Back Home

from planeWe are back home in cold, raining Cape Town. Our flight out of London was slightly delayed. I was concerned because as I sat in my First Class seat (yes I love BA they upgraded me on route to the plane), I could see the engineer’s ladder with a whole lot of oil cans underneath it. Last time I saw that out of the window we ended up leaving 5 hours later and on an entirely different plane! And as we were late I was starting to put 2 + 2 together and getting 5.  Shortly after that they announced that the delay was because the incoming flight had arrived late and then they also had a passenger discrepancy and they needed to find Mr Ski and Mr Milner. We reckon Mr Ski had seen the Facebook photos of CT sleet and he reckoned he could coming skiing. We never found out if they made the plane or not (and frankly I don’t care).

I did make a chronic mistake and ventured back to see how Stephen was in economy. I got the fright of my life seeing those small chairs and ran back quickly into First Class. Admittedly Stephen did have the best seat in economy class with no chair in front of him (over the emergency exit) and also no one sitting next to him either. I needless to say did not venture back again as I didn’t want to frighten myself twice on the flight. I had dinner, watched Django Unchained (not for the faint hearted or anyone afraid of seeing blood and gore) and managed to get some sleep despite my body clock telling me it was midday.

ba planeStephen on the other hand slept for an hour from takeoff (mid-morning nap for him really) and then never slept again (and I can fully understand why). And he is writing an exam tomorrow. Could be interesting to how that goes. He did sleep for about 6 hours when he got home though. But then it was night time in LA then. So his body clock is messed up good and proper. I managed to stay awake the whole day but I can feel a haze descending on me as I type so forgive any missing letters/words or sentences.

As it is customary here are my concluding thoughts about America:

1. There is no such word as ‘Small’ in the American vocab. Large roads, large cars, large meal sizes, large malls, large supermarkets, large variety, large airports and most of all, large people.

2. LA is ridiculous big (and flat) and there is always traffic regardless of what day or time you are traveling at. Minimum travel time to any point outside your hotel is 45 minutes (doesn’t matter how close you might think it is).

3. You can cut white/yellow lines at will. No one will fine you (unless you are terribly unlucky to do it in front of Mr Chips). No one will honk at you. Given I managed to move across 4 lanes at a red traffic light (from thinking I was turning right to ending up turning left) and no one blinked an eye, it seems this customary driving.

4. You eat of lot of starch in America so I am not surprised that there are many large people. I only got vegetables at one meal and that was Sunday lunch when I chose the restaurant and paid for the meal.

5. Americans definitely prefer artificial to natural. My Dad said I could do a whole blog just on their artificial food. Artificially sweetened honey – clearly their bees aren’t sweet enough or their flowers are sour. Bread crumbs that include high fructose corn syrup – probably because their bread is not sweet enough (and about 20 other chemicals added as well).

6. They have no idea what Wiener Schnitzel is. They have a fast food chain by that name. I wondered how that would work but then read the subtitle which said “The world’s largest hot dog fast food restaurant”. No, simply no.

7. They are very customer driven. Store assistants, to waiters, to check-in clerks – they are all ridiculously friendly and helpful.

8. They are obsessed about not allowing anyone to drink alcohol until 21. You can die for your country from 18 but you can’t drink until you’re 21. I think there is an anomaly in there someone. Given I have a slight penchant for stats here is one on this point. Your chance of dying from an alcohol related death is 45% higher in the US than it is in South Africa.

9. They definitely have a gun control problem. Walking around Walmart, 2 aisles down from the children’s toys was an aisle of guns (mainly BB guns). But you could buy a whole variety of ammo for numerous guns. Seriously. Imagine going into Makro to get your ammo.

10. You do feel incredibly safe though. I never once was concerned that Stephen was wandering around with his cousin only. You have a sense of security at all times.

And given I think 10 is a nice round number to stop at, I will stop at this point.  In case you are wandering why I put a random picture of a BA 747 above, it was actually the plane we flew from LA to London on and was parked right next to the plane we took from London to CT (hence how I got the photo and yes I know my phone should have been off).

