Friday, 31 July 2009

Drinking the desert dry (day thirty three and thirty four)

This Phoenix night is still sweltering. Sitting still in the balmy air and we sweat. A jog down to the baseball field sprinklers cools you, a vigourous spraysplatters your clothes with goblets of cool, agricultural smelling water. The picnic table is a beacon in the night, four sat round imbibing Walmart alcohol; drinks we got illicitly for the underage drinkers. Eyes flicker at the passing cars looking out for po-pos, ready to lickity split scatter ways. Cards are dealt and the Americans learn a new game. We talk sexuality and love and exes and more brouhaha ballyhoo.

The military base is protected by a slalom of concrete barriers, but we pass through, past the barracks and the neatly aligned rows of planes. "Does Maverick live here?" No. The bowling alley is full of buzzcuts, muscles and tattoos, accompanied by faithful wives and military brats, well learned in loss. Gutter balls and strikes alike are all animated on the screen, just like back home. This bowling is none too extreme. I demand more neon and more strobes. Sarah doesn't bowl- a childhood telling off for bouncing the ball created a phobia, like a premise for a quirky romcom. You will one day win a bowling competition, thanks to the love of your one true beau. The phoenix in Phoenix, red hair flaming over a tattooed build, lives in a condo round a pool, a family nightswimming. Shere Khan and Duncan are trapped inside, cats with poofed up tails in a two room apartment.

The city itself is an endless sprawl. Takes two hours to cross on its four lane roads, stopping at all the intersections. All the houses look the same; Mediterranean style in terracotta, walls a dusty brown pink. No attractions, only suburbs swallowing up smaller cities and other suburbs. , spreading outwards like an ink blot on a crisp white sheet. The fast food chains look romantic by night, the deserted forecourts lit up and empty and an American dream.

Once the tepid white Zinfandel rose is gone we head inside to sneak to bed. The dogs still awake clip around on their paws, claws out to get a grip on the tiled floor. It is cool inside all day, no one goes out in this heat, apart from dashing from air con to air con, holding their breath. There are no pedestrians on any of the sidewalks.

Would I like to see photos of your grandchildren? I doubt it. Your son used to play for Florida state, but I don't know if I'm supposed to be impressed. Sharon always wants to talk, but no one wants to listen, leaving the room before she starts another monologue. She lodges here, pickling herself on the gallon bottle of acid bath white wine. Her hair is up in curlers and her tasseled slippers give the appearance of an East End housewife from the 50s, turned to tendony leather skin by the desert sun. Blonde hair dye is not hiding the age process, i can see your veins dear. Smoke another cigarette, it'll clog them soon enough. It's too hot here, she says. She lives here. Why does she live here? Her son is in the military, transferred here. She's ever so proud, tends the kids while the parents are away. Some relatives were born back under the clouded English skis- she doesn't know where. They never know where. Just England. Or France.

This night is a repeat of last night- card games and Walmart booze- wine warming rapidly in the star spangled night- talking about tattoos and piercings- text arguments with our next host. Miss Rebecca Middleton talks for an hour and it's grand to hear an English accent. The dogs watch Breakfast Club with us- we have conversations about what Club character we'd be-
I'd be the one that dies. (No one dies). Well then what's the point? I fall asleep two thirds through, not even Molly Ringwald's Sandra Dee charms can filter out the pulsing waves of drowsy dreams. Night night.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Tumbledown ramshackle hovels (day thirty one and thirty two)

Frank's pizza was never the same after it burnt down. Not to the ground, nothing that extreme. But it burnt down all the same. The arcade machine a blacked out husk. No Pacman for the drunks any more. The table football players are no longer playing for the same teams. The red is nor, or brown, or mottled smoke damaged red. The blue is grey. One goalkeeper is melted down, he twirls no more. An old video player is discarded on top. The baize on the pool table burned away, discarded cookers scattered in the dirt, rusting in the desert sun. A nail goes through my sandal and tetanus fears are neon bright. Pews in blue and red are set up facing a screen stretched across the side of a bleached wood shack. All the shops round here died. The railroad goes through Green River, but it doesn't stop. Rustling and shuffling can be heard on the other side of the piled televisions and computer monitors. Let's get out of here, things live in this divetown, by the side of the tracks where the mile long locomotives chug by to one side of the country, or the other.

Swelterblisterheat. Utah is all red sandstone pillars and monuments, lines sweeping through faults and cracks. Fins jut out bold into the desert, sun shimmering mirage makes the road disappear into pale blue haze. Blazing down, sweat drying crustlike onto scarlet skin. Water only helps so much. The air conditioning gave up 5 miles back pumping out muggy air with a stenchfoot smell.

Standing in four states at once don't feel that special. Just another spot on this blasted landscape, eroded lakebed, dinosaur graveyard. The Navajo charge $3 for the photo opportunity, surround it with stalls selling jewellery and jerky and sit in the shade.

That was the most perfect rainbow I've ever seen. All those colours there- red, orange, yellow and all the rest, as well as all the mid shades and half shades where blue merges green. The arch is full, bold against the pale cerulean mountains and dark grey clouds, sunshining behind refracts the light into spectral sharpness. There is no gold at the end, only Flagstaff.

