Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence? (California but you know that!) Doesn’t it seem like only a few months ago I (finally) got my Californian driver’s license?
Well. At home you can renew your license for 5 years or 10 years (5 years now if you’re over a certain age. Ugh). Here (where, let’s face it, bureaucracy isn’t their strong point) they only give you a licence valid for the length of your Visa. Somehow though, even though my Visa is valid until next March my license was only valid until November.
I got a form in the mail telling me to fill in the blanks, provide a copy of my passport and my i94 and visa page in my passport.
Alas I never heard back and so you know what that meant?
Yup, it meant I had to go in and apply to renew my license.
Again you know what that meant don’t you? Yep, forms and queue. Horrendous.
We were going on our road trip so it was important for me to get my license renewed. Mr H was at home so could take over my carpool and I’d get up and join the DMV queue at 7AM (ish).
Trying to pack and get organized I needed to wash my hair. My first instinct was to put a beanie on, suck it up and head over. But with a bit of packing still to do, appointments banked up and precision timing required I decided the safest thing to do was to actually do my hair, pop on some eyeliner and finish the rest of my make up when I came home.
I head on down (still early enough) to join the queue. There is always the longest queue at those DMVs it’s a nightmare.
So to share my pain with my fellow expats living in LA here you go. Three steps to renew your Californian license.
Renewing my expired Driver’s Licence
This applies to renewing “in-between” times because it’s coinciding with your Visa date not the length of time they would have given you a license.
1. Get in the queue early. Best to be there around 7/7:15 to get the shortest wait time. Seriously. If you don’t want to wait in the queue make an appointment, it saves so much time. (https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/portal/foa/welcome). Having said that sometimes you don’t have a chance as appointments can take weeks to wait for.
2. Complete the form. It is the same form as when you applied. It’s called the DL44 and it must be the original form.
Some things you’ll need to know or bring to get your temporary licence:
You’ll also need to know your Social Security number for the form (I know Americans know it by heart but I don’t).
3. Wait your turn and they’ll process your form.
That may well be good information but here’s the number one tip I will leave you with:
DO YOUR HAIR AND MAKE-UP
Because they’re issuing you with a new license. That means a new photo.
Oddly enough there was no fee to get you a new license. (And on the positive how much cheaper are licenses are to get here?)
One more thing. And this happened to my son who passed his test and hasn’t had his proper license yet (three months later). And it happened to Mr H whose temporary license kept expiring and he had to continually follow up. If you don’t get your license back you might need to call this number:
Legal Presence: (916) 657 7445
I believe it might just jolt the system back into place and move your license along a bit. That’s because our licences have to go through an extra step. I was recommended to call the two weeks before the temporary one expires.
I’m not living in 90210 anymore, instead I’m a “Valley Girl”. There is a whole backstory (and a half) that goes along with the move but for now let me tell you this: I didn’t want to move; I wanted to keep my 90210 postcode. Who wouldn’t?
Apart from loving the area, having friends close; we were surrounded by “celebrities” new and old, famous and infamous. I knew there were many celebrities in the Valley too but most likely not in my street or little neighbourhood.
That’s where I was wrong.
Yep, my life is not scripted or made more dramatic for the Blog, my life is just very LA. The day a ‘famous’ actor moved in next door.
When your neighbour turns out to be “so so famous”
The day we moved in our neighbours put up a For Sale sign. Nice welcome. Thank God they did because they weren’t very nice and not at all friendly.
Fast forward six or so weeks (the house sold within 10 days of being on the market) and the house was abuzz with renovation. That afternoon I got a knock at the door.
(The shitty thing about moving down into the suburbs of The Valley is that it’s too easy to walk up and down the streets so we get every man and his dog wanting to sell us their wares and convert us to ‘see the light”.)
So that afternoon I get a knock on my door. And it’s not someone in black pants and a white shirt or someone selling LA Times subscriptions.
At my door is a rather groovily dressed guy in hipster pants, a T-Shirt, and a red baseball cap.
“Hi. My name is Glenn and I’ve just moved in next door.”
1. Glenn is not his real name so you can forget about switching over to Google ‘Celebrities with the name Glenn’.
2. He had the most delightful British accent—music to my ears.
He continues, “I’m so sorry about the noise, I’m renovating my house and I asked the guys to start at 7am but I heard they started at 6am.”
“No problems,” I replied. “We’re up anyway and we didn’t even notice the noise.”
Did I mention he had a plant in hand, handing it over as a “peace offering”?
What beautiful manners was my first reaction. It’s not often I’ve seen anyone here with such consideration for the neighbours let alone coming in with a thoughtful gift. Ah! That’s because he’s not from these parts.
It was a short encounter, he handed over the gift, we exchanged pleasantries and I got on with my afternoon. Actually, truth be told, I wasn’t very warm—I should have invited him in but I was so fearful of our dog weeing all over him that I barely had the door open wide enough for him to feel the least bit welcome. And why is it that whenever I get a random knock at the door I’m looking like shite?
Celebrity next door?
That night as everyone was coming home we talked about how exciting it was to have a non-American neighbour (sorry American friends) who was thoughtful and youthful. (I’ve guessed his age as mid to late 20s). We haven’t had a great trot with neighbours so I didn’t want to get too carried away. For now I reserve my judgement, on a scale of 1 to 10, as 7.0—hopeful.
My daughter asked me what the neighbour did.
“I don’t know, we didn’t get that far,” I said. “I assume he’s an actor.”
My daughter laughed at me. “Mum, you just assume everyone in LA is an actor. Or at least in Entertainment. They don’t have to be you know; you’re so weird.”
She was right of course. He didn’t look like an actor, he was totally unassuming and he was incredibly nice and polite.
So we started talking about the assumptions you make when you live in a certain place.
“What would you assume he did if we were in Sydney?” my daughter asked. “Well most people in Sydney work traditional hours. I guess he would be in IT (working from home).”
In Wales it’s easy as many people work shift work. In China … well I don’t think that would happen as everyone goes to an office–maybe work in hospitality but by that time of day they would already be at work.
So I saw Glenn a number of times as he set about renovating his house to move in.
He moved in and there was music coming from his backyard and a bit of life in what is otherwise a quiet neighbourhood. it was good. A week later, as he kids had friends over with the music going, there was a little gathering going on next door.
My son’s British friend noted, “your new neighbours are lit.”
“Yeah right”, I said, “He’s British.” We laughed and thought nothing more of it.
Than we noticed our dream car—Audi R8—outside the front of our house.
He must totally be an actor.
Living next door to a celebrity
Another week goes by and one night my daughter sees “someone” coming and going from our neighbour’s house. She yells from her room.
“Mum, there’s a famous guy next door. Is he visiting or is our neighbour famous?”
“I’m not sure honey, let’s see.”
By some stroke of a miracle the “famous guy” comes back down his drive.
“Oh honey, that’s Glenn. That’s our neighbour.”
Squeals of delight and excitement ensue with a shrill only a 13 year-old can pull off. In one Snapchat her entire friend network knows the news.
“Oh my God, I’m pretty sure I just read he recently moved in with his girlfriend. And <screams> you know who it is? It’s Hannah Montana (clearly NOT a real person but I’m not going to divulge her real name and you get the idea that we’re actually talking about someone with HIGH name recognition amongst the tweens and teens).
More squeals … and lots of Googling.
“Oh my God, oh my God, I’m living next door to HANNAH MONTANA.”
And so, my fear of moving away from the celebrity action couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead I have a bona fide ‘it’ couple living right next door to me.
Routes. Better known to us Aussies as which way to go.
We call them “roots” they call them “rowtes” (row as in argument not what you do in a boat). However you say it Los Angelinos love to talk about it. It starts every conversation when you meet up somewhere, and it will be the last conversation you will have when you part ways.
“Which way are you going…?”
“Which way did you come…?”
“Did you take the 405…?”
“Which way should we go, the 101 is busy at this time of day, is it quicker to use the side streets?”
Even recently, when an Australian friend was talking about which way her friends were going on the way from the airport to her place, she said this:
“From LAX they took the 105 to the 10 to the 101….” Only at the end did she say “they went via Downtown.”
The sad part about that is not that she just didn’t say, “yeah, they went via Downtown,” it’s that I actually could picture the “route” (said with an American pronunciation if you will) they took.
One time when I hadn’t been here too long and went off to Disneyland for the first time my friend said, “Let me send you the best way to get down there.”
“Don’t I just plug it in my GPS and follow?”
Which way you go is a sport in LA.
And now it’s fuelled by apps like Waze (pronounced ways) that will tell you the “fastest” way to get to a given destination.
Waze has fuelled the discussion even more making it an extreme sport.
“Did you check Waze?”
“What does your Waze say?”
