Good, Bad & Strange
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Where would you like to go in North America?

 New York, the Mid-West and Tennessee – August 2007

Conversation at Yankee Stadium after “America the Beautiful” had been lustily sung by several thousand people

“So did you enjoy that Dave?”

“Oh yeah – this moment of enforced patriotism was brought to you by the Ministry of Truth.”

Bumper Sticker in Memphis

“Somebody I love was murdered” – surely they can’t sell many of those, but then again.

Conversation behind us on a train crossing the Mississippi into St Louis, between a girl and her brother (probably aged 25-30)

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just checking to see if I can use this seat as a floatation device.”

“Megan, we are on a train, why would you need to float?”

“After the bridge in Minneapolis, you can’t be too sure.”

I was really tempted to ask her if she could swim and then, if she said yes, to say “Well it doesn’t matter ’cause you’ll be screwed anyway if this thing comes off the bridge”.  But she seemed genuinely petrified, so I didn’t.  

On the first part of our American trip we started in New York, before moving on to Chicago, St Louis, Memphis, Nashville and a few other places.

Here’s the good, bad and strange. 

Good Things

Steph and Dave – Thanks for very kindly putting us up in New York (again) and entertaining us.

105.7 The Point Radio, St Louis area – Made us laugh and played decent tunes, which is more than can be said for most radio stations, which did neither.

Lollapalooza – Three days of good music at the best organised festival I’ve been to.  Great performances from Daft Punk, Muse, Polyphonic Spree, Electric Six, I’m From Barcelona, Amy Winehouse, Iggy and the Stooges, The Black Keys, Pearl Jam and the Fratellis amongst others. The stunning backdrop of the Chicago skyline, a varied and reasonably priced food selection and excellent sound quality also helped.  But the real bonus was in the stage placement (7 stages in all) and scheduling that meant you never had to wait more than five minutes to find live music.   Our only real complaint; Budweiser was the only beer on sale.

Live Baseball – We saw 4 games in all: – at Yankee Stadium in New York (great atmosphere, terrible game), Wrigley Field in Chicago (great atmosphere, good game), Busch Stadium in St Louis (nice venue, good atmosphere, reasonable game) and Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City (rubbish atmosphere, great game).  So we got a mixture of everything.  

Civil Rights Museum, Memphis – Fascinating exhibits on the civil rights movement in the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  Across the road, in the building from where the fatal shot was fired, the second part of the museum dealt with the assassination in detail.  A surprisingly good experience.    

Projekt Revolution – Linkin Park headlined this touring festival.  Unfortunately they turned out to be self indulgent and a bit dull.  Thankfully, My Chemical Romance, Placebo and Mindless Self Indulgence made it a really enjoyable day with excellent sets. 

Food – Excellent burgers, breakfasts and open sandwiches served with mash and lashings of gravy.


Bad Things

Enforced Patriotism – Being American is important, apparently.  It’s also important to take every opportunity to ram that down everyone’s throats by singing patriotic songs, shedding a tear and saying a prayer for our brave servicemen and women overseas, or just making sure you tell everyone you meet just how darned proud you are to be Amery-Cain.  Run the flags up the poles and hang the doubters on the scaffold next door.  At least there’s no grey areas, just black and white ones, almost as segregated as they were forty years ago.   

Service related to transport  – Generally awful, ranging from the train conductor who wouldn’t tell anyone how late we were and certainly wouldn’t offer any apology for the delay, to every member of staff at Newark airport from the check in to the gate, via security and the food stalls, all of whom have perfected the “fuck you” scowl.  

Enforced Republicanism – Similar to enforced patriotism, but more insidious.  Programme after programme on the TV and radio talked about how terrible each democratic presidential nominee was.  Maybe it was a mid-west thing, but I must have heard the phrase “It scares the hell out of me that Hillary Clinton could be president”, at least ten times and that’s only in the space of a couple of weeks. 

Fat people – Too many to mention, but the couple in Evansville who could barely walk to, or fit in under a table, insisted on drinking diet coke with great gusto, before stuffing their way through huge burgers and chips with a side order of onion rings and chicken wings and then ate a huge chunk of pie each for dessert, spring to mind.

Inflated prices at events – $8 for a small beer, $6 for a hot dog in the captive confines of the baseball park, $3 for a small beer, $2 for a hot dog outside.  Projekt Revolution was worse, $10 for a large can of beer.

Lacledes Landing, St Louis – The downtown entertainment area of St Louis was one half derelict and the other half expensive and uninspiring.  Half shit and half shut if you prefer.

Downtown Areas – Specifically Cincinnati, Kansas City, Nashville, St Louis and to some extent Memphis.  Outside office hours they are deserted and miserable places, giving no focus to the city.  A shame, as all had the potential to be so much more interesting. 

Food – The Saskwatch Burger, Memphis, 4lbs of beef on a bun the size of a black forest gateau (didn’t try it).  The garbage burger pictured below.  I got them to hold the onions, but I kept the bacon, American cheese, Swiss cheese, cheddar, guacamole, marinara sauce and mushrooms.  Too much salt, garlic and onions with almost everything.

Strange Things

Rooftop seats – Want to see the Cubs play and can’t get tickets at Wrigley Field? – Don’t worry; just sit on the top of your friend’s house in their own personal stand instead.  See the picture in the photo album below.

Meredith and the Muppets – One of Steph’s friends, who accompanied us to the Yankee game, decided to start singing the “Mna, Mnop” tune on a very crowded train to the stadium and no one told her to shut up or hit her or anything.  I couldn’t reach.

A-Rod’s 500th homer – Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod for short) tried in vain to hit his 500th home run at the Yankees game we saw.  Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t due to good play from the opposition White Sox, as seven of his team mates hit home runs instead, the Yankees finally winning 16-3.  To use an old football analogy, it would be a bit like expecting to see Ian Wright score a landmark goal when Arsenal have won 4-0, only to find that Dixon, Bould, Adams and Winterburn had scored instead.   

Graceland – The home of Elvis, in Elvis week, very busy, very strange.  Great TV room, three sets on at once, so the King could keep up with the news on all channels while stuffing his face with fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  The jumpsuits on display were even better. 