Inside there are a hundred sad platform goodbyes, and now the howling trains bring it back, mournful howls as they rattlerawl on rusted rails through the town, bisecting it with a sweeping line on a planner's map a century ago. I want to be in an old carriage like a bearded bum with a canvas rucksack of threadbare clothes riding on out.

Monument Valley is a famous visage ingrained in us by the spaghetti western, John Wayne. All the horses are dry bones in dry soil, killed by 4WD. Rains come at last, splatting nickel sized drops faster than wiper blades can smear them away. Arizona is damp for thirty minutes. Everyone has swine flu back in the UK. Nothing lives here but crisp yellow grass.

This suitcase has been dragged too far. The clothes are crumpled and battered belongings are crumpled and I am crumpled under a crepuscular sky. Rainstorms are calling my name, but no cross ocean plane is flying my route, so i scheme and i scheme and i scheme, and it don't come to nothing cos it never comes to nothing, so I travel/drive/walk further on. Always further on.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Signage (day twenty nine and thirty)

The waitress will be right with me. Eventually cinnamon rolls will be polystyrened and ready. Just wait. Patience. Arms folded fingers drumming foot tapping is not patient. The grey haired gang at the table are talking power boats and man things. "You know, there's lakes in South Carolina that are so big they don't even have speed limits." There's something in that. The old guy in the shop is full of charm, asking me where I'm from, keen to close the sale. My itinerary is too detailed for him. Just give me the $20.60 please. "I really like that one."

Grand Teton feels like the background to a film I never saw. A jagged mountain range snow topped in July, then a lake, forested with firs, then a huge meadowplain with headdown elk grazing. Classical. Moose and bear live here, but it's only what you'd expect. Wyoming is endless, to a point. Rockies are there, touching the sky, just there. It's a hundred miles away where the roads don't go. Here gray green grass stretches over the lollop of hills that runs to the horizon in most directions, a grey wedge of road spooling over the top.

The only alterations are where ranch entrances, 3 beams with skulls or wagon wheels or some memento, token or whatnot attached to the top corners appear, or the odd small settlement, so optimistically titled "- City", more caravans than houses. The clouds are drifting down, falling away, diminuendo. A few spots of rain mix with the brown dust of the windscreen and rearrange the abstract smears. It never rains properly here. It drizzles for 45 seconds and gives up. Dies before it reaches the ground. Some things just aren't meant to be completed.

This is dinosaur country. "Dinosaurs once roamed here" the signs proclaim. "Coal was formed here." "Phosphate was mined here." One feels these signs are grasping for a purpose, like a handsy drunk chasing his latest loneliness solution. Better off recycled into soft drink cans or aeroplane wings. This gorge is flaming, fiery red sandstone wall, a barricade to the north to halt migrations, mantle and plates forcing the lake bed up.

Two hundred bikers growl past, testosterone implants fuelled by gasoline and leather. Headscarves are helmet substitutes. They offer as much protection when you faceplant the tarmac, so I hear. The grasslands turn into canyons and rugged rock headlands turn into forests turn into deserts. The road is make believe.

The woman across is telling her kids about a shooting that happened in a bus stop the night before, or outside a coffee shop. Somewhere far enough from home for it not to matter too much. The children want the facts. Mother tries to quiet them. Best not to worry the other frequenters of the establishment.

Desert is besieging Green River's Super 8 motel. Sand grains and scrub grass clumps marshall forces waiting to cover the tarmac and concrete car parks. The gas station forecourt holds firm for now. Billboards round the edge of town have given up. Call this number and advertise here. The pasted paper motel/golf course/restaurant/museum advert unglued itself years ago. Now the phone number is sandblasting into nothing. Sundown over these jagged cliffs , rainshadow high. Blends from blueinkblack to rich orange, gunmetalgrey clouds bulbous and billowing like voluminous ballgowns spun on a wooden sprung dancefloor. Scrappy town, this one. Mobile homes no longer mobile, planted roots in the ochre sand, tangled cables and pipes tying down, tethering. Couldn't move, even if they wanted to. Stuck here, strung out along a highway going somewhere else, away.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Jellystone (day twenty seven and twenty eight)

The tarmac crosses and recrosses the Continental Divide- water flows Pacific, or Atlantic-ward depending which side, so they say. Some gets evaporated, carried by clouds, or irrigated and recirculated, or stored, or drank and incorporated into bodies, and the rest gets resalinated in the east or the west. Some old biology lesson, i forget, back there somewhere. All the tourists are stopping for photos with dark wood white painted sign- should I? This is clearly a big deal. Important geography. I should get a photo here, but I don't. That dark wood white painted sign means nothing. Should it be celebrated and commemorated? It is not a memory to be valued, it's just a fact, like the length of a river is a fact, or a weight of an animal is a fact.

The water is sapphire blue clear, showing white rocks and the internal machinery. Industrial nature with steam billowdrifting in the light breeze, eggy sulphur smells with it. Pressure builds up from volcanic heat, splurts it through a narrow hole and whooooosh krrrssssh shhhhhhh splash, a torrent sent skywards. Old Faithful. You can set your clock by it, you know? An arc of a crowd is seated at a safe distance, vapour drifting against the grey sky. No cheers or oohs or aahs, just the gentle clicking of shutters like a slow ripple, or a hundred facebook albums, photo albums and slideshows. No one is really here, they're just thinking what to say to their friends and family. That is so postcard.