And Waze has a lot to answer for in the back streets of LA. I’m too lazy and selfish to suck up my phone’s battery to use Waze. My GPS will be just fine. But I have to confess I’m getting suckered into the “Which route …?” discussion too.
Halloween makes way for Thanksgiving and Christmas … but in Australia November kicks off with Melbourne Cup Day: Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA
In one day here in LA the shops switch over from Halloween mode to “baking season” and, of course, “The Holidays” (as in Christmas, Hanukkah or Chanukkah). The pumpkin farms make way for Christmas trees—or holiday trees and the three-month long holiday session moves up a gear.
Meanwhile … in Australia the first Tuesday of November is Melbourne Cup Day. It’s the “horse race that stops a nation”.
It is by far my favourite day, so this week I thought I’d share with my American readers what Melbourne Cup Day is all about. (I think it would make a great episode for my Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom).
To start, if you hadn’t already gathered, Melbourne Cup is a horse race. As the name suggests it is run in Melbourne and if you live in Melbourne you have a DAY OFF work (that’s right, a public holiday for a horse race—don’t you love Australia?!). If you live in Sydney, like I did, then you either host or attend a Melbourne Cup function of some kind. Between my girlfriend and I we always hosted a lunch.
The rules of engagement are pretty clear.
This is a rule. You must serve and drink Champagne at a Cup Day function. The boys may drink beer from a bottle.
My theme was traditionally “hats and heels”. A hat, fascinator and dress are also compulsory. If you’re going to make an effort to dress up, today is the day.
I don’t know if you do a “sweep” here in the US. It’s basically where you put every horse racing into a cup and blindly draw names. There are usually few sweeps at different price ranges—say $2, $5 and $10. Then you work out the winnings according to winners for coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd; last place gets their money back. So if you put in $30 to the $10 sweep, you can draw three horses. The fun of it is you could draw a good horse—or you could draw a dud!
Lunch is served to a group of ladies, given the blokes are working hard at work. Even if you work, many of my working friends will try to get the day off so they can still join the festivities, they’re that important.
It is compulsory that the live telecast of the race be screened on your TV and everyone must critique the “fashion on the field”. Remember this is the day to make your mark on the fashion so you’re opening yourself up for scrutiny—it is possibly more serious than the red carpet on the Oscars.
The race itself
Literally the race that stops the nation, everyone stops to watch the race. Even if you’re not interested in horse racing for the rest of the year, everyone is captivated—and cheers for their horse to win.
Functions generally start at 12:00 and the race starts around 3:20. School typically finishes at either 3:00 or 3:30 clearly interfering with the race. So the kids get booked into After-school care (the busiest of the year!) and the Dads are on pick-up duty at 5:30. The older kids get their own way home because this is Australia and they catch public transport.
IMPORTANT: Unlike LA the race being raced signals more partying, time to open another bottle of Champagne or turn the music on to start dancing. It does not signal it is time to go home.
Then, when the kids and dads get home, the second leg of the function starts. This is usually a smaller version of the lunch as only typically a few friends kick on. The dads chug down 50 beers to catch up to their wives and the kids are fed dinner.
At sometime around 9:00 or 10:00 everyone has had a truck load to drink and walks or cabs home.
Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA
This year I thought about doing a lunch on the Tuesday but it’s already Wednesday in Australia so it just wouldn’t work. And, most people have to pick up their kids because there’s little to no public transport so I doubted it would work.
In a fit of desperation, I texted a couple of friends to see if they’d like to have a glass of Champagne with me after school. I know, it’s a Monday night but it’s still Melbourne Cup Day!
Thankfully for me they answered my call and came over. Then my Australian friends FaceTimed me from their lunch. It was so cool that I got to introduce my friends to each other—not that anyone could hear what anyone was saying! We posed for photos together and I got to watch the race with them. The wonders of technology. How fun.
Watching Melbourne Cup Day in Australia in LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
The day after the night before and life is back to normal once again. And back in LA it’s finally cooling down meaning we might get to experience Fall rather than summer. How novel!
It’s time for my weekly look at the differences between Americans and Australians. This happened to me last night. I don’t think this would happen in Australia but I’d love to get some feedback from my Australian friends–or others who may have had a similar experience.
Am I looking at Australians through rose-coloured glasses? Is this being a bit harsh on Americans (not my friends though don’t you know)? Or is it not a negative thing in a different context, with a different example?
Differences between Americans and Australians: my right to do what I want–you can’t make me
I’m sitting on the tarmac in Las Vegas airport on the last flight to Burbank (LA) and as we’re getting ready to pull back some smart arse starts talking back to the flight attendant.
While getting ready for the safety demonstration, the “hostie” asked him to please get off the phone as it was time to switch mobiles off. Instead of wrapping up he kept talking. She asked him again, quite patiently, to “please sir finish your call and switch off the phone.” He kept talking, showing no signs of wrapping up his call.
Then minutes later when he was ready he said goodbye and switched off his phone. The hostie then reminded him that he must listen to her requests while on board the plane.
“I don’t have to listen to you, I turned off the phone before we took off, I can do whatever I want.”
Here we go.
She reminded him again that he needs to listen to their instruction and cautioned him. With that she walks down the aisle to continue her checks.
He yells back again saying he can do whatever he wants. (It’s his right).
The supervisor comes up the back to question him further.
“Excuse me sir are we going to have a problem on this flight?”
To which he says,
“No, she told me to turn the phone off, I got off the phone before the plane took off, she doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do.”
“Well sir, on board the flight you are required to follow our instruction so are we going to have a problem with that?”
“No, I did what she asked but if she asks me to pick my nose I’m not going to do that am I?’
“Well sir she is not going to ask you to do that.”
Blah, blah, blah on he goes about how he flies all the time and has never had a problem and how he’s going to write a letter to Southwest and how he’s already spent tens of thousands of dollars with them.
Then one guy ( who can fend for himself) stands up and says to the guy, “please stop talking, listen to them so we can all go home”.
But Mr frequent-traveller-who-may-or-may-not-look-like-a-frequent-traveller is adamant he can say and do what he wants.
He is still rabbiting on about how he can do whatever he wants and his rights.
Meanwhile I sit back, three rows in front of him to the other side, and think, do I want to go home or do I want the plane to stop and get him off? My first thought is is he allowed to carry a gun? I’m guessing he’s not. Or at least not a loaded one. Everyone is a cross between disbelief, sitting quietly hoping the issue will be resolved and looking back at him with intimidating stares begging him to pull his head in.
All he had to do was pull his head in.
I’m relieved when the plane stops and moves forward towards the gate. Now we’re sitting on the tarmac waiting. The pilot asks us all to stay in our seats. Is this going to turn ugly? He must know something is going on. Right? How are those rights looking now mate?
Are we waiting for the cops to take him off the flight? Is he getting more ruffled sitting there knowing full well it’s because of a scene he caused?
So now I’m quietly anxious and nervous and text home an update. He didn’t pull his head in before why should he now? And as the minutes are counting down I’m thinking it’s obvious we’re waiting for someone to get him. What on earth is he thinking?
Are we going to have an incident or are we waiting for him to cool down? But what if he’s waiting to cool down then when we get in the air he loses it? Like my teenage girl when you think everything is ok, she remembers what happened then relives the anger.
The people in the row in front of me start talking about guns. Do you have one? What do you do? I couldn’t hear much of the conversation but I thought back about Lorie on Twitter and how she thinks if there’s a mass shooter there would only be two shots fired. What if the guy in front of me thinks he’s defending himself and fires a shot? Would he be a good shot and would the guy hurling abuse have a gun & shoot him or shoot the nearest person? What about stray bullets?
Would the guy with the bad attitude think it’s time to pull out his gun. And why am I thinking about who’s carrying a gun? Isn’t that what the strenuous security measures are there for? But if you’re a psycho then could you get around the security measures? Can I trust them? And why–if guns are a right and used for personal protection–are we not allowed to carry them on board a flight?
Am I going crazy?
Finally the doors were opened and two ground staff came to escort him off the flight. I was so surprised to see two women and not security or police.
He was escorted off the flight in a bit of an anti-climax. Thank God. I was expecting a tantrum-like scene that would make my daughter look like an angel. He still didn’t really get it though. He was still playing the it’s-my-right power card and “you just can’t do that” to him.
Here’s the thing. In “the future” post October 21, 2015 (had to get a Back to The Future Day reference in there somewhere), post 9/11, post mass murder after mass murder you just can’t do that. You just can’t do that.
So we’re taking off half an hour later than scheduled but I feel safer. I started thinking about what would happen if we were in the air and he wouldn’t stop. Then what. Would we have to pull together and fight him down. Cause I would. I’d be amongst it. I’m not going down wondering.
