across America by bus, train, foot and car

March 1st, 2009

It’s snowing in Memphis. Not very interesting unless you know that it snows for one day a year here – that being today and I’m flying out of Nashville tomorrow morning to New York via North Carolina, hopefully. As an Englishman, it’s my duty to discuss the weather, however this week I think it bears mentioning that on Tuesday it was 84 degrees in Mexico and now on Saturday it’s below freezing in Tennessee…I guess I’ll struggle through.

So, I left San Francisco and hospitality of Katy & Justin last Saturday lunchtime on a bus bound for Oakland across the Bay Bridge where my mighty Amtrak train would be waiting to take me to Bakersfield, and from there a 3 hour bus ride to Union Station, downtown L.A. Only 9 hours through the least attractive parts of California, how hard can it be? Easy, but boring it turned out…the next day would test my ass-padding and general can-I-amuse-myself skills.

After venturing to the Mexican market across from Union Station in search of fruit – banana + apple = $1, credit crunch fans – I hung out in the coffee bar until I could legitimately sit by the departure gates for the Sunset Limited Amtrak over-nighter to Del Rio, Texas 28 hours away through California, Arizona, New Mexico and most of Texas.

That’s probably a long way, but when you walk up and down a train, talk to interesting random travellers – almost all American, young, often “minorities” or old and white – read your book and listen to appropriate tunes on your iPod, it’s not so bad. Trying to figure out how drunk the young bucks in the lounge car are gonna get was fun, being woken up by Tuscon police at 2.30am asking if a convicted murderer is in your cosy roomette not so much. He got off the train apparently, either that or he hid well.Quote from train attendant the next day: “When you travel in America you have to expect to rub shoulders with criminals”. Thanks for that then, Rick!

I was the lone departee at Del Rio, Texas. A woman from Oklahoma hugged me and said “Be careful” as I explained my stop here was solely to visit Mexico the next day. I was a bit worried. Squeaky bum time. “The drug wars have not touched Ciudad Acuna yet” I was assured. It was fine. A bit of a long walk down a hot bridge into Mexico. Some amazement and amusement in the immigration office at Acuna when I explained I just wanted a stamp in my passport to prove I’d been. A transaction in stumbling Spanish to buy water and a (really fast) walk round the first block in town and before I knew it I was sat in Homeland Security explaining where I’d just been, where I had come from, where I was going, where I lived, what the hell I wanted to go to Mexico for and I was on my way to San Antonio and the Alamo…

Very hot here. Wouldn’t want to take part in a 13 day siege of a small monastery/church here in 1836. No, thank you. Lots of Englishmen seemed to though. My knowledge of the Alamo is hazy, I should’ve paid better attention but suffice to say Davy Crockett was involved and nowadays there’s a motel next door to prove it!

On to Austin where I was shown the sights and sounds of 6th Street and treated to an excellent Texas meal by Lorra from Alaska (met on the outback tour in Oz) – thanks Lorra! And Liz her 5th Generation Texan friend, the Catfish Po-Boy, Mustard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas were delicious and nutritional too, I wouldn’t wonder…

Back on the train for what turned out to be a 17 hour journey up to Little Rock, Arkansas. This was saved jointly by Tom from Canada and Samuel Adams from Boston. Tom and I “shot the breeze” and looked out at darkness from Dallas to Little Rock whilst Sam Adams lubricated my larynx and made everything a bit easier to deal with.

Little Rock is named after a small pebble found in 1840. That’s a lie but there ain’t much there except the brand-new William Clinton Presidential Library and PR Exercise Building – very nice too. Everyone very friendly again though, as in Texas, and so drove the World’s Most Boring Route to Memphis.

