The last post (from Stateside)

Added: 21-11-2007

last moments in the US then. feels kinda weird. I’m in David’s house in DC surrounded by boxes and clothes, plane leaves in 3.5 hours…I bought a giant mobile suitcase yesterday and now that’s full of stuff, and my rucksack is totally full as well. oh, and I have a smaller rucksack that’s also, like, totally full.

lord knows how I will get this onto the plane without paying some sort of prohibitive fine. I gather Dave had the same problem last week. how did we end up with so much stuff? I must have about 20 books with me, and the same amount of records (vinyl weighs a ton, as Peanut Butter Wolf so succintly put it). add to this the four pairs of brand new shoes that I have, maps, newspapers we’ve been in, Dave’s new camera and microphone…I am so going to get in trouble at the check in desk. not a good way to quit the country…

so, yes, I am out of here. over a year of my life spent here in the past 18 months, and I feel I’ve really got to know the country in ways that a holiday wouldn’t get anywhere near. admittedly our route was pretty much straight across middle of the country but nevertheless it let us go through places, small and large, that had a lot to teach an Englishman in search of America. scientific we were not, and the extent that we can draw conclusions about the whole country is questionable, but I do think that we have soaked up so much of what it means to be in America at this point in history that we are gonna have a pretty good story to tell when the books come out (at, er, some point). America is so big one can never speak for all of it (even the President can’t) but nevertheless all of the states have so much in common (whether it be language, a commitment to burgers, a shared sense of do-it-yourself and leave-me-alone, a hatred of the French) that it is possible to generalise out to muse upon what the whole country thinks on this topic, or that topic. for example, the media, in all its awfulness, is so pervasive in the country that its possible to imagine what people everywhere think about the standard of the news they are getting. I’m betting 99% are pissed off.

so anyway, I’m going home to think about things. think some ideas up, write some things down…attempt to come to some conclusions about what we saw laid out before us. try to reconcile the absolutely immense hospitality and kindness of the people with the interventionist nature of the governement’s foreign policy. the willingness to talk to white English strangers with the fear of unseen Muslim terrorists (or African-Americans, or Hispanics). the giant argicultural growing spaces with the lack of available fresh produce. the obsession with celebrities that fuels the sales of trashy mags and the hatred of the media in all its forms. there is plenty to consider here, and not all of it makes sense. nevertheless I’ll give it a go – there just has to be some truths to uncover out of this trip…

farewell USA (U! S! A!). t’was fun. now to Europe, and a decent cup of tea…

Stuart                            Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

A weekend of sport

Added: 19-11-2007

live blogging here folks, sitting in a Hyattsville house watching American Football and being awed by the amount of advert breaks that can be fitted into a single sporting event. it’s been a weekend of sport in fact, what with England’s ridiculously lucky lifeline for the European Championships handed out by Israel (had a great time this yesterday imagining lots of lefities in England cheering on the Israel team) and the fact that earlier on today I was lucky enough to witness the finale of the Major League Soccer season, the MLS Cup Final. this year’s finalists were the same as last year’s – The Houston Dynamo versus, yes, The New England Revolution.

was it a good game? not really. the quality was debatable, the crowd drifted in and out of the game (weirdly enough there were loads of DC United supporters in the 39,000 crowd, most of whom amused themselves by singing “You guys are boring” and “Boring…boring” at the players. despite the boredom, occasionally one could hear shouts for ‘Revolution’ in the stadium. got to thinking it was a kind a metaphor for the US or something…) and probably the weaker team – Houston – won the game. nevertheless we did have a fighter plane flyover, Placido Domingo singing the National Anthem and Jimmy Eat World banging out two ear-shattering tunes at half-time. the Americans can sure put on a show.

