On travelling to the USA

It’s been way too long since I wrote anything really worthwhile on my blog, and that’s a bit of a shame. Short thoughts end up on Twitter (look left), short things I think my friends would be interested in end up on Facebook, longer advice has ended up on my Training Brisbane consulting page, and longer tech articles have all ended up on macProVideo.com, where I’ve written 3-4 articles every month since 2011.

But hey, here I am with a few thoughts about my recent trip to the USA. After working for CoreMelt at the NAB video industry conference, I was lucky enough to be able to head to the Yosemite conference in Yosemite, a one-off Mac/iOS conference in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I still need to plow through my thousands of photos to find the ones most worthy of sharing, but for now, a few thoughts on the USA. They aren’t very long, and haven’t been massaged into elegant paragraphs, but sit alone in disconnected blobs. Unfortunate, yes, but better to let them out than keep them for a perfect article I may never have time to write.

Driving on the right-hand side of the road isn’t too hard, but the hardest thing to flip is your mental map of where the car is within the lane. I was used to looking at the right side of the car to know where the car is positioned, and you have to flip that along with everything else. It’s not as obvious as driving on the other side of the road, but much more important.

Being able to turn right after stopping at a red light saves heaps of time — nice one, California. Did you know that UPS trucks (usually) don’t turn left?

Distances are huge, and freeways seem necessary even in moderately sized towns. It’s quite odd — sure, there are a few freeways in Brisbane, but we use them to get to the other side of town, not to get to the shopping mall nearby. Freeways are just built into life here, and much faster than the “surface roads” in most circumstances. On freeways especially, very few people seem to do the speed limit anywhere, and I’m sure there are speed traps somewhere but I didn’t see any. Driving felt pretty safe though, with not too many nutters.

Driving a convertible around the desert was a blast, but I wouldn’t have needed so much sunscreen if there’d been a roof on the car instead. At least we got some great footage for our stabilisation demos, and I get to say I drove a convertible around the desert.

Hoover Dam is grand in its scale and impressive to walk about, but the most striking thing is the style of both the architecture and signs. In the game Fallout New Vegas, it’s the setting for the final battle, so it definitely felt like I’d spent time there, but the art deco signage pulled me right back into Bioshock. Love it, and wish there was more of it.

NAB was great for meeting the big names in the FCP X world. Besides finally meeting CoreMelt’s Roger Bolton (who I’ve worked with for years now) I also got to meet just about every FCP X trainer I’ve heard of, to demo CoreMelt’s software to Larry Jordan, to go to several cool parties, and live it up a bit. With any luck I’ll get to do it again.

Living or visiting America feels a little like life without a seatbelt. Get injured? Become ill? Work in a job which doesn’t offer the right kind of healthcare? Well then: you’re stuffed. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t want just because you can’t afford to lose the healthcare plan they offer, you may well discover that freedom isn’t what it appears to be.

My goodness, good beer is cheap here. Not in bars, where it’s about the same as in Australia, but a six pack of interesting beer for US$10? Singles for $1.30? Please?

On the other hand, the imperial system is crazy. Miles? Pints that aren’t even the same as UK pints? Gallons? Fahrenheit? No no no.

Politics is a poisoned discussion here. Most people are actually sane, but those that aren’t are so far off the deep end compared to everyone I know back home that it’s difficult to engage. No preferential voting means there really are only two choices in elections, and I can see why people become disillusioned with the process.

Pricing is a constant surprise. I can’t quite figure out how anyone sticks to a budget here, when you usually have to add 8ish percent state sales tax and often twice that as a tip to every bill. It all ends up a bit vague, and paywave-style tapping to pay is still rare. Foreign cards don’t seem to able to use their Chip-and-PIN, and I only had my signature actually checked once in the entire trip.

There aren’t really enough staff in most places, because the numbers have been crunched to the point where nearly every shop is on the bare minimum staffing level. I visited a Quiznos with just one visible staff member and one other guy who seemed to be taking out the trash but not very quickly. Queues were very common. A point of comparison is my local shopping centre here in Australia, where the staff are unfailingly friendly, often familiar, some young, some old, and everything’s pretty easy. Fewer staff means things are harder, shelves aren’t always stocked, you can’t get help when you need it, and fewer people earning a living. But the stock price is higher, right? Exception: In and Out burger had loads of staff, all working feverishly, making pretty decent food.

In-n-Out’s tasty burger.

Most fast food is pretty average, as you’d expect, but so’s a lot of slower food. Denny’s wasn’t to my taste; Carl’s Jr was nothing exciting; Quiznos was OK. But In-n-Out Burger was probably the best burger I had on the trip. Chipotle did a decent burrito too. Shout outs to the not-too-bad sloppy joe at the pub and the not-too-bad cheesesteak in the food court at the Riviera in Las Vegas, to the buffet at the Wynn, to the awesome (and real) Mexican food at Alta California Fonda on Pico Boulevard in LA. In general, finding anything fresh was a challenge, but doable.

In LA, my wrist-mounted iPod nano was mistaken for an Apple Watch by a guy at a cafe, and a conversation was started. Turned out he was an editor too, so we had a quick chat, and he was the editor on The Right Stuff. And The Mentalist, and lots more besides. LA, right? Where else can you help a random stranger with a question about LUTs?

LA has The Getty Center and Griffith Observatory for awesome, free days out, but everyone knows about them, so they’re busy. Still worth it, though, and free wifi at each.

Free wifi is awesome for travellers. My international roaming data is effectively free (since I roll over quite a bit of spare credit on my Australian prepaid plan) but it’s still pretty limited. So when you can get free wifi, it’s FaceTime Time! That’s glorious when your family is actually awake, the connection takes, and you can point at the blurry thing behind your head and say “that’s the Hollywood sign!”.

A good Airbnb place is so much better than a good hotel. A good hotel can’t offer an open bar, freshly squeezed orange juice and a salad of fresh vegies both from produce grown in the backyard, great conversations and a peek into what a real local’s life is like. If you’re in LA and will have a car, do yourself a favour, and stay with Sri.

Breakfast at Sri’s place in LA.

Driving around the Hollywood Hills was a blast because I’ve driven those streets so many times in Grand Theft Auto V. I ended up searching for the road that Rockstar copied and placed Franklin’s house on, and I’m pretty sure I found it, too. Bonus for visitors: free parking if you want to walk around.

Franklin’s GTA V house was about here.

Yosemite National Park is an amazing, stunning place to be, to visit, to tramp around. Epic in the best and biggest sense, you simply can’t take enough photos of the place. It’s too big.

The Yosemite Conference by Cocoaconf was terrific. While I’m not a veteran conference-goer, I’ve been to a few and really enjoyed this. Great people (hi, everyone) and the chance to share a drink, a meal or simply a chat with great people you may or may not have heard of is a chance worth grabbing. How many other people can say they put a koala into Jim Dalrymple’s beard? Looking forward to keeping up with the people I met on Twitter (hi Aijaz, Corey, Dan, Liz, Maia, everyone!).

Of all the great talks, probably the one guaranteed to change my behaviour is Christa Mrgan’s talk on the Yosemite High Sierra camps and how to design app UI. As a designer myself, I knew most of the app design tips, but really valued the way in which she wove the two themes together, and I now have to trek the High Sierra camps at some point in my life.

Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new is always worthwhile. If you haven’t travelled in a while, get out there. Mind you, returning home felt like stepping into warm slippers. So comfortable, so relaxing, no “bad areas” to avoid, no sense of fear or unease. Australia is, indeed, a lucky country. May it long stay that way.

PS. Pics now added. Will update with a full Flickr set when they’re ready.