Packing Panic & The Orange County Fair: The California Diaries (Part 1)

It was 7:15 on a blustery summer’s morning, and I was frantically shoving a weatherbeaten banana into a backpack whilst struggling to recall if I had packed enough heart medication to last me a month, and wondering if dyeing my eyebrows 3 shades lighter the night before (without having the foresight to buy a matching eyebrow pencil) was possibly the most arbitrary last-minute decision I’ve ever made.

Note: I understand that “blustery” and “summer” are oxymoronic, however, we are in the United Kingdom here so keep rocking with me.

I’ve concluded that there are two types of people in this world:

1.) People who fly into a packing-related panic just as they’re leaving the house for the airport (regardless of the fact that they printed out a checklist the week before and have had their bags sorted and colour-coded for the last 48 hours.)

2.) Complete liars.

I fall into the former category. Despite having made travel a pretty solid facet of my life over the last 8 years, I still have to jump in the car and belt up before terrifying myself imagining that I’ve left a candle burning, and now the curtains are on fire, and the house is slowly filling up with smoke with Mum and Dad trapped inside (even though Mum’s the one driving, Dad’s in the back seat and I haven’t burned a candle since I was 14.)

So before I embarked upon my 4-week trip to California, I was a wreck. 4 weeks is a significantly long time to be distanced from your home comforts. And California is far away, like, across the planet kind of far. What if people don’t understand my accent and I wear out my voice from trying to imitate Elle Woods? – Should I have packed medicine for that? What if the sun is much stronger over there and just melts my sunglasses right off my face? – Do I need a burns kit? I knew I should’ve invested in those fancy designer shades…

I arrived at the airport about fifty-‘leven hours too early, at Dad’s request, so I had plenty of time to kill before boarding my flight. After checking in my bags, I made myself comfortable in the airport lounge with a coffee so hot that I can only assume the barista extracted it directly from the centre of the Earth, and waited patiently for my boarding call.

Now, I’m no Shaquille O’Neal, but I do stand at 5 foot 8.5 (5 of those feet being my legs alone) so I opted to make the small investment of flying Premium Class, and boy, was it delightful! If the additional luggage weight, unlimited onboard drinks and wider variety of in-flight films wasn’t enough, the added leg room alone was definitely worth the splurge. Plus, you get a complimentary glass of champagne upon boarding. I’m not really a drinker, but I am a nervous flyer, so the champers certainly helped to…”calm my nerves”, so to speak…

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The 10 hours flew right by (haha…punny) and before I knew it, it was time to pack away my mindfulness-themed colouring book, wrestle peel off my painfully unbecoming thigh-high compression socks (another one of Dad’s requests) and prepare for landing.

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LAX is undoubtedly the most convoluted and thoroughly bewildering airport-cum-shopping-mall I’ve ever visited. Terminal 6 is reminiscent of the never-ending corridor in The Shining, or equivalent to walking on a treadmill – you can walk and walk until you’re blue in the face, nursing a painful set of shin splints and 5lb lighter, and yet you don’t really seem to advance in any particular direction.

After trekking through the terminal for 40 days and 40 nights about 15 minutes, I was met at the terminal by Eric, proudly displaying a sizeable “Welcome to the U.S.A.” sign, tastefully fashioned out of white cardboard and red/blue felt tips. An American welcome indeed!

Our drive home was equivalent to that scene in Tarzan when he is beside himself with fascination over the sight of suit-cladded humans walking upright and riding about on penny-farthings, however, I was thoroughly spellbound by trucks the size of cargo trains, and the fact that, because there were now 3 of us, we were permitted take the “carpool lane” and bypass the other lanes that were clogged with traffic. How nifty.

The Orange County Fair

Eric’s mum very kindly nabbed us two tickets to the OC Fair a few days after my arrival. Despite the odd trip to Sam’s Club or Stater Bros, this would be my very first “proper” activity and I was chomping at the bit with excitement.

The impression I had gathered in my first week of being stateside was that everything was enormous and that the concept of “limits” does not exist – why stop at a double cheeseburger and fries when you can supersize it and add bacon for an extra 50 cents? Better yet, why don’t you go for their combo meal and add 100 chicken nuggets? Dietary issues? No worries, they have a gluten-free, dairy-free, low-salt, high-fibre, pro-LGBT, anti-fascist option at no extra cost.

The U.S. definitely does seem to subscribe to its reputation of being a place in which you can have anything and everything you want, and that your wants and needs are, in no way, an inconvenience to anyone else.

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The OC Fair lived up to the old adage “the bigger the better” in that everything was positively gigantic. From the cinnamon-sugar-coated churros long enough to aid a professional hiker up Kilimanjaro, to the barbecued turkey legs so hefty that they appeared to have been pulled off something you’d see walking around Jurassic Park. Even the people were enormous.

I was aghast by a lot of what I saw. Eric and I also had a run-in with a 6-foot tall, pristinely white cow, which was a considerably unique experience for both of us.

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We passed a wealth of attractions – from stalls peddling biblical excerpts carved into wooden plaques, to dream catchers constructed out of ethically-sourced feathers and jute twine. I saw a young child carefully handing a stick of candy floss bigger than a storm cloud over to her heavily pregnant mother to hold while she went on the dodgems with her little brother. It seemed as though I was at some sort of interactive, anthropological museum of America.

We stumbled upon a piglet race which was every bit as bonkers as it sounds (reads?). Those aforementioned prehistoric-sized turkeys were also stashed around the back in cages big enough to rack bikes up on, with their red, dangly bits flapping in the breeze of the portable air conditioning. See, they weren’t waiting for their go on the grill, in actual fact they were waiting to take part in the barnyard animals’ beauty pageant…or something to that effect. Pens full of glossy-haired goats with perfectly tapered beards filled the back wall of the livestock pavilion that was alive with the aroma of hay and dry feed.

After we had spent what felt like the hottest day in the history of daylight wandering around observing the goings-on of other families and watching long-haired highland cows receiving Indian head massages from their supervisors, we decided that heading back to the car and going home to cool down was more of a necessity than anything else.

So we bid adieu to the fascinating throb of activity that was the Orange County Fair and crossed the no-returns threshold into the car park. Now for struggle number 2. Out of the eleventy-twelve cars that were parked across what looked like an acre’s-worth of land, which one was ours? Our no-defining-features-possessing, run-of-the-mill, silver Lexus that we had parked in a mostly empty car park had now disappeared into a sea of identical-looking family cars whose windscreens were now reflecting the sun directly back into our retinae and blinding us to kingdom come.

Some 30 minutes of head scratching and general discombobulation later, we located our beloved vehicle and made our way home.

Home – a place with air conditioning and ice cold water.


So that concludes my first week in California! 1 down, 3 to go…

 

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