of the Wild World Tour: The United States of America, part 3
John Tyrrell is one half of nouveau breaksmiths Kings of the Wild Frontier. In November 1999 he set out on a world tour and this is his neo-Kerouac on the road diary, a kind of continuation of the Kings' "Trans Am" ep which journeyed across the U.S.A from East to West appropriating local musical styles as it went.
Thursday, November 2nd, 2000
New Orleans - Louisiana
Exhausted from our road trip we flew over to Louisiana and got a bus to Hotel La Salle on the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Time for some R'n'R. In no time we were strolling down Bourbon Street, plastic cup of beer in hand, checking out the live music scene and gawping at the wierd stuff in the voodoo shops. Found Lafitte's Blacksmith's Shop, a funky little ramshackle piano bar that Anna had recommended. There we were treated to a fine performance by their resident piano player, a husky voiced dude called Johnny who looked like a Blues Brother in his black trilby and shades. We sat around his old Joanna next to an incredible array of lookalike tourists. There was a Robbie Williams wannabe, a Barry Manilow lookalike and a tour guide who was a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra. Johnny serenaded us with renditions of everything and anything from Fats Domino's 'Walkin to N'walins' to our favourite sing-a-long song 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You'. Pure magic...(Jo)
The guy was like an easy listening Van Morrison. I thought I'd tax him by requesting Herb Alpert's 'This Guy's in Love With You'. He didn't know it too well but he dug the sheet music out of his crate and had a good crack. Everyone got lashed. The Barry Manilow lookalike turned out to be a pro karaoke singer himself, so he serenaded us with a couple of tunes. He and his wife invited us to stay in their Noo Joisey home. But after his missus grabbed the mike and began singing 'Old Macdonald had a farm' we thought we'd give it a miss. (John)
Memphis - Tennessee
Decided to take the Greyhound up to Memphis for a couple of days. It was cheaper than hiring a car. We nearly missed the damn bus as they didn't announce that it was boarding, they just expected you to know by some telepathic miracle which gate it was leaving from. We had no provisions for the 9 hour trip so I approached the bus driver (who looked like one of Eddie Murphy's 'old guy' character's from 'Coming To America') and asked him a question in my poshest Yorkshire accent; "Excuse me, are there going to be any refreshments served on board?" I thought maybe they'd at least have cans of coke and crisps etc, like you get on the National Express buses back home on long trips. Anyway he looked at me like I was completely mad and said, "Refreshments? Maam, this here's the lowest form of transport in America. Sure, we got beer and wine and cakes, we'll throw a party!" Sarcastic old sod. The journey was hellish...
Eventually we found ourselves in Memphis and after another rather long bus ride out to Elvis Presley Boulevard we were elated to finally check in to our motel. It had a guitar shaped swimming pool. What more do you need? We befriended another British couple staying there and later that night we got a taxi together to Beale st where all the bars and blues revues are. After a hearty meal of southern cookin' - spicy catfish and the like - we stumbled into an Irish piano bar where we got the surprise of our lives...(Jo)
Who should walk towards us open armed but my fellow King of the Wild Frontier, Malcolm. Of all the bars in all the world... Incredible. We knew he was in the States seeing his new belle Gretchen for a few weeks, but we weren't expecting to see him til we got to Florida. Pure chance had brought him and his gal to Memphis and to Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale Street at exactly the time we were there. Lots of hugs and beer followed.
Next day the four of us went to Graceland together and did our audio tour round the king's gaff. Jo expected the place to be in the middle of a bit of countryside with a huge estate round it, but as it goes it was right on the main road and the house is only a hundred or so yards back. Hope he had double glazing fitted. Checked it all out - house, trophy room, car museum, his private jet 'Lisa Marie' etc. We stood with all the sombre folk around his grave for a minute, but couldn't really muster the earnest expressions required so moved on. I liked some of his cars the best. His first nice car which he'd wanted for ages burnt down in the street the first night he had it. He made up for that with some real beauts mind. (John)
Didn't get to see the King's bedroom or bathroom. We joked about asking to use the toilet, but as Elvis died on the throne I guess that would have been rather insensitive. But we saw the kitchen where he pigged out on fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches. And we saw his record collection and the Jungle room which was supposed to be decked out to look like a Hawaiian Paradise (not sure that the green shag pile on the ceiling had quite the desired effect!)
