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Sunday 8 November 2009

Hello, I must be going … home

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 8th, 2009 at 7:54 pm and is filed under General, USA vs UK.

Last week in the USA then.

As I sit and type this, I realise that at this time next week I’ll be on a plane. First I go north a bit to Philadelphia, and then east quite a bit more to London. It’s time … The Prodigal Son returns to the City of Londinium next Sunday, and if I’m completely honest I can’t wait to get back and crack on with things.

The 2nd of May 2006 will be one of those dates emblazoned onto my cerebrum, remembered in the same way that other people remember dates that are important to them. As that was the date when I first arrived here, only for me to return – just over three and half years later – back to there.

So I’m signing off my American experience with a whole bunch of things that I’ve been saving up for a while, that I knew I would blog about only when it came to my last few days here in this fascinating country. And these are now, those last few days.

A blog post a day, right up until I leave next weekend.

Friday 30 October 2009

The Second Amendment

This entry was posted on Friday, October 30th, 2009 at 10:44 am and is filed under USA vs UK, Video.

With just over two weeks until I leave the land of the free, two of my friends here Chet & Andy decided that they needed to take me for a proper American experience – by shooting a gun. So off we trotted to the local firing range to ‘play’ with some 9mm’s.

What really got me was the whole casualness of doing it. We turned up without a bookoing, and the guy in charge didn’t want to know if we’d shot before or give as any more of a basic instruction of how to use the gun. We just showed some ID that proved we were old enough, paid our money and he handed over the guns & ammo.

“Do you let just anyone fire a gun?” I asked. “Almost anyone … yes … but not if they smell of marijuana” came his considered response. “Besides, I’ve always got this” and revealed my his side his own concealed weapon.

“Do you take that with you everywhere you go, or have it just here?”. “Everywhere I go. Y’see … look at me – I can’t run fast, I don’t swing a punch well … but I can shoot straight”.

And off we went to fire some rounds …

Friday 23 October 2009

The day I dialled … 911

This entry was posted on Friday, October 23rd, 2009 at 7:00 am and is filed under General, Improv.

Dial 911 on iPhoneThe iPhone. All hail the flippin’ iPhone, which I got sucked into buying back in August during my summer road trip when my trusty old Nokia finally broke when one of the function keys broke, and so I got a new phone when I passed the gleaming AT&T store in Salt Lake City later that day.

The iPhone which has put a camera (and with the later models) a video camera into everyones hand so we can more easily than ever blog, twitpic and generally log our lives for the rest of the world to see more than ever.

The iPhone, which today caused me about 10 seconds of valuable time when I was trying to dial 911 to call the Fire Department to summon their help … as my kitchen was on fire.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, and still just dressed in my boxers I was uploaded some video to my PC from the night before. I scratched my balls, yawned and stretched and wandered into the kitchen to make some tea. And like countless numbers of days before that I have done in the morning whilst living at Beverlys house, I filled up the stove kettle (not electric) with water, put it on the front left ring of the stove, turned on the dial .. and went to wee whilst it boiled.

I ducked my head back into my room to check that the video uploading was going ok – all good, and then went to the bathroom where a wee turned into a sit down effort, and so I sat down for a minute. And I was getting close to finishing when I heard something go ‘thump’ and perhaps fall over outside. Was that one of the cats? We have three of them in the house, and they like to get inside boxes, open doors, jump on the counters and tables – one of them knocked over a guitar propped upright in the lounge the other day .. so I thought I’d check it out just as soon as I was done. Which is when I heard a ‘whump’ noise .. which .. made me think “No, really – what was that?” and I now wanted to investigate immediately, except I couldn’t because I was on the loo and hadn’t finished .. so i quickly finished, wiped, stood up, flushed and headed out to the kitchen, where I saw a sight that I really don’t ever want to see again. Literally, ever.

The stove is on fire – badly. The kettle itself looks ok, but the pan (last nights dinner) on the ring on the stove behind it is blazing away – flames many inches high. That in turn is setting fire to the cabinet which hangs over the cooker, and there’s another one of those slow motion moments where someone presses the virtual-go-slow button on your life remote and time comes to a crawl.

“FUCK! FIRE!”, I think were the two words I could manage to yell at the top of my voice and in an instant span round to get my iPhone sitting on the side charging just a few few away and ran outside to the front door – and dialled 911.

