America Trip Jul 13

Day zero of the very first holiday I have ever had with Matthew, excluding a two day survival course in Wales where ate worms and stuff, started with us leaving later than planned as Matt wanted to spend some time with a young lady.  We had pre-booked into the Sheraton Hotel at Heathrow and when we arrived there we considered that the holiday had started.  Hotel and staff were very nice although they had lost our reservation for the fortnight’s parking of the car and tried to charge us again.  In the lobby they had large glass urns full of iced water with chopped up fruit that you could help yourself to, the strawberry water was particularly nice.

DAY 1  Arrival in Los Angeles
The next day when we turned up for the flight I explained to the Virgin staff that I had tried to use their online booking service to reserve seats but that it hadn’t worked and what were they going to do about it, I lost, and we had to pay an extra 100 pounds each to have aisle seats and as a bonus we couldn’t sit together.

I was luckily enough to sit next to a shabby man with body odour and wispy blonde hair with the worst comb over I have ever seen; he was a clear leader in the World-Class competition of the Rab C Nesbitt class of shit hair-do’s; although the best thing about his comb-over was that when the overhead air-vents were turned on they blew straight down on to his head and made his hair stand up on end and move around –  think of the plants at the bottom of a fish tank gently swaying in the current.  I quickly found out he also liked to drink.

As soon as the seat belt sign went out he was asking the flight attendants for a drink and then immediately got the hump because they wouldn’t give him a drink but made him wait for the trolley to do its rounds.  Even then he whinged to the attendant that the measure in his Bloody Mary was inadequate and demanded a second drink then and there, but was firmly, but politely turned down by the steward and told to wait until the trolley made its return journey.

So right from the off, he had the hump, his mood only got better when the small child in the next aisle decided that the aeroplane was a great place to play and proceeded to make the best of the available space in front of us.  After his third drink he had a go at the parents for not controlling their child and then fell asleep; so it turns out that nobody is child friendly when they’re either an alcoholic or have a hangover.

I got the aisle seat and quickly found out that every person, even the skinny ones, bumped in to me.  For the first hour I couldn’t work out why my shoulder was so attractive to everyone that they had to touch me with various parts of their bodies, but I soon figured it out; unhappily wedged into the seat across the aisle was a very large, muscular black man, and how he didn’t suffer from a thrombosis I don’t know, as his knees were either firmly wedged into the back of the seat in front of him or spread so wide they encroached on to the aisle and pushed his neighbour’s knees of to one side.  He spent a good while glaring at all who approached him, which, I believe, forced all the passers-by to press up against me.  It seems I’m a lot less intimidating than I thought.

When the stewardesses were serving food I pulled out my table from its holder and put it into position.  The food tray barely fitted on it and I had to eat very carefully, and while I did I thought how crap Virgin airlines were.  The cheap gits had given me a fold out table that seemed to be designed to throw/tip the dinner off and on to the floor if I pushed the fork down on one side or another too hard.  The next meal I realised that once you had pulled the table up, you could then unfold it to double the amount of space and in fact the food tray fitted on perfectly.

Hilton Los Angeles Airport
We only took a rucksack each to avoid having to wait at the baggage carousel and the plan was to get off the aeroplane and welly through customs and go and pick up the car and get to the hotel to start the holiday; however, no plan survives contact with US customs and we wellied out off the aeroplane straight in to the queue from hell.

The whole place was run by blacks and Hispanics and I’m convinced this was their way of getting revenge on the white man (and an awful lot of Asian ones as well).  After about twenty minutes of playing a game called shuffle forward and then stop shuffling forward and being bossed about by a tiny security lady we got to be photographed and fingerprinted and then we went through the final barrier which was a group of very large and clearly food-loving men whose job it seemed to be was to stare at you in a threatening manner, but I adopted my best “Don’t make eye contact” posture, and as is the story of my life, I was ignored.

After a coffee at the airport Starbucks, which was one of the very few decent cups I had for the next fortnight, we decided to walk to the car rental place.  On the way there we passed a large group of, once again, Hispanics and blacks, they had taken over a car park and had the largest motorbikes in the world, all of which had speakers and surround-sound systems bolted on to them and they were having a very loud street/car park party with a little bit of gyrating/dancing and lots of revving the engines, all very threatening to lower middleclass white people.   After strolling and gawking at everything for about a mile and a half of sweating we reached Dollar Car rentals just as the airport courtesy bus rolled up.

Our travel company had very kindly booked us one of a selection of the smallest cars available in America, think fiesta, or GM Spark size, so we firstly paid a couple of hundred bucks to upgrade and then another couple of hundred bucks to put Matt on the insurance, because he’s under 25 they charged us about 25 bucks a day extra, awesome, first day of the holiday and he’s cost me 350 bucks in order that he can scare the sh*t out of me on the roads of America.

We upgraded to a Dodge Avenger which had a 2.4L engine and to be honest some of the roads we were on, that was only just enough power; next time (if there is one) we’ll upgrade even further.  All American cars are automatic and finding a manual one in a rental place is next to impossible, I’m guessing that the car manufacturers and the petrol companies of America got together and worked out how to screw the motorist over and came up with this wheeze.

As soon as we got out of the parking lot we discovered we were going the wrong way to the hotel so I tried to do a handbrake turn in the road, but due to a combination of not going fast enough and traction control and being a big girl’s blouse we actually came to a sudden and complete stop.  Luckily the hotel was only another mile away so there were no more shenanigans on the trip.   We decided to play a game called spot the Prius and every time one of us saw one we had to call out’ Prius’, later on this game got us some funny looks when we were on foot and surrounded by yanks.  We then had our first meal in the US, a Burger King; it was just like a British BK but cleaner.

When we locked the Avenger two things happened, firstly the sidelights flashed, which was normal; the second thing that happened was the car horn sounds, by that I mean it gives a loud toot, which is not normal.  Because we weren’t expecting it the first time this happened it scared the shit out of us.  We couldn’t figure out why every time you lock the car the horn would sound, I mean what’s the point; wouldn’t the flashing lights be an indicator that the car had obeyed you?

There were only two reasons we could think of as to why the car would draw attention to itself every time it was locked, firstly, it does it to draw attention to you in order that the more unobservant mugger knows where you are and you have selfishly locked the car; or secondly, perhaps it’s for a driver who is either partially sighted or blind and needs the sound signal because bright orange indicator lights are just not noticeably enough.  We never got used to the horn going off every time and quickly realized that it just wasn’t our car , all American cars have the same affliction and some evenings the hotels car parks sounded as though they were having a tooting completion.