Excelsior broke its own machinery, so violent was it. All the geysers shift with each earthquake. Yellowstone Lake is impassive, metallic blue and dead. Icy cold and stretching over the horizon, banded by skinny fir trees huddling together for warmth, awaiting the next forest fire. Old burns can be seen on the slopes, skeletal sharpened bone white stems up right or scattered pick up sticks kerplunked over the hillside. Elk pick their way through with white rump and long schnoze, swinging heads lawn mowing. The bald eagle, imperious in its nest of tangled twigs, stares down at its audience of car bound paparazzi and long lensed nature snappers (snatchers?) wondering why they are bothering to complete their checklists. I still haven't seen a bear.

Aldous Huxley said that science was always trying to explain, to reduce everything to its component parts, dissecting and examining. Art unifies, unites, looks at the whole and elevates it. Sometimes Yellowstone feels more like science than art. The magma makes the steam makes the geyser whoosh. All the magic gone. Someone should bring back the art.

A mud volcano, where bacteria turn hydrogen sulphite into sulphuric acid which erodes the soil and rock into slush, which bubbles away with the endless gas rising. It erupted for 2 years continuously in the late 19th century before it broke its own machinery. Boohoo. The earth gets too violent sometimes.

The gorge was eroded by hard rock capping softer rock, and geysers eroding the underside. The Yellowstone river flows green and white, cresting over the precipice down to the plunge pool and carrying on down. Glaciated boulders are dotted over the plain, reminders of those ages past. A coyote skulks in the way coyotes skulk, that is with head down, a swaggering skulk, skimpering into the bushes on some nefarious jaunt.

Log layered and panelled shops phalanx the wide mountain boulevards of West Yellowstone, selling knives and every good you could ever need in leather, in leather, gun holsters, key rings. Rugged, like the wolf screen printed T shirts and cowboy boots and tottering towers of stetsons and wide brimmed hays, next to the flies, tackles and fishing reels, across from the rucksacks and sleeping bags, next to the candy store opposite the gift store with carved wooden bears and postcards and dreamcatchers and wind chimes and all other money demanding sideshows and attractions; the cafes and the bistros and fast food chain tendrils that stretch even here, gas stations with their lean price boards in bold colours and motels with wi-fi and free continental breakfast (read a muffin and Sunny D masquerading as orange juice), and sometimes, residential house, crammed in tight and tidy.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sacred nights, where we'll watch the fireworks (day twenty five and twenty six)

A 14-year-old boy had dreams. I will start a religion, he thought. These Christian denominations are all wrong. All I must do is make up a convincing story. A few weeks ago I was visited by the angel Moroni. He repeatedly told me some scriptures, slightly differently from how they appear in the Bible. There was also a gold book containing some new revelations, which I was forbidden from showing anyone else. The angel took them back eventually. This is what I shall tell everyone. People will join me and my church shall be a success with me as the leader, the Living Prophet. I will denounce all other religions as an abomination in God's eyes. And there shall be no more cakes and ale.

Tour guides hover in ankle length skirts, offering trips round the Tabernacle. A lovely word, a boring building. Oval roof studded with lights for the high quality services with curve backed seating to keep the congregation sleep deprived. The organ is glistening and waiting to howl out some hymns. A religious building without any religion. The reverence does not spurt through my atheistic veins. My heart trembleth not. I feareth not our Father Almighty. The visitor centre is yet more soulless, a convention centre with cheap religious oil paintings lining the magnolia plasterboard walls. Wax figures bring the Bible stories into three dimensions, inanimate, prone, lifeless. Tourists act deference and pose for photos with a marble Jesus, a space mural behind. We feign, play and mock. For a spiritual building, there ain't much spirit.

In the sports store, turn a corner, and you are confronted by racks of rifles. Boxes of bullets sit in dull black and muted yellow cardboard boxes. Shooting is a sport. So this is a sports store. Do you need a gun safe with your purchase? This one is waterproof. Home delivery is available, sir.

This family is happy. The parents are different but united- ex-military and student nurse, they disagree but they agree. They are mother and father and they are family together. That eternal family that the Mormon preacher droned about at the visitor centre. Maybe he had some kind of point. They are fulfilled by each other. Friends pop round to eat and enjoy. Sister Emily and husband Cam come over, spirited and relaxed. One day this will all be mine.

Haki sack and pigskin are thrown under night Salt Lake skies, on a floodlit lawn. Children and puppies run round, stomach stuffed with barbecue and salad. Presents are conferred with true American gusto, hospitality. We could have stayed there forever, throwing the ball, conversing about all of the world's nothings. One day this will all be mine.

Slamball is basketball boosted up, after eating a bag of sugar, with sherbet sprinkles and a litre of Tizer. Slamdunks are boring. They only just jump high enough. How about they have trampolines? No wonder they show this on the Cartoon Network. It's like Michael Johnson's dreams before he got boring, like everyone who is the best is boring, is predictable is too good, with fake humility and sportsmanship is Woods is Phelps is Federer is Armstrong. Bring the humour back. But slamball lacks. Not enough skill, too hard to defend the end to end to end basket basket basket.

