Thursday, September 27, 2012

America Through Fresh Eyes

So, three weeks after I returned from my big whirlwind tour of North America, work decided to send me back to New York for a week of training.  As if I wasn’t jetlagged enough… Of course, I pulled some strings and managed to tack on a few days at either end so I got a bit more time in the Big Apple to see my mates, do some extra shopping, and of course eat! (as I do…)

Overall, I spent roughly five weeks in the US between my two trips.  I covered six US cities across five states (as well as two cities in two Canadian provinces).  Going back on such a big trip like that for the first time in over two years was a big eye opener for me.  After so long away, you really see your country with fresh eyes.  And what I saw was a big mix of good, bad, and ugly.

The obvious good:  food.  If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read my other blogs about my trip.  In retrospect, I probably took more pictures of food than I did of people.  But in all fairness, I keep up with my mates on their Facebook pages.  It’s a bit trickier to keep up with food on Facebook.  Yes, I knew that Jason and Sasha went on vacation to Hong Kong, but how the hell was I to know that Chipotle was now offering brown rice?!?!?  Way to catch me off guard during the ordering process.

Another good:  shopping.  Americans really do have it made when it comes to shopping.  While it may not be so extreme in other parts of the world, clothes in Australia are usually 3 – 4 times the price of clothes in the US – for the same damn items!  The selection here is also really crappy.  Walking into Macy’s was like walking through the gates of heaven.  I also had field days at Uniqlo, REI, and heaps of shops at the outlet mall in Florida.  My closet is now overflowing.  I need to buy more clothes hangers.

But for as much good as there was, there was also tons of bad.  Day one in New York – catching up with mates, eating bagels, and wearing sneakers without being judged – was amazing.  I thought to myself “I could definitely live here.  I actually want to live here!” But then I looked a bit closer.

Trash.  Everywhere.  New York is sort of a filthy city.  So, ok, it’s not like the third world or anything, but there’s just litter and garbage everywhere.  And mattresses, which I later learned are because of a bed bug epidemic in the city.  Fantastic.

Then it got worse.  I was sitting on the subway and this dude got on and he sat down and started yelling at the random innocent bystander lady sitting across from him – telling her all about how the NRA is trying to keep the black man down.  This sort of stuff happened repeatedly in the short time I had in the city.  Everywhere I went, there seemed to be crazy people.

The homeless were another issue.  Yes there were plenty in New York and Toronto – and they were especially aggressive in Toronto – but the homeless really came out in Seattle.  I think it’s the mixture of a temperate climate (not too hot, not too cold) and blue state social services that draw the homeless to the Pacific Northwest.  But even if I’m way out of the ballpark with the exact reasoning for the mass of homeless in a city which has handled the recession better than most others, the fact still stands that there are just a ton of homeless people in Seattle.  I kept getting that waft of piss whenever I walked by an alley way and I was seriously about to snap if one more person asked me for change.  Oh, the memories…

On my trans-Pacific flights, I sat next to two older Australian gentlemen – one who had lived in the US previously and one who still did.  I prodded them for their thoughts on America.  And you know what both of them said?  Too many right-wing crazies.  And being there, with the election looming and all of the attack ads and the vile opponents of marriage equality being all loud and obnoxious and spewing their filth out… I saw it all again, and it was really discouraging.  And I can completely see why Australians would say that.  They weren’t tourists or anything – they lived there.  They experienced it all first hand.  An Aussie entering the US must feel to a certain extent like an American entering some less free country – like Poland or Serbia or something.

And after the good and the bad came the ugly.  Most notably in Dallas.  I was with my grandmother at a Mexican restaurant – a very large Mexican restaurant – and it was the lunch rush and the whole place was just filled to the brim with people.  People eating tacos.  I love tacos.  And you know what?  I noticed something.  This really chunky lady wearing spandex or some other really gripping material walked by, and after I cleared that little bit of vomit from my mouth, I looked around the room.  I suddenly realized… I was by far… without a doubt… undeniably… the skinniest person in that entire restaurant.  There must’ve been 150 people inside.  Me?  The skinniest person?  Anywhere?  Only in Texas.  It made me feel really good for a moment, and then I looked down at my plate and saw what I was midway through devouring and I realized that I would probably end up just like them if I kept that up.  But then I reminded myself that I’d be back in Oz in about a week’s time so I kept eating and enjoyed my tacos and tortillas and bowl of warm melted queso.

