After Indonesia, I scrambled north to Ko Tao in Thailand and completed a PADI dive course. damn, great fun (though our stunning Swedish co-diver Charlotta wasnt). It just feels like flying in the water and is definitely something I will follow up in central America. But before that I called into Bangkok to see Tom and then flew over to the States for the first time in 9 years. I was genuinely excited to be there, to see San Francisco, the National Parks and see the hugeness that I´ve come to understand over the last few years. America seemed like a world unto it´s own and I wanted to see it. Where better than California and Nevada, homes to the rich and famous as well as San Fran and Vegas?
As mentioned I hadn´t been to the States for 9 years. Back then I knew little but thought I knew plenty. I imagined that in 9 years, i´d be settled somehow, house, job etc. Well I have had but have now moved on from that. I flew over to meet up with Jessie, an old student from my short spell in Korea last year. We went to a Mexican restaurant the first night, I said hello, they said Ola. Set the tone as did the doggy bag after the meal which competed with my rucksack. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge, walked the hills of San Fran and did the tour of Alcatraz, a perfect tourist trap, very little there except the cells and a former prisoner answering questions (I didn’t ask my question: so are you still in contact with your former fuck-buddy?). I saw my first lesbian couple on the tram; unfortunately the fat one was English. Keep her please. San Fra had it´s funny moments; man gets on the bus with his wife except it´s him wearing the dress, carrying a hangbag and sporting a wig.
Remember the Dutch I met in Indonesia? Well I hoped I´d meet them in San Fran and we did. I still don’t they believe what I do in my life, the seeming continuous holidays, working little etc but together we got wheels, a Toyota Corolla and sped through to the coast and then over to San Jose, a town seemingly full of bail-bond offices but I managed to catch up with an old professor from University, dressed only in my flip flops. The lack of shoes (in hindsight blamed on Lavin for being unable to find them in his apartment for three months) became an issue, as unlike the Baywatch shows, California was damn cold and snowed consistently inland while just staying windy on the coast. But that didn´t hinder our road trip, instead gave us unusual photo opportunities. We headed out to meet the great American public and we were overwhelmed by their niceness, and over-helpfulness. Christ they can talk. You just want a simple answer and they tell you about their lives and how it is minutely connected to yours. Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks were covered in snow and I got to hug a tree (well almost; those who know this theory, know how much I put on it) and my new $13 Champion shoes were holding up admirably.
We moved on through Death Valley National Park, taking pictures, earnest and stupid, stopping at a redneck diner for dinner before searching out the nightlights of Vegas, which glares so prominently into the dark. We wandered the streets, drinking a large cold Sapporo in the freezing, blustery street, taking in the lights and the noise. We ended up having a long debate in Hooters about nothing in particular. That’s kinda significant for me. The whole trip throughout the States started to lose my interest. Las Vegas was all lights and no substance and was an early indicator of LA. We all managed a Carl Jr Burger meal (that´s 1600 calories in total) to follow the Wendy´s and MacDonald’s, Taco Bell and others but missed out on the In N`Out Burger. God damn it. It`s pretty clear that Americans are so blubberous because of the size of the portions served and at such a cheap price. Competition is fierce with Double Cheeseburgers coming in at $1!!
LA was a disappoint. I grew tired of it 9 years ago too and this time I was weary as I arrived. We had neglected CDs and sought out the voices of American radios (though the music seemed very English).The best part of LA was entering, listening to the radio (not Jesus FM this time) and singing with John as happily and coherently as we could. We went round the basic sights of Hollywood, fumbled through St Patricks Day and I felt like a self-imposed outsider. The American Dream crashes and burns in LA. The vast open plain is a grid of ongoing poverty while the rich whites live in safety, shaded from the sky and the crime in the hills or on the coast. For LA is the true example of the extremes and complexities of American society. San Francisco defends itself against conservative God radio stations, people push trolleys of belongings to the stop lights crossing in front of SUVs and Mercedes; kids catch different buses home according to race: integration is as far removed as 50 years ago.
We caught a premiere at the Chinese theatre on Hollywood Boulevard which is mildly interesting though I am sure on TV it will look extravagant.And on the last day, before meeting Hak Soo for a delicious bit of Gal Bi in Korea town (thanks Hak Soo so much), we went to watch the making of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, a Scot who has made it big on his talent. But the show was merely more of the usual. We were told we were not the audience but show enhancers, not there to have fun but to seem like we´re having fun. They do this bullshit everyday, hyping the gullible, fame-hungry audience into a religious frenzy. The show and the pretence must go on.
I thought I´d have a lot to say about the States but I left feeling bored and disappointed. I wouldn´t go back to LA or Vegas, San Fran maybe, the national parks certainly. The vast majority of Americans were hospitable and helpful, service was excellent, Carl Jr’s had the best burgers (and largest), the divide between the rich and poor is painful but people seemed resigned to their fate, racial division is rampant and the image of California is as shallow as the comedies they send over. There seemed a void at the heart of it all; I expect more from New York next month and I know already Mexico is rocking.
As John and I sang along to in the car, I know I´ve got to take it to the Otherside.