Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back in Britain!

My final week in America began in Las Vegas! Casino City! I landed at 8am at the Las Vegas airport, and was amused to find that you don't have to even leave the airport to begin gambling!

I arrived at the El Cortez on Fremont Street, and found that Vegas is really not a morning place. I left my belongings at the hotel and wondered down to the strip. The place was dead. Silence. I know I was wondering the desert but I expected some excitement? But no one appeared until lunchtime, when suddenly a mass of people dispersed onto the streets!

I couldn't believe how massive this city was, and how different it was from any other American city. You can smoke indoors and drink in the streets, and gamble 24/7, to which most people take advantage of. No matter what time you are up in vegas, whether its 10pm at night or 5-6am in the morning, the casinos are full.

The first evening I had tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil, which turned out to be an amazing show. However before hand I decided to dress up in a suit (which I had purposely bought for my travels). I get to Las Vegas and find that people don't even dress up for even the nicest of establishments. Embarressed that I appeared to be the ONLY person in a suit, I found the most expensive restaurant I could find, which was in the MGM grand, where even here people were still coming in jeans. The prices were extortionate but was worth it if only to fit in.

The next morning I set off to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. With a keen interest in 1920s american history, I couldn't wait to see the Hoover Dam, a true iconic moment in american history, but also an industrial wonder of the world; followed by one of the seven wonders of the world; the Grand Canyon. The group I was with took a ride across the west brim of the canyon, a walk across the skywalk (I wouldn't bother...) with beautiful views of what is essentially a hole in the ground, but breath-taking all the same. This followed by a meal and entertainment at a local ranch. That evening I went to see the light show on Fremont Street and watched some live bands across the downtown area.

My final day in Vegas was spent in the shopping malls and checking out the casinos; however not for the casinos themselves as I don't actually gamble. The casinos are filled with rollercoasters, attractions, lion inhabitants in some cases! I also managed to visit the shop where Michael Jackson famously spent millions on Martin Bashire's documentary 'living with Michael Jackson'. They weren't letting the tourists in, however they must of assumed I had money as they let me straight in. After all the shopping and rollercoaster fun, I went to see the Blue Man Group perform which was hilariously entertaining. However word of warning; never turn up late to their performances, a poor couple turned up a few minutes late, and they stopped the show, put a spotlight on them and got the crowd to constantly sing 'Your late' until they got to their seats. Also never buy front row tickets as you will have to wear a rain coat to avoid the paint spillages on your clothes, glad I'd learnt not to turn up in my suit that evening!

The next day I awoke and went down to reception where I had booked the complimentary airport shuttle. They directed me outside where I was welcomed with a black executive jaguar, and the gentleman had the door open ready for me! I assumed there was a mistake and protested that the car wasn't for me... I was paying $20 a night for this hotel, I was surely getting a van of some form to the airport? But no the driver insisted the executive jaguar was for yours truly, and so I stopped protesting and accepted the free ride!

I flew to San Francisco, where my friend Renee was awaiting in the airport. We travelled up to the Haight District, an area full of hippy stores and anarchist shops, and BEAUTIFUL hairy hippy men. I gave a woman collecting for opposing against prop 8 $20 in the hope to hurry it up so I could marry one of these gorgeous fiends and live in San Francisco forever! We then went to the Castro where Harvey Milk famously began his campaign to provide homosexual rights. It was like a mini pilgrimage to the gay holy land!

We then took a famous San Francisco trolley down to Fishermans Warf where we attempted to get tickets across to Alcatraz, but it was booked up for 2 weeks! Ridiculous. But we got some good views of the island, and gives me another reason to return (besides the beautifully dirty hippies of course)! We walked along the water front where we discovered San Francisco seems to have a large number of homeless people. In fact on a trip to a public restroom, I had to step over, not one, but TWO homeless men asleep on the bathroom floor in order to use the urinals. I couldn't handle that so instead I waited until we found the nearest restaurant where I could also try some of that San Francisco famous Clam Chowder.

