Considering when this publishes I’ll be flying somewhere between Perth and Sydney on the way to three weeks on the US west coast - it’s probably appropriate these are the 101 Thing entries for the last time the Americans were foolish enough to let me into their glorious country, and the trip that started this entire 101 Things challenge.
43 – Throw a Dart in a Map
As you’ll read below in #53, my last trip to the US was not pleasant – my then girlfriend thought she might be pregnant, my parents thought I might have been abducted because I didn’t contact anyone for the first 3 weeks, New York seemed rude and pointless, Chicago was just cold (even for me and my notorious cold threshold), and Louisiana was terrifying on a range of levels.
But the last step of the trip – California – was bliss. I like sun and sand about as much as I like stabbing myself in the face with a rusty spoon, but Santa Monica was so chilled out in comparison to all we’d experienced through the rest of the US I fell in love immediately. And while in rained most of the time we were in San Francisco over the New Year - for a kid that loves thunderstorms, sitting in the hostel fire escape listening to the rain and fireworks to see in 2006 is one of the best new years I’ve ever had.
And what made it better was during our last day in San Francisco (New Years Day 2006) Paul and I had completed #43 – Throw a Dart Into a Map and Travel Where It Lands. On New Year’s Eve Paul laid out a map of San Francisco on the floor of our hostel, but we didn’t have a “dart” so I took the ink cartridge out of a ballpoint pen and dropped it from the top bunk at the map. The mark it left meant we had a ready-made mark on the map as to where to go the next day!
The pen nib had hit at the intersection of California Street and Battery Street, specifically on the North-East corner. Now with the wonders of Google Streetview we could have checked it out beforehand and seen it was just a Citibank. So ultimately pretty dull, and I have had two consecutive girlfriends bitch since then that we “didn’t do it properly”.
But it was the first thing on the list I ever went out of my way to do because it was on the list. We also went to a part of the city we wouldn’t have ever gone to otherwise and had a coffee in the Starbucks across the road. So all around a bit of pointless/harmless fun. Hell, I might even go back when I’m there this time, just to laugh at how much things have changed in 6 & a half years.
For all the bitching about the “didn’t do it properly” dart throwing, the “Road Trip” across America quickly fell into the same category too – we didn’t technically do a road trip across the US, because that would involve driving. We flew.
Paul and I flew out of Perth after I’d pulled an all-nighter at a pre-trip party, on the back of working a 20-hour SHRIMP shift. And since I rarely sleep on commercial flights (put me in the back of an Airforce Hercules and I’m out like a light), we arrived at Singapore for our first lay-over with me looking like the walking dead. But it wasn’t until we found the lounge near the gate for our next flight that I finally slept for the first time in about 55 hours…
… waking to find my entire left shoulder covered in drool – awesome. We spent a week in London touring the museums of London and staying in the one of the 5 shittiest hostels I’ve ever experienced, where I had the great pleasure of helping an 18-year-old American girl throw up into a plastic bag after her first experience with binge drinking. Which is the last of the bodily fluids on the trip, I assure you.
And then we flew into New York. Now you’ve seen Skippy the Drug-Smuggling Kangaroo above – I named him that because the Schapelle Corby case was all over the news at the time, and we thought it’d be a laugh. What I probably shouldn’t have done is jokingly told the US Immigration Officer searching our bags what the kangaroo’s name was – he pulled out a knife and legitimately threatened to cut Skippy open to check.
THAT was when I knew we were in for an interesting trip. New York turned into an absurd nightmare: I found it all way too serious with the exception of where we were staying in the gay district. The shop on the street below was a gay sex shop, and had an animatronic Santa Claus dressed up in leather bondage gear in the front window – I thought it was the funniest thing on Earth, but Paul and his strong Baptist sensibilities found it far less amusing. Other than that it was all way too serious and way to sincere for me, although I did manage to cause a mountain of mischief in the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – running around in a red elves hat and punching wax models of world leader’s in the balls.
