It has been more than a month since I got back from the United States, where I spent my summer, and I am only just getting around to writing about it and posting photos.
This blog was hosted, until very recently, with WordPress.com, which is a great platform for people who know little about webhosting, but quite limiting for those of us who do. Alas, their 13gb hosting space was not quite enough for my photo-heavy blog, and so I had to make the switch to this new site. There wasn’t even enough space left for me to upload my American trip photos before the switch.
Ah well, I’m here now and ready to blog more than ever before. In the meantime, the website will look a little ugly as things get cobbled together. Please bear with me.
Here it goes: the first of my posts from this summer:
First Stop: New York
My journey from Phuket to New York was, to put it mildly, arduous. I set off in the morning in an over-priced taxi to Phuket airport, then flew to Bangkok, and from Bangkok to Manila. In Manila, I spent something like 18 hours sitting around, waiting for the next leg: a flight to New York. It was a total of 47 hrs of flying and sitting in airports, and Philippine Airlines are not exactly the best.
Upon arrival in America, I was subject the usual bullshit: We all get off the plane and stand in a long line in some random hallway. All the Americans are called to the front, then all those people with green cards and other forms of permanent or semi-permanent residence. Finally, all us temporary immigrants are lined up for another half hour before being released into the immigration zone – a mess of queues.
Not many people at JFK airport actually speak English, which is odd. They are mostly big Jamaican women with a penchant for screaming and general rudeness. A host of visitors with poor English struggled through this primitive system, only to be screamed at by these vile halfwits.
“Get to the back of the line – NOW!”
Give an idiot an ounce of power, and they’ll become a Nazi before you can say “death squad.”
After only two and a half hours of mindless queuing, I reached the immigration officer. She was, incredibly, the first pleasant person I’d met.
“You made it!” she said. “Welcome.”
I looked behind me and saw that I was the last person through. Of the thousands of people in the room, many of whom had been behind me, I was somehow the last let into the United States.
The first night was spent in a crappy little Howard Johnson by the airport, and the following day I took off for Manhattan. On the bus from JFK, I saw a hugely fat man in a speedo jogging down the street and I knew I had really made it. This was America.
It was 2012 when I last visited this country. I was a different person then and it was a different world. Seven years is a long time in some respects… The Obama administration was long gone and replaced by the monstrously incompetent Trump administration, for one thing. As for me, I was no longer a happily married man with the world at my feet. I was divorced and getting old.
America was also more expensive now. It used to be much cheaper than Europe, but this time around it was shocking to me just to see the prices on everything from bus tickets to food in restaurants or even supermarkets. From Asia, I had heard news of people demanding an increase in the minimum wage and I had thought, “My god! $15 an hour! That’s ridiculously high!” But after seeing America up close, I wondered how anyone could survive without that sort of income.
For a few days, I stayed with poet, Bob Rosenthal, author of Straight Around Allen. He kindly showed me around the East Village, pointing out scenes from Beat history.
We explored the area, ate some wonderful food, and visited Kettle of Fish and White Horse – two important literary pubs. I also managed to visit the Allen Ginsberg offices, where I met Peter Hale for the first time, and also met Marc Stein of Litkicks. It was a pleasure to spend time with such fantastic people, and I wished I had more time in New York.
After a few days, I took off for Louisville, Kentucky. I had actually visited New York once before, when writing my book on William S. Burroughs. However, this trip was about covering new ground, and Kentucky was one state I had never seen before.
I have been a fan of Hunter S. Thompson’s work since I was about 18 years old, when a friend handed me a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s a familiar story, I guess. Many young people stumbled into books like this in such a fashion.
Every year, in July, Louisville celebrates the birth of one of its favourite sons with a festival called Gonzofest. This year was my first time attending, and I was excited to meet people whom I had known online for many years – Dr. Rory Feehan, William McKeen, Margaret Harrell, and Ron Whitehead to name but a few.
At the airport in Louisville, my good friend Harrison picked me up in – what else? – a bright red convertible. We tore off into the city and stayed in a cool little AirBnb in the Old Town of Limerick. It’s apparently America’s biggest Victorian-era neighbourhood and was certainly a pleasant place to drive around. You couldn’t do much walking, though, due to the heatwave.
Gonzofest was a blast and so was Louisville itself. After a day of listening to interesting talks by Hunter Thompson experts and the Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, we headed into the downtown area to sample the local bourbons and even a mint julep. Hell, when in Kentucky…
The drawback to being in Louisville for only two nights is that you must squeeze about a hundred different bourbons into your sampling schedule, and things tend to get messy. We tried our darndest but probably didn’t get through half of them. Save something for next time, eh?
When morning (or early afternoon) rolled around, it was time to leave this beautiful old city and point our car south for Tennessee. It wouldn’t be a long drive to Nashville, where we were to spend much of our time in the South, but after that we had an epic road trip lined up through a half dozen more states… It was a month-long journey covering a lot of ground, and it was just beginning.