Monday, January 31, 2011

There's a train leaving nightly called 'when all is said and done'

Australia Day; a day when the unemployed get upset because everyone has a day off, has taken all of the parking spots in town and has flocked to the beach. You absorb the sun's rays you don't normally see in your 9 to 5 and trade those hours in for time with friends.

Last year Clint-the generous Canadian who was lovely enough to let me stay at his house for three weeks- and I lucked out on a parking spot and spent some time in South Beach's cool waves. Being Canadian, he got hit by a wave and sand blasted his face, but by the end of the day we were sat out the back of his place throwing back some cold beers with the occasional visitor popping by.

This year I traded the sand for snow. John St John and Michael had since left and were naturally missed on such a day, but I was invited to a gathering by a few of the incoming Australian students. We went to Jessie's house, and within the hour some young American girls were already legless via an Australian flag themed paper cup.

There was only one Australian flag cape, and thankfully, no geographically challenged individuals in shirts proclaiming "Fuck Off! We're Full!". Despite all the frivolity of Cronulla Beach, it became apparent that heading to the bars in town was a more appropriate destination. When the clocks struck 10:45 I hightailed it to bus stop, to be joined by Jessie and her roommates as we left the remaining Australian mass on their own.

My friends, who are from everywhere but Australia, were in Stackers, tearing up the Karaoke. The line outside didn't move, and when McMurphy's offered no line, we reciprocated with our presence. The usual baseball-cap-muscled-up breed of American was out, but my four previous gym sessions had been immediately justified as I wrestled my way to service.

My pitcher had barely finished by the time I got the call that Stackers had no line and despite the loveliness of the company at the time, I couldn't resist the offer to join the others. I had missed them singing 'London Calling', but I was greeted to a plastic cup of American beer and equally refreshing hugs.

Poor Ollie was on the receiving end of the freshly filled cup, as I was squashed by a bag of muscles while waiting in line. My cup continued to runneth over, and for the first time in weeks I got to see Bella and Elle in all of their fine Englishness.

Max's Englishness also shone through when he took exception to the actions of another muscled-up American. Like a gentleman, he stood up for the girl he felt was mistreated and backed away when the confrontation was beginning to look ugly. True to form, he even apologized to the guy at the end of the night for confronting him in the first place. If that sort of behaviour was more characteristic of Australia, then I'd probably be more patriotic. Alas it isn't, and with a kerfuffle avoided, so ended my Australia Day celebrations for 2011. I went back to visit my German friends with some Americans and felt equally at home as I would getting sunburnt at the beach.


Since I left for Canada I'd grown unkempt in my appearance, and despite being Australian, the Scottish side I inherited from my mother elucidated itself in the ginger hairs that graced my face. By Friday I'd had enough and at the end of class headed to Northampton to clean myself up. The hairdresser took two hours tending to my hair. She had her work cut out, and during the course of the shearing kept telling me about the time Lee-Roy had visited her the previous semester.

I left the building looking like a new man, and without dieting, had managed to shed a few pounds. The effect was so great that even at 24, I was refused service  when I tried to buy some beer for the night's party.

That didn't stop me from procuring any though, and by the time we had reached the house occupied by the Swedes, our beer took up a spot in the snow bar they had constructed earlier. They'd put in a considerable effort making the house look fantastic, and fridge space had become redundant through their typical Scandinavian ingenuity.

The party was quite reserved for a while, when suddenly a horde arrived and the dynamic changed the environment dramatically. The living room resembled a club, complete with grinding Americans. Irresponsibility was the cream that floated to the top, and as if writing names in the snow with urine wasn't enough, shortly after we'd leave our own impression on the yellow house on top of the hill.

I'm still unsure how it began, but when the birthday cake celebrating the special day of a few of the residents came out I found some of it on my face. What transpired next involved replicating that look on the person nearest to me. They in turn took the same course with someone else, and with that, a cake fight began.

The exact details remain sketchy, but I know it ended with my hair now being darker due to a chocolate sponge and my face whiter due to the icing. I was not alone in this, and Max, again showing restraint reportedly stopped Dicky Peach from involving the bowl of sour cream that tempted him on the table.

