Saturday, November 20, 2004

Jock Rock


My decision over what to do last night was made very easy when I found out Dogs Die In Hot Cars were playing just a few blocks from the hostel at the 9:30 Club. It's a great venue, similar in size and layout to the LA2/Mean Fiddler in London. To me the wisdom of booking Dogs Die in places like that over here seems a bit strange as they'd probably only just manage to fill similar venues in Scotland, and struggle to in England. Sure enough, they gave up selling tickets for last night's show and let everyone in free, but there was still a lousy turnout.

The support was Delegate, a competent lot from Richmond, Virginia. It was good to hear some decent playing and singing although they could just have put "The Bends" on and saved everyone the effort. Dogs Die have two songs of genuine top quality and they threw "Godhopping" in second, presumably to try to lift the sparse crowd of hipsters. They at least managed to get a few toes tapping by the time they played the fantastic "I Love You Cause I Have To" which came near the end. I'd not heard it in four months and it still sounds like the best time you ever had. And then it was all over, a good if short (40 minutes, no encore) set enjoyed by far too few.

As the band packed away their stuff themselves (bless 'em) I was lamenting this with a girl from Boston, reviewing the show for the local student rag. We chatted amiably for ten minutes about obscure British indie bands until I mentioned in passing I had a girlfriend. Within a minute she made an excuse and buggered off. Are all American girls like that? Maybe just the stuck up northeastern ones.

Friday, November 19, 2004

It Don't Cost A Thing


The best thing about Washington is that pretty much everything you might want to go and see is free. The freest of the free attractions is the Smithsonian, a series of huge museums dotted around the National Mall. I only made time for one of them today and even then I didn't get round all of the National History Museum. Not surprisingly I found the section of the presidency exhibit devoted to 'use of the media' most interesting, and spent ages watching the archive of speeches. And so it was possible to see a fresh-faced Richard Nixon giving his 'Checkers' speech in 1952, and a few moments later watch the haggard president tell reporters "I am not a crook" some 21 years later. Sad I know, but it's the sort of thing I get a kick out of.

Washington is not a party town and the hostel is one of those no-fun-allowed HI behemoths that looks like a Swedish prison. It'll be harder than usual to find some Friday night action, but with my daily budget burning a hole in my pocket I'm going to give it a try.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Back In The Big City


Another day, another gruelling overnight bus journey, but at least this time I got some free entertainment worthy of a bad episode of Jerry Springer. During a stopover in Columbia I watched as a very fiery teenage girl with white trash aunt in tow began blaming the woman at the station for her missing her bus. It had something to do with buses leaving from the wrong gates, but none of that seemed to matter as the insults started flying. The Greyhound worker finished up by calling the girl a "fucking bitch" before her colleague sent her home to calm down. Whatever happened to 'the customer is always right?'

I went for a walk around the part of town with all the famous buildings this afternoon. Mingling with all the civil servants and tourists reminded me of Whitehall only the area's a bit more spread out here. There's a new walkway on Pennsylvania Avenue so you don't have to be in another postal district to see the White House, although it's nothing spectacular in itself. Much better is the Capitol, and walking slowly up the hill from the Washington Monument in the warm sunshine was a great way to pass the time. I've got a feeling this lovely weather won't last forever though.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

History Lesson


I got up late this morning after a few very cheap beers last night in a nearby ale house. There's a surprisingly large student population here so that sort of place is fairly thick on the ground. The girl who works at the hostel told me to go and see a free museum of historical documents just round the corner and I was glad I did. There are a few dotted around the country run by some rich history buff who goes around buying up old bits of paper of importance and putting them on show. At the moment the museum here has an exhibit about Napoleon with lots of the great man's letters and orders. The romantic novel he wrote about himself in his early life looked pretty funny to me, even though it was all in his absurdly ornate French handwriting and I could barely understand it. He obviously had delusions of grandeur from an early age, superseded by the actual grandeur he achieved later on.

Having been all round the South I've just about had enough of hearing about the Civil War, but I decided to visit one last site about it. Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour was where the first shot of the war was fired in April 1861 and it was just about worth the half hour boat trip out to take a look around what's left. The rebel sentiment isn't quite as strong here in South Carolina as it is in Georgia. Down there I'm fairly sure most people are still fighting the war, a legacy I suspect of too many nights on the sour mash dreaming of Confederate glory.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Catch Of The Day


This is a very fine city. It manages to have some great tree-lined main streets and grand old Southern houses without seeming too much of a tourist trap, like Savannah does. Wandering around is an all-day activity in itself, perfect for yet another clear sunny afternoon. I also get the impression the historic downtown is still a very lived-in area. Take away the ridiculous horse-and-carriage tours that are a regular feature of the place and it wouldn't seem like a tourist town at all.

I broke the day up by treating myself to a posh lunch. If there's one thing Charleston's famous for (other than dancing of course, and there's not much chance of me doing that) it's seafood, and I indulged in a fresh flounder in a little restaurant in town. With green beans and sweet potato, and washed down with some sweet iced tea, that's good stuff.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mercury Falling


The ever-baffling Greyhound schedule meant I had to get up at half past four this morning to connect with the only bus here. It's been a lovely sunny day without a cloud in the sky most of the way, the coastal area of South Carolina is a very beautiful part of America to drive through. It's also somewhat parkier than Florida and as I head north things are only going to get more chilly so I went shopping for a new jacket this afternoon. Unlike many cities Charleston still has proper high street shops with few of the dreaded strip malls in evidence, so I managed to make the experience as quick and painless as possible. The wee guy in the shop persuaded me to abandon my traditional dark colour scheme in favour of brown. But then, as they say, brown is this year's black.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

From Sea To Shining Sea

St Augustine

I got my first view of the Atlantic last night here in America's oldest city. Even though it was dark when I got here it was easy to make out the white horses in the harbour, and impossible to avoid the fearsome wind fairly whipping in off the sea.

At the hostel I stumbled in on a cheese and wine party, which was a pleasant surprise. After a while everyone went out to the local fort to see the annual re-enactment of the siege by the British in 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession. A whole load of guys were dressed up in period Spanish costume and they let a few cannons off. Some people in redcoats half-heartedly fired some muskets back from outside. After about half an hour we got bored and went to the pub. Despite my shouts of encouragement, it didn't look like the Brits were making much progress in storming the place. All those years ago they failed miserably to take the fort, but made sure of burning the whole town down before buggering off back to the Carolinas. I'll try to make a better impression than they did.