Monday, April 5, 2010

California, Parties and Leaving-do's

I realise it has been a month since I last updated. Do not worry, I have not forgotten about you! The biggest event that happened since the beginning of March would be the two weeks I spent in California. So I will quickly fill you in on the past events.

We left for California on Thursday morning. A bright and early cab ride to Glasgow Airport started the 24 hour travel marathon. After waiting for about 4 hours in Heathrow, then an Air New Zealand flight to LAX. Air New Zealand was amazing and really comfortable. The plane was also really empty so my office-mate and I got to share a row, and it's always nice to have space and company on a long flight like that. We got to Los Angeles in the early evening. I called some of my family to let them know that I arrived then met with people in the bar for a quick drink and some food before crashing.

The next day was our 'jet-lag recovery' day so I got together with my family. It was great to see everyone again and to relax. I went hiking with my aunt and my wee cousin after breakfast in Eton Canyon outside of Pasadena. It was so fantastic to bask in the sunlight and get some exercise after the flight.

The meeting started on Saturday morning, bright and early. The second day is always the worst when it comes to jetlag and sitting in a windowless, over-airconditioned conference room does not help the situation. Especially when it's coming on 2am my time. The weekend is simply the smaller working groups, informally discussing our current projects. I gave a presentation on my work and got to put up with some pedantic egos. Thrilling, let me tell you.

This hotel is a special place. It does free drinks for it's residence for two hours every single evening. And these are not small drinks, let me tell you. Say you ask for a vodka and cranberry juice, which is mostly what I drank to start the night after the meeting. They fill up the glass with ice and vodka and then put a splash of cranberry in there. It is just asking for alcohol poisoning. As these free drinks are timed to be post-meeting and pre-dinner, it makes for interesting evenings. The problem too is that we are relegated to a one-block radius around this hotel, which means cheap, nasty American chains. I was not able to finish a single meal any night I was there.

It was good to catch up with everyone but I get quite sick of the science chat and most of the personalities. I found a good group of people to hang out with and spent most of the time with them. The funniest bit was that during lunch and coffee breaks, the only people outdoors were the ones from the furthest north. It was so clearly a bunch of people who had not seen daylight in a very long time. Our skin glowed white like a sheet of paper.

I am pretty convinced that the rampant alcoholism that takes place at these meetings is due to the fact that we are all working towards and for something that has not been detected yet. One night I went out to this dive bar called the 'Drinkers Hall of Fame' with 4 guys. We were the only ones in the bar (as it was a weeknight) and the bartender introduced us to good tequila and let us stay until he wanted to go home. The worst night was when we started our drinks during the free drink hours and I had the experience of a Tokyo Ice Tea, which is a Long Island but with tequila as well. Death in a glass, especially on an empty stomach. After that, I missed the Glasgow people going out to dinner so I went out with the group from Australia to the Outback Steakhouse. This basically made my life complete as you all know what a garish representation of Australia that place is. The best was the 'Aussi-tizers' and the 'Steak on the Barbie'. There was about 10 of us, I was the only girl and we drank lots of Australian beer. I do not think the staff knew what was going on, but we definitely cleared out all the tables around us in a very short period of time. We finished our food and went back to the hotel to find that the Academic Advisory Council opened a tab at the hotel bar for all the students and postdocs, wearing mardi-gras necklaces. Apparently we racked up a pretty hefty tab (about $1200 from what rumor has it) and the carnage that remained was not pretty. I, personally, reached a point in the night where I had to go to bed. No questions asked. I left my purse, my camera and didn't say goodbye to anyone. Bedtime. Oh and those glass elevators are one hell of an experience with that much alcohol in your system. On my way to bed, I saw a friend and asked him to keep an eye on my stuff and he was just like, "No. Bed." and walked away. The next morning, I came down to breakfast to see everyone sitting at the tables staring at pieces of dry toast. I crawled into the back of the conference hall and about an hour later, one of the guys from Australia came in, pulled a chair against a wall, propped his feet on another chair and promptly fell asleep. Oh, and that day was St Patrick's Day, but that holiday seemed a bit lack-luster after my previous 6 days so I decided that it would be more fun to go over to my grandmother's. She got some corned beef and we watched the Lion King. It was WAY more fun than going out drinking again would have been.

Finally, the meeting was over and my parents came out and met me at the hotel. I was so sick of being confined to that block for the last six days that all I wanted to do was get very very far away. We went to Cal Tech, visited lots of family, went to Old Town Pasadena, all that fun stuff. It was fantastic to take those days off and let my brain relax. I really enjoy Pasadena, though we went shopping there and it was a harsh reminder how body type expectations are so different in California. We went shopping at my mum's favorite store which has a branch in Glasgow. Everything in the Glasgow shop looks great on me, but nothing fit me in the LA store. It was really depressing. I also got to see one of my old neighbours who lives in LA now. Him and I went to a farmer's market and ate at a Korean Barbeque. It was fantastic to catch up with him again and to see how our lives are doing. After that, my parents and I then went down to San Diego, ate seafood on a pier and sat on the beach. Paradise.

