Monday, August 17, 2009

Day Twenty - Boone, North Carolina

The contrast between life in New York and that in Boone really is almost immeasurable when I look at pictures of both parts of the trip. In New York the camera worked overtime keeping up with my snap-happy fingers, framing and committing to memory almost any sight of note. It was, looking back with 20/20 vision here, a race to keep up with the city itself. In Boone there was no race track, never mind a race in and of itself which is why when I look back at the twentieth day spent in the United States, I have but a handful of pictures. It’s not that we didn’t do very much, well actually it is, but it is the type of things done that I suppose didn’t really merit a picture but rather were best committed to my own memory so that when such menial things were done at home I would remember how these things felt when done so many thousands of miles away. Throwing a Frisbee in North Carolina isn’t all that different to throwing a Frisbee in Cork or Kerry but I did think about this while engaging in some frantic throwing and the odd dive that dyed my shorts a shade of green over the cream and grey excuse it had for a pattern. The Frisbee is the same, the throw is the same, the wind is the same annoying one that makes a fool out of you by pushing the disc toward you before then, just as you have committed to a hyperbolic lunge/dive, pulls it back and lands it three feet opposite to where you’re knee fell to the ground from 4 feet up. Fecking wind. Even the scenery was similar, lovely as it was, for let’s face facts here, Ireland is not known as the Emerald Isle for the colour of some of its seaweed. The difference was in the distance.

Yet again the day had started off in a lazy fashion, no one really got up early which suited me for you already know how I feel about getting up. In fact you already know the painfully slow workings of my mind in the morning and my solidarity with people of the same mentality. Another difference between Boone and the earlier parts of the trip was the amount of sport-type activites which we engaged in. The day before we had gone hiking and squeezed in a trip to the Mast General Store which is, apparently, one of Boone’s more famous gifts to the world, or at least to the US (which according to a recent survery IS the world). With the hiking all of us tagged along so we had a full Honda Civic on the go (5 seats for 5 people) but today wasn’t in anyway planned. I’m not saying the hiking was but the sentiment for it had been laid down the previous day, the Frisbeeing was completely off the cuff though. Allison stayed in the apartment and Jessica was……..actually where was Jessica? It was only when we were leaving the apartment, Frisbee in tow, that it dawned on me that Jessica was clearly not around. If I had been paying attention to conversation the previous night I would have known she wouldn’t be but clearly I had heard and not listened, a phrase I am borrowing for this from my own mother whom I so frequently “didn’t listen” to when younger and, taking a wild guess here, also at present. She was going out to a festival with her Dad, something I had been told about before that conversation the previous night but which I had confined to the back of my memory because I was too entwined with the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains out of the car window as we passed the fair site where she was going with her Dad. It was a Scottish festival and her roots go all the way back to that bonnie land so she was going to the festival this Saturday with her father, it all made sense now. I also remembered that she had said that we could meet her father that morning if we were awake. I was asleep. The kind of asleep where you are in the bed, blanket warmed from sleeping there all night, blanket on top of you, pillows under your head and thoughts of “ah, no pressure to get up, this is much too comfy yet”. Refer to my explanation about how my mind works at this early hour of the morning in order to fully fit in with this line of thought…read it twice if you are one of those early risers who just loves the mornings and thinks everyone else will if you rub into their faces just how awake and happy you are at 7am. Twice for you. As I was lying there I could hear Jessica’s father come in the door and felt that I should really get out of bed and introduce myself for I guessed that the chances of him bursting into the bedroom to do likewise would be slim at best. I moved in the bed a little wondering how long he would stay and I could hear that he was mispronouncing Donal’s name. Donal was yet again to be “Don-Al” not “Dough-Nal”. You’d understand it more if Donal had actually written out his name and handed it to Jessica’s father by way of introduction but he didn’t, he said it out and all that had to happen was a repeat of what Donal had actually spoke. If I found it strange, which I did, I can only imagine how Don-Al felt – this was the second person of any note who had managed to get it all wrong. Poor fella was all alone in facing this onslaught on his name too, although I could hear Jessica chirp in with a correction but I was thinking that this could get particularly awkward and maybe if I was there it might not be so difficult. There was no way I could make the shower without passing the living area and thus having to stop and chat…there was no way I could make it really. The blanket was lovely and warm anyway and he’d be leaving soon too. Logic told me this would be a first and last impression for Jessica’s father (when would I ever see him again?!) and weren’t Americans very demanding when it comes to first impressions? Surely my hair, tossed and coming out in all directions wouldn’t be a nice sight. The excuses rolled on until I heard the door close and a small bit of guilt crept in. The thought of some nice morning coffee, with the vanilla flavour (both natural and artificial) got rid of that. I should have gotten up though.

Suzanne, Donal and I drove down to the university playing fields which seemed to be much like UCC’s Farm (not for animals despite the name, for sports…although Gaelic football is played there so perhaps there is a connection with animals). Suzanne explained that the car park we were leaving the car, and my camera in, is where you have to park as a first year student due to parking restrictions on the main campus at the other side of the town. A bus, the Appal Cart, would bring you to the college for free. Not that I really looked into it, although I probably should have, the Appal Cart actually was a town wide bus service and was free. Imagine the number 2 being free into Patrick’s Street (and yes it does go there but only after 7pm)? The sun was shining, it was a lovely day as we stepped from the car and walked down towards the fields. There didn’t seem to be any particular layout to it but we walked, crossed a small river with an ornate and roofed bridge and set out to throw the disc around the place, and hopefully catch it too. As we walked across the cut grass I thought that a football would be a much better idea, we could kick it around, run, pass, curl it around. There was a girl around, friend or not, so obviously you’d have to look as macho as possible and I reckoned a football would allow the machismo to be better showed. Still the Frisbee throwing was fun, I hadn’t done it in quite while and the surroundings were perfect for it. There was a relatively steep hill on one side, the car park over some fields on the other…actually we were in a bit of a bowl as there was hills on all sides really, some closer than others and this made it into quite a picturesque place. Perhaps the hills were also a reason for the lack of any real breeze and with the sun taking its toll I took off my shirt so that I wouldn’t have to wear a virtual damp sponge. I could also get a bit of a tan as well I thought because I didn’t want to be labelled with the usual “farmers tan” tag that a lot of Irish people receive when they come back from holidays. Thinking about that now perhaps it’s just an item of begrudgery because you have been on holidays and they haven’t and for that, they (whoever “they” are) must find some fault with you. Best to be one step ahead of those people. Actually it’s best to ignore them really but…

Anyway we threw the Frisbee around and the wind did indeed sometimes make a lot of fun out of all of us, except for Suzanne it seemed, for Donal and I were both having to run and try to catch or slap our hands together expecting there to a disc in between when what was actually happening was the Gods of Frisbee were having a laugh at watching the disc fall to the ground a few feet ahead of the clapping hands. This necessitated some diving, or at least I thought it did. There was a few reasons behind this line of thinking, one being that if I couldn’t play football then I should at least be allowed to dive around a little and also it felt good to jump through the air and cool down for about half second before landing when it became apparent that I now had double the sweat on my brow than when I started out. It was good fun all the same but eventually we began to ask each other the time, always an indicator of an activity going stale. It’s funny how it’s done really, no one wants to push anyone else to stop but at the same time a signal is being sent to people. When the time came we all stopped and sat on the grass after asking each other were we hungry, which was a valid question seeing as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was also useful at calming any remaining embers of enthusiasm for throwing the Frisbee. Sitting on the grass with no top on was a little strange for the grass was almost spiky and not soft like it is at home. I suppose with less rain grass is like this, it’s normally soaked back home so the mud bath you inevitably end of sitting in at some point is bound to be soft. Suzanne then started to use a blade of grass to emit a shrieking sound much like a bird call. It was brilliant, a great party piece if there had been a party on at the time but even still I wanted to know how it was done. And this was my downfall of course for I couldn’t do it. I tried and I tried and when Donal managed to do it I had to try harder but it wasn’t happening. I was sitting there wrapping grass ornately around my thumb trying to do a shrieking noise. Eventually I managed to get it, a few times as well just to prove that it wasn’t a fluke but all the same it wasn’t easy and after a few goes I decided to leave it go…quit while you’re ahead and all of that.

