Thursday, 3 June 2010


So finally back in the UK after a month on American Adventure 3.

How was it?

Every trip I have done has been different not only because I have been mainly visiting different parts of this vast country but also because of the original expectations.

It was all new and unknown on AA1

AA2 the route wasn't as scenic and I began to be aware of a number I didn't like about the U.S.

I have often said that I really like America and Americans but that doesn't make me want to be one. Nor do I want to up sticks and live there.

There is a lot we can learn from their "can do" attitude. We seem to have a "doubt we can do that and if we do try it it will probably fail and it won't be my fault" attitude which as a Brit can't be a mite galling.

On AA2 the recession was just starting to bite and suddenly America began to realise that it wasn't invincible. I am not a politician but it struck me at the time that the paranoia level was going through the roof. Particularly in the Mid West which can be a little unsophisticated in its view of the world: "If you ain't from here you must be an enemy." Also the rather curious view of "freedom and free speech" that they have.

In the Midwest I got the distinct impression from the Pro-Life and the Creationist billboards that you could have your say providing it was exactly what everyone else said.

Since AA2 for instance when I heard a Right wing talk show host refer to a Dr Tiller who was carrying on a perfectly legitimate practice as an abortionist. As "Tiller the Killer". (I am not siding with anyone here as far as the abortion debate is concerned however.)

The host was nothing if not inflammatory. Since AA2 someone has shot and killed Tiller as he was leaving Church one Sunday morning.

My point being. Better not debate with people who have guns.

This time as a casual observer I found a country still reeling from recession but with a few green shoots. A new President and sense of renewed hope. Although to look at the TV and listen to the radio talk show hosts it would appear that Obama was the worst thing to happen in the history of the world, a terrorist and he was probably going to slaughter the first born.

On this occasion as with AA2 I wasn't able to nab a Ford Mustang as a hire car instead I had to settle for a Chrysler Sebring once more. Practical. Underpowered. Reliable and dull. I think Jeremy Clarkson described it as one of the worst cars ever. It is an ideal hire car although with the top down there is precious little room in the boot so once the Dark Lady arrived in Orlando with her "small" bag. My case had to sit on the back seat. The rationale being that anyone who leaned in a nicked a bag full of dirty washing deserved all that they got.

The driving was pretty spectacular for the first week or two after setting off from Seattle and heading through Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. It gave way to miles of plain and then once I started to get down into Texas and attempting to skirt round large areas of population it was fast moving crowded interstate driving. Still it got the job done. Progress was always swift although not always enjoyable as you need eyes in the back of your head as people undertake and overtake and if they could would probably drive over your car to get in front.

An added bonus this time and one that made the final few days the best and also the speediest was the arrival of the Dark Lady in Orlando for the final 9 days up to New York via Nashville. Where I surprised her with Deirks Bentley tickets for the Ryman Auditorium.
Now to the statistics. Seattle to Key West Florida and then up to New York turned out to be the longest trip yet adding another thousand miles to the AA2 total:

7690 Miles in total.

This used $728.57 in petrol. Fuel is more expensive than on previous trips and the exchange rate is nowhere near as favourable.

AA1 it hovered around $2-£1. This time it was around $1.50-£1 sometimes dipping as low as $1.30. So I reckon my fuel costs for the month worked out at around £485. Which compared with the UK is still modest.

How many States did I pass through this time?

South Dakota
North Carolina
New Jersey
New York

20 States as far as I am aware although I may have dipped into a couple of others due to getting lost from time to time.

I had a Sat Nav with me this time which made things easier although occasionally when I programmed it incorrectly it made things far far worse. It was not infallible and was very slow which caused me to go wrong on a few occasions due to its "thinking time".

As far as technology was concerned. Once my computer problems were sorted things worked pretty well. The rule of thumb I found was that the very cheapest accommodation did have internet connections although sometimes rather weak ones so I had to stand outside the office in the middle of the nights trying to send a blog. Medium price accommodation was very good and the worst culprits were the three occasions I booked into upmarket places. There I found that A) The Internet was not free. B) On two out of the three occasions it didn't work.

This time as well as blogging I decided to Tweet as well via Twitter which was fun to do but was always aware that the cheapest way to do it would be via my computer as texting on a British Mobile is horrendously expensive. I also took a portable recorder with me to upload stuff onto "Audio Boo" which is in some way allied to Twitter I think. This worked although you do need a good internet connection as it can take an age to upload stuff. I sat furiously in the Lobby of a hotel in New Orleans where the in room Wi-Fi had resolutely failed to work watching a short sound clip upload for half an hour and just as it nearly got there the link failed.

