Tag Archives: Travel

My TSA Opt-out Story

[Found this on my phone – I’d started writing it using the very good WordPress Android app, then failed to follow through – what are the chances?]

I’m in Legends of San Francisco, the sports bar near our departure gate at SFO. We’re flying to Las Vegas for Xmas – Cassie’s folks are there, and her brother and his family will be there as well so we’re all heading down there.

I’d forgotten about the new body scanning machines. They look a bit like the machine Sam Malone uses in Quantum Leap, crossed with a smaller version of the giant machine in Contact, but without the dry ice and catastrophic failure. I’ve read a lot about these things, and the horror stories about pregnant ladies, children, people in wheelchairs and so on. So here’s my less-than-dramatic experience.

After I put my stuff in the trays, I stood for a second, and then the TSA person waved me toward the scanner. I said I preferred to opt out. There was a flicker of annoyance on the TSA guy’s face, perhaps a very slight eye-roll, and I was asked to stand aside. I had to wait a second because it was busy (although not as busy as we’d expected) they had to bring someone over.

The guy asked me why I wanted to opt out. I said it was because of the issues surrounding storage of the images, and (stupidly) because of the dangers of the radiation. He said that there was no danger from the radiation, and that the images were stored in a computer “just behind that wall there”. Why the location of the stored images of my family jewels matters, I don’t know. I didn’t say anything to that, but it’s well know that despite the TSA claiming that the machines cannot store images, despite the unpleasant (and obvious) fact that they TOTALLY CAN.

I am annoyed with myself for mentioning the radiation. I guess I was a little nervous, so I wanted to say what other people seem to be saying, but I know pretty well the “radiation” is a lower dose than you would get just be being at 30,000 feet anyway.

The second TSA guy took me aside, I stood on the mat with my feet in the foot marks, and he did the enhanced patdown. It wasn’t so bad, it was mostly like the regular one: all around the arms, legs, waist, back and front. When it came to the groinal areas, he went as far as the upper thigh and no further. There was no cupping. It wasn’t like the bit from Andrew Dice Clay about an examination at the doctors, “Then he starts jugglin’ my cojones like he’s looking fer ripe tomaters! I said ‘back off man this ain’t no fuckin’ social call!'”.

That was that. Cassie opted out as well, and she says it was the same for her with her TSA lady. All pretty friendly, and utterly pointless. But just to reiterate: There was no cupping.

Two-Wheel Stallions

Friend Brian, aka Zom-B, founder of the Vespastics Scooter Club and the Black Pudding Motorcycle Club, host of the Moto Zombi parties in North Hollywood, bass player with The Crazees, makeup artist, and so much more besides is off to Sturgis*.

Brian and his friend Ethan left LA yesterday, and they plan to reach North Dakota by the weekend.

Check it out.

* yup, you can be both a scooter rider and a biker.

Trip II The UK (2010 Mix)

This is an updated draft itinerary for Cassie’s and my trip to the UK in 2010.

  • Fly Sunday 27th June – DONE
  • Arrive Monday 28th June – DONE
  • Stay with James & Siobhan at first – DONE, LOVELY
  • Stay in London couple of days – DONE
  • Train to Bedford on Thursday 1st July / picked up by brother – DONE
  • Stay in Bedford Thursday night – DONE
  • Friday 2nd July – do Bedford things, show Cassie my home town, school etc – DONE
  • Friday afternoon – Travel to Reading to see sister – DONE
  • Stay in Reading Friday night – DONE
  • Saturday 3rd July – Matthew travel to London, Cassie travel to Bristol – DONE
  • Stay in a hotel Monday 5th – Thursday 8th
  • Fly back to San Francisco on Thursday July 8th

At some point I need to sort out Tooting flat.

Foods From Distant Lands And Also The UK

I came home today to find a parcel from the UK with some happily familiar handwriting on it. It turned out to be a food parcel from my good pal Fleshisgrass, whom I miss terribliy and look forward to seeing in the next couploe of months.

The Teva shoe box contained some pretty exotic stuff, and I will need to consult the sender to ask what I can do with it. My first question will be, “Can an omelet be improved with the addition of Asafoetida Powder?” I see her game – a sneaky way to get me to get in touch.