The Hilton hotel was okay, the staff were fantastic, the room was okay and the shower sufficiently powerful; but a couple of trends started that were to haunt us throughout the trip.  Certain of the hotels are so broke and their shareholders in such poverty that not only do they charge you for your room, but they also charge for both parking in their garage and for having Wi-Fi in the room.  Having to pay for Wi-Fi was annoying, even more so when a couple of the hotels didn’t charge by the room, but by the number of devices connected; the Hilton chain is worse for this.  You’d think that in this wired-up age, Wi-Fi would be like the TV or a bathroom; I’ve stayed in B&B’s and they didn’t charge for Wi-Fi, perhaps they could speak to these hotels and give them some pointers.  This particular Hilton wanted 12 bucks a night to park in their garage, once again, annoying and adding hidden costs to the holiday.

That evening we went down to the bar for a couple of beers, we both ordered American to start a tally on just how good, or not Yank beer actually is.  Two beers came to 14 dollars and I thought to myself that at these prices we’re not going to be getting drunk much on this trip.  Matt, whoever, pointed out that this was a hotel and the prices reflected the ambiance.  In one respect he was right – about the prices, that is, in another respect he was wrong.  The ambiance was darkened mood lighting, sophisticated attractive people; the beer was light, gassy and made me fart for most of the next day.

As an aside, provided we stuck to the locally brewed stuff the beer was, on the whole, pretty good.  Samuel Adams was about the only decent mass produced beer we came across.  But that said, we’re from a nation that drinks Strongbow, Fosters and Carling.  The next day when we went shopping I made sure to pick up a bottle bourbon for me and a bottle of vodka for Matt; two weeks later when we caught our return flight we still had half a bottle of each left, which we left for the hotel cleaning staff.

DAY 2 Palm Springs – 110 Miles
The next morning after breakfast we had a relatively short drive to Palm Springs and as we had only taken a small rucksack each we made our first stop a Wal-Mart.  I’m not too sure what all the fuss is about, it’s just like a Primark, a co-op and Motorworld all rolled in to one, but definitely with the Primark class of customers so we fitted right in.  We bought ten changes of clothes, also toiletries and loads of water to last us the trip.

We also picked out for each other a T-shirt that we could dictate the day and place it had to be worn; I picked for Matt a fluorescent pink T-shirt and he retaliated by buying me the same, but with a slogan on it.  We then paid a visit to the Palm Springs Cheesecake Factory (think Big Bang Theory) and had our first steaks in America, all in all it was a cracking lunch, after that we then spent some time shopping for hats and acting the fool for the shop girl.

That evening we discovered that we had left the underpants back in Wal-Mart and so I had to do a hand wash; fantastic, my son’s 21 and I’m still washing his boxers.  The hotel was called the Renaissance Esmerelda Resort & Spa and it was very large and very nice and once again urns full of fruity water.  Most of the hotels we stayed in did not give you complimentary shower gel; they gave you beautifully wrapped tiny bars of soap.  The only way to get into the little bastards was either with a pair of scissors (didn’t have) or your teeth (did have), so one of my lasting memories of the trip was the taste of soap.

The soap bars fell in to two different categories; they were either ridiculously small or oddly shaped.  The small bars kept flying out of your hand as you used them and I swear I nearly lost an eye to one, or when you (me) were trying to wash your bottom they would get lodged between your arse cheeks.  The second type were shaped like knobbly back massagers with a soap handle, and they were a lot better as could put them anywhere knowing you could easily retrieve them.

For our evening meal we stopped off at a place called LG’s Prime Steakhouse and ended up spending about a $140 on two steaks, and they were brilliant; mine was easily the best I have ever had in my life.  The service was superb, and Just before they brought the steaks out one of the waiters came out and warned us to use our napkins as bibs and tuck them in to our t-shirts.  This we did, and good job too, for when the steaks came out they were sizzling and spitting everywhere.  Had we not of covered up we could have spent the rest of the evening sucking our t-shirts to remind us of just how good the meal was.

The next day we headed to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and were quite looking forward to it as the guidebook that we had been sent by the tour company said that the tramway/cable-car went up 85 thousand feet and since mount Everest is only 29 thousand feet we were looking forward to an all singing and dancing cable-car with oxygen and other supplies.  But no, the tour company had made a printing error, it’s actually 8,516 feet high, but still worth it.  As the tram car/cable-car travels the passenger compartment rotates so you can get a good look at where you’re going to plummet to your death.

At the top there is a forest of some kind of pine trees and as we made our way around there were bands of Japanese tourists sniffing the trees, so we decided too as well.  The trees have a scent that each person perceives slightly differently, once I had thrust my nose into a crevice on the tree, after first making sure it was safe to do so, I picked up scents of chocolate and caramel, Matt picked up on vanilla.  We spent the afternoon walking through a beautiful forest trail playing tag with various flying bugs and dodging groups of Japanese/Chinese tourists.  The whole place was beautiful but as we had to walk up several large hills to gain the full impact, the whole effect was somewhat spoilt by me sweating like Ariel Castro in his basement.

The next day we went to the rendezvous point for a desert tour that I had booked the day before, unfortunately the tour company brochure had the wrong address listed so we had a quick visit to MacDonald’s for a coffee to de-stress me and Wi-Fi for Matt to find the correct address.  Notice I said nothing about visiting MacDonald’s and paying for the Wi-Fi, they clearly make more profit than the Hilton chain; once we had the correct address we did our best Starsky & Hutch to get there, but staying within the advertised speed limit and driving safely at all times.

When we finally arrived, there was only one old guy there opening up the shop.  When we explained that we were an hour late because we had got lost, the guy said ‘Well I own this here outfit and we’ve got nothing booked for today’.  He then checked his bookings and we had booked it for the wrong day; in my defence, I had asked Matt to confirm what date it was when I booked it, so it’s his fault!  The old guy was brilliant; he sent us off to get coffee and pie at a workman’s cafĂ© around the corner , and then he spent twenty minutes or so finding a tour guide and a vehicle.  We got a massive Toyota Patrol, a lovely lady called Morgan and a boot full of cold drinks and our own personal tour around the Joshua Tree National Park and a visit to a gold mine.