Despite having grass very near our mouths we remained quite hungry as you can imagine and we made our way to a peculiar place called Cook Out. I had heard Suzanne talk about this place before in conjunction with bbq-ed food and other such tasty delights and was quite looking forward to see what fare they had on offer. The only problem was that there was really no way to see what fare was indeed on offer. You see the principle behind Cook Out, as indicated by the name really, is that they cook the food and you take it out. Cook Out. Actually sorry that doesn’t make sense, it only does when you think of this place as providing the cooking service for the BBQ you want to have In the garden but for which you couldn’t be bothered heating the coals up for. Handy really, but then it takes the fun out of the BBQ too, especially if it is a gas one from which you can compete with your friends in a “how high can the flame go” contest by smacking oily meat on the grill and watching the flame go high. We queued up for our food seeing that orders were being taken at a booth and the food being taken from that same booth. Donal went first after quickly examining the menu and then I went myself after spending a bit of time going through all of the forty variations they have of milkshakes. Forty! I think I settled for the Oreo chocolate chip although with that many flavours on offer I am sure that I could have asked for an oxtail flavoured milkshake. Think about that when you feel like binging on food. George W Bush always had a way of leaning on his podium as he spoke with one arm and I did the same myself at this booth, the guy on the inside noting my Cork accent, as I leant and ordered my meal. Suzanne went next and after we paid we headed back to the apartment. Everything was set out nice and tidily on what looked like disposable versions of the TV dinner trays you’d normally see in 1950s TV shows. I must say, this detracted somewhat from the feeling of eating BBQ outdoors; the fact that we were eating this indoors was also a probable factor too. Cook Out was an interesting little place though, set in a very motor-centric area of Boone where there were essentially no footpaths! If you wanted Cook Out without a car you’d need to cross a 4 lane road first, a busy four lane road.

In a way then Cook Out boiled down what America is synonymous for, the car and personal transport over public transport and walking and the link between the car and food. This link has been there since the 1950s but in Cook Out you didn’t even have the option of sitting in, you had to take the food away with you (although I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if I had sat outside the one story building and eaten there in the little car park). There was a drive-thru option of course, there’s a drive-thru option for everything over there including dry-cleaning , but there was also the other non-drive thru booth in case you felt like parking the car ten feet away and taking a leisurely stroll to the order window. I thought it nice of them to give some people at least an introduction to walking.

The food itself was actually quite good and the milkshake was well worth whatever I paid for it which really wasn’t much I don’t think. Maybe the Frisbee made up for the fat intake…it must have, especially when coupled with that ten foot walk to the order booth.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Day Nineteen - Boone, North Carolina

The previous day hadn't been easy on anyone, Suzanne and Allison had driven for 6 hours up and back from Raleigh, while myself and Donal had competed in our own Olympic sprint event to reach the train from DC to Raleigh before strapping ourselves in for the 3 hour drive from Raleigh to Boone. Not to say that that drive was anything but fantastic, it was a little taste of the Great American Road Trip, in an American made car (though it was a Honda) with possibly the most hospitable American people ever to grace that nation. It has always been a dream of mine to see America through my own eyes - don't find that too confusing, I did see New York et al with my own eyes, I didn't borrow anyone else's, but I would like to some day go exactly where my eyes look, whenever I want to. That's a garbled explanation if I ever came across one but what I am trying to say is that, while the train down to Raleigh was very comfortable and public transport in the cities so far was more than adequate, there'd be nothing quite like seeing the next road sign and just following it. I'm on two wheels myself, a proud biker but even if it was done on four wheels it would be a dream. Even getting a little taste of that on the Interstate for a few hours was fantastic. In that sense then the drive to Boone was more than a drive, it was a preview of a dream, a dream that one day I hope to fulfill but really the stay in Boone was about more than this for staying with friends, mobile friends (meaning they had a car for they call mobiles "cell phones" in the US) , meant that I had more choice in what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go. This freedom, a freedom within the freedom of the great travel already undertaken, was supposed to still be years off, only within reach when I myself would be in control of the bike or the car. And that freedom involves getting out of bed at whatever time you want, in a room that, at least temporarily, you can call your own. Upon waking in Boone, this was just what I had.

I looked around the room, it wasn't huge by any means but a decent size nonetheless and reminded me of a bedroom in my Nan's house. I had the only bed in there and didn't have to worry about any other people waking up in a bed opposite mine with red eyes but the most upbeat morning mood ever. Nevin and mornings don't really go together, I can do mornings but generally I am a night owl and getting up in hostels, was, I found, a tiresome enough process for if others were in the room you had to keep quiet and if those people were awake then it was quite possible that they could see your liathroidí when you drop the towel to put on the shorts after your shower. You had to think and plan everything as if it was a military operation but here in Boone I could easily go around the room naked admiring my fine body in the mirror; I'm not sure which I am more unsure about, my "fine" body (ahem) or there being a mirror in the room! Well I can always say that I have been naked in North Carolina, which is nice.

It takes me a while to actually get out of bed after waking and when I eventually did put my feet on the ground I took my clothes and towel and went for a shower. Looking back on it now I'm surprised at how little time it took to do this for normally I have to talk myself into getting out of bed, I have to reason with myself. "Nevin, it's 9:30am, you set the alarm for 8am, isn't an hour and a half enough of a lie-in?"...."hmmm...but it's half nine now so what's another half hour, at least that would round it up and I'd be more prepared for actually getting up". Honestly this is a real example of the thoughts that go through my head on a typical morning. I'm surprised they can be so diplomatic actually because my general reaction to people in the morning is one of contempt or at best a sort of begrudging observation that they are alive.

"Good morning Nevin, how are you on this beautiful summers day?"
"Well I was much better, wrapped up in my bad mood, than before you decided to barge in with your morning sunshine and good mood, now why don't you go and have tea with a hippy?"

You can be sure that if you say good morning to me at too early a time, or in the wrong way, then this is the response that is going through my mind only waiting to come out from between my lips. I blame it on Mother Nature, it's too early in the morning for blame anyway, besides blaming people for being nice and happy, in which case the earlier the better. The rule does bend a little though for if the other person says "good morning" in a noticeably moody way (the deep voice and rubbing of the eyes normally gives it away I find, seeing as that is how I am) then I will generally acknowledge them nicely (though with a deep voice and rubbing of the eyes) and develop a "morning respect" for them for you know that they feel just like you do. Remember algebra rules? Two minuses make a plus.
When I entered the sitting area where Donal slept seeing as he had fallen in love with the sofa contraption in there I bid him a grudging good morning, received one back and when Suzanne and Allison came along, a similar repetore was followed. I could tell that they weren't going to be regaling to me, stories of them hopping out of bed at 5am in order to eat their cereal as the sun rose up and that wasn't it great to be alive. While it is harder to tell if a female should be offered morning respect, seeing as they don't really get the deep voice thing us male gets, they seemed slightly less chirpy than they had the night before and were still in sleeping attire. Thus morning respect was given and few enough words were exchanged as we ate cereal. Suzanne put coffee on and despite being less chirpy and slower to reply to things than she had been the night before, she made a considerable effort to make sure I had enough milk (and knowing where to get it) for the cereal and went to the trouble of putting coffee on, coffee with vanilla extract (natural and artificial flavours said the packet, always good to use a mixture of man and nature) no less. At this point I was wondering should I add some kindling to the fire and get the day going by cracking the morning silence, something my still cobwebbed brain was telling me not to do but if I was to do this I'd need a topic. The vanilla coffee, having never seen it back home, was one, so I latched on to that but quickly retreated after mentioning it realising that it would be better if I just drank the coffee appreciatively and having let the caffeine take effect, guage whether I, or anyone else, was ready to converse. It was as I drank the coffee, at the table near the door, that my mind thought back on my nights sleep. I had actually slept on the sofa and Donal on the more solid couch but having woken at the very early hours I removed myself to the bedroom I was given due to my side feeling a little sore. A supporting pole going across the centre of the sofa was stabbing into my hips, as I remembered, the coffee duly doing it's role, but I also remembered that before I moved, I had debated the merits of doing so in my mind. It's probable that I tried to either put a cushion underneath me or else take an angle grinder to the culprit of my discomfort...anything to avoid me having to get out from under the blanket. And to think I had ensured everyone in the house the night before that the mighty Nevin would not fall asleep on the sofa, this coffee was unearthing too much! But it did taste really good.

