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Stu & Chris America 2018

Our first trip to the States together.
Currently traveling
  • Day31

    Planes Trains and Automobiles

    October 1, 2018 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Hawai'i is amazing. But even the amazing eventually must come to an end. Ah the impermanence of everything. The Buddhists would be proud. All packed up, Chris and I took the hotel shuttle to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport for a 10.30 flight to Sydney. It's about ten hours in the air, so you know before you start that by the time you get to your destination, you are going to be a bit stiff and sore and probably somewhat dehydrated and generally not feeling your absolute best. The flight was unremarkable, as you want them to be. The food was good. I actually enjoyed the stir fried pork in rice and vegetables and the chardonnay I eased them down with.

    I watched a movie. I was too tired for anything cerebral, so I settled for a sci fi I had seen before, the Pacific Rim sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising. It was fun and the guy is hot and the monsters get defeated in the end, which is what you want and all about I could cope with after a month travelling. I listened to the Grieg and Schumann Piano Concertos, both in A Minor and tried to fall asleep whilst doing so. 'Tried' being the oeprative word there. Sleep alas eluded both of us for most of the flight. Finally, I also read. I had downloaded the Ursula LeGuin translation and commentary of the 6th century Chinese classic, The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. This is a truly amazing work and one that is very challenging to those of us brought up in the West with our Western ideas of success and effort and money and power. I like these small poems, gobbets of profound wisdom that you have to suck like a lolly to start to unravel the layers inside.

    Travelling west is easier than travelling east. You follow the sun and even though you may be in the air for ten or more hours, you would still probably be up and doing things at your point of departure had you not left. Yes, it's all very confusing.

    We left at 10.30am Saturday, flew ten hours, crossed the date line, and landed at 4.30pm the following day. We had already decided that upon arriving in Sydney after such a long flight, we simply could not face a three hour train journey back to Newcastle in the world's slowest train. So we would stay in Sydney for the night and catch a morning train today back to Newcastle. Which we did. An excellent decision.

    We showered and headed back to Ruby's pub, the pub in Surry Hills we dined at the night before we left for the US, and had their 'jerk fries' again which are to die for. A nice bookend. Today, the train trip was slow as expected, but somewhat painful too in that although we chose the quiet carriage, a middle aged man and his friend talked conversationally the entire trip. In a carriage full of silent people, they sounded like they had megaphones. I listened to music, just my Daily Feed (Classical) on Spotify, and read, and eventually when their incessant chattering got to me, I tweeted about them and even wrote a twitter poem to help pass the time.

    We are home now. We were met by Chris' parents at the station who welcomed us in loving arms and took us home to barbecued chicken, fresh bread rolls, some beer and some tiny doughnuts. A king's feast, truly. We have unpacked, gotten the washing ready for tomorrow, and done some grocery shopping. We have even gone for a walk along Throsby Creek, our favourite walking track. It was nice to be back.

    I am missing my mother. Normally, I would have gone up to see her this afternoon. I would have looked forward to holding her and feeling her lovely embrace. I would have been looking forward to sharing with her the pics and stories of our time away. It is not maudlin, just the truth of one part of me this afternoon. Chris feels it too.

    It will take a few weeks to process our trip. We have started already, but there was so much to see and do. We travelled in six states and crossed so many time zones, our body clocks don't know whether they are Arthur or Martha. Some quick observations:

    1. America's poverty in the cities is much more on show than it is here. The down and outs are greater in number. They do not have the safety net that Australia has.
    2. The politics on TV every night is both a blessing and a curse. They are the most politicised nation on earth. Trump only has to scratch his arse and they talk about it in panels and discussions for hour after after hour after hour. Each show dissecting the scratch from every angle and what it means he's not scratching. I follow politics, but boy, this gets a bit much.
    3. American coffee. What can I say? It's shit! Australia is blessed with a wonderful European coffee culture and you really notice its lack when you're in the States. To be fair, there were one or two dedicated cafés, but realistically, you could walk ten blocks and not find an outlet that does espresso. And don't get me started on creamer and non-dairy creamer!
    4. American food, oh sorry American friends, is not as good as Australian food. We are so spoiled for choice here. American food is not as adventurous, neither their everyday food or their fancy schmancy food in restaurants. When you're on the road, you like to eat simple nutritious food that sits well and not always some gargantuan serving of whatever it is would you like fries with that? I look forward to my American buddies coming to Australia so I can show them some great places to eat.
    5. Trump and the Republicans. We were very discreet in our opinions about their President and his Party. Of course, we felt we had to. But when there were like-minded people around us, we did let them know what the rest of the world thinks about the man they voted in. There is actually a lot of shame and embarrassment about this. I hope this blip in time teaches them that in a system where there is non-compuslory voting, they simply have to get out and vote, for the good of the whole damn world.
    6. The endless, relentless pharmaceutical commercials on TV aimed, not at the medical profession, but at us, the consumer. Just wow! Like I said with the politics shows, I am so glad we do not have these types of commerical on tv in Australia.

    Highlights: Too many. I loved San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Cedar City, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Dallas and Honolulu. I loved the opera on opening night of the San Fran season. I loved the California Zephyr as a great train experience. It was exciting getting into SLC at 3 in the morning before the city woke up. The galleries, the museums, the swims, our hotel rooms, epsecially the Presidential Suite in the Sheraton Dallas. We bought some clothes and some souvenirs. I have a few more owls - as if the house needed more owls. What fun!

