Friday, 10 September 2010

I'm an American Idiot

Dropping Tracy off at Vancouver Airport was hard. Getting into the US was easy. A 45 minute queue but only a 2 minute interrogation and I was through. I rode down to Everett and booked into a cheap motel – for two days because the weather was so bad. As I'd entered Canada I sung “Blame Canada” in my helmet. As I crossed the US border I tried to think of a song with America in the title (Go on, try it) I came up with Green Day's “American Idiot”. “Don't want to be an American idiot. One nation controlled by the media. Information age of hysteria. It's calling out to idiot America.” - My subconscious giving away my prejudice. I'm already working on Mexico – please email me your ideas...

Everett to Spokane, what a day. It all started with a wet ride up and over the highest navigable road in Washington, via a ski resort. Down the other side and the sun came out. I love it when that happens. Then it all got a little weird. Having ridden through mile after mile of pine forest since, for ever, the environment suddenly changed and first I was in a semi-desert region that eventually rose up a hill and turned into Kansas. Or at least what I think Kansas looks like. Hundreds of square miles of wheat fields and huge skys. It was a strange feeling to be ridding through anything other than mountains and pine forests. I'd got used to Canada.

300 miles after leaving Everett I arrived in Spokane. The main reason was to pick up a new front tire that I'd ordered at the BMW dealership in town. I should have know things wouldn't go to plan. First I had to find a campground. I'd googled Spokane whilst in Everett and found a State Park west of town that has a campground. I found it quite easily but it seemed all the pitches were booked out. I rode around wondering what to do. It was only 5 p.m. And I have a good two hours before dark. I could try to find another campground in the city, or a Motel. Just as I was about to leave a camper starts waving at me and I pull over. Andy and Janice were cruising around in a van and offered to share their pitch with me. Wasn't that nice. So I set up camp (the first time since the rain in Vancouver Island). I had a brief chat with Andy and he gave me their address in Portland should I want to “stop off and wash some stuff”. Even nicer.

As I was no loner in Canada I was no longer concerned about bears as I went to bed and I fell into a deep sleep. You know when you are woken from a deep sleep suddenly and are fully alert and awake - well that happened to me that night. Something wasn't right. Instinctively I stretched out an arm for my Bear spray only to grab hold of my water bottle. (I'd stored the pepper spray in my pannier when entering the US and hadn't seen it since). I heard a sniffling, grunty noise close outside and began to panic. Then I realised that I was in Spokane, not the Yukon and this campground has plastic bins (no bears present). I quietly unzipped the tent door and peered out. About 6 feet from me was a fox. Glistening in the moonlight he/she turned, took a good long look and then slowly walked off. Cool.

Next morning was sunny and warm and with the memory of the fox fresh in my mind I rode off to the BMW dealer certain that today was going to be a good day. Oh dear, how often does a trip to the mechanics turn out well.

First the good news, they did have the front tyre that I had ordered. (I has stopped off the previous day to see if the tyre had arrived and it hadn't). And the mechanic agreed that the cracking I had spotted on the right side of my old tyre was a problem and the tyre did need changing (Even though I should get 15,000, not 7,000 miles out of a front tyre). Then he looked at the rear tyre and suggested I change that too. I had hoped to get another 2,000 miles out of my rear tyre but upon reflection it did make sense to change both now, especially as I was heading towards some tricky reads at Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. I'd ordered an Avon front tyre, but as they were now changing the rear as well and they don't carry Avon, both tyres were now going to be Continental. Not really a problem but the whole reason I'd come here was to change my tyre, like for like, and I'd phoned up on Tuesday to order an Avon which they'd freighted up from Nevada.

Twenty minutes later the mechanic comes out to tell me there is a problem, and we weren't in Houston. The spokes were loose (all the way around on both tyres). This had, partly, caused the cupping on the front tyre and was potentially a big problem. He could solve it but, of course, it would take time/money. I was annoyed with myself over this. “Spoke maintenance” was one of the things I'd picked up on my bike maintenance course. And I had, over the last 7 weeks, occasionally tested the spokes by banging them with a spanner. This makes a noise and if one spoke is loose it will make a duller noise. Of course if ALL the spokes are loose they all still sound the same. But surely I should have noticed this. This wasn't good, either for the bike, or for my pride. I can't even do a simple thing like checking the spokes properly. Why on earth do I think I've got the ability to ride this bike around the world. Am I fooling myself? Perhaps I should pack it all in before I hurt myself.

Still, at least it was noticed by a mechanic in a shop rather than on a steep road in Glacier National Park in the pouring rain, or half was down Baja California in the heat. All I have to do is sit here and wait. But I am annoyed with myself, I really must take more care over the bike. I'm just glad nothing terrible happened when Tracy was on the back. I could never forgive myself for that.