So you see it’s not your usual “Difference between Americans and Australians” post. The rest of the flight–filled with Americans–did not agree with this guy.
But engrained somewhere in many American’s psyche is that whole “my right to…” thing. And it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s used for good and not evil. But I wonder if America and its taglines “living the dream” or “the land of the free” leads some of its citizens to believe that means they can do whatever the bloody hell they want. Because it’s their god-given right.
And, by the way, dickheads are all over the world.
In Australia we have dickheads you can put up there on Wikipedia as the ultimate definition of a dickhead.
We have bogans that think they’re tough and give lip. And in Australia I wouldn’t be scared of guns I’d be scared of the fighting–fists as weapons which do get through the security checks. But I think in Australia we might be more worried about the consequences. I don’t thinkwe’re prepared to take the chance that we might be black-banned from flying again–or at least for a long time. I don’t know.
That’s where you come in. What do you think? What would you do? Do you think a guy would talk back to–and continue to talk back to–a hostie and then a supervisor on a Qantas internal flight or Virgin flight?
When we landed I felt like doing American/Chinese style woo-hoos and clapping that I landed safely. What a bizarre situation. Come on Chuck Lorre we can make an episode out of this one. Let’s do it.
Meanwhile. I’m exhausted and signing off. And weirdly, the kids didn’t know what had happened to me but when I came home they raced out of their rooms and welcomed me home with hugs and kisses. Yep, life is short … and too short to be a dickhead.
xx It Started in LA xx
PS: My congratulations to the crew of the Southwest Airlines 845PM flight 143 from Las Vegas to Burbank who handled the situation with professionalism and putting our safety ahead of their schedules.
Two years on: the first six months are the hardest
We’re in the thick of the first semester and it’s getting harder to work out what’s for dinner each night and we’re struggling to get up in the morning. Isn’t that a sure sign the novelty’s worn off and you’re in normality?
It’s a lot easier this time around than two years ago–our first six months in LA–though.
It’s nearing the end of October and it’s still so warm. Despite this everyone here seems to be very excited about “Fall”. I’m not exactly sure why. It could be the cooler weather (well that’s not happening), the smells of Fall like cinnamon and fires (that’s not happening either) or the prospect of a little rain (nope, still not happening).
I’ve started noticing people on the East Coast dressing up and the Coats starting to come on and the magazines are filled with darker colours. But here in LA the only thing that’s not playing the game is the weather.
I don’t get the Fall love. It feels more like Spring to me (apart from the leaves falling from the trees). It’s still warm and probably has more to do with the fact that I’m intrinsically trained to think that September and October are the Spring months. I don’t know, maybe it’s a wavelength thing.
When we first arrived we didn’t want the weather to cool down as we’d just come out of an Australian winter (yes it’s mild but still winter) and the prospect of back-to-back winters was not something I was looking forward to—no matter how mild they were.
The first six months
It’s time to continue with my series on looking back at our first couple of years here. I left you having found a place to live and the kids accepted at a private school here in LA. All was going well until reality set in.
It’s so true of moving anywhere that the first six months are the hardest. But you’d think a girl from Sydney moving to LA—California—with a few moves under her belt would not have such a tough time. Right? Wrong.
Let me tell you the first six months are the pits. The honest-to-goodness pits. Then they can be exhilaratingly good: everything is new, life is an adventure and things as simple as grocery shopping can be a challenge. I was used to that in China but not America—land of the ultra big supermarket. But when I had to buy bullet chilies for example, I had to go to an Asian grocer because they don’t sell them at the normal supermarket. That’s right, all the chilies are Mexican.
So then the challenges become nightmares. The glass half full starts to look more empty.
Even things like paying bills I have to think twice. No more BPay or Direct Debit. I’ve caught myself a couple of times saying, “how do I pay you?” to which the response is generally always, “Well I take a check,” yes not a cheque. That means I’ll have to go to the Post Office and buy stamps. Such a foreign concept for me.
Anyway, It’s true the most important thing to do is to find a school and somewhere to live. But once you’ve moved in, done a bit of sightseeing and getting around … then what?
So I started going to visit different areas checking them out, taking photos and posting lots of “cool” stuff on Instagram. But there’s only so much of that you can do. On your own. We all go through it. And we all get over it.
I remember hearing about some women in Shanghai living far out in the “suburbs” feeling lonely and depressed. If I felt lonely and depressed and I live in the middle of Beverly Hills—with a car to drive myself around and a working internet connection—it’s a wonder they survived their long weekdays.
That’s why you can’t write this post at the time. No, you need the benefit of “I live to tell the tale” behind you and a bit of perspective.
LA Private School
I remember the first time I went to school to the Orientation, the Welcome BBQ and even to pick up the kids in carpool I was feeling very intimidated. I imagined everyone being rich and groovy and famous. If not then they’d look like something out of Housewives of Beverly Hills. I thought I’d be the beached whale—helpless out of water and a little larger than my LA counterparts.
Last weekend–two years on–I volunteered to help at the school’s Open House and if I wasn’t comfortable with my place at school by then, I am now. Granted they’re not in yet but there were some interesting looking people. Why do we always doubt ourselves in a new environment? Why can’t we—I—back myself and be confident I would fit in?
Scattered amongst some rather good-looking people were fat people, skinny people, daggy people and just plain weird people. I actually started to think that I fit into LA life better than some of these people. How’s that for a turnaround? And, I wonder if the family that came in matching-coloured tops—five of them—and daggy footwear will get in?
It’s true as a family moving into 90210 and finding ourselves at a school with well-known identities we’ve done our fair share of Googling. What did we do without it?
I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before my daughter is friends with the son of arguably one of the most famous people in the world, certainly one of the most successful. She’s recently told us that her friend is obsessed with Mr H’s company and thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world. And, in an interesting turn of events he was telling her how he’s been Googling Mr H. Wow, Mr H being Googled by said famous offspring. How funny. It’s all about perspective.
What else do you need to know when moving to LA?
Back to those first few months. The most frustrating thing would have to be …
Credit rating, credit rating, credit rating
… it affects everything. Literally everything.
When Mr H tried to connect up to our Direct TV “cable” service there were specials on at the time. Ready to go ahead he found out that our price would be higher than the advertised special price. Because we had no credit rating.
Same thing when we went to open our Electricity account. We needed a giant deposit because we had no credit rating. Aren’t they supposed to help people with no credit? Isn’t that discrimination?
Everywhere we turned it came down to credit.
Luckily, with a Citibank account in Australia we were able to open up an account in the US. And, once Mr H said he’d get his salary paid into the account we could open a credit card.
To this date I don’t really have any accounts in my name—something I should seriously try to do.
We were also lucky we could get a car—actually two. That was thanks to BMW recognising that Executives tend to move around so if they’ve previously owned a BMW in another country they’ll take a look at you. Thank you BMW!
Two years later on the whole credit thing
Two years later and I’m still tossing up whether or not to buy a house here. The good news is we can get a mortgage, the bad news is we need a sizeable deposit. And they still look at your bloody credit rating. The rate they give you actually depends on your credit rating–the better your credit the sweeter the deal. The lower your credit rating, the higher the interest rate. Wow, way to go America, nothing like being supportive and helping those trying to get ahead in life. Keep the poor downtroden and the rich richer. OMG. Granted ours is better now but the fact that we’ve only had a credit rating for two years tends to go against you. Go figure.
I’m off to keep Googling. Who knows? Maybe my daughter’s friend will start Googling me and subscribing to this Blog. That’d be cool—so long as he tells Chuck Lorre he loves it.
What are the differences between America & Australia when it comes to Pies?
Savoury vs Sweet
What’s the difference between Americans and Australians when it comes to pies? Well the answer lies in two words: sweet versus savoury (technically that’s three).
I’m Australian so when you ask me—or other Australians—what comes to mind when you say “pie” I immediately think Meat Pie. A hot, burn-in-your-mouth pie. If you’re American you might think Apple Pie. You know? It’s as American as Apple Pie?!
Meat pies are one of those staples you miss the most when you leave home. When we were in Shanghai I made my own pies & sausage rolls. I have made my own pies here in the US but the sausage rolls haven’t cut it. Enter Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop.
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“The closest Americans come to savoury pies is the classic Chicken Pot Pie,” said Nathan Garlick from Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop in Westwood LA. “But they’re totally unfamiliar with the classic meat pie we Australians practically call our signature dish.”
Stacy Garlick, Business Partner (and marriage partner!) chimes in, “But that doesn’t stop them, they’re totally willing to try them and they actually love them.“
That surprises me. My son conducted a taste test with his swim team and at the mention of meat pies one boy said, “Ew, meat in pies!” But give them a pie to taste and it’s true they do love them.