Well I say I dialled 911, but in reality what happened was:

• I slid my shaking, panicing thumb over the ‘unlock’ switch – and a combination of my nerves, and the thin layer of burnt plastic that was already in the air and had deposited on my phone meant that I didn’t do it proplerly the first time, and it took me two tries.

• “Diall 911! Dial 911”, I’m thinking in my head (thank goodness I didn’t try and do ‘999’ first, eh?) and can’t remember what app is was on at the time, but I had to hit the iPhone ‘home’ button to go back to main screen, to then fire up the phone app – missed – fired up messaging instead – hit home, went for the phone app again, and then thought … “FUCK! WHERE’S THE FUCKING KEYPAD!”, because I think in all the time I’ve had the phone, I’ve used the keypad on it about twice, as all my other numbers are programmed in so I’ve never really had to type a phone number in.

• So it takes me another couple of seconds to stop, think, ignoring the now roaring flames in the kitchen behind me where it’s now taking hold on the cupboard to the left, eventually press with my sweaty finger the ‘keypad’ button, and in near-blind-panic, manage to punch out ‘911’ and ‘call’.

The dispatcher answers. Ok, now I’m panicking like a big girl and it takes me three attempts to say the address correctly until she can understand it. “Now just calm down honey and give me that add-ress again” she might have even said in her southern drawl. She patches me through more or less instantly to the local fire department .. which I know where it is, Johns Island fire department is 90 seconds up the road around the corner, and the guy that talks to me asks me to describe the situation, if there are any other people in the house, and advises me to get out of the house as “We’re already on our way”.

I turn to the back door of the kitchen .. I’m aware of the thick black smoke that is collecting on the ceiling of the kitchen. I have flashback to junior school where they show you safety videos and tell you that smoke is actually a killer in a fire, and not the flames and and I run to the backdoor – in my barefeet, still just got my boxers on – and open the back door, and leave it open to try and get the smoke outside.

I turn back and look inside at the stove now ablaze and realise that in the two minutes that it’s gonna take the fire crew to get here, this is going to be bad unless I do something about it. So I step back inside.

I grab a tea-towel. WHY I didn’t wet it, I don’t know – because a wet tea towel over a burning pan is something that they also show you in the safety videos to put out a fire by starving it of oxygen, but I do remember thinking “It’s an electrical fire on an oily pan, I can’t use water” – fuck knows how I managed to have some sort of sense in the state of panic that I’m in. Instead, using the tea towel wrapped around my hand as protection, I pick up the kettle on the ring that it is on – the plastic handle is melting – grab it and toss it outside onto the back yard lawn.

I go back in for the pan .. that was on the ring next to it. It’s hugely ablaze. I carefully – and boy do I mean carefully – grab the handle and more slowly than the kettle take it outside, and throw it away from me to the ground. (Later, we find a patch of blackened burnt grass, the size of then pan where the fire burnt the lawn nicely). And then I go back in for another pan that is half ablaze on the third out of fourth rings on the stove.

But there’s still fire. The cabinet above and to either side are ablaze, and one of them is burning away nicely at Beverly’s collection of Tar Heels plastic cups. That CAN be put out with water I remember, and grab another cup nearby, and douse the flames in three or four attempts of water from the sink.

I dash back outside to make sure that I am breathing some clean air, and then duck back inside. It’s just the stove ring that is still on – glowing all orange and bright. “Turn off the source!” I think in my head, and lean forward to get to the controls (tea towel still on hand) and see to my dismay that all the control knobs have burnt and melted away – there’s no way to turn it off.

I go outside again – nothing is on fire, it’s just all smoke now, and in the distance I can here the sirens of the fire trucks. All of that has taken 60 seconds and I go back outside in the car porch and sit on the ground. I find my phone. I burst into tears. I am a mess. And I call Beverly to tell her to come home because her kitchen is on fire …

About 20 minutes later …

There are big burly firemen – and one fire woman – stomping about the place. I had to call Beverly back to ask her where the location of the breaker box was so that they could cut the power to the cooker.

They have place an enourmous fan at the entrance to the house and are getting the majority of the smoke out of the house with it.

Beverly comes back, we hug, I cry some more, and we go on a hunt for the cats – all three of who are beautifully cowering under the beds upstairs.