The Joshua Tree National Park is spectacular, it turns out that they are not trees, but really just giant cacti.  We visited a Box Canyon where cattle rustlers used to hide the cattle that they had taken; the canyon was pretty much unknown until the National Parks opened it up.  As we exited the box canyon we passed three elderly, rather stout, not young, American women struggling their way in.  As I passed the last of the trio I warned her about the crocodile lurking by pool further down the canyon.  The poor old dear stopped dead in her tracks and as we left the scene she was refusing to go any further due to the crocs and as we faded out of earshot we could hear her two friends getting the hump with her.

We then visited the Desert Queen Gold Mine, which is not as spectacular as it sounds; we got to climb the opposite hill and then stand there in the blazing sun and look at the concreted-in opening to the mine from a couple of hundred feet away.  We then had firstly, a history lesson on the mine, which was fascinating, and then a lecture on how dangerous it would be to try and get in there; that last part was wasted on us as we’d thoughtlessly left our blasting and mining equipment back in England.

To finish off the tour, Morgan took us to a place called Keys View which gave us a spectacular view over the valley.  As we started to trek up to the viewing platform a British family were getting out of their car, and I swear the rather large daughter took one look up and threw herself to the ground and started crying, or she could have genuinely turned her ankle; either way, it didn’t matter as there was no way she was going up there, so her parents and brothers abandoned her with the car and went for a walk up to the viewing area while she retreated to the air conditioned safety of the car and possibly a chocolate bar.

DAY 3 Scottsdale – 280 Miles
That afternoon we finished in Palm Springs and made our way, with me driving, to Scottsdale, where we due to stay in the Montelucia Resort & Spa, but on the way there as I came off the turn-off on to the freeway I panicked and forgot how to drive for about five seconds.  The road had been split into two lanes by cones, big bright traffic cones, with really bold reds and whites, I froze behind the wheel about which lane to take and so took the middle and had actually taken out the first cone when Matt, with a touch of hysteria pointed out that left was a better option rather than a cone filled, non-existent middle.

I got into the lane as directed just as the murdered cone flipped out from under our car, straight in to the radiator of the SUV which was following way too closely if you ask me.  After a couple of minutes Matt had calmed down sufficiently that we thought the whole episode was quite amusing, but it’s noticeable that from that point on whenever I drove he tended to stay awake.  That said, I made a point of not mocking his particular disability, that of driving off with the handbrake still on, once we made it about a hundred meters before he casually released it and tried to avoid bringing it to my attention, but failed as at that point the car leapt forward just like a horse from the stall at a race, or like a car which had just had the handbrake released.

We got into Scottsdale after dark and couldn’t really see the hotel and so after booking in, we got taken straight to our room by a six person golf buggy with enough space in an open boot to carry all of our luggage and a small family.  Our room was spectacular, the bathroom was enormous, the bath would have easily held four people, but it would have probably been a bit awkward and some parenting questions would need to be asked.  The best thing in the bathroom was the shower, the side of the shower was next to the bath and it was separated by a glass wall, the shower itself had two shower-heads; a large really powerful head mounted on one wall and a smaller head that could be pulled out to wash your privates or another person if you were sharing, or you could have both of them on and stand in the middle.

The next day after an hour in the gym, an hour in the pool and at least half an hour under the shower we had a healthy breakfast (steak/burger) and decided to pay a visit to the State Military museum.  When we arrived it had been closed and was now a National Guard Training area, so we pulled a U-turn in front of their gates and decided to visit the Arizona Science Museum; what a mistake!  It was full of very loud American and Israeli schoolchildren having what must be laughingly described as guided tours.

The teachers and center staff couldn’t have hoped to control the kids and just let them get on with enjoying themselves, which they did, noisily.  The younger kids were trying all the interactive exhibits, enthusiastically, and the older kids were all on their mobile phones texting and walking in to each other.  We paid eight bucks each and went in to the Planetarium and had to listen to all the kids trying to outdo each other on how clever they were.

Day 4 Grand Canyon – 250 Miles
After the museum we traveled to the Grand Canyon and it’s at this point we really started to appreciate just how big the country was.  As a rule there were no houses alongside the road, just the occasional town and a large number of mobile homes parked in the surrounding bush, we figured that they were plots of land that the owners had bought and had dumped their mobile homes/trailer homes on them in order to visit them at the weekends, the alternative to this would be that some poor bastards actually lived in them full time and where did they dump their poo.

We knew when we were coming up to a town as we started to pass large billboards advertising the upcoming fast-food joints and so made a game of it trying to spot new outlets.  At one stage we hit a dust storm and had a dozen or so tumbleweeds blow across the road in front of us just like in the old Wild West films.  Traveling these roads across the vast open spaces brought home just how brave the original settlers of America must have been and due to the lack of water, just how smelly they must have been.

We reached the Grand Canyon an hour before sundown, parked up and walked to the rim and battled our way through crowds of Japanese (polite), Chinese (polite), Germans (loud), Americans (loud), British (loud, sunburned & badly dressed) and stood there taking in the sights.  There are only so many times you can say the word ‘Wow’, there is pretty much nothing else to compare with standing and looking along the Grand Canyon; and the best part is that due to the lack of height of the Asiatic tourists I was able to photograph over their heads and not get them in the picture.

As we left the sun was setting and yet there were still tourists coming in to catch the sun setting over the GC, it would have been romantic if it wasn’t for the other five thousand couples/families/park rangers/perverts (me).  It was noticeable that as you walk along the rim there are no real safety barriers and as such nothing to stop you going over the edge; still, what a place to either trip to your death or to commit suicide; I mean, you’d have to be dead inside not to appreciate the view on your way down.

The hotel was okay and the food was good, that’s it really for that hotel; it was a bit like how I make love, nothing very special and very forgettable.

DAY 5 Las Vegas – 276 Miles
Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
The next day we debated going back to the GC but decided against it, because as previously mentioned there are only so many times you can go ‘Wow’, so we after a breakfast of burger (Matt) and steak (me) we hit the road and once again marveled at the distances involved in traveling within the country.

We did notice a difference between British/European road building and American road building.  In Europe when the road builders build a road and come across a mountain they either go up it (zigzags), around it (gentle curving road) or through it (tunnels); there’s none of that bollocks with the Americans, when they build a road and they come across a mountain, and there are lots of them, they call for the guy with the dynamite and simply blow a massive hole through the mountain.

Honestly, most of the interstate roads are straight as an arrow and they don’t let a small thing like a hill or a mountain get in the way of a good road.  After a while we stopped paying attention to the semi-destroyed hills and mountains and simply concluded that when they put out the contract to build the roads whoever turned up with the most explosive won.

