Dancing on Alcatraz under the stars

My friend, and sometimes travel companion, Hamish, took a trip to the good old US of A this summer.  He began sharing some of his impressions of an Australian in the States, here is an even more in depth look at what he thinks of my home country. Enjoy***

Costco Greeter: [Greeting every customer] Welcome to Costco, I love you. Welcome to Costco, I love you. Welcome to Costco, I love you. Welcome to Costco, I love you.

– “Idiocracy”

Once inside the prison state… er… I mean America, there I encountered two Americas, the trash and the treasure. For starters, in my jet lagged induced state, Paul took me to the supermarket. In front of the carpark was this ye olde’ car, decorated with bullets. Bullets my friends.

I wasn’t in the country for long, but I already had been asked a few times for money from the homeless (both those bohemian hipster homeless who do it as a “radical” statement, and those who were genuinely homeless). It also wasn’t long before I noticed the racial divide. White people in business suits, Black people doing blue collar work, and Latin people waiting tables at your local restaurant. And this was in liberal California. The other thing I noticed was that I was much smaller than everyone else, both width and height. Everything in America was gigantic. So back to the supermarket. “The Simpsons” had prepared me for “Lucky Charms”. I remember years ago discussing with my American co-worker about cereal and she mentioned Lucky Charms, (a marshmallow cereal for the uninitiated), to which I replied, “that’s real?” I had honestly thought that it was just some mythical cereal. A far out parody of American Life. Not so, as I was to discover. The trashy side of America makes the dystopian universe of the movie “Idiocracy”, and I quote:

Pvt. Joe Bowers: [addressing Congress] … And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!

– “Idiocracy”

Seems like it was a documentary. Only Starbucks still sells coffee! Anyway, I was searching for something to each for breakfast when I found this:

Yes, that’s right to all those non-Americans out there, they have Cookie cereal in America. And they wonder why they have an obesity problem. Even the supposedly healthy “Crunchy Granola” (or Muesli Bars as they are known in Australia) is filled to the brim with honey and chocolate. No America, natural does not equal healthy. I eventually found oats, unflavoured rolled oats. Heaven!

That doesn’t mean that America doesn’t know what good food is. Far from it. For years, McDonalds has been doing the world a disservice by claiming that Hash Browns were undercooked potatoes all mushed together in a semi-crispy coating. True hash browns are manna from heaven!

This was at the Sunnyside Cafe in Albany, San Francisco. And it was to die for! crispy fried goodness. How on earth did McDonalds manage to pull a fast one on the world with their concoction?

I also tried to eat Chicago-style deep dish pizza (basically a pie make of pizza ingredients). Despite Paul and I getting the small pie (now I know why American’s call pizza a pie on TV), we really struggled to finish it. No one told me that in America, you bring a doggy bag to restaurants as par for the course. Otherwise you are left feeling like you’ve eaten enough for a family of four for a week. It amazes me that in a country as litigious as America that the Doggy Bag has survived. In Australia that was banned years ago when some idiot got Salmonella poisoning after eating food they took home from a restaurant. This is despite the fact that that idiot failed to refrigerate said food, they sued and got money, and ruined it for the rest of us with common sense. This is at least one area that America’s lukewarm coffee culture has thankfully let slide. Hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas!

All great change in America begins at the dinner table.

Ronald Reagan 

Seriously though, there isn’t a bad restaurant in Albany. I wanted to be like pac-man running down the streets munching everything in sight. Everything was good. Real Mexican food especially. Why isn’t this the food that America exports to the world? That said, the best food usually comes from those Mom-and-Pop stores, that once turned into a franchise, turn out like Nicki Minaj post-record-deal (seriously where is that smart rapper from those early mix tapes?).

Speaking of Fast Food, I must tell you about this wonderful place called “In-and-Out burger”. Seriously, only three items on the menu (well the one on the board anyway), and they even cut the potato and fry it up fresh for you.

I’d heard about this California only chain before coming, and wanted to check it out. If only someone had told me about the secret menu before I went (I still don’t know what’s on that menu). Carl’s Junior is also worth mentioning, if only because it featured in “Idiocracy”.

Carl’s Jr. Computer: Enjoy your EXTRA BIG ASS FRIES!

Woman at Carl’s Jr.: You didn’t give me no fries, I got an empty box.

Carl’s Jr. Computer: Would you like another EXTRA BIG ASS FRIES?

Woman at Carl’s Jr.: I said I didn’t get any!

Carl’s Jr. Computer: Thank you! Your account has been charged. Your balance is zero. Please come back when you can afford to make a purchase.

Woman at Carl’s Jr.: What? Oh no, NO!

[She hits the machine. An alarm goes off, and a sign appears on the computer saying “WARNING! Carl’s Jr. Frowns Upon Vandalism”]

Carl’s Jr. Computer: I’m sorry you’re having trouble. I’m sorry you’re having trouble.