Today we'd be going on a trail, up the mountains, something I thought I'd only ever get to do if I came over with a license to drive or ride a bike but it's funny what life throws up at times. I donned my Cork City jersey, thinking it'd be a good idea to wear that in order for it to wick any sweat away from my skin (what with it being a football shirt and made to do that sort of thing) and was out the door and into the front seat of the Civic. I was feeling a little bit guilty about taking the front seat all of the time even at this early stage but seeing as we ended up going along some of the Blue Ridge Trailway, it was a joy and I imagined myself going through it on a bike, two wheels transverse beneath me, leaning the weight of man and machine into the sweeping bends and straightening it up to enjoy the magnificent views we were now looking out at. Land and more land, green with tall trees rising and falling until the eye could no longer see. The clouds tipped the top of the trees as it became a blur near the horizon, this was truly amazing. Obviously to be out and about in this, to be physically in touch with this awe-inspiring exhibit of nature was an experience to behold and stepping from the car we all, quite gingerly began our walk up through the Tanawha Trail.

I say gingerly at least for myself here. Suzanne had done this trail before as I am sure Allison and Jessica had also but I was determined to keep up with the pace despite not knowing what was ahead of me. Now it would have been foolish had I just jumped to the front and taken over the walk but the path had already accounted for such foolishness by being only wide enough for one person to go through at a I suppose we were much like a human train and being stuck in the middle of this train I noticed that the girls were wearing sandals. This seemed a little strange because back in the apartment Donal and I had been told that we'd need to wear some sturdy footwear. When I hear "sturdy footwear" normally I think of those hiking boots that come into Lidl or Aldi every Springtime when the Aldi or Lidl bosses think we are all in the mood for climbing mountains with their brochures ordained with pictures of happy couples gazing admirably at Austrain or German hills (because they love hiking over there apparently). Unfortunately I hadn't packed, or come to think of it, every bought, this kind of footwear despite sometimes thinking that I might do. And so I went along the trail in my Adidas runners, the blue, white and red ones that had been admired a year earlier in no less a place than Times Square. By a young black man. No higher praise for stand-out runners really but they were never made for a path like this, dry mud, the odd wet section, slippy moss covered rocks and bushes on either side that you had to become intimately acquainted with whenever another group of people decided to walk in the opposite direction to us. I mean had they not thought of just waiting at the top until we could all go down in an orderly fashion or did they think the trail was another embodiment of the Interstate!

We didn't reach the top as such, which I will say now was a little disappointing, but that was through no one's fault but the weather's. Clouds were moving in, we could no longer actually see the top that I had so wanted to reach and some of the path was becoming a little slippy from the odd drops of rain that were falling. Still the view was amazing as we sat on a massive rock on a jagged rise. I looked out in front of me as I sat, legs folded, on this massive chunk of rock as Donal continued his impression of a Southern gay guy which was, at this stage, becoming annoying. They seemed like hills but size is perceptive and when everything around is huge then even the biggest of things doesn't manage to stand out and so these mountains were hills for hills never stand out for being hills alone. The lines graduating towards the horizon were shaped as hills, with their gentle curves but there was just so many of them and all covered with a deep, rich, green blanket of pine trees which actually allowed you to see just how massive these hills were, rolling through the land. Turning around showed me just how high up I was and just how deceptive these hills were when I looked over the edge and saw the top of trees way below me. Looking back at it now what a contrast this height was from the height experienced standing at the top of the Empire State Building in that massive metropolis known as New York City. I wasn't afriad of either one but the sense of awe was certainly different as in New York I gazed over miles and miles of bright lights and a city still alive deep in the night while here in the mountains of North Carolina I could see the Blue Ridge Parkway but no other sign of civilization, it certainly made you feel very very small and humble. Well it did for me anyway, I can't speak for Donal's southern gay persona!

Our next stop in the Honda Civic was at Mass General Store, a chain of Western style traditional shops which sell lots of sweets and jeans and cowboy hats. It was impressive it must be said. Going into the shop I was delighted that I didn't have any kids because if I did then this would have been the perfect place from which to ring the bank manager to allow him prior notice of the emptying of my account in return for tons of sweets. Admittedly I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself but I kept myself back from buying too much, limiting myself to some chocolate covered something-or-others. Chocolate bars just aren't the same in America, they're too oily rather than milky, but I was willing to give these treats a try and later on that night I was glad I did for sitting down to watch a movie they turned out to be fantastic!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 33 - Fucking Houston

It started off ok. I had slept well and the Chinese middle aged guy in the bunk underneath me hadn't complained or snored all that loudly through the night, two things he seemed extremely adept at after the first night in this Houston hostel. I hadn't been able to sleep properly and tossed and turned in what possibly was the world's noisiest bed and never before had anyone had sex on this because it was a top bunk in an all male dorm. Besides, if they had done, I say congratulations, it can't have been easy to. I will admit that half of my own noise making came about as retaliation for the fact that Mr Washington Lee (that's his name) was snoring his brains out. Whenever he snored too loudly while I attempted to get some form of sleep, I would turn in the bed and bounce my whole body off of the mattress. It wasn't that I wanted to break the beams and crush the poor man but I just wanted to get him to shut up. It didn't really work so I grabbed a fistful of top-bunk-bed-post and shook that. Of course the next morning I was apologetic to the man when we ended up discussing this and didn't mention his snoring. As a middle aged Chinese man I reckoned he was a bit of a cute hoor so I decided to keep my own weapon in hiding until the time was right and to be fair I haven't had to use it for last nights sleep was a lot better and we established diplomatic terms by introducing oursleves to one another. No longer was he to be a mortal enemy, he was to have another judgement day. Or night in this case.

I went in, secured my MP3 to the bed post so as not to leave it fall from the top bunk like it had done the night before and listened to a few choons before settling into a deep sleep. I heard a small bit of snoring if I am to be totally honest but I slept fine and didn't feel the need, at least not consciously, to hammer the bed. Waking up this morning, I had a plan to walk to Sears to get some jeans there for taking back home (lets hope the Customs lads ain't reading this for I will be arriving in Shannon Airport...yes...Shannon, fuck em it's only three pairs anyway). After breakfast and a quick shower, which in my case is anything under 30 minutes, I headed out. Sears here in Houston, or at least the one on Fanin Street, is basically a big cement block. Using my rather less advanced notions of engineering, less advanced when compared to some actually qualified, this buidling was rather simply made. A mould was made, concrete was poured and then the builders hired some children who lived under Interstate overpassses to carve out lareg openings they now call "floors". There doesn't seem to be any windows and the doors even look pretty darkly and unwelcoming. Maybe Sears got the building for cheap when the government decided not to use it as a nuclear blast shelter.
Of course if it was to be used as a blast shelter then I'm not sure how effective it would be for even walking to this place caused me to sweat profusely. In fact, when I stepped out of the hostel at about 11am, sweat immediately beagn to retreat from my skin. It felt the heat and began to seep away. Remember that this was before I even began to walk, it was and is, that hot. If you were to compare to an everyday item, then it would be akin to walking into a small bathroom with no windows or vents after the shower had been left on for a few hours. As Donal said, it is like a steam room, but without the ceremics or the ability to actually leave at will to somewhere cooler.