“Do you have to teach Americans how to eat a meat pie?” I asked.
For my American readers, there are techniques & tips don’t you know! Stacy Garlick says they don’t have a problem with it.
(I think that’s because they’re not at the footy or other sporting event trying not to spill piping hot meat all over the place).
How to eat a classic Aussie Meat Pie
Australian pies are traditionally eaten by hand. You stick the tomato sauce (ketchup) container into the pie give it a huge squirt then go for your life trying not to spill the ultra-hot contents or burn your mouth. It’s most definitely an art.
(Sadly no one would volunteer to take a photo so I could demonstrate for you. I’ll work my way up to a video clip.)
Eating meat pies is a lot more civilised at Garlo’s though.
Stacy Garlick said, “The Americans are embracing our sides and the whole concept of Australian pie; it’s great.”
Typical sides are mushy peas and mashed potatoes but Garlo’s also caters to the exercise-conscious Los Angelinos by providing a green salad option.
And, you can sit down and enjoy all of the above in the comfort of their café and use a knife and fork.
(That’s actually made me think for a minute … my kids don’t know how to eat a meat pie at the footy. They only know meat pie eating at home and at parties. Time to update my “bucket list” to include giving my kids the opportunity to eat a meat pie at a sporting venue. Oh, the things we take for granted that we forget when we live overseas!
Garlo’s also has “American” apple pies and a range of Australian delicacies like Custard tarts, Tim Tams & vegemite. You can find them at Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop or in person at 1010 Glendon Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90024. Garlo’s also ships America wide. And don’t go in looking for party pies & party sausage rolls … they’re known as sliders here. It might help when you’re putting in your next catering order.
Sadly Garlo’s is no longer in Westwood. We’re hoping they’re not gone for long though as we miss them terribly.
xx It Started in LA xx
PS: This is how you get Garlo’s Pies in Australia, at Coles every day.
I started this little trip down memory lane a few months ago, reminiscing about all the things we needed to do to see if living in LA would work out for us.
When I last left you we were on a plane bound for LA with appointments at two schools and time set aside with a relocation agent to try to find somewhere to live in LA.
One the plane ready to interview with LA schools & find somewhere to live. Wish us luck | It Started in LA
Our first step was getting through our interviews at the two schools we chose. Once we had a better idea whether or not we’d get in then we could start narrowing our search for somewhere to live.
Ten private schools to consider in LA
I realise I didn’t name the schools in my last post. And, if you’re coming to LA and looking for private schools you’re going to need a few names to start with. Here were some of the names on our list to help give you a start.
This is by no way definitive—do your research and check the area they’re in first. Unless you’re a good commuter you don’t want to work on one side of LA, living on the other and having your kids at school in the opposite direction to both.
Eight areas to consider when finding somewhere to live in LA
You’re getting the message there are lots of different areas to live in LA and, not unlike anywhere else in the world, it dictates the type of lifestyle you’ll have when you move. If you’re relocating for work then you know where your office is. We knew MR H’s office was going to be in Hollywood. I knew I wanted to be close to the action and I didn’t want him to have a long commute—we wanted to replicate our Sydney experience as closely as we could because that works for us.
I opened Google Maps and started to look at different areas that could work for us. Here are some of our choices and/or suggestions.
1. Santa Monica
We heard Santa Monica was a bit tricky to get into and out of but being relatively self-contained, and by the beach, it would be a great lifestyle choice for us. The bonus was that the public schools were good so the extra rent could be saved in free public schooling.
Pros: Beachside, up to 20 degrees (F) cooler than in town and with everything at your fingertips you rarely need to leave.
Cons: Much smaller houses and high rent gives you less bang for buck. The traffic getting into and out of Santa Monica could also be a downer if you’re not used to it.
2. Hollywood Hills
When you think of Hollywood Hills you think mansion after mansion of sprawling celebrity estates. But there are some nice neighbourhoods that don’t have to break your budget and I like the feel of the area, plus it’s convenient for all of us.
Pros: Great areas, good choice of houses, retro style.
Cons: nothing really—just have to find the house.
3. Pacific Palisades
It’s a lovely area but you can’t get much further away from Hollywood. For some reason our Relocation agent kept pushing us towards the Palisades. We’ve since found out there’s a great Charter School there and many people try to get their kids in here as an alternative to Private School but we weren’t told that at the time. Anyway, for us the commute is the deal breaker.
Pros: Great neighbourhood and community
Cons: A long commute to Hollywood for Mr H and I felt like I’d be isolated away from the shopping and restaurant districts of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
4. The Valley
Movies have been made on the area–remember Valley Girls? We were advised to consider the valley because of its more affordable houses, and if you go out further enough you get good schools and McMansions—bigger houses and better bang for buck.
After two and a half years of living in Beverly Hills we bought a house in the Valley (Sherman Oaks). It’s nice and close to school, it’s not far from our old house, it’s close to the freeways to get around town and we can walk to shops and restaurants. We feel like it has given us a new lease on life in LA. It’s great for us and it’s great for the kids.
Pros: Bigger houses, lots of pools.
Cons: 50,000,000 degrees hotter in summer.
5. Beverly Hills &/or West Hollywood
I didn’t really think we were going to consider Beverly Hills because it’s well … Beverly Hills. But like the Hollywood Hills Beverly Hills isn’t all mansions, there are some more affordable areas.
South of Santa Monica is still Beverly Hills and it borders West Hollywood. This is definitely the area I would have loved to live in.
Pros: Proximity to shopping and restaurants.
Cons: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Beverly Hills as long as you can find the house. West Hollywood too for that matter.
Pasadena comes highly recommended by a great many people for its culture, great schools and lifestyle. We didn’t consider it though as it was a commute for all of us.
Pros: Lots of people love it and a good school district.
Cons: The commute–unless you’re working in the area.
7. Brentwood or Westwood
Brentwood was nice and close to Santa Monica making it convenient to the beach yet still convenient enough for Mr H and work.
Pros: Great location with close proximity to beaches and still easy access to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills restaurants.
Cons: Not much good stock in our price range.
8. South Bay
Many people come to SoCal (Southern California) for the lifestyle. So it’s no surprise that people are attracted to the South Bay area encompassing Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.
Pros: Good schools, beautiful shops and township, community feeling
Cons: Quite the commute!
9. Hancock Park
Bordering Melrose and West Hollywood Hancock Park is a beautiful leafy suburb in the middle of concrete-paradise LA. It has great schools nearby and lots of the private schools have buses to and from each day.
Pros: Convenient to Hollywood and Downtown, great community neighbourhood.
Cons: It’s pretty hard to find good houses available for rent–but do put it on your list if it’s convenient for you.
Plus two other neighbourhoods I’d add to my list:
10. Silver Lake & Los Feliz
Silver Lake is on the other side of the 101 off Sunset. It’s hip & happening, funky, groovy and an eclectic group of people. I’m not sure there are many private schools in the area but if I were a young family this is where I’d want to be.
11. Culver City
Culver City has come a long way even from when we moved here: new restaurants and shops and it’s close to the Studios, especially Sony Pictures.
Plus, many other studios and entertainment businesses are setting up shop there.
LA Stereotypes according to LAist
Our journey two years ago finding somewhere to live in LA
We spent a lot of time covering different areas of LA looking for something semi-decent in our price range. We wanted a spare room and a pool and didn’t think it was a huge ask. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. In a horrible wake-up call it felt like we were struggling Uni students on a measly budget. Every house we went into was depressing—wardrobe doors that wouldn’t open or close let alone you wouldn’t want to put your clothes in, small and dirty kitchens, rundown houses with filthy carpet and—if there was a pool—grimy and couldn’t be less inviting if they tried. I felt like I was visiting Neil, Vivienne, Mike & Neil from The Young Ones.
Not one house we visited in the first couple of days would be one we’d be happy to visit let alone call home. It was back to the drawing board—we’d need to up our budget and/or forgo the guest room.
It was easier to find a house to suit our needs in Shanghai—a city where the majority of people couldn’t speak English—than it was in Los Angeles, one of America’s largest and most prestigious cities.
To say our relocation agent was useless was an understatement. She seemed surprised that we didn’t like any of the houses she showed us so we took things into our own hands. We started trawling the rental websites looking for places, increasing our budget and seeing where the sweet spot would be for us to find something vaguely decent. I thought getting into a school would be the problem, not finding a house.
We found a few places in West Hollywood and I decided this would be a perfect area for us—close the action like we were in Australia, not far from Mr H’s work and it wouldn’t be too bad getting the kids to a nearby bus stop for school commuting.
Everytime we sent our relocation agent a place we wanted to check out in West Hollywood she’d ignore it. I’d ask her when I saw her next how she’s going securing us an appointment she’d defensively say, “it takes time to get an appointment, please bear with me.”