The next morning we got up and headed to China Town, where we found a nice collection of restaurants, gift stores and sex shops... those Chinese are horny gets I tell thee! After lunch we headed to Golden Gate Park where we had planned to visit the King Tut Egyptian exhibition, which once again appeared to be sold out! So after another disappointment we jumped on a bus to Golden Gate Bridge. However in California they're a bit strange and seem to have confusing bus routes which end in the middle of nowhere. We were dropped off on top of a hill with no side walk and were told it was the end of the line. So rather than pretending we were lost, we renamed it a hike and an adventure, and walked over to the Golden Gate Bridge.

On Thursday I returned to Chicago, where Obama was selfishly visiting just as I was landing, and of course had to take up the entire airport and surrounding roads, making my 15 minute drive home last an hour. I had my last night out with Albert and Patrik and said my goodbyes to very good friends this last year who I wouldn't have got very far without.

Friday was my final day in America, and work had set up a final farewell dinner. I packed and said my emotional farewells to the friends and the place which had been home for the last year.

I landed at Dublin at 8:30am on Saturday morning very tired and wanting my bed; I was hoping to have slept on the plane, but they distracted me with '17 again' and the 'The Office' as air entertainment... the bastards. 5 hours I had to keep away in the airport, and what else was there to do in Dublin but drink? So I found the nearest bar, and sat with an irish man for 2 hours who was giving me the addresses to the best irish bars in America... I think he was too drunk to comprehend I'd just left America...

I landed in Manchester at 3pm and realised I was home before the plane had landed. The people on the plane barely waited for the back wheels to hit the ground before running to the front of the plane with their luggage, eagerly waiting for the doors to open. One gentleman actually jumped over me to grab his stuff, such impatience. My parents were waiting for me and got me back home safely, where nothing appears to have changed, everything is just the same.... although my dad had bought a new kettle which he was keen to show me.

2 hours later, we were back in the pub again, having a drinking competition with one of my mum's friends. I officially won though seeing I'd been drinking since 9am...

So I'm back... not so much with any avengence... just with a slight yank accent and weird words which need to be beaten out with me as quickly as possible!

Friday, July 17, 2009

end of an era...

I've just got back from my final shift at the Courtyard Marriott - Chicago-Schaumburg property and my time here with white lodging and can't believe its all come to an end! My final week has been an eventful one and have barely found time to pack!

Last Thursday my mum turned 50 years old... yes I know, old! My dad turns 60 in a few days, even older! Anyway with their two birthdays together I decided to surprise them with a weekend away in the Lake District. I put the itinerary in their cards and they opened them while on holiday in Austria. Luckily they managed to be surprised, its hard to sneak anything past them two! I had to convince them that I wanted an entire weekend to move my stuff into my house in Leeds in order for them not to plan anything else during that weekend!

On that day I also said goodbye to my dear friend Grace, or as she's commonly known as Gayface, which is weird, as she's very much a hetrosexual. Although if you apply the original meaning of gay, ie happy, she would be happy face and I think that sums her up to a tee! Gayface moved to Australia for a years placement with a Christian group, just days before I was to come home, and therefore we'll be going two whole years without seeing each other. Ridiculous. So a trip out to Oz may be needed in the next year, although I know already I'll annoy the Australian public with all the innuendo's of being 'down under'. I wish the best of luck to Grace, although she'll be having that much fun with all those surfer boys she won't even be reading this.... do they even have internet in Oz? or just sand? hmmm.

That night I went to see Bruno at the movie theatre. What can I say? It was brilliant, but America was not ready for it. People were walking out the cinema in horror, shouting at the tv, and when the credits came on at the end, I had to get out of there as fast as possible as everyone wanted to find the nearest gay and beat him. What many of the audience failed to understand I think is that the film makers had not gone out to make a gay porno, they didn't want the movie to be pleasent for ANYONE! Hence choosing an ugly old fat man to be his lover, was not attractive to even the most repulsive of gay men. And I'm pretty repulsive. It was fantastic, hilarious, and very creative. But should be kept in Europe.

On Friday I went for my final trip to Boys Town in Chicago. We had a few drinks and watched an incredible electro band do a very interesting but fantastic cover of 'Man in the Mirror' by Michael Jackson! It was my last night out in Chicago and was sad to have my final night out with Albert and Patrik, two people I really couldn't have done without this year. They helped me set up my life and my home. When I first arrived in America, they drove me to Ikea and helped me set up my stuff, they helped me move twice! We've gone on many adventures across Chicago and Illinois this past year and will be gutted to leave them.