Katie turns up. I get her to video me. I take photos … using the dreaded iPhone. Yes, the device which took me 10 seconds longer to dial the emergency service is now the catalyst to the meta explosion which is now almost expected in any ‘drama’ that people like to blog about.

Why do we do this? Why do we now feel the need to log ourselves in the middle of a crisis that it happening to you right in the moment? Because this is what we do now. This is what the world has become. And so I fire off some tweets too, and do my first ever facebook status update from my iPhone.

A fireman goes into my bedroom and comes out with my jeans and a top for me to wear. “I’m feeling a little naked”, I think I might have said to him, so he saved my blushes.

My feet hurt. At some point, I’ve trodden in burning matter, and now the adrenalin has gone I can feel pain in my feet. I’ve got a small burn on my hand too where I’ve touched something hot. It’s amazing how I can’t recall at all ever thinking “Ouch! That was hot!” because when you’re in the middle of something like that, your pain receptors switch off.

I actually end up bitching to the fire-chief like-bloke (he must be, he’s the only one wearing a white shirt) about the shittyness of the iPhone for dialing the emergency number. He nods and agrees.

The reason why I bitch so much is that on my old Nokia, and lot of similar phones of that design, they:

i. Had a physical keyboard, and …

ii. Even when they were in locked mode you could press ‘9 1 1’, or ‘9 9 9’, or ‘1 1 2’ and hit ‘send’ WITHOUT having to unlock the phone. Just the four buttons you need – like really need – to dial that number in a hurry.

The kitchen is a mess. It is black. The house will be uninhabitable for a bit whilst it’s cleaned up. I feel embarrassed, stupid, angry. But at the same time people point out to me that it was an accident, not my fault, and putting out the fire rather than ducking outside and waiting for the crew to turn up means that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I have a headache. Breathing in burning plastic is not good for the head, it would seem. There is a fine layer of burnt plastic bits on the surfaces. The insurers have already been called, and a surveyor has been round to inspect the damage.

I normally like a little drama. But I’m starting to have enough of it now. Can I go home yet please?

Friday 16 October 2009

Coming sooner … likely

This entry was posted on Friday, October 16th, 2009 at 11:10 pm and is filed under Underground : USA.

Whilst I slave away every day trying to get my book written, I’m also spending time going through and organising all the photos.

It appears that me (and my companions) managed to press the shutter button just over 4,700 times in ten weeks, and that doesn’t include an estimate 100 pictures or more that I hadn’t downloaded off of the first camera when it got stolen.

I’m taking my favourite ones to create a Blurb photo book (in time for Christmas!), but in the meantime thought I’d make a melancholy slideshow too to that piece of music which is now oh-so-familiar to me.

So here’s lots of placenames signs that have the same name as the tube, more abandonment, highways, scenic views, shots of the stunning Yellowstone and my lovely companions. And there still more choice photos to come …

Friday 9 October 2009

Wordle

This entry was posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009 at 12:09 pm and is filed under General.

This is rather fun.

If I didn’t know I’d been on a roadtrip, would this summary of words using wordle pulling a feed from my site reflect it? It’s so much fun.

You can go make your own here, either by typing in the name of a blog, webpage, or just copying in some text.

Geofftech Wordle

Friday 2 October 2009

Coming soon … probably

This entry was posted on Friday, October 2nd, 2009 at 11:17 am and is filed under Underground : USA, Video.

To document, or not to document – that is the question.

I’m 30,000+ words into my book (and I’ve been reliably informed that 150,000 is your ‘standard’ book size, so I’m about er …. 20% done on that front) but I’ve also been going back through ALL the video footage that I shot over ten weeks trying to decide if something is salvagable from it.

The main thing that is (obviously) still making me wonder what to do is the lack of original material from the first three weeks (all the tapes were stolen in the robbery – and I can only salvage/use the low quality Flash Video that’s been published on the web), and the further low quality footage shot on the backup camera in week four and part of week five. Can I still make somethiing out of it all … should I? Would you like to see something anyway even if the first part was of a lesser quality and shorter in length?

Let me know what you think.

Friday 25 September 2009

20. And Home

This entry was posted on Friday, September 25th, 2009 at 12:33 pm and is filed under Underground : USA, Video.

And I’m back in Charleston.