The policeman joshes with the boy, instilling good relations at a young age. I foresee shoplifting and assault. Tasers are not a toy, but only the bad guys get it. There's probably a pistol in the patrol vehicle. We are good. Criminals are bad and must be punished. Dichotomy. The eternal struggle. This giggling cop seems to know which side he's on.

Idaho Falls is another stop en route to another stop... (repeat to fade). There is no centre, just a huge warehouse enormous tinbox Walmart with all that you need at a low low price, some chain restaurants in smaller boxes, and some chain motels with many tiny boxes in slightly larger box, repeating mirrored images with drab wipe clean patterns. Musical instrument shops are dotted down the low slung high street which stutters out into green leafed bungalowed suburbs before it gets halfway to the horizon. The town gets nowhere close to the horizon, it lacks the commitment, the verve, the application, or the desire. Shadows reach further when the sun sets. The sun sets.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Fakespeare and Mormonville (day twenty three and twenty four)

"These smoke levels are getting dangerous. Visibility is down, and people are walking round with handkerchiefs over their mouths, coughing. I think we're going to have to close the road."

"Roger that, I'll send some rangers out to clear the car park and close the road off."

"Roger, over."

Bryce Canyon viewpoint goes on for miles. The hoodoos smoothing down to striped sandstone then forests then plains, grassy swaying cow sprinkled plains that fill the land to the next mountains, endless green plains that go on and on, roads swivelling through ranch and farmstead, plains forever and infinite. It is one of the most spectacular rock formations ever. And rock formations is way too technical and prosaic a term. Someone else can write the poetry, my words don't work round here.

They'll have to anyway, we never made it there. An elusive spot smoke wreathed and distant. Lightning strike sparks deadwood starts fire. Smokey the Bear declares how "extreme" the situation is from his roadside stands. Sunrise and Sunset point will suffice for now. Stellars jays preen, flock round my muffin crumbs, hop and screech. Spires and turrets of rock jut above the rims and abuts of the amphitheatre. It looks like a Disney version of the Wild West, exaggerated and polystyrene, plasticine. Only in dreams, do these things exist.

In America everywhere has to be famous for something. Cedar City decides to celebrate the best of elsewhere, with endless festivals, always looking outwards. Is this charity, or theft? The campus theatre looks like a lazy version of the Globe. They fully embrace their Stratford roots here. (What Stratford roots? None...) This guy in the pub told me that Romeo and Juliet was going to be based in Utah, until Verona's tourist board paid Shakespeare a hefty bribe. The amateur thesp is stabbing a sonnet to death with a plastic disposable knife. These Irish dances were old Will's favourites. He loved the sound of the bodhrán, and a bit of high kicking tap dancing. Everything may go perfectly with the performance, but a malaise falls all around. All the steps are on beat, the violin wheeling away, skirts spinning and so on and so on. But it feels fake. A copy of something authentic. America leans on its Irish heritage like a drunk trying to stay upright, hollering gibberish at the passers by, because it has so little of its own that it didn't try to schmoosh. Walk on.

These woods are eerie. Hollywood taught us this. We soaked up the message. The forest is dangerous, best stay at home kids. Watch a video, yeah? The monsters can't get you through the screen. What's that? That. THAT. That crash through the trees. Over there. See the branches still moving? That's not the wind. I saw a flash of brown hide. Hairy. I sense fangs and claws. What's that, you can see antlers? Just a deer. A deer. That's all. They can gore you though, can't they? Fierce beasties. Have you seen Bambi? Why do you think we hunt the bastards?

Brushing through the swish of grass stems that thrust through the tar black sharprock piles, we hear snakes, or crickets. Some hidden insect. Check for ticks, they burrow quick. The river runs dark, crisp, and cold. Gold miners paned the waters here, but now their shacks lie in piled up planks, the stove in pieces, rusted curled pieces, seal still emblazoned after nights of rain and snow. Saplings grow through the floor now. No one sleeps here but mice.

Antlered heads adorn the walls of Subway. My preference is for taxidermy to accompany my sandwich. It really brings the room together. The patrons should be adorned with tattooed tears. It helps make you feel safe. Salt Lake City is still by midnight. A few cars wheel down the streets, but the only street adornment is occasional homeless beards staring out, far away and out. The screen shows views of the Thames, Londontown. Homesick. The smoke stole my heart this past year, it makes me want to walk drizzle pavements, with the smell of kebabs a miasma, crowding the perfume of passing strangers in designer finery. Pearly queens and jellied eels. Distance turns your rose tinted nostalgia into stereotypes.

Harry Potter is much improved with an audience of Mormons wearing cloaks and cheering the opening credits. Such unbridled enthusiasm makes me nauseous to my putrid Kentish heart. It can't take it. Cough, cough, splutter. The ventricles don't even want to contract anymore, the aorta tries to choke off its supply in sympathy. Wheezing on the sticky popcorn scattered carpet, I breathe my last rasping breath.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Remnants of sediments (day twenty one and twenty two)

Dear diary, I lost track of time. Are we an hour closer to home, or an hour behind? Did I gain an hour just then? Are we on mountain time, or Navajo time? Did I miss the boat?