    Of course, we had our moments too. Fortunately, they were rare. Chris and I have an understanding that if either of us needs some 'me time', it's ours. Generally, we can get along very well even when we spend vast amounts of time in each other's company. The most surreal and maybe difficult time we had was the evacuation at 3am from the 31st floor of the Sheraton in Dallas. It took our calf muscles three full days to settle down after running down 62 flights of stairs in fear with adrenalin pumping through us. Surely, a night to remember. Oh, how we laughed.

    Stu's and Chris' America Trip is over. we had a blast.

    But of course the human element was the best. For Chris (and me) to be able to meet Micah and his partner Jason in SLC was so wonderful. And for me (and Chris) to meet up with Ben and his partner Tino in Dallas was amazing.

    Chris and I have already begun the conversation about whether this trip will change us, whether we will grow, or whether we will just settle back into what was before. Both of us want some change in our lives. Chris has hit his early forties and is keen to move. I turn 60 next year and that brings a whole lot of existential ponderiing to me. I think our America trip will be influential for us both in trying to engage wisely what comes next and how it comes next.

    I read yesterday Lao tzu's thoughts on travelling in the Tao in Poem 47 - Looking Far.

    You don't have to go out the door
    to know what goes on in the world.
    You don't have to look out the window
    to see the way of heaven.

    The farther you go,
    The less you know

    So the wise soul
    doesn't go, but knows;
    doesn't look, but sees;
    doesn't do, but gets it done.

    Ursula Le Guin makes the point that a Roman poet once said that travellers change their sky, but not their souls. I hope Chris and I take from our journeying what we need in this part of our life together.

    And thank you for sharing it with us.
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  • Day28

    Hawaii Honolulu Waikiki

    September 28, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    We arrived in Hawaii a few days ago, ready to slow down, stop going to galleries and museums, and just enjoy a nice hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean surrounded by palm trees and heavily forested craters of volcanoes. And this, pretty much, is what we've done since arriving.

    Honolulu is hot. Yes, lots of hot gorgeous people, but it's really just hot. It is incredibly humid. Our first night out, we walked along the beach promenade at Waikiki and happened upon a little eatery that had outdoor dining as well as inside. But the humidity was such that it continuously morphed into rain. Heavy rain. And then it would stop. We moved inside on our third table move. The evenings are particularly challenging. Eating out is a big deal just to get there and back again dry. Seated at a table with just the effort of using utensils, your brow breaks into a sweat, your neck too, your sleeves stick to your arms, your shorts stick to your legs. In truth, I have always imagined hell not so much as a fiery furnace as a sauna. Honolulu is outrageously beautiful, but I could not live here.

    We have swum in the ocean multiple times a day. It is a pale blue crystal colour, the colour of a larimar to be precise. It is warm, over 20 degrees C, but refreshing. Gentle waves that do not break until the shoreline just keep rolling through. You can swim or bob around in them for ages without getting cold. A volcanic crater up one end of the beach marks a particularly splendid view as you relax on the beach or in the water. Surfers on long boards paddle way way way out where there is a break. Some use wooden paddles. Duke Kahanamoku's name or image is everywhere. With these waves, I can see why he is the father of modern surfing.

    I tried to write here, but I couldn't concentrate, so abandoned the effort. Not sure if it was Waikiki or the nature of a piece of truly awkward penmanship that I needed to fix that caused my inability to write. That still awaits me.

    We have bought some clothes here and slept a lot. Our body clocks are all over the shop having been in so many different time zones. Eating out is a wonder here. They marry the inside with the outside so well. A roof, then no roof, then a roof again. Gas lit fire sticks everywhere, fairylights through the trees, and trees themselves allowed to grow through where a roof should have been. Great trees. Ancient trees. Ponds, waterfalls, comfy seats to just sit back and watch the water. Shops all round. It really leaves our indoor gargantuan shopping malls for dead.

    If we ever get back here there is much more of Hawaii to see. I think you would need some time. The people are super friendly, "aloha" as a matter of course wherever you go.

    Today is our last day here in Hawaii and also of our grand United States adventure. It will take some time to process. It seems forever ago that we landed in San Francisco and got a ride share from the airport.

    A long flight to Sydney awaits us in the morning and it really then will be all over. Maybe one more footprint. Till next.
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  • Day25

    Dallas

    September 25, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Dallas has given us the chance to slow things down. It has been lovely. Our Presidential Suite, huge as it is, has become home and we have settled in comfortably.

    We saw the Sixth Floor Museum, which used to be the Book Depository from where JFK was assassinated. The museum is dedicated to preserving one of the most famous crime scenes from the twentieth century and to the whole complex story of Kennedy's assassination and its aftermath. It did a great job, attempted balance, but fell into hagiography once or twice, which in Dallas, I think is forgivable.

    Dallas itself is lovely. It's modern and clean, not a great deal of homelessness, some overt poverty, but not as much as San Francisco. There are many interesting looking buildings here, but most are modern architecture, ar least in the part of Dallas we are staying.

    We took in a movie, The House with a Clock in its Walls, starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. It is set in down-home post-war America and has that wonderful colour palette of the time. You would have seen it in both The Shape of Water and Carol. Really lovely. The House etc was fun and extremely well done. A bit schmaltzy at times, but that goes with the fantasy genre it was aiming for. Happy to sit through it again one day.