So it’s taken me three weeks to recover, catch up on my sleep and get some sort of resemblance of a ‘normal’ daily life back. Which means it’s now time for a post-trip ‘debrief’ interview …

In the meantime, you’ll find me down the library most days, writing it all up – one published book forthcoming. Toying with the idea of creating a photo-album style book as well, which will make a great Christmas present to give to people.

Friday 4 September 2009

Insouciant (East is east)

This entry was posted on Friday, September 4th, 2009 at 6:09 pm and is filed under Underground : USA.

Where Am I?Somewhere on a mainly deserted two-lane highway, sometime between California and Oklahoma, someone was driving a dark red Jeep east across the country.

Just another week and another two thousand miles on the clock to add to on top of a ten week epic journey – all alone.

Google latitude has been turned off, there’s only been a dribble of tweets, and deliberate non-specific location statuses on facebook. This is Geoff, driving back to Charleston. East.

I don’t feel like I have to blog. I certainly don’t have to shoot, edit or produce videos, and I don’t have to update a Google map plotting my progress every day. I can just … head east, anyway I want, at my leisure with only me to tell me where to go. It feels nice, I am insouciant.

Of course, at any other time a 2,000+ mile coast to coast roadtrip would (normally) be a big thing. This is an exception. Now it’s just a bit of a pain-in-the-arse extension to get back as soon as I can so that I can stop wearing the same three t-shirts in rotation every six days. And if you think that’s gross, you definitely don’t want to know about the state of my underwear.

Driving six hours a day for six days in a row is somewhat dull, but in America perfectly possible. Couldn’t imagine doing that in England, where more congested roads and a generally more dense feeling would make it a chore. It’s not entirely pain-free here, but for stretches I put the cruise control on, wind the window down hang my arm (and sometimes left leg) out into the sharp breeze and drive. East. Always east, against the time zones.

At one point, I’m on a highway running parallel to the interstate. I am going faster than traffic that is on it, and “overtake” several trucks. At one point I slow down to 50mph … but that’s because I want to wave at and take a photo of the the train that’s running alongside me to my other parallel side.

When I was down and out in Vegas last week, I got vaguely excited one day (on the drive out to Rachel and back) when I realised I was going to (in effect) have another mini-roadtrip adventure all to myself, and started plotting touristy places to go. It made me happy – but that’s not what’s happened. Instead of going to Roswell and Austin, all I’m doing to make me happy is just piling on the miles, heading in the one pure direction … east. Never ending.

Big, wide, open, American stretches on. Its relentless endless highways, oily gas stations with a (much loved) coffee stench are everywhere, and it still excites me.

California“So what did you learn from your road trip?” I have been asked in slightly different ways from slightly different people. Well … that those Californian’s like to get everywhere is the flippant answer – I see more of their plates ‘out of state’ than any other. Oh, and Verizon’s cell coverage is much more extensive than AT&T’s would be another obscure, but factually correct answer.

And on … east. Be it rocky mountains, or scraggy desert, cornfields, suburban sprawl, trains, more highways, oil-fields, rivers, plains, meadows, canyons, herds of cows, rusty junk yards of cars, people, towns, lights and sometimes … just big vast expanses of sheer nothing, all out there to look at and consume and breath and devour – added to the mine of information already inducted into my little brain over the past two plus months.

It’s going to take some some time to process it all.


Despite being ‘off’ as I drive back, it’s not stopped me adding a few more photos to my galleries on facebook. The Route 66 specific gallery is here, and the Abandoned America one is here.

Follow: My Underground : USA Twitter feed here, and view the Facebook group, or see all the photos that I’m posting on it – even if you’re not on facebook or don’t want to join the group.

Saturday 29 August 2009

Final Stats : USA

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 29th, 2009 at 11:00 pm and is filed under Underground : USA.

So here we go – for the last time – to have a round up of all the important numbers at the end, and the final progress maps too.

So if you still don’t include the four days that it took for me to drive up to Maine from Charleston, or the (estimated) six days that it will take me to drive back, the whole trip lasted 73 days, starting on Tuesday June 16th in Epping, Maine and ending on Thursday 27th August in Hyde Park (Los Angeles), California.

