Archive | October, 2011

Trains

26 Oct

Chicago

After leaving Memphis for yet another overnight bus, I left the South and arrived in Chicago at 9am. I had a few hours to burn, so I took in a few sights: the river, the Lake, and of course the Willis Tower. Now that is a sight. Nearly twice as tall as Canary Wharf, I had thought the Empire State was a big lady, but the Willis Tower is absolutely enormous. What’s more, it takes up it’s own block, so you can walk all the way around it. But I wasn’t in Chicago long, before I boarded a 52-hour train to Fresno.

Trains

The 2,500 mile train ride was fantastic. In the first day we shot across Illinois, crossed the Mississippi (again), went through the farmland of Iowa, Des Moines, into Nebraska and Omaha, by morning were just coming into Colorado. Stopping in Denver (cold), we then went up into the magnificent Rockies for some seriously epic views. We then came down the other side after crossing through the Moffat Tunnel into Utah, Salt Lake City (creepy) and Nevada, into the Sierra Nevada range and then stopping at Sacramento, which was where I had to get a connecting train. Saying goodbye to the friends I had made on the two-day train ride, I went into quaint Old Sacramento for a beer, which I had with a nice retired guy who was taking a well-earned respite from roadtripping with his wife in the bar, before getting on the train to Fresno.


Advertisements

Tennessee

26 Oct

Knoxville

I left DC and took an overnight bus to Knoxville. After debarking in the middle of nowhere, I finally extracted from a local which bus I needed to get to get to the Greyhound station. And it was closed. And in the middle of nowhere. Or so I thought. So after a massive, fruitless wander, I finally got to the station and settled down for a while, before being told that the one direction I hadn’t wandered towards from the station contained the downtown Knoxville area. Which is quaint. It consists of rows and rows of cinemas and theatres, red brick courthouses and the odd glass skyscraper. I watched 50/50 to pass some of the time, a film review to follow soon.

Memphis

Eventually I managed to leave Knoxville after a ten-hour layover, on another nighttime bus to Memphis, arriving at 2am. I was staying with my friends Heather and Trevor from my time in music college in Coventry, and their brand-new son Judah. Memphis is amazing. There’s the Peabody Hotel, where they keep ducks in the lobby fountain (next to a self-playing piano), and herd the mallards into an elevator at bedtime and take them up to their rooftop ‘duck temple’. We went to the mighty Mississippi, saw the Pyramid Arena, the Lorraine Motel (I’d already been to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and seen where he gave his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, I had to go see where he’d been shot as well) and of course, the glorious Beale Street.

Beale Street is two different places. Nighttime Beale is a police-cordoned, alcohol-fuelled, neon-lighted blues paradise, with more music than you could possibly take in in one night, giant plastic cups of flowing beer, and an incredible amount of culture. Then there is Beale Street during the day, which basically revolves around the family-owned, century-old general store Schwab’s. We were also there for the gay pride parade, in which I’m convinced we were followed around all day by the float full of guys in drag.

And barbeque. Don’t go to Memphis unless you intend on getting some pulled pork. Vegetarians: just go and have a sniff, or have your life choice sorely tested as you watch regular folk eat the most tender, delicious meat ever cooked.

In a sentence, Tennessee is my favourite state.

It’s been a while.

25 Oct

Since my last post, I have been working in New York as much as possible to afford to get to Australia, and then made my way West, often without any WiFi or internet access. My bad.

But here is what has happened in a nutshell (or a few).

I was working hard in NYC, right up until my last day in the city. It was tough, but I made it: I got my plane ticket, and a series of buses and trains totalling just under 4,000 miles, all for under $1,000. Which made me happy. So I said my goodbyes to New York, and got on my first bus.

Washington DC. 

The capital of the USA is an odd city. It’s laid out in an odd way, it has a massive social disparity and an eclectic atmosphere. On the one hand, there is the National Mall, the face of the United States of America, built in imposing white marble which is unfortunately falling apart. On one end is the Capitol, looking a little like a cleaned up Ion Cannon that the Rebels take out a Star Destroyer with in the Empire Strikes Back. Following it down, a green expanse, flanked by the Smithsonians, until it is broken up by the tatty Washington Monument, and the White House. Then, the memorials: the World War Two, Korea and Vietnam memorials, with the incredible Lincoln Memorial at the far end, with the reflecting pool dug up, echoing a scene from Fallout 3. Across a small body of water, the Jefferson Memorial watches over it, and the new Martin Luther King Jr memorial is just to one side.

Firstly, the Smithsonian Museums are incredible. The Air and Space, especially. They are chock-full of so much amazing exhibits, the Hope Diamond, the Apollo 11 reentry module, John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, the Bell X-1, the Wright Flier, the Spirit of St Louis, the original Star Spangled Banner… if I had to describe the Smithsonian in a word, I would just say ‘go’.

Then, Arlington. Devastatingly sad, I spent my few hours there in the blazing heat whizzing around the massive expanse of graves trying to find the couple of ones I wanted to see enough to fit into my short time there. John Basilone, JFK, RFK, the Unknown Soldiers.. Kids were walking around with T-Shirts bearing pictures of the fathers they had just buried, veterans were finding the graves of their close friends, it was a massively sad few hours.

Washington DC is a fantastic city. All it needs is some form of local government with a say in Congress – it is wasting away with its current lack of money. But perhaps Obama’s successor will be more open to Change.