• Charles E. Cheadle

Travelling to America

To save yourself an insufferable 16-hour flight directly to the west coast, I would start off by flying to the east coast, more specifically New York. Formerly known as New Amsterdam, the now megacity underwent a name change in honour of the Duke of York. No, not Prince Andrew, for the only thing that is highly respectable about him is his eidetic memory when recalling, with absolute lucidity, his trip to Pizza Express on the 10th March. The new name was actually given in honour of the conquering Duke of York in 1664.

Most probably, your plane will land at the infamous JFK airport; infamous for its long, tortuous queues when getting through customs after a long flight. However, you must not forget that you have just entered the self-purported ‘most free’ and, as they so brazenly suggest, ‘best’ country in the world, which will no doubt inspire a feeling of opportunity, growth and a chance to follow the ‘American Dream’.

Nonetheless, before you depart the plane, feel ‘free’ to put on a face mask, for failure to comply with this ‘freedom’ will result in you not so ‘freely’ transferring your money into the pockets of the mighty state of America. At this point, take comfort in the fact your nation, England, were the pioneers in the repealing of mask wearing laws and lead the way in the battle against COVID-19. Remember this important piece of information when confronted by the new species you will inevitably encounter, for they are an obnoxiously loud species who feel the need for everyone to hear their conversations, no matter what the topic may be; a species with a patriotic fervour so strong it blinds them from rational thought and bestows upon them a superciliousness understood exclusively by them. After all, the ‘American’ is native to the ‘best’ country in the world.

It is imperative that you arm yourself sufficiently to defend against such a creature. The best way to achieve this: take a lesson in the long and rich history of the United Kingdom. For within here lie the rebuttals to the ‘Americans’ claim of their nation’s superiority. Hence if ever ambushed by an ‘American’ asserting such views, you can quickly dodge the blow by reminding them that they are simply unwanted colonials to your great empire, whilst throwing a knock out punch by reminding them of the damning fact that they are probably dissidents from the United Kingdom and consequently, all their nations success is due to this fact: they have British genes. If all else fails, resort to the previously established fact and gloat about how your country leads the way in the battle against covid.

Upon speaking to your cab driver when leaving the airport, don’t be alarmed into thinking that you have arrived in the wrong country, mistakenly taking a plane to the Dominican Republic. One must remember, New York is renowned as being the dream place for economic immigrants wanting to escape a life of relative or, in some cases, absolute poverty. Willing to work long hours in laborious jobs, these immigrants are crucial to sustaining the economy and in this regard deserve every success.

New York is truly a ‘concrete jungle’, corroborated by the narrow streets and endless high-rise buildings, it would be easy to get lost in such dense swathes of concrete if it wasn’t for the grid system – simple, like the ‘American’ species. The phrase ‘where dreams are made of’, however, is less accurate. New York is plagued by the homeless. The adjective ‘plagued’ may sound harsh and insensitive. However, as it is doubtful they will be reading this article and if it wasn’t for the discrepancy between the British and American homeless, this powerful adjective would have been omitted. From my personal, anecdotal evidence, homeless people in the UK tend to be much more quiet and grateful whenever they receive help. Meanwhile, the homeless in the USA are, for want of a better word, weird. Constantly migrating around the city with their trolley cart in tow, they are continually occupied by small talk or debates on wider societal issues. You may be thinking, so they roam in packs of twos, as for someone to engage in the discourse of a debate they must require a counterpart. However, you would be mistaken. They roam alone and engage in debate with what can only be assumed as their alter ego. Certainly, you will hear a homeless person before you see one - engendering the role of a true ‘American’ - and it is probably thanks to them that New York is the know as the ‘city that never sleeps’, for they never stop shouting.

This juxtaposition between rich and poor is amplified throughout New York, highlighted by the profound contrast between the homeless camping beside Trump’s golden skyscraper. Whilst the ‘American Dream’ is one thing, one does have to acknowledge and understand the other side of that coin when a human being experiences the indignity of having to scavenge through a bin for food in front of hundreds of spectators in the subway. Something must be done. Yet, just before witnessing this sight, a homeless man was given nutritious food - rice, chicken and vegetables - from a Help the Homeless van. Instead of showing appreciation, he rudely threw the food on the floor in front of the helpers. It is clear that the issue is much more nuanced than one would originally think. Often the war on drugs is blamed, but this seems superficial if a man, desperately in need of help, is so readily willing to reject any form of charity.