Grand Ole Opry – The home of live Country music in Nashville has shows every Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday and still broadcasts on live radio after over 80 years.  The format is a little strange; eight acts play for fifteen minutes each in the two-hour show.  This means that if you don’t like a performer you can just go to the toilet and by the time you get back to your seat they’ve finished, which is good.  But it also means that if you’re enjoying a particular set it does seem to finish rather quickly.  The highlight on the night of our visit was probably Little Jimmie Dickens.  At 4ft 9 inches and 87 years old, he managed to crank out a couple of two-minute tunes and then filled in the rest of the time by telling jokes.  

Dixie Stampede – Dolly Parton welcomes you to enforced patriotism and gluttony in her own inimitable way (via video of course) in this dinner show.  But the trick horse riding, pig and ostrich races and plenty of other things made the Dixie Stampede strangely entertaining.  The North battled the South until they managed a creditable draw, but then Dolly (via video) sang a song so gloriously overwrought and patriotic I nearly vomited up the entire chicken that had formed part of the dinner. 

The Country and Western Museum and Hall of Fame – Should really be in good things, as it’s nicely put together and easy to spend several hours in, regardless of your feelings towards country music (mine are decidedly mixed).  However it gets in as a strange thing due to their rather bizarre world timeline and Ray Charles’ mug shown in the photo album below.

Beale Street, Memphis – Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but not as seedy, with Big Ass Beer (not sure if that’s because of the size of the glass or the effect of prolonged use) and more greasy food than you can imagine.  It was Elvis week in Memphis when we arrived, so in the EP Delta Cafe we watched a carbon copy of the 50’s Elvis, called Jamie Aaron Kelley, play a really good set to his fan club (average age 75) while we ate a nice dinner that was preceded with a complimentary delicious, but sickly, fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Missouri State Fair – Part agricultural show, part freak show, all American. The display of chainsaw art was appallingly dull, seeing the air-conditioned show pigs resting in the midday heat was strangely relaxing.

Food – Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches – obviously.


Click on the picture below to see the New York, Mid-West and Tennessee photo album (opens in a new window)

 Mexico City – August 2007

Commentary by tour guide at the Shrine of Guadalupe

“In a survey it was found that 90% of the people in Mexico trust the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. That is higher than anything else, next is Jesus Christ, then the Catholic Church, then the priests and then a lot of other things until we get to the bottom where we find the politicians.  But below the politicians we have the police; they are even below the politicians.  Less than 15% of people trust the police, which I think tells you something.”  

We spent nearly a week in Mexico City, overall it was a good experience, but as always, there were good, bad and strange elements.

Good Things

Temples of Teotihuacán – A fantastic tour of the pyramids of the sun and moon and the valley of death, all within an hour of Mexico City.

Palacio del Bellas Artes and Palacio Nacional – Wonderful old buildings decorated with fantastic murals by Diego Rivera and his contemporaries.

Museo de Antropologia – A fascinating museum in the impressive Chapultepec Park, with excellent explanations and exhibits throughout.   

Zocalo and Catedral – The main square (zocalo) and cathedral were grand, impressive and lively places in the centre of town.

Mexico City Marathon – We saw a number of runners, in fact one of the top runners stayed at our hotel. A 4ft 6in Kenyan, he looked like 26 miles was a warm up run.  The bloke carrying the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back was our favourite though.

Food – Wonderful breakfasts of enchiladas and chilaquiles at the hotel, fantastic chicken dishes with lashing of refritos and cheesy sauce. Street food – 3 hot dogs or 2 tacos for 10 pesos (50p / $1).  

Bad Things

Human Sacrifice – It appears that the people of ancient Mexico seemed to really enjoy the sight of a still-beating heart being ripped from the latest sacrifice (with the possible exception of the person being sacrificed).  This may explain their love of wrestling these days, and no, it’s no coincidence that I’ve listed this directly after organ grinders.

Police – Give a man a uniform and a whistle and he’ll use them both, usually for his own selfish reasons, see the introduction quote.

Atmosphere – In the day; bustling, lively, interesting, but after dark; quiet, edgy and even threatening in places.

Organ Grinders – Give a man a uniform and a barrel organ and he’ll annoy the hell out of you.  Scores of them inhabited the streets, each one more tone deaf and tuneless than the last.  My Spanish was too basic to say “Shut up or I will punch your nose until you bleed”.  But I’ll learn it before I go back. 

Zona Rosa and Condesa areas – They were meant to be the most interesting and entertaining areas of the city, but we found them both disappointingly dull and lacklustre.

Poverty – Mexico is a poor country and Mexico City is no exception. On our way to Teotihuacán we drove past the slums in the north east of the city, where houses seemed to be piled on top of each other in ever increasing quantities on each hillside.  

Rain – It was chucking it down when we arrived and when we left, and for most of the time in between.

Strange Things

On the level – Mexico City was built on a swamp first time around.  An earthquake fault line hasn’t helped and it’s still sinking.  The result of this is that practically any building over fifty years of age is listing to one side or another.

Templo Mayor – The old Aztec temple in the centre of town was uncovered forty years ago by phone engineers. It was an impressive sight to an extent, but in places it looked like a bit of concrete had been thrown in to hold it all together.

Museo de Jose Luis Cuevas – La Giganta is the main feature in a museum that treads a fine line between interesting and self indulgent, until it finally disappears up its own arse on the second floor.

Virgin of Guadalupe moving walkway – The most trusted icon in Mexico could be viewed from a specially built moving walkway beneath the altar.

Drunken Wasps – On the Teotihuacán tour we were offered three sample drinks, pulque (sweet sap based liquor), mescal and tequila flavoured with almonds.  They were all fairly disgusting, but the local wasps loved the tequila. The result was at least ten glasses of tequila left on the tray, each one complete with a drunken wasp on the way to a sticky, drunken end. 

Blind men on the train – All with amplifiers tied to their fronts.  They played 30 second blasts of 50’s rock n roll tunes and then shouted loudly before another 30 second blast and an attempt to collect money.  One man would’ve been strange, but we saw a band of ten them queuing to get on trains on our way Chapultepec Park.  

Kick flush urinals – Use the urinal and then kick a device on the wall that resembles a clutch pedal to flush.  Strangely satisfying.

Food – Sopa de Queso, literally cheese soup, a bowl of molten cheese with mushrooms on top.