Walking down the streets I continued to sweat but knew that Sears would be air conditioned, even dogs kennels are air conditioned here. Tthere wasn't anything dramatic, just a big store in need of some renovation with plenty of Lee and Levi jeans for $30 and under - a bargain compared to home in my mind at least and so I took some pairs. I paid for them too if you are wondering. The real drama was on the way home. I crossed the street to Fiesta supermarket and got some uisce, turned on my mp3 player and began a slow amble back to the hostel determined not to sweat too much but it was just past midday, God and the Devil were working together for the first time ever to create the hottest place in the history of ever by moving the sun to within 10 miles of the city and trapping the heat with lots of white clouds. It wouldn't have suprised me if there was an electric blanket draped all over the ground of this massive, sprawling and roasting oven of a city. Determined as I was about the sweat issue, having showered once already I was in no mood to waste time and have another one, I wiped my brow coming through a residenital neighbourhood near the hostel.

I could feel sweat being trapped in the hairs on my forearm as I wiped it across my forehead. My determined fight was doing with tissues for this job, simply because I forgot them. But then as I withdrew my arm I could feel something was up with my left eye. I threw my hand at it, knowing that perhaps I would catch it. The lens let go of its grip to my eye lash as it slid onto the palm of my hand feeling slightly withered and dry. This wasn't good. I needed to be able to see in order to make it back to the hostel. With one eye I was more vulnerable to everything, nuclear blast, robbery, getting lost but not more vulnerable to being picked up in a Mustang convertable by the local university's cheer leading team. There's always a flip side, always. I attempted to put the lens back in but couldn't do it, it was withered and drying so quickly from the absolute heat that even if I had had access to a mirror, it would have been a challenge for my eye to actually accept it. And so, looking around in vain, I dropped it to the floor where it would in time rot away allowing me to proceed back to the hostel with one eye working. Well I lie, two eyes working, one of which can actually see things properly. It's a strange sensation having one good eye and another eye feeding very blurry images to my brain. Not to worry though it was only to be for a short period of time before Ii arrived back at the hostel and replaced them because they had been in a few days over their real limit anyway so it was no big deal to me.

This was where the good part came to an end. I left the scene of the lens falling out with a sense of hope but upon arriving at the door of my dorm that hope was crushed. To be replaced, and those of you that know me already know what I will say, by unlimited amounts of absolute anger, the pure kind they don't sell at Tesco, so pure in fact that refineries throughout the globe beg for it as an example. Well I was no mood now to sell anything but the permission for this hostel to be either set on fire, vandalised (but only to an extent that it would render the place as "destroyed" and not just "damaged") or have a bomb dropped on it. I had begun to warm to the place earlier and all, having arrived with a fairly poor first impression of the place but now this has all changed. The doors are locked as a routine, it's routine in many hostels it seems but not for all of the useful daylight hours (between about 10am and 5pm) like in this mad house. I tried the door again knowing I couldn't open it without damaging it and it's frame so I trudged back to the common room, one eye open sulking on the couch wondering where Donal was and where the owner of this hostel exactly was right now, for many various and violent reasons. I texted Donal and found out he was at a gas station but would be returning to the hostel soon so at least I'd have someone who knew the situation about the place which put my mind at ease somewhat (and even more so when he brought Oreos with him). Before he arrived though I went and tried the office door, that too was locked but I deemed it pretty breakable and had to continually remind myself that I was at an age now where my temper could get me in a lot of trouble and Texas execute more people than any other US state, although Donal has pointed out that only 8 actually practice this grusesome exercise. Still I didn't want to be fighting this after breaking a door, esepcially if I couldn't find the keys once in there. There were some emergeny numbers on the window though and I figured this was reasonable so I rang the first one.

"Hello Joy (yes that is her real name, I knew by seeing this that I really shouldn't expect too much from calling her), my name is Nevin Power and I am staying at your hostel. I lost a contact lens and need to get into my room to replace it as I can only see out of one eye essentially...I wouldn't have rang but it is an emergency for me".

"Well try the back door to the office" she said in a voice that sounded quite hesitant. It's not often you would hear someone encourage you to actually break in to their office, or at least enter without someone in charge being around. I did of course try the door and explained that it was locked, all the while conscious of my phone credit which I would need to ring another number or two and that's not counting the local assassin.

"That door is locked Joy...", Ii explained allowing my voice to trail off in order for her to think up of a response but again she was sounding hesitant and while it is very rare that I get angry over the phone (it doesn't have the same feel as in real time you know, except for when it is a machine in which case it feels good but also peculiarly empty as it doesn't ever get angry itself). Anger is reciprocal, one person gets angry and takes it out on another who then gets angry allowing the chain reaction to continue much like nuclear fission but I wasn't about to lose it with Joy for not it was not worth the trouble. She had the power to kick me out of this place and probably would, it's not a conventional place at all and I doubt a conventional response would have been issued. Neither was one issued in this case for she went on to tell me that no one else had keys, the one guy who did she didn't have any contact details for and that there was no point in ringing anyone else for they were all out of town.
"So, I'm sorry, but I guess you'll have to go around as a one eyed man for the day". Normally I would give a slight laugh to leave the conversation on good terms but on this occasion I was mute, said goodbye and hung up. I was livid.
What if this was a defibrilator I needed or what if I left my phone in the room and urgently needed it to contact my parents over a sick relative or friend? What if the case had been worse than it was? I suppose she just would have said, "Well you'll just have to be the short-of-breath-man for the rest of the day so".

I went back to the couch, got up from the couch and tried the office door again before walking into the kitchen, possibly looking possessed to the other people in here and took a knife from the drawer. Maybe I could prise open the lock, the house has never ever been refitted so everything is pretty old and worn but this didn't work either.

And so I lay on the couch, closed my eyes, had some music on and drifted off into a state of semi-consciousness before Donal woke me having brought with him Oreos and suggested I write something on the blog. So here it is, as fresh as it can be. As fresh as anger from a riled up Nevin and by God is Nevin riled up right now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day Eighteen - DC and North Carolina

As promised in the last posting of Day Eighteen, I will indeed give a full and vivid description of what the ordering of our dinner was like from the nearby Popeye's fast food outlet on Bennings Road. Having gone to the door of the Senegalese place to find it was closed, my secret wish was granted, I would be able to eat some greasy chicken. It wasn't that I didn't want Senegalese, for I did, but I wasn't all too disappointed because the back up plan was intriguing. The reason for this sense of intrigue was simple. In the middle of a fairly old resedential area which had, in a sense, seen better days, stood a colourful fast food joint. While it was yellow and red, other buildings around it were grey and frankly dodgy looking. This is not to say that Popeyes was to win an award for the world's most outstanding paint job for you could tell that only a few hours after it opened the locals were hard at workl, modifying, the paint scheme if you will. Still, it all added character.