On Monday I went downtown to work at the Courtyard on Mag Mile. It was fantastic to be able to go down here on my final week and say goodbye to the friends I'd made down there. Working in Chicago is always interesting. We had a girl come in and ask for a $99 rate... in CHICAGO.... we told her we couldn't take that rate. She told us she was being chased by someone and so we offered her the phone to called the authorities but informed her we didn't hand out sympathy rates. She then ended up admitting she was a prosititue and that it was none of our 'god damn business' what she does with her body and that if she wants to sell it, she'll sell it. We didn't even ask.

The next day I went for my last wonder along Mag Mile and said goodbye to my favorite city in the entire world (so far of course). I went along Navy Pier and it was like they knew I was leaving. They were blasting out a song called 'goodbye' across the pier, and it really hit home that I was leaving soon. I then walked along to Millennium Park where they had a live orchestra play, they were fantastic. I then passed what was the Sears Tower as it was known for the last time before they changed the name. I headed home to Schaumburg where I met up with some of the staff and managers from around the cluster who took me on a night out to Alumni to say goodbye. I went to get around, $1 pints! bargain... especially if you know cook county where the average beer is $5, not even including tip. Ridiculous. I'm looking forward to being back in a good British pub where you pay between £1.50 -£2 for a pint :) Although I've been away a while, hope those prices haven't gone up too much!

I worked my final evening shift on Wednesday, and that didn't go without drama. A guest runs in screaming telling me to call an ambulance. I called emergency services and I went out to find a woman covered in blood. She had tripped and smashed her face in, and looked like a broken nose and teeth. Luckily due to a medical group being in house, we had many nurses around to help in the situation. I saw the lady that fell on my final day, as she passed the desk. I asked her how she was, and she was in bright spirits and smiling about the situation, she told me she was fine and that she had fortunately not broken anything. I then jokingly asked her how our side walk was and told her I hoped it wasn't damaged. Insurance claim alert! Could get a new parking lot for that!

Yesterday (16th), my best friend Rachael's daughter turned 1! can't believe how fast its gone and how much she's grown! I'm gutted I've missed so much of her first year, however she's in the molding stages now where she'll remember me! So I can have a big affect on the 2nd year as well as meeting my god daughter in August. It has gone scarily fast this last year, this time last year I went round to Rachaels to meet Isabella for the first time and say my goodbyes, and now I'm coming back next week!

That evening, me and Amy took a trip downtown to Wrigley Field to see Elton John and Billy Joel play the Face to Face tour concert. They came on together and sang a medley of hits, before going off and each artist coming on individually to do an hour set each. Elton came on and sang some great hits including Rocket Man and I feel fine! Billy Joel followed with hits such as 'Uptown girl' and whatever else he sings. Then they came back on together at the end to do a final few songs together, including Candle in the Wind and they finished off with Piano Man, a perfect fitting to the Piano men! Such a good finale song too, especially with a drink. Me and Amy teared up a bit realizing this was our finale and that this was a perfect last night together after an amazing year of friendship.

I'm now sat in my hotel room, packed and getting ready for my adventures tomorrow! So much to do still but I'll get through it. Meeting Patrik and Albert for a final meal together over at Weber Grill and then some more packing!

My last day was a busy one but I leave in confidence that they are on the way up and getting past these hard economic times, and that the staff will lead onto bigger and better careers having got through these hard times. I'm really looking forward to returning to Schaumburg in a few years time to see how the hotel and the area has changed. There is so much unused land and full of land to let or buy for businesses to open, it will be interesting to see if it is like a smaller chicago in 5 years time!

So this is the end of an era, I'm not unemployed and off for a packed summer of fun and little responsibility until September!

So goodbye Courtyard and the white lodging team across the cluster of Schaumburg!!!

Bring on Vegas and California!


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

This is it....

Today we saw the memorial of Michael Jackson, one which I to be honest, was worried would be a cheesy event which would just be in distaste, and didn't blame Elizabeth Taylor for not turning up to the event. However as soon as it begun, it quickly showed that this was a tasteful, and beautiful tribute to the king of pop.

