Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!
Mr WordPress on Hello world!
Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!
Wednesday, 23rd September
Some organisations make it really hard to pay for their services:
When I was buying insurance for my bike, I could not pay for it using any method available to me in Australia, such as using a credit card. No. If I wanted to do that, I had to use a US credit card. I also couldn’t go to the bank they have an account with and deposit directly into their account. No. That would have been far too sensible. And I couldn’t do a wire transfer to them either, because I didn’t have a US bank account, nor could I open one because I don’t have a social security number. As a result, this payment had to be done at a US Post Office, by getting a money order, and sending it off that way. Made sure I got it registered mail of course, as well as tracking on the money order, so I knew when it was cashed.
I got myself a T-Mobile SIM card for my phone for the time I was over there. This was another difficult thing to pay for, because, once again, the billing address on my credit card does not have a five digit zip code (post code). I had to go into one of their outlets to sort this type of thing out.
Then, as mentioned elsewhere in my blog, I got a ticket for speeding in Denver. Well, I could just skip the country and not worry about, but they’d probably issue an arrest warrant or something like that, and if I ever attempted to come back to the states, they’d probably arrest me or something. So, better pay it. Trouble is, the morons who run the financial departments and the legal/court system in Denver obviously don’t ever expect foreigners from outside of North America to get picked up for a traffic infringement. Yes, only people from Canada, the US and Mexico can pay their fines online. These people are probably more xenophobic than Pauline Hanson. So, I made a comment/complaint, and of course, no-one has replied. I visited the post office, again, in order to pay the fine. My suggestion – don’t ever ever go to Denver if you are riding a motorbike (the drivers there were the worst I came across), and if you do, don’t get caught doing anything wrong. I’m still waiting for one of those overpaid, underworked city officials to reply to me.
The whole tipping thing over here is out of control. I heard from one of the people I went to dinner on the last night that one of the bar staff at the place where we were having a drink had made around $1000 a week or more, just in tips the previous year. Was the service she gave that fantastic? I’ll bet it wasn’t.
I’m told there’s some sort of ‘expected’ percentage. I thought it was supposed to be for if you felt the service was good or not. Why tip for crap service? And does it even matter if you’re unlikely to ever go to the same place again. In your life!
And who are you supposed to tip? Everyone? Just the people who actually serve you? The guy in the petrol station who does nothing except take your money?
Well, I had no idea. So, I just felt that if someone did a good job, was happy and cheery to serve you, then I left them a bit. If the food was terrible, or the coffee crap, then that didn’t get them any brownie points. (refer to my comments on coffee!)
US TV is weird. Not so much the programs, which we get in Australia (eventually, at least the good ones, or the cheap ones), but the advertising that is shown. They advertise products that we would never even be allowed to advertise. Things like medications are right up there on my list of weird stuff to advertise. The drug companies are peddling stuff to the masses, that they should be trying to get medical personal to use or prescribe. Then they’ll have the usual TV version of fine print at the end “this product may cause all sorts of stuff we have no idea about, but we’ve told you now, so it’s your problem’”. In the same ad break, they’ll often have some sort of legal company saying that if you’ve taken Medication X, then you might be up for a big payout because it’s been found to cause stuff. Strange stuff.
I get the feeling that the advertising gurus here are trying to keep the populace of the US frightened or scared. And the number of ‘image enhancement’ ads, like the various surgery options, and exercise equipment, and the list goes on and on.
I tried watching some of their news as well. Each channel is biased in way or the other for or against the current government. I suspect it doesn’t matter who’s in government. There isn’t very much of outside news being shown. If you want to know what’s going on in the world, then on the advice of a barkeeper I met in Illinois, switch to BBC World.
They have dozens of sports shows. Once again, unless you have an interest in the local American Football, baseball, NASCAR, INDY, European soccer, boxing/fighting, then there’s not a lot on offer for you.