The blisterheat of Las Vegas is soon traded in for the blisterheat of Arizona's lunar landscapes. Eventually we will reach the Grand Canyon, but first we mist drive through this dust whirl, flinging round papers and junk. Can I call it a tornado? Yes, I can. We drove through a tornado, a whirlwind, and a dervish. The car skittered and shook, and the captain had to lock out his elbows to maintain the course. So close to a spin or a flip. I think we should have braked back there... Too late in a heartbeat adrenaline surge.

This diner has a gun beneath the counter, and they're illiterate enough to use it. The owner dreams of space flight, but her minor restaurant chain won't allow it. Cowboy hats and cactuses only get you so far. Four staff on shift... Someone's got to keep the employment figures up. Paranoid America is cowering at the Hoover Dam. Security checks... All the Muslims and shady characters please pull over. We suspect you may want to blow up our dam. A curved wall of concrete, an architect's dream and an engineer's nightmare. Such 1930s ambition, it would help anyone get over depression.

Echo. There is no echo. The canyon got too big. Beyond scale. There is no scale. It skitters away below us, down. Some people walk down, come back up. Some people just walk down. Tourists crowd round to take photos, but it'll never work. It's beyond scale. Nature's sculpture, slowcarved through layer and layer and layer of rock. In a million years it'll be even better. Patience.

Buts jutting out in scarlet sandstone red, a glimpse of green river water somewhere below. Barren but alive and shadows shifting in the sun. The desert is spraying sand dust across the road in glistening sweeps. Odd shacks cluster, beatendown and dulled dark. The Navajo sell from the side of the road their authentic good. Hands up who wants some buffalo jerky?

It's all pretty prehistoric round here. Which is hilarious, because dinosaurs walked through here once... Left their tracks in the red sandstone plateau. Claw marks still visible. Millions of years old, but they still look fresh, or fake. Too good. This is concrete, right? Once this was a seashore, now we're thousands of miles from brine. Some asteroid smacked down. Puffed the dust out, froze the moments in time- laid eggs, a terrible lizard laying on its side, sunbathing on its patterned beach towel, pterodactyls landed and folded. The Navajo shows us round, facts cribbed from a child's dinosaur book. They used to let scientists take the bones. No more. These are Navajo footprints. Jade and turquoise jewellery is presented on exit. One must atone for one's white man's guilt.

Roads trail round the edge of abuts and scree slopes, peaks pointing, prone and jagged over the horizon. Erosion and water did this. Nature works well here, crushing its tectonic plates together to crumple rock layers, fold them over. Higher up. Yes. Stratified stripes white, pink, red, purple, yellow. Perfect like a bottle of sand. Zion had a Native American name once. Then the preachers arrived. Angels Landing, Abraham, Jacob and Isaac and on and on and on. Towering sandstone crags, canyon walls. The bottom of Zion is the top of the Grand Canyon. The top of Zion is the bottom of Bryce. All connected, steps of an epic staircase. The missing rock, the canyon of the canyon, covers California and Arizona. Nature levels it all out eventually.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

End of level boss (day nineteen and twenty)

There are 4 levels to this game- preferred, high roller, big shot and ultimate. The only way to pass is to gamble. The end of level boss is the pit boss, a hard edged crone, a discrete glider, hands crossed behind. Your lives are determined by your credit limit. Vacant stares at the slot machines, repetitive strain injuries from pulling the arm, betting one credit, pulling the arm, betting one credit, pulling the arm...

Slots light up and faces follow, a pristine bar code voucher turns green. These secret doors hide a CCTV screen complex. No one escapes in the timeless society. Only the emptying of accounts under this bulb lit gloom, and the slow fade out of the sun, mark the passage of time, umbilically linked machine and player feeding the casino. Topless vampires and a cowboy stumbled in from 1958, his dusty stetson a mottled brown synecdoche. Frank has a smoker's voice. He'd love to travel, but his country won't let him. He did time, did some bad shit. Won't say what, won't say when. Married today, remarried today. We are his celebration and we must drink martinis. The waitress isn't so jolly in her scarce arse covering and red plastic leather effect jerkin. We've been overenjoying ourselves, throwing shoes, making merry. There are limits even for Vegas.

All silent in the bar, lost in our own dear incapacitation. Staring out at the carpets, those endless patterned carpets. Do they make you feel at home? The floors of this maze. The flaws of this maze. So 1970s. This glamour, once gilded, is gone. The restaurant at the end of the universe slowly revolves, diners with their dinners staring on a sea of lights in their ornamented rows. Las Vegas at its most romantic they say. My personalised glittered blue loyalty card reward scheme begs to differ. There is no romance here. Only sin.

And then...

Queasy like Sunday morning. That cheap liquor. $20 all you can drink. A mistake. The taste of martini soaked olive makes me feel nauseous from memory alone. Conversing with another time zone is a struggle. Two bathroom gurgles punctuate the talk, before i'm lying on the cold and lonely tiles, stranded. I am a sailor at sea.

Spongebob is trying to make us feel better but our hangovers are staying fast. Staggering to elevator, down floors, over to Starbucks, cookie and a smoothie, up floors, staggering to room, collapseflop into bed. My stomach stays quiet. It's all fading away- the memories, the illness. It only stays in Vegas because you can't remember it.

