Sunday, 10 March 2013

Irvine, California...

Hounslow with palm trees?
I had two choices: hire the hotel limo to take me to Irvine – at a cost of $80 – or take the free shuttle back to the airport and then look for another shuttle to take me to Irvine. I was sorely tempted by the hotel limo, but felt it was simply too extravagant.

Jumping into the hotel shuttle, I headed back to the airport and quickly found the shuttle buses that would take me on from there – at half the price; and after a few minutes, there was the bus. Inside I found a Japanese girl from Tokyo, another Japanese person sitting in the front, a man from Boston and an older man who I didn't engage in conversation.

We headed out of Los Angeles on the highway and soon the awful sprawl of LA was behind us and there were pleasant houses in palm tree-lined roads, all reminiscent, for me, of those summer days of the 1960s that you see in the movies. Movies like The Graduate. If Simon & Garfunkel were on the radio the picture would have been complete. I was transported back to my childhood and a time I'd love to recapture as, I imagined, those living in these quaint houses managed to do most days.

The journey lasted about 40 minutes with nobody saying a word, although I had chatted with the Japanese girl prior to the coach setting off. She was from Tokyo and had flown in from New York where, she said, it was very cold. She'd been to London too and found it cold. I agreed with her and then silence resumed.

Getting out of LA was quite a relief. Admittedly I was staying close to the airport – imagine Hounslow but with palm trees – but many people have said to me that LA was a bit of dump. They were right. The night before, on the hotel television, I'd watched a bit of 'celebrity' television, all of which took place downtown and I immediately knew that a trip there would be pointless. I hate all that celebrity shit at the best of times.

Wally Park – now that's where I should be heading.
My hotel in LA was alright, but basic. The door stuck whenever I tried to open it, which was annoying, and the bar downstairs left a lot to be desired. I'd gone down there for a glass of red wine before bed, but it wasn't very appealing. Breakfast the next morning wasn't brilliant either, but it was generally okay. I had time to kill. Remember, this was my weekend. Normally I'd be out with the family somewhere, but I was stuck in LA, a city not conducive to walking so I felt a bit of a prisoner.

View from room 508, Hyatt Regency, Irvine, CA.
When the clock reached 11am, therefore, I headed out, took the shuttle, got the other shuttle from the airport and ended up in Irvine and the Hyatt Regency Hotel. For the first time in the last week, a decent hotel. It was truly wonderful from the moment I set eyes upon it: cool, calm and luxurious. I checked in with ease, went to my room and marvelled at everything. Hyatt was a cool hotel brand and I was glad to be here.

There was a pool which, unlike the hotel pools in other hotels I'd stayed in, was heated and located in a pleasant environment. The San Antonio El Tropicano pool was unappetising, if that phrase fits. It was cold, for a start, but it's location within the hotel grounds wasn't in anyway conducive to having a pleasant swim. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't upbeat, it wasn't 'happy', just a pool. Although, having said that, I would have gone for a swim had the pool been heated. Then, at LA's Holiday Inn by the airport it was the same deal: a pool, like an afterthought, in a location to the side of the building and not that brilliant, certainly not appealing enough to make me want a swim. I think there was a pool in Knoxville's Hilton, but it was much cooler there anyway so a swim was definitely out of the question.

Room 508, Hyatt Regency, Irvine CA
The Hyatt Regency, however, had it all. I ventured down to the pool where two girls in bikinis were sunbathing and two young kids were messing around in the water. I knelt down to feel the temperature of the water and it was just right. I vowed to have a swim, but first, something to eat.

Up to now, everything – virtually everything – had been 'unhealthy' large portions or something healthy smothered in something unhealthy. Not at the Hyatt. I chose a chicken and avocado sandwich with a pleasant vegetable soup to start with and then set about reading my all-time favourite book, One Man & His Bike by Mike Carter. This, I thought, was bliss. Outside, there were palm trees and, for the first time, I realised that I had found a true oasis.

Chicken and avocado sandwich with sweet potato fries.
Irvine was a nice place. The need to travel by car was still there, but now I was in Orange County, not a million miles from John Wayne Airport and close to the location of my meeting tomorrow. All was good. And so was the waitress, who originated in Thailand but had been brought up in Hawaii and had moved to Irvine. She has two children and takes them every week to Disneyland in Anaheim. She has a weekly pass that allows her access during the week and she takes her kids there to wear them out – and it works: they're ready for bed when they come home.

She was a very good waitress who engaged her guests in conversation and was happy to discuss the menu and the fact that Hyatt was focusing on lighter meals. I told her it was a welcomed relief from what I'd been used to over the last few days.

What was also very pleasant was the laid back music being played over the restaurant's sound system. The music, the wine and the food provided extreme comfort after yesterday's nightmare journey from Knoxville to LA, which had taken over 12 hours from start to finish. I was lapping it up. The whole thing was made even more enjoyable by Mike Carter's book. For lunch, incidentally, I opted for a chicken an avocado sandwich with a side order of sweet potato fries and honey mustard – oh, and a couple glasses of red wine.

Poached pear crumble – it was good.
Today has been my only real day of relaxation so I'm making the most of it. I can't go for a swim yet as my food needs to be digested a bit first, but I'm thinking about it.

Earlier on I was giving up on LA as a bit of a bad job, but, thanks to the Hyatt Regency, the food it offers, the service and the general vibe, not forgetting the pool, I've changed my mind. I think the key is to get out of LA, head for somewhere like Orange County and suddenly, the days of endless summer, epitomised by childhood mainly, return and you feel at ease with yourself. That's how I'm feeling now. At home it's 2250hrs on a Sunday night. Here in Irvine it's seven hours earlier and the sun is shining.

Simply one of the best books I've ever read.

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