Day 61. I imagine it's been a slow working week for the residents of Sri Lanka, as it seems almost the entire population of the country was in the Willis Tower today. The sky deck offered incredible panoramic views of the city as well as an awkward photograph for a princely sum. Chicago is the first place we've been that reflects what I thought an American city would be like. It's busier than anywhere on the west coast. You get the feeling that, like anywhere in the world, it may be dangerous at night but it's not half as hostile as the news portrays it to be. If we purposely signed up to have a walking tour of a ghetto my mind would change. There was a man on the tube who had a lampshade on his head with a telephone attachment. There's nothing you can really say after that.
Day 62. There's an impressive array of exhibits at The Field Museum. The standout one contained animals from around the world and it should have been titled 'Look what mankind has done to nature, YOU SHITS!’ It displayed all the species we've hunted to extinction or driven to near extinction by destroying habitats etc. Other than experiencing huge pangs of guilt, we've meandered through the day. Toronto tomorrow.
Day 63. When I'm made president of the world, my first act will be to ban wheelie suitcases as they make me monumentally angry. Once that's out of the way, I'll sort out world peace etc. There was an Amish family at Chicago Airport waiting to board a flight; I thought there'd be more chance of seeing a priest at a strip club. The only reason I can think of to explain why they were there is that they were going to assemble a wooden plane by hand and then self- propel themselves to their destination. I was under the impression that aeroplanes were heinous, devil machines. As soon as we arrived in Toronto it became apparent, Canada is the friendliest nation on earth. Homeless people smile at you, train conductors don't seem to care if you have a ticket or not and we were given directions from someone without asking for them. It's hard to decipher what they're talking about with their heads bobbing up and 'doon', but they're genial all the same. It was nice to see Old Liz's icy glare staring back at you on their money.
Day 64. Even the exchange rate is polite. Toronto's a big city yet it feels small in a strange way; everything s in walking distance. Unlike San Fran, it's not particularly unique but it feels comfortable and homely. I thought I had inadvertently stumbled across an undiscovered animal, the Black Squirrel. Wikipedia than denounced me as a liar when it said they are about as common as dogs. Currently, our South Korean host is teaching herself violin, which is excruciating to endure. She's genteel and given her limited English, we're reduced to gesticulating and forcibly smiling every time we come into contact. Tawdry conversation is off the table, which is a positive.
Day 65. After frequenting a jazz bar last night, it became apparent that I'm neither intelligent nor pretentious enough to understand contemporary jazz; what a relief. Every 'song' sounded like the ending sequence to a 1970's detective drama. Niagara Falls was breath taking, powerful and intimidating. On the boat you got close enough to feel the pressure they produced as well as getting saturated. Maybe because I've only seen them on T.V prior today, I expected them to be a bit bigger but nevertheless they were a grand spectacle. Part of the trip included a trip to Niagara On The Lake, where I managed to procure Marmite and both a Lion and Picnic from a shop selling exclusively English goods. The happiness this induced was quite pathetic but the chocolate here is so shit it's offensive. The final stop was a winery where they served us 'Ice Wine', which tastes like boiled down cough sweets. It would be unmindful if I didn’t mention our complete arse of a tour guide. Imagine every unfunny relative you've ever met, multiply it by two then add on a shit haircut covered in wet look gel. From the start he bombarded us with a salvo of terrible jokes as well as inane drivel about Canada. He mentioned everything from facts about bridges, information about peaches and Donald Sutherland. I lapsed into a boredom coma a few times and in between those I was eyeing up emergency exits. The man's enthusiasm and knowledge can't be questioned but you can encourage him to write new material or shut up.
Day 66. Our final day in Toronto and we haven't done a great deal. In general, my disdain for American people grows. They're loud, obnoxious, boisterous, and tactless...(until I run out of breath). To be fair, none of our hosts have lived up to the stereotype and have been the exceptions. Joyce, our host, had a laughing fit earlier for no reason, which was confusing. I think she's smoking PCP in her bedroom.