    Finally today, my friend Ben and I caught up and spent some time together. It was great to sit and talk and walk and talk without hurry. We caught up on each other's lives and talked some politics, philosophy and theology. He and partner Tino joined us for pizza in the Presidential Suite this evening which was just wonderful. Such a great time. These boys too, just like our Salt Lake City friends, have an open invitation to visit us in Australia anytime.

    We leave Dallas having discovered two new friends and a fabulous new city. Our time on mainland US soil is over and we're heading home, but not before a couple of days to break our trip in Hawaii. Till next.
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  • Day22

    Towering Inferno, Waterworld, West Wing

    September 22, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 24 °C

    It's nice to stay somewhere air-conditioned when you're in Dallas at this time of year. It's hot and steamy and there are storms always threatening, some of which appear, some of which don't. And so it was that Chris and I settled into the Sheraton, an older, but gloriously older, hotel in the downtown. They gave us a room on the 31st floor, second from the top, from which we had sweeping views of this part of the city. Come midnight, we were still up, talking, responding to socials, I was tweeting correctives to Lyle Shelton (what can I say), both awaiting the long day's travel to finally hit us and the sleep train arrive. It did, just after 12 of the clock.

    At 2.15, we were suddenly awoken by an alarm in our room, a god-awful low sounding howl, punctuated by a human voice that said calmly but incessantly, "Please leave your room. Go to the lobby. Do not use the elevators. Leave immediately. This is an emergency". We both jumped out of our skin at the first sound of the alarm. Chris screamed. I think I did too. We jumped out of bed, processed the message, realised we were in an evacuation and started to pull some clothes on and shoes. We grabbed our personal bags, I grabbed my watch and wedding ring too and headed for the door. I had not had time to put socks on, so I was shod in my shoes only, with no orthotics that I usually wear. Our revestment went all the while to the frightening strains of this man telling us to get out. Trying to tie the laces on my second shoe, my hands started to shake and I was fumblling badly.

    Outside in the hallway, we heard others on our floor, but saw no-one at first. We headed down the hallway, trying to find the stairwell. Around a corner or two, we finally came across it. The whole time we were searching for it, we could hear the siren and the message. It was absolutely terrifying. We were both scared half out of our wits. I am old enough to have watched and been terrified at the 1974 movie The Towering Inferno, where a high-rise in San Francisco goes up in flames and residents are trapped on the upper floors to burn to death. But at the Sheraton, there was no Paul Newman or Steve McQueen to save us. We were on our own.

    We headed into the stairwell and started what can only be described as the most surreal experience of my life. We were both shaking but descending the steps. There were 62 flights to get down. Gripping the railings as we went to steady ourselves from falling. Some older dude either on our floor or Floor 32 came hurtling past us. We were in his way, but he was determined to get down out of this building, so "excuse me" and we let him pass. "Hmm," I thought, "save yourself buddy". We just kept on going and going, flight after flight after flight. By about ten flights down, I realised that my two big toes were being pressed into the side of their respective shoes in such a way as to abraid them. "O God," I thought, "I'm getting blisters". But it was blisters or possible death, so I pressed on, my feet absolutely killing me. We both stayed relatively calm. We could hear fire engines outside the building speeding toward us and parking. But we managed to just concentrate on the task at hand. Flight 15, flight 16, flight 17 and on wards, down and down and down. VERY scary!

    Two people joined us somewhere on the journey down, so for the last third, there were four of us. A man and a young woman, who were not together. They had both come from 32. Eventually, we got to the bottom and opened a barred door and we found ourselves out on the street in the bucketing down rain. Confused as to where we were in relation to the building entrance, for the Sheraton Dallas has three towers, we ended up following the fellow who got it right and got us around to the entrance and lobby. As we entered, the fire engines were driving away and a young girl from the hotel said in THE most cavalier fashion you could possibly muster, "Don't worry, false alarm, just a leak set it off". The four of us just looked at her, hearts racing, panting from hurtling down a skyscraper, adrenalin pumping, calf muscles already painful, wet and dripping somewhat, as if she had murdered our grandmothers and cut them up with an axe. A leak? That was it?

    We got ourselves up to the lobby, on the second floor, to be greeted by Robin, who was very kind, thoughtful, offered us water and a sit down, and some reassurance, but the rest of the hotel staff, clearly not in charge, were just lolling about laughing among themselves. Another man and his wife came in just after us and we found out they were also on the 31st floor, in fact two doors from us, and they had just done the same thing. They were older than us, the wife, not the fittest and rather a big woman. If we struggled, they struggled even more.

    After some solidarity of our shared experience, we went back up in the lift to the 31st floor and had to process what had happened. It was 3am. We were wide awake and drowning in incredulity. I said to Chris that tomorrow morning, we would ask for another room, something lower down, and perhaps something a smidge bigger as there was only one chair.

    We did fall asleep eventually and woke this morning full of promise, joking that we had both had this really bad scary dream last night. Readying ourselves for the day, we headed back down to the lobby to talk to the Manager. I wanted to give feedback. In fact, I wanted to give three pages of feedback, as I had sat down and put a few thoughts on the page so I would not forget anything. It was all helpful feedback, no blowhard anger or anything like that. Accidents happen. They could have handled this better, and I suggested where they might, including looking after the mental health of patrons in a situation like that. The feedback was gratefully accepted by one of the managers, Angela, who also said she would upgrade our room for us to something bigger and lower.

