Road trip! Once you’ve done one, you’ll realise that nothing quite compares to driving in the States, and that it’s really the only way to get around and see the place. Sure, you can take flights to major cities, but due to the enormous size of most towns (let alone cities), it’s utterly impossible to get around by foot. Take Beatty for example – a small town on the East side of Death Valley (the perfect place to stay if you’re doing the park), which has shops, bars and the odd hotel so spaced out, that y’all have ta walk a coupla mahles to getta anythang. Thanks for that; info assimilated.
So rent a car you must; tis the only way it’s true. But ensure you stop regularly because straight roads make for a soporific drug, the kind you’ve ne’er quite experienced before. And ensure cruise control is equipped as those four buttons will be a god-send.
Through Death Valley via Beatty and on to Nevada’s crowning jewel; Las Vegas. It’s a shining, glittering, madhouse of human drudgery that will require some patience and noise-filtering to endure. “Anything else?”, the girl at the coffee shop says. For the ninth time. In exactly the same questioning tone. In fact, in exactly the same tone. “You want whipped cream on that?”, she says. It’s beginning… to grate… like the metal cheese kind… across my tenders. So I’ll go for a run, to use up some of the several-thousand calories I no doubt took in at the buffet breakfast; that’ll reduce my aggression and tetchiness to a sustainable level, surely.
Except that it’s impossible to get away from this robotic, programmed way of life. It’s everywhere and in a strange way I’m drawn to a conclusion that the US is in many ways like – if not identical to – China. Flags everywhere; from most houses, shopping malls, Casinos and even in random locations (such as on the only roundabout I’ve thus far found in St. George – a quaint Mormon village populated by androgynous automatons), ensure the general population is kept “patriotic” to unnaturally high levels. So patriotic, they’re borderline Communist: Does that make the Chinese so communist that they’re borderline patriotic?
“Anything else?”, she repeats and reminds me that guns are in fact – legal here.
They’re trained by repetition here; it’s the only way to ensure such a sadly illiterate general population can maintain any kind of standard. Keep ‘em stoopid, who else is gonna serve coffee, after all. That’s how they roll in China, too. Back there the majority feeling is that it’s the greatest country in the world and anyone would be crazy to think otherwise, chord struck with Americans too. Just ask a few about their country and sit back as a torrent of Hollywood and ex-President inspired clichés pours out from their pie-holes. Visit the “Atomic testing museum” just outside the Vegas Strip and listen as the tour guides spew uninformed, narrow-minded unintelligible dribble about how dropping a bomb on Hiroshima was “damn right, they deserved it.”
See the immense disparity between average worker salaries and rich Americans (just like China), and listen as the Television has someone else saying “God Bless America” (just like China), as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist (just like China), and reporters use such base language as “real life actual person” or “shock Hollywood affair”. And that’s about how most people think too; from the small village/town settlement, to the larger cities. Watch in awe as an upcoming politician smears an existing one with “endorsed” adverts stating such slander as “Sharon Angle has demonstrated a loose relationship with the truth”, and images of guns and propaganda worryingly similar to Communist China fill your mind full of hateful and paranoid thoughts. LOCK THE DOOR, BOLT IT NOW, President Obama’s healthcare policy is giving free Viagra to paedophiles!!! Perhaps that’s why Americans are generally so “scared” of communism; due to their inherent similarities. It’s a bit like Judaism and Islam; two peas in a pod if you ask me.
Though rather continue and concentrate on the negative, unbelievably wasteful and selfish general nature of the population; I should like to pick out some of their finer points instead.
Tis true, I like yanks. On the whole, they’re a good bunch. Extrovert, helpful, friendly and usually well-mannered (“I’m sorry” and “Excuse me” two more heavily used clichés that I actually rather appreciate), it’s impossible not to receive good service – even if you refuse to tip. It’s also impossible to find somewhere serving bad food; I challenge anyone to find such a place (bloody easy in the UK). It’s their mainstream drug, the Heroine of the States and no wonder that people are so damn fat when portion sizes are this big (to put it in to perspective it’s absolutely possible to eat just twice a day, sharing one meal between two and exercising most days too). That makes it cheap. And with the whole country setup for internal combustion-engined travel, with courteous drivers on the highways and motels visibly signposted (so large you’d need to be seriously lacking in IQ points to miss them), it’s a great place to tour.
Back in Death Valley and this is more my kind of thing; it used to be the bottom of a vast ocean, with a myriad of life and differing volcanic and underground activities at work making it so diverse that even three days left me pining for more. The photo opportunities are perhaps the greatest I’ve come across in the last ten months, though in all honesty – no CCD or film slide is capable of capturing what the human eye can resolve. Even using a signpost or random human to give scale to a shot, it’s simply not possible to accurately represent the grandeur which nature has created. From sand dunes to salt lake flats and more (the salt is actually good eatin’ if you care to try some), the sense of insignificance it gives to your existence (and impact on the planet), is something not many places can offer. Nature is both kind and cruel, and here is the place to see it in its latter guise (the “Devil’s Golf course” a fine example of impossible terrain, regardless of vehicle). Though with a surprising amount of life roaming around I’m still clueless as to where these animals source their water. Speaking of which, ensure you take plenty (a good 4 litres per day, per person), and something to cover your head.
|From 19 Oct 2010|
It is, however, plain to see that this place is absolutely barmy. And one that may potentially dry up (literally), in not so long. Due to the exponential growth of this town after the Hoover Dam was constructed, the water level of man-made Lake Mead has dropped over 100m in just seventy years. It won’t take a genius to work out that this can’t go on for much longer (it’s arguably a victim of its own success), and that even with a team of dedicated “Water Reclamation Experts” devising a way to sustain current usage up until 2050; I’ve no doubt that nature will have a way of spoiling their plans. This is after all – a desert – and with irrigation placed everywhere to ensure that the punters are kept surrounded with lush vegetation, and baths in every one of the average 3,000 rooms per hotel on the strip; something of a fleeting adult-playground whose sand is emptying on borrowed time.
On the note of gigantic hotels is the workforce that runs and maintains them. Much like China, the US has been built on cheap labour; though in this case the vast majority is of Hispanic origin. Hard working, honest, friendly and generally very pleasant, it’s a shame that in similar fashion to the indigenous native American population – little, if any homage is paid to them. Whilst Caucasian Americans are generally alright, it has to be said; they treat anything demonstrating a different ethnicity much like the Chinese do. Back in Australia and New Zealand and the respective native Aboriginal and Maori are proudly displayed on the currency and have both received public apologies from the government. Here, it’s as if they don’t exist and – quite frankly – never did. The history of the country has been created and rewritten by Hollywood – it’s all false (just… like… China), with most people displaying little or no knowledge of the atrocities carried out by their ancestral invading foreigners.
Should you pass by a sign on the highway stating a place of “historic interest” is nearby, make sure to adjust your expectations of what you might find. With such a recent history, most places are positively new and “Antique” shops should all be renamed “Tat” shops, considering the lack of anything older than half a century. They are intriguing places to visit and you may indeed pick up a random item of interest but it for us Brits – it’s more like walking around a car-boot sale.
The end of my 10 nights spent in this town of debauchery and vices and I’m departing for Los Angeles back in South Califor-nigh-aye. Vegas is a great place to spend some time and works out cheap (for the States), for even backpackers; though if you want to do it properly – come with money. Lots of it. Twenty bucks will last just a few minutes on most slot machines (less so on Black Jack tables), and is the average price for a single buffet when you include a tip. On to see what all the fuss is about in Hollywood.