However, I did find on one of the networks, Spike TV (http://www.spiketv.com/), some Australian rugby league. They currently have the rights to broadcast into the US (probably Canada too). I also learnt of an American Rugby League competition. It’s about 10 or 11 teams, and all over on the east coast, for now. So maybe if you’re over that side of the continent, look them up (http://www.amnrl.com/). You might be able to get along to a match.
Los Angeles Airport LAX:
This would surely have to rate right up there as one of the worst airports in the world. You should avoid it at all cost, as much as possible.
There are practically no facilities for people who need to have a really long wait between connecting flights. If you have luggage you need to check in, and the airline check-in counter isn’t open, or they aren’t taking your flight’s luggage just yet, then you are just out of luck, cause the only place you can go is to sit outside, or in the very poorly appointed mezzanine floor of the internationals arrivals terminal, or in the space in front of the check-in counters. Apart from the internationals arrival terminal, there is nowhere to get a coffee or a snack until you’ve checked your baggage. If you have to wait around all day (like me today) there’s no options, or anything to do. It’s even hard to find a place to put your feet up.
Anyway, I’m sure there are much better places to fly in and out of the US. I hope VAustralia go to them, soon.
Getting fuel from a service station is another ordeal you would have to deal with, driving around here.
The easiest method is to just have a wallet full of $20 notes and just walk inside to the cashier and say “$20 on pump number X”, go outside, fill up, and come back for the change. You can use a credit card, or debit card, but you may find that it will ask for a zip code. A five digit zip code!!! If it does, tough luck. You can try putting a leading zero, but don’t bet on it. Some states require an attendant to fill your tank, or in these cases, they usually just hand you the pump, if you’re on a motorcycle. California has some stupid pump arrangement that is meant to prevent fumes from leaking into the air. This doesn’t work too well on motorcycle tanks, and it’s a right royal pain to get working correctly, first time. Even some of the locals I spoke to have a hard time.
Wednesday 23rd September
In a word – definitely.
I’m not sure I would want to do it on a motorcycle again. I have to say the service provided by Dave Milligan at Get Routed was excellent. The only hiccup was thanks to US Customs in the beginning, because they wanted to x-ray the container, and I believe there was a public holiday in there.
Having said that though, I’m sure I wouldn’t have met as many wonderful people if I had been in a campervan, or a normal car. Of course, having international number plates, and the kangaroo on the back helped. People here are really willing and happy to help out a stranger. Well, if you don’t look like you’re going to mug them, that is.
There is definitely something to be said for having your own set of wheels. One’s that you know, and can be reasonably sure is going to last the distance. Personally, I did around 17,000 km. Some others did more, some did less. I replaced both tyres. The front was quite worn before I left, though. I believe everyone else replaced at least their rear tyre.
If I were to do it again (either by motorbike or some other means), then I think that planning makes a heck of a big difference. I was a bit slap-dash in my trip, which has it’s good points and bad. I’d probably use services like “expedia” (http://www.expedia.com/) more and choose to stay in less places for longer periods of time. Do lots of day trips.
There’s a few places that I wouldn’t want to go again, like Los Angeles. It’s a rat race. There’s LOTS of places I would like to go back to, and LOTS of places I’d like to see for the first time. More time in Canada, especially in British Columbia, and then over on the eastern side around Montreal and Quebec, and down into the southern states of the US, like the Carolina’s, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. I’d love to go into Mexico, if the opportunity presents itself.
The interstate system over here is absolutely fantastic for getting from one place to another really quickly, relatively safely, and relatively comfortably. Unfortunately, for a motorcycle, they’re usually pretty boring. They are well serviced by fuel and food stops, lodging, and rest stops.
Camping can be a bit dodgy in a hit/miss affair. Some RV parks don’t cater for people using tents. And if they do, you need to be pretty self-sufficient. Some don’t have a store to cater for visitors, believe it or not.
Another hint for would-be travellers, is that Americans love their servicemen and women. I managed to get a discount at one place by saying I was ex-airforce, which I am. I don’t have anything in my wallet to say this, but I carry around a USB memory stick with scans of just about every document I could think of that might help if I needed to identify myself. One of them was my discharge certificate. So, as a hint, if you are in the defence force, or were, or even a policeman, etc, carry something in your wallet to show this, cause it just might help you get a few dollars off a bill.