So this will be the last post for a few weeks. Only a few weeks because on 21 June we leave for a road trip to Namibia.  Until then …

First flight home

LA airport (at least the International terminal) has to be the worst international terminal I have been in since (let me think …) I went through the same terminal last year May. There are absolutely no duty free shops at all (or at least none to speak of). They have one place selling chocolates (See’s Candies) and another general store selling magazines, some sweets, the odd mug, a T-shirt and that was all.

Unfortunately our flight was also delayed but at least we could use the BA lounge. It was quite full though as there were 3 flights leaving simultaneously (or close to each other) that were all using the lounge. And we had a family with 2 small children – one about 2-3 years old and the other a baby. I would take the baby any day over the 2-3 year old.  He was charging up and down yelling, bashing on the keys of the computer etc. Eventually they announced over the PA system that children must be accompanied by their parents at all times and no running was allowed. The mother just laughed and said to the father “That’s YOUR son they are talking about.” They did nothing – he continued. No restraint. And I bet they think they are doing a good job of parenting. I was tempted to give them an instruction in parenting by pointing to Stephen and saying “Do you want your son to end up like him? If so, then some discipline is required because your son will have none when he is older otherwise.”  I bit my tongue.

The flight was pretty uneventful. Thanks again to my PA, Stephen was upgraded and so we were able to sit next to each other at least on that flight. We had dinner, each watched a movie (both of us watched action movies – we have great taste in movies) and then went to sleep. I woke up at (yes you should be able to guess) 6:15am LA time. Stephen woke up about 30 minutes later.  It meant we got about 6 hours sleep. We landed one hour 30 minutes later at 4:15pm. Bizarre to just have breakfast then get off the plane and it is actually late afternoon.

It is now 6pm and we are sitting in the BA lounge again at Heathrow. Stephen forgot to take his tablet out of his bag going through security so that resulted in a through search because he clearly must be hiding something. Hopefully the 10 minute wait while they checked for explosives, strip searched his bag, patted down the empty bag, re-Xrayed everything will remind him next time to take his tablet out.

We are leaving at 7:30pm for CT and hopefully all on time.  Will leave the lounge shortly to do some shopping for Helen.

Last Day in LA

residence innI think I have an internal clock that no matter what goes off at 6:15am. This morning I was again awake at 6:15am. I did some emails, wrote the Reception blog and tried to see whether Stephen was awake (he was staying with my parents). Nothing I did raised him so at just before 9am I gave up and went to breakfast. Most the rest of my family were there including my parents who had somehow managed to get up and leave without waking Stephen up (and he was sleeping in the lounge). Waffles for breakfast for the 3rd consecutive day. When else will I eat waffles for breakfast? Probably next year when we are back in the US again. (Photo is of the hotel room I was in – top floor – they are like townhouse units.  If you want to see more the hotel was Residence Inn by Marriott – http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/snapl-residence-inn-anaheim-placentia-fullerton/)

Our flight is only at 9:30pm so we had the whole day to kill. All the family were leaving at different times. Some had already left on an early flight to fly back to Tennessee, my parents & Jason (nephew) were leaving at midday to go to Tennessee and San Francisco respectively, my brother and rest of his family were staying on until Tuesday, my sister and her family were going to Hawaii. As it turns out, the honeymooners are also going to Hawaii to the same island (I believe). Hope they aren’t in the same hotel!

We stayed in the hotel until check out time (12pm). We started watching the USA v Germany soccer game on TV. After 18 minutes the US were 2 – 0 up (!) after a shocking piece of goalkeeping (the keeper basically watched the ball roll into his net from a back pass). We had to leave before finishing watching the whole game but the US finally went on to win 4-3 which is a big upset.

We had decided to go and watch a movie and we found a large shopping/entertainment complex nearby. Watching a movie in LA seems the right thing to do. We watched After Earth which stars both Will Smith and his son (as his son in the movie too). The quality of the movie was superb – best I have seen outside an iMax theater.  After that we went for a late lunch (it was about 3pm already) and we had that at a seafood restaurant. I haven’t really eaten in a proper restaurant (if you exclude the reception yesterday) and so it seemed fitting to do that today. Broiled Mexican shrimp and more importantly vegetables (I felt vegetable starved – always eat too much starch in the US).  Daniel had fried Catfish and Stephen had a pizza (and is still complaining about the coriander taste in his mouth (@Helen – son after your own taste).

