Tuesday 14 January 2020


With thanks to Viking for this trip
Flying east is a lose/win scenario. The worst bit is that it makes for a long, long, LONG day - but, in compensation (and maybe as a direct result) the jet lag is much more manageable. So, I flew today from Auckland to LA with Air New Zealand in a strange, green-liveried plane that they had leased from Taiwanese Eva Air because of Dreamliner engine problems. The Premium Economy was still pretty comfortable so I had no complaints, though someone else on this junket had deliberately arranged her route to LA from Sydney via Auckland to enjoy Air NZ's comforts, and was disappointed.

Anyway, perhaps blessed by good karma because I found someone's NZ passport on the floor by the check-in kiosks and of course handed it in straight away (imagine the panic!), I had an easy journey and arrived at LAX fully braced for the ordeal of US immigration. Their bossy paranoia crosses borders: even before take-off, we were instructed not to gather in a group anywhere on the plane, even near the toilets. And then of course there's the sheer absurdity of the questions on the arrival form. I mean, that one about intending to overthrow the US government by force is laughable, right? And "planning to engage in terrorist activities"? Crazy. Also, on no account attempt to correct an error on the card: you must start again, sigh.
It's three years since I've been to the States, and in that time the kiosks have arrived, so ideally that limits actual contact with grim officials in uniform - except that my bit of paper came out with a big X on it, and I had to talk to a real person after all, and be sternly instructed to do the whole photo and fingerprints thing (again). But finally I was through, met up with my fellow travel writers, located our driver, and we were whisked off on this sunny - still Tuesday - morning along motorways and past those iconic tall, tall palms to West Hollywood and our hotel, the Beverly Hilton.
I knew they had very recently hosted the Golden Globes there, and of course the name is famous - but really, the hotel was a bit of a disappointment to all of us. It's very nice, of course, lots of glass and marble, spacious and elegant, but not at all exceptional. Even the entrance is tucked away off a side alley, past the car park. And my room is very standard, the only notable features being l'Occitane toiletries and the fact that the sheets are untucked along the sides, which is a small but very welcome touch, meaning no battle getting into bed when the time finally arrives for that.
They do have a complimentary car service, though - anywhere within a mile, so I lit out straight away for the Century City mall, yet another of the amazingly successful Westfield empire which seems to be taking over the retail world. It's huge and classy, with lovely open areas, and it's full of fancy shops as well as flagship stores Macy's and Bloomingdales. It was nice to see RM Williams there for the Oz connection; and also Rodd and Gunn from lil old Newzild. Mainly it was all wasted on me, though, not being a shopper despite being in real need of an outfit for a big family wedding that's looming - I was more taken by all the dogs everywhere, in the shops on leads and inside shoulder bags. That is a novelty.
Happening across the hotel driver again, I got him to take me to Rodeo Drive, on the other side of the hotel, and en route embarrassed him mightily by asking what I should be tipping him. Even though I was supported in the query by the Australian guest sharing the car with me, he couldn't bring himself to give me an answer. It really is an uncomfortable thing, for everyone. Why can't American businesses pay their workers a decent wage and be done with it?
I had it in mind to do a 'Pretty Woman' in Rodeo Drive for a little story, so it was disappointing that in every shop I went into, even the super-posh ones like Prada, Chanel and Ferragamo, I was given a friendly greeting with offers of assistance if required. Not that I would have dreamed of buying any of that stuff. Apart from anything else, those clothes just look so uncomfortable. How do people wear them all day without squirming and scratching? They're more like art works than anything - with comparable prices, of course. One woman I met was delighted to have discovered (for Instagram purposes) a diamond and emerald necklace in a shop window that was priced at $75,000. It's another world, truly - beautiful, elegant, gorgeous to look at, but quite alien.
Our group of six writers plus two Viking PRs - we're here for a big reveal of the cruise line's entry into exploration ships tomorrow, by the way - went to Catch for dinner tonight. It's a trendy rooftop seafood restaurant where we hoped to spot a famous face or two, but were a bit too early in the evening, our waiter told us regretfully. Never mind, we had a jolly and delicious dinner of shared plates with plenty of lovely rosé courtesy of our leader who, I'm pleased to say, is a wine snob with, apparently, a generous budget for this famil.
And then, at last, it was bed time. Longest Tuesday ever.


the queen said...

He can’t give you an answer because there are no rules. Some say if he owns his own cab, he’s a business owner, so you wouldn’t tip him. Some say 20% for everything. Some say 20% of a short cab ride is an insult and there a minimum of $5. Some are my husband who just hands out $20 for anyone who looks at us.

TravelSkite said...

I simply can't imagine how you guys manage with such a crazy complication of every little interaction like this. It's so inefficient! And a nuisance, and awkward, and EXPENSIVE! It really is a tiresome thing for us visitors to try to deal with - a proper spoiler.
This guy was working for Hilton, and the ride was complimentary, so that stuffs up any maths. He said he'd tell me when he picked me up again, and I was so fed up with the whole business, I just walked back.

the queen said...

I recommend you don’t tip anyone. Gary’s out there picking up the slack for everyone. (When he’s not around everyone gets stiffed, even the people we see regularly, like the Starbucks staff.)

TravelSkite said...

Well, that naturally appeals to my innate meanness - and mostly just passing through, not seeing anyone for a second time, is an easy get-out too. (Though I once unexpectedly had to spend extra time with a guide I'd already given an envelope tip too (because there were Americans in the party and there was national pride to consider) and that was just painful - though all in my imagination, of course.)

Tipping, or not, people who serve you regularly - wow, arguments both ways. Awkward!


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