Later we dragged ourselves on to the Greyhound bus again and headed back to Louisiana. Malcolm and Gretchen arranged to meet us in New Orleans at the weekend. Meanwhile John and I settled in to a great little studio apartment in the French Quarter. We had a brand new four poster bed and a balcony with a view of the Mississippi river. Sweet. When Mal finally caught up with us again Gretchen had unfortunately been taken sick and was pretty much bed ridden for the duration of their stay, which was a real shame. Malcolm joined us for a booze up at a Maceo Parker concert at Dan Ackroyd's 'House of Blues' and we had a little jaunt out to the Bayou to see some swamp land, but obviously Gretchen being poorly put a damper on things, so they eventually decided to head on to Florida to her Grandma's so she could get some TLC. We had a vague plan to meet up again later...(Jo)
Chicago - Illinois
The original plan was to go to Chicago next, then try to find my aunt in Wisconsin - the one who looks after forests and races huskie dogs. Sadly the aunt in question had moved a couple of months before to look after a different forest in Alaska, so no dice. Instead we opted for 3 nights downtown. My ideas of Chicago were drawn from films, especially 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off', and when I mentioned this to the bloke next to us on the plane it turned out that not only did his 2 sons go to Ferris' school, but he actually lived on the same street as Ferris' house in the film. A good omen I thought.
Arriving on a Monday night turned out to be a smooth move - all the art galleries in town are free on Tuesdays. So come the morning we trailed around about four of them, finishing up at the impressive Chicago Institute of Art where Ferris and his pals spent so much time gawking at the great impressionist stuff. It's probably significant that I only recognise paintings I've seen in a John Hughes movie. Evening time we headed to Uno's for a Chicago style deep pan pizza - this place originated the things. They're like cakes. Got fat, and still took nearly half the thing back to our hotel for breakfast.
Mooched about the next day, checked the dudes playing chess death matches by lake Michigan (I've never seen vicious chess before), strolled through the old town looking at the nice houses and caught the El downtown (a clanky, screechy train that rumbles around above the city streets - they shot that Blues Brothers car chase under a lot of it). Next morning after a cholesterol-laden breakfast with all the cabbies and other multi-hued cultural selections at Mike's Rainbow Diner, we high-tailed it out of the windy city for tropical South Florida. (John)
Miami - Florida
This place is a great holiday spot. There's a permanent party vibe in the air with live music playing in the salsa bars and latin dancers strutting their stuff. Almost feels like you're in another country - everyone speaks spanish. And the Art Deco architecture is pretty cool too, lots of pretty, pastel coloured hotels on the palm tree lined beachfront strip. Saw Gianni Versace's grand old pad on Ocean Drive - a great place to watch the beautiful people go by. Miami is oozing with booty; chocolate coloured girls in flourescent pink thongs strut the sidewalks, homey's cruise the strip hanging out of their convertibles... There's a few colourful crazies too. One drunken nutter with a wild beard and tight trousers was spinning on the spot on some grass opposite one of the salsa bars. He whipped himself up into a right old frenzy, getting tangled up in his red bull fighters cape whilst spinning on the spot non-stop. He didn't fall over or throw up once. Impressive stuff.