    We were being met this morning by my friend Ben Strube and his partner Tino. Ben read my book years ago and we became good friends online. We've skyped a few times, but this was the first time we have met face to face. It was such a lovely morning, a real balm after such a distressing night. Ben and Tino took us first for coffee where we chatted and got to know each other better. We were able to give Ben an original art work that I had asked Chris to do for him. Another beautiful piece. He's so clever.

    After coffee, we headed into Tino's workplace which is a gallery where we got to see some amazing Latino art; sculpture, drawings, etchings, pottery, paintings, metalwork, all sorts of media. As we once might have said in Australia in a bygone era - fan bloody tastic. We so enjoyed Tino's gallery and felt we had seen something really special.

    Brekky after that at authentic Mexican, which we both enjoyed enormously. The boys looked after us so well and we all connected wonderfully. We'll be seeing them again over the next few days.

    This afternoon, we took in the delights of the Dallas Aquarium, which hosts some amazing exhibits, birds as well as fish and reptiles. I loved the owls, as always. They were just huge. The aquarium is kind of in two halves. The first half has you snaking aroung a single track looking at the exhibits as you go. Great idea for maybe thrity people at a time. But when they let in hundreds, it bottlenecks up and gets quite close and you can't see much. They need to allow only fifty through at a time, with a five to ten minute break between groups to allow things to proceed. The second half is more traditional, tanks and pools, and people start to thin out a bit more here. The Dallas Aquarium is rightly known as one of the world's great aquariums. We got some amazing pics.

    Home and to our new room. We sidled up to Check-in and the girl said, "I think you'll be pleased with your up-grade.". I joked and said, "it's not the Presidential Suite is it, ha ha?" To which she replied, "I don't make these decisions, I just do the keys, at which point, she handed over two freshly minted hotel room keys and told us our new floor, the ninth. "Much better" I thought.

    Arriving at Room 955, we were greeted with a sign on the door that said, PRESIDENTIAL SUITE. "You have got to be joking" we both intoned. We slowly opened the door, and walked into a giant beautiful room lit with charming lamps, with lounge suites, dinner table, coffee table, opening out again into a long lounge room, with bar, then an office with escritoire, at which I am writing this footprint right now, then a bedroom and two bathrooms. This thing is enormous. It is bigger than our living area at home. Not long after, Angela from Managment rang and asked if we had settled in. She was very thankful for our courteous attitude that morning and for the written feedback which she said she would take to the various meetings. How lovely! And what a way to finish off this extraordinary 24 hours.

    I have just listened to one Handel Organ Concerto and two Haydn Cello Concertos as I wrote this. Chris is doodling some new art work, a bird I think. We are happy and content in our Presidential Suite and ready to take on Dallas again tomorrow. Till Next.
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  • Day21

    Travel Day to Dallas

    September 21, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 23 °C

    Vegas is great. Vegas is big. Vegas is OTT. Vegas is full-on. Vegas is not my cup of tea at all. Frankly, I doubt you could get a cup of tea in Vegas. If you could, they'd want to serve it with Margarita and a slot machine.

    Up early, Ubered out to the airport for a 9am flight to Dallas. We lost a couple of hours in time zones but the flight was also delayed some 30 minutes from landing due to storms. Dallas is muggy. Dallas is frowzy. Dallas is close. As Chris said, it's like a Newcastle or Sydney summer at the height. Hot, incredibly humid, it's no wonder it rains. TG for air conditioning.

    Very disappointed with American Airlines (I hope you're reading this AA). First, they separated us, after having purchased the tickets ages ago. Second, the flight was full and by the time we boarded, the overhead lockers were crammed full. This meant that we both had to carry our overhead bags as well as our personal bags into middle seats. One half of one bag stuffed under the seat, the personal bag stuck under the seat in front, where your feet are supposed to go. For three and a half hours. Boo hiss boo!

    I did watch a movie and listened to a bit of music on the flight to help pass the time. 'A Quiet Place' starring John Krasinski and Emily Blunt masterfully protect their family from alien creatures that are blind but attack anything they hear in a killing frenzy. You see them, but you hear them more. Very clever. The family communicates by sign. It is very compelling and I got a few jump frights on the way, as did, I presume, the two gentlemen either side of me. Politically, this movie is about having your voice silenced. Hollywood makes no bid for morality here as it plays it straight down the middle. Both Right and Left could claim this movie as their own. Boo hiss boo! Take a stand! Four stars. It goes to places, even in the opening sequence you don't expect. It's more of a thriller than horror, but there are some horror elements present. Very enjoyable and very well done.

    The sound track to my boxed in twisted uncomfortable flight was Joan Baez The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, some Handel, Mozart and Verdi soprano arias performed by Sutherland, and the Haydn Piano Concerto in D Major, a sweet little thing.