Day 67. We were on a flight, then not on a flight, then on, then not, then on a flight and we arrived in Boston. It's a stark contrast to the generic, nasal whine of the west coast accent. Here, the accent is comical and has character: Garden is 'Gahden' and square is 'squayuh'. It's refreshing to hear something different after such a long time. There's opulence about the downtown area, mainly due to the prestige that surrounds Harvard University. It looks like a giant 'college' campus, if the college had unruly youths freestyling and smoking weed in a park. It's possibly the only place so far that has a modicum of history attached to it, given that Irish settlers first came here hundreds of years ago. I can't think seriously about going home yet; there's a giant space in my mind filled with dread reserved for the occasion.
Day 68. "It's gone to penalty kicks", said the American man wearing a Bayern Munich shirt watching the German cup final. To hear them not being referred to as 'pens' or simply 'penalties' made me unsettled. I don't think they should be allowed to pretend to like football never mind comment on it, besides 'football' here isn't even football. Everything about Boston exudes charm, from 'Bawstin' Common to the 'North End'. The Freedom trail is interesting if you like walking and history combined, which obviously we love.
Day 69. With the exception of Yorkshire, Boston has the best accent I've ever heard, it's infectious and hilarious to listen to. We went to Fenway Park to watch Rounders, or Baseball as they call it. The game itself is a complete non-event; all hype and no substance. We bought tickets from a tout who looked like the corpse of John Candy with three days worth of breakfast down his top. In a sense, it was refreshing to go to a sporting event where I had no invested interest.Because I knew nothing, I didn't care. It was America personified: pageantry (batters had their own entrance music, like wrestlers), loud music, gratuitous amounts of food and the obligatory national anthem for no apparent reason. I think the Red Sox won but I can’t be too sure, the man next to me had to tell me the score at one point. As an experience it was enjoyable but as a sport it is mind numbingly awful. It's hypocritical of them to question how the English can sit through a test match when they're willingly prepared to suffer through a day of that.
Day 70. 19 days until the terrifying prospect of reality hits home. With that in mind, it makes days like today seem valuable. We didn't do anything noteworthy, just walked around, but to be able to revel in idleness with a carefree attitude is something we should savour. We're clinging on to the last vestiges of unbound freedom. Ruminations aside, I learnt today that elderly Asian women are boorish and aggressive, especially on public transport.
Day 71. For the record, Errol Brown is not dead; he is alive and well working as a cabin crew member for American Airlines. Either that or he has a duplicate because the man on the plane was his body double. Some hosts can be quite coy at first; they don't give too much away and sometimes make you feel as though you’re intruding rather than paying money to share their home. Jean Pierre, our host in Washington is the complete opposite; he's affable, gregarious and exudes positivity. Sometimes this would come across as annoying and contrived but you genuinely get the feeling that he enjoys and savours life. He has a great bellowing guffaw and his face is adorned with a beard so regal that my feeble attempt at facial hair almost leapt off my face in intimidation. Admittedly, I'm quite cynical when it comes to meeting new people, but Air BnB has helped me to do away with my former pessimism.
Day 72. I thought the large male at the bar said "They call you Toulmin?" After ignoring him once, Eve prompted me to turn round and look my potential killer in the eye. Then, I realised he said, "They call you Tormund? "(Game of Thrones character). I swallowed my heart and laughed it off, relieved and quite flattered at the same time. That's the fourth or fifth time someone has made that comparison although sometimes it's Connor Mcgregor, to which there's absolutely no likeness. We've been in full tourist mode visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Martin Luther King Memorial. All were incredibly evocative and are poignant symbols of pride, valour and justice. All were befitting tributes to inspirational figures.
Day 73. The White House: Huge, decadent mansion with acres of land. Downing Street: Terrace House with no garden and a cat. The differences in the properties subtly reflect the attitudes of the two nations. America is bombastic and things have to have grandeur whilst England shows modesty , humility and a touch more class. The 'Secret Service' was patrolling the grounds, thoroughly assessing everything that moved but they seemed less furtive and more conspicuous with 'SECRET SERVICE' emblazoned on their uniforms. It was thirty degrees today but it felt like two hundred, my milky complexion couldn’t handle such a solar battering. Washington doesn't bear much charm; it feels slightly abrasive as a place. Georgetown however is quainter and better natured. There are constant reminders throughout the city that this was where a nation was conceived; there's a huge sense of civic pride as well as patriotism.