Click on the picture below to see the Mexico City photo album  (opens in a new window)

 West Coast USA – September & October 2007

Conversation over breakfast at a motel just north of Salt Lake City

“Where are you guys heading from here?”

“We’re going to Yellowstone, then we go on to Mount Rushmore.”

“Oh Mount Rushmore is beautiful, it looks just like the postcard.”  

Conversation between two old biddies outside a toilet at Mesa Verde National Park

“I just cain’t work out them hot air blower things.”

“Me neither.  I just get outside and wipe my hands on my pants.” 

Conversation with a rather worried looking bloke on a trail in Yellowstone National Park

“There’s a bear up there.  I couldn’t see if it was a brown or a grizzly, but I saw it about 30 metres up the trail and I just shit myself, man.   I got back down here behind this tree.”

Just a few seconds later, there was a huge cracking and thrashing noise ahead on the trail.

“That’s him man, can you hear him?

“Oh yes.  We don’t really want to see a bear that close up, so we’re going back.”

“I’m gonna wait it out.”

Ten minutes later, while almost running past us: -

“It was a grizzly, man.  As soon as I saw that I was out.”

We spent six weeks touring the western part of the USA.  Starting in Los Angeles we covered a vast area including many National Parks, the cities of San Francisco, Reno, Salt Lake City and Denver amongst others.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Becoming an uncle for the first time – Nothing really to do with the USA, but we were on the west coast when my sister gave birth.

Reno – The “Biggest Little City in the World”, delivered a more relaxed atmosphere than Las Vegas, but just as much fun.

Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Badlands, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands National parks – All of them wonderful places to drive around, hike through and see wildlife.  A series of unforgettable and enjoyable experiences. 

Crocker Art museum, Sacramento – A nicely presented gallery with some interesting works, spoiled only slightly when a bunch of gobshite tour guide trainees turned up to loudly display their ignorance and lack of enthusiasm.

Griffith Observatory – Fantastic views of Los Angeles, an impressive planetarium show and excellent exhibits spoiled only slightly by Californians inability to shut up.

San Juan Skyway drive – Sunny at the bottom, snow at the top, rain on the other side, but great views throughout. 

Mount Rushmore – An impressive sight with a good museum area explaining the construction of the monument in great detail.  In the evening, a very patriotic show didn’t spoil our enjoyment, as it was patriotism where it belongs, as opposed to enforced patriotism. Being realistic, if you’re American and can’t get patriotic at this memorial to America, you probably never will. 

Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Salt Lake City – Truly impressive.  Even for those of us with ambivalent feelings about religion, an incredible performance by the choir with no amplification, but a massive sound.

Muse live at Red Rocks – Excellent gig, great band, wonderful venue.  The venue was so good, if Simply Red were playing there I would’ve considered going until I remembered that they were shite.

Food – Bavarian Chocolate Banana Cream pie from the house of Pies LA, Fiesta Mexicana; almost as good as Mexico City, incredible milk and malt shakes.  

Bad Things

“Cali-fabrication” – Defined as the mistaken idea that California is somehow better than the rest of the USA (and by implication the rest of the world) when in fact it’s a hot, traffic choked shithole full of noisy, irritating and inconsiderate people who don’t shut up for long enough to listen to anyone else’s point of view.   

Driving on the phone – Countrywide, but prevalent in California.  If you’re driving, then you better have a phone clamped to your ear and take no notice of anyone else on the road.   When one bloke cut us up he even pointed to his phone as if to say “I’m on the phone, so it’s ok for me to drive like an idiot”.

Del Mar races / Angels & Airwaves – Poor layout and unsuccessful betting made Del Mar races a bad day out, the free Angels & Airwaves gig afterwards held our attention for fifteen minutes, fourteen minutes of which were spent wondering in disbelief at how bad the band was.

BLOB’s and FTFFTW – Inhabitants of many National Parks: – BLOB’s  (Bus Loads of Biddies), combined with and often including those FTFFTW (Far Too Fucking Fat To Walk) were a constant source of irritation and amazement for us.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk – The thriving summer fun on the Boardwalk officially finished the day before we arrived, but the place looked as though fun had been in short supply for several years.  The town itself was equally as grim.  

Cannery Row, Monterrey – Used to be a smelly sardine canning factory, now it’s a smelly, expensive shopping area.

Accommodation around Yellowstone – Horrendously expensive accommodation tainted one of the highlights of the trip.

Zion and Yosemite National Parks – The bad side of National Parks. We were thwarted by huge numbers of miserable people and the weather respectively in these two.

Food – Too much salt and garlic in most dishes. The Broken Oar in Moab, Utah deserves special mention for serving a Chicken Alfredo complete with processed chicken with stuffing on the edge, stone cold pasta and enough garlic to kill off an entire series worth of villains in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Strange Things

Blazing Saddles Cycle Hire, San Francisco – A truly strange phenomenon, in the American city famous for its hills and least suitable for biking, Blazing Saddles do a roaring trade in cycle hire.   Unused to vehicles without automatic transmission, we heard Americans having conversations like this one: – “so it’s number 1 to go uphill and not one of these high number gears?”      

Temple Square, Salt Lake City – The strange heart of a strange city.  Spotlessly clean and seemingly guarded by serene Mormon missionaries, the elders (men) and sisters (women) usher you in and out of the Tabernacle and Beehive house, but they make sure you stay away from the biggest building in the square; the Mormon Church Office Building.

American Football Live, San Francisco – Lots of people, lots of beer, lots of cheerleaders, lots of patriotism (it was hometown heroes day).  There may have been a game going on, but I don’t think many of the crowd really cared, apart from the bloke behind me who spent the whole of the first half slurring, “Change the quarterback, he ain’t no quarterback, he’s a shit”.  In the second half he lost interest in the game and instead became more interested in baiting the opposition fans that had turned up in small numbers and weren’t segregated.   

Crazy Horse Memorial – The Native American version of Mount Rushmore is close by in South Dakota, but much more epic in its scope and unlikely to ever be finished (it’s about 15% there after 60 years of effort) as the original sculptor (Korczak) refused to accept government money (and his family keep alive that idea with a fervour that borders on insanity).   Somewhere along the way the Native American gets forgotten in a museum and gift shop far more devoted to Korczak (a Polish immigrant) than Crazy Horse.  Nothing new then really. 