I was lucky enough to be blessed with fine weather almost all the time I was on the road. I did get drenched near Washington DC, so keep an eye out for laundromats, and do the smart thing and pack your clothes in a big plastic bin liner. Pack sensibly, as well. Everytime I stopped, I found a slightly better way to load my bike.
A decent GPS with up-to-date maps is a must. I’d have been lost many many times without one. However, just don’t trust it blindly. Check where it is going to send you first.
Actually, the more I think of it, the more I would like to bring my bike over here to the US again. It was fun. Lot’s of fun.
Wednesday 23rd September, around 3pm
Well, the comment I heard “They do bad food really good, and they do good food really bad”, could not have been more true. I found most of the food from various small restaurants, take-aways, and truck stops to be unusually bland, really fatty, and just plain uninspiring. I think that Americans have probably grown up with way too many fast-food outlets that many of them just think it is normal. When you come into a smallish town in the middle of nowhere, and the first (and sometimes the last) things you see are rows of outlets like McDonalds, Burger King, Jack In The Box, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, that’s when you realise that you may have to change your diet for a little bit. Now, normally I don’t mind a good quarter-pounder from McD’s, but it tastes different over here. It took me a while, but I believe it to be the cheese. There’s a ‘flavour’ (and I use that term loosely) of cheese here called ‘American’. I think the people at Kraft have stuffed it up big time. To me, it’s even worse than the plastic wrapped, plastic flavoured cheddar cheese back home. Give me a nice Coon or vintage tasty any day.
Dairy products are a bit unusual. 4% fat milk is almost impossible to find. that’s probably good for all the diet conscious people, but what is sold and served seems to have all the taste taken out along with the fat.
Now, not everything was like this, thankfully. I went to a couple of really nice restaurants and eateries in New York where the food was almost as nice as the company. And even on occasion, something nice would be served up at a truck stop or fast food place.
The interesting bit was that I had a few home-made meals, and they were really good. Interesting, tasty, nutritious. Maybe not enough people still cook at home, and I don’t mean ‘open the fridge, remove packet’, insert in microwave, wait 7 minutes’ type of cooking.
Breakfasts are interesting. If you go for a cooked meal at a diner or something like that, expect has browns. These things are served with almost everything associated with breakfast. And it’s nothing more than shredded potato which has been fried. And they serve up a lot of it as well. Not for me, I’m afraid.
If you happen to want to have breakfast at a hotel/motel, then chances are it won’t be room service. Instead it will be done in a common dining room, and will consist of waffles/pastries/doughnuts/bread/toast/maybe bacon and eggs/cereal (froot loops and cheerios most common)/and hideous coffee. More about the coffee later.
However, I’m really glad to have come over here, because there are some interesting delicacies to be tried here. Some to my liking, and some not, but interesting nonetheless.
Oh yes, and if there’s one chain restaurant I really liked, it’s “Hooter’s”. Nice margeritas, not a bad meal either. Reasonably priced as well. Oh yes, the staff are friendly as well.
Let’s just say, I’m really looking forward to a meat pie.
It’s hard to imagine that in a nation of around 220 million, that a decent cup of coffee is so hard to find.
Now, I’m not any kind of coffee aficionado, but I can tell a good cuppa from an atrocious one.
I blame it on Starbucks, who are saying they’ve been voted the best. Something like that. To me, that just means that all the others only have them to use as a standard.
Almost no-one uses real milk. If you want milk, or white coffee, then what you’ll get in most places is some powdered muck (which isn’t milk, or even a dairy product), or a handful of small UHT style long-life milk packets. These are often referred to ‘half and half’. Now, that’s if you are in a hotel, truck stop, or even some of the restaurants. And the coffee often sits in those percolators/drip coffee jugs all day, and it just gets topped up during the day.