In addition to said powder, the box contains:

  • Charmagaz
  • Chili/Lemon Cassava Chips
  • Kala Nimak
  • Kalonji
  • Salted Tamarind
  • Anardina (Pomegranate) Seeds
  • Sesame Almonds
  • Brown Rice Vermicelli
  • Black Till Seeds

Not stuff I’m used to, by any means, despite having lived in South West London for ten years. The chips and anardina seeds will just be snacks at work. But I’m going to make an effort to put them all to good use. Anyone have any recipes?

Flesh, thank you. I miss you pal, and I’ll see you soon.

A-Movin’ And A-Truckin’

Cassie and I moved in together, at the same time moving north to San Francisco. Double whammy! Luckily, my company paid for the move, so we were able to sit back and relax as paid men boxed all our crap personal effects and loaded it onto trucks.

They were amazingly quick, because they weren’t distracted by everything they picked up, like books or scraps of paper, they just packed everything in their path. They were like locusts, it was incredible. We had to shift all of the stuff they weren’t to take out of the way. That was easier for me, because I was living alone in San Diego, and I had a spare room. I just put my suitcase and the stuff I was taking by car in there and told them to ignore it. It was harder for Cassie, because she had a roommate, and lots of his stuff was mixed up with hers, especially in the kitchen.

But because they were so quick, they also ended up packing some stuff that was a little unnecessary. They would open a drawer, take a sheet of their wrapping paper, grab a handful of the drawer contents, and wrap it up, almost without looking at it. This meant that when we were unpacking, we would open a bundle of paper to find that they had wrapped a couple of paper clips, a half-burned tea light and some lint. If we had packed, it would have taken ages, but we would have purged at the same time. As it was, while unpacking at the other end we filled the trashcan twice over, and the recycling bin, and two or three boxes for the thrift store.

It was kind of embarrassing to have them running up and down stairs in San Diego on a very hot day, while I literally just sat on the sofa. There was nowhere else to sit, the sofa wasn’t being moved, and it was out of the way. I walked to 7-11 and got them cold drinks, but other than that I was just hanging around, keeping out of their way and answering questions from time to time.

Once they had left me alone in my little place in San Diego, Rimah, the best landlord I’ve ever had, came over and we did the paperwork and final sorting out. Then it was time to hit the road, first to LA, where Cassie had just said goodbye to all her stuff as the movers whisked it away.

Her place looked weird, completely empty. I don’t think her roommate had much of an idea how much of the furniture was hers. A blank slate, so he can make his mark. We spent a day or so making final preparations, meeting friends, feeling too hot thanks to the local brushfires, and getting psyched up. Then we hit the road, Cassie in her Jeep and me in my Audi, stopping first at Home for a final breakfast. We didn’t plan to drive caravan the whole way, but that’s the way it ended up. We got a mighty convoy, ain’t she a beautiful sight, only with Bluetooth instead of CB Radio. We only got split up in the morass to pay your toll and get over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco itself. Once we arrived, we had a bit of a rest before inflating our temporary air beds and getting comfortable before the delivery of our stuff.

In San Francisco it was the same embarrassing situation. I stood there with a clipboard, while the movers dealt with the stairs, boxes, and sweat. When they left, Cassie and I were stuck with the task of trying to make all this stuff fit in our apartment. We’re still trying now,  but slowly and surely we’re getting there.

After unpacking, we had a dozen boxes filled with flattened other boxes and wrapping paper. A call to the movers and they came and collected that as well, for reuse or recycling.

And here we are! It’s been couple of weeks, and we’re pretty settled, but there are some boxes around the place which whisper to us and make us feel guilty when we watching whatever’s On Demand on the cable. Soon, my boxy friends. Soon.

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.

Nautical Coincidence

I was helping Cassie clear out some stuff, including loads of old papers, and we found the paperwork for when she had her belongings shipped from London to Las Vegas via New York. I don’t know how much unlikely this is, or whether it is a perfectly reasonable coincidence, but her stuff was shipped London-New York in June 2005 on the exact same ship that carried mine London-Los Angeles in June 2008.

