Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Letter to America

I fell in love with America when I was seventeen. I spent the summer of 1998 working as Campboy (I know. That job title doesn't translate too well into British English) at the Cotopaxi Smokehouse in Colorado. At the time, the Smokehouse's owner Gwyn Lawrence was a great lover of America too (he fell out with America when she deported him for not having a green card a few years later). 

My first impression of America was of its great size. Flying across it took about as long as flying across the Atlantic. My connecting flight from Minneapolis/St Paul to Denver was delayed 24 hours. The airline put me up in a great skyscraper of a hotel. From my window, I could see out over the nightscape of the twin cities - lit up and stretching to the horizon. This was only a glimpse of a tangle of highways and buildings that comprised just one (oh all right, two!) of America's hundreds of cities.

I took a Greyhound bus from Denver to Colorado Springs. I sat next to a grizzled Vietnam Veteran who brought me up to date on the Monica Lewinsky scandal that had been dominating headlines that year. He railed against the political elite and then he railed against the bus driver who appeared to have taken a wrong turn. He seemed to quite like me, though.

The Vietnam Vet was the first of many characters that I met on my first trip to the States. Uh...Clem, the Texan guitar slinger; Lance Romance, the Woodstock era hippy who sold us a foosball table; Ted Rebel Horse, the full blooded Navajo Indian who called me 'Little Brother' and was always offering me marijuana at seven o'clock in the morning before we started work. There was Quiet Jean, who gave me her copy of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and Leann from the Rock Shop who is my pen pal to this day.

There is no place more beautiful to me on the whole of this planet than the Sangre de Cristo mountains at sunset. The distant snowpeaks supported by the rocky red shoulders whose colour give the mountain range its name, the aspen pine forests, the noisy Arkansas river carving through the landscape.

Me (second from left) and Gwyn (second from right) taking on the mighty Arkansas.

Where I grew up, what we called a river could be dammed by a schoolchild in half an hour. The Arkansas at peak flow runs at 12,000 cubic feet per second (per second!). Getting used to this change in scale was a constant in my trips to America. In England, when an acquaintance moves to a town thirty miles away, in all likelihood you will never see them again. In the States, I found that people thought nothing of driving thirty miles to get breakfast.

America is a great country, I love the scale and beauty of the landscapes, I love the huge cities with their numbered streets and orderly grid systems. I love the milkshakes and the burgers and the beer and the soft packs of Camel plain. I especially love the welcoming wonderful people. 

There is a shameful sneer in the air in the UK at the moment - fresh from our own string of election disasters - that the odious Trump candidate is the President those Americans deserve.

As my first American friend on that bus ride 18 years ago knew only too well: the worst thing about America is the elite moneyed class. It is this parasitic subclass of plutocrats (not the American people) that have spawned this hateful misogynist and succoured him with media coverage. The America I know won't be fooled by the likes of him.            


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