Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Lone Star State

San Antonio

From Denver I got the bus down here to Texas. Late on Thursday night I reached Amarillo for a brief layover, much to my disappointment there was no sign of Tony Christie. Presumably he's still not found it.

The bus was pretty empty so I was able to get some sleep before reaching Dallas at dawn yesterday. After a reviving breakfast in the greasiest of greasy spoons for $3 I headed along to Dealey Plaza where John F Kennedy was shot back in 1963. The first thing to notice is that it looks just like it does on the telly. The familiar dark red former School Book Depository building overlooks the area and there's a very tasteful 'X' on the road where the fatal shot hit the President. I'll admit the Grassy Knoll is something of a let down, it's barely more than a small incline, but then I suppose that's not exactly surprising. I didn't see any snipers hiding behind the white fence, but maybe it was too early in the morning for them.

The Sixth Floor museum is great though very sycophantic in its historical judgement on Kennedy. At the window Oswald fired from they've reconstructed the stack of boxes as it was, although the best exhibits are the TV and radio broadcasts from the day. They've got the first garbled UPI wire report which I found fascinating, although most of the American visitors were too busy cooing over pictures of the extended Kennedy family.

The museum also has a temporary exhibition of all the Presidential campaign adverts ever made which I spent ages looking at. It's blindingly clear that whoever has had the best TV ads has always won the election. Not much beats the wonderful "Eisenhower Answers America" spots from 1952, with Ike in a white suit and bathed in ethereal light giving winningly brief answers to the problems of confused looking yokels. Kennedy had a series of decent if baffling ads in 1960, including one with Jackie speaking in Spanish and another with Harry Belafonte. Much better was Johnson in 1964, I saw the famous "Daisy Girl" ad which hinted none-too-subtly that his Republican opponent would lead America into nuclear war. Jimmy Carter hanging around his peanut farm in 1976 was another highlight but the prize for greatest campaign ever has got to be Reagan's "Morning in America" stuff from 1984. Everything in soft focus, lots of matey backslapping with Bush and people looking hopefully into the distance, marvellous and somewhat reminiscent of those Stalin-era Communist posters. It was pretty amusing watching the ads from 2000 again, the one where Bush says Gore's policies would "wipe out America's surplus" is particularly ironic. As for the worst campaign ever, the clear winner is Michael Dukakis from 1988, the ads were boring, weak and confusing. At least Kerry's avoiding most of the mistakes his old boss made.

No hostels in Dallas so I headed down here in the afternoon to get a bed and was very impressed to find myself staying in a hostel with a pool. Having come the length of the country on the bus to emerge into sticky Southern Texas a lengthy swim was the perfect way to spend the evening, followed by a huge and very cheap meal at the Mexican round the corner. As for today I've got shorts on again, so I'm off to take a look around the city.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

In The Picture


Went to the Colorado history museum yesterday and although the stuff about local history (mostly stories about duffing up Indian tribes in the mid 19th century) was interesting the highlight was a touring exhibit of all the Pulitzer Prize winning photos ever. I spent ages looking at them all, my favourite probably one taken in 1992 of Bill Clinton listening to a small boy while campaigning in New Hampshire. Interesting to see the photo taken in Sudan by Kevin Carter of a vulture stalking a malnourished child that won him his Pulitzer, shortly before he killed himself. Click click click himself under indeed.

The main shopping drag in Denver is nicely pedestrianised with only free buses allowed to run up and down. I went to a couple of bars in the area last night and watched the end of the baseball. And the Red Sox won again 10-3, the first team in baseball history to come back from 3 games behind to win a best of 7 series. So they've finally broken their curse against the Yankees and made it to the World Series. Last time they won Babe Ruth was still playing for them which gives you some idea of what a big deal it is here. It's all anyone's talking about.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Clash Of The Titans


Over the last few days the whole country has been transfixed by a battle that will have a huge impact on everyone who lives here. Everyone's been talking about the massive contest between two bitter rivals. Yes, the New York Yankees have been playing the Boston Red Sox for a place in baseball's World Series. The Yankees, who have won the title 26 times since Boston's last success in 1918, took a 3-0 lead in the best of 7 series only for Boston to claw a couple back ahead of last night's game six.

I went to a bar called the Lion's Lair to see Hamell On Trial but he didn't bother starting his set until after the game, although his selections (Joe Strummer, the Smiths' "Hatful Of Hollow") played on the jukebox while everyone in the place watched the tense closing stages. And to huge cheers Boston pulled it out again so tonight's game seven is the decider. It's almost as if Bush and Kerry are talking to themselves, or at least only to each other.

The gig was great. I'd not heard any of his stuff before, I only recognised his name from his column in Uncut. There were only about 50 or so Denver hipsters there but at least that meant I could prop up the bar and sink a few beers. His stories between the songs alone are worth going to see him for and his 90 minute set was fine value for the $7 cover charge. It was chilly when I left so I decided to try to run back to the hostel. Predictably I managed about two blocks before giving up although at least I can blame it on the thin air.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Rocky Road


A shade under 33 hours after my bus rolled out of Seattle the lights of Denver finally hoved into view in the fading Colorado light. It feels like I've been sitting in a never quite comfortable enough semi-upright position for a very long time indeed, but even though the journey took me through five states it still looks suspiciously short on the map.

Apart from the first couple of hours in Washington State - beautiful snow capped mountains in the mist to the south and east of Seattle - the scenery wasn't too much to get excited about. Admittedly I passed through all of Idaho in darkness so perhaps there's something dramatic there, but the highlight of the last few hours was realising that Colorado looks just like those old Roadrunner cartoons. You know, with those rocks and stuff.

I could probably have done with an Acme sleeping pill because there wasn't much likelihood of any kip last night. At one point I had a drunk tramp on my right singing various country songs (and at one point, bizarrely, Prince's "Purple Rain"), two bickering eight year old boys immediately behind me, a couple of annoying American teenage girls psychoanalysing each other in true "Dawson's Creek" style a bit further back, and then a huge fat man in front snoring loud enough to just about drown everything else out. I managed to read all of "Catch-22" during the trip which at least proved mildly diverting. I'm off to find some things to do in Denver when you're dead (tired).

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Sent To Try Us


Last night was one of those nights where nothing went right. I ran into the two British guys I know and they asked if I'd like to join them at a frat party. They'd been to the college football game and had managed to get themselves invited to one. So of course I said yes and with images of kegs and Stifler's mom in our minds we went down the off licence to stock up on booze and got a taxi over there. Frat houses are big places and when we found the right one the guy who answered the door used the intercom to summon the right person. But he didn't come down, apparently he'd already passed out drunk. There didn't seem to be any kind of party going on so we decided to sack the whole thing off and head back to the hostel, bloody frat boys.

It was chucking it down with rain and the bus we got on didn't go near the hostel, just to the Space Needle. It did look pretty great lit up in the dark, the grim weather notwithstanding. Eventually we made it back and started on the hoard of booze we'd accumulated. An old bloke started speaking to us but I found it difficult to concentrate on what he was saying after the guys told me he was sleeping in their room and had woken them up the night before by wanking himself off very energetically, complete with groaning. After shaking off his attentions, I ended up getting very drunk again.