If it was the same route I would be less intrigued; they probably just go back and forth constantly. But in 2005 it just went across the Atlantic, whereas in 2008 it crossed the Pond and then nipped through the Panama Canal. What are the chances? Just an intriguing coincidence, or (anecdotal) evidence of a higher power with his/her/its hand at the controls?

On The Cusp(id) of 2008-2009

~ Better two months late than never, that’s what I always (have to) say. This is one of those summary-style posts that simply serve to let the folks back home know what I’ve been up to. ~ 

As is now tradition, Cassie and I started the Xmas season with a nice meal at LA Prime, at the top of the Hotel Bonaventure in downtown LA. Steak, Vodka Gimlets (Dirty Martinis) and a bit of a view, along with the cool glass elevator ride, and the Logan’s Run lobby.

Most of Xmas Eve we spent driving up to San Francisco to stay with Cassie’s brother Don and his family, like last year. They have a beautiful house out in Orinda, and as they have the large (soon to be larger!) family, they’re the holiday destination.

The 24th is Cassie’s eldest nephew George’s birthday, and he was turning 5. He got the usual shower of gifts (kids these days eh, etc) and traditionally he had his choice of dinner, which this time was sushi. Actually he seemed more into the udon soup and tempura, which left more dragon rolls for us.

Xmas Day was as you’d expect. Pyjamas, paper, gifts, food, drink, toys, music. Cassie’s Mum (Mom) Joan did another fantastic job of feeding us. She’s great. Sugary rolls and strata for breakfast, then more deliciousness throughout the day. Coffee, however, was an issue.

Over the holiday period I was recruited as the new family engineer to try and get the built-in coffee machine to work. I managed it in the end, with lots of help from family friend Renee, printed instructions from the web, and frequent breaks to build up my patience with what turned out to be an astonishingly badly designed bit of kit. You have to open it with a key and remove half the fittings to clean it, and you have to clean it every time you make a milk-based drink. The instructions were poorly written and omitted key information. You can imagine the manufacturers response, “Oh no, it can’t do that. Why would you assume it could?” If I could remember the manufacturer, I’d recommend you not buying.

On Boxing Day (which isn’t anything except “day after Xmas” here) we drove into the city and went to the All You Knead Cafe again, where we met up with Taylor, Aaron and of course Chandra, aka burlesque artiste Ruby White. After a good lunch there in the bohemian surroundings, we wandered up and down Haight Street doing some shopping. Cassie wanted a new Jerry (Garcia) Bear plush toy for Gordon, and I was needing some clothes because I’d managed to leave a load of stuff hanging in Cassie’s closet in LA. There are loads of second-hand and vintage shops along there, with some pretty good stuff, including an original Thompson Twins t-shirt, which I would have bought if it wasn’t for the fact that it was 5 sizes too small, $30 and threadbare. An amusing and incongruous meeting: while browsing in the headshop where Cassie bought the bear, we ran into my San Diego office manager and his wife, who were just browsing as well, honest. No wonder he seems so relaxed at work.

Don and family were off for an Xmas vacation on the 27th, so they left us in charge, with a short list of things to do, mainly involving Hollywood the hugely fluffy white cat, and Nora the pug, aka The Walking Meatloaf. We had to drop Nora off at the kennels, so we headed out to Clayton to Camp Four Paws, which looked like loads of fun for dogs, with large field scattered with toys and exercise equipment. On the way back, we stopped at a farm shop for something, and ended up being shown the shop’s collection of exotic birds, all chattering and squawking away in the barn. Strange little place.

In the evening we looked for somewhere nice for dinner, eventually settling on the Wood Tavern in Oakland. This had been recommended by Don and Darien, and we weren’t disappointed. They were very friendly, the food was great, the refilled cocktails were delicious, and the fact they (accidentally?) forgot to charge us for our entrees was very nice. We left a huge tip, and left quickly.

Saturday saw us back in the city at Chandra’s, for a little gathering to talk, listen to music, and experiment with a bottle of Pisco. It was also my first experience of a Sloppy Joe sandwich, which was very yummy. We started out trying to make proper Pisco Sours, but as these things often do, it deteriorated into random drink mixing. Singing about the Pisco Disco to the tune of Copacabana – “the hottest place in San Francisco” – are you proud, Petty? Really?

