I recently explored more of Los Santos in Grand Theft Auto V, including new areas, a few of the many side missions, some personal activities, a stunt or two and varied transportation including a blimp. The one thing most of my experiences had in common was my character's untimely death. 

Franklin's silver medal is small consolation for second place, especially in the Los Santos Olympics.

Repossession was one of the early story missions I completed and, predictably, I think I died at least once just getting acquainted with my new firearms and also failed the mission maybe a couple times while I either screwed around or got myself stuck when pursuing my target. Of course that's all on me, as the pistol and shotty are fairly standard (even the latter's deadly shot at range) and vehicles control well in general.

With at least 29 trucks it's pretty clear residents of this city do not take care of their automobiles.

Similarly, towing side missions involve retrieving vehicles but are not too glamorous, though finding and towing a car before it can be hit by a train was relatively thrilling and a nice change of pace. But the annoying character who provides these missions can get on one's nerves, though my running her down had nothing to do with that. I was just moving back and forth to keep her from getting inside because I'm a dork. Who knew injuring her was a mission fail?

Thus far I haven't died or failed a mission in a parking lot, but there's still time. Lots and lots of time.

Paparazzo side missions are pretty entertaining, whether helping capture images of a fleeing or pursuing celebrity. So far I haven't failed one, though I think I just got lucky and it's a matter of time. That said, at least one mission was very graphic though veterans of the series might not be surprised; newcomers, however, consider yourselves warned.

I'm not exactly an environmentalist when it comes to riding motorcycles in GTA.

Motorcycles are a great way to get around Los Santos as they are among the fastest and most maneuverable wheels you can find. After taking the paparazzo's ride I explored the countryside and enjoyed my new-found freedoms. 

Apparently Santolinos are too busy with illicit activities to enjoy their pristine shores.

Those freedoms included the ability, if not the right, to infringe on a military base. It's one way to get an instant four-star wanted level in the game, but thanks to my trusty motorbike I was able to elude authorities on the nearby beach. 

ATVs are a step-down from the functionality of motorcycles but still provide a decent means of exploring your world especially when off-road. In this case, one helped me elude authorities by climbing into the hills though, of course, I wouldn't have been wanted in the first place if I hadn't stolen my ride from some knarly beachgoers.

Helmets can't even protect me when I get behind the wheel though, admittedly, ATVs are not the best choice for scaling steep hillsides.

Herr Kutz's word of mouth customers never visit, having searched high and low for Hair Cuts.

My first purchase was a new hairstyle. Even if it didn't increase my rep, it made me feel good. I do miss a character customization tool; still features like haircuts and wardrobe offer some tweaks to one's appearance.

Tunnels are an excellent means of eluding authorities, except when a train is on the other end (in this case I dodged it with seconds to spare).

My constant use of train tracks and related tunnels is how I get around much of the world map. The occupational hazard of trains usually can be easily avoided, though in one case on a high bridge I had to abandon my vehicle and stand to the side while the train passed.

Mobile home parks rarely look so good.

There are a wide variety of areas I've visited thus far whether suburbs, city, beach, wetlands, foothills, forest, mountains, desert, etc. And each has its own communities with their own character. Besides the breadth of such content, the game impresses with the volume of traffic both vehicular and pedestrian. More importantly, all are fatal to me.

It's no surprise that mobile homes are prone to spontaneous combustion.

How does a dork pass the time? By blowing up the same propane tank every time it respawns after my lap around the block. After all, it's the little things in Los Santos that make all the difference.

You won't find too many clamoring to be King of the Mountain in these parts.

As in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I spend an inordinate amount of time scaling the heights of this world. And like that open world game, my character is amazingly adept at traversing steep terrain. In this case, motorbikes provide solid transportation, though on several occasions I've managed to slide hundreds of feet at a time.

I make my own lifts. Even if straight to the ER.

It was my misfortune on one such excursion to have bumped a couple belligerent hikers down a hillside, one tumbling far below while his cursing companion fell halfway and kept threatening to come back up. What they did manage to do was contact authorities, prompting me to escape to this lift. Helpfully, a nearby parachute offered an escape route. Regrettably, I failed to open it before impact. Foiled again!

Like Camelot, only without knights in shining armor, a code of honor, idealism, chivalry, fealty ...

An easy way to make money are the taxi side missions. From a little over a hundred dollars to several hundred, they can line one's pockets quickly and relatively easily. Plus I usually challenge myself to find the straightest route, which usually entails some leaps and a few cartwheels along the way. And so far only one has refused to pay, until I tracked him down, that is. I'm not counting the lack of tips.

It's not my fault I can't find fares with clearance for military bases.

The lure of military hardware including gunships is tough to ignore so I'm left with trying to infiltrate if I want to borrow any. Unfortunately the response is usually swift and unrelenting, as demonstrated this last time when I managed to drive through streets patrolled by tanks that didn't hesitate to shell me or gunships that rained metal justice down on my head. In the end, a patrol car did the honors outside the base, finishing me off in a hail of bullets.