The Queen Mary – It’s birthed in Long Beach, California and is now a hotel.  It was interesting to read the story of the ship, annoying to be bundled out of the way by groups of scavenger hunters and just a bit wrong really.

We’re from Lancashire – Fewer old people at home this September?  We found them.  They were in Utah and Colorado, most of them grimacing as they tried to work out “new fangled” digital cameras. 

Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota – A shop that overwhelms the town.  You can buy everything you ever wanted and plenty of things you don’t, while you sip on 5-cent coffee, watch the T-rex roar and see the gorilla play the piano.   Rebecca bought a hat; I managed to escape without buying anything.   

Essex Girl Stereotypes – About half a mile up a steep trail in Zion National Park an Essex girl sits with her jeans around her ankles.   “It’s not what you think,” she says.  It turned out she was too hot in her jeans and had decided to change into shorts on what she thought was a remote part of the trail.

Devils Tower National Monument – The setting for much of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, as the pictures in the photo album below show; it’s a surreal place.

Peppermill casino, Wendover – More garish than any Vegas casino?  Look at the picture in the photo album below and decide for yourself.

Death Valley National Park – One of the hottest places on earth is spellbinding in a very strange way.  Driving through you pass rock formations that appear to be dark brown or black, but as you drive away from the same formations they appear to be multicoloured.  After ten minutes I was wondering if someone had slipped acid into our drinks as we entered the park.  The sign as you leave saying “Thank You for Experiencing Death Valley National Park”, seemed to sum things up quite nicely.

Buffalo Attack, Yellowstone Park – Leaflets at the park warned us that buffalo were dangerous and that many visitors had been attacked.  The first buffalo we saw had people within a few metres of it, merrily taking pictures.  I was hopeful of witnessing a goring, but unfortunately the buffalo didn’t seem as aggressive as the leaflets had suggested. 

Coffee man, Gorda, Californian Coast – With nothing else around for miles, the coffee man in Gorda gets a lot of trade, which is handy as it keeps him in coffee (he drinks the last cup or two in each flask he brews) and Starburst sweets.   He looked more wired than Television on the cover of the Marquee Moon album.  He could’ve been a poster boy for the Americans Against Caffeine Abuse Association, if indeed one exists (which it probably does).

Scouse bears? – Leaflets in Yosemite told of bears that stole your food given half the chance and frequently broke into cars.  Were they originally imported from Liverpool?

Click on the picture below to see the West Coast USA photo album. (opens in a new window)

 Las Vegas – October 2007

Conversation between hotel staff while waiting for the lifts, Sahara hotel

“How’s it going? You busy?”

“No, not really.”

“Yeah that’s right.  Sunday is your busy day, right?”

“Oh yeah.  We got a group of four hundred checking out tomorrow.” 

Conversation in the row behind us – The “O” theatre, Bellagio, when a woman with obvious breast enhancements entered the row in front

“You see that?”

“Sure did.  She’d never sink.”

“No, no way, not with floatation aids like that.”

And that was the polite crowd.

Conversation between Rebecca and an employee of a beauty salon

“Do you get many men coming in for waxing?”

“Yeah, lots of strippers and other vain guys.  To give ‘em a proper Brazilian I have to make sure their dicks are hard first.”

“Why’s that?”

“So I can get to all the hair.  The trouble is as soon as they hear they have to be hard, they think their luck’s in and they want to know how I’m going to finish them off.”

“What do you say to them?”

“Here’s a Kleenex.  Finish yourself off.”

Conversation outside the Stratosphere

“Where did you get that?” – a goggle eyed, middle-aged man spots Rebecca’s two foot high replica Stratosphere.

“In the diner.  It came full of butterscotch milkshake.”

“Milkshake?  No way, those come full of booze.” - walks off shaking his head in disbelief that a large plastic pot in Las Vegas didn’t contain alcohol, which was fair, because most of them do.

Welcome to Las Vegas.  The entertainment capital of the world, sin city, where what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas (unless you’re OJ Simpson).  We stayed for five nights in three different hotels and like everyone else we indulged in lots of food, lots of drink, lots of clichés and lots of good, bad and strange.

Good Things

The Hotels – The Strip (Las Vegas Blvd) is lined with twenty or more mega hotels over a two-mile stretch.  In most places you stay in a hotel and visit the sights, in Las Vegas you come to visit the hotels.   Want a quarter size Eiffel tower to eat under? It’s here (Paris).  Want pyramids (Luxor) or medieval turrets? (Excalibur)  They’re here.   Want the opportunity to gamble at tables set up around a couple of girls pole dancing with croupiers dressed like the Pussycat Dolls?  That’s here too (Caesars Palace).   

Free Attractions – Las Vegas can be an expensive place, but there is fun to be had for free, the dancing fountains at the Bellagio are incredible.  Fremont street has its own experience (see strange below) and every casino features a band or singers of varying quality for free.

Cocktails! – The shout from the often scantily dressed cocktail waitresses brightens up any night as free drinks are on the way.  Just tip the smiling girlie a dollar a drink and work your way through as many cocktails (or beers, or coffee even) as you fancy.

Sam’s Town – Our first nights stop, a casino on the edge of town that had great rooms, good food, a friendly casino and an atmosphere of fun that is often stifled in the bigger casinos.    

Buffets – Feeling hungry?  Each hotel has a buffet area where, for a reasonable price, you can consume an amount equivalent to your body weight in top class food.  Use the “follow the fatties” method to find the best buffets.  

The Bellagio – “The best of everything”.  Our room certainly was, highly recommended.

“O” – The Cirque de Soleil show at the Bellagio, set in the custom-built theatre featuring a huge pool, was probably one of the most entertaining things I have ever seen.

Bad Things 

New Technology – The first time we went to Vegas in 1999, each casino was full of the noise of pinging slot machines and winning coins chinking, before being shovelled into huge plastic cups.   Everywhere people wondered around with a drink in one hand and a plastic cup full of quarters in the other.  The drinks are still there, but a ticket that pops out with a half-hearted ker-chink has replaced the cup of quarters.   It’s just not quite the same. 

“Security, open up!” – Our 3:30am wake up call, two doors down from us while staying at the Sahara.  Substantially louder than any disturbance from the room, yet another case of give a man a uniform and a badge and then watch the twat in him rise to the surface.