Back in LA on New Year’s Eve, I noticed a pain in my jaw, which grew into a huge throbbing and a swelling. I called my dentist (also on his holidays) and he phoned through some penicillin to a local pharmacist. Cassie also had a stinking cold, and she was popping the pills too. So it was that I saw 2009 in with drugs coursing through my veins, avoiding too much alcohol. Brought back memories, it did! (Not really.) It was really nice though, if quiet. Friends, decorated sheet cake, champagne, toasts, midnight kisses. Had I not been in pain and dosed up I would have been up for much more.

On New Years Day we were both fine as far as drink effects go, but we were both still feeling rotten with swollen faces and runny noses. So we ended up watching Arthur while drinking Perrier and eating leftover crudites with onion dip. Not the start of a diet, I hasten to add, we just didn’t feel like anything more. Just to add to the health kick, the next day we walked round Silver Lake reservoir with Gordon the dog, who loved getting a good trot in.

Then just before I had to return to San Diego, we had dinner at Brian and Stacy’s, where we stuffed ourselves after taking an axe to the Xmas tree and burning it in their garden fire grate. Those dry resiny needles went up like rocket fuel. One cute little treat we’d picked up at Gelsen’s was chocolate dipped fortune cookies, which had the usual mix of cold-reading nonsense (“things will change in the year ahead”) and the wrong lottery numbers, made palatable by a coating of chocolate. Talk about sugar-coating the bad news.

The cookie was right though. 2009 is going to be a biggie.

San Francisco, October 2008 – It Was A Trip

I’ve been doing a bit of zooming around the West Coast in the last few months. Back in mid-October (yes this is one of those “about time too” posts – the Xmas 2008 post is coming soon) was a nice trip up north. Thursday night after work I scuttled through the streets to catch the Surfliner to LA. After an uneventful train journey up the coast, watching the last of the sunset over the Pacific, my bird Cassie picked me up from the beautiful art deco Union Station (as used by Ridley Scott for the interior of the LAPD in Blade Runner), and we grabbed some food in Chinatown.

In the morning we (or should I say I?) finalised packing, and then met some folks for a nice breakfast at Dusty’s, a favourite of ours. We’ve taken to sharing breakfast plates, because with the rosemary potatoes, toast and jam and everything else, we realised we didn’t need two omelettes as well. So this time was the Dusty’s special (with a side of crunchy American bacon) and their delicious strawberry and orange juice, and of course much coffee. Then we hit the road.

It’s not the most scenic of voyages, driving straight up the 5, but it’s a lot quicker than driving up the coast, less hassle than flying, and until the California High Speed Rail gets built, it’s pretty much the only option.

The first night we stayed in leafy well-to-to Orinda, with Cassie’s brother Don and his family. It was gratifying that her nephews were pleased to see me; Bennett especially likes to use me as a trampoline. We ate dinner with Don and Darien at a nice little restaurant with a big gnarly tree impinging on it. We were tired after our trip, so we didn’t indulge too much before hitting the hay in Darien’s immaculate guest room (mucho Resto).

In the morning Don was making pancakes, so I grabbed a couple for the road, and Cassie and I drove to the BART station for a day in San Francisco. The BART trains and tunnels were used in THX 1183 before they went into service, that is, the original version of the movie, before George Lucas did his thing and cocked it all up with CGI. Pillock.

The first thing we did was to go to the California Academy of Sciences, newly refurbished with its famous turf roof. This was my idea, and while I’m all for these museums and galleries, with their agenda of opening up science to families and so on, but they do get a bit samey after a while. I do like looking at these displays, especially aquariums (aquaria?), but with the emphasis on educating the little ones, adults do end up reading how important water is quite a lot. Perhaps there’s a niche for a grown-up’s Natural History Museum, complete with dioramas and hands-on wheel-turning and button-mashing, but with the emphasis on the more adult side of the world of nature. Should be fun.

Sadly the Planetarium was fully booked. This was a real shame – I haven’t been in a planetarium since I was a boy, when my parents took me to London and I went to Madame Tussauds, had the shit scared out of me at the Doctor Who exhibit, and then even more shit scared out of me in the Chamber of Horrors, with its displays of famous serial killers and methods of execution. The recent idiotic (or deliberately misleading) comment from Republican presidential hopeful John McCain about a $3 million “overhead projector” reminded me that I want to go to another one. They’re probably improved since 1980.