On a lighter note, New York has some must see sights like the iconic Statue of Liberty, the nostalgic Empire State Building and romantic Central Park. Walking through Manhattan is like walking through one long movie set with what seems like an infinitude of recognisable buildings and places. The phrase ‘oh that’s … from … how cool’ will often spring to mind. The city has a unique feeling (genius loci). Life here is fast paced, intense and noisy, which just suits some people. Arguably, New York is special for all the right and wrong reasons.

In need of relaxation after surviving the often stressful and overwhelming New York, it is advisable to travel across the country to the other coast, the West coast, and enjoy a few relaxing days in Los Angeles. Here you will find the home of cinema in Hollywood, the opulent shops along Rodeo Drive, and the map from Grand Theft Auto V - it’s amazing they designed a whole city based on a video game!

It has turned out to be a bit of a struggle to write about LA. Ironically, this is the reason why it is the perfect place to go and enjoy a relaxing trip as you can see the important parts of the city in under two days. First, start by venturing to West Hollywood. Here you will find the famous Hollywood Boulevard - the strip with celebrities names printed in stars - adjacent to the Chinese Theatre - possibly the most eminent cinema in the world.

Whilst here, however, you cannot be assured of a stress free time as a conveyor belt of wanna-be rappers or put plainly scammers, will be approaching you to ask for a 'donation' towards their 'music'. The word 'music' is placed in inverted commas not because speaking very quickly to some headache inducing tune cannot be considered music and an art-form, but for the fact the CDs - which nobody uses anyway - most likely do not have music of any kind on them. These rappers will profess to you that their only escape from 'the hood' is through rap. It is only through the sale of their CDs - which, let me reiterate, no-one uses - that they can save up to record more music, hopefully get spotted by a talent agency and have the chance to make it big time. Yet whilst they stand around all day smoking weed they the audacity to claim that the 'system' is against them. Never once have these self-entitled rappers thought about getting a normal job to save up and pursue their rap career on the side. Nor, to be frank, do I blame them, for every other rap song follows the same rhetoric about some chap making it out of the hood with his 'boys', indoctrinating them to believe that this is the norm.

There are some truisms about LA that quickly become abundantly clear. Everyone appears to be an aspiring artist whether that be in acting, singing, dancing or whatever, obviously due to the fact that the major production studios are in LA i.e Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures. It seems that this has led to a bizarre culture. Firstly, you can quickly sniff out an aspiring artist for they are overly-nice upon meeting you as they assume you mustn't have something to offer them. Secondly, it is hard to buy into the idea that they are all in the business because of the passion they have for their art, otherwise surely they would be happy consistently working in smaller scale productions and feel no need to impress strangers; adulation, fame and wealth are probably the biggest driving factors, and in LA are omnipresent. The tacit truth is that Hollywood is a business; they do not cast off talent and merit alone - in actuality, this probably makes up a small percentage of all the factors. A production needs to make a profit. For example, which film would sell more copies: one with Brad Pitt in it or one with an actor you have never heard of? Arguably, it is sad that a culture has been curated out of the pursuit of such superficial pleasures as it can be guaranteed that nobody will ever be content with their lives - there is always the next best thing; the next best super car; the next best role in a movie; the bigger house; the better social group etc... Hence, there seems to be a materialistic culture that, in reality, will probably not find the axiom: true happiness comes from higher pleasures that satisfy the mind. Thirdly, people covet such fast pleasures to such a degree they are willing to sacrifice a comfortable home life to live on the street in LA - for their warm climate allows a person to do this yearly - travelling from all over the country. As you walk past an 18 year old fluffing up their pillow on the corner of the street, you may admire their ambition and determination to chase their dreams, but you mustn't confuse ambition with delusion. These 18 year olds have been sold a dream and false reality. They look to the rags to riches stories of the likes of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and think they can replicate this. Possibly, these kids are taking the expression 'rags to riches' a little too literally. Neither Ben Affleck or Matt Damon were to actually go homeless before achieving their success. But why as a society has it been instilled into these kids that they need to do this?

You may be thinking, 'ok, I will give West Hollywood a pass and venture over to Santa Monica Pier as this looks lively'. Don't bother, just go to Blackpool Pier when you get back to the UK for there are far less 'nittys' blabbing out some nonsense. If New York is home to the homeless, LA is home to the 'smackhead'. Your best bet to avoid bumping into one of these crackpots is by heading into the Beverley Hills instead.

Beverly Hills is lovely.

Whilst along the west coast, it is worth while traveling to San Francisco for, like New York, it has a special feeling, its own unique character. Not only this but San Fran is home to some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world - the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Nob Hill just to mention a few.

