Tag Archives: USA

Green Carded

I got my Green Card! Or at least, I have a piece of paper that says I have been granted my request for change in Permanent Resident Status, and that I should receive my card in the next couple of weeks.

Cassie and I went to the USCIS building on Washington and Sansome, where we met my attorney (actually a local attorney recommended by my actual attorney in New York). I’d gathered together the considerable amount of paperwork required, including photos of Cassie and I with each others families, shared bills, the wedding certificate, joint bank statements, tax returns and so on. After a short time in the waiting room trying to figure out what all the posters in Spanish said, we were called in to an officer’s room. He sat behind his desk and started to gather a load of forms together. As he went through my forms, he asked me to confirm various bits of information – my date of birth, Cassie’s date of birth, membership of the various groups (including the Carlton Dramatic Society – I was pretty thorough). He asked Cassie to tell the story of how we met, and how we got together, all the while making notes on our forms and stamping things. Finally he told us that I had been approved! We were in there for about twenty minutes, and it seemed pretty easy, all told.

One little problem raised its head. Once you start the Green Card process, you can’t leave the US and come back in until you receive your Employment Authorization and Travel Authority (or “parole”) card. So when I received it, we immediately booked a trip to London and Berlin (details later). At the interview, the officer took my Emplyment Authorization and Travel Authority card away, because the Green Card will replace it. My attorney told him about our travel plans, and he said I could come in and get a stamp in my passport which did the same thing as the card. I had to make an appointment for that, and by the time I did that, the earliest available appointment was on the morning that we fly to London! Close shave.

The Green Card I’m getting is actually only a temporary one, because Cassie and I have been married less than a year. After two years I have to apply for the full Green Card, but that is a matter of just submitting a form. Oh, and staying married. We’ll see how that goes…

Catalina Birthday Express, April 2009

Cocktails on Catalina - click for the full setMy quest to visit every place associated with a Will Ferrell film continues. I live in San Diego (discovered by the Germans, who called it San Diago, apparently), and for Cassie’s birthday we went to Catalina, home of course to the f*ckin’ Catalina Wine Mixer.

I’d never heard of the place until seeing that movie, and I didn’t realise it was an island off the Californian coast. I assumed it was a nice exclusive place on the coast somewhere. It turns out to be a beautiful place, with just a couple of small towns, and the same seaside atmosphere as Mevagissey and Brixham (or Ventnor), but with Pacific cruise liners dropping by.

We took the catamaran Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach, which is a bit like San Diego, in that it has boats and bars. It took about a hour to get there, first cruising slowly past the Long Island docks where my shipped stuff arrived, then across the channel to Avalon, the main settlement on the island.

Cassie’s parents’ friends had offered us the use of their holiday home there, which was beyond generous. It’s a beautiful place up on the hill, complete with balconies, lovely kitchen and living space, and an electric golf cart to get around. There is a law which only allows a certain number of regular cars on the island, which means there is a waiting list to have one. So most people have a petrol or electric golf cart, which suffices for getting around the town, to the grocery store and so on. It was very welcome, because it’s quite a hilly place – as you’d expect from a rock rising out of the ocean. There were many different styles of cart – regular Yamaha and Club Car models, as well some amusing custom jobs. In addition to the golf carts were many scooters and mopeds, and I noticed there were no regular sedan/saloon cars, only pickup trucks and SUVs. I guess every vehicle has to really earn it’s keep, so no single-purpose stuff here.

The first afternoon on the island we just had a quick look round the house, then set off down the hill in the cart to find food. There are a few places along the main drag on the seafront, and it was lovely to relax on the dock with a drink and take in the bay. Because it was the off-season, things were pretty quiet, and it wasn’t the hottest weather either. It was beautiful though, no question. Click on the photo above for some photos on Flickr.

The second day we rode inland to the Wrigley Memorial Gardens, a horticultural attraction dedicated to William Wrigley Jr, the chewing gum magnate who was so instrumental in the development of the island. The memorial at it’s center, built by his widow, was a striking monolithic thing, with even more great views of the valley leading down to the bay. The garden was full of native and exotic plants, with the cacti catching my eye as usual. Catching my ear were a few woodpeckers, which you could see hopping up and down the palm trunks.

We also went for a tour of the Casino, which has a fascinating history of big band dances, and no gambling whatsoever, due to it being a casino by the original Italian, meaning “place of entertainment”. It had rich decor, innovative internal structure for the time (excuse the enthused engineer), and a huge dancehall above a grand old movie theatre, both still in use. It’s a real icon of the island, and a real landmark of the bay.