And then I landed back in Sydney.  And the streets were clean.  And there weren’t any crazy people in sight.  And the homeless were far fewer in number and never asked you for anything.  They just sat there quietly on the street corner with their little sign asking for change.  Our spineless political leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, continued squabbling over some shit while life carried on around them.  Neither of them insulted 47% of the population instantaneously or tried to subtly paint themselves yellow to appeal to Asian voters.

And marriage equality came up for a vote in the federal Australian Parliament and didn’t pass.  And then marriage equality came up for a vote in the Tasmanian Parliament and it just missed out.  And instead of all the crazy right-wingers declaring victory against the “enemy” gays on national television, you didn’t really hear much from them.  Suddenly four more states and territories announced plans to submit marriage equality bills into their respective Parliaments and everyone was placing bets on which one was going to pass first.  I have my money on New South Wales but I think South Australia may give us a run for the (my) money.

And I went for a six kilometre walk along the shore in the sunshine and there were just tons of gorgeous skinny people - mainly because it’s difficult to find a good taco here and the nearest bowl of warm melted queso is probably in California.

It’s a trade-off.

And I’ll take it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seattle - Part 2

Food food food, food food food seems to be the main focus of all of my USA and Canada blogs, but I swear I wasn’t 100% food focused.

Ok, maybe 95% food focused.  But I was really good at combining food with other things.  Like people.  Lots of people.  All of my old peeps from Seattle!  You know you have a good group of people when your hosts leave you this as a welcome present upon arrival:

A big purple candy dildo.  From my straight friends Rob & Ellie.  This wasn’t even the work of the gays.  Oh Rob & Ellie… you devilish angels…

Rob & Ellie were the beneficiary of a few bottles of alcohol and all of my Hanukkah decorations when I left Seattle.  Nearly 3 years later, one of my bottles remained.  They were saving it for me!  Either that or it was their subtle way of saying “How the fuck can you drink this shit, Phill?” But I love me some Sheridan’s so I gladly enjoyed a glass or four on the rocks.

There were lots of events where various groups got together.  My mates from Sydney – Kathryn and Karen – both live back in the States, in Seattle and San Diego, respectively.  So, Karen flew up and Kathryn and I got to show off a bit of Seattle to her.  It’s a bit strange being a tour guide in a city where you no longer live, but it was a blast hitting up some of my old favourites.  We spent a big chunk of our time in the Fremont neighbourhood, checking out some of the sights like the Center of the Universe and the famous Fremont Troll (as seen in 10 Things I Hate About You).

Aside from catching up and showing a bit of Seattle to my old friends from Oz, I got to bring a bit of Oz with me to show to my old friends from Seattle.  And there’s no better way to have a bit of Oz than with a Tim Tam in your mouth.  Eric was keen to try a Tim Tam Slam, so he boiled up some hot chocolate and gave it a go quickly before dinner.

Don’t worry:  the Tim Tam didn’t spoil our appetite for dinner.  There was still room for Mexican food (as always) with James and Justin.

We got the old “harem” together for sandwiches one day, along with harem-leader “D-List”.  Ok, so his name is Dave.  But Lisa & Lisanne and the rest of the harem call him D-List because it fits with his last name and sounds cooler.  Don’t you agree?  Also, “the rest of the harem” is Ellie but she’s not pictured here because she had another dinner engagement that night but thankfully was able to organize a big dessert for all of us!  Hostess with the mostest!  The harem reunited, and it felt so good.

Matt and Ryan also joined us for giant sandwiches that night, and Ryan even got a giant pickle (hehe!) and a side of cole slaw because apparently the giant sandwich wasn’t enough.  This is why I am friends with him.

And Dave came too!  (Not to be confused with D-List Dave – this is another Dave.  I have lots of Daves.)

I had a happy hour one afternoon and was joined by Bonnie, Allison, and Leah for a mini-Birthright trip reunion!

And of course, my trivia team reunited to kick some ass and take some names (and come in third place to each win a shot of Jagermeister which I think we all regretted in the morning).  Our trivia team consisted of me and my boys (John, Nick, and Dave):

And Alli, who so graciously took me to get a brekkie burrito on her day off when all of my other mates were at work:

And yet another Dave, Nick’s new boyfriend (well, new to me since I left), who I was constantly scrutinizing (as I do) and judging to ensure he was up to quality.  He decided to Ke$ha it up at karaoke after trivia.