    We're staying an an older hotel in Dallas, the Sheraton, that they are renovating. We have a comfortable although not huge, room on the 31st floor and have a fine view over the city. We've been out for a bite and it really is a city of glass. I grew up on the tv show Dallas, but none of that sensibility is present anymore. I doubt we'll be doing a Southfork tour even if there is one. Bathed, beered, eaten, we feel refreshed and ready to discover this balmy city. I mean that in the nicest possible way. Till next.
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  • Day20

    Driving to Vegas

    September 20, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 27 °C

    Up early. Packed and ready to go. On the road by 8am. First stop: McDonalds, for take away coffee. That was over the road from our hotel. "Im exhausted from all this driving" I said to Chris, as I parked the car and headed for the Maccas door. "I need coffee". Coffees in hand, off we set.

    We set up Margo, our sometimes obstreperous GPS, to take us to Las Vegas, but to stop off on the way, at the Hoover Dam. I thought I heard Margo say, "Hmph typical" after we put the coordinates into her.

    Our drive was wonderful. Arizona is so dry and so hot that I scarce can believe anyone lives here. Nevada the same. Still, they do, so good luck to them. I wouldn't want to. Chris' music predominated the drive and I enjoyed it as always. I did play three songs though. One opera aria, in fact, one we heard back in San Francisco: 'voi lo sapete' sung by Maria Callas. It's big and sad and anguished and gutsy and I've been humming it a lot since San Fran. Chris suggested it was the same theme as Dolly Parton's Jolene. He's basically right. The other two were Roy Orbison songs from his last album before his death, Mystery Girl, which I love. The Comedians, full of pathos, and the title track, Mystery Girl.

    We pulled into Hoover Dam a little later than expected, but still keen to walk across this gargantuan structure. Did I say the Hoover Dam is big? Ginormous and very impressive in its stylistic accoutrements as well. Some art deco touches can't be missed. It was dreadfully hot, in the high 30s, so we walked across one way, turned and headed back the other, sweating like we had just run marathons. Since 9/11, cars are no longer permitted to drive across the dam, so they built an enormous viewing bridge adjacent. We skipped the bridge, headed vack to the cool of the car and headed for Vegas baby!

    Having given the car back to the nice rental people, all in one piece, and said our goodbyes to Margo, we Ubered in to the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino. The first thing was to change and use the pool facilities to wash the dust of the desert off. Planet Hollywood's pool is like one of those pool scenes in a movie, where all the rich and talented people show off their bodies, drinking champagne, sun baking, sitting at the poolside bar, swaying to the speakered music. Of course, Chris and I just fitted right in. We both dived in and swam to the middle of the large pool. No-one else was swimming, only sunning themselves in the baking Nevada sun. We both swam a few laps, then lolled about in the water for some time and finally left them to their cancerous folly.

    Bath. Dinner in Lombardi's Italian Restaurant in the lower levels of the hotel, which by the way, all look like The Truman Show in that the domed ceiling is painted and lit like a sunny blue sky. It's very realistic. We're not gamblers so the casinos don't interest us, nor do the show girls, nor the strip clubs.

    After a fabulous dinner where I ordered rigatoni boscaiola in a pink sauce followed by tiramisu and a glass of sauvignon blanc, and Chris, agnolotti, tiramisu and a Sangria cocktail, we headed outside, into the infernal heat, to look at the Vegas Strip and watch the fountain do its musical thing at the Bellagio. It was fun, but we're a bit done, and in truth, Vegas is only and was ever only meant to be, a lay over as we're flying to Texas in the morning.

    The driving part of this holiday started off inauspuciously, but righted itself quickly enough. My head is completely around where and how to drive in this varied land and I can say honestly that I have enjoyed the road trip very much.

    From the majesty of the Grand Canyon to the ditzy crass commercialism that is Vegas, you could not get two places more juxtaposed. Still, I guess a lot of people put these two places together. Tonight we sleep, and tomorrow brings our penultimate adventure. Till next.
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  • Day19

    Just How Grand is the Grand Canyon?

    September 19, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Driving from Cedar City to the Grand Canyon, you can take a number of different routes, each offering you different vistas. We took Highway 14, the Cedar Canyon road, and then onto Interstate 89. This route should have gotten us to the GC in five hours without stops. With stops however, especially the kind of stops that Chris and I favour, one hour lunch breaks, half hour morning or afternoon breaks, gas breaks (no, not farting breaks, fuel breaks) and photo breaks, where some view demands the car be stopped and a picture taken, that total driving figure starts to head in a northerly direction. It also heads north when somewhere along the drive, you miss a turn and you end up driving right around part of the canyon that you didn't have to, thus making the trip ten hours behind the wheel and seeing us pulling into Tusayan Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, somewhat frazzled, very tired, stiff and sore and a bit antsy. BTW, neither of us knows where we missed the route as it was originally intended. As for Margot, our trusty GPS direction machine, she was totally useless in letting us know we might do a U turn and go back and get on the right road. Instead, what does Margot do? Calculate from the wrong road and keeps us going. Thanks Margot.

    In conscience, I cannot speak of this drive as a pain just because it took us longer than expected. This drive would have to be one of the great drives of the world. I mean this literally. I am not using hyperbole. The canyon appears and disappears in great escarpments, huge canyons, red cliffs, unbelievable geology, Martian-like views, huge mesas, flat plains ending at the base of vertical cliffs. Westerns were filmed in this area, Kanab. So many times, we just had to stop talking and look. 'Oh my God' was a common theme. Music on the way ranged from Let The Bright Seraphim by Handel sung by Joan Sutherland, the Concerto for Four Harpsichords by Bach, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony which was played during a forested part of the trip, the Traveling Wilburys, and from Chris, Emmy-Lou Harris, George Harrison's I Got My Mind Set On You, and Sarah Blasko. Great music for the car trip of a lifetime. Seriously, it's got to be in the top three drives around the world.