The Sahara Hotel – After a good first night at Sam’s Town, we were brought down to earth with a miserable, uncomfortable room at the Sahara.   I’ll be cheering in a couple of years when this hotel gets demolished.

Girls direct to you in 20 minutes. – The slogan on the fliers and t-shirts of a small army of men and women working the south end of the strip.   The grotty face of a thriving prostitution industry.

Monte Carlo toilet cleaner – Not sure if it was in the vents or just the chosen aftershave of the day, but the Monte Carlo casino stank like toilet duck.

“This is Vegas, baby!” – If I had been given a dollar every time I heard a fat, smelly, greasy or just downright drunk person shout that phrase, I could’ve covered the cost of three nights in the Bellagio.

Strange Things

Fremont Street Experience – Downtown Vegas is centred on Fremont Street at the top end of the Strip. The big, flash mega-hotels are a couple of miles south and this is the home of the neon winking, waving cowboy, and the Golden Nugget casino, essentially the images most people used to think of as quintessential Las Vegas.   To maintain interest in this area, a huge video projection show takes place every fifteen minutes in the evening on a covered roof area about fifty metres long.  The subject matter changes, but all of the shows have one thing in common; they are incredibly garish and are accompanied by loud cheesy music.   

What’s the time? – Casinos feature lots of free drink, entertainment and opportunities to lose money.  They do not feature any natural light, clocks or exit signs any bigger than the minimum required for safety standards.  This tends to lead to confused, tired people losing bigger sums of money than they had anticipated, but not caring as they have had plenty to drink.

How to play TV – Every hotel has at least one TV channel explaining the basics of every casino game.  Concentrating mainly on craps, roulette and black jack, they also cover each variant of poker.  Sadly for many people, the games that seem so simple on the TV in your room are a lot more difficult and expensive on the casino floor.

Roxy’s Diner, Stratosphere – Diner food accompanied by singing waitresses.  This is where Rebecca got her two-foot long milkshake in a plastic Stratosphere replica and I got to feel like I’d stepped into an episode of Happy Days.  

Savannah man – Sitting next to me at the performance of “O” a man in a dodgy mustard suit talks at me about how disgustingly expensive everything is.   Then, out of nowhere he asks me if I’d like a drink.  As I politely decline, he explains that I don’t need to worry about getting him one as he’s from Savannah and is a friendly American, unlike the ones I’ll meet in Vegas and that’s what people from the South do.   A pleasant, if strange interval. 

Eyes in the back of your head – We didn’t realise that a biker’s rally was taking place in the downtown area of Vegas during our stay.  So when we decided to spend a couple of hours there, we were quite surprised to be surrounded by blokes with more or less identical beards, bandannas and huge noisy Harleys.  One bloke without a beard or a bandanna, had eyes tattooed on the back of his head, which sadly we didn’t get a photo of. 

Circus, Circus Casino – The casino in Circus, Circus is under a big top and has two floors.  The lower floor is a normal casino; upstairs however is full of fairground games and consequently, little kids.  It’s a very strange mix, with the drunken gambling adults downstairs; the kids upstairs and gaily dressed trapeze artists swinging above the whole thing.  

Careful of my oxygen – While eating breakfast at a diner, a woman dragging an oxygen canister and her husband walk in.   They are seated close to us.  But that seat is too hot for them so they are moved, not once, but four times.  We get our food, eat it and leave just as they are getting settled in their fifth seat and the woman is muttering “careful of my oxygen” to anyone walking past to the toilet.

World’s largest chocolate fountain, Bellagio – Looks like something Willy Wonka built with his Oompah Loompahs.  See the photo album below. 

It’s a real town – Away from the Strip, Las Vegas is actually a quite nice, reasonably priced town with all the amenities and facilities of other big American towns.

Click on the picture below to see the Las Vegas photo album   (opens in a new window)

 North West USA – October 2007

Conversation between Rebecca and one of the owners of the Country Kitchen Restaurant near Portland, Oregon

“Where are you from?”


“I thought I heard a accent.” – pleased with herself.

“Where are you from?”

“We are from Korea.”

“Oh, we went to Korea earlier this year.  It’s a lovely country.”

“Is it?” - a bit perplexed

Conversation at Seattle airport

“Oh no.  I think I left my phone at the hotel.”

“Have you called the hotel?”

“No – I don’t have my phone.”

A little more scary when you realise they were flight crew members. 

The weather hampered us a little in the north west of the US, but there were other things to make up for it.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.   

Good Things

Seattle – Take away the constant rain and the traffic and this is one the best cities in the USA.  The smell of fresh brewed coffee at Pikes Market rounds off an excellent downtown area for shopping and wondering around.  Nice parks and lakes dotted around the city offset the impressive architecture topped off (literally) by the wonderful Space Needle.

Boise, Idaho – A pleasant town in the middle of nowhere, with a laid back feel and one of the nicest hotels on our trip.

Oregonians – The nicest and friendliest Americans we met, fiercely proud of their state, but avoiding all of the trappings of enforced patriotism and downright bigheadedness. Neighbouring Californians please take note.

Pyramid Lake Trail, Cascades National Park – A big elevation change soon after the trail started meant we were soon walking through clouds. It was slightly worrying that we couldn’t see more than a couple of metres in front of us, but fun nonetheless

SAM, PAM and BAM – The art museums in Seattle, Portland and Boise respectively.  Seattle was the best of the three in terms of exhibitions, but Boise was possibly the most enjoyable art museum we visited in the USA.  Portland, in keeping with the town, was more on the quirky side.

Food – Idaho is known for its “Famous Potatoes” and they were really tasty, especially the potato skins loaded with cheese and bacon.  Incredible pot roast sandwiches.  Stuffed hash browns.  The best Denny’s we have ever tasted doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but the one in Ontario, Oregon really was very good. 

Bad Things

Too loud and clear, hotel in Yakima – Our suspicions were roused when we realised the view from our room was over a trailer park, but the noise didn’t come from there.  There were kids running around the lobby to the pool, but they were quiet after nine.  We were fast asleep at 2am when the idiot next door came in, turned his radio up to full blast and then presumably passed out.  We phoned reception to ask if anyone was in the room or it was just the alarm going off.  They assured us someone was in the room, but six attempts at phoning and four tries at banging on the door got them nothing.  Half an hour later the radio stopped and we finally got to sleep.

