Many people on discovering that we were going to be in The United States this month assumed, quite understandably, that Wifey and I had planned to be here to see Newcastle United’s pre-season fixtures. The truth is we are here for quite the opposite reason and are in fact fleeing in horror at the state of our team and resent them pursuing us across the Atlantic.
Our plans were in place some time before the NUFC tour was announced and the only thing they had to do with our football club was that they were similarly sketchy, ramshackle in organisation and ill considered towards our lasting benefit. For example midweek in Las Vegas we were booked into a very cheap but very comfortable hotel for only two days. Then we planned to be in a scruffy hostel in Salinas for five days which left us a single day, at the mercy of American public transport, to make it to Los Angles in time for our flight to Costa Rica.
One of the upsides of our Amtrak experience early on being so wretched was a lasting aversion to the f***ers so a new plan was needed. We have many guardian angels watching over our welfare while we are away who will all be thanked in due course and rewarded insufficiently at some point – but special mention to Michelle at Dawson & Sanderson in Newcastle who reacted brilliantly to our plea for help by sorting two extra days in Vegas at the same hotel and arranging a hire car with no “one way drop off fee” to get us to LA. Our main advice to this travelling lark is “get advice”.
Wifey was glad to see Las Vegas shrinking in our Ford Focus’ mirrors, I felt we left just as it was about to get interesting; we got some helpful Tweets about bars downtown and apart from Alkaline Trio we would also be leaving before Queens of the Stone Age, Russell Brand and the Amir Khan fight. We also didn’t go to The Grand Canyon but what looked like a two hour drive on the map would have been a ten hour round trip in a car. As it was we were on the road all day before collapsing into a motel bed in California, from which we could hear gunshots popping in the night.
Right Song at the Right Moment: Thursday 21st July lots of contenders because we were driving for hours but “Wardance” by Killing Joke (the updated 2005 version with Dave Grohl guesting on drums and playing like drumming is the best job in the f***ing world) took a flamethrower to all other contenders except Mariachi El Bronx who have been suspended for being too good.
Friday 22nd- “I Get Around” The Beach Boys: which was the closest we have come to cheating. It came on my I-pod about 80 miles from the Pacific Ocean so we switched to Wifey’s MP3 player so we could have it on with surf in sight as we twisted up Route 1.
Saturday 23rd – “Prevent This Tragedy” Alkaline Trio. Yes I am still grizzling on about missing them in Vegas but it also tied in with hearing about Amy Winehouse. When we saw her in Newcastle she was mesmerising and she was young enough to be that good again – if she had only had better friends.
Anyway, Newcastle United are in the country and half a lifetime of thinking “I can get to that game” doesn’t wash away overnight. Ipswich on a Sunday lunchtime, Barnsley on a Tuesday night, Orlando in Florida when I’m in California? Much the same impulse, except this time I am looking at a sea otter in the Pacific Ocean and couldn’t make the kick off if they leant me the space shuttle. I take a moment to inspect my silly brain to demand what the hell it is thinking? How many of our collection of rag-tags, reserves, half-fit players (many of whom would rather be somewhere else) and bloody Shola do I want to witness in a pre-season game in a mostly empty stadium near Disneyland? Not sodding many of them is a slightly depressing answer but I don’t think I was drawn to the players, Suffolk, South Yorkshire or Florida: I am drawn to the club because I’m programmed that way and more importantly I had mates at the game. Some are new online mates, who certainly come across as being fun, others I know guarantee a laugh, so I regret not hooking up with them. Consequently the game being 0-1 and a further embarrassment on our lamentable reputation is of no consolation.
What is more than adequate consolation is that we are running around behind football’s back with another sport, giddy on our own wanton naughtiness. Motorcycle racing, The MotoGP to be precise. My mate Berb was into bike racing, we worked together and would spend all day arguing about everything. I only got into bikes to learn enough to piss him off. Gilaz and BJ would feed me lines to wind him up and I would arm myself with other barbs on a Sunday afternoon watching the races on TV. Then one Sunday I had one of those moments where you step back and observe yourself and I realised that at that very moment both Wifey and I were standing on the furniture screaming as Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner battled for first place at Laguna Seca in an thrilling contest of breathtaking bravery and idiot recklessness.
Using football speak; there are three divisions of GP racing, MotoGP is The Premiership, MotoGP 2 is The Championship and the soon to be defunct 125cc is the First Division. The World Super Bikes (SBKs) are different altogether but riders can move between Leagues. Further description is awkward because if you are into bike racing I know virtually f*** all in comparison to you but if you are not into bike racing I know a lot more than you are interested in. We will leave it at: only the MotoGP comes to Laguna Seca the other races here are American Super Bikes. Cal Crutchlow is English, obviously dead canny, in his first year after moving from SBK and if he finishes inside the top ten of any race he has done brilliantly. We have our Newcastle United.
At the track we make straight for “The Corkscrew” in time for morning practice. The Corkscrew is the most violent plummeting, twisting drop in MotoGP. Cal tweeted the night before the race that, “it is like riding off the edge of the world.” I text BJ that I am so excited I think I might be sick. The noise as the bikes crest the ridge and drop down towards us is exhilarating and we can see familiar liveries; arrogant World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, this year’s leader Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi, the sport’s Manchester United, (except Rossi is brilliant and charming) and there, in the black leathers and green helmet, Cal Crutchlow. The problem with The Corkscrew is that its terrifying elevation means you can see nothing of the rest of the track – so we take the long walk up to Mario Andretti corner which overlooks the second corner and two thirds of the rest of the track (which is a higher percentage than the amount of pitch I could see when I stood in The Gallowgate). It is a cracking view, almost perfect in fact, to witness Cal Crutchlow (running 9th and looking good) sliding into the gravel on lap 3. As I said, “we have our Newcastle United.”
Rossi is on a relatively poor bike this year and the Yank riders are off the pace so the biggest cheer is for Stoner as he bolts past Lorenzo on the straight and makes it stick through the corners below us. The rush is intoxicating and they have people dispensing cold beer (including Newcastle Brown Ale) to keep you occupied between races. As Wifey said as we left (Stoner won by the way – I noticed our own Joey Barton Tweeted his congratulations) – “ I fear I may have an expensive new hobby.”
Right Song at the Right Moment: “Waiting For An Alibi” Thin Lizzy over the track tannoy, “Valentino’s in a cold spot”- indeed he is.
Monday 25th “Another Girl Another Planet” – Blink 182; stuck in LA traffic with less than quarter of a tank and no map we suddenly saw a sign to “Return Car Rentals” and bolted to freedom. Next stop Costa Rica.