    The following day, we decided we would take a lay day. We were in need of one, so we lolled about, rested, napped, drank a little, wrote, and just took the day off. I edited my autobiography some more and Chris worked on a fictional 'coming out' piece he's been wrestling with for a week or two. It was necessary.

    Today, we headed into the canyon. I visited the canyon 30 years ago in my late twenties. In my book, I tell the story of my riding a very ornery mule down into the canyon. Today, we dispensed with the mules and just walked the same track, the Rim Trail at Bright Angel Trailhead. The view over Bright Angel is truly spectacular. Words do not do it justice. It opens up before you like a great gash in the earth, a gash of cosmic proportions. People come form all over the world to see this sight. It is as I remembered it: majestic, awe-inspiring, offering the genuine wow factor, massive off the human scale, incredibly beautiful, speech deactivating. You just have to take it in. Even after you've been looking at it and you walk off, you stop again to take it in again. It's that kind of sight. I would recommend to anyone, if they have the means, to try to see the Grand Canyon if they can. Deborah, from Macy's Men's Department in San Francisco told us it was on her bucket list. I hope she gets here one day.

    At the end of our day in the canyon, the clouds came over and a canyon-worthy downpour struck the area. We watched it come in gently at first way out there over the canyon. You could see what looked like gentle wisps of cloud falling from their cloud-parents down into the canyon floor. But this was no cloud. It was rain. It was a wonder to watch and film. Just beautiful. Inevitably, a great thunder-head built up and the heavens let loose. If I may, it fairly pissed down, some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen. And here's the fun part. Chris and I lost our bearings completely and totally lost the car. We trudged around in this torrent for a good half an hour, soaked to the skin, our shoes, bags, goodies, wet with a Grand Canyon storm. it was wonderful. You know, once you're that wet, it really doesn't matter how much it rains, because you can't get any wetter than saturated. We both kept our sense of humour and treated it lke an adventure, a little gift the Canyon was giving us to send us on our wet and somewhat merry way.

    I have put some pics of the journey on the way here and some of the canyon for you to take a peek, but truly, no word, no photo can do this chasm justice.

    So, just how grand IS the Grand Canyon? Well, it is well named indeed. It is truly, unspeakably, hand on heart, fabulously, incredibly, indescribably, GRAND.

    Till next.
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  • Day17

    Driving Down Utah

    September 17, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 17 °C

    Today was a journey day. You know, when you leave one place and spend a day or more travelling to another. This morning, it was farewell to Salt Lake City and hello to the open road. Cue Willie Nelson.

    The first thing was to return to the car rental place at the airport and do the walk of shame. When describing the events of two days ago, my voice gave out at one point and I couldn't say anything. The words didn't want to come. But they were very good about it. They gave me a nice red Chevy Cruze and we were off to drive the interstate. Today we would drive down the length of Utah and bunk in at Cedar City for the night. And this for one reason only: Bryce Canyon.

    My friends will be pleased to know that we had a smooth, comfortable, uneventful and enjoyable drive.
    Now as you all know, a road trip is nothing without music and singing. We took it in turns for half hour slots for music. I chose things that I haven't heard in ages, like Paul McCartney's Monkberry Moon Delight and Dear Boy off The Ram album, California Blue by Roy Orbison, You Win Again by the Bee Gees, California Dreaming and Creek Alley by the Mamas and the Papas, My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion and La Riviere by Frida Boccara. Yes I did throw in one classical; Chopin's Ballade No 1 in G Minor. I also chose Soon We'll Be Found by Sia, because Chris played her Chandelier. Oh, and I also played Love by Lana Del Rey. Along with Chris' choices, the music was awesome. Some songs made me cry, what with the musicianship and the memories. Wiping tears away while you're driving down Interstate 15 is probably something only older people will understand.

    We were greeted at our Best Western Cedar City by young Aubree at the desk. We have just written to her boss to let him/her know that Aubree's welcome, warmth and helpful tips as well as her sunny disposition has been the best since we look landed in the United States. Hats off to Aubree.

    We freshened up and took Highway 14 through the canyon lands on our way to Bryce Canyon. These are amazing themselves. You really feel you are driving the bottom of a vast canyon system. Just wonderful.

    We arrived at Bryce as the sun was getting low in the sky. First, we stopped at Red Canyon where the rocks are red and the geology looks like it is from Mars. From there we paid our park fee and headed into Bryce. We only had time for the amphitheatre part of the canyon. It opens out before you, a vast landscape. Below in the depths you see red and white hoodoos, the tall spires that crop up out of these amazing places. We waited for the sun to get so low that most of tops of the canyon walls were no longer being bleached and this is when the magic happens. With the shadows come the real colours. The red of this predominantly limestone is mesmerising. Bryce is another world. In the winter, it is covered in snow. I feel very lucky to have seen such a sight. Chris and I will never forget it.

