(Written: 21st July 2011)
You know when you’ve arrived in the USA when you can just sit in an airport for hours on end mesmerised by the size of the people wobbling by! This was Dallas, this was the Deep South, this was the land of the supersize! But it was good to get off the plane. I’d flown American Airlines and it has to be said, it was the worst plane I’ve ever been on with the worst service I’ve ever had. Walking down the aisle I had to duck down to avoid the 1980’s TV’s that were stuck to the ceiling. I also had my usual problem with American stewardesses in that when I ask for a coffee they nearly always bring me a coke. On this occasion the lady apologised stating that she could not understand my English as I had a strong foreign accent! Who the hell’s got a foreign accent? I’m an English person speaking English! She was from Texas with a drawl so large she was on the verge of having a stroke! Who the hell was she to comment on my very English accent! Sadly the only way I’ve ever been able to get a coffee at first request in America is to put on an outrageous New York accent and say “I’d like a quwaffee.”
Before heading into Dallas I briefly visited its sister city of Fort Worth. There’s not much to say about this place other than it was like a ghost town apart from the odd beggar and surprisingly the first beggars I’ve encounter since Australia, what does that say about the world! But America has been making a concerted effort to clean up and make safe lots of downtown areas. But as clean as they have made them, they have also made them sterile. It was midday but downtown Fort Worth was as quiet as the News of the World press office. Maybe this was partly down to the heat which was currently in the low 40’s but there was nothing here, no shops and just a stream of empty busses passing through.
As there was nothing to amuse me I headed off on the short trip to Dallas. To be fair, the only reason I was here was that as a child for some reason I used to like watching the Trashy American soap ‘dallas\’ but I grew up! It was even hotter here, the state is actually in the middle of a heat wave with the temperature not dipping below 35degs C (not even at night) for nearly a month, but at least there were people out in the street here. This included people involved in a fantastic new sport called “fat guy wheelchair racing.” What happens in this sport is that an able bodied person like myself walks normally down the street but then a guy who has become so obese that they need a special 6 wheeled wheelchair for stability, then tries to speed past you in his chair by honking his horn and then swearing at you when he gets past. I wish he could have seen the irony in that if he was on his feet he would have no way been able to keep up with me. But then a proper race was on, there was a fat woman in a chair a little further on who was so large that she was all but laid down as she could not sit upright due to the fat around her waist. But boy, when she was overtaken the race was on. There is very little funnier in life than watching two enormous people in wheelchairs (in them purely because their weight) zooming down a “sidewalk” avoiding “trash cans” and “mail boxes.”
As this was the most exciting thing in town I decided to head back to the airport for my flight to Boston but before I did I noticed a few people hanging around a grassy knoll. I thought it might be something touristy so headed over and quickly discovered that it was “the” grassy knoll. I knew about the Kennedy assassination and had previously been to Arlington cemetery in Washington DC to see his grave but for some reason I always thought he was killed in Huston Texas, but it turns out it was Dallas and I was standing just feet away from where X marked the spot! It’s a very American thing to have major tourist spots based on where people have been assassinated. I’ve been to the memorial to Lincoln in the theatre where he was killed in Washington and Lennon’s memorial in Central Park opposite the Dakota buildings New York. I’ve never thought about the spot where the only British Prime Minster to be assassinated, Spenser Perceval, being a tourist site. It’s a very weird thing really but I guess what is more weird is the old book repository building where the shots were believed to have been fired, there’s a museum and cafe called “the sixth floor,” bad taste or inspired name!!!!!!
Back on my next American Airline flight it was refreshing to see that stewardesses more represented the local demographic, they were fat with thick Texan accents! The captain’s accent was the best, it was so Texan that it must have physically hurt or at the very least would have a dislocated jaw, I wanted to go over and ask the stewardess whether he could say the line, “Bobby, you know our daddy would turn in his grave!” A reference to Dallas and a phrase JR frequently used. But I was restrained even though when I asked for a coffee I got another sodding coke!
I was a bit wary arriving into Boston, Massachusetts in the early hours as years ago downtown was not the place to be but to my surprise the downtown area has really picked up from what I remember from a fleeting visit 12 years ago. In the bright light of day the next morning I was amazed to see how the place had changed. Downtown really is the place people want to visit and live, this is at complete odds with the practically all of the other major cities in the country with the exception of New York. To celebrate this new found safety I went to a Diner for breakfast and had a traditional American breakfast muffin. Urrrgggg, is there nothing they don’t add sugar and cinnamon to? Maple syrup and cinnamon sort of work on the sausage and egg muffin but there was far too much. One more of these and I’d be wheelchair racing with an insulin drip! But I managed to find the best thing ever invented in America, the slurpy. We would call these ‘slush puppies\’ but here the slurpy is an art form and in the hot and humid weather it is fantastic.