We were due to meet Cassie’s pal Chandra at Haight & Ashbury, so we rode a taxi  with a funny and very enthusiastic driver, and hopped out right outside the Ben & Jerry’s right on the corner. Lunch was at the All You Knead Cafe, a bohemian joint with great burgers and veggie diner cuisine combined with old faded formica and psychedelic murals.

We hung out in San Francisco, met up with Cassie’s old high school friend Taylor, and went for drinks at Zeitgeist (where we got free cake by the happy accident of sharing one of the big outdoor tables with a birthday party), followed by a walk through the city to another bar, this one a nice relaxed pub, with stools at the bar, friendly barman (gave Cassie free drinks, eh?) and fun decor, motorbikes hanging from the wall, those Borg-recharger spark things, and classic neon signs.

To round off the evening, Cassie and I had a late dinner at Firefly before walking down the hill to catch a late BART ride home, which was kept lively by a contingent of screeching drunken cougars and their hopefully-embarrassed prey.

We slept in the next morning, as well as can be expected with three young boys running around above you (the guest room is downstairs beneath the kitchen). Maybe the pounding was in my head, I’m not sure. The next morning we left Orinda to drive north over the Golden Gate and onward to Santa Rosa, to visit with a friend of Cassie’s.

I’ve found that in the US if you add “West” to a street name, or forget to add it, you find yourself on the complete opposite side of town. So it was that we arrived at the Homeless Mission. A quick phone call corrected the error, and soon we were settled in the comfy living room of Cassie’s old friend Erin, meeting her partner and her cute son Bodie (sp?). He was engrossed in an episode of Thomas the Train, which is the US version of Thomas the Tank Engine. I think they changed the name because mentioning a tank offended the gentle people of this most pacifist of nations, and instead of Ringo Starr, they have Alec Baldwin voicing it. Bodie has this fantastic habit of not saying yes when answering a question in the affirmative. Instead he says, “Oh!” in such a way that you expect him to follow it up with, “… I do declare!”. Pretty damn cute.

For dinner we picked up a good takeout pizza and a takeout jug of good beer from this micro-brew pub, where a band was playing some original stuff to an appreciative and varied crowd. Having scoffed the pizza, we then finished off the beer and stayed up late debating the economic bailout and watching more Thomas the Train.

We had to head off back south the next day, so we strolled to A’Roma Roasters for some brew and an American-style Breakfast Cake. Santa Rosa, or what I saw of it, was beautiful, with autumn trees, wooden houses, and the old rail tracks that were used for the Handcar Regatta.

After that we hit the road again, and much later I was tiredly crawling into a taxi to take me home from the station. Home.


I took a load of photos, but my camera got dropped while it’s lens was extended, and now it seems to be knackered. I’m sure it will be fine to get the card out, but that means I’m in the market for a new camera. January sales…?

One-Way Ticket To LAX

~ Ancient history, from notes found on my laptop. This dates back to June 7th 2008, when I flew to the New World from my Old. ~

Waiting around in Heathrow, having cruised through bag drop, security, passport control and bought far too much duty free stuff, including the biggest bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Cassie will have ever seen.

Trying to find that most sweet of scaleable commodities, free wireless internet access.

Also trying my hardest to be excited. I don’t know what it is, but after seeing so many people before I left, all lovely friends I will miss a great deal, all I could feel was a kind of numbness. The only goodbye that caused me to well up (and is doing so now) was Shuggie, who at least was kind enough to lick my face and ear.

I’m currently trying each of the various wireless networks that show up around here, in the hope that one of them forgot to set up their irritating “buy your crappy web tokens here – £3.95 for an hour” page. No luck so far. “The Cloud” has a partnership with iPass, which is a system my company uses to allow employees to connect worldwide. Sadly, and as usual, it doesn’t work. And I resisted the temptation to include a modifier beginning with “F” between “doesn’t” and “work”. I don’t know whether it’s because The Cloud keeps hijacking the stream, or because of iPass’s usual sterling lack of performance.

More later.

 ~ *Real* evocative, Matt. Nice one. ~