    On the one and a half hour journey back to Cedar City in the dark, Chris played quite a few songs by Lykke Li and after my Bryce experience, I just had to listen to a full piano concerto, something that could stand up to a sight like that. I chose the Schumann in A Minor played by that Argentinian fiend, the incredible Martha Argerich. A great day. An unforgettable evening. Till next.
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  • Day15

    Is There A Mormon In The House?

    September 15, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    So what do you first think of when you hear the name of the city, Salt Lake City? I know what it is for me. It's not surrounding mountains, it's not wide flat Utah plains, it's not the University and it's not the architecture. Yep, if you're anything like me, you think of Mormons.

    But we'll get to the Mormons.

    Chris and I arrived here at 2.45am on the train. Half asleep, but bizarrely awake and interested, we caught a taxi into our hotel. The Little America hotel is anything but little. It is large, sprawling, goes up and out forever and has a foyer that is pure opulence. The foyer itself is as big as a football field, containing numerous plush lounge suites and polished timber tables for the lollabout guest to lounge in or wait.

    The girl at the desk on our arrival was a little crisp, I must say, but not as icy as the girl yesterday, when I asked for another room key as I had misplaced the first. Whether she took a look at Chris and then me, and then did a Mormon double-take, I cannot guess, but we have essentially stayed away from the front desk. The rest of the staff have been wonderful, especially the Latinos who have always gone out of their way to be helpful.

    However, one night, I desperately wanted a beer, so asked a passing Latino uniformed fellow.
    "Excuse me, do you have a bar in the hotel?"
    "A bar room" ?
    "Yes a bar room".
    "Yes sir, we have three. Just go to the end of the foyer and turn left and you will find them down there". "Thank you so much. Have a good night" and off I sauntered to my pick of three bar rooms. As I walked down the length of the corridor, I could see no signs of bar life nor sounds of bar revelry. It was then that it came to me. I looked at the signs.
    Ball room 1. Ball room 2. Ball room 3.
    PS. I did find the bar.

    The Little America Hotel I understand, is owned by some tycoon family or enterprise that has them all over the country. But here in SLC, they also own another hotel directly across the road from the Little America. The Grand America is like nothing I've seen before. For those of you who remember the old Commonwealth Bank money boxes that were shaped like the Sydney branch, that is what the Grand America looks like, only bigger and well, grander. It towers into the sky, this great monolithic oblong. It has a small dome on top and atop that, a giant American flag that is so high up, it flies proudly all the time. This building is opulence turned up to off the scale. The shape, the columns, the colour, the sheer physical presence says, "Hello world. I am America. I am great. I am powerful. I am majestic. I am beautiful. You cannot help but gaze upon my splendour." Thoughts of Shelley's Ozymandias have kept winging their way into my consciousness all week every time I see this thing.

    "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

    Well you all know the ending of Shelley's poem. If you don't, look it up, it's a great ending. The Grand America can be seen from any point in the city. Which was always quite helpful for us, as it gave us our 'true north' as it were, and got us home each time.

    On the first day's adventure, we went to the incredible Museum of Natural History. Now think Opera House in terms of impressive architectural structure. This multi mezzanined edifice that also seemed to be cantilevered had vast halls inside that would make Thror son of Thrain and the other dwarves of Erebor stand up and applaud. The Museum had a wonderful collection and is incredibly interactive but the dinosaur collection was to die for. They certainly did. Just a little dinosaur joke there for those of you who were watching. They had everything from the littluns to the really bigguns. Notice my dinosaur taxonomy is right up there with the best. I was recently told I should have become a paleontologist. Of course, no museum or art gallery is complete without a visit to the gift shop, which of course we did, and may have bought a thingy or two.

    The following day, we decided to take a drive in the mountains. SLC is a famous gateway for the snow and skiing. Park City is on the mountains near it, one of the world's most famous ski resorts. Driving up there through these sheer cliffs and mountain streams, mountains rising up right before you, you felt like you were on top of the world. It was an unforgetable experience.

    Unfortunately, so was the flat tyre I managed to get us up in those mountains. We had come through Guardsman's Pass, a steep and quite terrifying drive, and were coming back down the other side to go through Park City when I allowed the car to veer somewhat to the right near the walls of the ridge, as the camber of the road was weird and dificult. I thought I was playing it safe. Safe? Not so much. Stupid, much better.

    The rear tyre punctured on a bit of limestone, the car signalled that the Romulans were attacking and I brought the ship to a stand-still, all power re-routed to shields and life support. Now in truth, I have not changed a tyre in over 30 years, but I was sure that I could remember how to do it. Chris had never changed one. But down to it we got and had the wheel off after sensibly chocking the other front and rear tyres first. It was actually a bit of a nightmare. This is a steep mountain pass and we were high up in it. Anyway, "oh frabjous day, calloo callay" we got the spare on and limped home. We did take some lovely pics and a few vids while up there.

    That night, we had decided to return the car to the airport and pick up a replacement. But we thought we would stop and have something to eat first in the city. As luck would have it, as I drove the vehicle down into an underground carpark, I hit the front tyre on a piece of concrete sticking out somewhat, a piece of concrete I still have not seen. It shredded the front tyre, I swore ferociously at msyelf and my utter ineptness, an increasing profound sense of shame descending upon me by the second. To count and just to make sure you didn't miss anything, I have now destroyed two tyres on the same day. There is no spare to put on the front. It is already on the back! Oh God! Oh God!

