Simon Calder column

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The Independent Online
"Can you or your readers please help me to survive a four-hour stopover at Los Angeles airport?" asks Kit Norman of Lincolnshire. "I've suffered the bleak conditions in LA's transit lounge before: bad coffee in plastic cups, a 'duty-free' kiosk that seems to sell only crisps and chocolate, and a toilet block that makes you wish you'd gone before you left the plane.

"I have time to go through passport control and into the terminals, but where do I go from there? Does any of the many terminals have a shower, a decent restaurant or even a multi-gym with Turkish bath and massage?

"Things are slightly complicated by the fact that I'll be there on Christmas Day, but any tips to make transfers in LA bearable would be appreciated."

Mr Norman appears to be an Xmas-phile, since he will be stretching 25 December by at least eight hours by flying west. I fear, though, that he will find that corner of California cheerless. Civilisation (if downtown Los Angeles can be so described) is at least 45 minutes away, and the only airport massage I have experienced was 2,000 miles away at Chicago O'Hare where I was researching last week's "48 Hours" story. It lasted 10 minutes, cost the same in pounds and hugely improved the flight home.

Solutions to Mr Norman's conundrum will be published here before Christmas, providing that they do not include smuggling quantities of in-flight miniatures off the plane for an impromptu transit lounge party.

In the film My Best Friend's wedding, the hotel featured is Chicago's finest - the Drake. I did not include it among the accommodation options because of a nightly rate of around pounds 200. But Mike MacFarlane of London says that I should have persevered.

"The 'rack rate' quoted by American hotels is almost always negotiable. I turned up at the reception of the Drake and asked for the price of a room. I was told $330. I said I couldn't afford that much, and offered $100. Eventually we settled on $135 (about pounds 80)".

Even though he had secured a 60 per cent discount, the story didn't quite end there. "While I was waiting for my credit card to be processed, I noticed a door to the back office ajar. Inside, a handwritten sign proclaimed "Absolutely the lowest rate tonight: $125".

Wherever you wander in the US, don't forget your passport; even if your visage is as old and raddled as the one above, you may be asked for photo ID to prove your age when you buy alcohol or cigarettes. And, increasingly, identification is demanded for any transaction involving a credit card or travellers' cheques. In the Burbank branch of Vons supermarket, though, the check-out clerk was prepared to let me pay with a travellers' cheque but without ID, providing I answered this question correctly: "Is it yours?"

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