Sick of people licking my face, I went upstairs to wash the cake from my face, as I had a freshly de-bearded visage to show off. When Max also attempted to clean himself up I threw him in the shower, turned on the hot tap and forgot how the rest of the situation panned out.

Eoin also made an appearance at the party and immediately made his presence felt by jumping into a giant table of snow. It was outstanding form, and evidence why he and Joe are the finest Irish exports since those black pints that sport bishop's collars.

The drinks ran out, we'd covered ourselves in cake and tagged the driveway in our name. It was officially time to leave and prepare for the eventual terrible feeling of the next day.


Still, that feeling was nothing compared to how I would feel in two days time. Despite the advice of my physical therapist, I decided to try snowboarding. Things started poorly when I slept in, yet miraculously made the bus. Exhausted, I still enjoyed the views of the sleepy towns that surrounded Mt Snow in Vermont.

I took the terrible advice of Dave and decided to try a run down the mountain before receiving a lesson. Naturally I fell a few times, having no idea how to control the plank that slid me down the hill. I slowly traversed from side to side, not taking out any fellow skiers, but everytime I fell the snow infiltrated the women's snow clothes I borrowed for the trip. Eventually I was upright, facing straight and travelling at a speed more akin to Michael Schumacher. I was snowboarding, and it felt like I was back on my skateboard travelling blindly down the paths of UMass at night. There was a massive catch though, unlike a skateboard I did not know how to turn or how to stop. My attempt ended in a fall that bounced me from my knees, onto my arse and eventually my head, where the thud was felt through my entire body.

I was seeing stars, little birds and my life as a greatest hits compilation flash by before me. It took me about a minute to realise who I am, where I was and what I was doing before I was willing to try to make it down the rest of the hill. My head broke my fall, and in doing so left my wrist, equipped with a bone that is still chipped,  unscathed from the incident. Instead my head was thumping, and the melting ice on my arse was giving way to the pain of the fall.

For the majority of the lesson I spent more time on my knees than any girl who has just received a large diamond. By the end my derrière hurt more than a new boy's at prison and the most comfortable part of the adventure was when the lift temporarily stopped during the trip to top.

I knew quickly that snowboarding isn't for me. When I did begin to fall on my hand I thought it best to call it a day, before I ended up with more bruises.

And as if hurting on the day wasn't bad enough, this morning was even worse. I struggled to find a muscle that didn't ache, and for the first part of the day, until the ibuprofen kicked in, I could barely turn my head thanks to the three visits the back of it had to the surface of the snow. I would rather get dumped by any wave than endure the pummelling the snow offered again in the short term, but that's not what living on the other side of the world is about. Take on nature anywhere you are and it'll win, but make it fun and you'll soften the eventual blows you receive.

Pavement - Spit On A Stranger.
It's a song I'm only new to, but it is remarkably sweet. Enjoy an early valentine's gift.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oh little girl, don't care no more

Ignore the signs; if you're a man, you can pee on a bus standing up. You'll bruise your knees, smack your head against a wall and your arms will flail about like a ragdoll, but it's better than emasculating yourself in private.

So Sam, Dicky Peach and I were off to New York, provided our bodies could outlast the bathroom visits. We had originally intended for more to come along, but it didn't work out for everyone. No matter, the three of us were off to see Two Door Cinema Club and Tokyo Police Club play at Webster Hall.
Banana Pond, frozen

Throughout the bus trip Sam was confusing the windblown snow from the bus for legitimate falling white stuff despite the glaring sun. The view when approaching Manhattan never gets old, and is only helped by the fact that as soon as you see it, you know you have to spend the next 45 minutes getting closer to the heart of American society.

Our hostel messed up the bed situation, and when the three beds together we were promised didn't fit into their available two in each room an inevitable fuckup ensued. No matter, we weren't there to do anything but count sheep.
Central Park

We walked from 96th to 56th street, and all the way along we smoked the victory cigars we had purchased in Amherst. We were victorious, passively at worst. Victorious that we were walking through Manhattan in the middle of winter. Victorious that we are fortunate enough to study in this country. And victorious that the three of us, from three different countries, all managed to converge at the right place and time and become sound friends. The victory cigars were only offset by our amateur approach to lighting and consuming them, but while our advent needed improvement, our intent was all there. 

The snow had destroyed Sam's shoes and Peach's circulation. We stopped by J Macs, a bar that thematically supported the troops, but was frequented by the opposite of soldier types. Sam took to stuffing his shoes with toilet paper to soak up the icy water, but such efforts were like the little Dutch by with his finger in the Dyke.
When we finally made it to the concert venue, Terminal 5, a massive line that snaked across both sides of the road greeted us. The cold seemed harsher than ever as we waited to get in, and when we finally did the place seemed relatively barren. We ascertained a decent viewing spot and cemented ourselves there for the night.

The opening band came and went off stage without rousing much of a response. Two Door were next, and were immediately infinity times greater. Their bass player was like a Kyle Lafferty/Peter Hook hybrid while their guitar player was a poor man's Johnny Marr (not an insult, Johnny is on a pedestal so high the world can only see the tips of his shoes). Even if they ditched the bass guitar for a synth in a few songs (a pet hate of mine), they still played a thoroughly excellent set. 

The majority American audience got over enthusiastic to the dance music that played over the P.A. between bands. The reaction usurped the opening band, and was an odd indicator on how live music is treated over here.

Tokyo Police Club headlined the night's show, and we also equally excellent. The beanpole singer/bassman dominated the band, and drew even more attention when his birthday was announced. The band are my age, but it's hard to determine that when you listen to them, but such things should be become less shocking the older I get. The night ended when both bands came out for an encore and a joint performance of Last Nite by The Strokes, the quintessential New York City band of this generation.

That was the end of my night too. While Sam and Dicky Peach headed to Brooklyn, I opted for a retreat to the Upper West Side for tally of those aforementioned sheep.

The next day Peach offered to stay around while Sam and I walked from one part of the park to the other. It was a measured change from our last jaunt through there in November, when all the grass was still visible. The large pond had frozen over, people had traded baseball bats for skis and countless fathers were out sledging with their kids. The moment hit Sam like an epiphany. His life had led him to the moment where he was strolling through a snow covered Central Park while his friends and family were all at home living their lives in their typical day-to-day manner. It's a moment of clarity I can empathise with. The cold doesn't matter. Nor does the weight of any backpack. You're there, living.

We stopped by the Dakota, where John Lennon's final moments shook the world. Across the road a lady was channelling Home Alone 2, but feeding sparrows instead of pigeons. We walked, and walked and walked some more before we stopped around 30th st. The pavement had taken its toll, and rather than getting typically lost, we took a train to Little Italy for dinner.

Like a bunch of 15-year-olds given a bit of responsibility, we acted accordingly at dinner. Everytime the door opened the chill brushed across my arse-crack that I can not help prevent displaying in public. Sam and Peach were hoarding the table bread on their plates. Sam even turned the bacon from his carbonara into tiny bacon sandwiches to the disdain of Italy's millions of Nonnas.

The food was amazing and a lovely tribute to the late-night tourist hub. Given the night hours, we took cover from the cold by grabbing any train we could to Brooklyn and a quiet night in Williamsburg.

Well that was the intention anyway. The subway entertainment should have been a precursor for the excellent night that followed. While an elderly man belted out some excellent tunes, a well dressed middle age man relived his youth by dancing all over the station, oblivious to his growing audience. The train left just after he had done the splits, but the train's passengers kept their focus on him as the train headed under the East River.

A bar serving 32oz cups (massive, awesome, 946ml) of Bud for $4 became our temporary home. One man played Pantera and Corrosion of Conformity songs, reminding me of one of the first concerts I went to when I was 14.

A huge black guy and tiny Asian man were both dressed in impeccable white suits straight from the 70s and had left their sense of irony back then as well. I even managed to catch the tiny Asian man while he was in the middle of an ablution. The bathroom had a urinal, and a neighbouring toilet that did not have a door. Such privacy was a not a concern for him.

I injured my hand dancing with a girl from New Jersey who did not share the same enthusiasm for Bruce Springsteen that I had. Meanwhile, John St John's female body-double, Joan St Joan, was sporting one of the most fantastic displays of drunk-eye anyone had seen for a long time.

A random guy had bought me a shot while Sam had been cornered by the one girl in the bar who he didn't want to talk to. Not long after I tried to convince two girls from Melbourne that I am also from Australia, I just don't share their filthy bogan speak. I eventually won out, because it's true.

Sam and Dicky Peach continued to down the giant cups of beer, but I had already spilt one when my hat flung off and flipped it in some over-enthusiastic response to hearing Michael Jackson. The end result of drinking so many large beers mean you have to expel it, and while waiting for our ride back at Bedford station I began to hear what sounded like water being poured onto the tracks. Instead, it was Sam and Peach taking turns at covering one another while the other did their business. Thank god the third rail is on the other side of the track.

Finally, at 5:30AM, our quiet night of dinner and a drink had ended. I must have been hilariously gassy through the night, as when packing and leaving the next day the only other awake person in the room (a pretty Spanish girl) kept laughing at me whenever I pottered around the place.

Again, we walked through the park on our way to midtown. We eventually stopped in the lobby of a building for a reprieve from the cold and planted ourselves there for a few hours. Peach was sporting an excellent hangover, and the colour had left his face hours before.

Our return to Amherst was met with the coldest conditions I have ever dealt with. As soon as I stepped off the bus I felt the snot in my nose freeze. Today the condensation from breathing was forming on my moustache and turning to ice. -20, is officially too much for me.

David Bowie - Modern Love
90% of the Adventureland soundtrack would make an outstanding song. This song is phenomenal, and has since passed Life of Mars as my favourite Bowie tune, boom.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Proper Baltic Like

Honestly, I was looking forward to going back to class on Tuesday. I make no bones about the fact that I love being a student, and to be able to do it in the United States is a privilege I'm proud of. So with the majority of the catch-ups aside, it was time to get buried into the books again, or so I thought. I had set up a carefully organised schedule (afternoon classes, woo!) and by the time my first one was about to begin I received notification that the school had been shut due to snow. 

With no people around and rain replacing snow, the campus eventually became an icy obstacle course. All of the sitting snow grew hard and slippery to the point where mountain goats would struggle. Worse, we were all going out to the bars to celebrate the first day back.

There was no haste in our walk to the bus, as the ice had added considerable time to the jaunt, but by the time we got to the bars we were some of the earliest people there. The Karaoke was not graced with my presence, but there were enough people from the group doing their part.

You're going to need a bigger bike.
By the end of the night I had won myself a new baseball cap, but it was not exactly weather suitable. When I left the dorms at 3:30 or so in the morning I was greeted by an icy sheet that had entangled itself upon everything. Slowly, I made it back to my room, but there is not enough enough salt in the dead sea to clear the paths I needed to walk.

Since then the weather has settled (until this morning's closure of campus due to snow) and I had resolved my class issues. School feels like it is back, and though I love being here, I'm counting down the days left of my undergraduate degree. I'm not there yet, but the goal seemed impossibly far a few years ago. Until then it's time to make the most of great company, great places and this lifestyle that promotes a generous balance of relaxation time. Today it's off to New York City to see Tokyo Police Club and enjoy the merits of studying abroad.

Glasvegas - A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss)
Try to find a nicer song about snow, I dare you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tramps like us

The aesthetic may have changed, but the place certainly hadn't. After one night of relative peace and the re-accommodation of my less than function left wrist to the world, I was already back at Stackers, the quintessential American bar.

Crappy hip-hop played out while people in untucked striped-shirts and crooked baseball caps tried to grind in what they had confused for a nightclub. Due to the cold the windows had fogged up, this was no time recreate a Nelly film clip, or that scene from Titanic.

Someone else in the bar played The Killers, a Lee-Roy staple while another played 'Dancing in the Dark', pure sweaty Mike. The place was still great, but it wasn't the same without the company I'd grown fond of sharing pitchers with. We left with a minor snowball fight, that ended with me in the snow just off the footpath.

The next night was a reunion with Peach, Sam, Alex and myself all enjoying copious amounts of tea while the New York jets obliterated the New England Patriots in the NFL playoffs. The obnoxious Massachusetts sports fan was silenced, and as a supporter of any team that plays the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, I was ecstatic that my new found team had one. We had received a warning about rioting on the campus post game, but it turned out to be a prediction more akin to Y2K.

Sam, who had grown fond of the snow, appeared happiest to be back in Amherst. He was willing to kiss the hallowed turf if the white stuff had not got in the way. Oh well, the best way to warm up after an adventure in the snow is to head back to Stackers, for another round of pitchers.

This time Alex was able to join in. His new licence had the fortunate mistake of printing his erroneous age, as well as being generally incorrect. Sick and tired of terrible hip hop, we offered 80s ballads, songs by The Offspring and Weezer and dismissed anyone who dared play 'Thong Song'.

There were Patriots fans around, but they were as subdued as their team's attack (boom!). Justin Beiber played out through the speaks and a random girl called out Alex on his resemblance to the tiny Canadian. By the end of the night we were all thinking about how great the upcoming semester is going to be, but the words that continued to flow from my mouth were all focused on the past tense, and how I wished there were still particular people around to share it with.

Also, this seemed like a good idea at 2AM and minus whatever outside.

Bon Iver - Your Love
The Outfield's seminal power ballad, Your Love, is probably the finest 4 minutes of the decade that was the 80s. However, when Bon Iver, a miserable, slow and sleepy band, cover the song it attains a new level of romantic tragedy and fulfilled 80s irony. Also, listen to Bon Iver before bed, it is where it's at.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Long may you run

We didn't get an immediate chance to see Manhattan, as we immediately left the bus station on 42nd street for a converted warehouse in Williamsburg. The room was straight out of the film 'Big', but was occupied by 12 beds, and not skateboards. It was a fantastic example of what gentrification can do, and easily a place I'd love to live in (with skateboards replacing backpackers of course).
Morgan Ave Subway ad for William H Macy's hot bod.

Not wanting to bunker down into the comfort of the room, Dicky Peach and I wandered through the streets, past community housing and eventually into an area that was more Puerto Rico than suburban Brooklyn. When the safest bet for food was Subway and fried chicken, we both felt it was time to move into Manhattan for the night.

Like faux-hipsters, we consumed at Urban Outfitters and Starbucks on our way to getting lost around the triangle of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy. Eventually, after an hour or two of bafflement we settled for Piano, a bar on Ludlow st. It turns out that Peach had tried to get into the same place on a drunken night out in November, but had to wait two months for entry.

John St John, Sam and Lil joined us as the cup of good times runneth over. We all tried different beers, avoided the gigs out the back and upstairs and eventually found ourselves taking shelter from a snow storm. What was a pleasant bite in the cold transformed into an inundation of falling white. More and more people filled the bar, in search of a reprieve from the weather as much as a drink.

The weather never relented, so Peach and I put our beer coats over the ones we were already wearing and ventured out like Shackleton on our journey back to Brooklyn. My snow angel on Ludlow failed, and my snow balls in mittens were pitiful, but the unfamiliarity of snow was still proving to be a frozen bucket of fun. When we did make it back to Brooklyn we found the streets to be worse than Manhattan, and that even with a snow plow, the best place to walk was down the middle of the road. Like our last visit to New York, Peach and I were taking advantage of jaywalking through the city's streets.

Naturally, we didn't start the day at a time in the A.M. but strategically, it gave the workers of New York City time to clean up some of the streets from the snow. Through icy paths that soaked through the canvas of Peach's shoes, we walked up Broadway on a course for the Williamsburg Bridge.

Crossing bridges in the city is amazing, and since urban exploring has made everything off limits, Manhattan's big three have enveloped climbing totem into their daily role. As much as I would like to climb to the top of the bridge, the amount of ice and one functioning hand turned me off were two of the many reason my feet stayed on the path. The view of midtown was hindered by a safety fence, but the skyline through red mesh is still something to behold.

climb me

Three years ago I visited the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan and left feeling disappointed that
scaffold and a security fence were sites for souvenir peddlers and people trying to peak at rubble. I have been to the city twice since then, and despite the progress I had reservations about going back, such was my disdain for how the site was then. However, this time, knowing the rate of progress I felt I should go back.

While the site is still remarkably empty, the fence height has fallen. Rightfully so, the tallest structure in the construction site is the replacement building, Freedom Tower. Now that there is something to be proud of, the city is once again showing it off. This year will be the 10th anniversary since the two towers fell, and though the new skyscraper will not be finished by then, the building's skeleton is something akin to a beautiful woman getting ready to go out. It's taking time, but you can see it getting better looking by the moment, and by the end it is going to leave people in awe.

We walked past the site, seeing it from all sides and getting up close and personal to the beams that will support the memories of the people lost when the two towers fell. The feeling of the site was a marked improvement from years ago, and even when Peach and I walked to the Hudson River I still kept turning my head, watching the building grow before my very eyes.

It was some walk, and we had covered many miles in a few hours, but the cold from the water and the ice on the paths forced us back to Williamsburg. Not to worry, again John, Sam and Lil would join us, this time in Barcade.

The lady behind the bar was hardly friendly, and an example where the expected tipping service fails, but whatever, I was there to push quarters into old video game arcade machines. Donkey Kong is still my kryptonite, paper boy is impossible unless it's on a NES, but Rampage, that's where it is at.

Peach and I embodied giant gorillas and reptiles as we punched our way through pixelated apartment buildings. John had taken to tetris, and his architectural background handed him an unorthodox, but successful style.

We gamed, and drank and gamed some more, working up a hunger only an early morning (or late night) feed can satiate. A dine took our orders of late night eggs, and before we knew it, the food was eaten and it was time to call it a night.

Unlike previous occasions, it was actually time to say good-bye to John and we parted ways in a Williamsburg subway stop. We had spent an outstanding semester together, and together our jeans showed more asscrack than all of the plumbers in Massachusetts combined. With that goodbye, my first semester felt like it had finally passed, and the next day with my return to Amherst, my second would begin.

It doesn't blend in, but because it resembles a broken lego wall, this building is one of my favourites in Manhattan.

Before then I escorted Peach to his new hostel in the Upper West Side. Going to a place like New York City, it's nice to see more of another area, as they all change so much from suburb to suburb. We left two stereotypical Jewish old woman to complain about the area in their hilarious accents behind as we walked to Riverside Drive. It was cold and covered in so much snow that someone actually equipped themself with poles and skis and rode past us.

The street was cold, and we traded it for a glimpse of the diner from Seinfeld on our way to Harlem. I had also been there three years ago, and I was again impressed by the place. It's streets and surroundings are less congested than the rest of Manhattan, and the reputation the area had earned in rap songs seemed unfounded. Then again, we did see a man with paraphernalia supporting black nationalism, and had posters of Robert Mugabe.

I said bye to Peach on the subway before I went to the same pizza shop I have visited every time I go to New York City. From there it was a bus back to Amherst, via upper Manhattan and the new Yankee Stadium. The ride offered some perfect views of Manhattan at night, and though it always hurts to leave the place, I'll be back there next weekend to fall in love with it all over again.

Amherst was almost unrecognisable upon my return. Snow has been piled up everywhere, and where it hasn't been shovelled upon itself it sits about 50cm from the ground. After riding on buses, being scared for my life in Baltimore and sleeping anywhere I could, I was startled to discover that my taxi ride back to campus would be the most dangerous part of my adventure. The driver, always on his phone, was taking notes as the van weaved from one side of the road to the other. When he stopped at my door, he spoke well of my English accent (welcome back to Amherst) and spun his wheels on the icy roads as he drove off.