Even after lunch was completed we had plenty of time to kill so we walked around the mall.  (@Michael – the mall had all the brands and tried to get them to agree on buying something from Polo for you but they weren’t helping.) We also went to a sports store and messed around inside there on the tread mill (which had Google Maps built in!), threw a football around, bounced a basketball and swung a golf club or two (@Michael – Odyssey putters for $39.99 – discounted by $90!). If I had space in my luggage (only traveling with hand luggage as usual) I would have bought some golf balls which were about half the price of what we would pay in SA.  We also did a tour of the Bose store – I need to get some of those mini Bose speakers for our house (@Helen – you will like how small and unobtrusive they are). After all of this messing around it was still only 4pm and so we went to the car and decided to drive around aimlessly.

cathedralOur aimless driving took us right past the Crystal Cathedral. I have been there before with my parents and immediately recognized it. Total fluke we drove past it.  But I figured it would be a good educational experience for the Stephen & Daniel. This is the Church founded by Robert Schuller who is a proponent of the power of positive thinking. While I like to think good thoughts I clearly don’t think as big as this guy (or as clearly). The place (because I seriously can’t see it as a Church) is over-the-top as it gets. The organ inside is the 3rd largest in the world, contains 16000 individual pipers.  Yes – not kidding – 16000!  The building is 415 ft in length, 207 ft in width and 128ft in height. The outside is all-glass and it costs $5m a year to keep the glass clean. It has two 90ft tall doors/windows that can open (see photo). windowIt seats 2700 people.  Schuller senior is a proponent of the health, wealth and prosperity movement. The problem is that Crystal Cathedral Ministries went bankrupt in 2012 and Schuller senior has sued Schuller junior and the Crystal Cathedral Ministries for copyright infringement and royalties. Seems like the wealth part didn’t work out that well. They have sold the property for $56m to the Catholic Church. They are moving out to smaller premises which they are renting and which only seat 1200 people. Seems like they are attracting less people. And to top it off, Schuller senior’s wife has had a stroke. Seems like the health side also isn’t working out. I think it might be worth them re-thinking their theology.

After wandering around the extensive complex we had worked up a thirst so we found a Starbucks. I hadn’t had a Starbucks coffee since being here and so that’s another US must ticked off. It was around 5pm and so we figured we would make our way to the airport given that it took my about an hour and half when I arrived. Of course it was Sunday so traffic should be less (which it was). lanesBut LA traffic still staggers me. At one stage we were on a 7 lane (that is 14 lanes in total) highway. And it was packed full of traffic. We found the Hertz drop off reasonably easy (after one wrong turn), dropped the car off and caught the courtesy bus to the Terminal (and said goodbye to Daniel who is leaving from a different terminal).

It took an age to get through security. They really are pedantically slow. Currently we are sitting in the BA lounge waiting for the flight. Unfortunately we already know it is delayed. Current departure time is now listed at 10pm. It is because the incoming flight is arriving late from Heathrow. It just means our waiting time is transferred from Heathrow to LA instead. Assuming we are not delayed anymore I will probably blog briefly from the lounge at Heathrow.

The Reception

This being LA, the reception was 35 minutes away from the Church. It was back near the hotel (which is also closer to where Rachel/Josh will live, I believe). The reception was at an Italian restaurant.  Never did get the name of the place. Something & Something (two names).  Could have been Alfredo & Tony Antonio & Giuseppe. Who knows, who cares. Found the place and probably won’t ever go back there again anyway (not because it was bad but simply unlikely to ever be back in Fullerton, LA and wanting an Italian place to eat).

