"America's Friendliest Airport" reads the sign at Phoenix Sky Harbor International. The TSA at the border see to it that it is anything but.
When hurrying for a tight connection I breezed through the border with my US passport. Alas the Mouse is an alien and had to endure the visitors' line. She asked politely if she could move to the front of the queue and was rewarded for her efforts with a halitosis-filled barrage from some strapped human twinkie. The TSA's only objective seems to be giving the most unpleasant welcome to the US and harassing anyone of middle eastern descent. They are an armed militia of self-important micropenises, a law unto themselves with a remit to institutionalise racism and indulge their sadistic fantasies which presumably manifested themselves at a young age with cat strangling and guinea pig raping.
This miserable arrival aside I passed a delightful 10 days in California, splitting my time between Palm Springs and Los Angeles.
The development of Palm Springs as a Hollywood haunt is apocryphally attributed to its lying almost exactly 100 miles from LA. In the days when movie stars were contracted at studios these contracts contained a clause forbidding the star from being further than 100 miles from Hollywood in case emergency reshooting was needed.
In its glory days it provided shelter to Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and a whole host of sexy party-goers. Today it is the Florida of the West Coast, a haven for the retired and older gays. It's a geriatric sim city, with septuagenarian waiters, partially deaf security guards, and not a single Uber driver below the age of 85.
Our first stop was an annual pilgrimage to In-N-Out burger. This chain of 300 or so restaurants across the South-west and Pacific Coast inspires cultish devotion with its stripped-back menu and good quality ingredients. It offers concrete shakes, cheeseburgers slathered in thousand-island dressing, and unsalted fries made before your eyes, all at great value.
Dinner at the excellent Rooster and the Pig was followed by drinks at Tonga Hut, the desert outpost of LA's oldest tiki bar. You're greeted by avuncular maitre-d's in red dinner jackets and ushered into a sea of Polynesian prints. We drank from flaming coconuts, rum-soaked pineapples, and then in marched 6 marines in full ceremonial dress to dance along to Elvis Costello's great-grandfather. Weird Americana at its best.
Then on to our AirBnB in LA's Koreatown. 20 years ago the streets of K-town were the site of a ferocious gun battles between Korean shop owners and Compton gangbangers in amidst the chaos of the Rodney King riots.
Today it's teeming with boutiques and BBQ joints. At Beverly Soon Tofu House we tried to order a "hot" tofu stew. In the eyes of the Korean wait staff us cheese-eaters didn't look up to much so were cajoled into a medium. Born to be mild.
Next stop was the West Hollywood branch of legendary slow taco chain Guisados.
Slow-cooked mushy meats fast, a great concept well-executed.
Lunch the day after was fish, shrimp and scallop tacos at Tacos Puntas Cabras in Santa Monica. The idea of ordering fish tacos back home has all the appeal of a pap smear. But in sunny LA with an arsenal of hot sauces it's another story entirely.
I've always been a Brunch-skeptic. Brunch is for the unimaginative, for whom a novel combination of eggs bacon and avocado prompts instant creaming. On weekends you'll see Clapham sows lined up in their university ski trip tracksuit bottoms, huddled in the pissing rain. This is the opposite of fine dining.
Admittedly, East Hollywood brunch favourite Sqirl was lovely. Each item off the menu was ludicrously photogenic, like a series of better and better looking Patek Philippe eurodouche sons.
Ricotta and jam toast, rhubarb lemonade, sorrel pesto risotto with pickled watermelon, and of course, the Mouse's Pentax K1000. Sqirl was a lesson in how great late morning dining can be. This doesn't make the Breakfast Club any less ghastly.
One of my best meals of the year was at Night + Market Song, a thai dive in Silverlake, whose head chef Kris Yenbamroong has been scooping up awards for his creations inspired by a mis-spent youth in Bangkok booby bars.
Each dish had my nose running, hiccuping, a gibbering wreck, masochistically shovelling more of the scorching hot delights past my teeth, all washed down with lager.
"Startled Pig" was lip-tingling pepper-sprayed pork, and the catfish tamales were stuffed with punchy fermented fish paste. The famous fried chicken burger was the single best piece of fried chicken I have ever encountered, the size of Mike Tyson's arthritic fist and bursting with zesty slaw. Wonderful.
By no means an intellectual hub, Los Angeles has buckets of laid-back panache and brilliant food. If i were to settle there, before too long I would be barely distinguishable from the cholesterol-stuffed condoms who staff the TSA. Except for my great hair.