Woman at Carl’s Jr.: Come on! My kids are starvin’!

Carl’s Jr. Computer: [the woman kicks the computer, and it sprays a fast-acting tranquilizer in her face] This should help you calm down. Please come back when you can afford to make a purchase. Your kids are starving. Carl’s Jr. believes no child should go hungry. You are an unfit mother. Your children will be placed in the custody of Carl’s Jr. Carl’s Jr… “Fuck You, I’m Eating.”

[Joe approaches the computer]

Carl’s Jr. Computer: Welcome to Carl’s Jr. Would you like to try our EXTRA BIG ASS TACO? Now with more MOLECULES!

– Idiocracy

The sweet potato fries were wonderful, but I decided to try the Turkey burger… which as I found out, basically tastes a lot like cardboard. Which is, I guess, why it’s cheaper.

I went out for a day in the city (seems an odd thing to say, but like I said, this was a writing trip), and San Francisco was every bit as beautiful as I hoped it would be. Sure Sydney Harbour is beautiful too, but it doesn’t have that constant mist hanging over it, giving the city very romantic lighting. I took a ferry across the bay, and saw Alcatraz whizzing by. The Bay Bridge and the famous Golden Gate Bridge were both out in all their glory, although I couldn’t get a good shot of the Golden Gate. As I found out, it is a lot like Mt. Fuji in Japan. The moment you try to take a photo, it blushes and covers itself in fog and clouds. How rude!

Once on the other side, I found wetlands, just at the edge of a carpark. What made me and my little b-movie/B-52s heart jump for joy, was the discovery across the swamp of people living on the swamp’s edge. Swamp People! It was like I’d entered a 1950s B-movie. If it wasn’t for all those guns, I would have introduced myself to one of them.

Back on the ferry to San Francisco, proper. And I had lunch by the harbour. A delicious pot pie. Something I rarely get to experience in Tokyo (because it is just not done), was sitting on a bench, with my take-out pie, and eating up to my hearts content. Another thing I miss about being in the West, is that a lovely 90 year-old lady sat down next to me and started telling me her life story (until her daughter whisked her away). She was originally from Cuba, she got out 40 years ago after the revolution. We talked a little bit about San Francisco and she told me she wished they’d shut down Alcatraz and turn it into an outdoor Dance area. “Imagine,” she said, “dancing on Alcatraz under the stars.” I’d never heard of such a romantic notion. I loved it! Her daughter lived in Colorado and said it was the most beautiful part of the USA and I promised that I’d visit one day.

I decided that I would head on back to Paul’s place. And it was lucky I did. Despite the brightness of the day telling me it was still early afternoon, the clock said 7:30pm and as it turned out, that was the last train heading out to his neck of the woods. A “this is not Tokyo” moment.

The next day, we went to Paul’s boss/producer friend’s house, up in the hills. Seriously, the hill was so steep that we barely made it up the road. We came to an intersection, and had to stop to let a car pass, I thought that the car would roll all the way back, it was such an incline. Once there, they did their thing, while I sat and read up on books relating to a project we are working on. The best thing about this was his home cinema. All of the chairs were comfy reclining sofa chairs, and the screen was as big as what you find in those arthouses. It was so perfect that I was perfectly jealous. Really any serious cinema buff really just wants to watch a movie on a real movie screen, but the hermit in me just wants to do it at home curled up in my partners arms. This would be the best of both worlds. Except, that is, for that hill of death.

Paul and I finally got away from the office on the Monday before I was due back, and we hired a car and drove all the way to Yosemite. I got to see the farmlands of California, the oranges and peaches, and the big brown rolling hills that reminded me of home.

But, Yosemite was something else. This is the America I came to see. All my life I thought that the photos were doctored, but as it turns out, it really was as pretty as all of those inspirational posters. We hiked up, and saw lots of very cute little squirrels. A picture says a thousand words, so I’ll let it speak for itself.

Finally, look at those pins! For those not in the know, I was a Drag Queen for twelve years, and I always had the best gams in the business. Girls, you only get calves like that from dancing in 6″ platform heels for ten years, so this is not something you can get overnight at the gym.

Looking forward to going to the states again. Next time, I want to hit up the Grand Canyon. But first, I’m going to be there to shoot my World War Two short film.

I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.

John Adams 


If you’re looking for more observant and poignant movie discussions, check out his blog at http://hamishdownie.wordpress.com 

0 replies
  1. Hamish Downie
    Hamish Downie says:

    Reblogged this on Hamish Downie and commented:
    Hey y’all, come over to “Flirting with Travel”, I just wrote part two of my America blog over there. While you are there, check out all the other great articles. It’s a wonderful travel blog by my friend Lexee (who also featured in “Silent Hill: Stolen Heart”).


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