The other thing that America has is the Box Junction with traffic lights; they use these in place of roundabouts.  The good thing about these junctions is that if you are on a red light and in the right-hand lane, providing there is no traffic coming you can pull out provided you’re going right.  I thought this was a great idea and the first few junctions I came to, after a brief look to the left to make sure things were clear, I’d pull out and carry on my merry way.

What I didn’t realise for a while is that on a number of the junctions there was perched high up on the traffic light boom  a little white sign that said ‘NO TURN ON RED’ and to make sure all got the point there was a large red dot to simulate a red light.  Luckily the car came with an irritating audio tone that reminded me whenever there was one of these signs, it was called Mobile Audio Twit Teller, or Matt, for short.

Just before we got to Vegas we stopped off at Boulder Dam and continued the ‘Wow’ theme; once again it was packed with tourists and hot as hell and after fifteen minutes we’d seen it all, lost interest and beat a grateful retreat to the air-conditioning in the car.

What to say about Las Vegas?  At night time it’s bright, noisy and busy, during the day it’s dirty, noisy, busy and damned hot.  Within an hour of arriving we were out on the strip exploring and gawking at everything.  It’s probably the busiest place I have been to in my life; the crowds and the pushing were unrelenting.  We stayed in Planet Hollywood and to be honest, I really didn’t see the connection between Hollywood and the hotel.  The hotel wasn’t brilliant, it was the first hotel we’d been to where there was no fridge or bottled water in the room, and yet again we got ripped off for wanting an internet connection in the room.

The hotel had a really posh shopping mall built in to it and sort of surrounding it in a horseshoe shape.  The shops within it were very nice, but a bit out of our price range.  The ceiling was painted with a blue sky and clouds theme and they had the ability to dim down the lights shining on to it in order to give the illusion of evening or night; I wonder if that makes people spend more?

As we walked around the shopping mall a young Chinese American lady who was manning a novelty stand approached us and asked if she could test something out on me.  She made me stand on one leg and hold the opposite arm out horizontal to the ground and then told me to brace myself.  She then pulled down on my arm and overbalanced me.  She then fitted an ion/crystal bracelet around my wrist and repeated the experiment, and this time I stayed upright so she practically used my outstretched arm as a swing, but still couldn’t unbalance me.

Matt and I were very impressed, not only at the demonstration but also at how good a salesperson she was, although we didn’t buy one.  The next morning Matt and I split up for an hour to sort out some admin and I sneaked straight back to the stand to buy one, but it was closed – I was gutted, it’s always been my ambition to possess a device that allows me to swing small Asian women off my arms.  The next day I admitted to Matt that I’d sneaked back and he burst out laughing, he’d done the same.

As we walked up the strip I bet Matt 20 dollars that I’d bump into somebody I knew, he took me up on the bet which was pain in the arse as it meant that I had to start paying attention to all the passers-by and not just the pretty ones.  We spent the first evening just wandering up and down the strip acting like the tourists we were and were bowled over the sheer variety of people and street performers.

One of the homeless people seemed to be making some money, he’d set out a large sheet of cardboard and spread empty paper coffee cups across it.  Each cup was hand coloured with marker pen and had a denomination written on a piece of paper in front of it; this was causing tourists to try to toss the appropriate coin in to the cups, the nearest cup to the tourists had five dollars written on the piece of paper and it was the only empty cup there.

DAY 6 Still in Las Vegas
Our first morning in Las Vegas and we were up early to visit a gun range which was about two miles away and we were so keen that we were about 45 minutes early and had to wait in the car in the car park while watching various people walk around with big black pistols strapped to their waists.  Once we were in the range we given a brief on gun safety ‘Point it that way or I’ll take it off you, forcefully’ and then a history lesson on each of the guns we were going to be firing.

First up was the German MP40, which was cool as anything, I concentrated on trying to group my shots on various parts of the target, while Matt concentrated on emptying his magazine in the general direction of the target.

Next up was the British Sten, and I feel that the Brits were lucky to have won the Second World War if that was the main machine-gun they had.  It kept jamming and the fact that we hit the target was due to either blind luck, or the bullets having been briefed beforehand by the owners of the gun range not to disappoint the punter; although to be fair it was made by the cheapest bidder some 70 years ago.

Lastly was the American Thompson which was just like the MP40 in that it was great fun to shoot, but required serious arm muscles to keep it on target when it was fired in automatic.  I suppose just having it pointed in your general direction was enough to make most enemies surrender, although from my personal experience, if the first couple of rounds hadn’t hit the target, you’d be buggered as the enemy would shoot you as you were trying to bring the barrel back down from the sky.

For lunch we decided to try the buffet in the hotel and when we got to the restaurant we were presented with the option of paying 74 dollars each and then being able to visit the buffet up to 6 times in the next 24 hours and eating all we could.  Without thinking I accepted this but forgot that Matt was paying, he then got the hump and then over the following four meals we had, he made sure we ate enough to justify the 74 bucks each.  As he was paying, the waitress offered him unlimited drinks for that evening only, for 14 bucks each, which he accepted and then made sure for the next hour and a half we got our monies worth despite me feeling ill at the quantity I’d eaten.

Contained within the buffet were the following food counters, each with their own chef, or team of chefs: Seafood, American, Chinese/Asian, Indian, Italian, Dessert, Salad bar.  I have put salad bar at the bottom of the list as it was the only counter where the chef was sitting back and watching the world go by, and I was surprised that the Indian counter was more popular than the Italian counter.  For the first sitting we both went back several times and after about an hour it was a choice of be sick or stop eating; however, there were people sitting around us who had clearly had at least one course before we arrived and they were still going up for more when we finally left.

There was one couple opposite us who had been eating when we arrived, but the husband had stopped eating shortly after we had arrived, but every ten minutes or so was going back up to collect plates piled high with seafood for his wife who was like a large human shaped eating machine, I suspect that if you’d accidentally leaned across her to pick up the salt she’d have had your arm away.  Matt made sure we went back for our evening meal there and then again for breakfast the next day and finally lunch just before we left for Death Valley.

I have discovered a quintessential American foodstuff that the rest of the world does not eat and in all likelihood has never heard of – Grits!  Grits, from I can gather, are simply boiled sweet corn kernels boiled in either water or stock and then mixed with butter and either cheese, chopped up sausage or bacon and splodged on to your plate in much the same way as we splodge on a portion of baked beans when we are having the full English breakfast.  I was addicted to the stuff and every breakfast that wasn’t in a fast-food joint I made sure I ordered Grits.