I like Memphis. A lot. I went to Sun Studios (Geoff, I’ve got your T-shirt!) – home of the first recordings by Johnny Cash & Elvis Presley, Stax Museum of American Soul – home of the recording of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the MGs among many more, Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the motel where Martin Luther-King was shot dead…and I ate alot of BBQ, thanks Jen & Mike! It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, and now it’s 30. Last night karaoke – “Suspicious Minds” by the King of Rock’n’Roll since you ask – and too much Jack Daniels on the rocks made the cold go away, but today’s snow has made me get the long johns ready for New York and Boston…only 8 days left, but they’re gonna be good ones.

live from big sur

February 19th, 2009

“It’s been a while, eh? I’ve been to Australia back to New Zealand’s North Island and up the Pacific Coast of the US since the last time! I’m knackered. But happy.

For the book geeks, I’m writing this from the Henry Miller Library (a log cabin) in Big Sur, California – about 150 miles south of San Francisco…so I’m very happy 🙂 – look, that proves it!

I’m driving up to San Francisco to see family and go snowboarding, but it’s been a bit of a shock to return to wintry conditions after the
humidity and heat of Oz and NZ the past month…

I escaped the fires and floods in Australia by a few weeks, then got the heat in Auckland and north of there! Had a wonderful time, thanks Suzanne, thanks Steven, Lynfa and Milly, thanks random travellers met along the way…the human spirit is alive and well out here, I’m happy to report from my end at least!

Having decided to say “yes” more – try “Yes Man” (the book by Danny Wallace not the film starring Jim Carrey) – and see if it makes any
difference…thanks for that one, Ted 😉 – I’ve jumped off a high (at LEAST 20 feet!) bridge into water, jet-skied, fished, jumped off a boat,
been in a helicopter over the outback, “sailed” a boat and driven a red Ford Mustang up the Pacific Coast – cliche-tastic.

So now, warming my English a$$ next to a wood-burning stove in this wonderful place, I’m thinking back to all those great experiences and ahead to the last 3 weeks in the States…

lizard of Oz

January 22nd, 2009

Just left J a message from where he used to live and gonna try to find P’s Candy’s for a coffee and maybe a Potato Kumala. Manly is Aussie Summer Funtastic! Really cloudy but also really warm – the thirty minute ferry ride is hard to beat past the Opera House and Bridge. Walked through the Botanical Gardens this morning – fruitbats in the trees, trees singing with cicadas, really incredible.

Met M from Porto, Portugal yesterday randonly on the bridge looking over the Opera House – she took my picture, we walked over the bridge to take shots of the Opera House (shit sound for opera, apparently) through the railings – it started to rain, we ate a terrible pizza in the Rocks, then it thundered and we met A from Netherlands (who M had met on Manly Beach in the morning) – we tried to go up to the revolving restaurant but were wearing shorts :(, so went for some drinks ar Bar 333 on George Street and then took photos of an installation down a side street, then wandered aroung Queen Victoria Building while construction went on around us. A beautiful tower in daylight, yellows, greens and pinks. Monica loves pink-shirted men – all shops closed! A has nearly finished writing a book.

The previous night I went to see Black Kids at the Gaelic in Surrey Hills and met T from Chester, who told me some good information when travelling in Oz over a beer after the gig. Also booked my 3 day “safari” in the Outback starting tomorrow morning with a flight to Alice Springs! Meeting Monica in Hyde Park at two thirty in the afternoon…

FOUND CANDY’S!!! 🙂

Feel very emotional, like this is the end of a journey – can almost feel P’s presence – it’s dark, off a main street, opposite tennis courts and bus stops. Big bookcase filled with tomes halfway down on the right. Have ordered scramblers on toast and a cappuccino with a double shot in honour of P. Just ewlise I write as if P is reading this and always have done.

Am at third table back on the left facing the street. Grest psychology discussion going on at next tables between two social workers it seems with a day patient (Down’s?) silent in a Ramones Tshirt between them.

