America the Not-Too-Shabby

4 Jul 2001 10:59am

Hello smegheads! Having survived my trip to the good ole US of A and returned home I now feel safe to “take the piss” out of Yanks from the other side of the world. Of course, the fact I thoroughly enjoyed myself won’t influence me in the slightest. Besides, through the subtle use of Aussie humour, the Americans won’t know what I’m talking about… right?

The flight there was straight forward enough (small world though – on the way there I met a fellow actor and his fiance on their way to Las Vegas to be married by Elvis … “We thought we’d do something a bit different” … and on the way back through Sydney saw someone I hadn’t seen since school.) Anyway, we spent a day in LA with family friends, then my Dad, brother and I embarked on our road trip through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

From LA we drove through to the famous town of Tombstone where some famous people killed some other famous people in a famous shootout on a Hollywood Wild West movie set. Or something – I’m a little hazy on the history. Wyatt Earp and all that. The town itself was disappointing – it was supposed to be in its original condition, but the illusion was marred slightly by massive roadworks down the central drag – jackhammers at 50 paces. And just like in third world countries there were plenty of tacky trinkets for sale.

The best part of town was the Birdcage Theatre, now a museum, which ran 24 hours a day for 9 years straight in the 1880s. Alcohol, gambling, music, theatre, prostitutes … anything your heart desired. Found out the true meaning of a hostile audience – three bullet holes just below the level of the stage, from a drunk patron who decided he didn’t like the evening’s entertainment. The graveyard was interesting. Nearly everyone in it was hanged, shot, suicided, drowned, lynched or otherwise violently killed in 1881/82. A fun time to be in town. Epitaphs like: “Here Lies George Johnson Hanged by Mistake 1882 He Was Right We Was Wrong But We Strung Him Up and Now He’s Gone” and “Here Lies Lester Moore Four Slugs from a 44 No Les No More.” It seems country folks everywhere have a droll sense of humour.

Overnighted in Tucson, Arizona, in a dingy motel beside the highway (the door to the room didn’t shut properly and the air conditioner droned all night). The next day, onwards through the flat, dry, 45 degree C desert in our large, air-conditioned car, stopping occasionally to fill up on tacos, “soda” and “gas”. Every now and then we’d pass a big yellow sign saying “Do not stop for hitchhikers” and shortly later see a high security prison a short way off the road … it seems to be a bit of a growth industry. We didn’t see any hitchhikers.

The desert was a half-alien, half-familiar landscape, much like American society. On the one hand, familiar Australian plants like Acacia survived with similar adaptations to a harsh environment. Also familiar was prickly pear, though flourishing this time in its native habitat. Other plants were strange – thorny tree-like cacti called occotillo or cartoon cliches like the giant three-pronged variety of cactus. We even saw some roadrunners – so called, I guess, because when they see the car coming they run off the road. We actually saw a quite a lot of wildlife as we travelled northeast and higher through different habitats – animals such as rabbits, coyotes, badgers, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks and elk. Although “wildroadkill” is probably a better description, since most of them were volumetrically challenged. They were wild though.

Next we visited the Davis-Monthan Airbase – next door to the “Boneyard”, full of thousands of dead planes – where we saw the type of plane my grandfather flew in taking surveillance photographs during WWII, and talked to some old vets who had flown the B17, B24s and other wartime bombers. Had a look inside JFK’s Airforce One jet, but, unlike the other tourists, passed on the opportunity to be photographed stepping down the presidential staircase from the plane.

A few more hours of driving got us to Biosphere2 (http://www.bio2.edu/), for me one of the highlights of the trip. Maybe it’s the ecologist in me, or the sci-fi overtones, but there’s something cool about a scale model ecosystem in the middle of the desert, with its own rainforest, coral reef and kitchen sink (we went in and checked out where the Biospherians used to live). They don’t live in it anymore – a uni uses it to do CO2 studies, modelling the effects of global warming.

Over the next few days we went through a series of towns and national parks too numerous to mention, including several awesome Anasazi ruins (huge complexes built into the sides of cliffs by ancient Native Americans http://www.dartmouth.edu/~cbbc/rhg/bobspix/montezuma0010/montezuma0010.html, http://www.hao.ucar.edu/public/education/archeoslides/slide_18.html) and a very quick look into that massive hole in the ground called the Grand Canyon, like so many layers of eroded coffee, which was admittedly very impressive. Lots of driving through featureless terrain (I have numerous photos which seemed a good idea at the time), broken here and there by the odd meteor crater (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/images/meteorcrater.html) or Indian reservation.

After a spectacular drive through the Rocky Mountains on the fifth day we arrived in Denver, just in time for rushhour – one of the radio station programs was called “The Five O’clock Jam”. By that stage we were thoroughly sick of the two tapes of music we had brought with us, even though it mostly meant a choice between recycled rock and poxy pop. People in the American desert seem strangely fond of AC/DC – more than once we were screaming down the highway on the wrong side of the road to the tune of “Dirty Deeds” or “Thunderstruck”, which I guess was better than Savage Garden, the only other Aussie band we heard…

Which brings me to the “Fostralia” promotion, which we heard several times in America and thought was an absolute cack. A true blue, fair dinkum Aussie bloke teaching Americans “haow da speek Oztraayan” v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, introducing gems such as “sheila” into the American vocabulary in order to sell beer. Now, as you may know, I’m no connoisseur of beer, but I can pass on that my brother took great pleasure in revealing to those who asked that “downunder” Fosters is actually a cheap pissweak beer of little worth. And of course we all use the term sheila all the time … Others wanted to know what I thought of those bastions of Australian culture Crocodile Dundee and Crocodile Hunter. I don’t know about other Aussies, but “crocodills” kind of sums it up for me, though I think more than one person thought I was a bit weird when I revealed I live down the road from Australia Zoo and have never been to see Steve whats-his-face make love to a crocodile.

Anyway, this is getting long, so I shall skip over the family parts in Denver – the best bit of course, but too easy to make fun of 😉 – which included a medieval wedding in costume (complete with American accents), getting kissed by a long-lost uncle who mistook me for my Dad, and catching up with relatives, too briefly, before returning to rehearsals.

To finish, some of the things I learned while in the US:

* For the land of gangsta rap, where naughty words supposedly fall easily from the lips, Americans are surprisingly unable to say the T word. Toilet. Yes, the humble dunny does not exist. Instead I made use of “bathrooms” without any baths in sight, “rested” – admittedly fairly briefly – in “restrooms” and, well, I won’t even touch the occasional “comfort station” I was forced to visit…

* SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle. In Australia we call them “monster trucks” and they are generally found only running over vehicles in mudpits; in America they do that on the suburban roads.

* When visiting fast-food restaurants “I can take your order whenever you’re ready” gets really annoying after the third time in 13 seconds. I also learned I could restrain myself – just – from replying “Well, guess what, *mate*?”

* Americans can’t remember what their flag looks like, so you’re always looking at it.

* They don’t know what a capsicum is. (Seriously…)

* The exchange rate sucks big time. (Really seriously …)

But for all my adventures, the best was saved for last – the return flight from LA to Sydney, which consisted of 14 hours of intense back massaging from a 3 year old masseuse sitting in the chair behind me. I’m sure one day she’ll make someone very happy. It certainly wasn’t me…

Happy 4th of July to those who celebrate it.

Adios,
~Chris

P.S. I’ve now recovered from my whirlwind tour and am back into theatre. But a bit of a lull is coming up, so I shall be in touch individually soon, hopefully in person for those of us stuck in Brissie.

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