We had to wait outside for about 20 minutes because they were not ready for us yet. When we did get inside, the tables were laid out by names of movies. You collected your ‘ticket’ at the entrance which told you which table you were sat at (that is perfectly acceptable UK English in case you’re about to complain). I was sat at the ‘Gods must be crazy table’. Could have taken offense at that except the table also contained Piers & Meryl (father and mother of bride) and my parents.

receptionThe wedding party made an entrance on the red carpet (Hollywood style) with each groomsman and bridesmaid being announced by name.  It was a fun (movie way) to make an entrance. The bride & groom came last to a big fanfare. They immediately ‘performed’ their first dance together. (Boy am I happy that I never had to do that at our wedding … 200 people watching with Helen leading … would have been embarrassing.) And straight after that they cut the cake and so all the formalities were gotten out of the way.

Piers (her father) then did the customary speech and this was followed by my father being called up.  He looked blankly at everyone at our table and said “What am I meant to do”.  I suggested make a speech as well but fortunately as he was getting up Piers reminded him – ‘Pray for food’! When he got back to the table he said he did remember Rachel asking him to do that. Problem is he remembered after he had finished praying!reception1

The food was an Italian buffet (Penne, Lasagne, Chicken). I wondered how they would manage the who goes when problem. But they did that really cleverly (apparently Rachel’s idea).  On each table was a question in an envelope related to the movie. Ours was what type of machinery did the main character try to master in the movie. After some deliberation and discussion at our table (we all had actually watched the movie) we pretty much realised we had no idea but then Piers sister said ‘It must be the Jeep – he tries to drive’.  And so we went with that. After the wedding party had taken their food, he called upon the tables to give their answer.  Once you got it right you could go and get your food from the buffet. It staggered the buffet perfectly and fortunately we got our answer correct!

throwAfter dinner we had the traditional bouquet throwing which ended up being caught by one of my nieces’ friends you just happened to come on ‘holiday’ with my sisters family.  I am sure her parents would be delighted to know that she caught the flowers!

And after this came the ‘Money dance’. If you’re not American then you are reading this thinking ‘What on earth is the money dance’. Fortunately I had an interpreter (in my sister) that explained it is a time to dance with either the bride or the groom but in order to do so you pay for the privilege. I am assuming the money goes to them. You only get a few seconds and then the next person is up. This continues until no one else is left that is willing to pay. If you did this in SA you would be standing by yourself until you realize that no one is coming. Last night they got through at least 2 songs before the queue ran out. Personally, the only time I dance is when people pay me or my wife asks really nicely. Neither of those occurred so I gave then dancing a skip.

Shortly after that the dance floor opened up to everyone and the party really started. Who knows when it ended because the 3 guys and me left shortly after that.

Now we just have Sunday left to kill before the long flights home to Cape Town!

 

The Wedding

stephen and danielWe left at 2:45pm for the wedding.  As can be expected, the Church was about a 35 minute drive from the hotel. That is assuming no traffic is encountered. Fortunately there wasn’t any because it was a Saturday. The Church were it was held was St Matthew’s Church in Newport Beach. You have to know the correct etiquette at American weddings and being from SA where we have no wedding etiquette that made it impossible for me to know whom I could have offended today. I know of at least one thing I did wrong – I took photos inside the Church. I did see that that they requested that we don’t do that but Helen was here with us and she wanted to see and so I ignored that and took photos anyway (sorry Josh & Rachel).  I did do it very surreptitiously at least (like a good Safrican would).

The wedding ceremony started at 4pm.  It was a Book of Common Prayer service i.e. very liturgical (look it up Paul – it can be your word for the day).  The full service was printed for us brittanyin a booklet and number 22 pages A5. My fear was that it would take 2 hours. It took an 1 hour 15 minutes – always good to come in under expectations. Seating for the families was set and so my spot was allocated in the 2nd row on the left. I fortunately had an aisle seat that gave me a good view of the bridesmaids coming down the aisle (and also Rachel coming down the aisle).  There were 8 bridesmaids which were matched by 8 groomsmen. Very impressive. I don’t think I could have found 8 Groomsmen for my wedding.