Later that evening we took a night-time semi-submersible boat ride out into Lover’s Cove, where the kelp forests cover the rocks. We sat in the belly of the boat, looking through the underwater windows, while the flood lights illuminated the nocturnal community. Spiny lobsters by the dozen, bright orange Garibaldi here and there, and even a couple of lumpy-looking horn sharks. On the way back they switched the floodlights off and you could see the tiny flashes of light as the boat disturbed the bioluminescent plankton. Apparently the hotels on the seafront use seawater to flush the toilets, and if you turn the bathroom light off you can see the flashing lights in the bowl. I’m sure cocktails could have the same effect.

Talking of which, Cassie had her birthday while we were over there, so we celebrated with goldfish bowls full of booze, followed by driving around in a golf cart while giggling.

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 3

US UK
Blanket duvet / quilt
Quilt thin quilted cover with design on it like they used to make.
Sheet Sheet
Sherbet Sorbet
Fizzy sweet powder Sherbet
Comforter thin duvet
Flan Creme Caramel pudding like what used to make me cat up when I was a kid.
Pudding Blancmange
Dessert Pudding

Giving Thanks To Vegas

Late November, 2008. It was my first American Thanksgiving weekend, and it was my best ever. Cassie’s parents live in Las Vegas, in a nice gated community called Spanish Trail. In the few years they’ve been there, Cassie’s Dad has already got himself elected as the President of the Residents Association (or something). He calls himself the “King”, but no-one else does (except Cassie – she loves her Daddy).

Thanksgiving traffic is famous. I should have taken the train to LA, but I had a big suitcase, and I needed flexibility for my return journey. I was able to nip off from work early, but even leaving at 1330 on Wednesday had me taking 6 hours to drive to LA. Monstrous. Train for definite next time.

The drive to Las Vegas is pretty spectacular in places, with great expanses of scrub and tumbleweeds, and the orange mountains in the distance, under the stark blue sky. The problem is, the straight road and the distance make it very similar to the Desert Bus Game, albeit from LA to LV rather than from Tucson.

Joining Cassie and I and her parents for the big dinner were some of her parents friends, who were very nice, and the food was good, and the wine was good, and the surroundings were good and it was very nice all round. None of the histrionics I had come to expect from watching countless Thanksgiving episodes of American sitcoms.

The food included the traditional turkey. I explained about how turkey is the Xmas food in the UK, and that we don’t do Thanksgiving (I’m sometimes surprised at how many people ask me that). With the bird we had Italian stuffing, chestnut stuffing, cream mashed potatoes, pumpkin squash souffle and other sides. For dessert we had pumpkin pie (of course), whipped cream, chocolate cookie pie (not sure what it was really called, but it was delicious) and a cheeky little sparkling Chiraz (I know!) that Cassie and I have been enjoying recently. Cassie’s Mum is an awesome cook, and she loves feeding her family and friends. She gave me some Spaghetti sauce in freezer containers, of which I am enjoying the second batch this week.

There’s a common misunderstanding that goes around here about turkey. People say it contains high levels of an amino acid called tryptophan, which causes you to feel sleepy. This story gets trotted out every year, and every year doctors and scientists have to explain that no, it’s the thousands of calories and multiple glasses of wine that make you sleepy. That and all the college football.

While digesting, we watched a movie-on-demand. Having watched The Savages a couple of weeks previously, I really didn’t need to see Smart People, but it was the consensus. Apart from anything else, I didn’t care about any of the people. The fact that the premise is effectively the same (fractured family comes together, injury forces members to help etc.) didn’t help matters. That said, it’s true that The Savages affected me more because the storyline concerned an elderly parent and adult children. I still find myself affected by memories of the deaths of my parents.

So just to remind me some more about age and mortality, the next night we watched Young At Heart, a brilliant documentary about a singing group in Massachusetts whose average age is 80. They sing standard show tunes, but also adapted versions of songs like Schizophrenia by Sonic Youth (“You can’t understand the words!”) and Talking Heads songs like Life During Wartime and Road To Nowhere. The latter was particularly apt given that the original video for that song had the Hi Vista Community Hall Singers performing the opening and closing refrains – it echoed the community spirit of the story. It’s a great movie, and one that had us all welling up.

Cassie’s Mum (or should I start saying “Mom”?) asked me to check her computer for spyware and stuff, because I am that most precious of family members, the one who is “good with computers”. I agreed of course, and I was pleasantly surprised to find she is using Firefox, and her security software is all up to date. This is a big change from someone elses machine I used to check. One Xmas I updated their virus files. The following Xmas I checked their virus files and found they had been updated “…365 days previously. Please update now.”

