So my story concludes. Mussy will hopefully add some of his adventures and comments later. It is a bit long-winded (ie I ramble a lot), but it was to make up for not driving from SLC to LA! Regards to all and see you next year! BalkanExpress
The warmth and madness of the crowds of Belgrade were behind us (as was the lady with no belly-button – a story to be recounted only in person and over a beer), and Mussy drove us back north to the calmness of home of Budapest. Unlike the majority of Gumballers, we had the glorious luxury of 2 whole nights of normal sleep in our beds before rejoining the rally for the last of the US leg. The other Gumballers were stuck on an ‘Air Iceland’ plane. Not a 747, but a little thing that has to make regular stops for fuel – just as well as Alex Roy was going to tape all the toilets and mark them as out-of-use! First thing to do was clean out the car prior to a stay in the intensive care clinic of Porsche Hungaria. It truly is amazing how much crap and garbage can be accumulated in only a few days.
The car goes into Porsche to sort out the oil leak we know about, and to put in new brakes and pads. Then the garage phones. It isn’t one oil leak; it is two and will require an entire engine removal and strip-down to repair. We knew it would be painful (at least to Mussy’s wallet!) and were prepared for the figure: just over 1,000 euros. It is a good thing that labour is still cheap in Eastern Europe! Then came the surprise; remember the oil can splitting at the start and Mussy just ripping out the lining of the front storage area? They wanted over 600 Euros just to replace it!!! WTF? Mussy and I have agreed that instead of paying this outrageous sum for a piece of glorified carpet, we would get a local to manufacture a bespoke ‘Louis Vuitton’ cover, complete with faux-diamonds on the holders – and would still be cheaper.
Saturday came all too soon (according to the nagging girlfriend) and Mussy and I boarded ‘Malev’s’ largest jet for the jaunt to California (Malev – Hungarian airline and damn fine!). The plan was simple: fly to NY, change and fly to LA, arriving in the late afternoon and then rent a Porsche, Bentley or an H1 Hummer and drive to Vegas in time for the party and to rejoin the rally. Why do all the ugly trolly-dollies serve Business Class? Why are all the pretty ones back in cattle?
One thing we noticed as we landed 45 minutes late at JFK: the Americans really want you to savour your entry experience into the US. So much so that they gave us 2 hours in which to do so. Admittedly it didn’t help that in front of us were 200 odd people (and I do mean odd!) from some Caribbean island. It appeared that every single one of them had problems with their visas or who they were, etc, etc. Not one person took less than 5-10 minutes to be dealt with, many taking longer before being escorted into a side office. The result was that instead of their being 8 security officials to deal with the people, there were soon only 3. 3 for all the non-Americans. The queue for the septics was fast moving and served by 8 officials. 8 officials who seemed determined not to allow anyone else through, no matter that there were connecting flights being missed. Great. By a mixture of lies (Mussy bluffing his way through the American queue) and rudeness (me going to the head of my line, and I hate queue jumping – reminds me of German skiers) we finally got through.
We had missed our connecting flight, and though the staff at the First Class desk of American Airlines were very kind (especially as I was not travelling in First!), we could get no flight to LA with an arrival time before 10pm. Gutted. That meant we could not get to the hire-car place on time. We made the decision to get very, very drunk instead. Going to the AA Lounge we were given a token each for a ‘beverage’. WTF? Upon entering I soon understood that the AA did not stand for American Airways, but for a self-help group of Alcoholics Anonymous. We exchange our tokens for G&Ts, and pondered what sort of sick society forces business class travellers to pay for their drinks?
The AA plane was utter, utter shite! Next to the doorway we could see large segments of rust that had been painted over, and other sections where rectangles of metal the size of A3 sheets had been replaced. Was this American or Uganda Airlines we were getting on?
Upon entering the cabin, was stunned to discover such tawdry and ancient furniture – I have only seen worse in low-class brothels in Germany! I was pleased that I had not taken the option of the 4,000 dollar upgrade to first! We settled back in our chairs (at least 20 years old) and forced ourselves to sleep – better to have bad dreams than experience the nightmare that is an internal flight in the USA. Sorry to go on so much about the plane, but I have only ever flown BA, SAA, Malev, KLM and Virgin before. I expected so much more than AA delivered.
Arriving in LA, life returned to Gumball standards. Mussy had used his Concierge service at Coutts Bank (very posh!) to organise a limo to pick us up from the airport and to book a table at ‘Maestro’ – the best steak house in LA. At the hotel we bumped into a couple of the Gumball crew. They were not staying at the Hilton, but at some hostel a couple of miles away. Poor sods! We went to the restaurant. To say it was the best steak of my life would have been an understatement! Absolutely superb, as was the wine. We both heartily recommend it to anyone in the area (provided you do not object to a 500 dollar bill for 2). This was not a place to declaim loudly “a bottle of your finest!