Saturday, 9 March 2013

In Detroit...

I woke up early so as not to miss the flight, put the alarm on snooze a couple of times and then got up and prepared to leave the hotel (and Knoxville). I'd ordered a taxi for 0645hrs and when I went outside I found a man with handlebar moustache asleep at the wheel of his cab. He didn't even wake up when I tapped on the window so I thought, no, I don't want to be driven to the airport by this man.

I walked back to the hotel, having already checked another cab and found that he was waiting for somebody to take to the hospital. As it turned out, as well you might expect, the sleepy taxi driver was mine. He even knew my name! He was the guy I'd booked and I was to be his last passenger for the day.

We didn't exchange names, but he was pleasant enough, although Knoxville taxi drivers seem half asleep to me. Yesterday I wanted to go to the North Wright Road, number 2300, but the guy was useless: first he tapped in South Wright Road into his SatNav and I had to tell him that it was North Wright Road and then, well, he couldn't find the place. Fortunately, he got his act together and I wasn't late for my appointment – which would have been a disaster. He was a musician and too laid back in my opinion to be a taxi driver. He knew somebody from the band America (of Horse with No Name fame) and was hoping to get a band together with him – or something like that.

Todays driver was different. He used to live in New York where he was involved in selling mortgages – until the recession hit. Then he split up with his girlfriend (he'd already been married twice) and blamed his misfortune on his 'two heads', one being his real head and the other, he intimated, his cock. In other words, somewhere along the line he'd been caught out with another woman, his relationship had split up and he decided to move out of New York and start a cabbing job in Knoxville.

Right now he's not got a girlfriend, but he does have 'dawgs' – six of them! And they keep him busy. He dropped me off at the airport and that's where the problems began. In a nutshell, the United flight to Denver had been cancelled so I was re-routed to Detroit and then LA, but I wouldn't be leaving until lunch time, 12.35pm to be precise and not with United but Delta.

I then had to waste time at Knoxville. I had breakfast in Ruby Tuesday and then just walked around until it was time to head for the gate.

The flight was okay – clear skies all the way, despite the Captain saying it was overcast in Detroit. I travelled with a fairly large man on his way to a seafood convention (basically, a weekend eating seafood and drinking wine). I felt like telling him to go easy, but I figured he wouldn't listen.

America has more than it's fair share of fat people and, in my opinion, they shouldn't be allowed on plancs. I'm not joking. There were two HUGE women on my plane and all I can say is thank God they were friends as this meant they sat together and didn't squash me into the wall of the plane.

I can understand why they are fat: it's their diet. Everything, even healthy food, is made to be unhealthy. They will take, say a roasted chicken leg – fairly light and healthy – and do something like batter or deep-fry it. I had a meal that was accompanied by vegetables the other day and guess what, they'd deep fried them.

When I arrived at Detroit it was time for lunch. Back in Knoxville, having not had breakfast at the hotel, I went to Ruby Tuesday where, incidentally, one of the male customers didn't think twice about blowing off really loudly and then walking off to the restrooms with a mildly peeved look on his face. It was all very well, but I was tucking in to my Western Omelette and it was the last thing I expected to hear.

So, Detroit and it's lunch time. What an airport, by the way! It's huge! I debated leaving the airport and going downtown but was advised not to. "It's only casinos and it'll cost you fifty bucks both ways," said a helpful member of Delta's ground team. The view was: stay in the airport, so I did. In fact I walked along the length of the terminal building, which was roughly half a mile in either direction, passing various mid-spend restaurants along the way, some good, some not so good. In the end I opted for Chilis Too and, fortunately, there was a 'light choices' section. I ordered chicken breast with rice and brocolli and a glass of red wine and, right now, as I write this, I don't feel stuffed.  But there was another great example of the American diet: the waitress asked me if I would like some soup so I said, yes, okay, and she brought some some soup in a small bowl and it would have been fine had it not been covered with grated cheese. Why? Why can't they just leave their food alone?

The meal was pleasant as I had One Man & His Bike to continue reading, but now, with lunch out of the way, I've nothing else to do other than write this blog, so here I am, writing it. My LA flight boards at 7pm from Gate A24 and, as it write this, it's only 4.30pm.

As I've said in previous posts I just want to go home. Perhaps I didn't say that, perhaps it was just in emails to my wife, but I just want to go home. I'm tired and I want to go to bed. I won't reach LA until just before 10pm  – and that's if the flight is on time. So I'm not going to see much of the place tonight and then tomorrow (Sunday) I've got to take a train to Irvine from Grand Union station.

Once Monday's interview is over I'll have some spare time before flying off home on Monday night. I take off at 8.30pm and arrive home at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon. I'd like to get a cup of coffee, but I feel dutybound never to buy anything from Starbucks as they don't pay their taxes in the UK. I might take a wander and find another retailer selling tea.

What's really weird is the sparrows. They're in the terminal building flying around and eating scraps of food left by the travellers. They have trees here in huge tubs and the sparrows are in the trees chirping away. Somebody remarked the other day that you don't see that many sparrows in the UK anymore. She had a point. But here they in inside an airport.

I'm wondering whether there will be bikes for hire in LA and, if there is, will it be safe enough to use them? I don't want to end up in gangland like Michael Douglas in Falling Down – not on a bike at any rate.

Yesterday I took a trolley bus ride around Knoxville. There wasn't really that much to see if I'm honest. That's the odd thing about America with, perhaps, the exception of established cities like Los Angeles, New York and Washington. Places like San Antonio have a 'downtown' area but it's as if the whole thing is a film set, propped up from behind by wooden supports and nothing behind the facade.

Knoxville and San Antonio were like this; they had a 'downtown', yes, but they were fairly small and once you'd travelled just a short distance, you found yourself on the outskirts of town. I remember feeling this way about Calgary in North Western Canada and it was true enough: once outside of the main town, things thinned out and soon you were out on the prairies.

For obvious reasons, the Americans don't have the history that we do in the UK, but they're trying hard. In San Antonio there's the Alamo, but it's not that impressive. Knoxville is trying hard to regenerate itself. Market Square is pleasant and they have a few street performers, but it's no Covent Garden. What America has going for it is the countryside. Knoxville is surrounded by the Smoky Mountains and there's the Tennessee River, it's an outdoorsy sort of place. San Antonio is just San Antonio, it's pleasant enough and they're trying hard too with their Riverwalk that snakes through the city. But in either city you can't go that far on foot before you hit the city limits. In many ways this is good, there's no urban sprawl like in the UK, but I don't like the way that things peter out, run out of batteries so to speak.

One thing I did notice as we came into land in Detroit was that here there is urban sprawl. Landing in San Antonio or Knoxville the land surrounding the airport is largely fields and open space, similarly in Calgary. From the air you can see the spaces, the vast open spaces that separate cities and towns. But whether I could live here I don't know. In many ways, the UK is one big suburb and you're never far from anywhere, nothing runs out on you. There's always a pub or a gas station or something.

And then there's the Harley Davidson. I've seen a few out here and I can see the point of them, but not in the UK. Because of it's sheer size and the distances involved – Americans think nothing of driving for 18 hours solid if they have to – there's a point to owning a Harley Davidson. But not in the UK. I'm afraid the M6 or the M25 don't quite have the ring of the Interstate Highways.

I'll stop there or I'll miss my flight to LA.

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