Cassie and I had splashed out and booked a night at The Venetian, one of the less crazy hotels in Vegas, with just a small recreation of the Venice canals up on the 4th floor, complete with gondolas and boutiques. The room was pretty nice, a split level with a king-sized bed, remote control drapes, big TV, marble everywhere and a great view of the hundreds of air-conditioning units covering the roofs below. I was seriously coveting the lamps, but I have to be careful about what that means. We got room service and watched a completely legitimate DVD of Stephen Fry’s America documentary, specifically the episode where he went to Nevada and California. Nicely meta. It was interesting to see his take on Vegas while stretched out in a hotel room in Vegas.

That evening we joined the folks again to go and see the musical Jersey Boys, the musical story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It was a really slick production, with great a falsetto performance from the lead, and many songs that I never realised were originally Frankie Valli songs (like Bye Bye Baby, which I thought was by the Bay City Rollers. Yes, I know now, don’t I?). The show was performed in a special full size theatre built inside hotel casino just for this run, and it was comfortable and spacious – a big change from London theatres. But did it lose the charm? Don’t think so.

After the show, we had dinner with the folks again, and after that, and a couple of Grey Goose Gimlets, I was ready for bed. We slowly made our way back through the casino, drinking in the atmos, and finally crawled into the huge bed.

Opening the curtains by remote control from said bed was cool, but I could have done with a couple more hours in the dark. But, we had to get up and go, especially considering we had our drive back to LA in the not-quite-so-atrocious post-Thanksgiving traffic. It did take a couple of hours more than usual, but at least that gave us time to listen to crazy right-wing AM talk radio as we stop-started through the desert.

Region Free DVD?

When I came over to the US, I had a bunch of stuff shipped, including my (small and predictable) DVD collection and my Panasonic DVD recorder. This had been unlocked to be region-free, so I could play legally imported titles, such as Battle Beyond The Stars, with the terrible yet strangely compelling Sybil Danning.

After it arrived in San Diego, I unpacked it and connected it up to my TV – a bulbous CRT beast which came with the apartment, which functions adequately for for now. Sadly all I could get was the sound, no pictures. The screen displayed a uniform grey, rather than snow or a distorted picture.

It was suggested that the TV connection was the problem. Perhaps the UK version of the recorder wouldn’t work with a US TV. I wasn’t about to go out and buy a new TV, considering I may be moving in with Cassie soon – she has a big flat TV already.

This was frustrating. I wanted to watch my UK DVDs, and also any US ones I pick up or rent. So while up in San Francisco, I bought an Insignia NS-DVD1-A DVD player from Best Buy (the US equivalent of Currys – alarm bells!) for $30 – the cheapest they had. The guy in the store, who happened to be a Brit, said that it would either already be unlocked, due to the small manufacturer not being so much in thrall to the big studios, or would easily be unlocked by finding a code online. It is a dreadful little box, but all I needed is for it to work for a while until I figure out an alternative.

When I got it home and set it up, I plucked a UK DVD at random from my shelf – The Armando Iannucci Shows. This played fine – things looked good! Then I had a nasty thought, and checked the back of the DVD case – it was Region Zero, non-restricted. I tried a second DVD – A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, Series 1 (noticing a trend?). This was marked as Region 2, and the player displayed the message “Wrong Region” on the screen. It couldn’t display it on its own display because it doesn’t have one, being that cheap(o).

Onto Google for an unlock hack. The previous version of the player, the Insignia NS-DVD1, seemed to be unlockable with no trouble, according to a forum post. But it would seem that the NS-DVD1-A has had this terrible weakness fixed. Insignia say its illegal to unlock a player. Cowards. How come the NS-DVD1 was unlockable then?

Serves me right for buying a product named after a rank-smelling plastic-bottled 80’s men’s grooming range with a jingle based on It’s All Over Now by The Valentinos. Check out that clip, by the way. A woman actually lets her hair down in a seductive way, and a computer blows a kiss. And is that Feargal Sharkey? No, it’s not.

Anyway, as it stands I can watch my new US DVDs, but not my library of UK stuff, which is important to me. Maybe I’ll take this machine back. Best Buy best give me my money back. What a pain in my ass.

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 2

UPDATE: This is all being moved to a dedicated page, where I will continue to document the differences.

