Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Davis, California

The second stop on my holiday to the states was visiting my friend Matt in Davis. Now Matt is really really into his music; he performs in the University of California Davis Marching band (Cal Aggies) as sousaphone section leader, plays the tuba in a funk band, and plays great piano. Spending time on his turf meant exposure to more music than I'm accustomed, which was great!

Marching in a woollen hat in the sun with the rather heavy Sousaphone
I went along to a band practise and then to a couple of their gigs. It was really impressive how 100+ young musicians can be so disciplined and yet have such fun at the same time. They rocked out to a few modern pop songs like Lady Gaga's Bad Romance. Some of the moves were choreographed brilliantly; a line of trumbone players alternated between swinging sharply side to side and ducking down just in time.

Quite a 60th birthday surprise
One of the events that I was priviliged enough to see was for a senior band members parent. I believe they raffle off a few performances a year and someone managed to snag one for a 60th birthday celebration. The band started marching to the loud drums a few streets away and easily filled the culdesac with young musicians.  After performing the obligitory happy birthday they rocked out to lots of classic songs. The Sousies and Saxaphone players are shown below performing on the move.

I also went into the University of California, Davis campus a few times, it was so different from any other I have seen. Canterbury University has a good proportion of cyclists, it was the predominate form of transport at UCD by a large margin. Some students were slack-lining outside of their rec center so I joined them for a few hours trying to cartwheel off the line and jump into trees.

One of the weekends took me south to San Fransisco for the Save the Music festival. Another brilliant Californian day which I got to enjoy with some really good live music!

The funk band Matt featured in at the "Save the Music" festival

A battle of the bands - Berkley vs Davis

Without doubt the highlight was watching the battle of the bands between the Berkley and Davis marching bands. Davis was a lot more lively and had a much bigger turnout for this particular show.

On my way back to Los Angeles the train ahead of ours sadly hit someone. After waiting on the train in the desert for a few hours we disembarked and were picked up by bus for the remainder of the journey.

Double decker trains require multiple busses to carry equivalent number of passangers

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Texas Surprise

Well I'm off on an adventure to the states on my first annual leave from Dynamic Controls. I left home in Christchurch at 7am, got an hour in Sydney airport, then had the long haul across the pacific. I can't seem to sleep on these really long flights so I finished my Wheel of Time book, watched 5 episodes of Big Bang Theory, saw the movies Paul, thankyoumoreplease, Arthur, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and X-Men first class and eventually landed in Los Angeles. I had about five hours before my next flight so I walked from the airport in search of frozen yogurt and food. I fixed my food craving with a piece of almost every type of fruit for sale at a supermarket called Ralphs. Frozen yogurt goodness would have to wait until I returned to California. 

First proper stop was Houston, Texas to pay back a surprise I got a few years ago from Kim. It was gorgeous weather, well over 30 degrees centigrade, to be honest it was way too hot for me. I arrived at night - maybe 8pm or so I got out of the airport and rode a bus for 2 hours into downtown Houston. From there I knew the park where I could find Kim at 8 am the next morning, I didn't realize just how far away it was so I just started walking. I visited a gas station to get directions and buy a bottle of cooled water after about an hour, and had made decent progress towards my goal. It was so hot and muggy though, 11pm at night and I was in a tee shirt, sweating. Around midnight and I haven't seen a gas station for a while so I walk until I find a fairly major street and pull over a taxi to take me past the park and then find a "cheap" hotel nearby. I think we had different definitions of cheap but I parted with my money and finally got to sleep just around the corner from the Tour40 event location.

I spy with my little eye something beginning with a K

So despite that being my first sleep for around 30 hours getting up was rather easy. I had a quick complimentary breakfast (well actually I guess I was paying through the teeth for that orange juice). It was still really hot and the day was getting hotter and hotter. I left my bag at the hotel and went in search of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Reserve where I spied someone that looked rather familiar.

Turning up out of the blue is so much better when you've crossed an ocean first

I feel the surprise worked rather well. After the shock wore off somewhat, Kim showed me the bus she designed and had been living in for the last few months. Then we got into the conservation project they were here for, and what I had signed up for back in NZ. The summer in Houston had been particularly hot and dry so the project was to create a fire break around the buildings in this park. So we got a safety briefing about snakes(!), donned the thick leather gloves and put on helmets and safety glasses.

It was a really hot day so doing physical work was "interesting". We pulled all the logs and sticks out of a 100m section of forest around the buildings and then cleared all the forest litter and carted it away. There was a huge group of volunteers sweating it out in the forest including the CEO of Southwest airlines. We called it a day after about 3 hours, I must say it was very exciting that they had ice blocks for the volunteers!

So after surprising Kim and spending the morning catching up while working she had to leave with the Tour40 crew and I was going to meet them at their Hotel - "The Marriott near the airport". I picked up my stuff from the hotel I'd stayed in and caught a bus downtown. I went into a BBQ/grill place and got a turkey toasted sandwich - it was only $3 but I swear they used an entire turkey! It was massive! I couldn't help but notice the size of their cars were also rather extreme. I mean a Hilux would look small compared to most cars on the road in Houston. During the day it was painful to walk between buildings - even in the shade! I didn't spend very long in downtown because the heat was just so intense.

So I take the two hour bus ride back out to the airport (where I'd flown in to) only to find out there are 5 Marriott Hotels in Houston, and 2 major airports - unfortunately the one I wanted was at the other airport in the opposite direction way across the huge city. Way to waste six hours on a bus! That said it was a pretty good way to see the city and talk with some friendly locals.

Eventually (good 10 hours since I last saw them) I get to the right place and get some amazing Mexican food while the Tour40 crew has an award ceremony debrief thing. The Marriott was far to rich for my blood so I found a much better place not far down the road that was a third the price. Finally getting to talk to Kim was great, but sadly she was flying east to catch up with some friends that I didn't know the next day. I decided to head back to a climate more suited to me, and visit my friend Matt in Davis, California. This time Kim gave me a ride to the airport and we made plans to catch up in California in a week or so. I knew there was a fairly large risk that Kim would have immediate plans but I think it was worth it for the surprise - that said I won't be doing it again!