With extra cheese

Trip Start Feb 11, 2012
Trip End Jan 15, 2013

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Where I stayed
Dave Clurman's house

Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Part 19 – With extra cheese
Maryland and Washington DC, USA – 17-23/5/2012

“U.S.A!  U.S.A!”

Standing in the middle of a field of shirtless, tattooed drunkards with a “bottomless” mug of Budweiser in one hand and aerosol cheese-in-a-can in the other, I felt an alien vibration rise in the air and looked up in time to see the unmistakable, jagged silhouette of a stealth bomber floating overhead and black out the sun like an UFO.  A cheer rose up in its wake, “U.S.A!  U.S.A!” and I knew that I had arrived. 

This was the scene in The Infield of The Preakness in Maryland, one of the big three horse races in The States.  There we were entertained by Maroon 5 (youtube.com/watch?v=tyL9H5n_sxQ)and The Darkness (youtube.com/watch?v=sRYNYb30nxU) as a circus of blimps and biplanes cluttered the sky with advertising banners, and I only watched the horses pass around us once – for the main event when my pick took first place.

I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a movie when I landed at JFK Airport and was surrounded by the thick accents of the mostly African-American and entirely obese staff as they bantered and flirted with each other openly.  I had just one night and morning in New York before my Greyhound bus down to Maryland.  Surrounded by tributes to fire fighters and 9-11 victims I took the first opportunity I could to have a glass of real milk since leaving home.  At the same deli I also had the first of many sandwiches that was both delicious and enough for two meals.

After being squished into Asian busses for three months I was pleased to find my Greyhound comfortable and equipped with a power point for each passenger.  The passing view of springtime New England was gorgeous.  The neat, matching rows of townhouses and tidy streets were the polar opposite to the gaudy ramshackle I’d left behind in South East Asia.  Just convincing myself that I was able to drink tap water again was a psychological challenge in itself!

I knew America was famous for gigantic malls, but the nation's capital takes the cake! (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Mall)

In Maryland I stayed with my original travel buddy from my first ever solo trip in 2004: David Clurman - AKA American Dave.  After The Preakness he drove me down to Washington DC and we managed to take in all the many white marble monuments of the vast Washington Mall AND Arlington Cemetery whilst reminiscing and snacking on jumbo hotdogs. 

My favourite monument was probably the FDR Memorial thanks to Dave’s enthusiasm for this ex-president I had known little about.  The Marine Corps War Memorial statue of that famous flag-raising struck a chord too, especially as I had just watched Letters from Iwo Jima in Japan and then Flags of Our Fathers with Dave.  The Lincoln Memorial, reflecting pool and White House were all surreal to see without the frame of a silver screen.  Sitting in front of the Capitol Building, I couldn’t help feeling like aliens were about to blow it to pieces ala that famous scene from Independence Day.  Then there’s the WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Martin Luther King (MLK), and Jefferson Memorials, and of course America’s phallus – AKA the Washington Monument.  Not to mention the umpteen museums.

TIP: DC has a great system of public bikes that are free if you get them to the next stall within half an hour.  Unfortunately we didn’t figure that out until right at the end and spent the whole day hoofing it.  On the bright side it was a good excuse to gorge ourselves on dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s.

What goes up…

On Monday Dave was back at work and I had hit the wall.  Finally in a comfortable home I took a day off to rest.  You cannot overstate the luxury of a simple bed in the private house of a good friend.  No hotel, no matter how grand, can ever compare.  Those places can never be a home and the sheets and floors and walls will always crawl with the inhospitable ghosts of strangers. 

That night I survived my first time driving a left-hand-drive car to pick up Dave from work so we could enjoy dinner of famous Maryland crustaceans with some of his closest friends.  The next day I took it easy again, and that night I thanked Dave’s hospitality with dinner at Medieval Times (ALA Jim Carey’s Cable Guy) at a typically gigantic American *shopping* mall.  Sadly Dave was off to Europe on Wednesday, so I left Maryland for The City That Never Sleeps.

Amidst an avalanche of sneezes I was cursing the New England pollen – so thick that you can write on car windows.  But the cough that followed was distinctly identical to that of a certain hiphop-loving Aussie room-mate of mine in the Philippines who shall remain nameless.  I found myself paying for my three and a half months burning both ends of the proverbial candle… again!  I’ve written about the health hazards of non-stop life on the road before, but this time – absorbed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Pirsig’s contemplation of Quality, and with my 30th birthday fast approaching – I found myself questioning over and over what I was doing here on this trip.

I can’t help feeling guilty being away from work, where I know there is a shortage of people willing to fill positions like mine.  Many of my work and uni friends responded to the news of my travel plans with, “Can you do that?”  Despite bringing a text book and notes to revise, I feel as though I’m losing my professional knowledge faster than I can sustain it, in a field that is ever advancing.  Clearly I hadn’t even the time to rest properly!  On top of this I’d missed the weddings of some of my best friends, and was set to miss the birth of my first niece.

My three main goals for this trip (aside from travel itself – experiencing the world, seeking adventure, and taking time off after a fair amount of double-edged candle burning at home) were to:
1. write the novel I’ve been developing in my head for 10 years now;
2. practice Spanish; and
3. clear my head after a big year of life changes.
Well, at this point the novel had actually reduced in size as I’d culled more than I’d added, and the only Spanish I’d spoken was a few words with my Latino friends in The Philippines.

So what was I really doing here?  What was I achieving?  How could I live my life with Quality?  This dilemma was never far from my thoughts from the start of this trip and on for months.  It came to a head here and in New York, and again in Guatemala.  In these places I spent hours searching unsuccessfully for solutions like volunteer work.  I even considered packing it all in and getting back to the grind-stone back home.  Writing this, months later, I’m glad I didn’t.  The solutions were there waiting for me.  They just weren't the solutions I had expected.…
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