Weather, Mount Rainier National Park – Keen to follow up our walking in the Cascades we were undone by the weather at Mount Rainier where it started snowing as we arrived.  Olympic National Park also defeated us with constant rain.

Seattle traffic – Horribly overcrowded and in desperate need of a decent public transport alternative outside the centre.

Food – The Cheesecake Factory, combinations based on colour as opposed to taste – goulash and (cold) fettuccine, schnitzel with macaroni cheese and a menu the size of a small novel that seemed to take hours to read.

Strange Things

Portland – A quirky place, full of “characters.” Nothing wrong with the place really, its Saturday Market summed it up.  Lots of “artisans” show off their wares which are neither too crap to laugh at, or too good to be really impressed with.  Many of the stallholders are pleasant “characters” and are all friendly in an offbeat, well, quirky kind of way.

Interpol live, Portland – A truly strange experience.  The venue was the old basketball stadium, but only a small portion of it was used, making it feel like there might be another event happening somewhere behind the stage.  I got asked for proof of age at the beer area in spite of being at least fifteen years over the legal limit.  The support band; Liars were awful, not quite Silverchair or Angels & Airwaves awful, but awful nonetheless.  In contrast Interpol’s set was quite normal, until the end.  With the crowd expecting an encore, only two of the five members reappeared.  They explained that one of the band was ‘seriously fucked up,” so they weren’t playing any more.  After a few initial boos, the mood of the crowd quickly changed to concern.  Was the ‘seriously fucked up” member ok, or had he had a dodgy burrito before the show?  All very strange and completely in keeping with Portland.

Clymer Museum, Ellensburg – A strange, small, but thankfully free, museum showcased the work of John Clymer.  If Clymer hadn’t been dead for many years I would’ve thought it was the kind of place set up by the artists doting parents to show off their son’s “wonderful” painting skills.  It really isn’t worth going out of the way for.

Leavenworth, Washington – A recreated Bavarian town in the middle of Washington state.

Dead Fish at Cascades National Park – With our investigative reporters hats on, we took a picture of the dead fish on the side of the river in Newhalem, before spotting the local industry a little further down the river.  Back at the park visitors centre we unveiled our startling, developing environmental disaster, only to find that the dead fish were salmon who returned to the site of their birth to spawn and then sadly and quite naturally, died.

Themed Restrooms, Country Kitchen – The restaurant where Rebecca had the conversation with the Korean lady also provided a rather strange toilet environment.  The ladies featured teddy bears in a variety of shapes and sizes complete with a sofa to rest on.  The gents was decorated with toy dogs and dog wallpaper, but the best bit for me was the sticker on the mirror above the sink that warned me that drinking while pregnant could do my unborn baby harm.  I’ll bear that in mind next time I’m pregnant.

Oregon State Capitol Tour, Salem – We visited Salem to have a look at the Capitol building that wouldn’t have looked out of place in fascist Italy across the square from Mussolini’s “wedding cake” building.  Inside we were persuaded to take a tour by a volunteer called Don, which turned out to be vaguely revealing.  Don explained that each speaker in the house had ten minutes to talk on an issue and could get an extra five, but after that their microphone was switched off.  Don had the vengeful smile of a downtrodden bureaucrat on his face as he recalled the time he had turned off the microphone on a speaker who had exceeded his time limit. 

Oklahoma Gay couple - Also on the Oregon state Capitol Tour, one pleasant bearded man and his companion who looked like the stereotypical inbred country boy.  Inbred spent the entire tour taking pictures, complaining about the pattern on the carpet and starting every sentence with “In Oklahoma”.  Not really that strange until we bumped into Beardie in Portland Art Museum the following day.  Were they following us? and what had he done with Inbred, who was nowhere to be seen?

Learn a language at breakfast, Seattle hotel – We turned up near the end of the allotted breakfast time, only to find that most of the room was in the middle of a Spanish lesson.  We got some food, sat around the edge and pretended we were in Mexico.

Food – Schnitzel and Sauerbraten in Leavenworth, not quite German, not quite American.

Click on the picture below to see the North West USA photo album  (opens in a new window) 

 Western Canada – October & November 2007

Conversation between two construction workers on a bridge over Macleod Trail (a very busy road in Calgary)

“What d'you think the police are doing down there?”

“They’re taking pictures of something; looks like graffiti.”

“Graffiti eh?” – laughing now.


“Somebody’s in for it when they find them.” – both laughing now

Calgary does have a problem with crime, but it’s obviously not that serious if the police have time to photograph every new bit of graffiti that appears.  By the following morning it had been cleaned off.

We are planning to move to Canada at some point in the future so most of our time there was spent in Calgary “living” in an apartment, but we also visited Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Banff.

Good Things

“Welcome to Head Smashed in Theatre” – No you’re not in St Ann’s in Nottingham or even Luton, but at the excellent “Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump” Interpretative Centre, south of Calgary.  Excellent exhibits and sticking to the point (the buffalo and the Indians relationship to it) meant this was one of the best displays we saw relating to indigenous culture in North America.

Friendly and helpful people – Plenty of them, especially in Calgary, helped make our visit comfortable and enjoyable.

Banff – The most picturesque town in North America apparently.  A nice little place with a big ski resort reputation, but without any sense of self-importance.

Live Ice Hockey – Ten thousand people at the Saddledome in Calgary chant “Go Flames Go” as the local team try their hardest to compete against a Detroit Redwings team that even to our novice eyes is substantially more talented.  Redwings win 4-1 in the end, but it doesn’t really matter, the atmosphere and the crowd were great.

+15 walkways – They get plenty of cold weather in Calgary, so they have built a series of walkways connecting downtown buildings at a height of 15 feet above ground to avoid the bad weather.  It’s a much more pleasant alternative to the underground cities in Toronto and Montreal.

Snow – Unlike at home, where people in London panic if a couple of millimetres of snow falls, they still have proper winter in Canada. It snows regularly (twice while we were there) and temperatures stay below freezing point all day.  It’s great.

Vancouver Island – A beautiful place, we stayed in an excellent B&B in the village of Sooke that had a good pub, a couple of nice restaurants and excellent coast side hiking at the East Sooke Provincial Park.