That evening as we set out from the hotel down the strip on our next sweaty adventure we got about 50 meters from the hotel when I grabbed a passerby and swung him around; Matt thought I was mugging him and so stayed out of the way.  It was a couple walking in the opposite direction and I had recognised the man as being someone I had worked with in Holland.  He and his family had been posted back to the States a month before and he and his wife had managed to get rid of the kids for the weekend and so decided to spend the time in Vegas re-living their youth.  I introduced Matthew and he introduced his wife and we swapped email addresses and agreed to meet up in a week’s time for a meal; Matt was stunned and had to pay up.

After this brief encounter Matt and I continued our game of ‘let’s get pushed around by inconsiderate tourists’ and eventually ended up outside a nice shopping mall and realised that it was air-conditioned and decided to get out of the heat.  At this stage Matt decided he wanted a pair of trainers/baseball boots/whatever, and so we decided to visit a Sketchers shoe shop.

As I was sitting and perving at the females in the near vicinity and waiting for Matthew as he was trying on various types of cool trainers, all of which incidentally, made him look like a chav, in walked large muscular black man with a mean expression on his face.  He walked straight up to a baby in a push chair, unbuckled the baby and then held him above his head like a little aeroplane and then with a big smile growled quite loudly ‘How’s my little nigger?’, he then spent about ten minutes spoiling the kid and fooling around with the baby’s mum before replacing his parental expression with his original one and stalking out of the shop to meet up with his crew who were now waiting outside the door.

Matt found a pair of trainers he liked and the sales assistant went through to the back to find his size and then never came back.  I mean this, he vanished.  He simply never returned.  After a while Matt and I walked out and carried on wandering down the mall; we reasoned that the sales assistant had either decided to go for dinner or was sitting in the back watching CCTV and taking bets with his co-workers on how long we would last before giving up.  I hope he had us pegged for 20 minutes, because if he did he won.  I then spent 140 dollars on a pair of Ray-Bans, and the main reason I feel in love with them is that you can fold them up; think about it, how many times have you been out and wished you could fold your shades up?

We carried down the strip until we started to come to the seedy end of town and then turned back, at that stage we realised that we were at least a couple of miles away and that my knee was giving out, and that I had a massive blister on the sole of my foot, and as such I was in absolute agony.  We had a decision to make at this stage, bus or walk?  Matt doesn’t do buses and found my pain amusing, so we walked/hobbled back to the hotel and the next morning had to pad and bandage my sole.

DAY 7 Death Valley – 139 Miles
We had a leisurely morning in Las Vegas, before driving across the Armargosa Desert to Death Valley National Park and once again marveled at the expanses and views and lack of human impact, other than of course a large four lane highway going through the middle of everything.  We got to our hotel, Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, late afternoon and decided it was too late to go anywhere, so we would check in and take it easy for the evening.  We pulled up to the front of the ranch, opened the car doors and immediately regretted the fact that the ranch didn’t have a drive-through reception.

The heat was stunning, it literally took our breath away; well it would have if we had let it, we didn’t really want to open our mouths in case we shriveled up and died, and Matt enjoyed me not talking for a change.  After booking in, we went to our room, the hateful gits had put us on the second floor; the effort of moving about 25 meters from our car and up the outside stairs had us both sweating buckets, but luckily I had the bourbon and was able to rehydrate myself.  Dinner that evening was steak for me and burger for Matt and breakfast the next day was full American.  This is like a full English but also with waffles and maple syrup and God’s newest food – Grits!

DAY 8 Yosemite – 326 Miles
We drove from the ranch to a place called Scotty’s Castle (look up the history on the internet) and booked a tour of the castle.  When the tour guide turned up he was dressed in the style of early nineteen hundreds and was actually a Park Ranger.  As it was so early, that is to say about ten o’clock in the morning, nobody else had turned up and so we had a tour of the castle by ourselves.  It was fascinating and the tour guide spent over an hour giving us the full tour.  Before we were allowed in to the building we had to put paper slippers over our shoes/trainers in order that we didn’t trail muck through the house/castle.  After Scotty’s Castle we drove to Ubehebe volcano and once again marveled and went ‘Wow’.

After the volcano we drove for nearly 7 hours to our next hotel which was within the Yosemite National Park, the hotel was called Yosemite View Lodge and it had the most spectacular river view.  Our room was on the first floor and the Merced river ran past about 15 yards away from the balcony door, this sounds all very nice and romantic; however,  it would have been impossible to sleep at night with the doors open as the thunder from the river was seemingly as loud as a jet taking off.  The thing with jets taking off is that they take off and having taken off, bugger off, not so with the Merced river; it thunders past your window and continues to thunder past your window for the rest of the day and all night as well, and not surprisingly, the next morning it’s still thundering.

Our arrival at the hotel went something like this; collect key from reception, get to our room, dump bags on beds, open balcony door, go out on to the balcony, watch a stream of yellow piss arc from the balcony two doors down aiming for the river and falling very short; falling so short, in fact, it lands on the balcony below and causes a very brave/foolish/nosy/yellow stream loving, Japanese woman to come out to investigate.  Awesome welcome to the hotel!

We had a rule, every lunch would be fast food, and every evening would be quality food.  We tried BK, MacDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Dell Taco, Subway, and Denny’s.  Taco Bell won in terms of flavour and quality, and Wendy’s gets an honourable mention for the sheer size of their portions.  In the evenings I invariably had steak and Matt tried the homemade/handmade burgers, and throughout the fortnight the food, was on the whole, excellent.

The only exception being the Yosemite View Lodge, where the chef was either totally incompetent or didn’t like Brits.  Matt’s burger was good, but squatting on my plate in place of the medium-rare steak that I had ordered was a bloody mass of meat that looked like it had just been hacked from a pissed off cow.  I sent it back and asked for it to be cooked to medium-rare, that is to say cooked on the outside, raw but warm in the middle. Less than two minutes later the waitress brought it back, it was the same as before, only a little bit warmer, I swear the cook had simply microwaved it.  I gave up and ate it and to be honest, it was delicious, but just not what I’d ordered.  That was the only evening meal when we didn’t tip.

One of the things that you are warned about when you go to Yosemite is the Hantavirus, this is a disease that is found in the poo and pee of a rodent called the Deer Mouse. A third of all people who contract this disease die; but it wasn’t going to be an issue for us, as being British, we use our eyes to identify mice and other assorted vermin, not our tongues.