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 1

Key:

= pretty much equal to
~= similar to
/= not equal to
CVS = Boots
Rite Aid ~= (a slightly shabby) Boots
Walgreens = Boots
Target ~= what Woolworths could have been
7-Eleven ~= Londis / Wavy Line (as was)
??? = WHSmith (I’m still looking)
Reno 911! ~=
Sanford & Son = Steptoe & Son
Hershey’s chocolate /= chocolate
Sidewalk = Pavement
Pavement = road surface
Smoke a cigarette = Smoke a fag
Smoke a fag = shoot a homosexual dead
Rick Warren ~= Rowan Williams
Brian Williams /= Zeinab Badawi (but kind of, and I ran out of ideas)

The Same But Different, UK-US Differences Part 1

Here’s my ongoing project to spot which US products are like which UK products, because it has never been done before anywhere, in slim humorous books or elsewhere. These are my observations as and when I think of them, so don’t expect completeness or accuracy, or indeed entertainment. Keep your expectations low, is what I’m saying.

Key:

= pretty much equal to
~= similar to
/= not equal to

(* includes bonus reactionary curmudgeon entries! No prize if you can spot them!)

US UK
Pine-sol ~= Dettol
Clorox = Domestos
Good Humor ice cream = Walls ice cream (same logo)
Lays potato chips = Walkers crisps (same logo)
3 Musketeers ~= Milky Way
Milky Way ~= Mars
Snickers = Marathon*
Vons ~= Sainsburys / Tesco
Gelsons ~= Waitrose
Albertsons ~= Asda (I think you know what I mean)
Cif kitchen cleaner = Cif, which used to be called Jif
Jif = a brand of peanut butter
Starburst = Opal Fruits*
Bro-Magnons =  Townies (i.e. collars flipped up)
Glenn Beck / Sean Hannity = Richard Littlejohn / Peter Hitchens
Larry King /= Jeremy Paxman (no matter what Larry thinks)
Larry King ~= Michael Parkinson (i.e. sycophantic but with a delusion of being a hard-hitting interviewer)
NPR and its local affiliates KPBS, KPCC, KQED and KALW etc ~= BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service

Yes, But Who Is He?

While driving back to LA from Las Vegas after Thanksgiving, a process which took a lot longer than usual due to the holiday, we tried listening to the local AM stations for traffic news. Along with sparse info along the lines of “This traffic is normal for Thanksgiving Weekend, suck it up” we also heard a right-wing phone-in show getting themselves in a right froth about Obama, and how his right to be President is in question. The host and her guest were both blithering on about how they had read all the information, educated themselves about the situation, and were still not happy about the validity of an Obama Presidency. They claimed that if the evidence they wanted could be shown to them, they would be happy, and would shut up and go away.

Sure you would.

This article from David Weigel in Slate describes the extent of the conspiracy about Obama’s citizenship. This fringe movement, based around earnestly hysterical blogs, petitions and talk radio shows, has all the hallmarks of the other dumb conspiracy theories*, including the classic “Despite all the talk, some questions still remain unanswered.” Answer these questions, and ten more will spring up, usually at a tangent to logical discourse. And on it goes, like a child asking “Why? Why? Why?”

In the radio show, caller after caller came on to ask some weird question or make some crazy observation, to the enthusiastic interruptions of the hosts. Once, a guy came on to dispute what was being said, and was effectively told he wasn’t welcome because he didn’t agree. The host cut him off before saying smugly, “I have the button”. It was like the old James Whale late-night TV show, only marginally less sickening.

Philip J. Berg, who filed the first lawsuit asking for Obama to be ruled ineligible, also ran cases for 9/11 Truthers (this is true). He also has a case pending in the US Supreme Court about the Earth being flat. The globe we see in pictures from space is just effect of a fisheye lens, apparently, and the oceans are kept in place with magnets (this is not true, sadly).

Status Of Missing

So, how is the great experiment doing? Am I missing the country of my birth? A little. I miss my ex-dog quite a lot. My Google Reader feed of all Flickr photos tagged “westie” is either helping or not helping. I miss my good friends. I didn’t have such a huge circle. My brother and sister are up to their necks with family, so we’re separated by years, miles, and lifestyle. I miss them, but it’s cool. I guess things are still not settled here. I like my condo, but it is clearly a temporary thing, and I guess I want to have a home.

I’m trying to build up a circle of friends in SD, but that’s a slow process when I’m away most weekends. We’re having a work happy hour this evening, so I’ll try not to alienate too many people there.

I knew it was going to be hard, but the whole philosophy of it was that sample at the beginning of Sweat Loaf:

“… it’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done…”

…and I certainly don’t regret it.

