Tuesday, November 24, 2009

199 days In - The Police and Me

An American Cop is an intimidating figure.

Through T.V. dramas, grapevine stories and reality cop shows, an image has been built of men (I don’t mean to be sexist, this is just how my imagination works) who have all the power and not necessarily much morality.

In a country where, they say, it is not that difficult to get a gun, and where, they say, there is much gang related crime, it would not be surprising to find cops who look on you with suspicion before giving you the benefit-of-the-doubt.

I have, in six months, had four encounters with the US police-force. Each increasingly dangerous…

Honestly though, it’s not what it sounds like.

The first was early on. Driving lost through down-town LA, hoping and praying that some mad-man won’t jump out of the shadows with a sawn-off-shot-gun, disorientated we turn left from the wrong lane and cut off a police car.

Well, I say “we”, but Chris was driving.

At the next junction, we are blinded by one of his special “blind the criminals” lights, and he calls across to us:

“You can’t just pull across me like that, buddy.”

“Oh….I am terribly sorry.”

Stammers Chris in his best “I went to a posh British school” voice. The “we are just stupid tourists” excuse is always the best.

Our second encounter was much more personal, though still disappointingly polite.

Speeding on our way to a day of mundane background work, we are caught - yes - speeding.

Again, I say “we”, but Chris was driving.

Blue lights flash behind us. It is very exciting, this time it is a motorcycle cop.

He walks purposefully to my window, which I obediently roll down, and complete with moustache, sunglasses and leather gloves he introduces himself and asks the driver why he might be driving so fast.

My over-excitement at the whole experience is somewhat dampened when the extortionate ticket arrives.

At encounter number three, I had no husband to protect me (or to blame).

Work took me out to a little hotel in the middle of nowhere, and at 8am there is a knock on the door. My room-mate answers it and immediately we are asked:

“So what’s going on?”

So nice to meet you too, officer.

Thinking it is some kind of joke, my room-mate laughs along, but when we are requested to hand over I.D. she staunchly refuses and begins a rampage about how, if the police did their jobs, California would not be in debt.

A slightly confusing argument.

It turns out that there had been an anonymous call saying that something distressing was happening in our room - though he did get the room number wrong when he mentioned it, sooo…

After taking me aside to ask sincerely “are you sure you are alright ma’am?” he has to admit defeat and leave.

I begin to eye everyone else at the hotel suspiciously, and am very happy when it comes time to leave for work.

And so, two nights ago came the fourth, and definitely most scary, encounter.

At 3am we wake, with a start, so the screech of tyres and a thunderous bang. A car alarm goes off for about 20 seconds. Then silence.

My heart literally pounds from the shock, while my mind runs wild. As I have mentioned, we live in a guard gated cul-de-sac with speed bums every 50 yards; how could anyone even travel fast enough to create such impact?

In my head a pick-up-truck has crashed into a house. Chris agrees that this is what it sounded like.

Lying awake I hear a few scuffles in the dark - figments of my startled imagination, I tell myself.

Then there is torchlight, voices, and the unmistakable sound of our back-gate. Followed by a knock on our door and Chris’ mom’s rushed voice:

“There are policemen in the back yard.”

It takes up approximately two seconds to dress, and we head for the front door to investigate, but the call of “don’t go out, the police had their guns drawn” halts us firmly in our tracks.
The image of policemen running around just outside the windows, guns in hand, chasing down a criminal, who was clearly trying to escape them, has an odd effect.

Will the mad-man run through our land? Might the police, on the other side of the house, see him, shoot through the windows and catch us in the cross-fire? Conversations of whether the patio lights should be on or off, ensue.

A knock on the door brings the news of how the attempted escapee did run through the back yard, and that now having been caught, he would be going to jail. Not a drug-dealer or gang-killer, it transpires he was a drunk 21 year old who panicked when stopped for a broken headlight.

We watch the blue lights slowly disappear, and head back to bed.

Chris’ dad, who slept through the sound of the crash, puts the kettle on, and stays up to have a cup of tea.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

194 Days In - The Quality of the Air

Those of you who know me will know that cleaning my car is really rather low on any priority list I might make.

The other people who live in LA seem to put it a little higher on their lists, and being the only person on the road with a dirty car can cause some self-consciousness.

There was great excitement, then, when (after having taken the car for an oil-change, which I had never even heard of before coming here) we were offered a free car wash.

Scarily not that perturbed that the oil-change did not check my break pads, or suspension, or even back lights, off I poddle to the designated place to receive my newly clean car.

Parking in a row of cars waiting to be cleaned, I clock the “just washed” look of other cars in the line. Clouds of shame begin to gather.

It was a very rare occasion, in the UK, that I would wash my car. Maybe if I was selling it, or if there was so much mud on it I couldn’t actually see out. But England does help you out a little, with torrential downpours and drizzly days.

Rain is such a rare and wonderful occurrence here that when it does come, it simply displaces the dirt on your car, arranging it into new patterns.

That is how dirty the car gets.

I think I may have mentioned that we live on a tamed desert - there is a lot of dust in the air. I may not have mentioned that Los Angeles has filthy, filthy smog. I have often been shocked, when driving, at relatively close mountains hazily coming into view, and when out and about in town everything is doused in a romantic soft-focus.

It is not quite as bad a Kathmandu, but worryingly close.

A famous weather phenomenon here is the Santa Ana Winds. This is when, instead of getting breezy, slightly humid winds from the ocean, the air comes rushing over the desert and arrives hot and dry. An upside is that it straightens frizzy hair, but these “devil winds” not only traditionally cause quarrels and anxiety, but they bring all the Los Angeles smog to those of us smugly perched by the sea.

