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I’m leavin’ today

I’m on my way to New York! Squeeeee.

Yes this is worth a post.

Start spreadin’ the news

There came a point at the party yesterday night where I would find that people knew who I was before I actually introduced myself. One accentuated syllable was all that was required. Make no bones about it; being English in America is pretty damn awesome. The amount of free drinks alone

Anyway, anyway.

Between spotted sleep patterns, headaches, and eating at strange hours, the last two days have been a real blur. Having crashed out for a good seven or eight hours following my arrival, I went to the aforementioned party, which turned out fantastically well (I got the chance to say a grinning hello to someone I met over 75 days ago in Gatwick airport. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head). Much drink and dance was had. There was a film about robots with Italian subtitles. There was cake.

I subsequently came home and couldn’t sleep, but I mustered enough energy to venture out today on a drivey-walky tour of Pittsburgh. It’s a nice place, sequestered between the fork of two rivers. Smaller than I had expected, the city nonetheless has a distinct feel to it – though describing what that is is a little bit tricky. There are individuated districts, such as quaint Little Italy where my friend whom I’m staying with is based, or the affluent and hipster-populated Shadyside area with its myriad lounges and bars (definitely more my type of scene than clubland).

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Those are tucked away somewhat in the back of the city, away from the water’s edge. Today I saw more of the downtown area where only a day or two ago met the most important people on the planet (except for the secret Jewish illuminati freemason enclave that controls everything, of course). For the most part it’s a fairly quiet place; clean, compact and economically stable, the skyline dominated by the PPG plate-glass building with its gothic parapets. Its steelworking legacy is clearly evinced by the many bridges that branch over the surrounding waters – four hundred and forty-six in total! The main ones over the twin rivers are often painted a cheery yellow colour, which brightens up the view through the mist and drizzle that we ran into today. The weather unfortunately meant that taking photographs was often a pointless venture, but we did go up to the top of what’s called the ‘incline’, which is a funicular or cable-car that is winched up the sharply sloping side of a cliff to the south of the city, and the view from the top was pretty good.

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Sadly doesn’t really do it justice. Pittsburgh is a nice place, really. Kind of reminded me of San Diego in character, but a northern version. It has that same quiet sense of self-possession and stability, with the gilded edge of financial strength. Well worth a visit should you ever find yourself in the area.

Being of the exciting and whimsical adventures undertaken by the author

Hey all,

Sorry for the radio silence, but I’ve had another few quiet days. This time, I traveled to Purdue college in Lafayette, Indiana, to see a friend I’ve known for years. It worked out with us mostly just tooling around playing games, going to bars and eating (Lafayette isn’t a particularly big place), which although fun for me does not make for particularly gripping reading.

I had an entertaining time getting to my next stop of Pittsburgh, however. You see, Lafayette doesn’t have a Greyhound station. You can’t book the tickets online, nor at the Amtrak desk in the train station where the bus company is sort-of based, in that they have a brightly-smiling person sitting behind the glass who tells you she can’t really do anything. So, you go out to a street and stand there. In the rain. With no sign telling you where to go, so you have to more or less guess where the Greyhound is going to stop.

And then it doesn’t come. Two soggy hours later, I was feeling rather fed up of waiting (thank goodness my backpack has a rainproof sheet), so I teamed up with another passenger and we hitched a lift with his buddy to Indianapolis. Later, we would find out that the bus had broken down – which of course wouldn’t have been a serious problem, if we had any way of knowing at all.

Indianapolis I only got to see a little of, so I can’t pass comment on it, but I was starving by the time I got there. My eyes, stomach, imagination and spiritual wellbeing ruling out the slop being served up at the station, I went wandering down the road a little and found a place called the Slippery Noodle. It’s a large establishment that takes up half a block or so, but that never feels impersonal. Split into several different rooms, the place has an obsession with the Blues Brothers, live music, good food and what even I recognized as an impressive array of beers on tap. Chowing down on loaded potato skins, I had a nice discussion with the person behind the bar about traveling and all that good stuff, which proved far more entertaining than sitting in the station playing Puzzle Quest for three hours. I recommend the place.

The next bus journey was as dreary as it was tiring, another overnight haul on uncomfortable seats. Let me tell you, I’ve got traveling on these things down to an art now, but it’s still near-impossible to grab any sleep.

GREYHOUND SERVICE ALERT: Beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, September 23, the Greyhound station in downtown Pittsburgh will be relocated to the McKeesport Transportation Center, 408 Lysle Blvd. This move is temporary, and is due to the G-20 Summit taking place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Oh, goody. Landing about 13 miles out of town in unfamiliar territory after 14 hours travel is just what I wanted. But never mind! I eventually found out how I was to get to my destination, and jumping on another bus made my way into the city. Pittsburgh feels kind of strange at the minute, due to the G-20; lots of protester-looking types with dreadlocks and big cardboard signs to be seen on the street. It’s on everyone’s mind, too: the conversations I overheard were all about the rigor of police checks and difficulty in getting anything done, or in some cases resent at being chosen to host. A small but granite-like old woman nearly poked me in the chest after overhearing my British accent.

‘Are you here for that G-20 thing? What do you do in it?’ she demanded. I explained that I was just a traveler, but that only seemed to redouble her conviction. ‘That’s just what you’d say, you just don’t want us to know, I bet you can’t talk about it.’ I made the mistake of trying to laugh that one off, which only served to further antagonize her. ‘It’s not a laughing matter’, she grumbled darkly as she stepped off the bus, leaving me rather bewildered.

Not everyone is feeling quite so wronged, though. Passing a pub on the way, they had hung up a sign: ‘We’re protesting sobriety’.

I arrived at my contact’s house here and promptly fell asleep until about an hour ago. I better get going though because we’re doing things tonight and my word, do I need a shower. More impressions of Pittsburgh to come tomorrow.

Heckuva town

Firstly, let me make a few choice corrections:

A) I did have a ‘Chicago Dog’, in that I had a bite of Arminas’s. Chili and cheese topping is not Chicago style. I repeat, not Chicago style. Can you stop breaking my fingers now, please?
B) The Water Tower mentioned in the last post was actually supposed to be the John Hancock tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world. The Water Towers, plural, are twin stone edifices that lie near the the base of it. They were some of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire.

With that in mind, allow me to upload the two best pictures from near the top of that place.

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I hope that was worth the wait.

Today I headed in with the company of another forumite, Ketar, to visit and tour the expansive Art Institute of Chicago, an encyclopedic museum that has almost every type of thing you can think of on display at some juncture or another. Famous pieces include Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Nighthawks, American Gothic, and among others, a smattering of Seurat (including the famous park scene), Goya, Monet, and Picasso. In addition to this is a formidable modern art wing. It is, I hope you will appreciate, somewhat near-impossible to start quantifying art in terms of inadequate and misshapen words. The museum is about one million square feet in terms of area, took four and half hours to comprehensively – though not quite exhaustively – browse, and I can’t even guess at how many items it holds. There’s really only one thing you can do, and that’s see it for yourself.

I took the CTA (read: subway) to the Museum, which allowed me to a little more of the city at street level, and afterwards I ambled through Millenium Park and the Cloud Bridge (read: SHINY BEAN), then up the Magnificent Mile. More on that in a second. First, photos:

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Chicago really is a city that has grown and grown on me. When I first saw a picture of it from the air, it seemed like a dizzying, uniform metropolis, a ball of clay flung at high speed into the earth. It sprawled out in every direction in regimented blocks, and I was apprehensive about just exactly what its feel would be – was it going to prove a soulless, scrappy place, a wordless commuting cabal?

The answer is no, of course not, shut up. Chicago is a wonderful city on the cusp of history and modernity, with enough roots to give it some serious character and enough grip on the moment to be a lively, vibrant place. The buildings alone here are really very lovely; often built in individuated styles out of dense red brickwork, they’re a pleasure to wander around. They feel pleasingly solid in comparison to, say, LA’s concrete-and-breezeblock asthetic. The larger edifices downtown are full of condominiums, towering business skyscrapers, the still-fresh glass of the new Trump Tower, and the dark bristling gothic spike of the Tribune paper. I walked past that building earlier, and it’s quite fascinating. In the wall near street level are embedded bricks from other institutions, from a piece of Abraham Lincoln’s house to a coarse grey block from one of the Scotch-English battlefields. One only needs to read up on the history of the paper and its powerful owners for even more pause for thought, but that is an exercise I shall leave to you.

This is the second stop on my journey where I can imagine living were I to live in America. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Right from the very earliest stirrings of my consciousness with regards to the states, I always figured I would be a Northeast person. Again, I couldn’t fully explain why. Perhaps the mystery will be solved in New York, which Chicago has somehow made more real, a warm-up act for the main event.

I’ll leave you with some more photos of the place that, over the past few days, I have developed a real fondness for.

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All things go, all things go

Greetings from the Windy City! The Windy City is mighty pretty but they ain’t got what we got no siree No stop that.

I arrived in Chicago on the evening of the 19th, to find Arminas and Mavis, my former PAX compatriots, waiting outside the station. My first impression of the city is that it reminded me of Batman’s fictional Gotham – and then Arminas gently explained to me that that was pretty much because it was based on Chicago. Score one for team obvious.