But I was here to see the sights and not he slurpies so I hopped onto a walking tour. As you may imagine being the home of the Boston Tea party I did expect a bit of nationalistic gloating about the war of independence but the direction they are teaching the history now appears to be a little strange and more than a little worrying.
Previously and correctly they talked about the time between 1620 and 1776 as the British period or the colonial period, now they call it the period of British occupation! This makes no sense as the British and representatives of the crown came over on the first ships to land in America. Using this argument then clearly the current Americans are also occupiers as they still occupy the land of the Native Americans. Unless they actually mean this which I doubt I find the deliberate change of such terminology worrying and quite insulting to history. Also most of the early leaders of the revolution had very British names so they should know where their origins were if at any point they thought themselves native. In fact one was called Carr which has definite origins in Sheffield, UK. But America is good at changing history, if I said who invented he modern useable light bulb most would say Edison, similarly if I said who invented moving pictures people would say Edison! Do a quick search on the Internet and you will find it’s not the case. The former is considered to be invented by a British guy called Swan for the latter and a French guy I can’t remember his name (who disappeared in mysterious circumstances before he went to America to patent his device!). In fact the oldest film he took was of a street scene in Headingly, Leeds, UK which is older than Edison’s patent!
But I just kept quiet and smiled through gritted teeth as I expected a little nationalistic fervour but then came a comment on the first battle of the war of independence. To be fair to the guide he was giving a good description of the battle. The British eventually won the battle of Bunker Hill but as they were attacking a well defended hill they lost practically twice as many soldiers than the Americans. Unfortunately this is quite normal when attacking such a defensive position but sadly there are a number of Americans who can’t take losing, even though they eventually won the war. So after being told that the revolutionary forces lost the battle a rather rotund guy with his retarded family shouted out “yeah, but we killed more British right” and then whooped and waved his hand in the air. Others in the group then joined in the whooping. Wow, I thought. I could never cheer someone’s death particularly those who were fighting because they had to rather than because they wanted to. Similarly unlike many Americans I could also not cheer in the death of Osama Bin Laden, no matter what he did, you should never cheer someones death particularly as in this case it makes you as bad as him. Death is nothing to cheer about. It was quite uncomfortable being British and being surrounded by people cheering the death of the British, if anything a little racist, so I just apologised to the guide for leaving and walked off. I hope that they realised how inappropriate they were by my actions but I doubt it. It was so uncomfortable. I hope this guy goes to Dresden in Germany and shouts “we killed more Germans than you killed us” and then we’ll see what happens. But I’ve travelled enough to know that these guys are a minority in America and the vast majority of Americans are unbelievably nice, unbelievably helpful and unbelievably kind, unfortunately the others just tend to be a very loud minority!
I walked back to the centre and the old graveyards from the original settlement. There is something that is pretty much uniquely American about graveyards here; they put the American flag everywhere which I really don’t like. I kind of understand why a military cemetery would have these but these were just public graves. I find it quite sick. When you die you’re meant to be free of worldly goods including nationality. Actually looking at the dates on the headstones most buried here were actually British when they died, was this another insult? Probably not, but I really don’t like outward signs of nationalism.
Back at the hostel I got ready to leave and fly north to Iceland on my attempt to get back to the UK on 5 hour or less flights. Even though it will be the longest distance I’ve flown on the way back, the route follows the Gulf Stream which adds at least 10% to the speed. So as it’s timetabled as 5h10m I should just make it. But there was just one thing I had to do back at the hostel in light of today’s events. There were American flags all over the entrance with a flag in the centre with words “These colours don’t run!” actually it said “colors” but they can’t spell properly. As this was in reference to not running away from battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought that in terms of history and some of the errors Someone should remind them that at least on three occasions those colours did run and very fast. Korea where the north was lost, Somalia and of course Vietnam. So I left a little post-it note on the flag sayinhg “aprt from…..”, I’ll leav it to them to find the relevant details. Then again, they killed more of the enemy in all of these places so maybe they did win! But I was now on the plane…. And breathe out…….