When the winds visited us a couple of months ago Chris’ mom ran round the house in a panic ordering us to close all the windows. In my usual “it is better to have the window open” opinion, I was dubious. That is until I saw the effect out at sea, in the form of a green haze hanging over the water.

I kid you not.

So it all makes sense; I am not unusually grubby out here, the air is just filled with dirt.

After watching a numerous amount a men scrub, rub and even hoover every inch of the car (including the inside rim of the doors), I handed over an above-average tip, avoided all eye-contact, and informed Chris that he would be taking the car to any washes, in future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

185 Days In - Tea's Up

I have taken to having a spot of tea of an afternoon; poured from the tea-pot, naturally; often accompanied by a small slice of sponge.

High tea is a truly wonderful thing.

When at university, my house-chum commented, whilst sipping on a hot cup of English Breakfast, that I never made tea for her, and that she was always making tea for me. My response was that I did not care for tea that much, and that I would gratefully accept her offers as it meant a break and no-doubt a hearty chat.

Now, come five hours following noon-time, I will place a brimming kettle on the hob and call to all that tea will soon be ready.

It is now the tenth of November. Which means that the fifth of November has been and gone, vanishing into the past as though it were of no significance at all. Gunpowder treason being well and truly “forgot” by this household, this year.

When I lamented to Chris, pulling an ever-so-slightly childlike face, and thinking of all the jollity we would be missing out on, he retorted that we never did anything to mark the day in the past, anyway.

This is simply not true.

Wrapping up and trudging out into the cold, so that I can have my face burnt by a bonfire, while my toes slowly freeze, and my neck goes stiff from looking up at fireworks, is one of the things that I live for. I have never let a Guy Fawkes night pass us by without so much as a sparkler, before.

But Chris seems to be forgetting a few things that made us British.

The worst of these, is his accent. Without a doubt the most unattractive sound in the American accent is the way they say the “you“ sound. Like it is a double O.

Now it is winter we will be having stoo; Chris has dooal nationality; characters on T.V. claim they are not stoopid; we got a noo car…I could go on and on and on.

Chris’ Mom, having got out of this habit in her twenty years of living in G.B. has slipped right back into it - and her little son is following suit.

The first slip came pretty early, when we were doing background work and he referred to the stoodio. As he had mentioned that he was keen to keep his English accent, I was very happy to jump on this; and what followed was ten minutes of Chris trying to get it right again.

This has been followed by other mistakes; but his tolerance of giving in to me is waning, either that or it is just too much like hard work.

Granted there are a few words that Chris has always said in the American way: tomato, oregano… But he has taken to responding “I always said it like that” when I might mention that no, he wasn’t frustrated, but frustrated.

I am all for fitting in while we are here in the United States, but there is something special about being a little unique. And, more importantly, I’ll be damned if I let any of my Great British standards fall.

So if you’ll excuse me, I just need to pop the kettle on.

Monday, November 2, 2009

177 Days In - Halloween

Wow Halloween is a big-deal here.

I mean, I knew is was a bigger deal here than in the UK. But, really, it’s a Big Deal here.

Like Christmas, the shops started advertising it over a month before; even if their wares are totally irrelevant to the Eve of All Hallows Day, stickers and spiders’ webs adorn the windows. There are whole warehouse shops that open just at this time of year, Disney runs its own special show and people decorate their houses weeks in advance.

As Chris pointed out, this takes something from the scary effect on Halloween night.

Apart from the amazing array of decorations, of course you can purchase special “trick or treat candy” in pretty much any shape or form. The Mommys like to know that their little darlings, having donned bought costumes and yelled “give me sweeties or I will egg your house” at you, will not be poisoned by their treats. To this end, everything is individually wrapped, proving a lack of poison or razor blades.

Learning this, I start to wonder about how noticeable needle holes are in chocolate bar wrappings. Not for my own use, you understand.

There was great excitement as Halloween fell on a Saturday this year. I heard rumours that Los Angeles is the only city where adults go trick-or-treating; but most either go to a party or run about the streets in cordoned off Hollywood.

Overhearing energetic conversations of “which party are you going to?” and “I’m dressing up as this, what will you be?”, can make you feel somewhat left-out. A bit like New-Year’s-Eve, I felt like I should be having an amazing time somewhere, that I could gloat about on facebook later.

On the Saturday in question Chris and I pop to the local mall, we shop for jeans, everyone else is there to show off costumes and gather “candy”.

You guessed it, this is not something that starts when the sun goes down, they are at it all day. Lucky old dentists.

And costumes are not limited to witches and ghosts, we saw cheerleaders, bears, princesses, ketchup bottles, ladybirds, tacos, and our personal favourite - Big Ben.

Actually, we did have fun. We carved an evil pumpkin, made a big spider to creep about on the pool “web” and donned minimum costume/makeup - Chris was a fantastic joker-style-pumpkin. The job of doling out little chocolate bars to cute little kids and greedy pre-teens also become ours; and we actually got some “oh my god” squeals in reaction to my husband’s face.

My childhood Halloween was an evening of apple bobbing and silly games; I don’t remember dressing up, and I do remember my mother’s attitude that getting something because you threaten people is not a good thing.

If you look into the origins of Trick-or-Treating you find that centuries ago it was prevalent in the UK in the form of poor folk offering prayers in return for tit-bits on All Hallows Day (November 1st). It then skipped over here, grew in popularity in the 1940s/50s, and is (I hear) creeping its way into our quaint little British villages.

But if it builds a sense of community and spreads a festive mood, that can only be a good thing. Just don’t tell the kiddywinks what it really means!