Day 74. What better way to tell your loved one: "I don't love you and I hate you" than buying them a bronze bust of Ronald Regan? A snip at $199.99. Just one example of the kind of tat sold in shops. There was nothing we could do except eat and drink, the heat was stifling. Even a self confessed sun-worshipper like Eve complained. She drank a milkshake that had the consistency of wallpaper paste as well as containing four hundred bags of sugar and once I prized her out of her seat we went to complain about the heat some more. Here they have Terrapins and snakes rather than shopping trolleys in their canals. We're heading to Philadelphia by Greyhound bus tomorrow; I hope we encounter the worst of society.
Day 75. I imagined it to be a mass of vomit and blood but the bus journey was a far tamer experience than what I was hoping for. Apparently, there was a fight before we got on so I was kind of right. For no discernible reason, I prefer Philadelphia to Washington and we've only been here three hours.
Day 76. I heard a 'witty' retort today. A predatory homeless man, doing his rounds asked a gentleman for change. When asked he replied: "If I had change I'd be in a whorehouse". It's funny yet makes me think his wife makes him use a credit card everywhere. Philadelphia is aesthetically beautiful and filled with resplendent architecture that wouldn't look out of place in any European city. Went to the rocky steps, decided not to do the mandatory Rocky montage run because it's not big or clever. We found ourselves in a bar tonight that was slightly sketchy. There were very large males and heavily made up large women everywhere. I daren't go the toilet, not only for my own safety but to save me from phallic embarrassment. Eve however made herself at home, twerking and table dancing. I haven't seen her since....
Day 77. We walked a lot today. We walked so far it seemed we were displaying an unnecessary defiance against using public transport. The liberty bell has a noble tradition and is steeped in history relevant to American and world culture. I however, couldn't help but notice that it was just a huge bell with a crack in it. Tonight there was a Chinese lantern festival; it was okay but would've been better with booze.
Day 78. More walking. More sweating. More eating. There doesn't seem to be an 'average' build of person. It's either they're enormous or rake thin.
Day 79. No fight on the Greyhound to Jersey but there was nearly a drug deal in plain sight. I know this because I was involved. Standing outside the bus station, I must have conveyed the image of being a frequent drug user. The dealer, sensing I was his target market offered me "grass, good cush?". I declined but then, not to be beaten, he asked me "well, what's your drug of choice?” He could sense a sale. I would've liked the novelty of him displaying a buffet of powders and pills before me, like a drug waiter but sadly he didn't. I replied, "I don't have one mate". With one final gambit he asked, "You snort coke? I got two good G'S". I stood back in awe of his professional sales pitch, deliberated for a few seconds then decided on "no". Not to be disheartened by my rudeness, he carried on with his business like any good, young entrepreneur. There's no point in saying Jersey is 'different' or using any adjectives to mask the fact that it's just a bit shit. Anywhere that reminds me of Bradford doesn't fill me with promise. The house is nice, but we've invoked a voluntary curfew that entails getting home before nightfall, locking the doors, loading the shotgun and wait it out till morning. New York is so close you can see the skyline from the street. It's like the 'let's see what you could've won prize', mocking our plight. Luckily, we intend on being in New York during the day and using the house as a base. I may have to get my hair braided or get a grill fitted to assimilate with our new surroundings.
Day 80. My neck hurts from looking upwards all day. New York dwarfs everything. It's intimidating and claustrophobic yet exciting and inspiring. I looked like a country bumpkin, standing there slack-jawed looking at the skyscrapers. The streets are like working ant farms; everyone pursuing their own tasks for the day. We were coerced into going to a comedy club by an incredibly persistent salesman who wouldn't take no for an answer. If yesterday’s drug dealer had his endeavour I would've walked away with two G's.
