Seems a rude question for a guest to be asking or answering. Judging by a lot of the evidence you would think so. We flick round the TV channels in a succession of cheap motels making our way back to Denver to drop the car off and the news is all spectacularly apocalyptic. Texas is parched and the peanut and cotton crops are all but ruined, New Mexico is mostly on fire, pine beetles are killing trees by the million, flash floods, tornados and extreme weather bombard the nation. Wifey has become addicted to the Weather Channel and you can’t blame her when it rattles along like a disaster movie. How will anyone survive?
I wrestle the remote control from her and find an episode of The Simpsons I haven’t seen but have to turn up the volume because the hailstones outside are coming down so hard. They interrupt The Simpsons to tell me it is hailing. They must be telling people individually because they name the street our car is parked on (unless that was just luck) but “stay indoors because the hail is the size of golf balls.” How did we measure hail before golf was invented? They return to The Simpsons in time for the credits and the next ten minutes of adverts.
The adverts are a terrible indictment of the state of The States by the way: “Did you take this drug in the 90’s? Were your children born with 11 toes or are you a drooling vegetable? – we’ll sue them for you” followed, with no irony apparent, by something that goes along the lines of; “take these stress pills, they will stop you being stressed – oh but don’t take them if your name begins with a B or you will bleed internally until you are dead.”
A fat man with a trimmed beard and a smart suit, looking very serious, turns up every half hour to ask if the Tax authorities are after you. Employ him and he’ll help you not pay. Cool. Then they cut back to the news that President Obama can’t cut a deal with the Republicans to increase the national debt by a few trillion so as to pay the 26 million people that expect their welfare cheque next month.
The republicans are saying “no new taxes”, the democrats are saying “don’t cut welfare or medicare while multi-billion corporations aren’t paying any tax at all.” While the Tories slash at costs in the UK Obama is trying to spend his way out of trouble. I can make this shit vaguely interesting to you – no really – watchmenow: The USA is Manchester United. As you know despite being one of the biggest clubs in the world they are balls deep in debt – what do they do? Do they choose the Newcastle United option or the sunderland option? The Newcastle option is stop spending, cut costs and live on the bread line until things look up. Be fitter than everybody else when the recession lifts. The sunderland option is spend and spend, keep the wheels turning despite the fact that the forecast is poor? This is horrible because that makes us David Cameron and sunderland Barack Obama. But that is it in a nutshell.
Right Song at the Right Moment:
Thursday 14th July – “Too Late” – Dead By Sunrise – tenants have moved into our house in Newcastle, we can no longer lose our nerve and run home.
Friday 15th “Strong Will Continue” – Nas/Damian Marley; same reason but with the line from “from New York to Cali’” for good measure. Although driving round and round Denver bloody airport looking for the car hire place didn’t exactly feel like progress. Denver has been a revelation by the way; a brilliant city, clean, exciting and with endless things to do, eat and look at. 300 days of sunshine. Can you imagine a guarantee like that in the UK? Look for “My Brother’s Bar” if you go – we didn’t want to leave, so were very bad at doing so.
The Americans who do pay tax don’t pay that much. To hear them go on about it (for decades) you would think they did but income tax is around 9% – one of the problems, I think, is the sales tax which is just bloody rude, seemingly impertinent and means that nothing costs what it says it does. You get quoted the price then before you can hand the money over they have added the tax which always leaves you seething, worse off and with a pocketful of worthless cents. You feel for the blue collar working class because they are getting a proper hoofing, for example they didn’t ask to be born into a society where you have to have a car. Can’t afford a car – how do you get to a job, even a poxy service job, on a retail park 15 miles out of town?
We found ourselves down amongst the carless in Denver, at the Greyhound Bus Station having to carry our bags instead of throwing them in the back of the Taurus. The bus station looks exactly like you imagine it. Go on, imagine it! It looks like that. A harsh wake up call made even harsher when a kid jumped up in the waiting hall and started battering a skinnier kid. The assailant fled from the security guard who was armed with a revolver and a belt full of assorted violence. Charming.
Greyhound operates a policy of first come first served so people start queuing up over an hour before the bus pulls in. But this is America, so for $5 extra you can be called to board before the queue. We considered getting one priority ticket then have me get on the bus first. The plan was then to take a double seat, remove my shirt, start kissing my tattoos, trying to bite my own nose and snarling at anyone who tried to sit next to me until Wifey arrived. The plan was abandoned when this behaviour was clearly going to make me a desirable travel companion compared to some of the folk in the queue.