Cassie is coming down at the weekend, and though it’s a little cooler here now (I’m wearing a suit jacket to work!) we’ll walk on the Coronado dog beach and have some fun. We’ll watching Gordon run in huge circles growling as he streaks past us, then stopping to frantically dig a hole in the sand and stick his schnozz into it. This will require a visit to the dog wash, which he needs anyway.

Before this though is another Friday off, which I’m filling with taking my PC to the repair place, my eyes to the optometrist, my wallet to various places, and my lazy fat arse to the gym (perhaps).

Result

I’ve not said much about the US election campaign swirling around me in my first few months living in the US. I’ve not felt confident enough to express my hopes. If you talk to me, I’ll explain who I wanted to win. But here, I don’t know - I think there are so many political commenters, I’ll leave it to the experts and the articulate.

I went home on my own last night, and used the TV to watch the results coming in. I was flipping between NBC and CNN. I preferred NBC, even though their graphics were a bit shiney-shiney. I like NBC anchor Brian Williams, he’s very funny when he appears as a guest on the Daily Show. I don’t watch TV news normally. The KPBS newsroom just looked a bit sad and, well, publically funded. “No commercials; No mercy!”

California lags behind of course, due to the vastness of the country. So Obama was announced President-Elect at 8pm local time, just as the CA voting closed. It was pretty clear by then, but still it needed to be stated. It was kind of funny that they were in a commercial break, and when they returned, the news was announced as if it had happened about a minute ago. Why didn’t they break from commercial to bring us the news?

I enjoyed watching McCain’s “gracious” concession speech. I used quotes there to show that the general concensus is that the speech was gracious, not to show that I don’t think that. He even managed to quiet the booing hundreds when he mentioned Obama – a nice change from whipping them up yesterday and throughout the campaign. Palin said nothing. Good. She’ll be back though, despite being a major reason people voted against McCain.

I was folding laundry while Obama gave his speech. It was fine, no surprises (apart from the puppy!). He’s a good talker, no doubt. The part where he would end a paragraph with, “yes we can” and the crowd would respond irritated me a bit. It sounded like a church service with the little interruptions from the congregation that I only see when I go to weddings. Or like Adama from Battlestar Galactica saying, “So say we all!”.

I was also watching a few websites – CNN, NBC, NPR local affiliate KPBS, FiveThirtyEight.com, Twitter, and of course, LittleGreenFootballs.com. All were slow to update, but that may have been my PC being an old one of Cassie’s, until I can get my proper one fixed. Seeing as all the results came from the Assoicated Press, it was just a case of the various channels interpreting the data. It was pretty frutrating at times, seeing such a big disparity between the channels, and waiting for the refresh.

It was also frustraing that all the news sites I was looking at didn’t mention the ballot measure Prop 1A for a Californian High Speed Rail system. This is dear to me because it is the project  I was (kind of) brought to the US to work on. If it had failed, there was a risk I would have no project to work on – although I had been assured by my masters that I would have been found something else to do. The stationery cabinet needs organising, for example. We need firewood for the approaching winter.

I found that KPBS had the most detailed local results. When I went to bed, I was a bit nervous, but the Trader Joes pizza and Karl Strauss beer helped me drift off. Prop 1A was trailing in the results, with about half the precincts having returned their totals. When I awoke, however, 95% of the precincts had returned, and Proposition 1A had passed!

Other good news (IMHO) from the ballot measures: Prop 2 has passed (food animal welfare); Prop 3 has passed (childrens hospitals); Prop 4 has failed (doctors informing parents about abortions on minors).

Bad news: Prop 8 passed, in a shameful display of bigotry and paranoia. Replace the word “gay” with the word “interracial” in the measure text, and see what you get. “But think of the children!”. Oh grow up. In California of all places! “But the Bible says…”. Stop. Your holy book does not apply to everyone.

Also Props 7 and 10 for renewal energy and alterntaive fuel vehicles failed. Fair enough, the price of oil is coming down now. You thick f*cks.

I spoke to Cassie a couple of times. She was with her roommate and a few friends in LA, having a little Election Night party. We were nervous at first, then relieved, then nervous again as the votes for the California Ballot Measures came in. Cassie told me her roommate Brendan looked like her nephew on Xmas morning. Big grin.

The atmos in the office is quiet (then again it is just 8am). I think many people will be happy, but equally as many will not be. Unfortunately, some of those are people who think Obama is a secret Muslim, and that abortion should be made illegal, and that God said marriage is one man and one woman, and why should I have to teach my children about gays? So no party poppers here. But there will be some secret smiles in the corridors.

All this, and I didn’t even vote!