The next day wearing crumpled clothing because either a previous guest had stolen the ironing board and iron or the hotel was too stingy to supply them (as well as bottled water), I drove to a place called Glacier View and once again we stood there doing the ‘Wow’ thing; every day we were confronted by scenes that were capable of taking our breath away, it’s easy to see why Americans are so proud of their country.

Driving up to Glacier view was a leisurely event because I was driving, Matthew drove down from there and it soon developed into a lesson in teamwork as he was quickly frustrated by the law-abiding citizens who insisted on sticking to the speed limit.  There were signs saying things like ‘Speeding kills bears’; well bollocks to that, bears shouldn’t be speeding, it seems they’ve got crap reflexes when it comes to corners; however, chasing down tourists on foot/claws/paws they’ve pretty much got nailed.  Our teamwork consisted of hauling up behind a RV, SUV, car, whatever, and Matt asking my opinion, ignoring it, taking the car out of automatic and in to third gear, and roaring past, all while I screamed like a gay man on a rollercoaster for the first time.

DAY 9 San Francisco – 200 Miles
Hilton San Francisco Financial District
We had to abandon the Prius game because as we got nearer to SF because every other bloody car seemed to be a Prius.   So we switched to calling out whenever we saw a Hummer or a manual car, that is to say a car with a gearstick.  Matt won that game as my eyes are too old to glance quickly into the interior of every passing car, I sort of stared in a slightly creepy way and the people who noticed didn’t look too comfortable having a large, balding, badly dressed man seemingly staring in to their car at them while they drove.

DAY 10 San Francisco
Got to San Francisco with no problems and probably in record time thanks to the Norfolk version of speedy Gonzales driving; got to the Hilton customers car park by the simple expedient of driving the wrong way down a one-way street.  This Hilton wanted 43 dollars a night for parking, nearly a hundred bucks for two nights and we had to pay extra for the internet in our room – robbing bastards.  The brochure the holiday company sent us should have an extra section entitled ‘Rip-Offs’, and the opening paragraph should be about the Hilton Hotels.

Made a big mistake the first evening when it came to dinner, we chose an self-advertised award winning pizza place; trouble was it was run by Chinese Americans and I have to say their forte was probably more in the line of Chinese food rather than pseudo-Italian food.  The service was cripplingly slow and pizzas were packed with flavour but judging by the amount of water on the plate they’d been parboiled rather than baked in an oven; they did however have enough veg piled on top of them to probably give you a substantial part of your five-a-day.

We spent the first part of the first evening wandering along the seafront looking at all the attractions before turning in for an early night where we watched cop shows for a couple of hours and realised that we’d been lucky not to get mugged/murdered/molested.  We also invented a new drink; take a shot of vodka and add one Listerine breath freshening strip, mix well with finger until strip turns in to gloppy mess and drink.  You may get drunk, but your breath is irresistibly fresh and appealing, well that’s what Matt said!

Next morning was lovely and fresh and the air was full of mist, so as result I didn’t bother with sun-cream, what a mistake!  After spending a couple of hours on an open topped bus my face turned bright red and then the forehead started to blister.  For the next few days every time I took my baseball cap off, a large amount of skin rather disgustingly went with it.

As San Francisco is the gay capital of the world this was the day that I dared Matthew to wear the Pink T-shirt, he in return dared me to wear my pink T-shirt; so we both spent the day walking around in fluorescent pink and I think we were the brightest people on the streets that day.  The T-shirt I was wearing had the slogan ‘Don’t laugh, it’s your girlfriend’s shirt’ written on it, and all through the day I got compliments on what a cool T-shirt it was; whereas Matt’s clothing just got him lots of stares, some amused, some contemptuous and some lustful, it was the latter that worried him.

After spending a several hours touring the city on bus we decided to walk up what has been billed as the crookedest street in the world, what isn’t billed however, is the 27% gradient.  You have choice when you visit Lombard Street, you can walk down it and enjoy the freshness of the flower beds and the magnificent view over a large part of SF, or you can prove to all and sundry that you’re mentally deficient and like the feel of your own sweat, and walk up the bloody thing; guess which we did?  On the plus side I can authoritatively say from the amount of gasping for air and staring at the ground that I did, that the pavement is in good repair.

After this I needed a coffee and a toilet, not necessarily in that order, so we walked down to the bay and as we approached the bottom there was a school teacher (I hope) handing out goodie bags to a bunch of school kids who were swarming around him and blocking the pavement.  Rather than step out on to the road as it could have been dangerous, I walked straight through them and took one of the pack-ups from the teacher and carried on walking.

Matt who was following couldn’t believe it, neither could the teacher or kids, who by this stage were all glaring after me; while I was in Starbucks achieving both my goals (not simultaneously, that would just be wrong) the group walked past, saw Matt and all took it in turns to glare at him as well, but being the brave soul he is, he refused to be intimidated by a group of 14 year olds.

On the way back to the hotel we passed an Italian restaurant with seating outside and so decided to stop for a beer.  The waiter, a young man from Sicily, was so nice he charmed us into eating there.  Matt had Lamb shank, which he swore was the best he’s ever had, I had chicken something or another, which was very nice.  After a couple of hours and a lot of beer we decided to leave, so I handed over my credit card and ten dollars for a tip, but when the waiter brought the receipt out to us he’d written on it how much he expected as a tip; the sod guilted us in to doubling his tip, but, that said, we did have a good time.

We decided to walk back to the hotel via the Chinese quarter, but it was mostly closed so we wandered in to a drinking establishment and propped ourselves up at the bar and started to drink beer.  The barman was a young Chinese American who only worked there one night a week, the rest of the time he was studying; this particular evening he decided to practise his cocktail making skills, and Matthew was only too happy to give his opinion of each one.

Problem was instead of sampling each one, he insisted on drinking the whole drink; a couple of hours later we left and went back to the hotel, and decided to call it a night as Matt wasn’t too steady on his feet.  I went to the toilet for a number two and was comfortably sitting down thinking what a nice evening we’d had when the toilet door slammed open and Matt burst in, well, in reality, he stumbled in, holding his mouth and mumbling ‘I’m going to be sick’.  Due to an emission problem at that moment there was no way I could stand up so I did the only thing I could think of and grabbed the wastepaper bin and thrust it to him; luckily just in time.

So my evening’s entertainment ended with my son puking into a bin and managing to back-blast it over a significant portion of the bath and my arms; anyway, it turns out that when cocktails are bright green, bright red or bright blue and lamb shank is a nice roasted brown, the brown wins the colour race when exiting the body.