Travelling:
Days on the road: 73 / Miles driven: 18,763 / Average miles per day: 257

States:
Been through: 48 states / Visited: 48 ‘same name’ towns & places that share names as places on the tube map

Gas/Petrol:
Total gallons: 984 / Total spent: $2,606 / Average Gas Mileage (MPG): 19.61
Most expensive: $3.99 (Mojave Desert, Nevada) / Cheapest: $2.24 (Missouri)

Accommodation:
Campgrounds: 39 / Stayed at friends: 13 / Stayed in motels: 19 / Slept in car: 2 / Money spent: $2,026

Photographs:
I took 4,629 photos – or at least that’s how many times the shutter got pressed in 73 days, which is 63 times a day on average.

Lining Howard Schultz’s pocket:
Now in total 25 times, which is still lower than I thought it would be for me. I thought Dunkin’ Donuts might overtake them, but DD are still only prominent in the North East of America.

My weight:
I know I was at 172lbs when I set out. I’m looking at my stomach now thinking “Well I look fatter”, but I haven’t actually had a chance to weight myself yet. I’m betting i’m at least two to three pounds heavier though.

Lost items (Aside from the car break-in)
One folding chair, one tarpaulin, one pillow, one swiss-army knife (pocket knife) and one packet of hand wipes – all placed on top of the roof when tidying up the car, and then driven off forgetting that they were there.

Items not lost
My watch went missing for a week, then turned up in the pocket of a bag where I’d previously failed to look. It was quite nice not knowing for a week what the time was though.

The 48 ‘Same Name’ places, on my route, were:

Epping (Maine), Putney (Vermont), Plaistow (New Hampshire), Gloucester (Massachusets), Warwick (Rhode Island), Wapping (Connecticut), Kew Gardens (New York), Harrow (Pennsylvania), Acton (New Jersey), Camden (Delaware), Kensington (Maryland), Greenford (Ohio), Royal Oak (Michigan), Liverpool (West Virginia), Preston (Kentucky), Amersham (Tennessee), Finchley (Virginia), Hampstead (North Carolina), Woodford (South Carolina), Temple (Georgia), Brompton (Alabama), Lancaster (Florida), Bond (Louisiana), Oxford (Mississippi), Victoria (Arkansas), Kingsbury (Indiana), Swiss Cottage (Illinois), Red Bridge (Missouri), White City (Kansas), Waterloo (Nebraska), Latimer (Iowa), Green Park (Wisconsin), Elm Park (Minnesota), Kingsbury (South Dakota), Watford City (North Dakota), Beckton (Wyoming), Poplar (Idaho), Hackney (Montana), Olympia (Washington), Kenton (Oregon), Holborn (Nevada), Arsenal (Utah), Monument (Colorado), Stratford (Texas), Warren (Oklahoma), Angel Fire (New Mexico), London Bridge (Arizona), Hyde Park (California)

The Route Taken

In the end, the map got too complicated for poor old Google to handle in one attempt (too many nodes), so I’ve had to split it into two. The ‘half way’ point I’ve taken to be Chicago which is when I really started to feel that I left the east side of America and enter the west … So map No.1 is up to the 19th July, and map No.2 is everything after that.


View Underground USA : My Progress (1/1) in a larger map


View Underground USA : My Progress (2/2) in a larger map

Friday 28 August 2009

To the death

This entry was posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009 at 11:09 pm and is filed under Underground : USA.

Hyde ParkMy eyes open. It’s Thursday morning. I’ve driven over 18,000 miles in the last ten weeks, and I’ve got about 150 more to go to get to my final destination.

My last evening of the road trip was not one to remember. In the nothing town of Ridgecrest, CA (formerly known as Crumville – no, really!) – Paul and I ended up eating some crappy Dominos Pizza whilst sat in the car in the parking lot outside. It’s high livin’ this road trip.

We’d left Vegas that morning, and driving through the heat of Death Valley. An attempt at persuading the park ranger to give me my $80 ‘all parks’ voucher for free because I’d already done Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Arches and Grand Canyon in the past few weeks was unsuccessful, and it meant I had to cought up the ten bucks to pass through.

We got slightly worried when we read and were told the story of a woman who’s eleven year old child had died out there just last week. But she had been stupid – driven off of a recognised road/path, and was then blindly following her GPS system down a path that wasn’t drivable. She’s got a flat tyre, was unable to move and in the four days that it took people to find her, her son passed away. We later found out that was the third death this year.