    I have been driving since I was 17 years old and have never caused an accident. And here in America, the last I see of the nice Hyundai Elantra was it being hauled up onto the back of a tow truck and towed away. The stress of this was something shocking. The humiliation was even worse. The man couldn't fit the tow truck in the underground carpark so had to drive it up on its three wheels. Oh God! I toyed with leaving this out of my account, but ahhh, who cares, that was yesterday.

    Today, we had the glorious opportunity of meeting up with one of Chris' online pals and his husband. These guys are such lovely men. They took us to lunch, which after yesterday's commpete fiasco, was just such a sweet salve. We laughed a lot and talked politics and countries and each others' reltionships. Chris had done an original art work for his friend. It was an absolutely stunning piece of art. I was very proud of him. His friend was so touched, he was speechless at first. So the four of us will stay in touch and hopefully in each other's lives. Thank you Micah and Jason.

    So, the Mormons. I understand that about 40% of SLC is Mormon. I have spent the entire time here every time I spoke with someone, an Uber driver, the laundry lady, the hotel staff, thinking, "Are you a Mormon? Are you a Mormon? Are you a Mormon? Of course, I'm not crass enough to have actually asked, but I have wondered.

    We went to the Mormon Temple tonight. It is a beautiful building to be sure, but I felt uneasy there as did Chris. From their early beginnings with their whole pioneer mythos, they have built this worldwide churrch that is super exclusive, super orthodox and super rich. SLC around Temple Square reeks of money. Lots of people leave the Church, as it's known here, to find lives outside that narrow worldview, as have many Christians from other stultifying denominations. I decided to record a smal vid that would be posted on my book's Facebook page, which I did. It's just a short encouragment to gay LDS people, as many of them read my book and made contact over the years. So, it's on the Being Gay Being Christian Facebook page if you want to take a look.

    Salt Lake City is beautiful. Wide streets, no graffiti, little homelessness, no drunkeness - Utah liquor laws are strict - it would be a nice place to live. It gets heaps of snow in the winter. The cinema is plush with recliners - we sat and watched The Predator two nights ago - don't bother! The people are friendly and the whole place feels safe. The Church does seem to superimpose itself over the city, commercially, politically, religiously, but if you were not a part of all that, SLC has a lot to offer. I made two new great friends here and would be happy to come back one day. Till next.
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  • Day12

    Across Nevada

    September 12, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    It was farewell to Lake Tahoe today and indeed farewell to California. A quick brekky at the Sunnyside Lodge, followed by a final pack and cleaning of teeth, and we were off on the TART bus like a couple of tarts, to the historic frontier town of Truckee, where we would catch the California Zephyr that starts in San Francisco and goes all the way to Chicago. With this little town, I can't help thinking of the Ricki Lee Jones 1979 song 'Chuck E's in love,' but singing 'Truckee's in love' instead, which clearly makes no sense at all, unless you accept that Truckee loves Stu and Chris.

    We had a few hours to see the glories of Truckee before our train came, so walked the length of the street a few times, stopped and had lunch at a diner, then waited for the Zephyr. Given that Truckee is in the mountains, the train actually has to travel quite slowly, so my imagined rush of wind and a great roar as the Zephyr ground to a stop in front of me didn't really actualise quite like that. There was a clanging bell to be sure, but nothing of great solemnity. The train sort of limped in and didn't so much grind to halt as fizzled to a halt. There were some squealing breaks, so I don't feel cheated completely out of a great rail experience.

    Like I said in an earlier Footprint, the Zephyr is vey comfortable and a pleasure to be on. Since we're on it for thirteen hours and alighting in the wee small hours of the morning in Salt Lake City, we got a sleeping car. Equipped with two fetching bunks and all the mod cons (showing my age there - no-body under 50 uses the phrase mod-cons), we were also favoured by the ticketing gods to dine with others in the dining car. No cafe snack for us, no siree. Chris had a nice burtternut risotto washed down with a Bud, and I had a chicken breast with mashed potatoe and gravy, washed down with a glass of Chardy. We were seated by the maitre d' opposite two individual men who were absolutely enchanting. Before long, the four of us were all comparing stories about governance, indigenous peoples, tax, cruises, accents and the like. Therte were a few hearty laughs, which you might be surprsed at, given the list of topics we covered, but there you are, Chris and I can make tax funny.

    The scenery as you leave California and head into Nevada is quite breath-taking. It is brown and rocky for a way, then eventually it turns into huge mountains and what looks like salt plains. It is all very desolate but there is a great beauty in that too. One of the few staions the train stops at is Winnemucca, made famous by the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin. Therre's not much there and even though I couldn't see the Blue Moon brothel, I feel it was still there, even if only in its literary form. Winnemucca is nestled under Winnemucca Mountain which is actually quite impressive.

    As I write, we have dined, read, posted, and are going to listen to music for awhile before turning in. I'm planning on listening to Saint Saens 2nd piano concerto in G Minor which feels just right for where I am and what I'm doing. We are both a bit weary but of good cheer and enjoying our adventure. We have a 3am appointment with the Salt Lake City train station and, hopefully not long after that, a very welcome bed in a nice hotel in the city.

    It's been nice having you along. I hope you are enjoying our little sojourn overseas from the comfort of your own homes. Feel free to temporarily download the Find Penguins app if you want to make some comments. Till next.
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