One of the people that day had mentioned that the last significant earthquake in SF was back in the 80’s (I googled it – it was in 1989) and he talked about the damage that had been done and since repaired, but I wasn’t too interested so long as there wasn’t another one within the next 48 hours.

The next morning I was up a bit earlier than Matt and after the morning’s ablutions which funnily enough also involved removing small amounts of lamb from the shower curtain and other parts of the bathroom, I pulled out the ironing board to press a couple of crumpled T-shirts.  I had to quickly abandon the idea as the ironing board was clearly a left over reminder/remnant of the earthquake of ‘1989; the top of the ironing board was so rumpled and wavy, that had I used it to iron, then the T-shirts would have been worse than before they came out of the suitcase.

DAY 11 Pismo Beach – 280 Miles
The problem with living in King’s Lynn is that we have in close proximity a number of beaches and seaside towns that cater for a wide range of people ranging from the council estate (Hunstanton), to the home owners (Wells), and to the wealthy (Brancaster) and it takes a lot for the seaside and beaches to impress me.

Pismo failed to impress on all fronts, first off, no fish & chips, secondly, the seagulls were massive, seriously, with a bit of teamwork they could have carried off a small child or held up liquor store; lastly, the place was deserted other than some sad muppets on the pier trying to catch crabs, there really are better ways to catch crabs, and it would still involve a pole of sorts.

The hotel in Pismo was the Sea Crest Resort and was practically on the Beach, and it was here we encountered the first booking cock-up of the holiday.  The voucher we had, was quite rightly for two double beds, otherwise it would have been a bit weird; the hotel had the same information that we did and yet they still put us in to a room with a King size bed.  There was also a sofa that folded out in to a bed, so when we got to the room we decided to quickly try it out to make sure it was suitable; when Matt lay on it his feet and ankles stuck out from the end, clearly it had been designed for small children or midgets.

We went back to Reception and I complained in that whiny/whingy way that only the English do, ‘I’m very sorry to bother you, but I would like to complain, if you don’t mind’.  Without hesitation the young lady behind reception offered us a new room, which was coincidentally the correct type of room; it made me wonder if the hotel was just testing us to see how we would react.

That evening we drove to a lovely town called San Luis Obispo to meet the couple that we’d bumped into in Las Vegas, we got there a couple of hours early and spent the time wandering around.  It was probably the nicest place we’d been to since we got to the states, discounting the gun range.  I found a shopping center there that should set the example for all others across the world; it had a Starbucks and a Barnes & Noble bookshop opposite each and separated by only 25 feet.

We met the couple from LV and had a lovely meal and at the end the couple paid for us, this annoyed me slightly as I wanted to pay to say thanks for their kindness, but being American they got in first, I tried to stop the guy from paying by tapping him on the hand with my steak knife.  Unfortunately, the knife was sharper than I thought and I drew blood; but in my defence the steak was so good that I’d not really had a chance to test out the knife.  In other words my excuse for slightly wounding him is based around how good the food was.

DAY 12 Ventura/Oxnard – 115 Miles
Breakfast the next day was help yourself, and as a result it was almost gladiatorial; I learned that with certain people, manners go right out of the window when it comes to free/pre-paid food; also it’s not wise to hesitate in front of these people or they’ll take it as a sign of weakness and will barge you out of the way.  We couldn’t be bothered to join the scrum and so went and found a fast food joint and had a very nice Taco Bell.

The drive to Ventura was nice and relaxed and acting on advice received the evening before, we diverted to Santa Barbara and spent a couple of hours wandering the streets and beaches; once again think Sunny Hunny but with better architecture.  We took a walk out along Stearns Wharf, got bored very quickly with the fishermen and went to a restaurant called The Harbor, it should have been called The Harbour, but Americans can’t spell.  Once again the food was pretty good and as we were in a restaurant that specialized in seafood we decide to try the steak and burger.

Once we’d hit the road again we realised that there was a green plastic envelope wedged under one of the window screen wiper blades, but we paid no attention until we arrived at the Crowne Plaza in Ventura, when thinking it was an advertising brochure I pulled it from under and went to throw it away and realised that it was a parking ticket.  I called the traffic section at the police station and was told that we had the ticket because we’d reversed in to the parking slot, it turns out that guns don’t kill people; cars that have been parked incorrectly can kill people.

As we were walking down the road I saw a very large motorcycle coming towards us with an appropriately sized rider, this is America I thought, that’s not unusual, what was unusual was he wearing a Knight’s helmet from the medieval era.  That is to say he was really wearing a Knight’s helm (look it up) and not a crash helmet painted or shaped like one.   I wondered if it’s the same as some wally in the UK wearing a scooter helmet while riding a 1200cc motorbike?   I suppose that when he’s in a crash the last three thoughts that would go through his mind would be ’Damn, I bet I look good’, closely followed by ‘I’m probably not going to survive this’, and then ‘Darwin was right’.

American drivers seem to have a strict horn etiquette, that is to say they use their horns a lot when they’re annoyed.  At the traffic lights just outside our hotel a Prius took it’s time pulling forward and then committed the crime of hesitantly choosing the correct lane, he was given points for this by a massive Ford F150 pickup immediately behind him who rewarded him by angrily leaning on the horn for a good few seconds to make him aware of how much he was admired; what amazed me was the owner of the angry horn was a sweet looking old lady clearly in her 60’s who was so diddy she looked like a small child (but more wrinkly) pretending to drive the beast she was in.

Matt being exhausted from the drive and the trauma of being a criminal went to bed for a couple of hours and I propped up the bar with my Kindle and started to get drunk.  Once he was awake and refreshed we hit the streets of Ventura and found out once again that the seaside in sun drenched California isn’t as exciting as the commercials on TV make out, so we found the local cinema and decided to see Superman.  There were a couple of hours to the next showing so we went in to the bar next door for a drink.

As we walked in to the bar the barman who was in his forties(?) with a pony tail and wearing black leather looked up at us and said angrily ‘What the fuck do you want?’.  A bit taken aback we said we’d like a drink please and he immediately relaxed and offered us a selection of beers.  It turns out he’s an unemployed actor and this was his Mr Angry persona, so for the next couple of hours we sat there and drank with him and a another chap.

When he found out I was in the military he bought us all shots of bourbon and then later on when I was telling a story, the only other bloke in the bar who had joined us interrupted with a comment; the barman went mad, stormed off to the back room and came back with a stun gun and threatened to taze the guy if he didn’t shut up.