The campus is a ghost town, though blanketed in white this time. If I had my way I'd still be in New York City, but returned back early so I could have my cast removed. It had been seven weeks since I broke my wrist and though the cast was attached to me, I was not to it. The saw could miraculously cut through the fibre glass, but not my skin and revealed the gross new version of my left arm. It was crusty, furrier than usual and unlike my expectations, does not have a lot of mobility. I was heartened when the doctor said the bone looks better than he thought it would, though there is a permanent chip on the bone I didn't fracture.

So while I don't have the full mobility of my left hand I'm still enjoying the reprieve from living out of a bag and the relative freedom of not wearing a cast. This little trip was great fun, and I'm grateful for seeing much more of this country than I had anticipated, even if it meant missing another family xmas. The comfort and weather of home seemed distant when walking around icy streets, but for the sacrifice of one day in Wollongong (which I've already had too many), I will happily trade it for all the long bus trips and floors to sleep on that are offered if it means learning a bit more about myself and the world.

Bruce Springsteen - Long Walk Home
I wanted to visit Asbury Park, NJ on this trip as it's Bruce's home town. It was too cold in NYC, so I'll wait until March. Until then here is the Boss singing in some of his town's abandoned buildings in an appropriately titled track.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They blew up the chicken-man in Philly last night

I spent my last night in Baltimore drinking endless cups of tea and writing under the light of an antique table lamp. All four of the hostel guests had gone to bed, and the beautiful restored townhouse was all mine. While Baltimore had scared the crap of me, as well as providing an excellent refuge, the hostel was one of the finest in the country.

Though I was happy to leave, I nearly missed my bus out of town by underestimating the amount of time repacking with one hand takes. When I did eventually make the public out of town, I was joined by a crowd of local residents who all departed at the liquor store. It was not yet 10:30AM, but the bottle shop outside of downton was the most popular place on a Saturday morning, even in the snow.
Washington's dandruff problem.

Rows and rows of boarded up houses shadowed the bus until it dropped me at White Marsh. I then caught another bus and within two hours found myself in the middle of Philadelphia. It was instantly freezing, but a trip through the historic area allowed me to kill some time.

The snow kept falling as I lined up to see the Liberty Bell. Between my visit between it and independence hall I found out that a congresswoman from Arizona had been shot. I have really taken a liking to America, and my visit to congress was exceptional. But hearing that such incidents still occur while I'm standing on the same ground where dramatic moves for freedom were first established only leaves feelings of disenchantment.

My mood was lifted shortly after, when walking through the park that houses a statue of ' The Signer' I was duly grabbed me and got bombard by a group of Asian tourists who individually got me to pose for photographs with them. My brother had a similar experience at Surfer's Paradise when he was 18 months old and blonde. I've no idea why they wanted photos with me, but I can only presume it's because I can grow an awesome beard and they can not.
People throw coins with Lincoln's head on Ben Franklin's gave because they're too stingy to throw away the currency that he adorns.
It was a quiet night from then on, the snow was unrelenting and free beer and a film at hostel was an offer that incited the feelings of home you occasionally need when you're packing your bag and moving every couple of days.

The next morning I woke up and was greeted by Dicky Peach dawdling around the reception area. Unlike a lot of the other international students, he is here to see more of America. That and he can travel around with Football Manager on his computer. He took in the city's historical side quickly and together we walked from one side of the city to the other. The streets were empty save for a few people wearing green, all in anticipation for Philadelphia's football team, the Eagles, playing that afternoon.

Our jaunt took us toup Benjamin Franklin drive, where all the flags of the United Kingdom's countries were flying save for Peach's own Northern Ireland. At the end of the road is Philadelphia's art museum, and while I had taken in my share of galleries, I was more interested in the outside of this one.

