The conclusion of a New World adventure

Well that’s it… the adventure is over … for a while.  I have finally arrived in England.  I am in an internet cafe in London, and I have a bit of time before the money runs out so I thought that I would share the last part of my American travels with you crazy kids…

From Belize I jumped a flight to Miami where I stayed the night.  Miami was an excellent choice, it offered all the creature comforts that the modern day retiree could want. It is like the Gold Coast only super sized, same as everything else in America. Everybody who lives there was born in New York, has spent about three decades too long in the sun and spend their days riding the bus looking for unsuspecting victims to tell how much better their life had been when they lived in New York.

The plan was to catch up with a friend who lived in the “small town” of Stuart (about 3 hours north of Miami and with a population of 130 000) before following my teen idols – Jason, Kylie and the entire 80’s cast of Neighbours – in seeking fame and fortune in the motherland. I caught the Greyhound up to West Palm Beach where I missed my connection to Stuart. I was planning on getting a hotel when K-Dog, a guy that I meet on the bus offered for me to crash on the floor of his mates house. The cheapest hotel I could find was about US$40 so it would have been rude of me if I didn’t. K-Dog had just got out of prison but seemed like a solid citizen who had fallen in with the wrong crowd. He showed me some of the poetry that he had written in prison, it wasn’t bad.

The next day I ventured up to the thriving metropolis of Stuart, where I spent a couple of days with Chris and Mike. Chris works at a mariner hobnobbing it with the rich and famous golf playing retirees of Southern Florida while her boyfriend Mike is a fire-fighter. I got to see the station that he worked at but was very disappointed to learn that there was no fire-pole.

Fire fighting in Stuart is no where near as good a deal as what they get in South Gippsland, there is no beer or bbq’s and you have to turn up on days other than Sunday. Lighting forest fires is even frowned upon. Although Chris and Mike’s eating habits were a little “alternative” they were really fantastic people and I had a banger of a time. I think that the best bit of my stay there was when Mike told me a ripper story that he had heard about a left-handed serial rapist named K-Dog.

So that’s it. The New World adventure had come to an end and it was time to head to England, the home of countless bad TV soaps, mushy peas and flat beer served at room temperature (which is not too bad).

A lucky escape from sleepy Oceanside

We arrived in Oceanside, California at about 8am after an overnight bus ride from Merced via LA.  Joel and I were there to catch up with a couple of mates from back home, Jason and John. They were staying with Dave, a local surfing photographer.  We found out Dave’s address and walked there from the bus station. At first glance Oceanside, right on the beach, seemed nice, quiet and safe. Nothing bad could happen to two happy go lucky blokes from Australia… or so we thought.

We got to Dave’s place and unloaded our kit. There had been no swell for days so Johnny was pretty keen for a few drinks to celebrate our arrival. To the pub it was. It proved to be a constructive session; beers, conversation, a bit of Spanish was learnt and quickly forgotten. Good fun was had by all.

A club offering drink specials was our next port of call. The fun continued unabated long into the night. But there came a point in the early hours of the morning when a thought took root in the depths of my mind. The feeling grew until there was only one option left open to me. It was time to go walkabout.

I am not really sure but there was walking, a freeway, a fence and a fall. And then there was a police officer. He had received a call about a man in a blue shirt wandering the streets carrying a gun. I tried to explain to the officer that my shirt was not blue but he assured me that the stripes on it were blue. Lucky for me, I had left my piece in my other shorts.

I was patted down and given a seat on the curb. More police officers arrived and each one took delight in patting down the drunk Australian. I had a Victorian drivers licence and three bucks in my pocket.

Where was I staying? Ummm, Dave’s place in Oceanside.

It was the best I could manage but after prolonged questioning I managed to convince them that I could find the house. If not, it was to be the drunk tank for Rees Quilford Esquire. Good deal really. I was cuffed and escorted to the free taxi back to Dave’s house.

After the initial shock of seeing me, in handcuffs, being escorted up the stairs by one of Oceanside’s finest, Dave and Jason saw the humorous side of the situation. It turns out that I had had been on quite an adventure, wandering about 8 miles into one of the seedier parts of town. A place where bad things happen to drunk white boys walking by themselves.

The following day was filled with obligatory sightseeing, it was followed by a Saturday, the day when legends are made and broken. Dave’s brother Chris was planning to celebrate his 29th birthday. Johnny, Joel and myself decided that it would be rude of us not to assist him in his time of need. Word on the street was that the Violent Femmes where playing as part of the San Diego race day festivities, so that was were we intrepid travellers headed. For US$5 we had a day on the punt, saw the VF greatest hits playlist, not bad if that’s your bag. Then it was back to Oceanside for a night of chuckles.

Sunday followed, with the hard work of the weekend out of the way we shared a few hands of cards and a couple of cold cervezas, relaxed and reflected on memories past and future prospects. As is its nature, this innocent Sunday session led us to the bar. The night went along smashingly if not uneventfully – chatted to a few of the locals and had a few drinks.

It was around stumps that things started to go pear shaped. It seems that Joel had unwittingly managed to piss one of the local marine boys off. Not a bad effort since he couldn’t recall even talking to the guy. Obviously this dude didn’t like Jozza’s style, which as many would attest is fair enough.

Anyway we were standing at the ATM outside when he came charging across the street. Made a V-line straight for honest Joel. There was a bit of biffo with a bit of man cuddling (wrestling) thrown in for good measure. Security finally broke it up. The cops arrived and low and behold, my mate from the previous night was one of the attending officers. He told me in no uncertain terms what a silly sausage I had been.

I agreed, I had a black eye and Joel copped a few in the back of the head. Chapped knuckles were proof we did alright though.

We left Oceanside and headed for Los Mochis, Mexico. We had been out three nights and potentially life-threatening incidents occurred on two of them. I am not so sure that I like those odds. It was time to take the advice of my policeman friend and pull my head in.

Leaving Las Vegas

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.

Frat parties and beer pong

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 America Jnr. to America Snr.

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