It was already pretty dark by the time we were there, but for Arminas the night was but young! Our first stop was to feed me, not unlike the piranha plant from Pet Shop Of Horrors, as my diet that day had been pop tarts, beef jerky and a twix. I was ravenous, and Chicago of course had just the answer: deep dish pizza. We stopped off at the apartment and then walked to a nearby place that rustled up what looked like some sort of industrial accident, so thick and goopy was the topping. It proved, however, rather tasty. Not quite as tasty, perhaps, as the Italian/New York style with the wide thin base and the flavoursome toppings (great, now I want a pizza), but the flipside was that it absolutely fills you up. It reminded me a great deal of the old ‘doorstops’ of bread the miners used to take with them, and shares the same culinary ethos as cornish pasties: this is work food.

Out hunger duly sated, we moved on to the far more pressing issue of our thirst. It was quite a night. We probably drank between us enough to poleaxe a medium-sized cow, and hopped through four or five locations, all with their individual characters. My favourite would be hard to call: we visited a very classy little cocktail place where I had something with a lot of gin and blackcurrent in it, which I really liked a great deal for its faintly elitist, hipster atmosphere, but then we also visited a wall.

Well, okay, there was a door in the wall, inset so that one can barely see it – a casual observer might not even notice the well-worn handle sticking out of the graffiti’d brickwork. Through that door is a curtain. Then, another curtain. Just as one is wondering why there are 12-foot velvet drapes hanging from the ceiling, it all becomes clear as they emerge into The Violet Hour, a trendy and intimate bar that has a very special heritage.

Violet Hour runs, you see, in an imitation of the old-fashioned speakeasys, a hangover (pardon the pun) of the prohibition era that saw the rise of organized gangs. The speakeasys, for anyone not in the know, is where all the moonshine or illegal liquor was quietly siphoned into the grateful livers of the poor, suppressed, thirsty populace. The high-backed chairs, dim lighting and secretive feel of the place (and I am told there are others, with secret callsigns and hidden doors) are a great throwback to the character of the time without becoming kitschy.

I had something with more gin in it.

Today, after thankfully somehow not actually getting drunk the prior evening, we headed into the city with special guest MichaelLC, who dropped by to visit. We went and ate at a place staffed exclusively by ex-con’s called Felony Frank’s (nope, not kidding), where I had one of the famous Chicago hot dogs, which was pretty nice with chili and cheese. After a swift detour back to the apartment to reorganize ourselves, we went on into town, though sadly Mavis had to say his goodbyes at this point.

Chicago is a bustling, slightly imposing city with a very ‘east coast’ feel to it. Which is odd, because I’ve not seen anything on the east coast but Philadelphia, so that must be cultural informants talking. I suppose it’s marked by a faster pace of life, grimmer weather, and a slightly more worn-down feeling, in major part due to the age of the buildings, which here are practically museum pieces compared to other cities I’ve visited. I like the place, however.

We spent quite a lot of today just walking around the town, though we wandered out to the end of the pier and ducked into a few unexpected places, mostly due to the sudden and precipitous rainstorm that swept in from the north. I had failed my English test and forgotten my umbrella. A terrible thing to do.

We ended the day by going to the top of the Water Tower, which is not actually a water tower but a skyscraper with a restaurant-cum-viewing deck at the top, much like Tower 42 in London. And I did get some absolutely lovely pictures, the rain that misted up the streets being coloured a delicate roseate by a suffused sun… but Macs are horrible evil things that are designed to be as difficult as possible to work with because they try and do everything for you. So those pictures – and more – will come tomorrow.

IowaIowaIowa

I won’t lie. The reason I haven’t updated my blog that much in the last few days is because nothing much has really happened.

Downtime was sorely needed. Anyone with a decent short-term memory will be aware that I’ve been slowly ground down over the last week or so by numerous long-haul bus trips, late nights, etc. My stay in Iowa was extremely laid back and gave me plenty of time to sleep, get my head and affairs in order, and prepare for the last fortnight of the trip.

From Minneapolis I traveled to the small and often scenic town of Cedar Falls, in Iowa the state, where I met iowa the person (fun fact: the bus journey of four and a half hours from Minneapolis to Iowa would have taken me 23 hours from the station 20 minutes away in St. Paul). He explained to me as we trundled through the rambling college campus that the town consisted almost entirely of students and old people. The houses there were lovely; whitewashed and pristine, shaded by the leaves of veteran trees, but the demographic dichotomy does rather leave the town without an economic direction. The students go home in summer, so one can’t afford to cater just to them. As a result, the ‘downtown’ area is a single road that we came to the end of almost as soon as we started strolling down it. There are a couple of bars dotted around the campus that seem to cater to the majority of the twenty-something partygoers.

Iowa and I spent most of the time shooting the breeze, playing Smash 64 (he’ll never look at Kirby the same way again. OWNED, sir.), Mario Kart, Perfect Dark, and generally not giving a damn one way or the other about anything more taxing than rolling out of bed. The last night I was there we went to a bar where I experienced the profoundly odd sensation of being graduated. Strange.