Then Mr H said, about one particular place that looked really quite promising, “that was one of the first places we sent you,” she finally started saying something about West Hollywood being a questionable place to live.
She was alluding to the fact that—shock horror—there were a lot of gay people that lived in the area. We reminded her that we lived in inner city Sydney and we’ve always had lovely gay neighbours and we were very comfortable with this. Despite writing her a brief on our family and our tastes, she couldn’t relate to us because her picture of us had us in a family-oriented neighbourhood with conservative values.
After brushing us off to a Real-Estate agent to continue house hunting we hit the ground running with a full schedule of houses to visit. The Agent would give us a list of houses, we’d check the maps and drive past the house, then provide a short list of the ones we liked that we wanted to see inside.
That’s when we thought we were going to end up living in either the Hollywood Hills or Beverly Hills—great proximity to Hollywood and not bad for the kids for school.
After a week of solid searching and being totally despondent we settled on two houses—one in Beverly Hills off Mulholland Drive and the other in the Hollywood Hills. I was overruled and we put an application in for the house in the Hollywood Hills. It had a pool that was swimable and whatever made them happy I was happy enough to go with.
In our application we explained that we don’t have a credit history in America but we have a good one at home in Australia and that we’re being moved to LA by Mr H’s new company. For whatever it was worth they would back us if necessary. We also said we were pretty keen to stay longer than 12 months as it wouldn’t make sense for us to get settled only to have to move again.
Our application was rejected—apparently someone else had put an application in at the same time and were offering more money.
To me this didn’t make sense for two reasons—one we weren’t told anyone else was interested in the house let alone let looking let alone miraculously putting in an application at precisely the same time as us. Secondly, if there are two people putting an application on a property wouldn’t you go back and create an auction situation and try to get the best possible deal for the house? Exactly. So clearly our lack of credit history meant that we lost out on this house.
That meant it was Plan B and the Beverly Hills house I was keen on. It didn’t have a pool but it was the sort of style we were used to in Australia and a house we wouldn’t be ashamed to have the rich and famous over to visit.
When we were visiting the house we actually got a call from one of the schools saying we were accepted. What a relief, now we just have to find the house and our job here in LA was done for now.
We put an application in for the Beverly Hills house and it was accepted. The owner—a movie producer and composer came to LA from Austria a number of years ago only to find himself in the same position so he was sympathetic to us. We’ll never know whether we’d struggle to find another house but we were so thankful the search was over.
Plus, we later realised that the school was an incredible ten-minute commute away so we couldn’t be luckier.
It was the most stressful week and enough to put us off making the move to LA quite frankly. I actually don’t know why we persevered. Yeah, I actually do, it was the allure of Hollywood and the wonder of what life would have in store for this ordinary but happy Australian family about to move to Hollywood.
Now, two years on, I wish we’d chosen a bigger house and held off to get the pool we so desperately wanted. It’s one thing to get a house close to your needs in Australia but it would have been smarter to get a house different to what you’re used to so you get a different experience. And, as a growing family we could have grown into that “big American house.”
If only we were a bit more realistic and weren’t looking at the opportunity through rose-coloured glasses.
Did you make your move in a hurry? Did you find finding a house easy? Hard? Did you know where you wanted to live? Did you have anyone to help you? Would love it if you’d share your stories.
The differences between Australians and Americans: school sport. School Sport played on Saturdays versus during the week in America. How does America approach school sport compared to Australia? An It Started in LA investigation.
School sport in Australia …
Sport is an important part of extra-curricular activities for us as a family—and especially to Australians. Not only does sport give kids an outlet and keeps them active and healthy but it teaches them about teamwork, sportsmanship and—most importantly—winning and losing.
At school in Australia both my son’s school and my daughter’s school were pretty clear about the role of sport at school.
At my son’s school sport is compulsory—you had to choose a sport each term and were expected to attend each game every week. Compulsory. End of story. It’s as important as attending class. If you needed to miss a game you not only need an extraordinary reason but we, as parents, have to make a request in writing to the headmaster. (If you’re interested in finding out more here’s a link).
When you commit to the school you commit to that way of life.
At my daughter’s school sport also plays a huge role with the only difference between they must play two out of four terms in a sport representing the school. My daughter never opted for two terms and always played four. (If you’re interested in finding out more here’s another link).
It’s a way of life indoctrinated in our culture. Sport is played on a Saturday with training either before, after and during school—or a combination of the three. And, as much as we bemoan it we actually love it. It’s a great way to get the parents to come together as a sub community. A great match done the right way has a fundraising BBQ with egg and bacon rolls or sausage rolls (that’s sausage in a roll rather than the popular Aussie meal staple the sausage roll), there’s always a coffee van (with proper coffee) and a tuckshop for chips, drinks and lollies (candy).
Families are often known to juggle their schedules and hope that the matches are scheduled so that you can either get to both games or the parents split themselves up to see one game each. I’m addicted to watching my kids play sport so I hoped for the well-spaced out games.
School sport in America …
In the US sports is also an important part of life. The importance of club sport seems to be more widely spread especially in LA where Lower School and Middle School sport isn’t deemed as important as High School Sport.
At my kids school sport is encourage as one of four pillars in education. However there are all these rules associated creating an impression that it’s a privilege to play in a team. By that I mean if the academics aren’t up to scratch then you don’t get to play on a team. (Having said that I haven’t seen–or heard about it–actually enforced).
I can imagine my US counterparts cringing and shaking their heads yelling “you can’t make me bring my kid to school on a Saturday, you can’t tell me to do that, it’s my right to have my weekends off”.
But the sports schedule here in the US is all over the place. Take, for example, my daughter’s tennis games–one game is on a Friday, the next week there’s no game, then there’s one the following Monday, then not until the next Friday, then the following Wednesday.
How on earth can you have regular activities like piano or guitar lessons or even after-school training when your sport isn’t on the same day each week? And how can you do two pick-ups after school if you’re at a game miles away? Then how can parents who actually work see their kids play?
I know … I know we’re all different. And isn’t it great?
So what system do you prefer? Do you prefer the one you were indoctrinated in or can you see the benefit of doing it the “other way”?
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Emmys 2015
I love the Emmys and I love TV. So it’s only fitting that I share my round up of the Emmys 2015 telecast. Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Creative Arts Emmys. As is the premise of my Blog, never in my wildest dreams as a very happy normal chick living the Sydney life expect to be strutting the Red Carpet amongst the cast of Orange is the New Black, Jon Voight and incredible talent that makes the TV industry go around. It’s crazy.
This year’s Emmys ceremony was great, I thoroughly enjoyed them and I love that it’s broken down over two separate ceremonies. It makes the main event go much quicker.
While I enjoyed most of Andy Sandberg as this year’s host can I am still mourning the loss of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It will take a few more years til we get to their standard—if we do at all. They’re some pretty talented and funny women.
Andy opened strongly but it was a bit stop/start. His opening monologue was fine but not great.
I assume Andy Sandberg spent his entire #Emmys budget on that opening number and forgot to hire writers for his opening monologue.
The Oscars last year got slammed for “snubbing people of colour” but the Emmys did the opposite. I’m not sure it’s that the Emmys addressed or acknowledged people of colour but had the opportunity to award talent where it was due.
No one put it better than Viola Davis herself:
“The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy (or an Oscar) for roles that are simply not there.”
There have been many people commenting on social media saying, You won, you’re good, you deserve it but enough about the colour factor. Sorry, you can’t say that! Clearly to say what she said, to speak as openly and emotionally as she did, Viola Davis has been on a ride. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so from-the-heart as it was.
I also understand why they say “it shouldn’t be about colour”. BUT. America is very into defining people—men, women, black, Asian, native American, gay, straight, transgender and talking about Diversity. By labelling people America is its own worst enemy. It struck me almost as soon as I got here and I penned (so to speak) this post.
(And I’m not saying Australia is not guilty, we’ve had our own racist issues, which also embarrass me, but it comes from a different angle).
Maybe it’s easy for me to say but at the end of the day—when you look really closely—I’m not white middle America, I just act like I am. “White” that is. Clearly I’m not American (although I do see myself as evolving into an Ausmerican).
I act like I am white because I don’t see myself any differently. And I think that’s largely because I grew up in Australia, not America. I’m probably not really making a lot of sense but here’s the bottom line:
Shonda Rhimes, is a creative genius. Beyond genius. She’s like the Steven Bochco of the 2000s (am I showing my age?). When I first saw Grey’s Anatomy in Australia, I knew it was created by Shonda Rhimes but I had no idea she was black. It didn’t matter, why should it? When I first saw the shorts (trailer) for How To Get Away with Murder I saw a powerful performance by Viola Davis but I didn’t take special notice of the fact that she was black, she was just bloody amazing.
