I had a lovely few days in San Francisco. I re-experienced some of the delights of the west – or my delights anyway – art galleries, a lovely lesbian cafe, a poetry open mic. I bought a $10 mobile phone and a book of essays on all the states of America. I had big chats with intelligent English-speaking women, something I hadn’t done for a month. I walked on Ocean Beach and watched the sun set over the vast Pacific on its way to rising over Hong Kong in the east I had just left and got over my jet lag.
My original plan was to hire a car and drive across America ending up (about 3 weeks later) in Toronto where I was born – where me and my Dad first met of course. On reflection and advice I decided to take the train – Amtrak has various routes across, all geared up for long journeys and lots of looking out of the window. Part of me fancied the Thelma and Louise experience of course – being the centre of my own personal American road movie – but in the end with the time constraints plus travelling (and therefore driving) alone, the train seemed the better choice.
So this was the new plan:
- A day’s travel from San Francisco across California through Sacramento to Reno, Nevada (half an inch on my map)
- An overnight stop and 24 hours in Reno – the glitzy, gambling, smaller ‘wanna-be’ version of Las-Vegas. ‘Yeah, 24 hours’ll do it!’ I’m confidently told!
- Over 24 hours travel through the states of Nevada, Utah and Colorado – desert and mountains – to Denver.
- 3 days staying in a small town in Colorado near the Rockies with some friends of the family.
- Another nearly 24 hours travel through the rest of Colorado, then Nevada, Iowa, Illinois – the great plains states – to the town of Naperville near Chicago.
- 3 days in suburban Naperville – ‘Stepford wife / Desperate Housewife country’ I am told! – staying with some newly discovered Decents – cousins on my father’s side. My Dad’s alienation from his family kept us mutually unaware of each other but my family history trawl flushed them out.
- A day’s travel through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio to Cleveland.
- 5 days in Ohio. Americans go quiet when I get to this bit… ‘Mm, why Ohio?’ Ohio is where I have some very dear friends of the family – my Mum and Val were best friends in their 20’s. Val (originally a Mancunian) met and married her American husband Ben in Ohio and still live in the same house that I used to visit as a young child when our 2 families visited between Ohio and Toronto in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. One of their daughters – Anne – has been my lifelong buddy and penpal-now-Skype-pal and they all have fond old memories of my family.
I wrote this poem before I made this trip, my fascinations and the contradictions of the USA – the feelings that brought me here. Now I am actually here, travelling its mighty breadth. We’ll see if this American dream rings true.
by Emma Decent
Part 1 – Homage
I love America.
I don’t know why
she’s a mysterious girl
for all her brashness.
Still, she’s something.
I want to go to America and fly the flag,
fly it like a flying carpet,
and look into suburban gardens
and endless cornfields,
and grubby parking lots.
I wanna be Laura Ingalls –
Little House on the Prairie! –
in a covered wagon
with Ma and Pa
and a bonnet on my head!
I wanna be a cowboy –
no, an Indian –
no, Bonnie and Clyde
sat with my partner in crime
at a dusty gas station
in the middle of nowhere
and an old man in a battered hat looking at me
like in ‘Thelma and Louise’.
A battered dusty baseball cap
rolling down the road
like tumbleweed in the wind
or the turbulence of monster trucks.
The American dream.
Part 2 -The Real Thing
There is a magic potion
that can make you dream the American dream.
When I drink Coca-Cola
the sun comes out
and the children on my Lancashire street
stop screaming and swearing
and become full of colour and light.
Their teeth are white.
The grey streets of England clear of traffic
and people of every nation turn to each other
and hold each other’s hands.
Coke tastes like flying over a beautiful, benevolent land
in a hot air balloon.
It makes everything better.
All my friends look younger and more beautiful.
They like me better
and we have more fun.
Coca-Cola helps us to see all things the same,
and so there is peace at last.
A Coke bottle makes a good weapon
an instrument of torture if used correctly.
Oh let me beat you over the head with this Coke bottle!
And I promise –
all will be well.
Part 3 – The End
Everything is big in America,
they have the biggest of everything.
Roads and prairies that go on forever
Skyscrapers and orange mountains.
And they have the biggest rubbish dump in the world
have you heard?
Floating right there between California and Hawaii
Twice the size of Texas, yessir!
Fifty years of throwaway washed into the sea.
Where Coca-Cola bottle tops bump up against
He-Man’s mighty plastic thigh.
Barbie head, cut mohican style
by a rebel girl, 1984.
Cigarette lighterPepsi bottle,
Shard of Bakelite radio, 1959.
A Macdonalds cup all the way from Japan!
I wish I could be famous enough to be made of plastic. Celebrity moulded forever into a doll.
Tom Cruise, Farrah Fawcett, Sonny and Cher, Paris Hilton.
Then one day I could swim with all those bright stars in the Pacific too.
I wanna ‘be a part of it’!
An American dream come true.
Back to Chapter 10
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