I got back here to DC from New York yesterday evening and commenced partying with the Malouin almost immediately. it’s good to be here again after so long on the road – DC is really a place I feel at home in now due to our previous prolonged periods of post-injury recuperation last year. last night’s party was good, including as it did dips, cookies, some awkward front-room dancing, music from one’s high school disco (we did close with The Cars’ ‘Drive’ at 3.30am. David asked if anyone wanted to make out with him but Rob, John and myself all made polite excuses and went to bed) and a wide variety of DC drunkeness. I am told the Toolan also acquitted himself quite well last weekend during his triumphant return to DC, so I think we can now call ourselves done with the US in terms of parties. for now.

so now there’s only two days left of my American odyssey. very weird to know that on Tuesday I’ll be going home…still trying to draw some conclusions on the whole walking thing, but to be honest I think it’s going to take some time yet before everything sinks in and something comes out. in some ways I can’t wait to get back to Europe, find somewhere to live and get writing, try and tease something interesting out of our ridiculously long trip.

in the meantime, I do have some lists I prepared on the train journey the other week. not sure where to put them so I’ve chucked them in the Project section under WTS Likes and Dislikes. all comments appreciated. Dave, feel free to add to both lists, I’m sure you’ve got stuff…

Stuart                              Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

How many architects can one say goodbye to?

Added: 17-11-2007

there is more…all week I’ve felt guilty about not keeping up with the journal and it’s time to remedy…am in an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen about to leave New York for DC and a final couple of days of saying goodbyes, sorting through the gigantic amount of hiking clothes and, er, trainers (sneakers) I have at David Malouin’s house, and generally taking stock of the last few months.

which is kinda what I’ve been doing here in New York really. I arrived here on Monday evening after the tremendous train ride (Pennsylvania was especially nice, went on forever but in a load of fall colours and changing leaves) and was lucky enough to be met by Matt and Christine, two people from the New York Imagenode group we camped with at Burning Man. these guys have been my hosts for the week, kindly letting me have the run of their apartment and being great people to hang with. and what have I done with my hang time?

  • First I learnt New York survival skills from Deb, another Imagenoder and my truly fine guide for the week. surviving here apparently means being able to walk sideways through crowds and ignore crazy people
  • Then I walked all over town, pausing here and there to eat Italian food, buy books on American supremacy (research) and look wistfully into record and shoe stores before telling myself I’d spent quite enough money on trainers and tunes already
  • Joined the big Dane, Mikkel, as he swang back through from the party in San Francisco. enjoyed the waterside delights of Brooklyn, realised that pretty soon everything along the waterfront down there is going to be gentrified to bits
  • Wondered how people can afford to rent in Manhattan, people seem to have to have three jobs or something…
  • Pottered on job applications, email replies and trying to work out where the hell I’m gonna live in Holland (destination Holland and new job: T-9 days)
  • Enjoyed the company of the Imagenode folks. Hail to the Node
  • Checked the new Wes Anderson movie ‘The Darjeeling Limited‘. super stuff
  • Went cultural at the Met and wandered around an exhibition of gigantic 16th, 17th and 18th century tapestries
  • Went spiritual at the Harlem Apollo and completely took it to a higher plane with Spiritualized, a string quartet and 5 gospel singers
  • Went social in a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at a farewell party for an architect friend of a friend. the loft contained approximately 5000 records with a massive emphasis on hip hop 19988-1992. Nice
  • Sat on Matt and Christine’s roof and just marvelled at this science fiction city. everything is big. everything is fast. everyone is interesting, even the fellow on the street corner yelling that he was going to ‘cut every last one of you motherf*ckers – get out of my neighbourhood!’ (he was on, like, 7th Avenue and 18th, so he was gonna have a few problems getting folks out of that neighbourhood). I might be able to live here.

more soon. Chinatown bus is almost leaving. the journal will continue to be updated, hopefully in a funnier style than this entry. am back to England on Tuesday, watch the fate of the England football team on Wednesday, get CT scan and medical tests on Friday and Saturday, and then move to Holland for a new job (nowhere to stay yet) on Sunday. keeping it busy….

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Off a train

Added: 12-11-2007

off a train for a bit now. have made it to Chicago where I am due to catch an overnight neckbreaker (no sleeper for me now) to Pittsburgh.

ended up having a great last night in luxury on the train, with only one drawback – intense pain in the early hours. everything started out well with drinks in the ‘Observation Lounge’ (a deck with slightly bigger windows than the rest of the train) with the Stonemason Guy (Stonemason guy! if you’re reading this I confess that I have been terrible with everyone’s names and can remember nothing!) and the Education System Guy. for some reason we had a Japanese thing going on, drinking first Sake on ice and then Sapporo beer in those crazy cans. all was good, and the world was put to rights (we did two dimensional and three dimensional living, public education versus private (again), a bit of Einstein, general theories along the line of you-get-what-you-give out of life, and plenty of chat about US-Europe differences). we were later joined by Nebraska Refridgerator Engineer and we got to talking about the alleged craziness of Al Gore, whether or not the new hate crime laws make sense and the old favourite of doing away totally with taxation. it was a most pleasing evening.