That should be the point. And (I think) that was Viola Davis’s point.
TV should be at the cutting edge of setting change. TV Shows have a shorter incubation period, cost less to make, and there is a large talent pool to choose from. And that’s why we love it so much and that’s why it’s so much edgier than movie-making at the moment.
And, the fact that every single drama nominated could clearly be the winner exemplifies that point. And that every single comedy nominated could clearly be the winner. No one drama or comedy would have won that category and you would have said, “I don’t think they deserved it”.
I was like, “oh yeah, Game of Thrones deserves it.” Then I remember House of Cards and what an amazing season it was. Downton Abbey, Homeland, OISTNB … Yep, they’re all over-the-top phenomenally good.
On a lighter note it was good to see the Trump jokes out in force last night. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her acceptance speech:
“What a great honour it must be for you to honour me tonight.
“Oh God, no! Donald Trump said that.”
On that note, shall we take a moment to say the women, to me, are rocking it as the stars of the show. The cast of Orange is the New Black, Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, JLD, Allison Janney, all the American Horror Story stars and guest stars. Good for them I say—now to get them all being paid the same as the blokes in the room ;-).
And, I wonder if we can now get Kanye to throw himself at Amy Schumer when he sees her on the Red Carpet.
Let’s take a look at the differences between Americans and Australians waiting in a grocery store queue for a couple of minutes. (Or in Australian what’s the difference between Americans and Australians in a supermarket queue).
I get so mad when I go to the supermarket and just want to get in and out really quickly. I have the luxury of shopping (almost) daily—mainly because I can’t plan more than a few days in advance what we’re going to eat and there’s no Baker’s Delight to get my beautiful fresh bread from (salivating at the thought of Baker’s Delight, sorry just need a minute).
I know, I know, it’s not a luxury to go to the supermarket daily but it’s right around the corner from school and it suits me with nothing better to do with my life (yes, a little bored I’m not in paid employment but that’s another story).
As usual I went down to pick stuff up for tonight’s dinner. I’m a frequent visitor of the “About 15 items” aisle. It’s my saviour as you can imagine.
Not today. There was a lady with an overflowing trolley full of groceries. In the “About 15 items aisle”. With four other aisles (for normal loads) free. And with people behind her (not me because I went looking for other aisles) waiting for her. Waiting for her. Waiting for her with only a few things in their hands (they didn’t even need a basket).
That my friends is the difference between Australia and America.
Grocery shopping in Australia …
… bitter and twisted people like me would be eyeballing her into feeling the guilt and moving aisles. And, if that doesn’t work we’d start heckling her, first nicely then not so much:
“This aisle is for 15 items or less (what we call them at home), this aisle is not for you.”
Followed by the checkout chick looking at her like she’s diseased saying:
“Um … sorry, you have more than 15 items, you’re going to have to go to another aisle. Next…” (as she proceeds to help the next person).
Instead, grocery shopping in America …
… she was having a lovely chat with the woman behind her buying a magazine (after she finished reading it waiting for her) and a couple of grocery items. Another man came to stand behind her, again not saying word. I lingered in case they were looking for moral support of the kind that goes like this…
“Excuse me m’am but this is for people with about 15 items, between the two of us we have five items, do you mind moving to an isle where they can accommodate your trolley load full of shopping so we can get out of here fairly quickly.”
Nope. Not even something nice like that. This is a country where you risk getting shot going to see the premier of a Batman movie and yet a woman can hold up a grocery aisle checking out her cart FULL of groceries. (I’m not saying she deserves to be shot. Not really anyway.)
Where’s the grocery rage when you need it America? You are far, far too nice.
What happens where you live? Are they patient and kind or bitter and twisted? Please share.
updated 4:00 Thursday 17/9/15 LA time with James Corden Late, Late Show video…enjoy
When you ask when was the last time it rained in LA—or your hometown—you can’t often say. But here in LA we can. We get very excited when it rains it’s like one of those rare moments in time because it’s such a rare occurrence that every time it does, it’s right on par with, “where were you when Princess Diana died?”
The last time it rained in LA was over summer and we weren’t here. I knew about it though because everyone talked about it. See? Not unlike today. It’s like a novelty. It is a novelty. Like snow. Even before it rains the forecast of rain gets everyone talking about rain: will it rain? I hear it’s going to rain. Better cancel my appointments tomorrow; it’s going to rain.
Yes, you read right. I’m not exaggerating. LA has never been able to cope with the rain—people aren’t used to getting wet, they don’t know how to drive and it can be chaotic out there. So, many people cancel their meetings, work from home and generally cocoon at home for the day.
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My “Realtor” told me about this little-known LA fact when we were first here and looking for houses to rent. I thought it was so far fetched and just assumed because she had such a flexible job that she was able to do this. But then last week at my first PA Board Meeting—yes, more on that in a second—some ladies were telling me exactly the same thing. Lucky it rarely rains here in LA or business may not survive.
And just to prove it, here’s the rain in LA according to James Corden
Middle School Chair
Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. I am indeed our school’s new Middle School Chair. It’s very formal here in PA land and for two years it’s scared me. But this year I decided to put my hand up and get a little more involved. And since my daughter is our school’s first Australian Middle School President (unqualified) I thought I’d join her for the ride.
I hear you ask: “WTF is Middle School Chair?” Well, it’s the liaison between the PA Board and the Class Reps. Yes, such a role exists. The good thing is by the time you get to Middle School there’s nothing much to do and I get a little insight into life in an American PA.
We had our first Board meeting last Friday. It was very fancy, in a restaurant. We had assigned seats and our place holder was a gorgeous cupcake in school colours (no photo, I ate it before I could think that would’ve been a nice idea–oops). We talked about the year, what’s on the agenda then did a lot of lovely small talk about the holidays and life in LA. I’m pleased to say I survived, came out unscathed and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact I actually had a nice time. To my surprise lunch was on the PA. And, no surprises, not a drop of wine to be seen. I’ll have to work on that.
In Australia tailgating is where you’re driving and you ride right up the person-in-front-of-you’s arse and are really, really annoying. Well in America it can mean that too but the more fun meaning is pre-(American) football fun. There’s even a website for it: tailgating.com. Not to mention several Pinterest pages, hashtags et al dedicated to the all-American tradition.
No ordinary carpark–each tent (in team colours) marks a different tailgate
And I have to say the Americans win. They beat us Aussies. They have it down. They do it bigger and better hands down, in fact we’ve got a lot to do in order to catch up with this widely followed professional drinking phenomenon. It’s probably also the closest thing culturally that you can get between Australians and Americans. And yet, the Americans are better at it than us. How can that be? Just check this out.
Tailgating is a sport all on its own in America
What is tailgating? To quote tailgating.com (who quotes a dictionary) it’s to:
“Host or attend a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot of a sports stadium”.
That’s a very elongated way of saying, pre-game frolicking, a bit like having a party in the carpark on the Boxing Day test at the MCG or the endless partying on Melbourne Cup Day. Or, as one American friend put it, “you drink and eat as much as you can before the game, so much so that after the first quarter you don’t care what happens in the game and you go out and continue to drink.”
It’s a full bar at this tailgating party
Then the tents come down …
… and everything packs up into the “trunk” of the SUV.
What about the (American) football game?
Well, like I said, come the second term and you’re ready for more drinks and in search of a bar. Well, not really but we did get stuck at the bar.
I do need to take a minute though to talk the phenomenon that is College Football. It’s out of control. It’s as big as an AFL match. No. It’s Bigger. Bigger because of the pomp and ceremony (and fireworks) that go on before the game.
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The fact that these kids are (supposed to be) at “Uni” to get an education and attract a 100,000 strong crowd each week (as is the case, I believe, for any USC or UCLA game here in LA) and that doesn’t even include the TV rights and the millions of people who choose to tune into College football each week—even more so that the NFL in the case of many households throughout America.
Imagine this: Take the passion of supporting your football team, add to it a bucket load of school pride and school spirit (we’re talking A LOT) and you have a stadium full of one-eyed supporters. Add to that the tailgating festivities and they make Collingwood supporters (or Manly supporters?) look like amateurs. The atmosphere is electric and a must-do bucket-list item for any sports fan. Even if you still don’t get American football.
And, now that I’ve done it I can’t wait to do it again.
xx It Started in LA xx
PS: Did you know LA has an underground Metro system? Neither did I. We took the Metro to the game though and it was so easy—a great way to get downtown. And just to prove it:
The first thing you notice when you go to see Britney Spears’s live Vegas show is the young-but-getting-slightly-older fans queuing up for the best standing-room-only tickets hours before the show. From all accounts this is a nightly occurrence. I, on the other hand, was enjoying the fine dining and wine Vegas has to showcase–but that’s another story.
