to learn to surf better and generally just enjoy the good life the Goldy has to offer.

So back in early November i packed up the orange beast and headed north up the Hume, Via the Newell Hwy through the middle of NSW and into Qld. It was two days, 1800km and 18.5 hours of driving time according to my dashboard. I had my serious camera gear with me, but i always like the flexibility of small, pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras. I have a little Sony Cybershot 8.5 megapixel camera, as well as a couple of Minolta film instamatics that i often load with slide (transparency) film and cross-process for interesting and unexpected results. It keeps photography fun!

Here are some of the photos i took of all the weird things along the way… Click the photos to see them larger: