I’ll soon begin a three week adventure in America, travelling with my old pal Pete Lilburn through some of the most famous and infamous places in the States… From Vegas to Death Valley, I’ll be driving a good section of Route 66 with my complete opposite. Pete is organized, tidy, big and methodical. While I’m… well... let me think... None of the above!
I start my journey from Alexandria, Scotland on the 9th of June, so tune in here if you want a flavour of the people, the wildlife, the food, the history and the music we discover along the way...
Now, as I said, I’m not the kind of bloke who gets any joy out of plotting routes or scheduling. I prefer to wing it, as any of my old bosses will tell you. I like to think on my feet, react to the unexpected. Write a presentation while I’m in the meeting with only seconds to go... I like working under pressure. I enjoy finding shortcuts, the lazy way around things. So, although Pete has probably planned every toilet stop and burger joint from Vegas to Winslow, I don’t want to know. I’d rather the trip unfolded like a big present. Because, in a way, that’s what it is.
As far as packing goes, I want to restrict my bag to one piece of hand-luggage. Even though I’m away for twenty-two days, I reckon I’ll get everything I need into my trusty Samson - given to me, and about a hundred other employees, by a company who had some dosh left-over at Christmas and wanted to blow it on something tax-worthy. And I’m glad they did. They were a great company and it’s been a great bag. It’s been everywhere.
What to take? Well, I want to maintain some kind of fitness during, what could be a bit of a marathon - not only in miles, but in portion sizes. So, I’ll pack my trainers, some running gear and a pair of swimming trunks. They seem to have gone out of fashion a bit. Trunks, that is. It’s all flappy swimming shorts these days, that feel like you’re towing a couple of dead flounders. Plus there’s the kid’s ‘embarrassometer’ which goes ballistic any time dad puts his trunks on. Anyway, back to the packing - I’ll take toiletries, sunscreen, my iPad... Oh, and some other wrinkle-proof clothes.
I’m pretty sure we’re not doing the full coast to coast two-thousand-odd miles of Route 66...just bits, because I fly to and from Vegas. I know Pete is a big fan of Westerns, so I’m guessing we will visit Monument Valley and any other spot where he can don a Stetson or mount a stallion. I’m secretly hoping that we visit the location of ‘True Grit’. One of my personal favourites.
Whereas in Bali, I had to check toilet seats for spiders and watch out for fourteen different kinds of deadly snake - out west, I’m guessing there will be rattlers, scorpions, possessed demonic vehicles called Christine, evil hitch-hikers that look a bit like Rutger Hauer, strange cults and gun wielding locals to look out for this time. Or have I just watched too many movies? How much of the route will reflect my imaginings of America and how much will surprise me? Will Route 66 be totally over-commercialised and emasculated or will there be parts that still have the feel of small-town America? A route, most likely used by Native Americans for thousands of years before it was properly mapped out in the 1850’s and then developed after the Second World War, will it be jammed with fellow travellers or will it still have stretches of untouched beauty? Will I be able to stand on the highway and feel like a spec in a vast, majestic landscape?
It was recognised in the 1990s as a national monument, so, I’m guessing it is pretty-well maintained, but have they ‘maintained’ the heart and soul out of it?
I beieve we are driving an SUV rather than an open-top Cadillac or a couple of Harley’s, so we should get a good comfy view of the countryside and have the ability to tackle a few of the dustier tracks.
I’m tempted to hire a guitar, just to stop any withdrawal symptoms along the way. I believe you can do such things in Vegas and much more besides...
We are visiting the mid-west during interesting times. Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, will have served for two and a half years. In the middle of a trade war with China, it will be fascinating to hear what mid-America thinks of a their ‘main man’ who is so vilified here. In the midst of global environmental concerns, what will mid-america think about renewable energy, methane emissions, fossil fuels and the charismatic Greta Thunberg? I’ve already encountered quite a few individuals here, mainly in the over 60 bracket, who laugh off melting icebergs and farting cattle, dismissing it all as ‘hippy nonsense’.
I have to admit, It will be a relief to escape the balls-up that is Brexit, the fiasco that is Farage and the aftermath of the European elections. I wonder if any of ‘that’ will be covered by the news out there?
Will there still be that same old fascination with the Scottish accent? The last time I spent any lengthy period in the States, back in 1990, on tour with the rock band, Chyld, people loved the way I said ‘burrrgurrr’ and were interested in our national aspirations for independence. On realising I was Scottish, a black guy once cornered me in an Alabama bar and told me that I was oppressed, just like him. I didn’t have the courage or the neck to say that many of the plantation owners and beneficiaries of black subjugation were actually Scots immigrants. Glasgow, to its shame, did pretty well out of tobacco and cotton.
I remember a gig in Gunnersville, where the native american roadie ended up very drunk. Walking down the street with a shotgun, he was totally out of control... Once everything had ‘cooled down’, we made our way back to Birmingham, where the band was based. On the drive home, in Damon’s car (guitarist with Alice Cooper and now in Thin Lizzy), we talked about the disadvantages of hitting skunks by mistake and about the ‘British Invasion’, the musical one that influenced our heroes at that time: rock bands like Aerosmith and the new boys on the block in 1990 - Extreme. ‘Get the Funk Out’ featuring the staccato, brass-like brilliance of guitarist, Nuno Bettincourt, was constantly on our car radio back then.
Born in 61, I don’t remember the ‘invasion’ itself, but I do remember my next door neighbour playing bands like Herman’s Hermits and The Beatles on a sunny summer afternoon in Levenvale. He had his speakers turned up to 11 and I was only 6. Maybe that’s where my love of rock music began?
Along with The Who, The Animals, The Hollies, The Zombies, The Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark Five, these British bands had a major influence in and on America at the time. Often big fans of American Chicago blues themselves, they somehow absorbed and then regurgitated the sounds in their own inimitable style. They put an indelible stamp on America’s music, fashion and art. Will there still be any residual effect?
As well as actually getting to ‘stand on a corner in Winslow Arizona’, I hope to find some new bands while I’m out there. Check out the bar scene. Maybe have a jam or two.
I’m going to miss my family but we’re not talking a Palinesk 220 days away, just 22, and with the luxury of Facebook Messenger, Facetime, Whatsapp and Skype I hope to touch base as and when...
I have my American visa, my preloaded Post Office dollar card, my insurance documents and my passport. Even so, I always forget something. A toothbrush, a razor, my socks, my binoculars...
Maybe it will be the ‘budgie smugglers’ this time.