I made it back to the cabin about 1.45am though, and then it all went wrong. I slept for a bit but then my ears went disasterously awry, like they can do on a plane when its descending a little too quickly and the pressure changes. I’ve never felt such a pain in my ears, behind my eyes and in my head. awful. no sleep, a wonder if my head would explode and a desperate hope that the train would reach its desired altitude quickly and stay, thus righting my pressure issues.

the rest of today, therefore, has been spent recovering. only now – 18.15 – do I feel anything like normal again (and I’ve just had a McDonalds – this feeling is unlikely to last). I slept, slept some more, and ate ridiculously expensive tuna sandwiches from the cafe as I missed lunch due to oversleeping. finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susana Clarke (excellent) and have now moved onto the new Martin Amis (really good so far). all I have to do now is try to get a reasonable night’s sleep in a chair and I’ll be good to go. bring on Pittsburgh and then, tomorrow, New York City…

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On a train

Added: 11-11-2007

I’m on a train. not walking. being bourne quite slowly back east in a kind of procession through the places that we once trekked. out of California over the Sierras and down the other side into Nevada. across the plains there to Utah and Salt Lake City, scene of the finest Calexico free gig I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness. right now I’m heading towards the Colorado border, snaking near I-70 and the Colorado river (I saw the parts that we went rafting on earlier in the summer) and tonight I’ll be in Denver, tomorrow Chicago. after that, the greens of the eastern seaboard and finally New York. I am well pleased with my train journey.

all I am doing is sitting, reading, writing and being summoned to the dining car. it is the utmost heaven. I have my own tiny compartment, enough room for two seats that fold down into a bunk one can never be quite still on (this passenger train travels on freight train tracks, a situation that leads to hold-ups while commercial trains get the right of way and some quite un-nerving jolts as we attempt to build up speed on rails that have been jarred to buggery by heavy coal trains) and some tiny luggage space. it is all I need, like a minauture travelling coffin.

it is now over a week since we finished walking. already it seems a long time ago…since then I’ve been in San Francisco frantically shopping with the strong pound, being freaked out by the uptight neighbours in our apartment and giving presentations to great kids at a private school in Berkeley. I’ve enjoyed the company of family and friends I haven’t seen in a while, ate fantastically varied food for days on end and generally been busy from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed.

consequently I haven’t been able to de-stress myself until now. all last week in San Fran I felt like there was something I needed to be doing…walking? organising stuff? web entries?  whatever it was the fact that we had neighbours who could see into our apartment all day and seemed to enjoy doing so did nothing to alleviate my stress. I only hope that the good people who made it out to see us over the last week had a good time, and I profusely thank Dan and family and Simon and Andrea for providing us with great excuses to get out of the house and explore…also thanks to Jim, Mikkel and Dave for putting up with my sorry excuse for a last night – going to bed early in the first stages of a cold.

anyway, that was last week. now I am thoroughly destressed as a result of this train. time alone, time to reflect, time to do whatever I want (in the confines of a 7’X3’X6′ box). a moment ago I took advantage of a ‘smokestop’ (our tannoy man is not for ‘destinations’, more for announcing where the staff and all the smokers can get off and get puffing for 5 minutes) to trim my beard and take a shower onboard. fortunately we remained stationary long enough for me to not put my eyes out with my scissors, but by the time I made it into the half-size telephone box that is a shower on this baby, we’d started moving again and I was being thrown from one side of the cubicle to the other, all with a boiling hot spray of water being pumped all over me. it was invigorating.