Thinking about the plot of A’s novel she told us last night. Part of her story involves staying at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Sydney which A did on a one-night stand six years ago – before she was married or had met her husband, good secret. I only lied about being married – which is strictly true – well, for the record and changing the subject: low calibre eggs on toast but the coffee should sort me out, still can’t stop sweating though! I like the Manly vibe – laidback, J & P had the right idea pitching up here for a while. Oh forgot – M thought I was 28 🙂 and A politely said 30 or 31, I think 🙂 If I get a beard trim st Sam & Dave’s in a minute, I might look 20! Best pay up and fuck off back to the dull ferry back into Sydney, eh? This is s right bind, I can tell you! 1pm Thursday…beats working.

Addendum: got my beard trim from Vince, proper barber from Milano.

stream of consciousness #2

January 20th, 2009

I need to go back to the restaurant in Franz Josef. My legs itching like crazy whilst trying to enjoy a tuna nicoise – Sean noticed a large lever in the communal wash are of the toilets…set to ON it welcomed, no, encouraged someone – anyone – to turn it up into the OFF position. What’s the worst that could happen? The lights go off, a waiter stumbles, a fork pings from an entree plate and stabs the strange Americans at the next table in each of their elbows? Or we unlease hell upon the earth, like a massive, bright red HISTORY ERASE button tempting you; “Press me, you know you want to”. Well, we didn’t, none of us, we all said NO, a bitter disappointment one day in to a journey of yeses. But we did ask what it was for, but no one would tell us, the staff whispered to each other in small groups and peered furtively at our esteemed group, but no reply. Three weeks on, and I REALLY wanna know…answers on an email, please.

Next day: early morning, exit tent to behold a snow toppeed mountain range obscuring my view – how rude. A giddying sight at 7.30 in the morning, and I don’t mean Sean’s sleeping face looking back at me. Kiwi guy in next tent clampers out and calls to his mate, “Bro, you gotta check this out”, he’s not wrong. I don’t know how high those hillocks were, and still are, but higher than a kite is a fair assumption. So then, guess what? Slipping past the World’s Biggest Cockroach outside the men’s washroom – that’s where they all hang out, y’know – we proceed to park up and walk over the “terminal morraine” of mountain water streams, boulders, rocks, stones, pebbles and shyst – I said “Shyst” copyright Mike “Man”; Lewis 1986 – I find we can walk clear to within half a mile of the glacier head! No signs, 5 small posts stuck in the ground in seemingly random places, apparently a “path”, those Kiwis, eh?! and a bunch of under-dressed, over-camera’d tourists stumbling over said rocky obtrusions towards this huge wall of ice, the sign at the beginning of the valley – just before the stepping stones over the icy stream – should’ve just said “Crack on, bro” for that were the desire of the Dept of Conservation (hereafter DOC), and so we duly did…

stream of consciousness #1

January 19th, 2009

Apologies in advance for what follows – not an attempt at Kerouac(k)ian prose, just the only way to write with brevity about the past fortnight, hold on, here goes, Day One’s mission is to reach the Glacier! And so the Grand Voyage begins, Sean – drives, Geoff – photographs and is enthused by all, Ann – creates her cosy corner and enjoys it all, I – sit and think, and cough, and my ears they do pop: off on State Highway 6 – this runs past the very street I type from – out, way out west, from Nelson to Murchison, all guns blazing, I feel like a trailblazer in this landscape, very quickly all greens obscure other colours bar the skies blues and whites – logging country, boy – then “Murch” and Breakfast #2 (eggs) and coffee outside a cool little hub in the centre of town, a little hippy-ish, great Sunday morning feel – a few good hangovers were conceived here last eve, I’ll be bound! ON! and to some young rapids on the Buller River where we watch a young semi-aquatic optimist becomes suddenly more pessimistic as their raft captsizes and they drift downstream away from the guide’s safety rope, let’s hope that doesn’t happen to any of our party this week, eh? (read on, for it surely does!) And so through more breathtaking landscapes than I would care to shake an un-shitty stick at to the wondrous glory of…Greymouth, where we had KFC: boo! Nowhere else seemed to be available, it was a straight fight for our affections between the Colonel and the Clown: clowns never win. So, away from a strange place – although probably good and cheap – with a sea wall obstructing what would surely/shorely be the best view: the shoreline and sea, etc…and on past beaches of incredible beauty. I’m told it rains on the West Coast – not on our day through, it looks tropical to me, as I’m also told, it is! A sign warning of penguins stirs the curious mind, but I get the impression, anything can and frequently does co-exist down here. On to Haast – greedy with the “a”s, eh? past the elephants graveyard of driftwood washed up and bleached on Hokitika beach and then inward to giant hills…hell, let’s call them mountains, they deserve it, and to Franz Josef Glacier…how queer! That was Sunday…