We walked in slowly, hungrily, past the two or three cars laying in the driveway area away from the drive-thru section. There's drive-thru's for everything here, even for laundry and for banking. I still remember going through my first McD's drive-thru in Douglas, Cork. It was a novelty to say the least, here you were driving to a window to get dinner in a paper bag and putting money through a window. As unglamourous as that sounds, it seemed as if the world was all of a sudden a better place for it. I realise better now although I do harbour the urge to go through a drive-thru in a shopping trolley some day.
As we pushed on the door to get in, I noticed that we would have the option, if we so wished, of sittign in with our food. Options are funny things though, we all have the option of throwing a brick at a cop but knowing the consequences we tend not to. Well the option of sitting down in here was much in line with that area of thought. The principle occupiers, big and broad black guys, were having a good time amongst themselves and who would we be to interfere? Iit wouldn't be right.
I had spotted on the menu that the chicken, which they specialised in drowning with hot oil, was served with biscuits. Nnever before, and I bet you haven't either, have I seen a mother load her shopping trolley with chicken from the freezer and rich tea biscuits. Therefore when the menu kept issuing that combination to me as my eyes scrolled around it, I naturally was curious. Chicken and biscuits? Only over here. I asked the lad in front of me who had just put his order through the plexiglass what exactly these biscuits were. He pointed to the items piled up in the kitchen, items that looked like scones to me. I thanked him, knowing that he wasn't a threat but to be honest that thought did cross my mind a little. Iif things wanted to kick off in that place then they would and the staff knew it - they were behind half inch thick plexiglass. Never before, in a food outlet of any kind, have I ever experienced anything quite like this. It was a complete sensory overloading, boysterous failed gangsta rappers eating merrily (they made it show) in the corner, a drunk guy who recieved the odd crumb from them who nibbled like a squirrel and dropped beer on the floor near Donal and I as we ordered (and no this wasn't anywhere near midnight or a nightclub) and staff who seemed oblivious to it all behind the half inch of clear plastic. And why not be oblvious, they were behind enough protection to stop a Scud missile nevermind a baseball bat or similar dynamic hitting device that the failed rappers used as protection of choice.
Ooh, and the food came out through a rotating box, at no point could you touch a member of staff unless your arm was only a centimetre thick and quadruple jointed. As the food was being prepared actually I saw that my drink, a large one no less for I had walked all of Washington that day, was in a Coca Cola plastic glass which I of course duly left at the hostel despite promises to take it home.

I can't really blame the fast food for this but God loves a tryer. I was asleep and because Popeyes use too much fat in their cooking process I was still processing my meal in my sleep thus casuing me not to get up at 8am like I said I would. I just made that up on the spot and Ii'm impressed...if only it were true. Bascially I overslept as I was up too late the night before and was cruely woken by Donal. Never before had I been so quick to grasp a situation as Donal pushed me to wake up, seeing my eyes open and then warning me,"We've got one hour".
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck". I can't say that I have ever responded to anyone like that in the morning either but there you go. Donal packed his tuff, I packed mine before rushing a shower and we both skipped breakfast in order to get out to the bus and to the train on time. We literally had one hour between waking up and that train going on it's way to Raleigh.
We caught the X2 bus without much of a wait but it looked shaky, time was ticking and as we boarded, I wondered would we have been better off making a run to the subway station which at that time may have been more reliable for us. Too late now, our quarters deposited, the bus was moving, slowly, but moving. Donal was calm, or seemingly so, but I was really fearing that we would miss this train and I was hungry into the bargain. I watched every bus stop, counting the people, were they old or young, did they have kids? Old people and kids took longer and old people especially for they like to engage in cobversation with the bus driver and I really wasn't in any mood to hear how Mrs Darling's knickers flew off her line yeseterday in a breeze or how the last bus driver had been rude to her. While this didn't happen, thankfully, there was always a group of people waiting at every stop and possibly some imaginary stops as well for that is what Murphys Law does to people. It fiddles with the mind.
Finally we were at the Capitol, our stop for Union Station, but our jounrey wasn't over yet. Mental torture, such as the bus trip was with the counting of minutes, the anxious glancing at a watch that kept ticking on and on, the people waiting at every stop to get on, was never going to be complete without some physical torture to. With a backpack and 20kg of luggage each, we had 7 minutes to get onto that train before it's wheels began to turn and we still had about one and half blocs to go. We crossed the road and looking at my watch, I began to run pulling my case behind me, Donal followed. My legs ached, my arm stretched too much to reach back to my case and drag that at speed, it all seemed too much but looking at my watch was the incentive that kept us going. There was no way we could miss this train.
Union Station is a grand building and worth looking at but all I remember from it is some letters indicating platforms and after finally seeing our letter, the final boarding call was issued and tickets were thrust into the hand of the waiting attendant at the door. A rush down a flight of steps to the platform and finally we were aboard, drenched in our own sweat but content to be on the train at last.

The train was something we were both really looking forward to and I had done a lot of reading as regards train journeys in America before even leaving the shores of the Emerald Isle. Apparently you got to talk to a lot of people on the train and that really the journey was not so much about the desitination but actually a lot about how you got there and who you talked with. It turned out to be true for having settled in, I got out at Richmond, Virginia where a smoke stop was scheduled. Not being a smoker I took my camera and went picture taking but got talking to the guy sitting across from me and so it remained until he got off to meet his family about two hours later. Before all of this however I had made my way to the lounge car to get a coffee and a bagel, two items that I thought of as a temporary breakfast, and while they won't break any taste records, they did the job. Besides, the scenery outside was much too nice to really allow me concentrate on the food although when I went back to my seat and got talking to Joe again we ended up on the subject of BBQ's. He was a 52 year old black guy, originally from DC and working as a cook something he had an obvious passion for it must be said. He roasts whole pigs on his outsized grills in his yard and by the way he was talking seemed to collect BBQ's for fun but had yet to acquire a small one, the only type that I myself have. We were both quite appreciative of our food, esepcially meat, and there were times when I felt like a learner driver in an L-plated Fiesta next to this guy with his collection of Cadillacs, BMWs and Alfa Romeos. You can imagine then that I was extremely chuffed when he mentioned to me, as he prepared to leave the train, that he was going to go and buy a small and cheap BBQ, like my one, right that day because he thought it'd be a good idea in case he ever wanted something just for himself and so avoid a big clean up job on his bigger ranges. I nodded in approval many times, possibly even when he had left the carraige altogether.
Try cooking your steaks directly on the hot charcoal having brushed off the dust from the coals first. Hhe could have told me to eat it raw and I would have beleived him he was that engaging but on this bit of advice, I think I'll be following myself. As engaging as he was though I was glad to put my neck back to a normal angle, until a clearly overweight lady one seat behind where Joe was, commented on my blue, white and red shoes. I turned my head to face her when she asked me did I play soccer, answering that yes I did. And here was where the fun began for she then enquired if I was going to NC State. Asuming that she was asking was I headed for the State of North Carolina, I dult responded that yes I was but obviously our wires had crossed. As nice as the lady was, we were never quite on the same page and when we did eventually land on at least the same book, I was taken slightly aback. She had been to France and Germany and wanted to go next to see Ireland and Britain. I must be honest now and say that this was unexpected, she looked more at home in a battered pick up truck sharing a seat with a banjo and a husband named Cletus. My sincere apologies to that lady go out to her now for I was working from stereotypical imagery, not something I am proud of but that's not to say that she didn't need to lose a few pounds if that was possible for her to do. I'm making no assumptions this time, maybeshe couldn't. Either way, her heart was in the right place.

It was in the middle of a phone call from home that I noticed the change between north and south and it's nothing if not pronounced, the houses changed and the towns too. There was more oepn space, more greenery and the houses had white pikcte fencing and ornate wood work on them. Yes indeed, this was the south and it wasn't long before I had to funnel my way through people getting on the train in order to get my luggage and get out, a difficult process it must be said but once it was done I felt my phone vibrate and Suzanne and Allison had made it to collect us. Nnow here was luxury, an air conditioned and sculpted Honda Civic coupe to bring us the 3 hours to Boone. I hadn't realised that this was the length of the journey because looking at some maps I reckoned that the drive was less than an hour but how wrong I was and I'll never forget how nice a gesture that was. They didn't point out any worries over fuel or distance, nothing at all and we even stopped off to get dinner in a masive mall before continuing on the Interstate to Boone, a welcome sight after the big cities that had so drained us so far.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day Seventeen - DC

The final proper day in DC came along not any quicker nor any slower than I expected to. I wasn't glad that today was the last day here nor I was sad to know this either because I expected that by the end of the last full day I'd have done all that I would have wanted to do. It's not quite as random as other cities and so you can leave with your canvass full so to speak, ready to come back another day maybe but in no real hurry to do so. Or misty eyes. This was only going to happen though if I got up and actually did the things I wanted to do and as I promised myself I did indeed get up early having enjoyed only about 5 hours of sleep.

