Route 66, the Terminator and UK ambassador for a day

We set off to drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. 30 years ago we would have followed the historic route 66 , but today there are 278 miles of interstate crossing Nevada and California.

The I-15 skirts the edge of death valley the Mojave National Preserve and passes through just 4 towns ( Victorville, Barstow, Baker and Primm) – oh and also Yerma, which looks like it was abandoned some years ago, apart from the retro 50’s diner – Peggy Sue’s, which lovingly clings on to a different age ( and does a good job of it too, judging by the number of customers).

To put this in context, it would be like driving from Newcastle to London and the only places you pass through on the way hold less people than a full crowd at St James Park – in fact they’d probably only fill a quarter of it. What’s more, 90% of those people appear to exist to feed and fuel those on the interstate – judging from the array of fast food joints advertised as you pass through Barstow.

Primm sits nestled against the Nevada /California border (on the Nevada side) and houses two casinos and a theme park. As you approach it from the california side a sign proclaims it as “the Las Vegas welcome centre” – presumably Primm was created to enable californians to gamble under Nevada law – I did wonder if the name “Primm” was a dig at the perfectly manicured residents of Beverly hills or Orange county.

Every 20 miles or so from Las Vegas on there are billboards advertising “alien fresh jerky” and if you pull off interstate at Baker there is an entire store devoted to selling alien merchandise. In 278 miles of nothing I suppose you have to stand out and the alien jerky store, baker CA has to take the prize for effort – so much so I bought some jerky.

As you cross into california you see the first reminders of the darker side of the American dream – the mothering, patronising way the administration treats people. Literally one after another the following signs were displayed . hopefully I won’t get sued for breach of copyright – another facet of American society I dislike is the constant billboard and TV adverts for legal services you can use to exploit the law to make you better off at someone else’s expense. Sorry about that diversion, back to the road signs, the following were displayed back to back on the side of the road :

“speed limit 70 – enforced by airplane”
“wagons and vehicles with trailers speed limit 55 enforced by radar”
“seatbelt law will be enforced”
“report drunk drivers call 911”

I had visions of Governor Swarzenegger camped 5 miles down the road his red cybernetic eye checking everyone’s seatbelts and those that were non-compliant being efficiently dispatched by a stinger missile launched from an array on the roof of his HUMMER .

More than anything this trip has reminded me that Americans aren’t like America. I have a set of well honed stereotypes polished over the years that every American is a loud, white (perma tan) , arrogant, rude, gun lobbying, non passport carrying jerk – in fact its a wonder I came here at all.

Everyone has been warm, friendly and helpful – in fact I started to realise I wasn’t a particularly good ambassador when a girl in the Starbucks queue asked if I was British and therefore had I been to the Olympics – my instant reaction was go say, are you American , have you been to Iraq ? , but then responded normally by saying unfortunately I hadn’t had the chance. She proceeded to ask if I’d been to the jubilee – and I responded yes in 1977 – it was about this point I realised that I wasn’t doing a good of representing my country so I tried to salvage something for Britain by stating the Olympics have been fabulous and the jubilee was a great success.

So, I think my point is whatever you think about a place or group of people at the end of the day most people are just ordinary people getting through life. Maybe the world would be a lot better off if we could somehow remove all the institutions that separate us and try a little harder to get on with everyone we meet.

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The land of the free (but don’t forget the service charge)

Landed at las Vegas airport around 2.30pm yesterday. Spent 2 hours in queue to get through customs, having been up for 19 hours is was a struggle to maintain a sense of humour , particularly as the flat screen TVs kept cycling through clips welcoming to the US and telling me about all the great things we could do … If we could only get into the country.

Las Vegas has to be seen to be believed, the place is completely crazy, over the top, outrageous, fun and 100 superlatives that you could only apply to something in America.

I think Americans are the ultimate global consumers, watching people getting breakfast from the buffet this morning you wonder how the world can possibly sustain a culture that expects to consume so much.

Finally, what happened to providing a simple price for something. Everything has fees, sales tax, service charges. There is even a daily “resort charge” at the hotel, for the privilege of coffee and water in my room – i thought thats what I paid for in the room. Having travelled through Asia, service is done for the value of doing it, not what is expected in return and I was happy to generously tip as a result. Here every time I hand over a dollar bill, I feel like I’m doing it because it is expected, not because I’ve received an outstanding experience that warrants it.

All that said, its fabulous to be here an I’m sure we’ll have a great time even if I’m not sure what it’s going to cost.

Welcome to the land of the free.