Wednesday, May 16, 2007
My first time in the United States of America was an absolute hoot. The aeroplane journey was so exciting. 2003. September. Alan (Armadale Alan not Yokohama Alan) knew this guy, Doug, in Alexandria. Virginia, I think. I'd played host to him in Scotland when Alan couldn't or needed time off.
Doug returned the compliment by asking us across to stay with him. He might have only been being polite, I don't think so, but we took him up on his offer, anyway.
Entry into the United States of America was dreadful. We must have been queueing up for about three hours before being seen and by no means were we the last people to disembark. The immigration personnel were so frosty, it was dreadful. The first American I'd ever spoken to on American soil was as rude as hell to me. Not what I was expecting. I thought America was all about having a nice day.
Doug picked us up on the public side of Dulles airport. He was not happy, if only because he'd had to pay vast sums of money to park there all that extra time. No matter. He drove us back to his place.
His home was very sparse. Very little furniture and tablecloths pinned up at the windows instead of curtains. He gave up his bed for us and slept in the other bedroom. On the bare floor. There was only one bed. What a saint.
It was so hot in his house! He had air conditioning but there was something wrong with it, something about tripping the security alarm, as did an open window. So we had to sweat it out! We Scots are not used to heat!
He worked during the day. We spent every day bar one in Washington. What a fabulous city. So clean, so perfect, history on every corner.
On the Saturday, Doug, obviously not working, came with us into Washington on the metro. We took a tour of the Capitol building. Why, I don't know, but he had a knife tucked into his sock. Before starting the tour, we were all told that guns and other weapons were not allowed in the Capitol. This was almost comedy to me. First, that anyone would need to be told this, second, that anyone would have a gun at all. Why would anyone have a gun? He said he didn't know whether to just be brazen and try to gain entry with it, not take part in the tour at all or hide the knife somewhere. In the end, after gentle persuasion, he buried the knife in the grounds of the Capitol! Under a wee bush! Americans have such a different attitude to guns and other weapons to us Brits.
Once or twice, he dropped us off at the metro station on the way to work. I thought it was funny. He referred to it as the kiss and ride place. Kiss and ride. A bit strange in such a PC environment. Doug had only very recently told me to stop saying, "my love," and, "darling," to people when speaking to them. He said they might bring charges against me. I scoffed at the very idea. What a strange country, where you might find yourself in trouble with the police for
being nice to someone.
He took us to a strip bar one night. Very strange. Strange because all the men were already naked and dancing on the bar when we arrived. No stripping took place. A one dollar bill planted in one of the guy's socks would provide some kind of reward. Initially, I refused, claiming I didn't have a dollar bill (I did). So Doug gave me one (ahem). I put the dollar bill into the man's sock. He wiggled his wiggler in front of my face. Very nice.
Then we went to another bar. I wasn't allowed in as I didn't have ID. I was VERY obviously over twenty one years of age, but my "laughter lines" did not make up for me having no driving licence or passport.
Another bar did let us in, though Doug reckoned they were breaking the law in doing so. But, hey, ho... And the drinks were free. Actually, this is a lie. The drinks may well have been free, but Doug told me off for not giving the barman a dollar for each drink. Three dollars? What for? Tip! I thought the drinks were free... And that was not the only place we were expected to tip. It was ridiculous. You pay for goods or a service and then are expected to pay again? Pay extra? Dreadful!
Then we went to New York for five days, staying in a gay hotel. Something about pines, I think... Ah! Chelsea Pines! Why we had to stay in a gay place, I don't know. It was rough and tatty. We could have stayed in a much better hotel for less money. It's not like any regular place would have thrown us out for sharing a double bed.
We were asked, on the flight from Washington to New York, if we'd like a drink. Ian asked for a tomato juice.
"Oh my God! I just love the way you guys say toe-mar-toe!" shrieked Audrey, the delightful stewardess, basically announcing to the whole plane that there were Brits on board.
We were tapped on the shoulder from the row behind.
"Were are you guys from?"
"Ah, I've been to Edinburrow."
Edinburrow? Aaarrrggghhh! Where is this mystical place, Edinburrow, which all Americans seem to have either visited or know about?
Ooh, I'm really in Victor Meldrew mode heute.