This was a trait of DC, free internet meant staying up late updating this blog. The things I do for you people. I had promised to try and wake Donal to see if he wanted to come to the Capitol Building too but I guessed that this was to be a futile exercise and so it proved. I put my hand on his shoulder after rising from my own bed across the room and rocked him a bit but he didn't seem to like that, showing his distaste by throwing an arm against me, so I left him be. The arrangements, if this were the case, weren't the clearest really, for Donal has no US mobile. We were to meet in the National History Museum later that real times or anything but we trusts that it'd work itself out and so I went off alone to get to Capitol South, the metro stop I reckoned was closest to what I needed.

Being alone wasn't all that novel but being alone for that period of time, pretty much a whole day was and I reveled in it. You can do what you please, take your time and see and just gather your own thoughts together for no matter how close a traveling companion you may have, time alone is necessary. It is in all walks of life. I do hate being alone in queues however and that is how I stood in the long line that filed out of the Visitor Centre of the Captiol Building. Still I couldn't complain too much as I waited in the line looking at Dad's wearing denim shorts and long socks, the type of socks you normally wear when playing football. The baseball cap and dodgy 80s style shirt completing the look. Actually that shirt as even poor in the 80s. Pity the kids.
The line moved on and through a security check which wasn't all that bad even at this unholy hour and I should mention this now, I hadn't had breakfast yet, I skipped it to ensure I got here in good time...i.e., before 9am.
And I was lucky I skipped breakfast because the overweight, bearded and jovial man looking after the line inside the centre gave me the last ticket for the next tour. He wasn't Santa although he was wearing red.

The tour consisted of an ultra-patriotic movie, then a tour of the actual building which suprisingly didnt last all that long but was impressive nonetheless. By about 10:30am it was all over and I went in serach of some breakfast or at least a coffee. I thought that eating in the Capitol Buildings restuarant would be a nice idea but the prices were expensive even for a coffee which was actually out of one of those big thermos flasks. And it was Dunkin yes, America really does run on Dunkin, as the slogan says.
Instead of any form of edible sustenence I headed for some literary sustenence in the Library of Congress. Taking the tunnel from the Capitol Building meant I didn;t have to go through more security on the way but I was disappointed to fid you couldn't actualy access the books casually. You had to arrnage for that in advance but then this is the biggest library in the world, or at least in the top 5, so I thought it fair enough and besides I was hungry.

Walking out of the Library of Congress I proceeded to walk into the city centre to the Verizon Centre where I came upon a Dunkin Donuts. Having been able to check my exam results that day in detail and having dne very well I tucked, without shame, into a coffee and a few donuts. Now if these weren't good enough, the action inside was. A guy in a wheelchair, apparently a veteran, came inside and rolled over a womans foot by accident. He was outside being helped by some charity workers who he didn't seem to get on with and decided to take refuge in the Dunkin Donuts when this happened. The thing was though, the shouting match wasn't between the man who seemed to be not fully wheelcahir bound but perhas semi-whellchair bound, but was actually between this black woman in her forties and some other woman in there. In fact they seemed to know one another. The staff carried on with their work, perhaos used to this sort of altercation but by thsi time the wheelchair vet had scouted off outside to avoid any of the tongue lashings that were flying back and forth. Some Muslim women in there watched the show too, smiling at the comicness of it all. I was too, you couldn't help it. Even when a public apology was issued by the, er, lady who started it all. You know the way you have stererotypes who seem to match the moment? Well she was not that match.

Leaving from here the donuts were taking their toll and needed walking off so I proceeded to walk around the downtown area in the sun where I was stopped by a young woman who had just done a model photshoot it seemed. She showed me all of the photos, very arty mind you, and then went on her merry way. I think she was trying to make the boyfriend jealous. My camera was the thing that set this off by the way.

By now the coffee needed an escape route so I walked around and stumbled upon the library of the Washington Historical Society for which I had to sign in but it was nice and the exhibit of painting on Lincoln caught my attention. I also got some directions that put me on the right track to the Old Post Office Tower which the guidebooks say is a nice alterntaive to the busy Washington Monument if you are looking for a nice view. No trip is complete without a wild goose chase and this was mine for the directions I recieved, all in all from about 4 different people, all turned out to be wrong. How does this happen?! Well it happens when you don't have a map I suppose but I eventually found the building, the old post office building which was now a pavilion for shops and cafe's in a nice indoor setting. I went through the security and a National Park Service Ranger guided me to the lift which took us to the 12 floor..well it did between two lifts anyway. The view, even thought I had been up almost ten times as high in New York, was really nice. Not overawing or anything but serene and calming in a way that is hard to put into words. You're kjust happy to enjoy the view with no crowd to block you for it never got busy while I was there. You could gaze out and see the Capitol Building, the Washngton Monument itself and a load of the city.
On the way down in the lift I enjoyed a chat with a guy who goes up their regularly when he is on lucnh from work. It tunred out he had moved over with his job from California which would be the equivalent of a laid-off Limerick worker moving to Poland to work in the Dell plant there. It's amazing the length that American people go for their work, it seems to be a whole other ball game here.

Finally I went on to the National History Museum which was quite impressive but which I won't go into detail due to time constraints right now but Ill say this..I dind't meet Donal here!

I went on to Arlington National Cemetary taking the subway and saw the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldiers before walking abck the considerable diatance to the Jefferson Memorial, a very expensive text asking Donal to meet me there, which he did. It was a beautifil setting on the banks of the Potomac away frm the busier Mall exhibits.

We had promised we would eat dinner in a Senegalese place next to the hostel and though we were both very hungry we went and saw that it was closed. Next stop, Popeyes fast food, concentrating it seemed on chicken and biscuits, a combination I had never thought of before but those biscuits were actually scones. Now this place was something else altoghether but I'll leave that explanation for when I have more time for it deserves it so watch for updates on this post!

Day Sixteen - DC

If there was one place in DC that I had to go, other than the toilet as a natural reaction to things as we all have to (you can laugh now), it was the National Ar and Space Museum. Being fascinated by planes and rockets and such, this place was a mecca for me and the first stop on our long sixteenth day in DC. Again we didn't start out particularly early but we did make it out of the hostel earlier than on other days which was an achievement in itself we reckoned as we talked on the way to the subway station by the DC United Stadium named after Robert F Kennedy.

A short trip to the Smithsonian stop on the metro line left us almost directly in front of the Air and Space Museum. A quick security check and sign announcing that they were open until 7:30pm rather than the usual time of two hours earlier reassured me a I reckoned we could be caught for time in this museum, the world's most popular. And it ain't the world's most popular due to the security guards I can tell you that. I've become used to security checks at doors over here, not that I agree with a lot of them or see the point in some of them but they there and this isn't my country so I can't dictate that they should or should not be. Anyway being so used to them I slipped off my belt, got ready to put my camera through the machine and such only for the security guard to verbally slap me with, "sir, you're not listening, no belts or cameras, walk through". So I could just walk through with this stuff then? Seemingly so. Well I did anyway and you know what, he was right, I wasn't listening and it is only now hitting me that many Americans aren't either. The reason is that so many are sick of hearing about terror threats, alert levels and stop here, undo your belt, stick out your tongue to show if you're lying, type of things that are going on. An automatic reaction has entered the consciousness and I'm not even American. So there, it was automatic, I wasn't listening.

As for the museum itself, well it really is something else. Planes hang from the ceiling, the Mercury capsule stands encased in perspex alongside a Gemini capsule. To think that this capsule opened it's door in space to allow a man to float around outside was a thought worth remembering as I gazed at the switches, the tiny area to sit in, the control column and screens. A mobile phone has more computing power than this I thought...some watches too. Plenty of satellites and probes were on display including the Voyager probe, a test model of the one that is now in deep deep space way past our solar system. The lunar module was on show and this itself made me excited for this thing was up there on the moon, or at least was a full model or ground test version of it. In fact most were ground test vehicles so you were looking at the real thing, at the one that would go up if the other couldn't. It doesn't get a lot more real than that and yes, it was big.
You can walk through a Skylab test vehicle to see the first US space station, look into a 747 cockpit (they chopped off the front of a 747). I could go on and on but really you get the picture. Oh and there were missiles there too, ICBM's like the SS20 from Russia and the US Minuteman. There was the Sidewinder and the Exocet missile. Basically there was an awful lot of stuff, all of which was fantastic.

