Caught up with me old mate Joz in LA. We spent the past couple of weeks exploring some of the natural wonders of the great state of California. Then an adventure in the city that never sleeps…
For me, Vegas perfectly encapsulated my brief impressions of America. We had some good times but it was depressing seeing so many frivolously splash buckets of cash around completely oblivious to the suffering taking place across the street.
My pre-arrival CNN based impressions were of an America divided on ethnic lines. While I am sure tensions do exist due to ethnic differences, what I was most struck by was the divide between rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
Because we caught the Greyhound around, we arrived in the poorer and more desperate side of the town. We stayed downtown about eight blocks from a mass of crumbling casinos built in the 50’s. It is about 8km up ‘The Strip’ to the new casinos. The area around our hostel wasn’t very picturesque or safe but the price was right.
Vegas is a complete fantasy land, people sit in air-conditioned comfort distracted by the flashing lights and the promise of a quick buck while just off the strip, filthy streets are lined with ruined souls stinking of piss and desperate for a bite to eat and a safe place to sleep.
The hardest thing to swallow is the “America is the land of opportunity” rhetoric. Regurgitated over and over by the wealthy and educated. Some self-righteous self-starter will pause between $1000 blackjack hands, look you straight in the eye and tell you that people are only poor because they are lazy. The underprivileged can always work hard and get a scholarship. I guess a few people are lucky enough to overcome poverty through their natural intelligence, but what about those who are born poor and dumb?
I would be interested to hear Joe’s thoughts on that one. Joz and I met Joe at the bus stop, he didn’t want anything just a chat. Told us he had tuberculosis but because he didn’t have insurance, no hospital would treat him. He said to me “Momma said there would be days like these, but she never said there would be this many in a row.” I gave him a couple of bucks then rushed back to the hostel to check how tuberculosis was transmitted.
Spending time in the casinos does have certain perks; everybody who gambles gets free drinks. So Joel and I spent our time debating the merits of a neo-liberalist free market economy while playing 5c slot machines getting shit-faced for free.
After a brief time in New York City, I legged it down the New Jersey coast to Sea Isle City. There I caught up with Sarah, an American friend I met at uni.
Interesting place, filled with college kids on vacation. You have to pay $4 a day to use the beach. Everybody seems completely oblivious to the goings on of the rest of the world, and everybody is very, very patriotic. In the post S11 setting, overt displays of patriotism are the norm but it seemed to have been taken to the extreme by college kids.
In Sea Isle City I dabbled in some quintessential American college pursuits, I brought beer for underage kids (poor misguided youth turning to the bottle at the tender age of 20) and I also learnt to play beer pong at a frat party (a great game combining alcoholic consumption and non-physical sport) and listened to the Boss in the car on way to a night out in Atlantic City.
“Put your make-up on. Put your hair up pretty. And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”
From Canada it was down to the US of A. A bold move some may say – going from America Jnr. to America senior – but I was undaunted. My four-hour direct flight from Vancouver to New York morphed into a fifteen-hour marathon featuring an unexpected three-hour tour of the Toronto tarmac.
After a couple of hours of fitful sleep on the ground of the arrivals lounge of JFK airport I enquired about the cost of a cab into the city. With response well outside my modest budget, I walked the half hour to the bus which was followed a subway trip into Grand Central.
There I was, a hot, backpack wearing sap blearily staring through sleep-deprived eyes at the suggested accommodation board when a nice gentleman from the New York Tourism Board (so his name badge said) kindly enquired if he could be of any assistance. After discussing the pros (a bed) and cons (the cost) of the listed options it appeared I was out of options. That was until he mentioned that a mate of his ran a hostel a couple of blocks from the station. While it usually took months to get a booking he would put in a good word for me because I had “an honest face.” He made a call, sold me a voucher then walked me down and pointed out my digs for next two nights, “Just go in and give them the voucher and they will sort you out.” As it turned out, a voucher don’t get you a bed in no homeless shelter.
Within seven minutes of arriving at Grant Central Station I had been hustled out of 60 bucks (which, in light the current exchange rate, would buy a small country estate back home) by one of the smoother talking cats in New York City.
Lesson learnt, so I had a bit of a poke around. On the whole I found New York in summer to be dauntingly big, hot and angry. Central Park is very cool though
Despite my obvious physical disabilities as well as my genetic disposition toward alcohol I have managed to achieve something worthwhile in my life, as I am now a World Champion. Some have questioned the validity of Underwater Hockey’s claim to be a legitimate sport; to them I can only respond with the words of one far wiser than I, “What the fuck would you know? You pig-ignorant wanker.”
The Australian Open Underwater Hockey team defeated New Zealand 5-4 in the final of the world championships held in Calgary, Canada. The masses rejoiced.
Canada was as I expected. The drive from Calgary to Vancouver consisted of pine trees, mountains and lakes. The experience was accentuated by listening to the lyrical brilliance of the Canadian icons of song – Celine Dion, Bryan Adams and Alanis Morrisette – whose songs receive constant airplay. In most countries this would be considered a form of mild mind torture. Not Canadia.
Braved the icy waters of Lake Louise near Banff. Came to, locked in a basement at a house party in Jasper – made my escape guided by the pale light of the moon via a skylight then wandered back to the hotel where, lacking a key, I had to scale three storeys to break in the balcony door. Discovered the joys of bacon and maple syrup on flapjacks. Only saw one Mountie, which in retrospect is quite distressing.
One thing that I will say about Canadia is that they have enormous trucks and trailers (they make Australia’s 4WDs and caravans look like pathetically pimped minis) as well as a huge amount of big-breasted women. There must be some abnormality in the Canadian gene pool or an environmental condition that is favourable to the development of abnormally large breasts amongst the women. Some businesses have even attempted to encourage this trend. One of the bars that we went to in Calgary paid half the cost of any breast surgery undertaken by their employees. A glance around at the punters quickly confirmed this to be a sensible business strategy.