The ceremony opendown the aisles with marriage questions (Wilt thou have this Woman/Man etc). After about 2 minutes that was done and Rachel & Josh were strictly speaking married. However, there were 4 priests involved in the wedding and they each had to play a part and so the service did last a little longer than that (as I have already mentioned). There were readings, prayers, incantations, more prayers, a homily (another word for you Paul), more prayers, marriage vows, more prayers, ring swapping, more prayers, more singing by priests, more prayers.  The homily was very good. The priest explained that love is not a feeling, it is an action (and I agree 100% with that).  He also explained (from Ephesians 6) that marriage is actually a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church (and again I agree totally). He gave a word of advice also to both Josh and then Rachel.  To Josh he said ‘Every time you think you nice she looks, say it out loud she wants to hear it’. To Rachel he said ‘Josh isn’t Jesus Christ, he isn’t perfect.  You don’t need to continually nag at him and remirachel&joshnd him of that. He knows already’.  He said it much better than I can type it and it was quite funny too.

After all of this had happened when then went in a Communion service which took up the balance of the time of the wedding. This consists of an Offertory, Prayer for the Church, The Invitation, General Confession, Absolution, Proper Preface for Trinity, Prayer of Consecration, Oblation, Invocation, Fraction, Prayer of Humble Access, Agnus Dei and then Communion. Everyone was able to participate in communion if they wished by going to the front and receiving communion from the priest. Given there were about 200 people at the wedding, that took some time to complete (my sister said about 25 minutes). After that was completed there was a Prayer of Thanksgiving and the Blessing and then Mr & Mrs Watson were introduced to the congregation.

The reception followed and I will blog about that tomorrow am. I am just too tired right now to complete that bit as well.

cousinsamy1

Big Day

The day has finally arrived.  Bulls vs Cheetahs. Oh no, that’s not why I am here in LA. That’s right – it’s the wedding day. I was awake at 6:15am this morning and waited patiently for someone to arise from their slumber to go to breakfast with me. Stephen woke up just after 8am as Lynne (my sister), Sue (my sister-in-law) and my Mom went to make breakfast for the bridesmaids.  Apparently one of the many traditions in America around the wedding. The Aunts make breakfast for the bridesmaids. (@Helen I am sure you’re sorry you weren’t here this morning.)

After breakfast the boys played basketball on the court at the hotel and I watched the Bulls v Cheetahs via streaming (and it was much like last week – mainly jerking rather than streaming).  The internet connection at the hotel is about snail speed and about 1/4 of what we have at home even. My cellphone connection is 4G but the hotel connection is terrible. It was however please to see the Bulls win again.

After that I took Stephen and Daniel (nephew) shopping. We went to an electronics store just to browse. The selection and range is quite incredible. Massive store the size of Makro but just with electronics. We didn’t buy anything but we did browse and play. Then we went to the ultimate All-American store – Walmart. Which is like Makro but nicer and bigger range but cheap.  Bought a few things there (food gifts really because what else can you buy in America as a gift). As it was lunchtime Daniel said we had to go to In Out Burgers (which he claimed was the best burger fast food chain). And he was right. Definitely the best burgers by some distance. Also packed full and struggled to get a table.

Over lunch I got some more dirt on the girls who were flirting with Stephen. Lara (Stephen’s girlfriend) was pushing for details apparently so Stephen is having to deflect the pressure onto Jason (other nephew). Daniel wasn’t so convinced that Jason should be claiming any credit for Stephen’s babe magnet skills though.

We are leaving for the wedding shortly. It is a formal wedding ceremony in a High Anglican Church. Full communion service as well. We have been given lots of instructions of do’s and don’ts.  I haven’t heard any directly so I am just assuming that most of them can be ignored.  Anyway, I am the backwards (2nd class) uncle from Africa so they can all blame my lack of sophistication.