Once we’d seen the film we returned to the bar and carried on drinking and that’s when things got a bit uncomfortable.  We attracted the attention of a very angry drunk, luckily he loved the Brit’s and was angry at everything else, particularly the US Government, and the Democrats in particular.  For the next couple of hours all he did was barrage me with his opinions of what was wrong with the USA, Europe, the constitution, communism and various other things I can’t remember.

One of his core beliefs seemed to be that Europe was trying to take over Britain by force, and as he put it ’I will raise a f*cking army and we’ll go over there and burn their f*cking houses down if they mess with the Brits’.  I tried to point out that Europe was too broke at the moment to do anything like that and we quite liked Europe, but he was having none of that and continued to repeat his mantra of burning houses blah, blah..

In America a lot of the supermarkets have hand sanitizer at the shopping trolley stand so that you can clean the handles before using; a number of places also had the sanitizer in the toilet cubicles to clean the toilet seat.  Another thing I have only ever seen perhaps once or twice before, but constantly in USA was disposable paper toilet seat covers – brilliant idea, but I wasn’t too sure of the protocol for disposing of them.  Did you leave it in place so the next person could see how hygienic you’d been, did you peel it off and flush it away, did you peel it off and put in the dustbin, or did you remove it and discretely put it in your pocket and take it home for disposal later on?

American TV is as annoying as f*ck; one second you’re watching a film and without warning it cuts to an advert.  The first time it happened I’d turned away for about five seconds to pour a drink and when I looked back to the documentary about a rapist/murderer, there was a beautiful woman and her friends having fun on the beach and I thought for a brief second ‘This is going to end badly for you darling’, and the director of the programme was getting in a bit of product placement, but with really bad taste, but after a few seconds I realised it was either a Coca cola advert (or something).

DAY 13  Los Angeles – 65 Miles
Our last full day started with me having a hangover so Matt drove and I relaxed and enjoyed the view as we approached Los Angeles; well that is I stared at a landscape of concrete and felt sorry for myself.  We dumped the bags at the hotel and then returned the car, where they used a handheld computer thingy to tot up our mileage; we’d driven 2400 miles in 13 days, and enjoyed nearly every bum-numbing moment of it.  That evening we had a few beers and a meal in the hotel, and just for a change we went with the burger/steak theme.

America is more advanced than Europe in several respects, but seem to be behind us when it comes to debit/credit cards as they still use signatures instead of PIN’s, and if the amount is under 10 dollars they don’t require you to sign a slip at all they just swipe it and hand it back – no wonder there’s so much fraud.  Even when we did have to sign, they never checked the signature; several times we mixed our cards up and nobody noticed.

Using the petrol pumps in USA is also a different experience and one that Europe could definitely do with adopting.  First thing you do is pay the cashier for the amount you think you are going to use, then you use the pump, and then you get an automatic refund on the amount you didn’t use if you overpaid; of course it’s somewhat spoilt by the whole not checking your credit/debit card details.

Talking about money, the banks charge you to take your money out; they charge you between two and five bucks, this led to some bitterness on my behalf.  A large number of shops also have ATM’s installed and they charged between two and three dollars each time; this led to me trying out a number of ATM’s in shops to find the cheapest, even if it meant doubling back a couple of hundred yards to the first shop we tried.  Looking back on it I never realised I was so stingy.

Day 14  Los Angeles Departure
As we had to be out of the hotel room by 11 and there was bugger all to do while carrying two large cases full of recently bought cheap clothing, we decided to go to the airport and wait for the flight.  Once again I’d booked our seats online and once again the Virgin online booking service let us down.

When the ticket desks opened at 1330 I went to the customer enquires desk and got a nice staff member who explained that she didn’t open until1430, but when I explained that by the time she did actually open my problem would be even worse as most of the seats would have been taken, she took a minute to listen to my plight.  I explained that I’d booked the aisle seats because of my arthritis and that should I not get some leg room, they’d have to help me off the aircraft when we reached England.

She very nicely disbelieved the part about me booking the seats online and checked her computer and then apologised and explained what had gone wrong.  I’d booked our seats when the flight was an airbus, but it’d been changed to a Jumbo jet since, and the bookings had fallen off.  She then sorted out new tickets for us on seats as close as possible to our original ones and we went through happy in the knowledge that the day was going well, despite the aircraft being delayed an hour thanks to a fire/computer glitch/something at Heathrow.

As we sat waiting next to the Boarding Gate a large American man, his clearly long-suffering wife and their son who was in his late teens/early twenties turned up and sat next to me.  As they sat down the son mentioned that he’d forgotten to pack the mobile phone charger, and the father, let’s call him an ignorant redneck or IR for short, went mad at him.

IR spent about five minutes belittling the young man at what seemed to be the top of his voice, but in hindsight was probably his normal voice; he then spent at least an hour sniping at his son and throwing doubt on his intelligence, his ability, his personality, his parentage, in fact every negative facet of this young man was put out in the public arena.

His wife spent a fair bit of time trying to calm down IR which only seemed goad him to a new nastiness about his son’s inadequacies.  All the other passengers were meeting each other’s eyes, but none of us had the courage to tell him to shut up.  In a couple of years when the son goes postal with an automatic weapon, I bet that IR will stand in front of a camera and tell the world that he has no idea why his son had done what he’s done.

Got home safely and since then I’ve been boring the hell out of all and sundry about America.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Lessons identified

·         In America, Ford Mustangs are not special, but a lot of their drivers certainly are.

·         Yanks make shit coffee, with the exception of specialist places such as Starbucks; somebody needs to point out to the American civilisation that bottomless cups of shit, stewed, acidic coffee does not replace quality.

·         The Americans are amongst the nicest people that I have ever met, although from what we’d seen from the cop/robber documentaries we were lucky not to get murdered or mugged.

·         The US road system and traffic rules are brilliant (although they could do with more roundabouts).

·         Fast food joints and churches/religious establishments were ever present and a lot of them seemed to be co-located; this may be why so many Americans are both so large and so god-fearing.  If they are anything like me they don’t concentrate and pull off the road to have a burger and accidentally stroll in to a church, and rather than slowly back out in order not to startle the locals, they stay for a while and pray for larger portion sizes; and the religion that is Wendy’s hears their prayers.

·         American hotels do not have toilet brushes, this can lead to a number of disgusting, yet amusing moments with balled up clumps of bog roll and is a sure-fire way to stop biting your finger nails; this is a country where customers are not trusted enough use a toilet brush, yet they can buy a semiautomatic weapon down the road.

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