Well, we are back in the land of Oz, reality, home, summer, call it what you will — our big holiday is over, although the jetlag lingers.
I can’t remember the last holiday AM & I had together. It would have been one of our regular beachside visits to my parents in their Mid-North Coast retirement village sometime before they died in 2011. We haven’t been overseas since 2008, when we embarked on a marathon journey to visit AM’s family in Ghana (via the US and Germany). If you’re interested in reading about that adventure, the story starts here.
This time, we didn’t make it as far as Ghana. The aim was to visit my niece and her family in Orange County, California, as well as friends in San Francisco and Boston, and to generally have a good time after two years of hard slog for AM, who finished high school forever last November.
And this time, you are not getting a blow-by-blow description of our travels. Sorry. Millions of people live in the US, more millions travel there, I can’t imagine how many people write and reflect on this country that considers itself the centre of the known universe. After a fairly conventional holiday for a mere three weeks, what could I possibly add?
- Our Hollywood tour of ‘celebrity homes, celebrity gates and celebrity hedges’ (because we were too tired to walk anywhere that day) was voyeuristic and theatrical: check.
- The Grand Canyon was magnificent: check. Wishing I could hike there one day.
- Las Vegas was equal parts appalling, mesmerising and fun: check. Australian readers, picture an entire city of RSL clubs, complete with tacky carpets and massed pokies, but with the tasteful addition of a fake pyramid hotel, fake skies — and rainstorms — in the shopping malls, a fake Eiffel Tower, fake Venetian canals (including gondolas), and ‘girls to you in minutes’ flyers being handed out on every street corner by short chubby latino/as in red t-shirts. But wait, there’s more … like a Cirque de Soleil show at every second hotel. This is the one we went to see:
- AM’s jump off the Stratosphere in Vegas — terrifying for me, but of course he loved it: check.
- Marvelling at the failed escapes from Alcatraz — and the cells are all just like in the movies: check.
- A whiff of mary jane as we cycled the length of Haight Street in San Francisco (shades of hippiedom): check.
- Bison in the Golden Gate Park grazing in front of a stand of massive grey eucalypts: check … no, hang on a minute … eucalypts? They’re native to Australia, not the US: surreal.
Our bike ride through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge was awesome: check. However AM swears he will never go on a bike ride with me again, I was so slow.
- Squirrels in the snow on Boston Common – O.M.G!: check.
- The obligatory clam chowder in Boston: check. Unfortunately no time to sample it from more than one restaurant, so I hesitate to judge. It wasn’t bad — a bit stodgey — but it wasn’t gob-smackingly delicious either.
- AM’s first real experience of snow (in Boston) was exhilarating: check. He made a snowman, helped a friend shovel snow off his footpath, dove into snow drifts, threw snowballs at me and generally played hard, like he was 9 instead of 19.
As well as all the above, visiting our family and friends gave us a whole lot of experiences that most visitors to the US would miss out on, because they have to stick to the well-worn tourist track. Such as:
- Being the adult safety net for AM’s cousins while they sold Girl Scout Cookies in their neighbourhood. It seemed like the whole nation stops for Girl Scout Cookies. In my opinion the thin mints are far inferior to ‘Straya’s own chocolate mint slice, but the Caramel DeLites are scrumptious. Damn, that reminds me, I never got around to trying the Cranberry Citrus Crisps.
- Playing tips in the local park with my littlest ‘great-niece’, and Munchkin with the twins. AM also got to bake brownies with one of the older girls, and had several nerf gun battles with them.
- Walking the ridges that rose above my niece’s suburb in LA. At first they looked grey and boring compared to Australian dry country with its red soils, but they grew on me — the subtle colours, the fluffy thistles, the silence and sense of space, the slight unease when I spotted carnivore footprints in the dust (probably coyote, not mountain lion, although these have apparently been seen in the canyons below.)
Excursions with my niece’s daughters, who are being home-schooled. The first was a behind-the-scenes peek at a local supermarket, with highlights including lots of snacks, and the display of the fork-lift driving and cake decorating talents of the staff.
- The next excursion was to Starr Ranch, a nature reserve operated by the Audubon Society. The kids were meant to be monitoring the wildlife in a creek, but due to drought the creek had dried up, so instead we were driven to the top of one of the hills for stunning views of both LA basin to the west, and wilderness to the east.
- Getting a brain freeze from diving into the water at Laguna Beach. It was a hot day for winter, but the current was arctic.
- Eating mochi icecream for the first time ever … yuuuuuum. Now researching where to find it in Sydney.
- Having lunch at Google Irvine!
- Being introduced to some great restaurants by our friends in San Francisco and Boston: Ethiopian, French Cambodian, and even non-franchise burritos!
- AM buying hippie pants at an African American flea market in Berkeley, to the sound of some not very good tribal drumming — I think the drums were out of tune, but at least the drummers were enjoying themselves.
- Checking out the domestic architecture & gardens in suburbs that are not on the tourist circuit – and even finding out what’s inside the stuccoed or timber walls.
- Home-cooked Chinese food at our friend Ting’s place in SF.
Getting to know people’s cats.
- As noted above, AM got to shovel snow and build a snowman in Boston. He also got completely soaked, so it’s lucky we had access to a clothes dryer.
- Helping my niece move house. She and her husband have just bought their first home & were starting the move while we were there.
- Checking out people’s bookshelves. What a pleasure to rediscover Journal of a residence on a Georgian plantation; 19th Century English actress Fanny Kemble’s take on slavery.
- Lots of long conversations with people I care about.
What more can I say? It was good. Being an energetic young adult, AM got a bit bored at times, especially in Orange County where we were completely dependent on family to drive us anywhere we wanted to go — the closest shops were a 30 minute walk, let alone anything else — but I think the fun times outweighed the boredom. Which is just as well. AM’s almost 20 and is about to start university. I’ve just bought my first home, an apartment near my beloved Cooks River. We are both moving into new stages in our lives; it could be a long time before we have another holiday like this together.
Right now, we are having a bit of a break from each other, staying with friends until we can move into our new home. When we’re back together, we’ll have to toast the holiday, as well as our diverging futures, with some of the aged Scotch whiskey AM bought on our last day in the US.