The idea for the day was to go and see the Air and Space Museum before then going to the National History Museum which Andrew, our well dressed friend from Leicester, had recommended. Time had run against us though, the Air and Space Museum separating Donal and I to the point that finding each other was only facilitated through sheer luck. We had walked for so long through this massive museum that we were tired and in need of something to eat fast.

It wasn't going to be fast though as we walked up through Georgetown, home of old Victorian style houses, the George Washington University, the Watergate Hotel and a lot of embassy and diplomatic houses. Eating in this part of town was said to be good and easy to find, something that had evaded us so far in DC and looked once more to be doing the same. We walked through leafy streets, quiet in this evening time towards a building I should have recognised. The sign gave it away, it was the Watergate (and if you plan on staying, it's closed till 2009 for renovations). We walked around it finding a lot of shops and such, not belonging to the hotel it seemed, which suggested to me that the place was now apartments and some are. As novel as it was to stumble on this place, food was not being served so we carried on, I pointing to the river side and in the opposite direction to where we were walking, as a possible hunting ground. Admittedly we did have to walk quite a bit but we got there. The sun was going down as we turned around from the direction which would have brought us straight back into central DC, frustration beginning to tell as cyclsists and joggers passed us. They weren't hungry you see.

We finally made it to the riverbank and found a nice restaurant there that is owned by the farmers union of...I think it was Nebraska. A union owned restaurant with good prices and some nice looking plates in front of happy looking customers sounded good to me. It sounded especially good after looking at the prices in the other places clustered in this circle under what were probably luxury apartments. High prices should have been expected though - there were boats docked at the side of the river and they weren't rubber dinghies or inner tubes either.

Our waitress it had turned out, had spent a night in Dublin airport on her way to Paris and had heard that Cork was a lovely place. In fact, anyone who did care to comment on our home city, always seemed to have heard only good about it which does make one proud. I suppose, when you are away from home, thousands of miles away from home, you tend to look more favourably at your homeland and iron out the mistakes that are so much more obvious when you are actually at home. Someone once said you become more Irish when you leave Ireland and I have to agree.

Oh and the food was wonderful, the burger was delicious as the waitress recommended it for my dangerously empty stomach and the dessert was tempting. So much so that she managed to sneak a bit out for me to taste but I really had no room left.

After taking pictures outside the entrance to the Watergate Hotel we went on home. The next day I was determined to be up at the crack of dawn in order to get a tour of the Captiol Building. I'm not that good at getting up early but this had to be done...when would I be back to do this again?

Day Fifteen - DC

When you think of a tank, you think of an army and when you think a strong army, you think of the US Army. With bases all over the world and a history that involved them in some sort of conflict every two or three years, this is the automatic choice. The spread of US culture and with it the image of the army as liberator also helps in this regard. So why am I saying all of this? Well where is the centre of this mammoth military machine?

The Pentagon.

Getting up late once more we set off on the metro to the Pentagon, that famous building, breached just once, on 9/11 and an example of architecture to come when it was built in the 1940s. It was condemned then as wasteful expenditure and not a real government building for it was located away from the other main ones, across the Potomac River. These concerns subdued however, the whole idea of a Russian mushroom cloud eradicating all government buildings in DC whether they be across a river or not, taking over in the minds of the media columnists who decided it was in the wrong place first day. We arrived at the stop, myself already thinking it pretty nifty that it was possible to get off at a stop called "Pentagon", but then DC surprises you in this subtle way. Now, all of the metro stations in DC have escalators to bring you to ground level for it was built in 1976 and so is pretty modern and up to date, but this wasn't an escalator that we faced as we scanned our cards to get out of the station (another peculiarity that wasn't present in the Boston or NYC systems). This was a mega-escalator that seemed to rise not to ground level but sky level for upon looking up that was all one could see. I was confident that I would have to call Dulles International Airports air traffic control centre to get permission to go this high and this steep. I discovered the steepness when looking over my shoulder. I should mention that in many stations there were ads with pictures showing what happened to the shoes of unattentive people coming off escalators. Torn, ripped and frayed. Well if you fell backwards before even approaching the getting off part on this giant then you're whole body would be ripped and frayed. And torn. To see people running down the opposite one as they talked on phones was like watching someone walk a tighrope. Amazing and dangerous and the evil side of you wants them to fall, or get a fright anyway. I decided that would be unfair though so I stopped thinking that as I gasped in amazement, the exit section coming up, the steel steps going under those teeth-like things at the top of every escalotor. The advert compares it to an alligator when disturbed (not that I've ever disturbed one) but I reckon it's a fair comparison.

You wouldn't actually realise you were at the Pentagon unless you were told for when we exited we had to confirm that this indeed was the building between ourselves. The view we all know is from the top so you can see the shape easily but not so on ground level. We read a little of its history outside in the view of cheerful guards with machine guns, always a comforting sight, before setting off to see the Pentagon Memorial dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the US military HQ. It was very well down, each soul commeortated in a very systemic way which photos do more justice to really. Or is this me crying to move on to the next blog post for I have so many to do? It is I will admit but basically the memorials are steel benches over a pool of reflecting water with the names engraved on to them and the area organised over a large space at the sight the plane hit with ages increasing along a wall system that borders the memorial. It was modern and effective for the benches really mshow that many lives were lost, some not even teens yet.

The humidity on this day was overwhelming and in the memorial area there was no shade. It was that heat that bakes you, it just slowly turns you on a giant spit better known as Earth until the Sun is ready to go to bed and you are soaked from sweat. Water fountains are readily found in DC though and we used them quite a lot, needing to of course.

Time had flown by as we had spent the hottest part of the day indoors, which made me wonder upon glancing at my watch, what it must have been like to be out in the sun in the midday heat. Actually this reminds me, when we were walking to the subway I saw a local black guy wearing a vest walking up in the opposite direction to Donal and I. He was sweating profusely. I knew at this point then that we were in for it. If the locals were sweating then we would be too, only worse. Much worse. The only cure was to literally shower in antipersperant but even with this your body would make sweat and you'd explode from not letting it out. There really was no way out.

There was a way out from the Pentagon though as we walked back to the subway looking across the massive Pentagon car park to buildings marked as Boeing, Lockheed Martin etc... I thought od Eisenhower and his warning of the impending dominance of the military-industrial complex in US politics. I thought also of the US need to have car parks surround everything. The saving grace in this case was that a good few Pentagon emplyees rode motorbikes.
My suggestion was to eat in the Dupont Circle area of town that night as that was supposed to have a concetration of nice restaurants in a laid back area. We didn't quite find a concentration but we did hit upon a nice Greek place that originated in Vienna. Peculiar I thought but I was hungry and didn't fancy another bowl of Muesli as a dinner substitute and so, in we went. The food was nice but portion sizes were small compared to what we were used to which, looking back, was a good thing as we can't eat whole farms every day now can we?

Still I figured dessert was in order to so I hopped into the South's answer to Dunkin Donuts, Krispie Kreme and grabbed a donut and a coffee. It should be Crispie Cream and it should be Doughnut but when in Rome...or in DC, what ever the case may be...

The rest of the ngith we spent talking in the park at Dupont Circle, so named after a Civil War hero I believe. The park was a circle funnily enough with benches all of the way around affording views of its centre but not ot the nice mix of architecture behind it. This was a good place to people-watch however with the background Victorian buildings provding a nice vista through the park trees. We talked and we talked until time hit us and we decided it was time to call it a day but not before I managed to ridicule someone under my breath.