Then John's Uncle Stuart (who recently became an official American citizen) and his lovely wife Ann Marie rescued us from the madness of Miami. They picked us up and took us North up the east coast to Boca Raton where they had arranged for us to gate-crash a friend's son's wedding rehearsal dinner. Hospitable folk these Yanks you know. Then we retreated back to his Uncle's sunny home in Naples on the west coast. We spent over a week there, relishing the fact that we didn't have to get up and pack up to check out in the mornings. We did sod all for a few days; sun bathed in their garden, swam in their pool, entertained their bear like dogs by spraying them with the garden hose, took walks on the beach at sunset, and watched videos, (all three of the Star Wars movies back to back - that's R n' R for you). Then we cranked up the action a bit and visited Stonebridge, the posh country club that his Uncle manages. He took us on a grand tour of the grounds in a groovy golf buggy - shame we forgot to take our recently purchased toy Gopher - it dances to the Kenny Loggins' Caddy Shack soundtrack, and would have been a perfect prop for some photo opportunities. "Be the ball Danny, be the Ball..." (Chevy Chase) (Jo)
Stuart's millionaire pal Phil took us out on the Gulf of Mexico on his sail boat one afternoon. There were dolphins swimming in the channels and manta rays leaping right out of the water giving the whole experience an even more unreal feeling. Another day me, Jo & Stuart took a power boat out into the channels and anchored up with all the sunseekers eating chips & dips and drinking beer on one of the beaches. Phil was there again (with his motor boat this time) with his wife & friends. When they were leaving their pal Tex (yes, we met a bloke called Tex) couldn't hold onto the anchor and it was lost in the drink. Stuart saved the day by finding it with his feet in the fast moving water (he's about 6'6"), which was lucky cos on the way back our motor conked out amid plumes of smoke and Phil returned the favour by towing us into Naples bay. Fun in the sun. Imagine these being the only trials you face in your day to day life.
Got out of Stuart & Ann Marie's hair for a week in the saddle of a shiny white Pontiac Sunfire - probably the closest I'll get to driving a proper Trans-Am. Popped into the Everglades, dodging ravenous mosquitoes all the while, and took an airboat ride through alligator infested canals and across sawgrass plains like in the old 'Gentle Ben' TV show. We held baby gators and a huge Burmese python at the show on the gator farm and Jo tried the deep fried gator nugget salad for lunch. Chewy, and not even remotely like chicken. (John)
We headed further south to the famous Florida Keys & camped one night at the Pennenkamp Coral Reef State park in Key Largo. The mossies weren't too bad there, but there were some sneaky raccoons on the prowl. As we were eating our evening meal one big fella jumped right up on to the picnic table in front of me and grabbed a bag of Doritos in it's paw, shoved it in his mouth and then high tailed it off into the woods all in the blink of an eye. I couldn't beleive it, I just sat there amazed! John wasn't having any of it and ran off into the woods cursing like a mad man to try and retreive our goods. He spent quite some time stomping around in the bushes, scaring a family of Asian campers half to death with all the racket he was making. But eventually he succeeded in hunting the furry fella down and we got our Doritos back. Ha!
The snorkelling was supposed to be good here, but some recent winds had made the waters rather murky, and as Key Largo didn't have much else to offer we carried on down across the seven mile bridge and on to a campsite at Sugar Loaf Key near to Key West, where the locals were hosting a week long Halloween festival called 'Fantasy Fest'.
We had a plan to attend Saturday's Halloween parade - the climax of the festival - dressed as red necks in mullet wigs etc, we thought that would be pretty scary. However as the rammed camp site we were staying at was already full of such folk we figured no one would get the joke, or we might get beaten up. So we cobbled together some fancy dress outfits from a Salvation Army store instead. Key West is a pretty friendly, fun little town, at the southern most point in the Wnited States, only 90 miles from Cuba. Every year they hold this crazy festival where everyone gets dressed up in costumes, it's kind of like a mini Mardi Gras. They even have a fancy dress parade for pets! This years theme was 'Circus and Side Shows', so a lizard dressed as a ring master won first prize in the pets parade. But it doesn't really matter whether you keep to the theme as long as you dress up. John went as a pirate and I went as a trailer trash cowgirl. There were plenty of clowns and trapeze artists and strong men and bearded ladies to gawp at. When the parade started we quickly got into the swing of things and found that the done thing was to scream as loudly as you could at the people in the parade so that they would throw Mardi Gras beads at you for you to catch and collect. We had about 30 of these gaudy necklaces weighing heavily round our necks by the time the parade ended. Ofcourse it was a small scale event when compared to Sydney's Mardi Gras, or London's Notting Hill Carnival, but at least you could see what was going on and you felt like you were actually part of the celebrations, not just a specator. It was top fun and a great climax to our trip.
We're back in Naples now at John's Uncle's, killing time in the sunshine before we fly back to blighty. We've missed our families and friends, and will be glad to see them all again, but the prospect of coming back to cold, wet, grey, miserable England, homeless and unemployed is not something we're looking forward to. Dreaming about our next holiday already. Anyone fancy Barcelona...? (Jo)
USA part two this way. Have a nice day!
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