Friday, 10 August 2012

They've all come to look for America.
 Almost a line from another Simon and Garfunkel classic.
All gadgies are otherwise engaged today, it is the holiday season so there is nobody out for a walk. I could go alone  but have chosen not too. Instead I went for a ride on my bike, only 25 miles, not exactly Bradley Wiggins but then mine is not the generation that is to be inspired by the London Olympics.
I remain fascinated by the Stats on the blog; today my blog has been read by up to 42 American citizens  and 7 of Her Majesty's  subjects, plus 5 Russians and a Canadian. I like that, I like America.

Technically I have entered the United States 5 times and hope to make it more. So I have not seen very much of it, but liked what I saw.
The first time was many years ago, I invaded the US shortly after the Beatles were welcomed and took the country by storm with their wacky Liverpudlian humour and their pop tunes.
Arriving in New York on what was then called a student charter flight I shared a taxi with several others and found the bus station although I seem to remeber it had a more important sounding name. This was before jargon hit the UK so it was a bus station as far as I was concerned.                        Apart from  the wonderful view of Manhattan we had been given as the old Bristol Brittania propeller driven aircraft circled for landing that was all I saw of New York for a couple of months.  I boarded a Greyhound bus for Albany, which was exciting, people in films were often travelling by Greyhound, they still had an air of romance, they hadn't been taken over by Stagecoach.
In Albany I was met by my sister and her colleague Mary and off we went to drive across the rest of New York state to Niagara and then on across Canada. 
  Naturally we stopped, on the American side, to view the famous falls. A notice invited us to walk to Canada for 5 cents, a bargain, so we paid our nickels and walked across. Somewhere in our loft (no, not one of those;  the area in the roof space that has been boarded out and filled with books, LPs and children's toys) there is a photograph of me with one foot in the US and one in Canada. Can't resist it, I have similar ones on the Italian- Auistrian border, the Polish- Slovakian border, the German- Czech border. It's because we live on an island.
On our return we were met by the man who had sold us the tickets but this time he demanded passports which we had left in the car. He permitted my sister to go to the car and retrieve the documents while Mary and I waited on the bridge thinking we could be left here for ever, stateless and passportless, hungry too.
So we visited a Howard Johnstons. In Britain in the early sixties the only fast food you could get was fish and chips or maybe a Wimpey, Howard Johnstons was in a different league, and the ice cream!
Driving into Canada, with passports we headed west along the Trans Canada Highway and  next ventured into the US at Sault Ste Marie. Ontario to the north, Michigan to the south. We went by bus and I don't reallyb remember much about it, except the driver kept telling us to put the money "in the box". Having been a bus conductor on a bus with a two man crew it took a while to work out what he meant. This then was my third entry to the land of the free.

 Continuing the drive across Canada I tried to be cool, steering with hand, resting my other arm on the open car window as you do. This resulted in my arm getting severely sun/windburnt. It swelled up, the skin dried horribly so I peeled it off from wrist to elbow, folded it up, popped it in an envelope and posted it to my girlfriend in England. She can't have been too shocked or disgusted as we have now been married for 43 years and 5 days, and counting.

 At the end of my stay in Canada I flew back from Edmonton to Toronto and then from Toronto to New York. Flying from Edmonton I was fed, and well fed too. Flying from Toronto, and it's not a long flight to New York, I was offered more food, which I declined. This introduced me to the American obsession with food. The stewardess was concerned I did not want the meal and told another one, who came over to ask if I was ill. I told them no, I just wasn't hungry, I had eaten on the other plane, I didn't want anything thank you, they took some convincing. "Gee honey, there was this weird British guy on the plane today who wouldn't eat. Can you believe that? And he was so skinny, must have weighed all of 150 pounds."

If you have read my blog you may be aware that Harry the routemeister promises that on a difficult walk on bad weather days we will be met by a bevy of Swedish Air Hostesses who will attend to all our needs. We are still waiting.
However as I waited my turn in line (I can speak American if pushed) for a cab to take me down town to my hotel I was approached by a couple of hostesses from Scandinavian Airways who asked if I wouild like to share a taxi. Seemed like a good idea. The taxi driver, who somehow realised we were foreigners tried to persuade us to take a sight seeing tour but we all went off to our seperate hotels. Mine was a bit of a run down place which seemed to specialise in students. The staff were friendly, the roomwas not exactly the Waldorf Astoria but it had a TV! More than you got in a British B and B I can tell you. All it seemed to show was baseball, funny game, rounders for adults, but interesting to watch as I had never seen it before.
  So I had a long week end in New York, and loved it.  I was asked important things like how I wanted my eggs, sunny side up or over easy. Just like the movies! (FILMS) By chance the first day I was there I met the student I had sat next to coming over and together we did all the tourist bits. Statue of Liberty, Empire State, UN, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too.

And as I stood outside a restaurant on some street (or Avenue) a man came up to me and said, "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"  Honest, he really did!  I could see people in the restaurant looking through the window and shaking heads, advising me n ot to help him. He continued, "I was in the navy, making the world safe for guys like you."
I told him I was British, he said "OK, you don't owe me a penny, the limeys did their bit," and went.
  To be honest I was a bit ashamed, one of the few times in my life I have felt ashamed. One of the others was when, at the age of about 14 I wrote in a history essay that I would have fought for Oliver Cromwell because his army got paid when at heart I knew I was a royalist.

One lunch time my fellow student and I decided to have a beer and walked into the first bar we came to and ordered two pints. (Do Americans serve beer in pint?)
The barman said he wouldn't serve us. After the Niagara incident I carried my passport and showed him I was old enough to drink.
 He said, and I quote, " I don't give an asterisk,  I'm not serving you." I still don't know why.
So we went to the next bar where we were served by a very friendly man who asked us all about England.
And that was my fourth visit to the United States, technically. Apart from the unfortunate incident of the bar in the day time I enjoyed every moment.
Back home I did the usual, married, had children, paid the mortgage, went to the pub and did not return to the US for years.
Trip no 5 was also a short visit; staying with sister in Alberta we drove south and crossed over into Montana. Not having applied for a visa before I left Britain I naturally had to go into the office at the small bordetr crossing somewhere on the 48th parallel between Alberta and Montana to be asked if I was a terrorist. Having persuaded the charming lady behind the desk that I had not committed atrocities between the years 1933 and 1945 and was allowed in.

 I wouild say without hesitation that Montana is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to outside the British Commonwealth. The International Peace Park was a paradise of mountains, lakes and woodlands. We drove to a place called Logan's Pass and walked across high mountain meadows to stand above a beautiful lake surrounded by soaring mountains.
I have pictures! Not very good because I scanned them in and played with the colour, unsuccessfully.

Something went dreadfully wrong with the colour!

No better

 This diner had an awesome selection of amazing desserts.

Just out of shot was a man on a reclining cycle.

I sat on the grass in a meadow, thinking how wonderful this must have been for the first Europeans to see, and for any First Natiomns too who had had the good fortune to live there.
A youing lady walking past said to her husband/partner, "Honey, this is paradise."  It would have been but it lacked a pub.

So really I have not been to America enough, it is such a wonderful country.
As part of my degree I followed a course on the Comparative History of the United States and the British Empire. It was the most enjoyable unit Im followed. I won't say I majored in American studies but possibly captained or lieutenanted (pronounced leftenent).
   I love the philosophy behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I think that had I been in Boston I might have helped with the tea chests. And I continue to read histories of the US, particularly the west, can't get away from cowboys!
And thank you for reading.