I enjoyed "Booing" however it has the hallmarks of being a bit of a tyranny if you are on holiday thinking about potential sound clips and interviews to do. I will carry on doing it though if something presents itself that sounds fun or interesting.

Now to the songs featured in each day’s blog. America is a country held together by music. Which to me is why it makes for such a romantic destination? Everywhere you drive you have heard it mentioned in a song.

"Tears Fell like Rain” from “Aint that a shame” Fats Domino

"Tossed Salad and Scrambled eggs” Lyrics from the theme tune to "Frasier" which is set in Seattle

"Oh Montana give this child a home” from the song Wild Montana Skies. John Denver

“Smoke Smoke Smoke that Cigarette”. Tex Williams

“But Pleeease don’t help that bear” The Preacher and the Bear. Phil Harris

“Back in the saddle again” Gene Autry

“Ample parking day or night. People spouting Howdy Neighbour” Theme to “South Park”

“Rollin’ like a freight train” from “Hard Drivin’ Man.” By Sailcat

“Smalltown boy” Bronski Beat

“Bend those strings til the Hank comes out”. Crazy Town by Jason Aldean

“Miles and Miles of Texas” Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys

“Can we go to the Tastee Freez or maybe the Dairy Queen” “The Dreaded Spoon " Ricky Scaggs and Bruce Hornsby.

“Le Bon temps rouler” T Bone Burnett

“Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” Hank Williams

“Singing Margharitaville and minding my own” “Some Beach” Blake Shelton

“Boom Boom Out went the lights” Slight artistic licence here. “Boom Boom out go the lights” Little Walter

“Eased on down to the key” “Just another day in paradise” Bertie Higgins

“Its five o’clock somewhere” Alan Jackson

“Deres where de old folks stay” “Swannee River” Composed by Stephen Foster

“On the Beach” Cliff Richard

“Rainy Night in Georgia” Tony Joe White

“Lighting up the old Nashville scene” “Nashville Scene” Hank Williams Jr

“Stranded at the drive in” From “Grease”

“On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine” Laurel and Hardy from “Way out West”

“Greetings from Asbury Park” Bruce Springsteen

“Angels Sing in New York City” Modern Talking

“It’s a long road” Dan Hill

That is it for American Adventure 3. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Now have to think where to go next!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


No trouble out of the car on our final leg from Asbury Park to JFK. I always drop the car at the airport as there is no point in trying to even take a car into Manhattan; the traffic is appalling and what parking there is cripplingly expensive.

Handed the car back and the woman at the rental check--in looked it over, asked if there were any problems and then struggled to input the mileage into her computer. Seems above a certain mileage per rental the software melts down. I will give you all the stats in the final AA3 blog.

Cab into the city and was we crested a rise and saw the skyline I noticed the Dark Lady had gone very quiet. She has always wanted to visit New York but has never managed it before. Her eyes were glistening.

It is always a heart-stopping moment. I have only visited four times now over a period of 20 years and the sight of all those skyscrapers never fails to affect me.

Some friends had recommended the Roosevelt Hotel midtown on 45th street. Tried to get in last time I was here but it was booked up. This time I had made reservations a week or so in advance.

It has the easiest telephone number of any place to remember given its name.

888- Teddy- NY! No idea why we don’t adopt this method of numbering. Saw a Gamblers anonymous type helpline advertised a few times as I crossed the U.S which was “888-Admit it”

Just think of the fun we could have and so much easier if all we had to do was dial 888 followed by what we wanted:




Hmm that last one may be a bit difficult to explain if your partner notices you have that on speed dial.

We were so early we had to postpone check-in and leave our luggage in a special room. This is where the soul-sapping, crushing weight of the tipping system came to the fore.

We had to follow the Bellhop to a left luggage room. Then tip him a couple of dollars. Then when we were able to check in properly later that day. We tipped him another couple of dollars to get our stuff back.

There is always the temptation when people have visited a place before to try and show it to someone who hasn’t. This is fraught with danger.

I still remember being in Barcelona with someone who’s friend ordered a drink for us in Spanish..or was it Catalan?

“You MUST try this it’s a wonderful sherry they make locally. It is a well-kept secret that only a few of us know about,” she opined.

Moments later the waiter returned and carefully placed a tray on the table containing three cups and saucers. Milk sugar and a pot of tea.

“What’s this???” Demanded our “knowledgeable” friend.

“What you ordered madam” said the Waiter.

Moments later we heard a commotion from the street outside. Mainly car horns.

“Oh divine, a wedding. You MUST see this” Said our friend trying to deflect from the drinks

We trooped outside to witness a traffic jam!

So The Dark Lady and I set out on an aimless walk round Manhattan.

We needed something to eat and the thought of a proper Seinfeld-like Diner was uppermost in our minds. Could we find one? It was difficult.