Logging trails are great for an escape route, except when your ride is on its last legs.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, especially when it's downhill. And face first.

The allure of exploration is at times as enticing in Los Santos as in Skyrim, where hilltops promise an unexpected panorama of one's next destination. Figuring out how to get there is part of the fun, even if it involves a sore body and bruised ego along the sometimes slippery path.

Life would be simpler if "to your death" followed the saying "Look before your leap."

Even on the mountaintop I contemplated leaping into the river, so when I arrived on the bridge it was a foregone conclusion (once I dodged the train on the tracks). Too bad that my attempt was met with a sickening crack as my head hit the rocky riverbed. 

Driving a buggy in the wilderness is appropriate in more ways than one.

The most pleasant surprise so far was finding an armored truck (first, on my map) with its guards standing outside. I took them down, busted open the doors and took the contents as I fled pursuing authorities into the woods. I'm not sure, but think my takeaway was a cool four grand. Not bad for someone getting by mostly on cab fares.

It's always a treat to see familiar landmarks as I travel Los Santos, whether recreations of downtown LA high rises or local landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier or Venice Boardwalk (though it was eerie to drive down the latter considering the damage a real life motorist recently inflicted doing the same).

I have no interest in hiring prostitutes in a GTA game except perhaps the first time out of curiosity. But as with at least one Paparazzo mission I alluded to earlier, newcomers should consider themselves warned that at least in this regard the game is pretty graphic (much more than I remember in previous titles, though perhaps I just forget).  

I am no Sonny Crockett and this is no cigar boat, but one takes what they can get in Los Santos.

I'd been frustrated with the lack of helicopters in the game (to the point I wonder whether I have to unlock them), so imagine my thrill at finally finding a boat I could take for a spin. This sailboat is relatively slow even on open waters but at least it's not annoyingly so.

Water animation is impressive in GTA V, whether the current along the shore or waves farther out to sea. Indeed, piloting a boat along coastal waters can be a treat given the realistic portrayal. Of course, all that went out the window when I saw a rare helicopter in the harbor.

The chopper was heavily guarded so demanded a more careful approach though, clearly, my definition of careful is not textbook.

Taking screenshots and reading control prompts go together like oil and water as I soon find out.

Veterans of the series will appreciate the presence of stunts in the game, including the standard leap off the top of a parking garage. Whether my lack of control, form or high performance vehicle, mine was a short trip, and not just because of the slow mo tracking shot.

The problem was that the vehicle I landed on was literally filled with gangsters, who apparently are not fans of vehicular stunts performed at their expense.

Within seconds the occupants stormed out of their car, guns blazing, and put a quick end to my short-lived existence as a stunt car driver.

I was not this desperate to rent a house, especially after my redecoration of the front yard.

Equally futile was my first race. Though I'd taken the lead early in the second of two laps, I misjudged a turn, leapt a low brick wall and found myself stuck between it and the house on the property. Thankfully, my second attempt went much better and I won first place without such an indignity.

This is what my foes see when engaging me in gun battles.

I knew the importance of target practice (though waging firefights can have a similar outcome in the long term), so made a point of visiting a range and trying my hand at the challenges associated with a variety of weapons. Some indeed were challenging but also fun so I spent awhile there perfecting my abilities.

I'm a little over-zealous in getting my fares to their destinations quickly. So sue me! On second thought, don't.

As mentioned I enjoy taxi cab side missions for the money and the challenge of taking the shortest route. I wish I could say the same for my customers, though so far none have bailed out (like they might in Saints Row, if I remember).

Los Santos looks surprisingly peaceful from far above. Very far above.

The Atomic Blimp was a preorder promotion so I finally downloaded it and took one for a spin. It controls well and despite being relatively slow still is an effective means of getting around town. I originally planned to look for a rooftop helicopter but something else caught my eye.

Somewhere there is a baby blimp asking about its father.

A second Atomic Blimp was lumbering across the skyline so naturally I decided to take it out. As expected when involving blimps, aerial warfare took a long, long time to reach its conclusion. After ramming my target repeatedly, it was my ride that of course fell from the sky as it suddenly stalled.

I did manage to leap out just before the blimp burst into flames upon hitting a rooftop, but it was too late to save myself as I died on impact. Par for the Los Santos course for me.

This travelogue represents my past two sessions with the game and, in case you couldn't tell, I'm enjoying getting lost in Los Santos. One caveat is I've been having difficulty figuring out how to access missions. Yes, I can find them on my phone and also from the Start menu I think? But they don't really show any details. The only way I've found story missions is by accident, typically when returning to my home or an associates' business/home.

You'd think by calling them I could get info on missions but in all my attempts they're always too busy to talk. Then I show up on their doorstep (or my own) and, voila, new mission! I just wish story missions were more accessible or intuitive.

That said, I did I finally find Michael so now have the option of switching between him and Franklin, opening up the gameplay somewhat. But in the meantime, the side missions are entertaining enough to keep me busy and I look forward to getting back into the fray.