Some people have made it quite clear it was just another chauvinistic event which shouldn't have been so publicized, however I believe his fans and the world needed a time and a place to grieve, and it would have been very empty had the Jackson's not prepared anything for the people of the world. This was not a day to make fun, make hurtful comments, or say how pathetic this whole situation is (no matter what your beliefs were), nor was it a day for the press to make up more rumors or hurtful stories or what we should do with those kids....

this was a day to remember a legend...

It began with a gospel choir singing 'The King is Here', a grande entrance for our king of pop. Seeing his coffin for the first time made his death suddenly so horribly real.

Mariah Carey began the event singing 'I'll be there', a song which always makes my hairs stand on end, when he was both alive and especially now Michael has passed.

The most moving song for me though was 'Will you be there', performed by Jennifer Hudson, a woman who has been through some horrific tragedy this last year. The most touching at the end when they actually had Michael's speach at the end of the song:

In Our Darkest Hour
In My Deepest Despair
Will You Still Care?
Will You Be There?
In My Trials
And My Tripulations
Through Our Doubts
And Frustrations
In My Violence
In My Turbulence
Through My Fear
And My Confessions
In My Anguish And My Pain
Through My Joy And My Sorrow
In The Promise Of Another Tomorrow
I'll Never Let You Part
For You're Always In My Heart.

Shaheen Jafargholi from Britain's got Talent sang 'Who's loving you', reminded us of Michael's younger days, and would of been around Shaheen's age when he sang that song. Through this event, Shaheen will now most likely become a world wide phenomenon much like Michael himself.

Brook Shields gave a very moving tribute, telling us about the real Michael, not the singer, not the entertainer, but the dad, the brother, the friend. How he used to laugh, a prankster, a real human being. This followed by Jermain Jackson's performance of smile, which was just as beautiful, that reminded us that Michael would want us to smile, despite how much we hurt at this difficult time.

Martin Luther King III told us of Michael's poltical breakthroughs. Michael was the african american artist to ever have a video played on MTV. He set the grounds for black music, and introduced the caucasian world to Motown and african american music, and broke racial barriers. We were also reminded that the past should be forgotten and those false allegations should be put away and we should remember him for what he really was. In America, and in the UK, you are innocent until proven guilty, and Michael was never proven guilty, he was acquitted by a jury. He is an innocent man, and the pedophiliac disgusting comments and jokes should be put to an end. Anything further is just slander.

Al Sharpton gave an aggressive but an incredibly inspiration speach telling us that Michael Jackson will be known across the world through his music and talent, political and charity work for ever and ever, and ever. He also told Michael's children that their father wasn't weird or strange, but that the situations he faced and the things he had to deal with were strange. One thing I learnt from Michael Jackson was that being different and not being part of the crowd and maybe being a bit odd and strange was far cooler than being a stereotype. I hate stereotypes or 'normal' people. I love unique qualities and people who others may perceive as odd or weird, I find far more interesting than plane people who have to fit into stereotypes. I think more than ever now, we have to stand out from the crowd, especially in this economy when we're applying for jobs with such high competition out there... fitting in will get you nowhere in life. Michael might not have fit into the norms of society, but look what he accomplished.

Usha sang 'Gone too soon', one song which was fitting for the situation, Michael has gone too soon. He should have been able to live out at least one of his final curtain concerts, to say goodbye and to once again feel that love from an audience and to know he still has it. Michael offstage seems very fragile, but when he was on stage he transformed into this remarkable performer who had so much energy and wasn't letting anyone get to him. He was invincible. One last performance would have have left him on a high, and his song Gone Too Soon, really reflects these last 2 weeks. Usha came off the stage and sang it directly to Michael's casket, before breaking down, which was truely a moving scene.

Stevie Wonder sang 'I never dreamed you'd leave this summer', again another fitting song for Michael. The words reflected his death so much... we all expected the big come back this summer and that he'd be very much coming back, instead we're left without him.

The Jacksons came on at the end and said their own goodbyes. Paris Jackson, left an orphan, broke down saying how much she's going to miss her father. This moved everyone, watching this young girl, parentless. No child should have to go through this.