Day 81. I'd go as far to say, the Statue of Liberty has been the most underwhelming thing I've seen so far. It's a nice statue with a nice meaning but once you see it, that's it. Any sense of excitement you may have had soon dissipates. There's only so long you can look at it for, so a twenty-minute trip was probably eighteen minutes too long. It's confined to the 'at least you can say you've seen it' list. The day began with a sombre tone as we visited the 9/11 memorial. It's hard to comprehend the enormity of the damage and the cataclysmic effect it had on the city. The new Trade Centre is a mighty symbol of defiance and exemplifies the unity of the city.
Day 82. People get louder, fatter and ruder by the day. We went to 'Raclette', which is French for 'put a shit load of cheese on it'. It's a restaurant where they bring out a wheel of melted cheese and pour it over your food; brilliant idea, great place but due to the miniscule size of it (14 people) it felt as though you were eating in a lift. You were touching elbows with the person next to you, unfortunately for us we were placed next to two girls who were talking to each other at such a volume you'd think they were standing in a building site. I was agitated, any social anxieties I have had come to the fore and I was rubbing my earlobes whilst sweating profusely in panic. It may be a cultural difference, we might be too timid and shy or we might be prudish but I was offended by it all. The entire nation is volume impaired.
Day 83. I ate so much today I convinced myself I was pregnant. I'm turning slightly American but thankfully it's coming at a late stage. I'll be relieved to leave New Jersey, not only because I'll have escaped a gunshot wound but because the commute is tiring, expensive and annoying.
Day 84. I've always been cynical about stand-up comedy- I never thought I'd enjoy it, but now, after going to a show I can now say, I feel exactly the same. In summation, it was black guys telling jokes everyone was allowed to laugh at and Jewish guys telling jokes nobody was allowed to laugh at. A few hearty chuckles were banded around but nothing came close to being as funny as the man who fell up the stairs in the subway earlier. Coney Island was different. The haphazard aesthetic made it feel slightly sinister. Apparently, it's not as creepy as it used to be.
Day 85. Weight gain week is going well. Went to Katz's, an iconic deli, for a pastrami sandwich; I'll be full until November. The ‘The Book of Mormon’ redeemed last night’s comedy dirge exponentially. Usually, laughing hurts my face so I try not to do too much of it but watching this, I couldn't help it. I've now seen two musicals in my life, had a pedicure and a cucumber face wrap. Am I cultured, or something else?
Day 86. I'm getting used to the kamikaze pedestrian way: close your eyes and walk until something does or doesn't hit you. With this method, you get everywhere half a second faster. Eve ate a Bagel that looked like playdough because bright colours excite her. The entries are becoming more abrupt and tacit because the more I write, the closer our departure seems. The less I write, the further away leaving seems.
- Met Xander
I think that's abrupt enough.
Day 88. The penultimate day, we're both in pensive state thinking about flying home. We're fondly remembering the past 87 days and carefully contemplating the future. Sadness and excitement are shared equally. Although I'll miss America, I'm equally looking forward to returning to friends and family. The whole experience has given me a sense of freedom I craved for; my yearning to travel hasn't quelled but has become stronger now I know I can do it. It would be hasty to profess that I've become more confident, only time will tell, but what I am assured of now is my competence to act independently. I haven't done it alone, Eve has been a constant loving companion and I'm honoured to have spent this time with her. America is a beautiful country: it's enigmatic, eccentric, bold, brazen and at times completely absurd. For all its positive idiosyncrasies, there are too many flaws which would deter me from living here. The self-proclaimed 'land of the free, home of the brave' has proved to be a misleading title. It's surreal to be writing about the end when it feels as though I've only just finished the first page. A long time has gone by in a short while.
- 2 people
- 90 days
- 31 locations
- 14 states
- 3 countries
- 8 flights
- 5471 mile car journey
- 2 greyhound buses
- 23 air bnb houses
- 4 hotels
- 3 motels
- 1 freebie.
All in all.... I’m quite proud of that.
Day 90. Home.
Published by Josh Toulmin