My love affair with America began with TV in the 1970s.
Back then, it was teenage idols and magazines like Tiger Beat Spectacular where I could drool over pictures of David Cassidy and Mark Goddard from Lost in Space. I watched Gilligan’s Island and Hogan’s Heroes and Mash. America was everywhere though I didn’t fully realise it. And though this canny infiltration I became enamoured of the place. My father had visited there in the fifties and spoke of the big cities, the big trees and the big energy. If he’d had the opportunity he might have moved there, run a big ranch in Texas and probably voted Republican.
Image Fabien Bazanegu unsplash
My first visit was in 1991. Oblivious to who was president (George Bush Senior) I spent 6 weeks travelling from sea to shining sea. I was mesmerised by the lushness and surf vibe of Hawaii’s North Shore, the energy of the Castro and the kookiness of touring Hollywood death sites in a refurbished hearse. I hung with two ageing hippies in Marin and went tubing in a Northern California. My friends were like people back home but different.
I saw people sleeping rough for the first time in San Francisco, windfarms and tasted Ranch dressing (still an addiction to this day). I realised that though we spoke the same language there were differences. I learned that I couldn’t use Australian slang, and that in some cases it was wiser not to talk too much about politics.
I spent time in Minneapolis with friends who lived a stone’s throw from a casino run by Native Americans. We visited the family cabin, went kayaking and sipped bourbon and cokes as we flew along back roads in a pickup truck. The place that I thought would be the least interesting was the most. The people were kind, hospitable and fun. They looked at me like I was someone from outer space. For many of them I was the first Australian they had met. From Minneapolis, I went to Maine where life moved at a slower place. It was sleepy and charming and felt like the old America. I stayed with two women who were fun and young and on the cusp of great things.
I loved it all but I didn’t return for 23 years. We spent 2 weeks in New York where we ran on adrenalin. My excitement on flying in to the city that never sleeps was intense. The intensity never left. It’s a city like no other- once you love it you can never unlove it. It’s maddening and dirty and crazy – very similar to my old stamping ground – Hong Kong. We visited dear friends in Pennsylvania (one of the women I stayed with in Maine) giving my kids their first visit to an American home. We road tripped with our pals and shared a sombre visitor to the site of the United 93 crash. In Los Angeles, we did the touristy things, and loved the sprawling metropolis spreading from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. We went to a show at the Comedy Store and watched my pal,Ella James, doing stand up.
By this stage, we were converted Americophiles. So, it was no brainer to go back in 2018. New president, new ideas. I won’t go any further about he-who-shall-not-be-named as enough energy has been wasted. The mood was different that February or so it seemed. I fell in love with New York all over again. Feeling a bit tipsy in a Yellow Cab driving down Fifth Avenue after too many drinks in an Irish Bar was the best feeling in the world. The world was my oyster for those few minutes. My kids camped out to see Jimmy Fallon. We went on a Sopranos Tour and met one of the second-string actors selling souvenirs out the back of his SUV parked on a side street off Times Square. The car spelt of cigar smoke and sadness.
On the opposite side of the country we revisited the ageing hippies in Marin who were older but had lost none of their kookiness, sass and kindness. We sat with them in a Mexican restaurant just off the interstate and ate the biggest burritos we’ve ever seen. I loved these warm-hearted people who take us to their hearts, hold us close and make us feel like family.
We drove to Palm Springs to attend the Modernism Festival. For the two architects in the family it was design heaven. For the non-architects, it was fascinating seeing these beautiful spaces out in the desert. One day my husband and kids drove up into the mountains and visited a John Lautner designed house at Idlewild They had lunch with the owner and she interviewed them for a radio show she produces. Beautiful house followed beautiful house. We saw the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway and wondered what Lisa Marie Presley had made of it at sixteen years of age.
We were supposed to go back last year to celebrate a couple of significant birthdays. A road trip was planned to Northern California and another architecture pilgrimage – this time to Sea Ranch. Then Covid happened and we realised we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a very long time.
Image Jon Sailer unsplash
Someone very wise said that despite all its faults, America was a great idea and things got a bit lost along the way. So much has been said about the last four years that I see no point in adding to the noise. I will say that in order for America to become (dare I say) Great Again that change had to come. And if that meant a 78-year-old Senator from Wilmington was the instigator of change and brought with him the first woman of colour to be Vice Prescient then I say hooray. It’s brave and risky and challenging. My eyes will be on America just as they have been for the past few decades
As I watched the Inauguration with my daughter at 4am I felt overwhelmed and ecstatic and calm.
It’s nice to feel calm after the past four years. I wish them all well – my beautiful Americans.