Monday, May 30, 2011

Houston, we have a problem

The headache slowly relented, but the heartbreak didn’t. Alleged Manchester United fan Dicky Peach miraculously woke before 1PM and made his way into town to watch his team suffer a defeat in the biggest club game in the world. When I met up with him and Max he had to suffer the indignation of being a failed gloryhunter in what was the hottest day I’ve encountered this side of arriving in the USA.

We heckled him all of through the day, and all over the French Quarter. It was the first chance to see the area beyond Bourbon Street and in the light of day. I’ll admit to being skeptical of the city as we arrived downtown. The outskirts and generic high rises painted a picture that could have been any dying American metropolis. Once we saw the place at ground level my opinion took an absolute U-turn. It only improved the longer we stayed.

It’s easy to forget that the USA is a continent, and like others there is great diversity. The streets of the French Quarter are as different to those in New York, Los Angeles  and Miami. The further we got from Bourbon Street, the better the place smelt and the nicer the streets became. When we eventually made it past the giant church that the dayshifters all travelled to see, we ended up on the banks of the river, looking out at a paddle steamer travel under bridges to its eventual mooring.

As we sat on the wooden docks taking a nice break from the busyness of the streets that led us there, a homeless man teetered on the edge of the water as he ranted incoherently. What we could make out was directed at the person next to us who was “knocked the fuck out”, and once he left, the ‘knocked out’ guy lay down on the docks to get some shut-eye, tipped over his beer next to his head and continued to doze. Again, in New Orleans there was greatness next to poverty.

There was more meandering around the French Quarter, and even the quiet streets had people out the front trying spruik strip clubs. All the balconies, bars, restaurants and tiny streets really make the place something else, and at a quiet hour, it would be hard to tell which continent you’re in.

We returned to Bourbon street at night, and again I found myself pouring drinks off the balcony. Old women were doing their best to flash for beads and marching bands led wedding processions through the crowd. The street was wall-to-wall with people, all drunk or on their way, and all there for the same reason. It’s one of the greatest streets in the world that night, and even if it is sleazy, there’s great reason they call it the big easy.

The next day we were heading to Houston, Texas, and it would mean nearly nine hours on the bus. Typically, the Greyhound was late, and when I tried to place my bag under the bus the attendant made me remove my skateboard and shoes much to my annoyance. It had never been a problem anywhere else; not least the check in desk that weighed the bag, but as some polite redneck on the bus said “who is she to tell you what to do in her yellow vest?” And so it went, Greyhound decided that I should waste my time untying a few things, only for me to transport on the seat next to me.

I love making my way to places overland, and though there is a bit of added time to get through, watching the world as you pass by can be a bit of a joy – even on a Greyhound. There was the waterpark outside of New Orleans that I would have given anything to be at, people out fishing next to the highway and areas that are still flooded from a few weeks back.

The time flew by as we got to Texas, and things began to get a bit weird after that. Bridges that looked like rollercoasters towered above waterways and all over the land refineries and industrial areas were scattered about, looking like sets from Bladerunner. As we drove past a jail a row of lawyer offices and signs offering cheap bail bonds adorned the road, and at each stop, it felt like we were ascertaining a few of the jail’s old residents. The sunset that accompanied our bus trip was beautiful, with the orange sun falling behind the trees at stopped our view. There is hardly a nicer way to arrive somewhere.

When we finally made it into Houston and the hostel we were told we would be staying in a building a few blocks away, despite phoning up earlier and arranging to do some late night washing. Though it did mean we all got to ride in the back of a truck, our beds came without sheets. I can’t tell if it is incompetency, or whether they went out of their way to deliberately make this a nightmare, but the end result remained the same. Well done.

Still, we were able to stop by a Denny’s for dinner, and Dicky Peach usurped all of his previous junk food efforts by ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, stuffed with fried mozzarella sticks – essentially cheese covered in fried bread, in cheese covered in fried bread. Still, this being America, it wasn’t even the weirdest thing on offer. That honour was taken by the bacon sundae – which even Dicky Peach wouldn’t touch.

I wanted to go to the Space Center in Houston, but this clusterfuck of a hostel sabotaged the mission with their ineptitude. Space is awesome. To think that the city that produced this hostel was also capable of sending a man to the moon is remarkable. Not being able to see it is just another reason to come back, even if it means braving Houston again.

The last evening turned into a mess, and considering I don’t know where I’m going in five days time I presume more of the same will happen. Still, a bad day here is still a nice thing, and my only real responsibility is getting on a bus and arriving somewhere else. Tough life right?

Chuck Ragan - Do You What You Do
Listening to this guy when you drive across the south is absolutely brilliant.

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