Free entry to the top of the tower is our prize for gambling. The Las Vegas grid system spreads out before us. There is the ever changing strip. If it gets old, build a bigger one with a more ostentatious gimmick. Mad people come up here to dangle off the edge. A fool and his money... 10pm and it's still to hot out. Circus Circus is a long 2 blocks away, but we watch the Flying Palomas swing, twirl and arms spread- catch above our craning necks. The Venetian and Paris are condensed, glitzed, remodelled, better (?) versions of their counterparts. There is something both aspirational and horrible about them. We are flagging and cranky in this heat, but the sexy sirens of TI are dancing for us beneath fireworks. I believe it is based on a true pirate story. The longest bus journey ever takes us back from the hordes to our king sized beds- exhausted. You can keep your Vegas, I'd rather have desert.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Opening the furnace door (day seventeen and eighteen)

The largest thing alive in the whole wide world. It weighs over a thousand tons. It's taken over 2,200 years to reach its colossal height. Old people come here to feel young. Tall people come here to feel small again. My heart feels full of youth. Blood lacks oxygen, it's woozy up here.

These old songs, they conjure it all back up again. The words still slip quicksilver quick from my flat and sharp tongue. Motorway yellers and hollers, vest wearing pick up drivers head shaking and growling from the inside lane.

It's close to desert now. Sand spills out and encroaches. One day it will invade and no one will be able to sweep it away. A sandstorm strips it down to plasterboard, smoothes the panels to a polished splinter free sheen. Everyday is like a beach day. Sandcastles in your bedroom. Floppy and sweltering. You burn some more oil to keep yourself cool. People aren't meant to live here, but that's the way America likes it. The US of A will triumph. Nature will be bowed to man's needs. The desert will become an oasis, and the golf course will be irrigated. Heaven forbid Mr Johnson would not be able to swing his three wood on a Sunday morning.

This motel is the kind of joint a hooker would use to entertain the lonesome businessmen. A no heart fuck on an iron mattress. Trousers down, wash your cock. Don't kiss me. No one kisses me any more.

I have been driving forever. All I can see is the upside down V of the road pointing to a distant vanishing point. Disappear here. Joshua trees are all prehistoric and spiny. Scrub repeating. A photoshop, or a copy paste. A computer render by a graphic designer with a severely limited imagination. Occasional truck stops are scattered along the highway. Petrol station, diner, antiques store, a few clapboard clapped out homes. Just a stop going on somewhere else.

Calico ghost town is the authentic turned fake. Once, this was real. Then dollar signs flashed with gung ho greenback. All these old miner's huts, patched up and air conditioned, with a concrete floor. Please do not photograph each other wearing our hats. Outside feels like a hair dryer. Odd spots of authentic equipment are rusting in fenced off sections, ignored amongst the milieu of money begging. All trace of historic and social value has been erased into a shame. Hundreds of miners lived here, nowhere. And the town died. All will come away having no idea about what it was like mining here, what family life was like, why everyone left.

The fast food joint feels like a Western, and we haven't even left California. A bulbous fellow is frozen in billowing dungarees, a distended abdomen folding over his lap. He's seen too much. Or maybe he never saw anything. Chewing the cud and bleaching out in these desert ovens. Those bones are well shielded.

Closer and closer to Vegas, the roads spread their fingers wider and wider. Swathes of desert concreted out, too hard to cross. Tactical casino placement 101- place gambling palaces in a locale where no one will want to go outside. Fact- Vegas contains 90% of all the world's neon (not a fact). The staff could fill a large village. Every inch of the hotel is driven to consumption. No one explains the rules. Just buy some chips, put it all on red, house wins. Erode your magnetic strip, what else are you going to do here? City of sin, city of sleaze. Hookers direct to your room. Your every need fulfilled. The citizens are hidden away servants, feeding the splurging bacchanalian masses. They don't know what happens outside of Vegas. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Nothing happens in Vegas.

Friday, 10 July 2009

U-bottom valley (day fifteen and sixteen)

So this is where the foreigners were. Gathered round the honeypot, smearing their faces with Yosemite. They stare at the waterfalls, rivers turning to streams and rivulets turning into spray and drifting into mist in the breeze. Sunlight refracts through and makes a hundred spectrums, projecting onto the granite cathedral walls, El Capitan standing tall and proud, moustachioed general surveying the valley as a hundred neon climbers hang from his nose on gossamer strands. Half Dome is crying. Always crying, a forgotten bride, a grieving widow. She is all these things and more. Her veil is tattered and shredded by jutting rocks.

Old rock falls fill up the valley edges and block paths up. Look, over there, those rocks took out damn near 300 trees. Guy was walking through there, what 5 minutes before hand? Slight delay, he wouldn't be back in Nevada right now. Nature evens it all out in the end. A perfect sphere. Mudslides and waves and glaciers and rivers smooth it all out, fill it all up. Look at Kansas. I have a theory and it is right. It is my theory so it is right.

The forests are burning round here and smoke is on the wind. Forest needs to burn, it phoenixes and fixes and bursts the pine cones and the sequoias set down their giant roots in ash and soil to start a slowcreak to the stars, to the star, to the sun, to the sky, to the end. Pastel green firetrucks sit watchtower guard in the laybys. The animals cleared out helter skelter pace down valleys and over peaks, smokechoked and wheezing.