Marlon Jackson said some words which really stuck with me today ''Maybe now they'll leave you alone'', and I really hope the world does leave him alone now to finally rest in peace. The press can leave him alone now, him and his family to grieve. We don't need to know any more gossip or hurt, or rumors. What's done is done, and Michael should be allowed to rest in peace, anything more now is just hurtful to anyone who knew him

The event ended with all Michael's friends and family singing Heal the World and We are the World, recreated from the plans for the summer concerts. A beautiful ending to see everyone up there. Afterwards, the screen left with a photo of Michael behind a camera from the video ''Laberian Girl'', where he famously said at the end ''thats a rap'', and it showed that this was a rap, the end, a complete life, a perfect ending to a beautiful tribute and the ending to a wonderful life of a man who completed everything he'd dreamed. This was it. Its a rap.

It then brought up a quote of Michael Jackson's - ''I am alive and I'm here forver'' , and he will be... he really will.

The audience left the arena to 'Man in the Mirror', on the stage was a microphone stand with a spotlight beaming down on it. Very much like the ending of many concerts, where the microphone is still there but the artist has gone. Michael has gone, but his music and entertainment will go on forever.

Today was a very difficult day for me and many others, but its over now. We can move on. Many people don't understand how we can grieve for someone we didn't know. But I honestly feel like I lost apart of my family, I've cried more over Michael's death than I have of some of my blood relatives.

Thank you so much to those who expressed concern, who sent texts, letters, emails, and messages asking if I was ok, saying I was the first person they thought of. It was so lovely for your concern, even people who I assumed would laugh at me for feeling the way I feel, turned around and sent their sympathy knowing how much of a real loss this is to me.
But I am no Jackson, and thoughts a prayers should be with the Jackson family at this time who must be devastated, and have to deal with that grief in the public eye, which must be incredibly difficult.

Well much like this whole situation, Michael's life, his career and concerts, this is it... and this is it for my reporting and blogs to Michael, as what is to be be said has been said, and I'm going to leave him alone in the hope that others will also leave him be. He will always be remembered, and believe we should remember him through his beautiful music, which we will always have on whether its in a show, nightclub or a hotel elevator.... and will always have a special place in my heart which will live on forever and still make my hairs on my arms stand on end and get the goosebumps and those thrills everytime i see a video or hear certain songs. Michael said we'd always be in his heart, and he'll always be in mine.

Michael will live on forever, and I hope he can now finally rest in peace

So thats a rap, this IS it...

Goodbye and Goodnight Michael Jackson, We will always love you x

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The final countdown....

Its been exactly one week since we heard the shocking news that Michael Jackson died, and since all we seemed to have heard is the dirty details of who or what killed him and whether he's really those children's father. Quite frankly, none of this is anyones business but the Jackson famiy's, and we should be taking more time to focus on remembering a man who provided us with entertainment for the past 40 years. One thing which has come out of this, are videos and photos of him and his children, playing and being a family. Its my belief that its those who bring us up are our parents, not biology. And Michael is more of a father to those children than half of these supposed biological dads out there who couldn't care less about being involved in their children's lives.

One fantastic breakthrough this past week, has been footage and photos of the This Is It concerts, which the full rehearsals are to be released onto DVD in the next few months, so we can finally see what Michael had in store for us, and his art and vision has not been lost. Its just such a shame that the shows wont go on, as so much work has gone into those performances, however it wouldn't be the same without the king of pop himself. AEG gave everyone the option of giving people a refund or keeping the tickets. I, myself, kept the ticket option, as we can always earn more money, but now I have this little piece of Michael, part of my life dream to see him live, which unfortunately never got to live out. Many complained that we didn't get both refunds and tickets. I'm not bothered about the money, I just wish AEG would have provided more, a program, or memorabilia from the event to add to the ticket. But those tickets are priceless in the forms that they will always be the tickets to Michael's final gigs. But I'm going to have my ticket framed, to always have on show that I had a ticket to his final tour :)

A few days ago, the world felt empty without him. It still seems rediculous to say this, to be devestated over someone I didn't even know personally. But it did. I couldn't watch the news, or listen to his music. And then they released the photos of the This Is It concerts, and I just broke down. I decided to go for a walk and clear my head. As I was crossing Higgins Road in Schaumburg, a car pulled up, blasting 'Bad' out of the window. I turned to the driver and smiled, and he smiled back before he drove on. I kept on walking (mainly because if I hadn't I'd of been knocked down... those cars go fast on Higgins), but I walked on with a smile and with confidence that Michael still lives, with all of us, forever through his music which will inspire us and entertain us for years to come :) and since that day I haven't been sad or down. But optimistic! And excited for the summer, and the future!