After sad goodbyes, I started my multi-plane journey back to Glasgow. Oh, and this was exciting: Princess Anne was on my flight back to London. She got to get on first and then we all waited in the plane while she exited to her convoy on the tarmac. Short woman in a white jacket, that's all I got. Still cool, though. I did not manage, again, to sleep on that flight and once I boarded the London-Glasgow flight, I passed out before we even took off and woke up when we landed, desperately needing more sleep.

I was welcomed back to pouring rain and an incredibly foul-mouthed, but really friendly, taxi driver. I called my friend and we met up in Tennants. I was walking to meet her and was walking in the rain, down the usual Byres Road, happy to be back, but then a car nailed a puddle at Mach 10 and splashed water all over me. Welcome home. Anyway, her and I caught up and then I went home and crashed. It took me quite a few days to get over the jetlag, but finally was able to.

On Thursday, I got to catch up with a friend back home, which felt really good. I have been really afraid of losing touch with some people, so it was great to reconnect again. On Friday, my friend and I planned a Star Trek night to battle homesickness, our usual cure, but the evening turned out different than expected, in a great way. Another friend came over as well and we ordered Mr India's (tried the Chicken Hot Pot, new favourite!) and sat at the dining table drinking wine and eating curry for 9 hours. Nine hours. We left at 3:30am. I do appreciate living in a city where I can walk home at 3:30 in the morning and feel safe. It was a really really fun evening. The next night I went over to another friend's house for some wine and chat. We played Perfect Dark on the xbox and complained about work.

This last week I was struggling with my code, but I think I finally have it working. We also had a visitor open day in which we have to go down and talk to prospective undergraduates about why they should study physics. My few hours down there was relatively quiet, but still fun. I always like seeing parents and their kids. The parents are so enthusiastic and the kids are so not. Ah, to be 17 again.

The next day we had a party at one of the faculty member's houses and everyone came along. There were four reasons to have the party so there was a lot of champagne and food. The quality of stories that came out of that party are endless. It was even in the middle of the week and once we ran out of port at two in the morning we all decided to go home. I made it in to the office at ten and the department was dead. We are hosting a big UK Astronomy meeting next week so we all spent the morning stuffing folders and putting name-tags together. It was good, mindless, hangover work. Of course, in the classic way of our research group, we got an email at about noon saying that there would be champagne available at 4pm in the common room to toast two people who were leaving the group. When I need a liver transplant, I am going to charge it to our group's expenses. That same day as well, one of my closest friends had her PhD defense (called a 'viva' in this country) so we all sat in the common room drinking the champagne until the text message/email flurry was sent around saying she was done. At six she was out and newly minted with 'Dr' and we went to the astronomy coffee area for some more champagne. We gave her some presents, one being a giant rock, a memory of 'thesis mountain'. We then hit the West End pubs for proper celebrations. One of the best places we went had lots of rum and good cocktails. She got a 'six rum cocktail' that had six shots of rum, a special grapefruit liquor in a beer stein with an absinthe-soaked sugar cube lit on fire on the top. Once that place closed, we went to the Oran Mor until about two in the morning at which time, Scooby-snacks were calling. We have a theory that the scooby snack is a delicate mix wherein if you're sober enough to talk yourself out of it, that is a good thing because you don't have enough alcohol in your system to absorb the whole thing. If you have enough alcohol in your system that a scooby snack sounds good, then it is the best thing for you.

She crashed on my floor that evening and we had a very slow morning the next day. Thankfully, there's a bonus to living in a religious state as we get Friday and Monday off around Easter. On Friday night, we wanted to fulfill the promise that we would go dancing before she left. A few of us all went and had a really fantastic time. It was great to be with a bunch of people who were all really happy and positive and enthusiastic. I unfortunately blew my whole budget for the week, but it was worth it as she is leaving. We started out at The Captain's Rest where two of the people we work with are in separate bands and both bands happened to be performing. Then we went to the city centre and went dancing until about three o'clock. Got some great chippy and the taxi home.

Saturday I went to the Glasgow Roller Derby fundraiser at a great underground place in the city centre. It was funny, too, because the world Irish Dancing Championships were taking place at the Concert Hall. Talk about the ultimate flashback. For Easter I went to my friend's house for dinner. It was three couples and myself, so it felt a bit like Bridget Jones, but we all had a really good time. I ended up crashing there after the Ouzo knocked us all out. Today I walked back, crawled into my pajamas and spent the day lounging around, eating and writing this!

The weirdest thing about this weekend was the fact that it was leaving parties for two of my close friends. Think about that. I have close friends here, and now some of them are leaving me. It is actually really sad and I will be missing a lot after this. It really cements my dislike in the mobile academic life. It is just too difficult and you don't feel settled. I do wish both of them luck though; life in Glasgow just will not be the same without them.

Until next time! (which will be a lot sooner than a month, I promise)

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