Ok, he gets a point.  But don’t tell him that.  I want to keep him on his toes.  If dude wants my approval, he needs to work for it.

Or bring me chocolate.  That usually works too.

Special thanks to Rob & Ellie for hosting me for four nights, John & Alli for hosting me for one night, Karen for flying up all the way from San Diego, and to the whole gang (pictured and not pictured) who came out to hang out and make my Seattle reunion an amazing one!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Seattle - Part 1

So, I was totally on fire when I was in North America in July and August.  I was hopping from city to city, blogging at the airport as I waited for my next flight.  Never before have I been so prompt with the blogs.  But, of course, all good things must come to an end.  I meant to blog about Seattle right when I arrived back in Sydney, but life took over and I entered slacker mode.  And by slacker mode, I mean the three weeks in between landing and now have been manic and insane and full of work and unpacking and repacking seeing people and so on and so forth.  So at least I have a legitimate excuse.

But, now, as I sit here on a plane back to New York (it’s for work, details to follow in a later blog), I decided it was high time that I finally type something up about my beloved former home.  So, without further ado, I present to you, Seattle! … in food and drink… of course….

Now, you wouldn’t think amazing southern food when you think Seattle, mainly because Seattle is about as far away from the South as you can get.  I mean, Australia is a lot farther, but you know what I mean.  But, two lovely ladies from Alabama opened up a Southern restaurant in my old neighbourhood and voila!  Phill has a favourite.  Fried green tomatoes and hush puppies?  Check!

The world’s best macaroni and cheese?  Check!

(And yes, it is better than mine.  Don’t tell anyone.)

To top it all off:  strawberry shortcake!

But only because they were out of red velvet cake.  And the devastation set in.  I had even e-mailed the restaurant weeks in advance to request the red velvet cake on that day.  Ugh.  Oh well.

Seattle is also far away from Mexico.  But there is something that Seattle does very, very well:  the breakfast burrito!  I had one at the Hi Spot in Madrona…

And then another two days later at The Dish in Fremont.  You can never have too many breakfast burritos!

Speaking of Mexican:  I got my favourite Mexican in Seattle while I was in town.  No, it does not compare to the stuff in Texas, but it’s got a bit of Pacific Northwest flair to it.  Butternut squash enchiladas?  Yes, please!  And a jalapeno and cilantro margarita to wash it down.

Jalapeno and cilantro margarita.  You heard me.

Now, it wouldn’t be Seattle without coffee.  I popped into Espresso Vivace for coffee and cake:

And don’t forget late night happy hour at the De Luxe Bar & Grill!  This was a weekly institution when I was in Seattle.  I decided to get both of my usuals, because I couldn’t choose just one and the thought of having to split meals and share them with others was seriously off putting.  Seriously.  Who shares food?  Don’t touch my food.  I got my mini mac n cheese and the pepperdum crusted chicken strips!

Oh!  And I had a big ass sandwich from the Other Coast CafĂ©!  Because I went there my first week in Seattle and pretty much went there every week for the four and a half years after that.

And then there was beer!  The crew was keen for the cheapo PBR for like $6 per pitcher but I made them upgrade to Manny’s Pale Ale.  Manny’s Pale Ale, along with Roger’s Pilsner, both come from Georgetown Brewing Co in Seattle.  Manny and Roger are real dudes and I met them once.  That’s about the cream of the crop as far as celebrities go… well, as far as celebrities who I’ve met go…

Also there was pumpkin beer at the Elysian despite it not being October and I was WAYYYY excited about that!

Finally, for dessert:  chocolate!  From the Theo Chocolate Factory – where else?  My mate David’s parents have connections and they got me a little discount on some fair trade, organic orgasmic deliciousness.

Yeah I walked away with a few hundred dollars’ worth of chocolate.  I had to check an extra bag.

Not even shitting you.

And the extra bag fee was totally worth it.  Ain’t nothing like popping in Chocolat on DVD and gorging down on a handful of yummy chocolate confections and maybe a whole chocolate bar or two.

Or six.

Don't judge me.  I was deliriously jetlagged.