I am getting to know my fellow passengers all the time. truth be told it is the first time on the entire trip that I have run into really big Americans, and a tiny gangway 1.5ft wide is a great place to get to know these people. they seem really nice. the other way of getting to know people is through the communal dining car. because those of us in the sleeping coffins get free meals we all rock up to get food at various times and are seated communally. so far I’ve met a couple of nice ladies from Colorado out to help their cousin with their ailing aunt; a retired couple who used to live in Florida where their father would shoot alligators on golf courses with BB guns; a bloke around my age who is a stonemason and currently constructing elaborate garden adornments for California’s dotcom millionaires; a couple from Ohio who are in construction and involved in local politics;  a fascinating guy from Michigan with whom I discussed the school and health system at great length; a couple who had just been to Vegas for this year’s Microsoft Windows convention and were keeping watch out the window for cold war missile silos; and a guy from NW California on his way to Chicago to see a friend who, when pressed, said that for a living he did nothing. seems like doing nothing is doing him just fine.

I only have another two days left on this thing. fantastic.

Stuart                                  Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

Its over. Over!

Added: 8-11-2007

man, it’s been too long without a journal entry, especially as we’ve now actually finished walking and all that. what have we been up to…

  • left you last Thursday with a journal entry, then were driven out to our last night’s campsite by Dave’s dad Pete. in the crew were The Malouin and Dave’s mate Rodders, hardy souls up for a last 17 miles. supplies were bought at the most expensive supermarket on the entire trip, Molly Stone’s, and we marvelled at rush hour out of Sausalito – four lanes of traffic completely packed, all with only one passenger per vehicle. we could go in the carpool lane because there were five of us crammed in the car
  • camped by the side of a trail, had a fire, and drank champagne and wine until we realised that we’d run out. next time we walk across a country, The Malouin will not be put in charge of booze supplies. still, it was a great night to finish on, the stars were out for a bit and we were all woken up by coyotes howling in the early hours
  • awoke to a soaking mist and ate bacon sandwiches while packing. got on the trail by 9am and then spent a few hours walking a final uphill section while talking about cricket with Rodders
  • went downhill…to the sea. our first proper look at the Pacific Ocean came about 1pm and all was good with the world. the day was amazing, all blue skies and hot sun. stopped for a picnic and some video shots, felt weird about the fact that it was nearly all over
  • at about 3.30pm we passed some extremely tame dear (a couple of them almost albino, apparently they’ve been imported to Point Reyes from somewhere else) and headed down to the beach. a very long beach. white sand everywhere, Pacific breaking off to our left, top finishing scenes
  • about 4.30pm we made it to a banner being held by Ken and Marcia Powers, at Point Reyes representing the American Discovery Trail. also there to meet us were some great people I had never met before (Filmaker-from-the-Muir-Woods Adrian’s brother Roco, and two of his friends who were making a documentary on happiness – figure they met us on the right day) but no sign of our families.
  • between 4.45pm and 5.15pm we worried about our families for a bit
  • then we saw them coming down the beach (we’d inadvertantly forgotten to tell them exactly where we were finishing. this mistake could be made by anyone). then we saw Mikkel (Denmark), Loida (Puerto Rico) and Chelsea (US) coming down the beach as well
  • then we celebrated. champagne, mini-Musketeers bars, running in the sea, general frolicking

so that was how it came to pass. we finished. 4200 miles, and more memories than a host of harddrives. a beautiful evening, lovely sunset, and some great people to give us a round of applause at the end. Dave and I hadn’t killed each other and we’d done what we’d set out to do – walk across the United States. took a bit longer than expected but we’d done it, using so many strangers’s showers along the way that we have to have set a new record and eating so many burgers it makes me shudder to even think about their effects on my insides. meat. mmmm.

Next on Walking the States…

  • The Meal! 17 people in a French restaurant and a waiter called Safehands. what will happen?!
  • The Apartment! pure luxury in the rose-tinted Castro, albeit with no curtains or blinds to hide us from…
  • The Neighbours! are they really the nastiest people we’ve met in the entire US? were they really being serious when having a huge hissy fit in the street about our possible abuse of parking restrictions? did one of them really stare at me in our living room and give me the bird for a full 30 seconds? what language did they use when insulting Dave’s mum and dad? was that really them last night, taking photographs of us through the window?!
  • The City! Dan and his family! Groove Merchant and Rooky Ricardo’s records! The amazing exchange rate and the shopping it facilitates!

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