I can definitely recommend the Dairy Queen (just another chain restaurant) “MooLatte”. It’s quite yummy as an iced coffee. Another word of warning, an American Latte, is more like our Cappuccino.
An iced coffee will probably have more ice than coffee, and it will be more like an ‘iced black coffee’.
Of course I did find some places who had baristas that knew what they were doing, used fresh coffee beans, used real milk, and even had real sugar available. Even brown and raw sugar! Sadly, they were just too few, and far between.
Everyone’s heard about American beer. Unlucky for them, it’s generally true. Lucky for them, there are hundreds, if not thousands of beers available, so there’s bound to one that suits your palette. Lot’s of boutique pub breweries as well. I’ve taken a liking to one called ‘Heferweizen’. The spelling might not be correct. If you get it out of the tap, it’s served with a slice of lemon on the rim of the glass. It’s also a cloudy beer, kinda like Cooper’s. Samuel Adams beer, from Boston also has an interesting taste. It’s a dark beer, and is quite strong, I’m lead to believe. Strong taste, that’s for sure.
Canadian beer is better. Don’t know why, it just is. Was also introduced to some ‘additive’ which looks a little like tomato sauce, that certain Canadians enjoy adding to their beer. It’s different, and is an acquired taste. Makes the beer sweeter at the bottom of the glass.
Wednesday 23rd September. around midday.
It’s finally here. After about two months on the road, it has all come to an end
I’ve met some wonderful people out there on the highways and byways of the US and Canada.
I am passing my last few hours sitting at LAX airport, just waiting for Virgin Australia to open up their checking-in counter.
There are lots of things that Americans do that just seem a bit bizarre to me. I’m sure it would be same the other way round.
I’m going to try to relate some of those things here. Some of it might even help the next tourist from Australia to get around here. I’ll just pick on a few different subjects, as I saw them.
Americans must be the world’s best drivers. They seem to be able to talk on the phone, send text messages, read a book, or the newspaper, adjust the seatbelts on the kids in the back, all at the same time as negotiating bumper-to-bumper traffic, 75mph freeway speeds, and reverse-parking. Seriously – it is absolutely scary out there. As a motorcyclist, I had my eyes open all the time trying to stay a long way away from any of those idiots. It’s not illegal for mobile-phone use while driving, like it is in Australia, and probably most civilized nations. The law-makers should have a look at this. As soon as possible.
Speed limits are usually enforced pretty well in school zones (I got a speeding ticket in one), construction zones, and usually when entering a small town in the middle of nowhere. The police on the Indian reservations are also keen to add to their consolidated revenue as well. Be Aware!!!
Speed limits on the freeways and interstates, however are a different story. If you do the speed limit, everyone will pass you. You might even get blasted by a large horn saying ‘get out of the way’.
Take care in heavy traffic, because a space which is only about 80% the length of a person’s car, seems to indicate to that driver that there’s enough room for them to get in. I have a feeling that they believe that once the nose of their car is in your lane, then it’s your problem to ensure you don’t run into them. As a general rule, they don’t ‘merge’ into traffic, they ‘barge’.
Overall, however, I’d have to say that American drivers are extremely courteous. Once they see you. If only they weren’t also ignorant and inattentive, and put that bloody cell-phone down.
It will take a bit of time getting used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, and you’ll occasionally forget where you are, and drive as if you are back in Australia. To me, this usually happened when I was on my own, first in line at a set of lights, and turning into an empty street. After I while I got used to it, but those first couple of weeks, it was a bit scary.
Usage of indicators, and intentions of turning, don’t seem to always coincide. They don’t tend to indicate when changing lane on the freeways, and any time you see them operating, then they should only be used as a rough guide. Not seeing them working makes driving a little more interesting.
By the number of 4WD’s on the roads, you’d have to make a conclusion that the roads over here must be absolute horrendous. Fortunately, the opposite is true, as the roads, in general, are excellent. If only our Australian road-builders and politicians would come and have a look at how they do it.
