Around The World Trip: USA (part 2)
Next stop was San Francisco, after a long train journey in which I had to endure a bloke hocking back the snot in his nose every 15 minutes, before an icy cold stare from myself seemed to dry up all of his mucus-related problems in one hit. Who needs Tunes? On ‘de-training’ in SF the same man said to me “Like your hat”, referring to my tatty baseball cap. Too late for niceties you suck-up. Eew, disgusting habit…
After struggling up the hills on arrival, past the many beggars asking for change (my response: “Real change comes from within”) and wondering if my hostel, being in between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill areas, was in the Tender Nob district (it wasn’t), the first thing I did was a tour of the city which was a good way to get my bearings and see the posh area of Pacific Heights, the trendy area of Haight/Ashbury, the Castro (not a Cuban community, but the gay district – I wore an all in one rainbow outfit for the occasion), not forgetting the Golden Gate Bridge and Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, Chinatown and Little Italy (every city has these!) and capping it all off with a view of the city from atop Twin Peaks.
Sampling the nightlife in the evening, my roomies decided to stay out later with some freaky locals they’d met. One of them called Kevin ended up stumbling into the room at 10.30 the next morning. Apparently he’d got lost and was wandering the streets before someone told him to take refuge with a group about to enter a hall. He thought they looked like a fun bunch so he went inside, had a cup of tea and sat down. It was at this point that he realised he was in an Alcoholics’ Anonymous meeting, having been out on the beer all night himself!! In his addled state, instead of leaving, he sat through 1 1/2 hours of “My name’s Billy-Bob and I’m an alcoholic…”, listening to stories of wife beaters and various down-and-outs, in a state of shock. Luckily there wasn’t enough time for it to be his turn to stand and speak. “My name’s Kevin and I just wanted another beer” might not have gone down too well. Priceless!
The next day I took in some other sights: Coit Tower, a large penis-shaped, er, erection and the famous zig-zag of Lombard Street, after a ride on one of the historic Cable Cars. The driver got so upset with me standing in an unacceptable place that he jammed on the brakes on a steep hill and shouted me down to make his point. Admittedly I had been a little cheeky but the hairdryer effect of his tirade was enough to make me think he would give himself an aneurism. Okay, I’ll stand behind the line!
Waking up at the crack of dawn the next day, I joined a group on a trip to the fabulous Yosemite National Park. There wasn’t enough time to see much unfortunately, especially as I was twice directed the wrong way when trying to find a path. This meant that I was short of time to climb to the top of Yosemite Falls, instead settling for the view from halfway up. On the way back down I managed to nearly knock myself out on the overhanging rock face, biting my lip and causing it to bleed in the process. I still managed to make it to see Mirror Lake before returning, somewhat dishevelled, back to the bus to be met with puzzled looks by my fellow passengers. “Bear attack…’, I feebly suggested, “…but I managed to fight him off”. Well, it was a long day…
As it was a Friday, I went out in the evening to a club called Ruby Red that was supposed to be one of the best in SF but was nothing special. On leaving a beggar asked me for some money. “Will you spend it on food?” I asked him. “Do I look like I need food?” he replied pointing to his large stomach. “You’re right, you just talked yourself out of some money. Try eating less food, then you’ll have more money for beer – simple.” Unbelievable!
After viewing the spectacle of Alcatraz from the top of the penis tower, I booked my place and went across on the ferry. I went on a Saturday, so it was my first experience of prison overcrowding, being packed with tourists. Alcatraz, now populated by a colony of seagulls it seems, is the best example of decrepit and unacceptable prison conditions outside the UK prison service. Why on earth don’t they restore it? The actual prison is worth seeing but it’s a shame the rest of the island is so rundown. I took the option of the audio tour, which was a great way to get an idea of what it was like in the old days, at the same time as trying to stand in the same place as 50 other tourists at the same point in their tape! On returning to the mainland, I held my nose and took the chance to see the native sea lions lounging around the docks. Serious fish breath! I took a picture then left!
The last day I was really wasting time, waiting for the evening’s entertainment from Irish band Snow Patrol and English band Embrace at a local theatre. In the day I did go to Filbert Street which is supposed to be the steepest in the Northern Hemisphere, but no-one seems to know for sure. The gig itself was superb and well worth hanging around for although the drinks were so expensive, just like at the baseball games. When it comes to music/sport events, no-one rips you off as well as the Yanks!