les sealy and the case of the world’s biggest burrito

January 3rd, 2009

A week in new zealand’s south island and the nelson area – where to begin? Les Sealy, the stinking seal sunbathing around mine and Sean’s sea kayak? Maybe…the world’s biggest burrito from “Go Mexico” in Nelson? Could be…green-lipped mussels at Picton Ferry watching the Interislander ferries leave for Wellington on my birthday? possibly…

All this and the hospitality of Sean & Faith (plus Sean’s folks) and the news that Stephen Fry spent New Year in NZ(!) has made it a right flamin’ cliché, eh? I’ve got tanned, insect-bitten limbs, and am on the obligatory antibiotics after a stealth attack while playing golf yesterday. Only 72 over par, not bad for my first go?! Even playing sport is hampered by the views, how’s a guy supposed to birdie the 10th when there’s a Tui hooting away in the trees (beautiful) and the stream chuckles on it’s course down from the surrounding valley-sides (more beautiful)?

So far the friendliness has been amazing, nothing is too much trouble, everyone seems to have an extra 24 hours in their day to spend chatting, relaxing, generally leisuring it up all over the place – a good way to be – except when 2,000 pissed up Kiwis (and us) are waiting to see 3 of NZ’s biggest bands play in a “room behind a pub” and the portaloos haven’t turned up yet! No flamin’ worries, it’ll be “sweet as, bru” cos we’ll just start later, keep the bars open and let everyone get properly leathered – late licenses? Who cares? The Riwaka Hotel is in the middle of acres of orchards with no one around anyway: yes, a good night.

I heartily recommend spending your 37th birthday with Sean & Faith as you get scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast on the balcony, a drive on the Queen Charlotte route through mountains and amazing bays, a rack of ribs for your tea and a day sea-kayaking around the Abel Tasman National Park the next day – check ahead for bookings!

<p>So tomorrow morning, good and early, we’re off on tour for a week of South Island joy in the shape of glaciers, BIG mountains, white water, Queenstown, bungee jumping even! Will report back, hanks to all for xmas, birthday and new year messages, please comment away should the mood take you!

repacking and second-guessing

December 22nd, 2008

Two hours to go, in the middle of repacking a bag which I now know is too small…so I’ll write instead listening to “To Ohio” by The Low Anthem…perfect melancholy, reflective mid-December lo-fi folk…pass the valium! So off to Heathrow in a couple of hours for the “trip” to New Zealand and Sean & Faith in Nelson (South Island), I cannot wait, I just need to convince my stomach that this is my over-riding sensation and not abject terror of the unknown. Should be okay, yeah? Wanna come too? No room in the bag. Oh, well…haven’t felt this weird since 1997 pre-Valencia or 1992 pre-Tennessee, at least it’s a familiar feeling now, I’m just older and more easily unsettled by change, I guess!

onwards and upwards

November 28th, 2008

This is my first post! I’m one day away from leaving paid employment for the first time in 10 years and embarking on a three month journey to New Zealand, Australia and the US – kipping in spare rooms and floors of friends, the odd hostel and probably the occasional hotel…just to use the trouser press, you understand!

I’m going to be very surprised if you’re actually reading this, it’s gonna be by accident really, isn’t it? I’ve only showed a few close friends, and I doubt any of them use RSS, Twitter or any other geek toys that seem to be taking over my life.