In fact Piece of Me still draws the same crowd it’s just that the girls have grown up a little and they’re in their 20s and early thirties (at a stretch). They’re still squishing into tight little dresses barely covering their bottoms and they’ve learnt how to walk in their massive heels. (Don’t get me wrong, there are still young girls and their parents … and the likes of me).
Like all the other shows around Vegas Britney is telling a story. And that’s exactly what it was–a show. I was expecting a concert. At a concert you expect the act to interact with the crowd.
With all the glitz, staging & lighting of a Vegas residency the only thing missing was Britney herself. I heard that the show is somewhat disappointing and she merely goes through the motions as she sings and dances her way through the night. The night we were there that statement wasn’t entirely true. This night she danced her way through popular numbers, strutting down the stage and running backstage for her many costume changes.
Piece of Me is well choreographed and executed, has all the bells and whistles in terms of lighting & effects, and Britney’s stamina is admirable.
But with all the glitz, staging and lighting of a Vegas residency the only thing missing was Britney herself. It’s hard to sing and dance–especially when you’re dancing with your all–but I thought I was going to see Britney sing. Or did I think I was going to see her perform?
Perform she did. Sing she did not. And that was disappointing. You didn’t just notice it for one or two moments, you noticed it over and over again. There were times when her moves were such that she could not have possibly been singing, and she didn’t make an effort to cover that up.
And she didn’t really interact with the audience. All we really got was a “Hello Vegas”. I wanted more. I wanted to hear from her, to have a chat, to get to know her a bit better–to get a piece of her.
But maybe Britney’s not ready to give us a real piece of her. I think Britney is trying to tell us something.
Britney was the epitome of success with hit after hit and teenage girls crying at the sight of her long before we even knew who Taylor Swift was. She was the original.
Piece of Me seems to be a tongue lashing, a message not by way of a song or an album but a Show. She’s reminding us what fame has done to her. We’re shown images of her career at the height of her popularity yet most of those successful songs were not on the playlist. Instead she chose songs like Piece of Me and Circus to tell her story. I wonder if anyone noticed? Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t depressing, there were good songs too. A highlight for me was Iggy Azalea up on the big screen duetting Pretty Girls with her. Having said that it did seem that Iggy was more “present” than Britney.
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She may have been down but she’s not out. She may prefer to ask her fans to come to her instead of touring around the world but she’s definitely changed. We changed her. Fame changed her. And for a while the world turned on her. Good for her as she has the last laugh because we’re lapping her up once again as she plays to packed shows, night after night, week after week. She deserves it, no one deserves to have a meltdown let alone one so public.
I’d recommend going to see Britney. I’m not sure if she’s going to sign on as there’s talk she may stop soon. The Show is worth it–especially if you’re a fan. Just go to enjoy her perform, don’t expect her to sing.
“Ahhh Santorini, you truly are a gift from the Gods.”
We crowd around the bus as it pulls into the local bus stop, all eager to get a seat as it’s a decent drive back to Oia (where we’re staying) from Fira, one of the centres for food, shopping and nightlife on Santorini.
It turns out it’s not our bus. Masses pile onboard—that’s why they crowd around. The bus is full. Another bus pulls in and the bus driver takes no mercy on the waiting crowds. The driver “hits” a local customer infuriated by the driver’s actions. He starts yelling at the driver who ignores him. He knew he was nowhere near the guy but the guy continues to yell abuse at him. Twenty minutes later as he left in search of a taxi—and as the bus pulls out on another trip—he’s still yelling.
Our bus arrives and, after surveying how it’s done on the Greek Islands, we get pole position in front of the queue and politely wait for those to get off before we push our way in.
We depart with little time to spare driving up a steep hill. I was sure the sign said do not enter. Who cares, this is Santorini in the Greek Islands and this is a big bus.
A car was in our bus’s way and our driver yells at someone out his window, one of the words being “malaka” and my childhood memories of growing up with first-generation Greek kids in Melbourne came flooding back to me. Why is it always the swear words we pick up when we learn another language?
We stopped for a long time as the cars were coming head on towards us. I don’t think this is working. The bus driver lights up a cigarette, the conductor does the same.
The bus driver starts yelling out the window presumably for the cars to get the flock out of his way.
“Spiro,” he starts in lively Greek addressing the conductor. I’m assuming he’s telling Spiro he needs to get out of the bus and tell the cars up ahead to get out of his way and let him through based on his hand gestures and the situation in front of us.
He sits back, swears again and waits.
Spiro was not having a bar of it as he too sits back taking a drag of his cigarette.
The driver starts again at Spiro. With this Spiro assesses the situation, gets out of the bus and heads up the road to stop the traffic, cursing the fact that he’s subjected to this well after midnight.
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We advance a couple of hundred metres and come to another dead stop. More lively Greek comes out of the bus driver’s mouth and Spiro chimes in.
The name Spiro also conjures up memories of my childhood in Melbourne–one of the highest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The guy that owned the local bottle shop’s name was Spiro. I’m not sure what the name of the shop actually was but Dad and his mates always called it Spiro’s. Spiro looked after the alcohol for every single party my parents, and their friends, threw and every Saturday, like a trip to the butcher Mr Thomas, Dad would pop in to say hi to Spiro. Long before Vintage Cellars or Dan Murphy.
The driver hops on the radio. More lively Greek. Is this the usual bus route? Spiro and the driver seem somewhat surprised by tonight’s traffic like it has never been like this before but this is Fira in the height of summer—it’s busy every night. Isn’t it? The driver and Spiro light up a cigarette contemplating the situation ahead of them. We wait another 10-15 minutes as we watch the driver and Spiro decide what to do next.
“Get on the radio,” I imagine the driver says to Spiro as he hands him the radio talking in more lively greek. “I’ve already spoken to them they’ve done nothing to help.” I can’t imagine what the depot could do to help but I can’t imagine why they’re calling in on the radio either, perhaps to tell them they’re not moving and get them to share in their pain. I wish my old friends were here to translate. I’d love to know what they were saying.
Spiro gets off the radio and lights another cigarette standing at the front of the bus staring at the cars lined up head on like we’re playing chicken, albeit stationary. This time nobody can move. The driver tells Spiro to get out of the bus and stop the cars once again and once again Spiro talks back but reluctantly get out of the bus some five minutes later stopping the traffic like he’s never had to do it before.
The traffic dutifully stops but clearly not a second before someone “asks nicely”. It was third time lucky and with that we’re on our way. And that was the last time Spiro had to get out of the bus to stop the traffic. On this trip anyway.
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Such is the joy of travelling: sitting in the front of the bus watching the adventures of Spiro and the driver put me in good stead to enjoy the holiday.
“There’s a reason Santorini is continually voted one of the best island paradises in the world.”
We arrived in Santorini on July 18 (2015 for the archives) and the referendum resulting in an overwhelming “no” vote yet somehow Greece negotiated a further bail out and further austerity measures. There are no queues at the ATM in Santorini however, credit cards continue to be accepted and it’s business as usual in this glorious part of the world.
In Santorini the travel brochures aren’t having you on. It is exactly as it looks: white, serene, picturesque views and an endless vision of deep blue sea and matching blue rooftops coupled with breathtakingly spectacular cliffs and volcanic mountains.
Family run boutique hotel built into the caldera. The hospitality is “Greek family”, in other words you are a welcome visitor but you don’t have to get up and offer to do the dishes or cook a meal while you’re there. Nothing is too much trouble and the attentiveness is genuine; it’s as good as it gets.
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Breakfast is served every morning on your private porch with a choice of Continental, Greek or Honeymoon style and extras like bacon, eggs or meats and cheeses. My favourite sound of the day was the clinking of the crockery and cutlery—our sign that breakfast was being set up and it was time to get ourselves up to start our strenuous day poolside.
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And, because we spent so much time around our room—we had a private room—we got to see just how well our rooms are cleaned. Each day our room was cleaned as if we were new guests coming in, not just any old guests but Greek Gods.
With only eight rooms staying at Filotera Suites really knows how to spoil its guests.
Where we ate
A great restaurant in the heart of Fira’s action with an extensive menu and great food and ambience.
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With a sunset deck it has a spectacular view of the famous Oia sunset. Our hotel booked us the best table in the house. Great food to match–and satisfied my fussy daughter’s tastes so got to be happy with that!
Recommended by Australian Gourmet Traveller, and a friend, Ambrosia is a little bit more special than the other restaurants. It’s small and quaint, has a small yet enticing menu and the waiters are top notch. Ask for a table outside. While the inside tables have plenty of character we felt a little warm and claustrophobic.
