Greetings for the final time from JFK airport in New York as after 15 months I'm returning home this evening.
My German friend and I have spent the last month or so on the West Coast and have just finished a final week in New York to do a bit of Xmas shopping before having to return to Blighty.
The notion that Americans don't know much about the world is just a misconception. On our first night in LA we went out to a Thai restaurant, having no idea who or what Thailand was it was a real relief when we opened the menu to find a note saying "Thailand is a country in South East Asia, it's people have their own language, customs and cuisine".
I found it really helpful the way they educated us like that.
After 5 days in LA we both agreed that it really is an awful place. I hated it when I went there as a kid but hated even more as an adult. How an area with such beautiful coastline, desert, mountains and forest so close by could be turned into 70 miles of some of the least attractive urban sprawl in the Western world is just sad.
With no public transport of any real note, incredibly racially segregated communities and a huge rich-poor gap it's some sort of a hell for most of its unhappy residents. 5 days was too much and as we left sat in 12 lane gridlock populated by armies of single occupant cars my German friend correctly remarked
that "Seeing this makes you wonder why anyone bothers to recycle bottles, cut emissions or care about the planet at all".
Depressing place. Which unfortunately is a description that could be applied to the urban landscape of most of the West coast. Unlike Boston, New York or even Miami on the East coast which have individual neighborhoods and interesting streets, with the exception of San Francisco everything just looks the same in the West.
It's like you're stuck in a constant merry-go-round of McDonalds-Starbucks-Wendy's followed by Mcdonalds-Starbucks-Dominos ad nauseum.
Chain stores are virtually the only type of store and we found as we drove through small and medium sized towns in particular we were seeing virtually the same things over and again right up the coast.
Thankfully however the natural landscape is much, much better. From LA we rented a Mustang convertible and drove up the beautiful rugged Big Sur coast with the hood down and reggaeton (or s*i* music as my German friend called it) blaring out.
Inland California is also just beautiful where aside from the Redwood forests and Napa valley, Yosemite national park stands out for being a particular highlight with giant waterfalls competing with awesome sheer rockfaces for the most spectacular sight there.
Further North the unending forests of the Pacific NorthWest are also spectacularly beautiful and whilst hiking in the snow and visiting some great lakes and volcanoes it definitely made the urban parts of the trip bearable, although camping at this time of year was a bit of a challenge.
In San Francisco we got to stay with a couple of Swedish friends of ours and got a pleasant reminder of just what a great place 'America's favorite city' is.
The spectacularly beautiful bay plays host to load of great things to do and things to see including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge of course but I think it's greatest asset is definitely its open, diverse population making each neighborhood unique and a world away from the endless sprawl of LA.
It was great being back amongst old friends again in a very happy week spent mainly drinking, although our hosts insistence we eat at Hooters every night did become quite tiresome.
Rather proudly we managed to drink every single night of the 6 weeks or so we were together (even when I was ill) and this proved particularly helpful the times when it was too cold to camp outside as we resorted to literally going into bars and trying to convince people to put us up for a night,
we ended up in some strange situations with dogs' called The Darkness and sitting in hot tubs of complete strangers in the middle of the night. But it was always worth it to avoid the cold.
Despite some of its downsides I do genuinely love so many aspects of America, from the inspiring national pride they have to the really friendly people and of course the unbridled capitalism which means you have loads of choice in the supermarket
I think this is shown most amusingly in the medication section where you really can get just about anything you may want or (don't) need. Hours and hours of commercials on the subject never seemed to get boring but I think my favorite products I saw advertised were tablets to suppress 'fits of rage' and the always handy 'stool softening tablets'.
As to what sort of person would even think that they would need said tablets I don't know but seemingly they exist here.
Speaking of fits of rage, whilst I love it here New York has given me in a couple of those. 9/11 was over 6 years ago and yet the security to do anything resembling a tourist attraction is at times worse than the airport.
I've lost all kinds of harmless objects going through security, (bottles of water, lunch etc) but when it takes an hour and a half simply to get through the security for the Statue of Liberty I just found myself getting pissed off at quite how seriously they take themselves.
Overall my time in America has just confirmed my previous views on the schizophrenic nature of the country. World leaders in so many fields, in other areas they're just so far behind Europe; whilst you have some of the most down to earth people you could hope to meet you also have the most arrogant pretentious people too. But still for me a fantastic place.
It just remains for me to first thank you all for reading (or not). I appreciate I'm unlikely to list writer as my occupation at any point but I just hope that my excitement and enthusiasm for what I've been doing and where I've been going has come through.
I'll be around from New Year onwards so get in touch if you'd like to see me.
And finally I wish you all a very Happy Xmas and New Year.
Thanks for reading.
For the final time,
From New York City,