If you like Brighton, you will like San Francisco… due to the fact they both have famous piers of course... what where you thinking? However, Brighton pier is inferior in the sense it doesn’t offer you a ferry trip to the tiny island of Alcatraz, which is surrounded by shark infested waters and home to a prison that held some of the most notorious criminals. The prison was home to the likes of Al Capone (scarface), who, fun fact, died of syphilis, and Machine Gun Kelly, no not the bloke dating Megan Fox, for that MGK is not a convicted kidnapper unlike the infamous gangster whom he shares his name. Alcatraz not only provides brilliant views of the Golden Gate Bridge but offers a more spooky experience, apparently being one of the most haunted places in the US.

If not possessed by some ghoul or been eaten by a shark, upon your return from Alcatraz it is worth a trip on the old cable car - designed by a Scotsman, again, another feather in the cap of the British - to the top of Nob Hill where the famous windy road is situated. Notwithstanding the fact the tram is packed to the brim with tourists, is over 100 years old and feels as if could fall apart at any second, it is a pleasant journey to the top of the hill where you will enjoy equally splendid views along with healthy competition wrestling with fellow tourists for the best photography spot.

Now, if you haven’t been killed by an earthquake, a shark or been possessed by a ghost, you should, deservedly, be feeling lucky. As a result, there is no better time to visit Las Vegas, a city built from the very fabric of luck and the pursuit of mere hedonistic pleasure. Expanded from a row of grandiose casinos, the ‘strip’ is littered with fliers for seedy escorts services, escalators to shuffle people between casinos and impressive shows; all of which are designed to induce you into a hypnotic state of euphoria, forgetting your inhibitions, bank account and dignity. Each casino is fashioned to replicate a famous landmark from across the world. For instance, the Luxor mimics the pyramids of Egypt; Caesars Palace is designed around the iconic roman emperor Julius Caesar; the Venetian - would you believe - based on Venice, Italy with its baroque architecture and gonderlas - you will frequently overhear Americans claim that they no longer need to visit the real Venice as the Venetian is a "carbon copy"... It must be absolutely bliss being that stupid. Once you step inside of a Casino you will feel no doubt a rush of energy, possibly transcended from the buzz of the victorious, the feeling that fortune will favour you to win big or, most likely, from the the oxygen that is pumped into the casino floor. Once you have entered the casino, there is no turning back, you have been enticed and ensnared, sins will inevitably be committed and, no doubt, you will leave 'Sin City' in the vain hope that any mention of last nights activities will never filtrate into your normal life. You can only pray that the dictum 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' is unwavering.

Feeling that to completely purge yourself of the sins you committed in vegas, you need to escape as far away as possible; it is time to go home. However, to break up the long flight, it is worth stopping off in Washington DC. Here you can take a tour, darting across the city in a small electric cart in order to view the major institutional and democratic pillars of the United States. An ominous feeling tingles down your spine as you view the Capitol Building from a distance. You stand bewildered at the current state of American politics. The nation that once symbolised the free world, its values of opportunity and progressiveness is being eroded. You reflect on your recent trip across the country. In New York you observed the homeless problem and severe juxtaposition between those in the top and bottom echelons of society; in LA a serious drug issue and the unreasonable expectations placed on youths to succeed in the creative industries there; in San Fransisco you didn't even venture into the centre of the city due to it being plagued with crime and homelessness; Vegas epitomised a culture of hedonism, consumerism and materialism that is present across the whole of the USA. And in Washington DC, the problems continue to unravel. Under two hours from where you are standing is the location of a convenience store in which an 18 year old, who had access to an AR, shot and killed over 8 people. Just a month later, 19 children were killed in a school shooting in Texas, again by teenager who had access to an AR. You look somewhat hopefully to the Senate building, knowing that to be the place where everything could change, where the homeless plague can be cured, where the drug problem can be solved and where the gun crisis can be fixed. Yet, in this moment the news breaks of the overruling of Roe vs Wade. This confirms to you that the once most democratic and forward thinking country in the world is now moving backwards. The principle of the separation of powers - quintessential to a functioning democracy - effectively rendered futile with the executive having control to make political choices when choosing the supreme court judges, the ideas surrounding a women and her body reversed to 1945 (I believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, if the woman is a minor or for medical reasons etc... not as a form of contraception - the open acceptance towards casual and regular sex in todays society must bear consequences and that should not be the life of child). The hopeful look you have towards the senate quickly descends into a look of shame and disappointment, for you know nothing will change, just as it hasn't since the start of the homeless crisis, just like it hasn't since the war on drugs, and just like it hasn't since the last mass shooting. America can no longer be revered as the nation of new ideas and progressiveness. America is no longer, as they self-purport, 'the best nation in the world'. It is a nation in decline. It is a nation in reverse.