We walked south and I think slightly west until we hit Tribeca and there was a Greek one although it did the U.S dishes you would expect.

We sat at the counter and ordered Corned Beef hash and eggs.

It was fabulous.

After that we headed towards the Empire State Building. In my four short visits I have never been up any tall building which meant that I never experienced the World Trade Centre as my first visit was in 1989. Not been up the Rockefeller centre to the “Top of the Rock”. Nor the Empire State Building.

We kept getting side-tracked. We ended up at Grand Central Station which I had never been to before although I have seen it a thousand times in films. It is spectacular. We toyed with the idea of a future visit getting a train to Asbury Park. Seems the trains from this station head north so we could go but not from here.

By this time we had walked a fair few miles down as far as Wall Street and back up to the hotel.

After a brief freshen up, I needed to do some blogging and Tweeting which I discovered - to my horror - was going to cost $15 for 24hrs. Why it is with the most expensive hotels nothing is free?

By the time we left the Hotel it was dark and I had consulted the street plan, so was able to surprise the DL when we rounded a corner and found ourselves in Times Square.

Her face was a picture. Actually so was mine. No idea how often they change the lights and the advertising. It was totally different to two years ago and seemed 100% brighter and brasher. Even the Police station had a flashing sign.

The authorities have also built a grandstand for an even better view.

We were hungry and thirsty by this time as the city is hot and humid so found a branch of Applebee’s that I have waxed lyrical about before.

Surprise surprise it was time for another steak and a Caesar Salad for her and we watched the basketball on several vast TV screens. We are quite getting in to this game due its speed and skill. We marvelled as Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns was able to hurl the ball from miles away and still pop it in the basket.

I know this isn’t exactly the correct language but the sound is always turned down so we haven’t learned the jargon yet.

One downside is that over several days we have managed to watch Nash get accidentally head-butted, needing about 6 stitches. Then, in full 48 inch HD colour, we watched him in another collision which broke his nose.

If that wasn’t bad enough the camera swooped in for a close up of him manually resetting his hooter. Even though the bar was noisy and the sound was down I think we could hear the “crunch grind click” as he pulled it back into shape. Don’t think this is a game for softies.

In the morning we headed out and set off for Ground Zero on the subway. First time I went to NY I was too terrified to travel on the tube. Since the city has been cleaned up it is far nicer. Although I still find it a little baffling and can often spend some minutes staring at the map. Every time I have done that someone will come up and ask you where you want to go.

Muggers? Confidence men? Murderers? No, just friendly New Yorkers who are proud of their city and want to help.

The World Trade Centre is still the name of the station and a lot of work has been done since my last visit two years ago. There is still a lot of hole in the ground to fill though. In slightly dubious taste are street vendors selling books full of photos of the atrocity.

Food time again and we found a Deli with seating close by. Meatloaf Hero Sandwich. Not sure why they call them that. Perhaps it’s because you are a Hero if you can eat it all.

We then caught the subway uptown to the north entrance of Central Park. The park is over two miles long and we walked the whole way. Something that many would not have dared to do a few years back. Kids ran around and played. Joggers jogged and others walked their dogs.

Buskers busked including a gospel choir and drummers and street dancers. Intoxicating stuff.

We have been spoiled for music on this trip with New Orleans and Nashville. Into a bar which had a band on. It brought back memories of the Tracy Byrd song “Ten Rounds of Jose Cuervo”

“I walked in and the band had just started. The singer couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket”.

Still we had witnessed some amazing musicians.

A few drinks and some bar food and the song progressed:

“After one round with Jose Cuervo. I caught my boots (sandals) tapping along with the beat. And after two rounds with Jose Cuervo the band was sounding pretty darn good to me.”

Don’t think I have ever heard a covers band tackle “Baker Street” before.

Also bearing in mind my inherent meanness and the exchange rate luckily we had had enough and so left before the later verses kicked in:

“After round seven or was it eight. I bought a round for the whole damn place”.

We had most of the day to kill before our evening flight so once we had paid to put our bags back in the storage room and knowing we had to pay to get them out again and pay for the doorman to hail a cab. Would we find another authentic diner?

Well not exactly but an experience that we would not have missed for the world.

A quick internet search and sneaky look at the map.



“Let’s walk down here”

“Ooh look, Ellen’s Stardust Diner”

Phew! found it first try.

In we went. Hot dogs, fries and a singing waiting staff.

All desperate to be on the Broadway stage but needing a job.

They did everything: There were even chorus numbers. Singing atop the furniture and some extreme campery. In a word:


Which is pretty much what you can say about New York really.

To see a map of my travels across the States, click here, and to hear my Audioboos click here.