A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get an overseas work trip to carry out a PCI DSS audit of a client and their service provider in the US. My trip took in LA and Omaha, Nebraska of all places. I travelled with Brad again from the client's security team. The trip started on a high note. We were booked in on premium economy on vAustralia but managed to get bumped up to Business class.
The service that you get in Business is literally, a different class. As soon as you pick up your Business Class boarding pass you get whisked through the express lane passing the long security and immigration queues. Once on board a glass of champagne is handed to you prior to take-off. Once in the air the stewardess sets up your table with white linen and silver cutlery ready for the meal. After perusing the fine choice of À la carte dishes on the menu the stewardess then brings out some warm bread and butter while you await your first course. Another stewardess brings around a selection of fine wines for you to choose from, and an amazingly nice meal begins. After the meal, the stewardess reminds you to give her a bell when you're ready to have your bed made up, because of course, on Business you get the flat beds.
On the way out it was a day flight so for most of the journey I either watched movies or visited the bar. It was quite an experience sat at the bar, on a plane! That's certainly one way to pass time on a 14 hour flight.
We arrived at LA at 7am, roughly 4 hours before we left Brisbane due to crossing the international date line in the Pacific. Very bizarre! We managed to get an early check-in for the hotel and got our head down for a few hours before doing a bit of auditing in the afternoon.
We only had 1 night in LA and had an early flight the next morning, so that night we decided to stay relatively local and took a taxi to Manhattan Beach which was only 15 minutes in a taxi from LAX.
It was a pretty quiet night, being a Monday. We had a few beers and a meal, and later on we met up with one of Brad's mates who was interesting to speak to. As with everyone in LA he's a struggling actor, and when not acting he's a tour manager - having managed the tours of such luminaries as Meatloaf.
The next day we caught a plane to Salt Lake City, Utah and then a connecting flight to Omaha, Nebraska.
This was my first time to mid-west America, having only ever visited places on either coasts before. Everyone we met asked the same question - 'why the hell have you come to Omaha?'.
The week I had in Omaha followed the usual pattern, Drinking all night and a bit of work during the day. Thankfully the client had arranged far more time in Omaha than was necessary to perform the audit so we were able to move at a relaxed pace.
We had four consecutive nights of going out and drinking until 3 or 4am. It nearly killed me. I had no problem doing that when I was 21, but now I'm 35 the years are taking their toll - and the hangovers are getting worse.
We spent most nights in the Old Market area of Omaha. This is home to a number of micro-breweries and the selection of pubs and beers is pretty good.
There's a mistaken opinion in Europe that American beers aren't any good. I suppose it's easy to form that opinion if you've only been to bars that sell Budweiser, Coors or Miller. The bars in Omaha generally had an outstanding selection of beers, both domestic and import. A lot of the bars offered taster plates where you can get a plate of 5 small beer glasses and choose any 5 beers from the menu. We were happy to partake. All of the beers on the menu displayed both the alcohol volume and hop count so you could get a good idea how strong or bitter each beer would be before you tasted it.
I even found a few bars serving Boddingtons (in cans) and Tetley's on tap. Bliss - the sweet nectar of draught Tetleys. The only place I've been able to get it in Australia as in cans at the British shop in Birkdale, or at the Pig 'n Whistle pub in the city.
We were hardly ever on our own while we were in Omaha. I guess they don't get many overseas visitors because as soon as we went into a bar and the locals heard our accents we were invariably joined and more often or not they bought us a round of beers. Nebraskans must be amongst the most friendly people I have ever met.
When they weren't buying us beers, they were buying us shots. The locals seemed to drink shots like they were going out of fashion. I lost count of the rounds of Jägerbombs we had. A lot of the time the bar man would send a round of shots to our table, on the house. I can't remember ever getting that in the UK or in Australia.
As well as having good beers, Omaha has great steaks. Nebraska has a reputation for producing some of the finest steaks from grain-fed cows in the country. I can attest that the steaks were huge, juicy and tasty. The best one we had was at Spencer's for Steak and Chops. Not only did we get a great steak, but our waiter gave us biographical information about the cow we were about to eat as well as a detailed run-down on how it is cooked.
On our final day in Omaha our hosts at the service provider I was auditing took us shooting - the favourite pass-time of all good mid-westerners.
On our way to the shooting range we stopped off at Cabelas to pick up some ammo. Cabelas itself should be on the tourist map for any overseas visitors. The place is astounding - it has everything you need to start your own war.
Our hosts brought their own guns from home which we could use at the shooting range - a 9mm and a .45 handgun as well as an AR-15 Assault Rifle.
When we got the shooting range the guy at the counter told me I couldn't use the AR-15 rounds that I'd purchased. It turns out I had purchased the armour piercing variety and if I was to use them my rounds would go through the wall and out into the parking lot. I exchanged them for some standard .223 rounds that the AR-15 could fire.
My only previous experience of shooting was the SA-80 Rifle in the Navy, and shotguns when I've been clay-pigeon shooting.
It's harder than it looks. You would think that you could just line up the sights, pull the trigger and the bullet would be directed exactly where you aim. It's not quite that simple. On my first few attempts I was all over the place even though I was happy that i had everything lined up as it should be. Eventually though I remembered my training from the navy - controlled my breathing, stopped snatching at the trigger and fired on the exhale; and before long I was getting some pretty good clusters. The AR-15 came with a scope so it was a case of sending the target right to the back of the range. The surprising thing about the AR-15 is that it has hardly any kick for such a powerful gun.
My favourite was the .45. Now that does give off a good kick! Even though the thing made me jump out of my skin every time the round exploded from the end of the barrel, I somehow managed to score the best accuracy with it.
And that's pretty much all I remember from my time in Omaha - drinking and shooting.
The journey back to Brisbane was a monster. I had to fly Omaha > Salt Lake City > LA > Sydney > Brisbane. Travel time was about 24 hours but with the time zone change I landed 2 days after I took off. I was in Business class again on the return trip from LA to Sydney, and it was a night flight so I gave the flat bed a try.
I have this thing that I just can't sleep on planes, and now I'm starting to think it's mainly psychological as even with a flat bed I didn't manage to sleep. I did everything right on the return journey determined to get some sleep: I didn't drink alcohol, I made sure the bed was fully made-up, I put on the blindfold and earmuffs, and I even got changed into some pyjamas they provide for all Business class customers. I didn't get a wink of sleep.
i don't understand it. When I was in the Navy I used to sleep through force 9 gales, live firing exercises of the .45 inch gun, and even fighter jets landing above me. Maybe it was the guilt I was feeling thinking about all those poor souls back in Economy? No, I don't think it was that.
See more of my photo's from this trip on Flickr.