Sunset Cruise with Santorini Yachting Company
While we were happy chilling by our pool and wandering the cobblestone streets of Oia we also decided a sunset cruise was in order. With a couple of different stops—including the hot springs and Red Beach—it was an afternoon well spent. The grand finale of the famous Santorini sunset would have been enough to satisfy us anyway—the only thing missing was a glass of Champagne.
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Santorini frequently makes the top five island destinations to visit in the world. And there’s a reason. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful but it’s mystical and magical. Best of all there are accommodation and restaurant offerings for all budgets—there’s no discrimination in Santorini.
And, at a time where Greece could use your money, there should be no putting off a visit to Santorini.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. People complain about coming to the US and getting sick of eating hamburgers, hot dogs, salads with mayo all over them and fries, fries, fries. That’s not America’s fault people: it’s yours. You can’t use that excuse here in LA. The only excuse you have is ignorance—of not knowing where to go. But thanks to Google and blogs like mine you can find great restaurants to eat and with a bit of planning ahead of time you can check out some of LA’s great dining spots.
(Don’t forget to tip between 18-20% though—10% or rounding up the bill doesn’t cut it here! Blog post to follow).
Let’s start with the fabulously located The Church Key.
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It’s on W Sunset in West Hollywood right amongst some of the popular hotels.
Firstly you’ll thank me the minute you walk in as the décor is LA hip. You can enjoy cocktails at the bar and take advantage of the tapas/dim sum-style carts that wheel around specials with anything from tuna to mini shepherd’s pies and samosas to popcorn to deep-fried & breaded bacon!!! (I know sounds kinda too much but nothing in this place was terrible so I imagine it was anything but, still we weren’t game to try!).
This time two years ago was quite a significant milestone moment for us as it was a rude awakening that this LA “thing” might actually happen.
Cut back two years and six weeks ago Mr H got a call from an old boss with four questions:
How’s the family?
Do you still hate your job?
Would you consider moving to LA?
How quickly can you get here?
Then I got the call from Mr H:
“I’m about to rock your world,” he said. “F called,” he started. We were down at our beach house on the South Coast of NSW getting ready for a long weekend with friends. We’d prepared the menu, bought the grog and I was out in the car with a friend heading to the Bottlo to get a couple of extra bottles of champagne—just in case as we hate to run out.
“Oh my god,” I interrupted. “Is he in town? Coming to town? It’s OK, he can have the spare room…” as I proceeded to play musical beds and musical rooms so we could fit in an extra person…
“…And I’ve got seafood which he loves so it’ll be all good.”
“He wants to know if you would move to LA,” he said once I’d done with my ranting.
“What? Sorry? Huh? LA? I hate LA. Remember? Been there done that never coming back?”
“I knew you’d say that.”
It’s true Mr H and I went to LA with my best friend and her boyfriend when we were all of 19 or 20. LA didn’t really do it for us and I had absolutely no desire to go back. So why would I want to live there?
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”
By this time my girlfriend, sitting in the car next to me is wondering what on earth is going on. I looked at her and shook my head.
Digesting the concept
It was a crazy weekend of utter shock that some 36 hours ago we just got that call to move to Hollywood and Mr H had gone back up to Sydney to attend a video call to get briefed on the job. The job was to run the post-production division of a multinational company. He would be based in Hollywood and he’d have to work with all the studios and production houses. To say the weekend was a daze with endless workshopping, dreaming, reality checking and more workshopping was an understatement. And let’s just say there was a LOT of champagne (and wine) drunk as we all tried to come to terms with the prospect of moving to LA. Those extra bottles came in handy—we didn’t run out.
We too’d and fro’d with the pros and the cons but first practically had to come into play.
Schools in LA
We thought we’d be very systematic about the possible move: pinpoint work (Hollywood), find a decent school not too far away then find somewhere to live. Sounds easy enough.
Contrary to how it looks on Beverly Hills 90210 and the OC the LA public school system is in shambles—especially as you get to Middle and High School. There are a few good school districts in South Pasadena, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and the Bay areas but they either require a long commute to Hollywood for Mr H or require me to sell my body to pay the rent in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills. Then you have to be in the right zone for the “better” school in that area. (Read: it’s not as straight forward as let’s rent a house in Santa Monica and we can go to Lincoln Middle School. Thankfully we didn’t find that out the hard way.) The public school system in LA is not easy to navigate—and when you have finding a house in the zone is like playing the lotto.
So as I was coming to terms with the fact that US high schools aren’t like they are on TV and my kids weren’t going to have a Breakfast Club/Sixteen Candles/Ferris Bueller/90210 high school experience moving to LA started to look a little bleak. Both kids are thriving at great schools in Sydney and education is so important to my family (my dad drilled that into me from a young age) that we’re not going to a below-standard school just because Hollywood is knocking on our door.
(Now I wonder if they’ll get the chance to have a College experience like Pitch Perfect?)
I emailed a few people and the resounding response was private school. There go my dreams to be rid of private school fees and enjoy my life. Plus, America being America, private schools aren’t subsidised so we got a rude shock to see not only weren’t we saving any money but it would cost us more money than it does in Sydney.
I knew the prospect of a Hollywood lifestyle was too good to be true.
But I ploughed ahead and started researching websites to see what schools we liked and what we didn’t. We rated them and I started the arduous task of ringing admissions directors. It was now May 2013 and applications closed in late December 2012 and offers were made earlier in the year. There’s a shortage of places at LA private schools—because the public ones are in such a state—so all of a sudden our dream of moving to Hollywood was shattered. No school=no move.
Because of the time difference I would set the alarm for 4:00am Sydney time (which was 11am the day before in LA) and start making calls. It’s pretty hard to pitch your family and your kids to an Admissions Director with a full enrolment at that time in the morning.
Some were helpful, others felt for me, others didn’t care.
I got traction at two schools. A great start. The next hurdle was sitting the ISEE test. What on god’s earth is that? Well it’s a standardised test (Independent School Entrance Exam) that most of the private schools use to test would-be students.
Can’t we just skip that bit? How do we do it in Sydney? My kids are doing well in school, here are copies of standardised tests they’ve completed here…
Well as matter of fact there is a location that administers the test in Sydney. It was a pain in the backside booking two appointments at the same time because the system would only allow one student at a time (I guess what are the chances of two kids wanted to sit an entrance exam for private school in the US in Sydney?). There was no one to talk to either at the location or at the head office (another alarm set for 2am this time to try to reach someone in the New York office). Nothing about this stage was even remotely easy.
So Mr H took the day off work, we all went in hoping they’d say that both kids could sit the test together—no luck—so I sat with one while Mr H took the other home then came back again to swap kids while I waited the entire day given it was a ruling that the parent or guardian had to stay with the child the whole time. And the ID rules were so stringent it was as stressful as anything formal here in the US. One thing wrong and you have to reschedule—and pay for it all over again as there’s a cancellation fee involved don’t you know? A day I’ll never get back. An experience I’d rather not have to relive. But I was so proud of my kids, they did it.
It wasn’t until we got to LA that we heard that kids are tutored for this exam and some take it a few times until they get the score they want to give them a better chance to get into their school of choice.
This was my first glimpse into the privatised world that America is—there is a company making money for a service (which comes at a fee) for everything.
Playing the waiting game
With two schools secured (with no promises even now there’s room for one or both of them) and another interview secured at a school for my daughter it was time to look into public schools.
Public schools have open days where you can come and check them out. I was still in Australia for these so via our relocation agent we put calls into Santa Monica and Beverly Hills both of whom said they were so overworked they didn’t have time for private tours. Tell me that didn’t put me right off. And they’re supposed to be the good ones.
Such an emotional rollercoaster that whole “will we move; won’t we move”, “can we move; can’t we move” thing. At least when there’s little or no choice like “normal” expat assignments you know the city is geared up for you. Shanghai, for example, has plenty of expat housing (not all good by the way), a number of international schools and the company you’re moving with has some degree of leverage because they’re responsible for not just your school fees but a number of others.
What I remember most about this time was how applying for schools was anything but straight forward. Simply having a place was not a guarantee of entry. You had to pass the test but you just don’t know what that (or those) tests are.
It’s a bit like a Seinfeld episode:
“Great, so you’ve got room for both my kids?”
“We have the flexibility to admit your kids but first you have to apply.”
“So is it worth my applying if there’s no room?”
“We have room but you have to apply.”
“Oh so there’s room for both my kids so if I apply, based on what you’ve seen and what I’ve told you then there’s a good chance we’re in.”
“Go ahead and complete the application and proceed with the tests, we’ll have a better idea of what our enrolments will look like once you’ve done those and we’ve interviewed you.”
Wowsers … I hope passing school isn’t as hard as getting in.
Nonetheless we hopped on a plane bound for LA not sure what to expect when we got there.