Temperatures hit 117F for us (that’s 47C for anyone in England) as we drove through, stopping at every opportunity we could to rest the car so that the engine didn’t overheat and take on water ourselves. At Stovepipe Wells we found a gas station selling at more than a dollar of what you’d normally pay. Bags of ice normally around $1.50 were selling for four bucks, and even my favourite Vitamin water drink had a 200% markup on it. Sellers market, here in the desert.

Hearing The Eagle’s ‘Hotel California’ (for only – surprisingly – the fourth time on the trip) on the radio that morning was a serendipitous signal and convinced me to splash out on a hotel and not camp for the last night meant no more putting up of the tent … well until next week when I drive back to Charleston and camp a few times there anyway, and so we stayed at a place which – again – had a ropey internet connection. Once I’ve done writing my book on my trip, I feel like I could write the book on just how hard it is to get a mobile internet connection these days – poor when you consider how long we’ve had the ‘net now.

Down Interstate 5, and onto the 405, I filled up with gasoline for the last time – all 984 gallons of it, and the cost of two thousand, six hundred dollars. Some nice charts based on my stats to come on this blog over the next few days, naturally.

To Hyde Park. A sketchy neighbourhood (“4 shootings last month!”, my mum helpfully twittered me) meant that I didn’t get out of the car. Instead we did our own shooting – with the video camera – as Paul got me down on digital tape, only moving on when we started to attract attention from the locals because he stuck his head out of the sunroof to get a shot of the ‘Hyde Park’ sign.

And then that was it. I was done. Just like that. On a non-descript Thursday, with me feeling hot and bothered and more grumpy than ever because it was about that moment that I realised that I wasn’t going to wake up tomorrow morning and instantly feel under pressure to be somewhere, drive someplace, or produce something online, and so my body started to shut down. Was it an anti-climax? Perhaps. A little.

I stayed at my friends Thursday night in Santa Monica. I slept for twelve hours, woke up and yet later in the afternoon slept for another four. Friday night I slept for ten hours again, and when I woke up instantly yawned and felt tired. Well why did I wake up then? I queried my own body.

At some point next week I will stabilise, and (wearily) trudge back east. On a trip which some might consider by itself to be an epic journey : From West to East coast. Another 4 to 6 days and two thousand miles on the clock – probably a lot of tedious interstate driving too, scenic road tours will not help me get back quickly. Back to some sort of normality.

And then … ?

Thursday 27 August 2009

Viva … well, nothing much really.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2009 at 10:30 am and is filed under Underground : USA.

Four days in Las Vegas, and I was REALLY starting to hate the place.

Nothing to do with tube-named stops, I’d always planned to stay in Vegas at least one – possibly two nights – just so that I could say I’d been there, seen it, and indulged a little. In the end, it will also be remembered for me as one of the most depressing parts of the trip.

A little unfair? Possibly. Especially when lots of people that I know (Sorry Tami, Caitlin, Laurel) who I know have all been there recently and had good times … but it just didn’t rub off on me.

Ultimately I think it was because I was a novelty tourist in a novelty town. A town/city which has clearly been created in the middle of the desert, because there’s not a lot else going on in Nevada, which is why it is the state that has the most easy going laws on gambling and prostitution.

I think if you’ve saved up money, if you’ve made it your destination, and you know you’re going to lose (or maybe make) money on gambling, and are going to get drunk and party – and that’s your intent – then it’s fine. But for me it was a stopping off point – a chance to rest up, do a blog catch up, do some video editing and take it easy. Instead, it felt like everyone else was FORCING to me to party it up, and have a good time in the way that they were dictating, and I didn’t like it at all.

Now I can be a right pervy bastard as the best of times, but even the level of sleaze that was all around amazed me a little. “HOT BABES! DIRECT TO YOU!” screamed the giant billboard on a back of a truck – one of several trucks – that drove up and down the strip relentlessly. A phone number would guarantee a high class escort to your room straight away to enjoy some carnal pleasures, shameless.

It got even worst when you tried to walk down the strip, and found a line of (literally) twenty Mexicans trying to thrust cards into your hands advertising the same thing. I wanted to get a roll of cards, stick them together and shove them down their throats.

The ‘strip‘ of course, is the main-street of Vegas upon which is adorned by the major hotels – each with a casino in. The intensity compounded my misery. I think when I am used to American being so big anyway – and thus spaced out, and having seen even more wide open spaces in the last few weeks, to have everything suddenly condensed and compressed into one small space with big bright lights, noise and again – the feeling that you MUST enjoy yourself – or else! Was just terribly, well .. depressing.