There’s an unbelievable number of absolutely HUGE SUV’s and 4WD’s. I’m sure the reason we don’t see them on Australian roads is because they probably wouldn’t get past the legislators. I’m convinced that some people have to drop a rope ladder out of their door to descend to the ground. And they are LONG. When they park in a shopping centre, there’s about five to ten feet hanging out into the driveway.
Of course, there are the normal-sized family sedans, compacts, and wagons, but the sight of these ridiculous monsters on the roads, and for no apparent reason, such as a work van, or as a towing vehicle for a large caravan, that really seemed to stun me. I remember the comments made about the ‘Holden Suburban’ when it was released in Australian, and comments on the size. They are just Tonka Toys in comparison.
Almost all American made cars do not have dedicated indicators. They use the rear brake lights, instead. So sometimes you’re not overly sure if they are really turning, or tapping their foot on the brake.
RV’s / Mobile Homes:
Americans love their RV’s. These things are decked out with anything and everything you can think of. And there are millions of them. All different sizes, and styles. There are the ones that look like a customized bus, in the Winnebago fashion, and then we have the ‘Fifth-Wheel’ version. These are something like one of those huge SUV’s with a semi-trailer prime-mover style of trailer hookup in the rear tray. And then they tow around a great big long (and I mean l-o-n-g) trailer/caravan behind them. These things are decked out in the same way as the Winnebago machines.
On top of all that, not only do these people take half their house (or more) on holiday with them, they also tow their car, their boat, another ‘box’ trailer behind them as well. Sometimes all at the same time.
The one good thing about these guys, is that they rarely overtake you on the highways.
I’m told that a special licence is required to drive one. Scary.
But, I’d still love to go touring in one. Maybe just a small one.
There are millions of trucks (semi’s) on the roads, which makes sense, because of the amount of freight being sent around. The thing that I didn’t see, with trucks, was bull-bars, very few cab-over prime-movers, and soft-sided trailers.
There was the occasional fool truckie who felt that he should overtake another truck when he is only doing about 1mph faster. Unfortunately, this meant that everyone behind had to wait about three hours for him to pass, and then to get round both of them. Just a bit frustrating.
Truck drivers also seemed to have the same skills in being able to talk on the phone, send a text message, etc as car drivers.
Hardly Drivables are everywhere. Lot’s of them in the back of a trailer. Wouldn’t want to get them dirty. And unfortunately for the riders, they all seem to look the same. In their efforts to be rebellious and non-conformist, they’ve now become conforming to their own way. And some dress like that even when they are no-where near their motorcycle. I’m sure you know what I mean.
I saw very few sport-tourers out on the open-road. It was only in the last couple of weeks that I spotted some big Kawasaki’s and BMW’s in the eastern part of Washington. And, believe it or not, the only Ducati I saw was in a little place near Wenatchee/Leavenworth in Washington, called Peshastin (hope I spelled it correctly).
I the cities, of course, there was the usual array of motorcycles. Even saw a couple of those Can-Am Spyder’s, made by Polaris. These are three-wheelers, with two wheels at the front, and one driving wheel. Lot’s of trikes, as well. I guess these people haven’t graduated off their training wheels yet … (just kidding).
Saturday 1st August
The ride out of Las Vegas showed that apart from the strip, it is just another city, with pretty much all the usual things you’d expect. I head towards Hoover Dam. That place is pretty dam big. I did stop to hope for a helicopter ride, but as I was the only customer, they weren’t going to do it, unless I bought two tickets. So I stayed on the ground. More cars, more bikes, more photos. And then off towards a town I know is on Route 66, Kingman. More boring road, but then I turn left at Kingman, towards Flagstaff.
A little while along, I see a ‘Route 66’ marker, and follow the signs, with my GPS complaining. After a little while at a fuel stop, I get myself a ‘Route 66’ map, and discover that my original planned trip was wrong. Not too far wrong, though. Anyway, I am now getting my kicks, on Route 66, and I am now on “America’s main street”. And there is a lot more to see. I’m annoyed I didn’t get to start in California, but according to some of the information I have, I did in fact ride along part of it in Los Angeles. I just got sidetracked.