I hope I’ve got something to say after reading an encyclopedia of blogs over the past five years. We’ll see, well, I’ll see anyway…

The basic premise of this exercise is two-fold:

  1. A travelog using as much technology as possible, I’ll update the twitter widget via SMS and the photostream via flickr by sending photos from my 5mp phone via email directly to flickr…get thar geek on!
  2. This will be my “company” website when I start working upon my return to British shores in March 2009. Setting this up using Textpattern was the first step – now I can set up CMS/blog sites, potential employers! On top of that I’ve used a MySql DB – stop sleeping! – some PHP, the aforementioned twitter, flickr and also facebook add-ons and hope to add last.fm at least before I leave the country and let the site create iteself from afar…I hope Ron & Tits will let me use their Mac to blog from…

Enough tech talk, I’ll be updating now as soon as possible. In London next week – gigs every night, cheers (T)ed! In Bristol & France the following week, then the Mighty Midlands, Bristol again, Yeovil then Surrey before flying out on Dec 22nd to New Zealand for Xmas…whoop whoop!

I look forward to Xmas Day in flip-flops…and I’ll leave you with that thought…

This is my first post! I’m one day away from leaving paid employment for the first time in 10 years and embarking on a three month journey to New Zealand, Australia and the US – kipping in spare rooms and floors of friends, the odd hostel and probably the occasional hotel…just to use the trouser press, you understand!

Valencia a Gandia

September 4th, 2007

Just pulled out of Sueca. The Africans are talking diagonally across the carriage. Bebop jazz plays gently and unobtrusively on the trains “systema acoustica”. This is Spain. This is public transport – the Africans speaking their own language carrying immensely heavy, white binbags filled with who knows what  their life’s possessions?

A little boy in canvas slippers talks with his father in the seats next to us – divided by the central aisle. “Proxima parada: Cullera”. Memories here. More memories now back in Valencia. I almost cried leaving the station from the train – now I’m tired and feel dirty. J sleeping next to me in the evening sun after an oppressive day of heavy clouds and a little rain even in the Septembre air.

Valencia was surprisingly similar: VIPs smaller – food only now, Pizza Hut better than the UK (you can smoke inside, equiped with a ), el Corte ingles didn’t let us down: castanets for Sean and Faith, cenicero (ash tray) and lighter (fuego) for us to laugh about in the future.

I had a classic café con leche, J a Bocatta (serano y queso), she still has half for emergencies…but this beautiful – muy bonita – train stops at Gandia. Another ugly Spanish town. Ugly. Polluted. Yet alive. Or living, always living.

It’s seven fifteen P.M. and the train is full – the mulletted man standing over me has been that way since Estacio del Nord – impressive.

The Father his “Strike It Lucky” Lucky Strike Tshirt
The Mulletted Man his leather wrist straps and friendship bands – all brown and tan
The Sleepy Man behind J, his combover slipped down to the back of his head
The Two Africans the younger preppy, almost, and innocently proud looking long into the distance. The elder mopping his brow with a red kerchief and be-ringed fingers
The Mother of the small boy, looking impassively forward, an adult version of the boy’s slippers

The wide valley/fllod plain to our right (travelling backwards) to the sea. Now huge mountains on our left isolating us between two impassable geographic forms.

The Man Who Stood In Front Of Us in Rodrigo jeans (white) “A (sic) rugged for comfort and durability”.

Now Xeraco, the last stop but Gandia. Again we stopped at Silla (chair) on the train, how we loved the announcements – “Proxima parada: X”!

Almost evening now – and not so warm, 20 degrees Centigrade in the carriage, feels cooler out from the open door as we want to leave on the final leg of this 55 minute journey to our car.

This train is full. Of people. Of life. Of classical music now. Of purpose both of the machine and its passengers, 6,30 euros each. This is public transport.The train honks its mechanical agreement.