I get a message from an old colleague of mine – Rich. A guy I used to work with back in Charleston. He quite back in 2007 and moved out west and ended up working in Las Vegas. Would we like to meet up for a beer and chat? Yes we would – ’cause if you want to get the lowdown on an area, then you go talk to a local – it’s a simple as that.

“It’s the called the MonoFAIL around here” was one of Rich’s opening gambits when we started on a conversation about what Vegas was really like. He’s talking about the LV Monorail which is a 15 minute journey end-to-end that takes you in seven stops along the length of the strip. “”A single ride ticket is five bucks, which is just too expensive”, and I’ve have to agree. He tells us that the trains are mostly empty, not enough people used them from the start which just made them … increase the ticket price in an attempt to make their money back which just meant that less people used them.

This is the start of a rather depressing conversation where he points out various failings about the city. Hotels which had been started construction on, and then the finance pulled and was never completed. About how one of the most successful business in the city is … U-Haul, where people are simply packing up and leaving town.

Residential foreclosures, expensive tourist traps bars and cafes .. in fact, in the 15 minute drive down to Fremont Street, the only plus I heard him say in the whole conversation is that there is free parking – everywhere. But that’s only because the hotels want to get you into their casinos and start spending money there instead.

Rich pointed out the Stratosphere, which from the outside looks shiny, bright and tempting. “But it’s a dump” he commented “Hardly anyone ever goes there now”. He also pointed out the site of the Desert Inn – the hotel where Howard Hughes had stayed during his time in Vegas. “Where he ran out the mafia, and brought in his own .. the Mormon Mafia”, he chuckled. I had to go off and google the whole story myself, as I didn’t know that there was so much more to the eccentric aviators life.

Rich drove us up to Fremont Street. Past wedding chapels, tattoo parlours, strip clubs and casinos casinos casinos – the never end bright lights and noise and people and casinos.

Fremont was slightly better than the main strip. It’s what used to be the ‘main’ Vegas before the strip was invented, and it felt like it once had maybe had some character, before that too had been eradicated.

“You know it’s not a real place, don’t you?” comments my friend Jono on my facebook. “I found Vegas very surreal too. There was something quite depressing about the shallowness of it all in a way” emailed my friend Zoe back in England to me. Couldn’t agree more.

This is a false town. With enforced happiness. And zombified people with glum souls but being told they should enjoy themselves – and so they were enjoying themselves in a false way – wandering round. With inflated prices on food and drink practically lifting the dollars from your pocket at every opportunity.

I did gamble in the end – just to see if I could get into the spirit of it a bit. I set aside $100 in cash, and spent just over an hour slowly losing it all on a blackjack table. Paul did not last as long as me – my only consolation for the night.

I did consider another angle too which was slightly worrying. What if I’ve just got used to NOT being in a city now? What if/when I am back in London one day will I hate it? Have I seen to much of the beauty of the Colorado mountains, or the Arizona desert for me to hate a city? Will I ever want to live in a city again or has my mindset on that changed?

And at the end of the four days, as we drove out of town and my mood instantly improved – “Your mood has improved noticeably” said Paul, and it was because in my head I could see the word on the screen as I wrote this blog post in my mind – and realised at that point something quite drastic. I have no photos of Vegas.

I hadn’t taken any photos – none, at all, whilst in Vegas. From hitting that shutter button over 3,000 times almost relentlessly at times on my Nikon in the best part of ten weeks, Vegas has completely inspired me to … NOT … want to take any photos, which is why this blog post looks depressingly bland, but is also depressingly honest.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Alien. Where?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 at 10:02 am and is filed under Underground : USA.

AlienwearWelcome, Rachel.

No, not my-best-mates-back-at-home birds name, or even any ‘Friends’ connotations with Jennifer Anniston, but a town with population of just under 100 about eighty miles north of Las Vegas, that likes to tout itself as the place to be to see a UFO or two.

We escaped – literally, more on that tomorrow – Las Vegas for the day, and headed for the Extraterrestrial Highway, the road that leads up the east side of Nellis Air Force Base which contains the super-secret Area 51, to a town that is cashing in on supposed alien sightings in the area.

