Thursday, September 27, 2012

America Through Fresh Eyes

So, three weeks after I returned from my big whirlwind tour of North America, work decided to send me back to New York for a week of training.  As if I wasn’t jetlagged enough… Of course, I pulled some strings and managed to tack on a few days at either end so I got a bit more time in the Big Apple to see my mates, do some extra shopping, and of course eat! (as I do…)

Overall, I spent roughly five weeks in the US between my two trips.  I covered six US cities across five states (as well as two cities in two Canadian provinces).  Going back on such a big trip like that for the first time in over two years was a big eye opener for me.  After so long away, you really see your country with fresh eyes.  And what I saw was a big mix of good, bad, and ugly.

The obvious good:  food.  If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read my other blogs about my trip.  In retrospect, I probably took more pictures of food than I did of people.  But in all fairness, I keep up with my mates on their Facebook pages.  It’s a bit trickier to keep up with food on Facebook.  Yes, I knew that Jason and Sasha went on vacation to Hong Kong, but how the hell was I to know that Chipotle was now offering brown rice?!?!?  Way to catch me off guard during the ordering process.

Another good:  shopping.  Americans really do have it made when it comes to shopping.  While it may not be so extreme in other parts of the world, clothes in Australia are usually 3 – 4 times the price of clothes in the US – for the same damn items!  The selection here is also really crappy.  Walking into Macy’s was like walking through the gates of heaven.  I also had field days at Uniqlo, REI, and heaps of shops at the outlet mall in Florida.  My closet is now overflowing.  I need to buy more clothes hangers.

But for as much good as there was, there was also tons of bad.  Day one in New York – catching up with mates, eating bagels, and wearing sneakers without being judged – was amazing.  I thought to myself “I could definitely live here.  I actually want to live here!” But then I looked a bit closer.

Trash.  Everywhere.  New York is sort of a filthy city.  So, ok, it’s not like the third world or anything, but there’s just litter and garbage everywhere.  And mattresses, which I later learned are because of a bed bug epidemic in the city.  Fantastic.

Then it got worse.  I was sitting on the subway and this dude got on and he sat down and started yelling at the random innocent bystander lady sitting across from him – telling her all about how the NRA is trying to keep the black man down.  This sort of stuff happened repeatedly in the short time I had in the city.  Everywhere I went, there seemed to be crazy people.

The homeless were another issue.  Yes there were plenty in New York and Toronto – and they were especially aggressive in Toronto – but the homeless really came out in Seattle.  I think it’s the mixture of a temperate climate (not too hot, not too cold) and blue state social services that draw the homeless to the Pacific Northwest.  But even if I’m way out of the ballpark with the exact reasoning for the mass of homeless in a city which has handled the recession better than most others, the fact still stands that there are just a ton of homeless people in Seattle.  I kept getting that waft of piss whenever I walked by an alley way and I was seriously about to snap if one more person asked me for change.  Oh, the memories…

On my trans-Pacific flights, I sat next to two older Australian gentlemen – one who had lived in the US previously and one who still did.  I prodded them for their thoughts on America.  And you know what both of them said?  Too many right-wing crazies.  And being there, with the election looming and all of the attack ads and the vile opponents of marriage equality being all loud and obnoxious and spewing their filth out… I saw it all again, and it was really discouraging.  And I can completely see why Australians would say that.  They weren’t tourists or anything – they lived there.  They experienced it all first hand.  An Aussie entering the US must feel to a certain extent like an American entering some less free country – like Poland or Serbia or something.

And after the good and the bad came the ugly.  Most notably in Dallas.  I was with my grandmother at a Mexican restaurant – a very large Mexican restaurant – and it was the lunch rush and the whole place was just filled to the brim with people.  People eating tacos.  I love tacos.  And you know what?  I noticed something.  This really chunky lady wearing spandex or some other really gripping material walked by, and after I cleared that little bit of vomit from my mouth, I looked around the room.  I suddenly realized… I was by far… without a doubt… undeniably… the skinniest person in that entire restaurant.  There must’ve been 150 people inside.  Me?  The skinniest person?  Anywhere?  Only in Texas.  It made me feel really good for a moment, and then I looked down at my plate and saw what I was midway through devouring and I realized that I would probably end up just like them if I kept that up.  But then I reminded myself that I’d be back in Oz in about a week’s time so I kept eating and enjoyed my tacos and tortillas and bowl of warm melted queso.

And then I landed back in Sydney.  And the streets were clean.  And there weren’t any crazy people in sight.  And the homeless were far fewer in number and never asked you for anything.  They just sat there quietly on the street corner with their little sign asking for change.  Our spineless political leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, continued squabbling over some shit while life carried on around them.  Neither of them insulted 47% of the population instantaneously or tried to subtly paint themselves yellow to appeal to Asian voters.

And marriage equality came up for a vote in the federal Australian Parliament and didn’t pass.  And then marriage equality came up for a vote in the Tasmanian Parliament and it just missed out.  And instead of all the crazy right-wingers declaring victory against the “enemy” gays on national television, you didn’t really hear much from them.  Suddenly four more states and territories announced plans to submit marriage equality bills into their respective Parliaments and everyone was placing bets on which one was going to pass first.  I have my money on New South Wales but I think South Australia may give us a run for the (my) money.

And I went for a six kilometre walk along the shore in the sunshine and there were just tons of gorgeous skinny people - mainly because it’s difficult to find a good taco here and the nearest bowl of warm melted queso is probably in California.

It’s a trade-off.

And I’ll take it.

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