|My travelling companion, Stampy.|
I blame The Strokes.
The NYC rockers famously broke through with their 2001 debut album Is This It and were hailed as the saviours of rock. (Although they weren’t even nominated for Best New Act at the Grammys, rather proving Homer Simpson’s views on the matter). At the time I didn't want to know. There was tonnes of great rock out of Australia in those days, I was wary of fads, and most of all a bit of trauma in my personal life months before had left me uninterested in new music. When YOLO came out in 2006, I loved the song but didn't know it was by The Strokes for ages and when I eventually found out, I still didn’t seek out any of their music (too busy lying facedown on the floor listening to Triptych by the Tea Party). It wasn't until I heard their new cut Why Are Sundays So Depressing on the radio in 2020 and realised yes, this is exactly the song I need right now, and I went on an obsessive deep dive of everything the band had ever released. Then when Sydney went into the 107 day lockdown, we were confined to within 5km of home, and our local council area, which was basically commensurate with 5km from home. I made a lot of trips with my son to the local park which was one of the few parks with a playground of interest to kids older than 5. While he tackled the climbing frame and flying fox, I had time to do a lot of reading. On my quest to know more about The Strokes I read Meet Me In The Bathroom and contrasted life running around the New York rock scene in the early 2000s with being stuck in a park watching your kid, knowing your best days are both behind you and were wasted when you had them. I vowed then that if I make it out of lockdown and this morbid depression I would go to New York.
So 2022 rolled around, the two year ban on Australians leaving the country was lifted, and the time had come for me to live up to my vow. As I booked flights, I figured that since I needed to cross the United States anyway I might as well see a bit of the rest of the country as well (there are no direct flights from Australia to New York, despite news stories that assure us four hour flights from Sydney to London are only a decade away popping up in the news since I was a kid). Then somehow – the details are fuzzy even to me – it morphed into a month long, multi legged odyssey through America and Mexico. I’ve often felt like a passenger in my own life. I decided to enjoy the ride. After two years of disruptions from an ongoing pandemic, I figured I’d better keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.
And I got the unexpected before I’d even left New South Wales. I ordered a backpacking case from a retailer in Queensland, noting with some apprehension that they use Australia Post. Australia Post hates me. I don’t know whether it’s because I pointed out that their delivery is literally at less than a snail’s pace, or because I made fun of the amusingly useless stuff they sell in their post offices (Yummy Can Bacon? Battery Daddy?), but they lose, delay, misdirect, and mangle my stuff all the time. Like everyone else, I get missed delivery notifications when I was home the whole day. But rather than just sending stuff to my local post office for pick up, my packages could end up in any post office in Sydney for collection. I kept a close eye on the tacking for my rucksack, noting that the retailer dispatched it the day I ordered it, and the bag made it from Brisbane to the western Sydney distribution centre in two days. Then…nothing. My bag hadn’t moved according to the online tracking, and then it was two weeks later and the store was letting me know they’d received the bag back and was processing a refund. What? I wanted the bag! I needed the bag! I was flying out in ten days and if I didn’t get that bag I’d be carrying my stuff In a collection of little backpacks I’d bought over the years on a series of whims, and all because at some stage Australia Post confused the sender’s address with the receivers address and were a pack of you know what elses to boot.
When I contacted the store, they were super apologetic and helpful and sent it straight back to me by express post and this time, it arrived. But the time I’d spent worrying about the bag was mental capacity I didn’t spend on more important matters – just little things like making a budget and list of must-sees – and I arrived in America with a general idea of where I was going to go, but only the vaguest notion of what I would do when I got there.
But I wasn’t completely feckless. Going to the United States, I always make sure to book the second cheapest travel insurance policy. I purchased unlimited medical insurance, in case I fainted in the street and came to on an IV for dehydration and a $10,000 bill. My policy also came with cover to repatriate my remains in case I got hit by a car or a billiard table fell on me. Though really, just have me cremated over there; my ashes could go home in the post, and everyone could spend the savings on a big party to lie about what a wonderful person I was. Because if my insurance ever becomes necessary, I’d rather just die than have to deal with making a claim on my insurance, knowing it would go a little something like this:
"I'm sorry to say we have denied your claim. We didn't view your ER attendance as necessary"
"I had a kidney infection the hospital said was an hour away from developing into sepsis."
"That’s why we’ve denied your claim; you went to the hospital before you even had sepsis. So we are not paying the bill for your hospital stay, which comes to $41,000 bed, IV drips of antibiotics and nutrition, 2 aspirin and – good lord what is this, a pay per view movie titled Big Jiggly Jugs?!"
"I, uh, had a hand tremor and wanted tips on suitable beverage containers"
Luckily, I ended up not needing to make a claim on my insurance, dead or alive. But by the time I’d rolled through Los Angeles, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, New York, Connecticut, Puerto Vallarta and San Francisco, my itinerary had been twisted out of all recognition, and so had I. I disliked things I expected to like, loved things I had been unsure about, made some life changing realisations and ate a lot of packaged snack foods. I fetched up back home needing to make sense of everything that happened, so I started to write about it. And now, to force myself to finish writing about it, I’ll be posting it here, as instalments, twice a week from now until late January. So join us on our journey waddling across America.
All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence
Our wanderings to guide.
Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast –
And half believe it true.
Lewis Carroll, "All in the golden afternoon"