Anyway, Cedar Falls is not exactly a tourist trap. There’s not really much in the way to photograph there, no sights to see, no must-visit attractions. But at this point in the trip, winding up for the final stretch, it’s exactly what I needed. So my thanks to iowa (person) for giving me space to just chill for a while. It was needed.

My first night in Chicago has already proved this point to me twice-over, but I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Suffice to say there is no way I should be sober right now.

Double Act

Alllrighty, this one is a bit overdue. Sorry about that. With now only two weeks left and sixty-six days gone by since my departure from foggy Gatwick, the fatigue of the journey has been starting to hit home a bit. Although that hasn’t stopped me from my usual misadventures, it meant that after yesterday I simply wasn’t up to typing anything at all.

So here we go.

Taking the bus from Sioux Falls to Minnesota, I fast approached the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, sat brooding at one another like feuding families across the virgin Mississippi, which starts not too far north of here. The countryside I passed was almost entirely comprised of cornfields, broken by picturesque small towns where bible verses are printed on trucks and American flags form the backdrop for anti-abortion billboards. Heavy farm industry straddles the road almost all the way, to greater and lesser degrees. Here there might be a knocked-in shed built decades ago, half-hidden in a copse of trees, and there might be a towering all-metal silo with a legion of lesser buildings buried in its shadow. Any way you look at it, this is a decidedly rural part of America.

And then the Twin Cities kind of pop up out of nowhere. A comparatively rich history is matched with an equally comprehensive rivalry. Whilst fairly amicable now, aided by state-oriented, as opposed to city-based sporting teams, it used to be a fair bit nastier. For instance, soon after their mutual and simultaneous foundings around the mid-nineteenth century (that’s old, kids!), they each kidnapped one another’s respective census-takers so as not to cede a population advantage to their rival. Two seperate baseball stadiums were built for two seperate teams, the University campus was carved in half, and famously, St. Paul’s Cathedral (1915, not in London) was hotly followed by Minneapolis’s equally grandiose Basilica (1926).

It’s all calmed down a bit now, and the mutual history shared seems a source of pride for both. For example, the St. Anthony Falls area with its crowded banks of old flour-mills, or the fact they someone from here invented Cheerios.

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The two towns have a pretty distinct character each. St. Paul is more architecturally conservative, playing host to many of the older buildings and, rather to my delight, stubbornly refusing to use a grid system. On this side of the river are many more of the museums and other such things. Minneapolis, on the other hand, is regimented in its streets and adventurous in its skies, with a considerable array of skyscrapers and, curiously, a skywalk system so comprehensive that it is entirely possible to move around the bulk of the city without ever going outside.

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Minneapolis is also where the nightlife is (apart from the separate phenomena that is the ludicrously-named ‘Dinkytown’, a student accommodation hotspot), and we headed there on the first night to a club called ACME to see an open-mic comedy night. It was really very very good – I was informed that we struck lucky as it’s often half and half – but there’s that old Twain quote about frogs and jokes and you’ll just have to trust me when I say that Newton’s third law has never been so hilarious.

I was accompanied by, and have been staying with, Snappy, and am currently sitting in the lounge of her shared apartment wondering exactly how I’m going to wake up in three and a half hours. I have packing to do yet. Oh dear.

Yesterday (that is, the night before was ACME) I was pretty beat and decided to take the morning off, which became half of the afternoon off as well. I am sloth. Devleric came over, however, and metaphorically kicked me into action because I think he would have been upset if he had driven all that way to find me not there. We drove around St. Paul a bit, seeing the famous spoon bridge at the Walker museum…

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… then got lunch at an Italian place that was excellent, then wandered around the riverfront for a while before catching drinks with one of his friends, who was something of a historian and relayed to me a degree of context for my surroundings. The St. Anthony Falls, which is where we were, was the Mississippi’s only natural waterfall. It was tamed and harnessed into powering those flour mills I talked about earlier. One of them exploded a long time ago, and has since been made into a museum. Today in my wanderings around, I chanced across its entrance. The interior is impressive.

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The rest of the day I spent meandering somewhat randomly through the streets, stopping in Macy’s to see what the fuss was about and somehow walking out with a new jacket-like thing. Still not sure how that happened. I then met up with Snappy and Eric again and we went to an impressive Cuban restaurant (which made me two for two on quality meals today, as I happened to find the very worthy SpoonRiver for lunch), where inside and out, enthusiastic customers have left their scribblings. It was pretty enjoyable just to wander through for half an hour and stare at the walls.

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Lastly, just hours ago, we drove to the Mall of America, which can be summed up in two words: Wow, and Eek.

And that is all.

Tomorro- no, wait, today, I head to Iowa… in Iowa.


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