In America, many traffic lights have a timer so you know how long you have to cross the road and sitting by a crossing we could see this. 50 seconds to cross a 12 foot wide stretch of road. A group came walking over and of course there was one imbecile who took 50 seconds to cross, just to show the rest that he could. Now if I were a psycologist I would say that what in effect was happening was him showing how slow he could be to the rest of the group but then I'm not a psycologist. I don't need to be one to see that indeed he was. If I was the car driver I probably would have knocked him down to teach him a lesson.

And so for today there I leave you, don't act the fool.

Day Fourteen - DC

The fourteenth day of the trip started fairly late it must be said. Traveling from NYC on a bus with an intense stop in Phily had worn us out a little. Phily doesn't get a fair mention in this blog due to time constraints but the talk with author Thomas Hine was so interesting and engaging that it was actually hard work to conduct. There I was sitting face to face with a seasoned journalist and writer, who was I? I just tried to me, asked questions, contributed to the conversation and did my best not to seem like an idiot and in this I think I did well. To put this in physical terms it was like trying to keep up with a seasoned marathon runner. It could be done but there was only one person who was going to feel the pain the next day. And DC was that next day.

I had sat down to have some breakfast, Muesli, or a kind of this anyway, when an English lad called Andrew came along and began to talk to me. He was dressed up in a formal shirt and jeans, very English I thought as I looked at him. He was a nice guy though, working in the Labour Party back home so I knew that I was talkign to someone here with a bit of intelligence. The problem was that I wasn't quite fully awake as he talked while putting some peanut butter on the toast that had just popped frmo the toaster. I thought, looking at the peanut butter, that it had come from Safeway where I walked earlier to get the Muesli. When I was there I was quite suprised by the amount of people who were shopping on this Sunday morning after the July 4 fireworks. It was packed full unlike the corner store I went to earlier before reaching Safeway. The corner store was fairly barricaded, a feature of the community businesses it seemed, and hadn't any real selection of cereal. I really watnede Muesli and had stopped myself buying some in Boston so there was no way I was having breakfast without bits of what looked to be rabbit poo but were actually raisans, in my cereal. Safeway it was then but getting in there was hard, I couldn't find the door. Walking around the massive shopping centre walls I came upon it and also came upon those crowds I talked about earlier.

After a little while I began to tune in to Andrew to the point where we both hit on the same thought. He was traveling alone, clearly not with a girl of any kind because surely no girl would allow him out in that long sleeved shirt. We talked and came upon the idea that perhaps he should come out with Donal and I to see the sights. An extra body would do no harm and he was affable and talkative so it made sense and withing the day we walked the National Mall seeing the outside of the Captiol Building and a lot of memorials that night.

The thing about DC is normally, well apparently anyway, the humidity that exists there in summer. On this Sunday we were lucky for the heat wasn't unbearable as we walked but it was getting late in the day so....actually that's not a bad reason for staying in bed, it was a strategic decision, not a tiredness issue after all. Any jury would agree I'm sure, even in the US Supreme Court, a building's steps of whom I climbed after losing the two lads at the Capitol Building. That's what happens when you bring a camera though, you want to get better shots, see different angles and make the most of your time and I tried to,k even if that meant a million dollar text to Donal's Irish phone number to meet back up with them after I losing them completely. It turned out I had been gone for an hour but in DC it is easy to lose yourself in thought as you wonder about the buildings, what they really stand for, what freedom really is and whether this place is one of contradictions, the centre of an empire with unfmailiar clothes or simply a place which history decicded would be built in a European style, to rival those Europeans.

After catching back up with the lads, we went to eat in Quizznos Sub. Well ,they did. I choose not to do so, as I wasn't in the mood and didn't fancy going there in the first place but I wasn't about to winge for I wasn't starving. A thing about travel is that the apple cart can be very easy to upset and ruin things between two people although it's different with groups I suppose. With two, the balance is easy to unfurl and with no real reason to complain, I didn't. Besides, even if I was hungry, what was coming up next would more than distract me from it.

Having walked a lot of the National Mall, the long corridor containing the Captiol Building, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial etc, it would have been a shame to have missed out on the chance to finish it off, at night, and so we walked along it, curious as to where the crowds of people were for it was a Sunday night and as we walked we felt as if the whole city belonged to us and us only. Had the police erected barriers to prevent people from seeing us walking around? I have discussed rules and regulations here before so anything is possible. Our first port of call was the Washington Monument, a staggering tower dedicated to the man who is revered over here as the first Presdident, great leader and all around good guy. The name should give it away. Looking up at this tower, having seen it so many times before on other media was something quite special and while I have no allegiance it to it, it made an impression. The whole Mall is meant to really for it is the heart of America's freedom rheteoric and what a heart! Needless to say there were plenty of American flags fluttering in the wind around the monument and at this point I took off to see if I could see the White House, which I did but only from afar as the Police presence was obviously quite large and I didn't know my way around the rear section where you get closer to the most powerful home in the world. At this stage it was dark, the moon had risen and was clear in a night sky of dark navy blue and I wound my way through sidewalks, seeing the Organisation of American States building, a place where many important decisions had been made but which seemed to have little significance for most walking by. So much so in fact that I easily laid the camera on the ground to allow it take a steady 4 second shot of the building.

The task in hand now, as the clock ticked by, was to find the two lads who I said I would meet by the Lincoln Memorial, a sight to behold at night. I walked through parkway seeing it in the distance and knowing that if only I hopped the little chain along he side of the path I could cut through and get there a lot quicker. This would certainly have been done at home but not here in DC. This place is hallowed ground, it is like one massive church of liberty where American cicitzens come to worship and pay their respects. I was certain that walking through the grass would not only bring me some funny looks but also a police man wondering if I had escaped from a mental insitution. That was fair enough really, I couldn't simply make up my own rules here, I wouldn't appreciate it if Americans back home decided to walk across...well, Turners Cross.

I finally reached the Lincoln Memorial as it passed ten o clock. The view from there down the reflecting pool that, well, reflects the Washington Monument, was something to behold but glory is not always as true and noble as it can be. Walking down to the nearby Vietnam War Memorial I was thrown into an area of darkness, slant light, poorly formed reflections and thouands of names, 58,261 in total. I walked along the wall, walking down into the ground to it's centre and then back up as I exited what I can only describe as a wound in the ground. A nescessary wound to remember those people who fought in a war that personally I think was pointless and based on lies and false theories. Upon walking up I saw a man, not dressed like anyone else at the wall, asking people if they needed help looking up a person. Some didn't acknowledge him, it was as if they didn;t want this man, who was a veteran of this war, to remind them that this war was real. Here was living proof and to the right of him was symbolic proof etched in a wall. I contemplated turning back so as not to engage with him, I couldn't see him properly and didn't know what to say and for that doubt I still feel a little bad. Who was I to judge him? My feet took me by him where I answered him that I didn't need help with the wall but that I appreciated his asking. How could I not acknowledge this guy? He was here of his own accord, perhaps gaining some solace from being around people that, etched in the wall, he may once have served alongside. This man had probably seen things that I never want to see, experiences that none of us can ever be prepared for and people, few as they were, ignored him. I was glad then when one group did indeed ask him some questions. Being honest, I wanted to ask him what it was like out there but what was he suppossed to answer with? He was a man, not a talking exhibit and I thought it was best then to listen to what he was being asked by others as igonarant as that in itself sounds. One thing stood out for me - 35 sets of brothers were killed in that war. Having a brother myself this was something that took me aback. How can one possibly explain that to a mother and father?

I finally climed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a temple like structure modelled on Zeus temple in Greece. You can't help but be amazed, it is outstandingly well made, lit and although it has no press button machines to "learn more about Lincoln" it didn't need them. It seems to me that in America everything has to be bigger, better, or extended to again and again. The Lincoln Memorial stood simply without need for any of this and was better off for it.

And I must say, I was better off for having Muesli supper when we got home to the hostel.