Lungs are bursting. There ain't enough oxygen up here. Tarmacked slopes crawl up this granite cliff, waterfall flolloping and rumbling and crrshing down its rocky course, seething white and crystal green, odd pieces of log and wood steadied in sidepool calms. Children are jumping and skipping up and down and we feel old, so old. Our knees psychosomatically creak away. Lungs are oranges, then apples, then grapes, then raisins, then nothing, alveoli collapsed into themselves. An upside down Y in your thorax. Your heartbeat is mousefast, 200 tiny thumps every minute, softbump chest flutter. Black and white spots flood your vision. Precipice spat boulder made shady restspot.

The bear sprints out, scattering the pine needles from their pick up stick alignment, so not askew, always askew, but in a different place, with the ferns and the saplings swaying. I miss it in a shoegaze posture. Like a big black dog they say. Moves fast they say. Sadface says I. Stellars jay in midnight blue, crested and nest proud. Squawk, indeed. Deer bow their antlered heads to sup from Mirror Lake while short sighted visitors zoom as close as they can before they canter and weave, nimblequick and bouncehop into thicket and through thicket and away again and on again. Glacier Point is a geography lesson. Look, kids, glaciation. Glaciation on its grandest scale. Put down the geography textbooks. This is no time for education. Awe.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Rinsed and faded (day thirteen and fourteen)

In a town where the mullet is a badge of honour, the Mexican kid swills from the stainless steel water fountain tower. They gather in the laundromat. Swarm in the street. Their mullet is my ipod, my laptop, my high end digital camera. We are what we own. Our possessions are our outside image. We emerge naked and nothing. We die in a cocoon of piled up papers, moth eaten clothing, TVs stacked into walls, furniture forests, tile quarries. Spanish tongues in Americana. These cheap stores, they swarm like flies on roadkill. Processed food is my ambrosia, in my striped dungarees and thin cotton V neck multipack T shirt.

Morro Bay is a powerplant town looking for an out. Industrial decline can be the spike in your heart. Look, love, one of those sweet little art galleries. Aren't those nymph statuettes the darn cutest thing you ever did see? Shall we go whalewatching? Brush that cinnamon roll awkwardness under the carpet, you only insulted his town's Fourth of July celebrations...

Just don't go back to Big Sur. Crystal sweep of buff sand curly haired driftwood churned with broken glass and kelp. Rocks saltwater scattered in the curve of shore. Sunbathed ground and lizard scatter scrubland. Here be snakes. Every flick of grass in breeze and we flick our eyes- phantom rattles of serpent's tail, they're everywhere today...

This is a town where everyone hides in their muted one storey shacks, three to a room. This family lives in the garage. Dogs run. Photos of younger, gone and done, done and gone, younger photos, days passed. Nothing will recpature those younger days. Things were brighter then, but the ink has bleached out in the sun. Father is a tile cutter. Never left the west side of America, but his humble ways are his ways, are his ways. He has a little, he has enough. The American dream opted out.

We sit and wonder what happened to the 90s film cartoon spin off. Jumanji, Men In Black, The Mask. Hollywood got its shame back.

The staircases lead nowhere and the windows open onto rooms. Thirteen, everywhere. In the panels, in the floor, in the windowpanes. They ring the bells to drive out the spirits. All killed by Winchester rifles- cowboys, injuns, Germans and Italians. The phantoms. She kept building with an endless fortune, a room for every lost soul. Some psychic told her. Superstitions and child steps switchbacking round. The walls are cracked and the rooms are empty. Earthquake weather. I guess the spirits won. No eternal life for Miss Winchester.

The plains fall away from the road, feather blonde hair shimmering in the summer breezes. They horseback rode through here. Before the roads and the cars and the lorries. On wagons, in convoys. Slaughtered the buffalo and the Native Americans. Built a myth and a saloon. Then they tarmaced and concreted and bricked and advertised, and the tourists came, so they built a myth and a saloon and the tourists came, then they tarmaced and concreted and bricked and advertised, and the tourists came. Old trees soak up the water and soak up the sun and stand on their hillside plots watching like silent sentinels. They saw the tourists come, and they'll see the tourists go.

A toe dipped in the Pacific and I say farewell to the ocean. No saltwater for two months, bar what I sweat in the desert plains. Ice cream can only keep you so cool, before you and it turn into a sloppy puddle on the motel wipe clean stained carpet pattern, a mess of cells in an ordered pattern of nylon fibres.

The national park is a communication deadland. Mobiles don't work, and the internet is a privilege to be earned, not given freely. Black bears will skitter down the mountain and rip your car open like a tin can opener does a can. No scents or no sense. They raid. They will raid. Garbage cans are an aluminium treasure chest. They raided. You wanted to capture this on celluloid, but your camera don't want to. A thousand frames and you have a tree. You cannot homogenise this. This is beyond tourist.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Cliffside sweeps (day eleven and twelve)

California is a plentiful land. Sprinkler fed fields crowd the roadsides- artichokes and avocadoes, cherries and apricots. Americans no longer farm this land. Hordes of Mexican workers bow in peasant clothes before their plaid shirted overlords. The American dream- this land would be dust blown plains without irrigation/immigration.