Will blog when we get back (sorry about no photos – tried to load some but the internet was SO slow it didn’t)

Rehearsal dinner

I had to pick up Stephen and his cousin (my nephew) Daniel from the train station this after at about 4:30pm. Turns out their train eventually arrived at about 4:55pm and the rehearsal dinner was at 6pm. That may sound fine but in LA where it takes 45 minutes to get anywhere, it was going to be tight as we had to go back to the hotel to change and then head to the venue. The car trip over was quite amusing. Stephen having not read the last blog post I had written decided to read it out to entertain us for the trip.  When he came to the part about him being a ‘babe magnet’ last night at the concert it seemed to me that he was blushing slightly (from what I could see in the rear view mirror). I remarked along those lines only for him to reply and say:  “Why would I be embarrassed. Girls are naturally drawn to good looks like mine.” Right … and clearly to modesty as well it seems.  Jason (other nephew) then remarked that (when we were discussing the table seating for tonight) he hoped that some of the bridesmaids or other hot chicks were seated at his table. He would be sorely disappointed as it ended up being 4 cousins and Josh’s (groom) sister and her husband at their table.

The dinner was at Harborehearsalr Trinity. I thought it was a restaurant. Turned out (when we got there) to be a church instead. Wedding party hadn’t arrived yet as they were still rehearsing. Always wondered why they called it the Rehearsal dinner but I think I finally got it.  The family get to eat while the wedding party are rehearsing obviously. The dinner was a buffet barbecue (of sorts) and was quite casual. (For Josie – Caesar Salad, mashed potatoes (American style), bread, chicken and beef.) During dinner we were asked to reflect on funny stories about Josh and/or Rachel (bride) or other reminiscences about them. Each table then got to share their thoughts/comments briefly at the end of dinner. Second table up were the older cousins (Rachel’s brothers were involved). And Jason (Rachel’s oldest brother) did the bit for their table. He started as follows:
“If you were grounded for reading too much you would be …. Rachel”
“If you once wore ladies sweaters you would be …. Josh”
and they had a few more of those as well.  He ended with “If you were highly opinionated you would be … either Rachel or Josh”. Everyone was laughing. The roasting/reminiscing/commending (because there were some genuine heartfelt comments said – Jeff, my brother-in-law, said at Rachel’s 18th birthday that if his daughter turned out half as well as Rachel, he would be a very proud and happy father).

amyThe last table to comment turned out to the younger cousin table.  We all wondered who would speak for them (their ages ranged from 7 to 15). My 13 year old niece (younger of sister to Rachel) did it and she pretty much stole the show. Not only is she a very confident public speaker, she managed to compliment her sister and at the same time about shred the reputation of her brothers. In the car going back to the hotel they were complaining bitterly about how unfair she was to them.  I felt their pain … not. My sister’s (Rachel’s mother) competitive, game show streak came through in the concluding event of the evening as Rachel and Josh played the ‘About to be wed game’.  Questions for each of the table to which Rachel and Josh had to write down the answers independently which were then read to us all. Questions like “Where was your first kiss?”.  Rachel immediately started writing, Josh sarachel and josht pensively for a few moments.  Rachel completed her answer.  Josh still thinking.  Problem brewing.  Josh pressed for an answer writes one down.  Rachel’s response was suitably detailed with place, time, etc. Josh’s answer “Kissing is reserved for after marriage”!  Our table submitted, “Who will spend more time on their hair”. Both wrote the answer without thinking and both wrote “Josh”.

Dinner was finished at 8pm and as the night was young I suggested that if we were to pass an Ice Cream parlor on way home I would be inclined to stop and buy ice creams for everyone. That lead to GPS’s being redirected and after various aborted attempts to find a place we did eventually pull into a Baskin Robbins.  Both going to the Church for the dinner and driving back again I have probably broken 10 driving laws by crossing white lines etc. No one ever honked their horn though. Seems doing that sort of thing is perfectly acceptable. At one stage I had to cut across three solid white lines (and lanes) to take an exit. The navigator’s attention wandered a little too much.  In addition, I managed to drive about 10 minutes without lights on before I realised.  Their are so many neon lights advertise that you pretty much don’t need to have any car lights on anyway.  We did eventually get back to the hotel and after a quick beer with nephews and brother-in-law, it was time to write the blog and then head to bed.

Tomorrow is the big day …

Bulls are playing Cheetahs at about 8am my time – must get to bed now so I can watch tomorrow.

rachel and josh1