Right, let’s get one thing out of the way straight off the bat, I haven’t blogged in ages and have fallen several locations behind where I actually am. There’s a very good reason for that, which I will get onto later, but the result is that I’m consolidating all these experiences into one mega-post. So make yourself comfortable and fill up a glass (or mug) of your chosen beverage, because this might take a while.
Let’s start with Vegas, which regular readers will know as the place I’ve been looking forward to visiting more than any other on this trip. When I came here in 2007 I was immediately filled with awe, wonder, and an intense frustration that my youthful age prevented me from immersing myself in the full experience. Now, eleven years later, and much older (if not much wiser), I’m finally able to return and do my best to cling desperately onto whatever’s left of my wallet at the end of the week.
There are few, if any, places in this world quite like Las Vegas. The glitz and glamour of the neon lights and scantily-clad everythings enticing you into its absurdly expensive bosom, and testing your budgeting discipline to its very fringes. But everyone knows that already about this unique town, so let’s talk about its other traits.
For starters, pretty much everything takes forever to achieve. Want to walk from one casino to the next? Make sure you’re wearing comfy shoes. Fancy a drive up The Strip? Make the most of the 17,493 traffic lights by staring wistfully at your surroundings. Want a snap of you and your beloved standing underneath the Welcome to Vegas sign? Join the queue. Indeed, the only things that don’t take an ice age are giving your money to the dealers, and giving your money to the waitresses.
It’s an odd juxtaposition, in a city where everything is bright and brash and constantly alive, that you’re forced to exercise more than a modicum of patience at every corner, but in a way, it works in your favour by allowing you to appreciate your surroundings, and not get caught up and carried away too much by the never-ending buzz and hulabaloo.
That is, unless you’re at the tables. Yes, I tried my best to win a million dollars, and as you can probably tell by the fact that this post is two weeks late and not written entirely in capital letters, I did not succeed. I did get one card away from a $4,000 payout in a card game I’d never played before (Pai Gow Poker), but as far as financially-related success stories go, that’s about it for me and this make you/break you town.
Whilst my wallet may be significantly (if not uncontrollably) lighter than it was before I turned up at my Airbnb on the West side of town, I have no regrets, and walk (drive?) away from Vegas happy for the experiences I’ve had. In an ideal world I would take my seven years of dealer/inspector experience in casinos and bring them here, following in the footsteps of the stickman at the craps table at the Main Street Station – who was from Swindon – but sadly in today’s world, being allowed to settle down in the land of the free is a lot more difficult than it used to be, unless I get married.
(If you do happen to be American, and unmarried, and can put up with my terrible puns, please get in touch)
Succeeding my stint in Las Vegas was a three-day drive to a suburb of Austin, Texas, where I would have an unexpected, life-changing experience.
First, however, came the rather impressive Hoover Damn, the rather historic Route 66, the rather deep Meteor Crater, and the rather frightening storm I hid from in my hotel room in Amarillo (yes, I found the way).
But perhaps the biggest thing I will take from my drive from Vegas to Austin, via Gallup and Amarillo, is the sheer size of the country. The best example of the enormity of the USA came on the third day, driving from Amarillo to Austin. Eight hours of driving, stopping only to fill up the car and myself, and all I covered was around half of one of the fifty States. Granted, it’s the second biggest one (behind Alaska, although don’t mention that to a Texan), but if you have a look at a map of the country, and see how close together the two towns appear to be, you can get an idea of just how big America is – and I wasn’t even held in traffic for any of the journey.
Texas, like the wind farms inside it, just keeps going, and going, and going, and going, and eventually I got to the Southwestern suburb of Austin where I was due to meet Morgan, a friend I’ve met in London a few times over the past few years.
I say friend, because that’s what she was when I drove my Camaro up the Camaro+1inch-wide driveway. Now, however, things are a little different.
Check out my Wonder Woman baseball cap.
I wasn’t expecting to find another partner whilst on my travels – indeed I have my hands quite full with the ones I already have – and that’s certainly not why I decided to take the Southern route through New Mexico, Texas and Missouri instead of heading up North and driving through Canada. But Morgan and I got on like a mansion on fire. In fact, we got on so well, that my few days in Austin turned into an entire week, a round of golf with her and her father (during which I was mostly shit, barring a brace of par 3’s and a chip in off the green for a birdie on a par 4), and, most tellingly, dragging her along with me for the three-day journey from Austin, through Texarkana (on the Texas/Arkansas border, geddit?), St Louis, and then a few days in Chicago.
These newfound feelings we have for each other have taken us both completely by surprise, but suffice to say that the last twelve days have been nothing short of wonderful. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the future – she’s talking about moving back to England but that’s not a certainty, and things might change between us given the time apart we’re about to endure – but what we had for that period of time was the kind of magic that made me forget all about the rest of my journey, or even how much I was looking forward to heading home soon.
Oh, there was also Chicago, I suppose I should talk about that since we stayed there for four days.
Chicago was my second favourite city the last time I was here (behind Vegas). The lake, the skyline, my cousins Angie and Alan, an English pub, all of these things helped create another memorable experience in a city I highly recommend everyone visits. Plus there was the small contribution from a girl that I’d fallen for at the kind of pace I didn’t think I was capable of any more.
So there we have it, now you know where I’ve been and why I’ve been quiet this past couple of weeks. I’ve had so many different types of fun in that time that my head still feels like it’s spinning, and now I can add the excitement of being only a few days away from seeing my friends, partners, and family back home for the first time in nearly four months.
All that’s left to do is gawp at a really big circle, and stand inside a rather large apple. I’ll try and write those blog posts a tad more punctually…