Flying into Chicago, we knew it’d be cold. We weren’t expecting to be locked in the hostel for most of the 3 days. The one day we did manage to get out, the aquarium we were trying to visit wasn’t having its “Free-Day” as we’d been told (and I’d be fucked if I was going to pay US$35 to look at fish), so we sat around and watched Comedy Central. In retrospect though, I’m glad we had a chance to relax and do nothing for a few days after 2 weeks of on the go travelling.
Because shit was about to get real when we landed in Louisiana.
Louisiana was the reason we went on the trip in the first place, and I had pushed Paul to down this trip so he could meet the girl he’d been writing/calling for nigh on 5 years at that stage. And Erin and I got along quite well, but there was one inescapable fact – I was in the thick of the US Bible Belt staying with a deeply religious Baptist family, as an Applied-Physics studying atheist. At Christmas.
To be fair, the rest of the family wasn’t that bad – they didn’t understand how I had no interest in going Church even though I’d been sent to a religious school for 5 years, and I had to hold hands with the rest of the 30+ extended family around a birthday cake to Jesus on Christmas Day… but it could have been worse.
They could have hated me as much as the family cat did.
I don’t know if Nano could sense I don’t like cats, or if he felt threatened at not being the only ginger in the house. But this cat would try to take me on at every chance it got. He’d hide under a couch, wait for you to sit down on it, then spring out and claw the living shit out of your foot. Or jump off a bookshelf at your head to try to tear your face off. This cat was genuinely psychotic.
And naturally, I rose to the occasion. Nano established our rivalry within a few hours of arriving at Erin’s folks place in Baton Rouge, and it peaked two weeks later just before Paul and I flew of to L.A. On about the second night there he spotted me – through a partly opened door – settling into bed, and decided to try to spring a sneak attack. Nano slunk down low, crept along the carpet using a set of draws as cover between me and him, then leapt on top of the draws and went to leap at my face… only I was waiting for him. So as he jumped on the drawers, I punched him in the head as hard as I could.
This was far from the end though. Over the next week Nano and I continued to scuffle – he’d lie in wait for me and try to spring sneak attacks on me during the day, I’d slip out of my room in the middle of the night and ambush him while he was prowling around the house. I wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, but he was way to intelligent and far too good a challenge to ignore. It wasn’t until he snuck in while I was listening to music for the first time in a month and chewed through the lead of my headphones as I listened to them, that I knew it had gone on too far. Nano and I had fought, but after that little incident he ran away for 3 days…
And the family bought me new headphones for Christmas.
I’d still love to do a proper road trip across the US and the original dream for this return trip had been to buy a camper in Los Angeles, drive through Area 51/Las Vegas, across Texas and down to New Orleans to visit a friend, up the Mississippi through Nashville and Tennessee, on to Chicago, then across to Washington D.C. and finish in New York - essentially reversing the original trip and doing it by road. If I find myself based in the US with comedy in the next few years like I’m planning, then it’ll certainly be happening.
Driving in Australia, there’s plenty of opportunities to really go flat-out in a car. So I regularly maxed out the vehicles I’ve driven between my parents place and the freeway – back when there was kilometers of fenced off bushland instead of a housing estate. The little red Suzuki soft top I drove in high school would do about 115km/hr, and the 3.0L Toyota Hilux would do about 160km/hr. I wasn’t in it for the rush – I just curious to see what the maximum speed was.
But Cody, a friend of the family we stayed with in Baton Rouge that looked like Barney Rubble, loved to go fast. And Cody loved to go fast through traffic. Prior to Baton Rouge the fastest I’d ever done was the 160 km/hr in the Hilux – it was vast open roads with nothing for miles. Cody managed to hit 200km/hr weaving through traffic on a busy interstate as we headed to an “Outback” restaurant in Baton Rouge. Where I ate a “Blooming Onion”. Because apparently Australian Aboriginals grow massive onions, slice them into something resembling a crown of thorns, then deep fry them.
So yes – I was just thankful I made it onto the plane to Los Angeles alive. The fact that California was so awesome was just an added bonus.