One thing I liked about the United States of America was the free top-up drinks, whether it's pop or coffee. I could gorge on root beer and coffee. I thought I'd have the time of my life in New York, breakfast in a diner. Never found one. So upset. You know, those all you can eat places. Five dollar buffet. Isn't that sad? Not that I couldn't find one, but that it so upset me, even now.
I thought New York was fascinating and the people were so friendly. I've never felt safer in such a big city. Wonderful. And once or twice, when we had to get a map out, we were approached by locals, asking if they could help us. Wonderful. The first time it happened, I was worried. I thought, oh, lord, here's someone thinking he can take advantage of two idiotic tourists... Never happened.
In Portugal, though, when this happened to us, a guy said he was going to whichever place we wanted to go to and would walk with us. That was nice. And it was only a five minute walk. He made conversation with us along the way, saying he was learning English and thanked us for letting him speak with us. Then we got to where we wanted to be. He demanded money. Damned cheek! He claimed he was an official guide. So what? Bloody nerve!
Sorry for going off on one.
We did all the usual things any tourist might do in New York – though my favourite was Katz's Deli. Wonderful. Suburban New York was so much more interesting than hectic Manhattan. I really wanted to explore Brooklyn. You know, dear reader, how I love A Tree Grows In... Never happened. And there was this building, apparently, which has apartments and rooms decorated in various styles from various decades over one hundred years. The only window in our schedule, Thursday afternoon - and it was closed!
Loved shopping. I bought a load of pants in Macy’s. CK briefs are the same price in US Dollars as they are here in pounds! Bargain! Oh, and tiramisu and coffee in Little Italy was wonderful. Like being in Italy but hearing only American accents.
I spoke with a lady in a coffee shop about her background. She said she loves being an Italian American. I said, in the UK, no-one would ever say they are a Welsh Briton and asked her why they did such things there. I think she was initially a bit upset at me asking. But she did say she was proud of her heritage. I think she thought I was taking the piss. I wasn't. I just wanted to know.
I did get the impression that the United States of America is a very strange place, a very wild mix of overt friendliness and touchiness. There are too many taboo subjects for me to cope with. So much so, I think, people, at best, in fear of upsetting each other, at worst, afraid of the long arm of the law, are left with little more than the weather to talk about.
Then we came back to Washington.
And yes, the weather. Hurricane - Isabel? I think that Isabel was the name. Bloody hell! All flights were cancelled. We couldn't go home. Our two week holiday was extended by another five days. Our cheapo insurance wouldn't pay out because it was an act of God and we weren't already in a hotel. And what a load of fuss over nothing. Sandbags. States of emergency. Women crying. And it was just a bit of wind. Sure, a few branches came down and the sea was a bit wild, but nothing we don't get here every Winter. Having said that, I know there were deaths (I don’t think in the USA), but the damage around Alexandria was next to none. A complete over reaction. Or perhaps it's better to be prepared for the worst. I don't know.
I'm just glad we don't get them here.
And I was ready to go home, too. Doug was very kind to us, very hospitable and gave us somewhere to stay, sacrificing the comfort of his own bed. What a star.
We took him out for a meal to thank him for putting us up. Whatever he ate came with cream cheese. He asked them to leave it off. When the bill came, there was no discount for the lack of cheese. He complained and we were then presented with a new bill. Fifty cents were deducted for the lack of cream cheese! Or was it sour cream? I wished the world would open up and swallow me. I was mortified! That's perfectly acceptable in the United States of America. I've discussed it with my sister-in-law. She wouldn't dream of paying for something she didn't get. Here, offending chef would be bad enough. Expecting money off for the offence is unthinkable!
Sorry for rambling on.
I must just tell you, though, dear reader, that we flew to New York on or around 11th September! I've never known any airport care less about security! Really! We weren't checked, X-rayed or anything and our luggage received no checks whatsoever. Furthermore, while waiting at the gate to go back to Washington, I noticed an unattended bag next to me. Open. I told a girl on the desk. She wasn't the least bit worried, saying she expects whomsoever owns it will be back soon.
Oh, and I hate the way Americans say they need me to do something. So rude! I need a lot, but I would never make such a demand. Is it not impolite, there, to say such things? "I need you to get this, that and the other for me..."? What's so bad about saying, "Would you, please...."?
Sorry (again). Rant over!