The other good news this past week, that the people that have given him a hard time in the past have finally turned around and given him a break. Martin Bashir, the man who tore his career apart after the documentary 'Living with Michael Jackson', has finally turned round and said he never truly believed Michael Jackson was harmful to children and while his life was extraordinary, he believed him to be a safe and sound gentleman who had a lot of love for those around. It is also reported that Jordan Chandler, the boy (or now man) who claimed Jackson abused him (and yet took the $20 million pay off ) has admitted that his accusations were completely untrue.

Michael's funeral is to be on Tuesday, and I just hope that they give him the send off he deserves. I also hope, at last the press, and the public will give him and the Jackson family the privacy and the respect they deserve. There are reports that Neverland will one day be opened like Grace Land, for the public to visit and see the house that Michael designed. So maybe I never got to see Michael live, but I'm optomistic that one day I'll be able to visit Neverland (his home which he designed and made him happy, his refuge and inspiration for much of his music), and pay the respects I never got to do here and be able to see a part of Michael and possibly where he's buried?

His memorial is on Tuesday and afterwards it will be my final blog for the king of pop, as I want to let him rest in peace. Plus my blogs are getting a tad serious, and the people who know me will know I don't do serious.


So its the final countdown to my return to England! Its been an easier week at work, a short breather after the stressed unbelievably busy shifts we've had these past few weeks! Hopefully my final weeks at work will be a rememberable and fantastic end to my time here in America. I've already been told that one of my final shifts will be spent on our property on Mag Mile in Downtown Chicago, where I'll be able to visit downtown one last time, and work in the enjoyable rush of the city!

Myself and Amy went to o'hare airport last week to collect our new intern. I never realized how much fun it is to stand there waiting for people to come out of customs! Me and Amy were thinking of coming back again next week with coctails and just hanging out with everyone who are awaiting families and friends from all over the world! It made me realize that will be my mum and dad in just 3 weeks, waiting for little old me!

Our new intern is called Eszter, who is from Budapest, Hungary, and since we've been showing her the delights of Schaumburg and helping her get about. It brought it home to me that that was me last year, and looking back at how far I've come and how much has changed in these past 12 months, and remembering how different I was. Remembering the feelings of fear, optimism and wondering how the next year will pan out! But realizing how quickly everything came together, and how brilliant this last year has been, and the experiences I've had. We're collecting another new intern in the coming weeks, a girl from Hong Kong called Apple who will be my replacement. I'll have to train her to platinum employee status before I leave! as we can't have the people of Schaumburg grieving my loss for too long! I'm thinking of having Madam Tussauds come in and have a wax work of myself put in the lobby.

As we said hello to new interns, we said goodbye to old interns and managers. First we said goodbye to Shannon my old AGM who has been a great friend and mentor this year. I gave her Fawlty Towers on dvd as a leaving gift, in the hope she'll use it as a training video for staff at her new hotel! We also said goodbye to my friend and intern Sandra, who has returned to England, although those goodbyes wont be for long as I'll be seeing her in September; we have various concerts and nights out planned when we're back home, and we're also planning to come back to America next summer to travel the south, including Texas and New Orleans!

Tomorrow I'm speaking to my parents for the last time before I fly home. During that time they're off on holiday to Austria (this is not an invite to burgle their houses... they have security alarms and very nosey neighbors who would inform the authorities within seconds! While they're there they are celebrating their 50th and 60th birthdays! They're going to kill me for telling everyone their ages! But please if you see them, wish them happy birthday as its quite a landmark! I can't believe its been 10 years since they're joint 90th (40th and 50th birthdays incase your confused)! Its gone so fast. It was the day I received my SATs results and was leaving primary school and about to go to High School! And now I'm living in America, and I'm, well, me! We were celebrating at a hotel which no longer exsists and I remember doing the moonwalk in front of my family to Billie Jean. Today I'm still just as optimistic, have the thrive to entertain and still have a fond love for Michael Jackson.... can't you tell? I guess I am pretty quiet about that....

So with 22 days to go... this is the final countdown! See you soon England ;)