I've also asked them to sort out the computer anomaly on my bike. I have a light on the dash board telling me the front light isn't working (when it is) and the gears are out of sync with the computer so it says I'm in Neutral when I'm in first gear. Neither of these issues are a real problem but I may as well get them sorted whilst I'm at a dealership that has the BMW computer system to do it. It's only money....

Whilst I wait for the bad news I've managed to remind myself of a few thoughts I've been having in my helmet whilst riding along. They are a bit random and half thought through but here goes.

“Have a nice day”. Are they juts being polite or are they after something? As I Brit. I'm slightly suspicious of people who are overly friendly, sorry, I can't help it. However, on one level I really like the friendliness of people here. There's an air of optimism about it and let's face it, if you're going to buy a coffee or some food you might as well be happy about it.

However, is that all there is to it? Or are they after something? I'm aware that tipping is big here but I agree with Mr. Blue (or whatever colour he was) in Reservoir Dogs, that tipping only encourages employers to lower their pay and why should I tip just because someone has done their job? Are people just saying “Have a great day” because they want me to tip them. After all, it's not like I was thinking about having a shitty day when I bought the coffee but have had my mind changed by the waiter, and now that I'm certainly going to try my best to “Have a great day” I should leave her a dollar for planting the thought in my mind.

It's so difficult, especially when you only have superficial contact with people, and although I speak to dozens of people every day it's always going to be superficial. From the one sentence conversation to buy coffee (you can see that I drink a lot of coffee) to the 10 minute chat at a gas station with a Harley riding skydiver who used to live in Milton Keynes (Don't ask). I'm sure most people are genuine enough and I should just accept it for what it is and not try to read too much into it. After all,I've met so many friendly and helpful people so far on this trip I shouldn't be so suspicious should I. What does interest me, though, is why are Americans?Canadian like this and us Brits. aren't? Now that is a question...

Talking of Coffee,as I was, I'm intrigued by the little drive-thru coffee shops that I've noticed and can only assume permeate the country. Some are smaller than the trucks that pull up to them, most are shaped a little like Gypsy caravans and all serve every conceivable kind of coffee. It's not the fact that they exist that I'm concerned about, it seems like a really good idea. It's more that fact that we don't have them in the UK. We refer to Americans as “our Cousins”, and apparently we have a “special relationship” but in many ways we are very different. And this, although granted is not a huge difference, it is one I've noticed. We have imported many US food “restaurants” and coffee shops but not this neat little idea for selling coffee - a drive-thru coffee hut. I must fly home immediately and sink all my money into setting one up.

Another difference I've noticed has nothing to do with coffee and all to do with politics. We are two months away from mid-term elections here in the US. Many members of Congress are up for re-election as are, evidently, many State representatives. T.V. is punctuated by what we would call party political broadcasts, and billboards litter the countryside. As an teacher of Politics, I was already aware of some of the similarities/differences between our form of democracy and Americas. I knew that things were much more personal here and I believe it is against the law, here, for bill boards to advertise the Party, it must be the person. Also every T.V. Advert which is, say, promoting Bill Smith for Congress, must have a voice over by Bill Smith saying “I'm Bill Smith and I endorse this advert”. Often these T.V. Commercials go on for a minute or two and don't even mention the party Bill Smith is standing for. Something of an anathema for us in the UK I think.

But the thing that has really surprised me is that over here Judges and Sheriffs stand for election. I hadn't realised this. In some ways this is refreshing and very democratic. We've just moved towards the idea of elected Mayors, and even an elected Police Commissioner. Blimey, some crazy people in the UK are even suggesting changing the voting system so that politicians actually have to get a majority of the vote! But voting for Sheriffs and Judges got me thinking. I passed one homestead, for example, that had a bill board telling me to re-elect John Smith as Sheriff and Kevin Duke for Judge. Now, what if Mr. Smith and Mr. Duke do get re-elected, won't they be fully aware who did and who did not support him? Could that have repercussions? Or am I just being super suspicious at the moment???

I'm still in the bike shop. It's now 3 p.m. and I've been here since 10 a.m. This is going to cost a lot. I'm that bored I'm going to post this now. Not sure whether it's even worth moving on tonight, but if I go back to the campground it will be full already (Friday). Not sure what to do.....

P.S Finally left at 3:30. Total bill was $530 ( £375). They'd changed both tyres and their computer had sorted out a few glitches. It all needed to be done and now the bike is safer so I shouldn't moan. One remaining issue was that a spoke broke and the dealership doesn't have any! I've phoned the BMW dealer in Missoula, Montana and they've ordered some for me. I pick them up on Tuesday. Before I set off someone did suggest taking spare spokes and someone else said don't bother. I've ordered three! It seems that at the moment I'm traveling around the US picking up a different part for my bike from each state I visit.

Glacier park tomorrow, so lovely scenery and cold weather no doubt.

1 comment:

  1. America f**k yeah !!coming to you to save the mother f**king day yeah ! America f**k yeah !! Freedom is the only way yeah !!