On a San Franciscan morning the firemen have parked up their engine on the sea front. It's not 1905 any more. Surfers bob, the rolling breakers not strong enough for any tunnel riding. Pelicans flap, stop, slow and plunge down amidst the wetsuited clans, like so many sleekbacked seals, grabbing invisible fish in the grey clouded waters.

From the top of the ferris wheel, on top of the board walk, attached to Santa Cruz, we can see everything. Cross pathed families, teenagers, couples intersecting and a million faces passing by never to be seen again, or somewhere to be seen again, crossing at a future intersection, or queueing in the supermarket, or living down the block. Somewhere down that infinite mosaic. You zoom out, a set of concentric rings, or a maze, or a figure 8.

This is the American house. Grammaw is ensconced as a limited mobility action doll on the armchair. We are strangers in a strange land. We are not welcome here. We say tomato. We say potato. We have an accent. Our license plate is noted on a scrap of paper. Please return our daughter by 10.30 or the authorities will be notified. Implied.

There are no bangs in the skies over Morro Bay this Independence Day. Instead, a thousand laser star spangled banners flutter across the projection screen. They smash a hammer and sickle. This show was last seen gathering dust in a 1970s warehouse. Those days are that-a-way. Single line caricatures dance and play the guitar in time with the slowballad old time rock'n'roll, but the crowd are restless. Where's our whistle and bang? Where's the sparks flashing out from the pulse of light? They aren't there in the laser representations.

Families start leaving within minutes. A small child starts crying. Those early flashes of excitement, anticipation where you bounce on your feet with uncoordinated arm flailing. So soon to change to nonchalance, affected worldweary boredom and ambivalence. It came slightly closer tonight. In the distance, across the harbour, fireworks explode to gleeful reactions from the fleeing masses. So many dreams dashed tonight...

Elephant seals spread their blubber in the sunscalded sand, wrinkled schnozzes snuffing and comical, like B movie aliens. Fleshwaves rhythmic oscillation in a hefty beach shuffle. They came here to scrap and to mate, like a sea front wilderness version of every city centre in every country.

Car rush pedal down and swoop down and up along all the vectors, camber ache in the shoulders and neck. Tailgating is the only way to ride the Californian cliffs. Bludgeon your way through traffic. Roadclambering around windgnarled cypress trees, zigzagging to the soleil. Kelp or sea otter? Always kelp. We are southwest. Two corners of the square. I always liked geometry.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Seafog rolls in.... San Francisco (day nine and ten)

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;

Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection

to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night."

'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg
Our knees are worn out hunks of gristle. Our feet are punded to flaps o'flesh. These staggered hills. These lungbusting monsters. They wear you. The San Andreas fault stuttershift, cut them down. Please.
He sits preaching from a pillar, besuited and enraged. He talks of four families living in a garage, and murders. The dark places in his head. The wasp nests. No one seems to hear him. The wide eyes lady rummages in the bins, grabbing another can for her collection. She shouts at the tourists in the cable car crowds. They watch the ancient carriages swing round the wooden turntable. She is not part of the experience. She is not the picture postcard they take home with them. This city of casualties. This city of the lost.
The photographer has all the tools he needs- a spirit level on top of your camera is a necessary addition, yes sir. His wide brimmed hat, khakis and oversize bumbag are needed for the testing urban environment. San Fran is a jungle, for sure.

And on to Chinatown, rammed with razor elbowed miniature Asian ladies, browsing the lychees and the bok choi, while we ogle the goldencrisp duck carcasses that line the windows. This feels like some kid's drawing of a Chinese town far away. Here be dragons. The park is filled with old Oriental men playing cards, or yahtzee, or mah jongg. Dollar bills are waved. The Subway is an intruder. America can't resist. The vagrant meditates on the edge, head bowed under cowl over cross legged lotus legs, blackened and browned crinkleskin hands resigned.

Old beat stories fill my ears. This town built them up. This bookshop is where it all began. They gave these things their romance back. Misplaced love. Howling out old poems, some kind of liberal. Stifle your giggles love, it's only a phalanx of segway riders. Up old Coit Tower we stare out at the city behind smeared up sheen. People try to throw coins through the gaps, because everyone else has done it, like fountains. Customary customs. There is no reason.

Where are all the homosexuals? The gay district (the Castro) is no more gay than anywhere else. One day they will not have to be ghettoized. I have a dream. Gay porn video rentals and a bear in a sequined thong in store front windows. The bar looks dingy and the lesbian is too intimidated. We don't have enough leather on for this establishment. Will we ever have enough leather?

'Now' say the adverts. Now. Not soon. Everything is in the present tense, in the land without history. Anything past is reconstituted, and recycled into retro and kitsch. Things long gone are a novelty. On Fisherman's Wharf there are no fishermen anymore. The trawlers are rotting in the drydocks. Tourists parade the promenade, marvelling at the human statues and the world famous human bush. The air is thick with the stench of clam chowder from a hundred cheap restaurants.

Alcatraz feels real, layers of concrete and blasted rock on a blasted rock. Army then prison then Native American then attraction. Bad men, murderers and bank robbers were kept here, but the memorials for dead warders don't tinge the romance. Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly still hold their allure. We always side with the criminals. We never side with the government. They weren't freedom fighters. Neither are we. Forbidden dreams lived large for us, not by us. The prison rotted away in the mist.