Sat outside the museum in a corner is a Statue of Rocky Balboa. Rocky, a celluloid hero and star of Rocky, Rock II, Rocky IV and Rocky Balboa was originally sat atop of the gallery's steps, but was moved after Rocky V's woeful performance. The steps themselves are used for running up, and at the summit you must jump up and down with fists in the air. A gentleman offered to take some photos for us, but once I had handed over my camera I couldn't help but notice that he was slightly foaming at the mouth. His eyes had been watering from the cold and had begun to freeze on his faith. It was with little surprise that his act of generosity was not motivated by showing off Philly, but instead focused on earning tips for his photo skills. Oh well, I had been financially swindled, just like Rocky in the twilight of his career.

We went to the Eastern State Penitentiary next and were given a guided tour by a lady with the softest voice I'd heard in a while. The jail is housed inside large castle-esque walls and was first built in the 19th century. It was abandoned for a few years and since then nature and history have given the walls new stories to tell.

The building was decaying, windows were flapping in the wind as nets were above our heads ready to catch falling pieces of the roof. Rooms were comparable to some of the student housing, but a few had become vulnerable to the elements and now houses snow. Half of the site was shut for winter, but if it hadn't been opened for tourists I imagine many people would be ironically breaking in for some urban exploring. It's odd to say an empty, run down and freezing jail was my favourite part of Philadelphia, but the building was beautifully eroding, like the shoreline of southern Victoria.

We kept exploring the city, but made it back to the hostel to watch the Eagles play. Their quarter-back, Michael Vick, has served his own repentance after being locked up for dog-fighting. When the game got boring we cared not for his own prodigal tale and found Chinatown to be a way more interesting prospect.

Busting and sober, I asked Peach to keep watch for me as I had to relieve myself into the Delaware River. He didn't, opting for night shots on his camera instead. I was a little startled when I heard people start to scream, but they had just slipped on ice as they came up the stairs. Peach failed, but no on noticed. Crisis averted, but be mindful of the yellow snow.

The last night in the hostel ended with Peach enjoying his Philly Cheese-Steak while a girl, drunk on wine she found in a random cupboard, complained of her insomnia and wouldn't let me leave to go to bed. Through some trickery and quiet steps she was left behind, drunk and blabbering to herself about Greyhound buses.

Peach and I did our best to leave Philly, but our plans were thwarted when downtown was shutdown. All of the emergency services were closing off the main streets and our taxi driver took a leaf our of Dale Earnhardt's book and sped off towards 30th st. Our train to Atlantic City took us past some fantastic sites on the city's outskirts. A whole scrapyard had been devoted to school buses while a an old power plant lay abandoned on the shore of a river. It's ideal for urban exploration, if I had the balls and upper body strength to do it.

Freedom is not free: play at Ballys

Atlantic City is like a snow covered Vegas by the ocean. We rolled past one casino after another before finally making it to the obscure entrance for Tropicana. Venturing through shopping strips and slot machines, we finally got to our room and were welcomed with a fantastic view of an ugly city.

We stepped out onto the beach and I dipped my hand into the Pacific for the first time, however, I had ventured to far in and a tiny wave washed over my boats and jeans. The boardwalk beside the sea links most of the casinos together but in winter it's a ghost town. Push trolleys are worked and occupied by what look like vagrants and the only shops open are selling crappy t-shirts.
A reminder of Wollongong City Council

In the middle of the shopping complex on the pier was a mall that came complete with water show and enough opulence to impress middle-Americans. The walk up the boardwalk took us past more empty shops, run down piers and a video game arcade that hadn't seen love for a while. Peach aptly described the place as someone taking the piss on the sims.

It was an absoluter ghost town outside in winter, but the casinos were still humming with elderly gamblers. After a quick feed at P.F. Changs, Rich gambled his $20 and we called it a night in Atlantic City. The massive window in the room was too nice to leave hidden behind curtains, but in the distance an entire 30 storey building was being used as a giant video screen. Atlantic City is simply a ghost of its former self, and not even a giant screen is going to change it.
Something For Kate - Hallways
Because I haven't seen this band 2.5 years and that is beginning to feel a bit odd.