Bad Things

Vancouver – I’ve been twice now and I just can’t see the appeal of the place, dull to look at, particularly unfriendly (by Canadian standards at least) and expensive.  The only saving grace seems to be that you can easily get a ferry to Vancouver Island.

Vancouver hotel – Our room was close to the road and above the reception area.  It would’ve been noisy anyway, but when the night clerk decided to invite his mates around for a two-hour chat at 2am it became the worst hotel of the year so far.

The cooool bus – At the ferry terminal on Vancouver Island we spotted a bunch of dopey (or doped up) hippies around our age who had bought an old school bus and repainted it to read “cooool” instead of school.  Ken Kesey is dead folks and the merry pranksters are gone forever.  Try growing up.

Constant TV warnings – The following contains sex, violence and bad language, not just at the start of a programme, but before restarting the programme after every break for adverts.

Homelessness – A big problem in Calgary, over 4,000 people are homeless in the town alone.  However, they are not intrusive characters and we saw very few homeless people begging for money, they were just living on the streets.  Fortunately the local government is trying to solve the problem with a glut of low cost housing planned.  This is a good example of the difference between the US and Canada.  In Canada the homeless folk are seen as “down on their luck” and a solution to the problem is in motion.  In the US the homeless are seen as an irritation or annoyance and no effort is made further than trying to keep them away from nice neighbourhoods.

Victoria Park sirens – The area where we stayed in Calgary, although very handy for the town, was busy after dark with slightly dubious looking characters.  Three or four times every night, the sound of police sirens dispersed anyone who was hanging around with dubious intent. 

Strange Things

Kilometres, feet and inches – Canada measures road distances in metric units, but smaller distances in the old imperial feet and inches.  They also use pounds and ounces instead of kilograms and grams, but fill their cars with litres instead of gallons.  It’s almost as confusing as our half arsed version of the metric system at home.

Back to the Berni Inn – In Calgary we ate a “family run” steak house that was so reminiscent of a Berni Inn circa 1979/80 that we both felt we’d been transported to New Zealand where the time seems to be stuck around the early eighties.

Squirrel Gangs in the Park – As we walked through a park in Calgary, a very tame and chubby squirrel approached us.  We ignored it, but were instantly approached by another.  Before we knew it, there were more than ten squirrels gazing at us from vantage points on the side of the path.  Having been fed by the local people the squirrels had grown tame and now seemed to be sizing up how much food they could get out of gang mugging us.  We left.  Quickly. 

Double national anthem – Before the live ice hockey game, both the US and Canadian anthems were played as an American team was playing a Canadian one.  The crowd behind us talked all the way through the “Star Spangled Banner” before half-heartedly singing along with “O Canada”.  Many of the crowd took advantage of the break between verse and chorus to shout a quick and muffled “Go Flames Go”.

Talisman centre break-ins – At a large sports centre the link between two signs prominently displayed seems to have been overlooked.  The first one said, “There have been an increasing number of break-ins in the Men’s locker room.”  The second one said, “Maintenance work on the Men’s locker room will continue until December”.  Having said that, who knows how far those squirrel gangs are prepared to go.

Lake Minnewanka – Near Banff, the lake is actually quite a pleasant place in spite of the name.

Banff merman – Look at the picture in the photo album below, I’m not even going to attempt to explain it.

Click on the picture below to see the Western Canada photo album (opens in a new window)

 South East USA – November 2007

Conversation with a man doing a survey outside the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

“Well you see the South and especially Georgia, is seen as very uneducated by the rest of the country.”

“Really.  We didn’t get that impression at all.” – with a touch of sarcasm.

“Well, you don’t exactly need a college degree to be a farmer.” – recognising the sarcasm and trumping it.

Conversation with a German Receptionist, Athens, Georgia

“Ok, the nice restaurant is here, but there are a lot of one way streets in this area.” – pointing to a local map.

“But that’s less than a quarter of a mile away.”

“Sorry, I forgot you are Europeans.  Of course you will walk.” 

Conversation on a radio request show based in Valdosta, Southern Georgia

“So did you buy that pig or did you steal it from your neighbour?”

“I stole it.”

“Does he know?”

“No, but he’s gonna come round and help me eat it.”

“Are you sure he won’t recognise it and get mad?”

“Hell no.” – long pause for thought 

“He won’t mind after a beer or two anyway.”

Every caller was either drunk or getting drunk and the DJ seemed to know all of them well enough to predict most of the requests.

In the South East of the US we visited North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Florida.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Live Basketball, Atlanta – Having seen the other major US sports live, we thought it was time to try basketball.  Atlanta’s team (the Hawks) are considered a fairly poor team and a half empty arena reflected this. Fortunately, the game was entertaining enough to make up for the lack of atmosphere.  The Hawks had a chance to win in the last few seconds, but after two periods of overtime they eventually lost.  The best bit of the experience was sitting next to Mario West’s mother.  She was the definition of motherly pride as she pointed out her son warming up and told us that this was his first game in the NBA.  He looked quite good when he came on in the third quarter, but by that time his Mum had disappeared, hopefully to a better seat. 

Friendly people, both Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia – The stereotype attached to people living in “the South” tends to revolve around the contrasting ideas of wonderful hospitality and racial prejudice, with a dose of stupidity and inbreeding thrown in for good measure.  We were lucky enough to experience the friendliness and hospitality without the bad stuff, outside of Florida at least.

Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte – A great place to find out how the South has changed since the mid 1800’s and the American Civil war.  The main exhibit: From Cotton Fields To Skyscrapers, was an interesting view of the development of the South and Charlotte in particular, while other exhibits on regional music and Southern stereotypes were equally as entertaining.

Dali Museum, St Petersburg – An excellent collection of Dali’s works spanning his entire career with extremely good volunteer tours.  Normally I find volunteer tours a waste of time, but with Dali’s pictures it helped to make some sense of the surreal chaos on the canvas.

CNN Center Tour – The behind the scenes tour allowed us into the world of CNN at their worldwide headquarters in Atlanta and was entertaining in spite of a surly guide and security levels higher than most airports. 

Congaree National Park – Not quite the typical National Park.  No mountainside walks or clambering over slick rock, just walking around swampland on a raised boardwalk.  Thankfully we were out of mosquito season and we saw a red- bellied snake.

Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – Nice gardens, a small, but lively zoo area and some very impressive sculpture made this a good stop.  But if you do visit, avoid the terribly sickly orientation film at the start and try not to read any of the diabolical poetry between the sculptures. 

Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee – An excellent museum tracing the history of the Cherokee from their tribal origins through to the miserable 1830’s Trail of Tears, when the US government kicked the Cherokee (along with all the other Native American tribes in the South East) out of their homeland and sent them to the Oklahoma reservations.  The exhibits were moving without being pathetic, leaving an impression of pride and dignity as opposed to the sickly sentimentality often on offer.

Food – Thanksgiving Meal, full on turkey dinner.  Meat Pizza, Hilton Head Island, anything involving slow cooked pork, beef or meatloaf – all delicious.  Pecan pie and ice cream. 

Bad Things

“Floridation.” – Defined as the process in which all young Florida natives living south of Jacksonville (a friendly place) are dipped head first into the Everglades, making them miserable and resentful for the rest of their lives.  With wonderful weather they have a great place to live in, but they really don’t deserve it.   

Feeling uncharitable – At a restaurant in South Carolina a portion of that nights sales went to “help provide medical care to help shelter animals in need.”  This didn’t bother the ignorant twats two tables behind us.  They managed to order a load of food and then, because another table got the last batch of bread rolls, they left without paying, just as their food was being brought to their table.  They probably deliberately ran over a cat or two on the way home and spent the rest of the night drowning puppies.

Georgian and Floridian driving – Speed limits are obviously only suggestions in this part of the country, as we were consistently the slowest car on the road while going at the limit.  Tunnel vision was also in evidence with no notice taken of cars pulling in and out of lanes.  One particularly stupid old fool pulled out of a petrol station in front of us on a 55-mile per hour road without looking.  We were about five feet from his startled looking passenger as our car ground to a halt and he finally realised there were other cars on the road.

Flat tyre – A little light on the dashboard told us our tyre pressure was dodgy, but the tyres looked ok.  Two hours later we stopped again and one tyre was practically flat.  The three-inch chunk of metal the breakdown man pulled out of it may have had something to do with it.

“Where you at?” – The obligatory response when answering a mobile phone, regardless of race or sex.  I know the South is battered for its lack of education, but it would be nice if you could learn a little bit of grammar at school, assuming that was where “you were at” during your childhood.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – The place to be if you like seaside towns full of fat miserable people who love mini-golf.

Food – Mexican in St Petersburg, Florida, all made by Wal-Mart and poured straight out of a can.  More or less everything fried, often in fatback (left over bacon grease).

Strange Things

Ringling Museum of the Circus – The Ringling complex in Sarasota is, unsurprisingly, staffed by miserable bastards (it’s in Florida) but the Museum of Art is very good.  However, it’s overshadowed by the Museum of the Circus that features a vast diorama of circus day in a town circa 1930, constructed entirely by one man - Howard Tibbals.  He still hasn’t finished after over 50 years of work and while the diorama is undoubtedly impressive, you can’t help feeling a little unsettled by the touch of total obsession in the air.

Bible belt – Welcome to God’s country.  People wear t-shirts that read “Got Jesus” and similar refrains with no sense of irony.  There is a church on every road, usually more than one on most roads.  Protestors moan that creationism should be taught in schools and the Georgia governor leads prayers for rain in his drought ridden state. 

Kennedy Space Center – It’s expensive ($38 / £19 each) and unfriendly (it’s in Florida), but you see things here that you just can’t see anywhere else.  Things like the Space Shuttle on its launch pad, a full size Saturn V rocket and parts of the International Space Station being manufactured.  Best of all you can go on a space shuttle launch simulator that is easily the highlight of any visit.

World of Coca Cola, Atlanta – A fun experience at the home of Coke, with no attempt whatsoever to hide the “Drink more Coke” message.  Blatant commercialisation in its purest form with a big smile on its face.

Plastic silver, The English Inn, Charlottesville – In a vaguely upmarket hotel we were pleased to see real cutlery at breakfast time, only to discover it was silver coloured plastic.

Luray Caverns – A huge underground cavern where you can “hear rocks sing” through the mechanism of “The Great Stalacpipe Organ”. 

Foamhenge – Stonehenge in Virginia made of Styrofoam.  See the pictures in the photo album below.

The Tree that owns Itself and the Double Barrelled Cannon, Athens, Georgia – Two strange attractions in one town, a tree so beloved by a professor that in the early 1800’s he deeded it ownership of itself and the land eight feet around it (more than most slaves got) and a cannon from the American civil war that was meant to shoot from both barrels at once with a chain between to cut down the enemy.  It proved to be useless, but that doesn’t stop it being on display outside the town hall (still facing North – just in case).

Carter Family Fold – A stop of great importance for Country music fans, we were told it was an interesting place to visit.  So after a thirty mile detour we were a little disappointed to find a large garden shed that seats nearly a thousand people and a few pictures around the stage of the luminaries that have performed there.  Fortunately the man cleaning up the place looked like a relative of Uncle Jessie from the Dukes of Hazzard (overalls and all) and suggested we come back for the weekly performance on Saturday night because, “It's all good clean fun here, no drugs, no cussing and no dirty dancing.”  Somehow that made the detour worthwhile.

Triple waitress, Lake City, Florida – Feeling dopey at breakfast time we were ascended on by three waitresses at once.  Apparently two were training, but I didn’t believe that for a second, they were just trying to confuse me into ordering more greasy food than I needed.  They succeeded.

Haunted toilet, Orlando – As we fell asleep, we became aware that our toilet was flushing itself every twenty minutes or so.  We reported the haunted toilet to reception the next day striking fear into a petrified hotel employee who obviously spent far too much time watching “Most Haunted.”  

Chatted up by a trained killer at the Hertz desk, Athens airport – While waiting to get a replacement car after our flat tyre, Rebecca had an interesting conversation with a man who had a mosquito tattooed on his hand and the look of a trained killer.  It turned out he was and now plies his trade as a professional bodyguard.  In retrospect, I’m quite glad I didn’t go with her.

Food – Deep fried ice cream Japanese style, macaroni cheese as a vegetable side dish, grits, chicken pot pie (a bit of pastry doused in pie filling), Newcastle Brown Ale from Scottland (Atlanta Hawks game). 

Click on the picture below to see the South East USA photo album (opens in a new window)