Anyone remember that song ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by Prefab Sprout in the ’80s, that included the line: ‘Hot dog, jumping frog, Alberquerque’? Well I’ve visited Alberquerque and I still have no idea what the lyrics mean. But first things first, after Californ-i-a I visited… fabulous LAS VEGAS! I arrived late the first evening but still had enough time to go on an arranged hostel outing to a local club called The Beach. It was a Hip-Hop night and my first experience of such a club and a real eye opener! Honestly, the way people were dancing! They were pretty much simulating sexual positions and banging in time to the music! I felt a tad out of place, it’s fair to say. After being on the dance floor when one particularly upbeat tune was played, I decided to take a break and retired to the bar feeling thoroughly violated. If I smoked, now would have been the time to spark up a cigarette…
I made it my mission to see as much as possible in Vegas. I rode on all the roller coasters: High Roller (the world’s highest at the top of Stratosphere 1100+ ft up), Sahara’s which propelled us forward like a gunshot before reaching the end and doing the same course backwards, re-uniting me with my stomach back at the start, plus the Canyon Blaster (Circus Circus) and the Manhatten Express at New York New York which goes inside and outside the building! I also saw the lion habitat at MGM, the Egyptian pyramid-themed Luxor, the old-school Bellagio (with impressive fountain show outside), Mirage (complete with Siberian tigers and a pitiful volcano ‘eruption’ that’s about as much of an eruption as a wet fart), Cesar’s Palace (in which I managed to get lost and missed the Atlantis show), Wynn’s and Manadalay Bay, the mediaeval-themed Excalibur and the pirate-themed Treasure Island which put on the ‘Sirens of TI’ show in the evenings (cheesy pirates vs. sultry maidens dance show).
My favourite sight was the Fremont Street Experience: four blocks of casinos, shops and restaurants covered by a roof that was also a giant screen that displayed an amazing trippy show every evening. Hard to explain but I have the photos! I was actually staying further down Fremont St, in a much rougher area. It was fair to say that my alternative Fremont St Experience consisted of witnessing numerous arrests both day and night. The casinos on Fremont St are where the World Poker tournament is being staged. Even the non-pros are so deadly serious and I discovered that they don’t really appreciate spectators. They like it even less if someone is explaining the rules to a friend whilst watching! Lighten up guys, it’s only a game! And why are your house keys on the table?
Naturally, being the party animal that I am, I felt obliged to try out a different club each night. Vivid, in the Venetian, had women dancers projected on to a screen that could be viewed from either side. Tabu, in MGM, was hyped up, but in reality it was basically a small bar with no real dance floor. The people inside were very glamorous and a lot of the women had surgically enhanced ‘assets’. Honestly, there were more puppies on display than in a Cambodian food market. But it was not all good… Everyone seemed a little fake. There were more people going in and out through the VIP line than were driving up Las Vegas Boulevard outside! There was even one guy who had two bodyguards, yet no-one I spoke to had any idea of who he was. I guess he felt important enough!! The last night I went to Ra at Luxor – much more like it, but again there was the same problem with ‘VIPs’. There was nowhere to sit if you weren’t Mr or Mrs American-Dream…
On the last day I was passing somewhere that displayed a sign offering a free tire check. Thinking it was probably a sensible idea to find out if my insomnia was harming my health, I went inside, only to leave moments later having learned that the legal tread requirement for tyres is 3mm… On the same day I was waiting for a bus at a stop that was ‘closed’ until, luckily, a passer-by informed us all of the fact. We had just assumed that the bus drivers were crazy for not stopping (seriously, most drivers in public transport in this country do seem to be!). After walking to the next stop and finally catching a ride, I asked the driver: “Why is the previous stop closed?” “Oh that one is closed” replied the driver helpfully. “Why… is there a reason?” I responded. He just looked at me blankly, not saying a word. “Guess not then”. What is it with these people?!
And that was it for Vegas. I missed the Brazillian-themed Rio (off the strip), the 15 acre wildlife habitat in Flamingo, acrobats at Tropicana and an indoor rainstorm in Aladdin. There was probably more that I didn’t know about as well. What an unbelievable place!
Unfortunately I had to leave on a Saturday night, but it was probably for the good of my health! My bus connection for the train to Albuquerque was eventful with a woman who was drunk and had been sleeping on the back seat suddenly waking up and demanding to know why we were in her truck! After much confused shouting she finally decided that it was probably best to go back to sleep, much to our relief. At the end of the journey she couldn’t apologise enough, assuring us she was “… really a good person”. Sure thing.
Albuquerque really doesn’t have much to offer tourists other than the attractive Spanish architecture of its old town and a few museums, my favourite of which was the Rattlesnake Museum, which was full of many live rattlers and gave me the chance to experience more beastly creatures shaking their thing at me than in that Vegas hip-hop club. I also went to the Atomic Energy museum and learnt about the history of US bombings of smaller countries in the name of freedom, democracy and a bit of a laugh… and to lessen the threat of attack by weapons of mass destruction – by using weapons of mass destruction… Off to Kansas City next.