Our magnificent collection of freaks, drop outs, boozers ,fatties, skinnys, skag-monkeys, LA gang types, wide-eyed religion enthusiasts and trainee prostitutes arranged themselves politely as Alan, our driver, read out the rules. A rare and dry wit Alan, “I only ever left one person behind on purpose but she deserved it, so help me out and check the person next to you is still there from time to time.” He also managed to tell people exactly how loud they were allowed to talk while making them laugh at the same time. “Tell me if anyone is bothering you,” Alan said.
“Alan. There is a Frenchman behind us and he, like many of his countrymen, thinks deodorant is offensive to his very Frenchness. This is why it is so amusing that cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew is French. However if I am expected to sit downwind of the swine for 15 hours I am likely to re-enact Agincourt using my boot and his f***ing face.” Both Wifey and I thought. Less than half an hour into the journey a bare and smelly French foot appeared between Wifey’s head rest and the window. I took a minute; forcing myself not to stick the corkscrew from our camping knife through the offending appendage before poking the f***er awake and explaining why this was unacceptable. He grunted and moved.
There were regular cigarette stops. At the first of these Pepe followed me off the bus. “Oh please f***ing start,” I thought – he didn’t, all his money for soap had gone on tabs. This was all that ever stirred him and it made the fact that the bus stopped every two hours more annoying. Alan, then his replacement Steve, called them “bathroom breaks” but a couple of times there wasn’t even a bathroom, it was just an excuse for three quarters of the bus to file off and spark up. One old Mexican guy, who probably had “smoker” on his fake passport where it said ‘occupation’ lacked the strength to stand up straight but he could hot-box four tabs in twenty minutes if we had that long.
At Grand Junction, where we lost Alan and gained Steve, we had over half an hour while they cleaned and refuelled the bus. Ample time to nip off and grab a pint if only our weakness was catered for as enthusiastically as that of the chimney squad.
Saturday 16th – Right Song at the Right Moment: “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors as the rain lashed against the windows as the bus pulled into Vail.
Sunday 17th “Clown Powder” – Mariachi El Bronx; not long after Steve announced “and there it is Lost Wages” as Las Vegas loomed up out of the desert. “Your bags will be at the front of the bus. For those of you not familiar with buses the front is the bit you have been looking at since you got on. If you are travelling on to Los Angles listen carefully because there is going to be a test. If you pass the test you will be on the bus as it pulls away.”
We were in a taxi before the results were posted.
Our taxi driver was Ed, an ageing gentlemen who took on the role of tour guide and friendly uncle. He pointed out two massive constructions that are hotel/casinos which ran out of money before they were finished. One was towers of beautiful blue reflective glass stretching skyward but is apparently hollow and abandoned. Another casino recently closed down and they flogged off all the fittings. What you would want with a roulette wheel if you don’t own a casino is anybody’s guess. Perhaps you could put different dinner ideas over each number and choose what to have for tea by what slot the ball landed in. Oh that’s good. Now I want one.
We found a bar where the bottles of Miller worked out at about 60p each and got silly while the US Women’s football team lost the World Cup Final. This will help them understand football properly – a cruel and unapologetic sport where your team doesn’t win in the end no matter how much you think they might deserve to.
A guy next to us complained to his girlfriend of being down $400.
On the way to our room smart suited types tried to sell us tickets for shows. “Which of these shows takes your fancy?” one of them asked incredulous at our lack of enthusiasm. Motown reviews, superstar female impersonators, Celine f***ing Dion, Donnie and Marie Osmond. “I don’t know why don’t you guess?” I said. He did. We laughed. A laugh that came back to haunt us as we found out that not only did we miss Alkaline Trio by two days in Denver but we would also be missing them by a day here.
So is America f***ed. It’s hard to tell overall but we have come to admire the defiance and the resilience in the face of so much actual catastrophe. Perhaps people don’t notice the trouble they are in. Perhaps they do and have decided they can’t do anything about it. Vegas is busy. I mean really crowded. It is both the most revolting and exciting city you can imagine. It is a decadent snakepit designed out of sand and nothing to fleece people out of their money with the promise of things they can have but can’t keep; great wealth, plastic titted girls and glamour. People travel from all over the world to throw money at the place but Las Vegas city administration itself is bankrupt. So I don’t know the answer to the question at the top but I do know I am presently in the wrong place to find out.
Right Song at the Right Moment: “Quinceniera”- Mariachi El Bronx. Seriously I am considering banning Mariachi El Bronx from this game, they just turn up and win anywhere with soul, humour and smashing Spanish trumpet.