Of course, I saw “town”, but really Rachel is just another bunch of trailers, hanging off the side of a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, Nevada desert. Except they’ve made a bit (but not much) of an effort to do up an extra large trailer and call it ‘The Little A’Le’Inn’ and sell a variety of UFO themed snacks and drinks.

Even before we’d got there, a big picture of an alien donned a billboard saying “Area 51 Alien Beef Jerky here!” – but all it did was remind me was how the logo looked just the one one that the computer manufacturer Alienware use, and how that had been the brand of PC that had got stolen from my car back at the beginning of July.

I’d expected it to be some sort of UFO tourist mecca, and I would run around with video camera in hand talking to bemused tourists, and extra-chatty-staff telling us with delight about all the comings and going of UFO sightings they’d seen – their website does after all say “We strive to make you feel at home while being away from your home. So enjoy the many photographs and items hanging on the walls, or maybe you just want to kick back and talk to someone who knows what is going on in the area.” – sounds fun, right?

Not so.

In a rather unimpressive ‘cafe’, some glum looking tourists munch on some food on the table in the middle, and the two guys serving looked at us as though some more tourists – camera clearly slung over my shoulder – was a more surprising sight than an alien itself, and it was hard to get more than two words out of them.

Rachel

There was some tat to buy though : Area-51 labeled mugs & mouse mats were for sale, along with dodgy looking DVD compilations such as “The best Alien sightings in the world – Volume 3”, for an over-priced price. I tried talking to the guy serving us, but he seemed a little lost, confused, and not at all talkative, so we scanned the room looking for … aliens?

What I did actually see was something that I hadn’t spotted upon initially walking in … an old dude, long white ponytail hair tapping away at an old computer in the corner. I walked over and tried to catch his eye, but he ignored me – then I realised that he was having an intense conversation on hie bluetooth headset instead, although I did wonder how in the middle of Nevada desert he was getting a signal, strange.

The ALeInnI went back to the counter and asked Mr. Surly – “So who’s the chap in the corner?” I asked politely. “Some dude, using his computer” came the gruff five word reply, and no more.

It became clear, that this was not just ‘some dude’ in the corner, as over the next ten minutes the people working there – including the chef out back – came out and spoke to him and I just about hears snatched pieces of conversation about things he was logging and tracking.

At about that moment, there was then a Boom outside, and a slight shake to the building as a sonic boom reverberated around Rachel, and the long haired pony-tail guy barked excitedly into his headset “Did you hear that? Another one just went over!” and feverishly tapped away at his keyboard.

Paul and I didn’t stay much longer after that. Yes I bought some tacky souvenirs, and snapped some photos … but there was an overall impression that we just weren’t welcome. Strange, for a ‘town’ to promote itself as being Alien-friendly, but then to go all weird on people when they tried to ingratiate themselves when they’ve clearly come out of the way because of that.

“I think they thought we were too liberal” pointed out Paul as we wandered back to the car, as he noted that there had been a whole bunch of NRA style pro-gun stickers at the back of the bar [His favourite : “You want my gun? Sure, you can have the bullets first!”] and that us as two guys, no girls in our party … maybe they though we were gay and this didn’t fit in with their hardcore conservative point of views? “Or with your new short haircut”, I pointed out “They probably thought you were from the military, snooping about!”.

Talking of the military and snooping we decided that we did want to do some of that ourselves … by driving as close to Area 51 as we could manage. The A-Le-Inn actually sold maps for 33 cents (what, three for a dollar?) showing ways to the edge of the base. We took one that took us 12 miles down a very straight, dusty and unusually WIDE road … wide enough for what? … to be transported, we wondered.

No PhotosDown to a point where there was a barrier – double barriers – in fact with big red flashing lights warning us not to go any further. Photos too, were not to be taken. Lights and CCTV cameras pointed down on us, and in a building about 50 yards away inside the base, we could hear a radio? a TV? and talking … life anyway.

“They’re probably scanning your license plate right now” observed Paul. Unlikely, I thought, considering how practically unreadable it is caked in mud and dust where its only had the occasional rain shower to wash it over the last ten weeks.

We stared into the base … really just a long dusty road heading into the mountains, and then turned around , and I wondered if my Alienware computer that was stolen was maybe hidden in a secret laboratory somewhere underneath Groom Lake. I guess I’ll never know.

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