Right, so I have this blog, but so far I feel I’ve been using it in a far too structured way.
I will get back to the whole American roadtrip thing at some point, but I think I’m just gonna go with the whole ‘blogger’ vibe for a while and regress to an unstructured, less sophisticated, far more self-indulgent blogging regime. After all, isn’t that what blogs are for?
YES. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE FOR.
Here goes. Those of you reading this are probably doing so because you’re my friends on Facebook. This means you probably know me reasonably well. Or have at some point known me. Or met me once at that place, when that band were playing, and we got on because we got chatting about that TV show that we both love. Sound familiar? Good, then no introductions are necessary.
As we clearly hit it off at that place, you’re probably wondering what I’m up to. Oh, what, you’re not wondering? Well that’s alright, because I’m going to tell you anyway.
So, recently, when I’m not tormenting a certain lady, I’m waist deep in one of two things - music or work. My job is uninteresting. Let’s move on.
After some time of looking for a musical project, myself and my housemate got a bit of a thing going on. Not that kind of thing. Currently we’re working on a five track EP. A few people are in on the secret, but the rest of you will have to wait until we deem the moment right to shove our aural creations down your earholes. I’m hoping you’ll like what we have to offer, though. Suffice to say that the vocals will be better than you’ve heard on my projects before (I’m not singing), and it’s not quite as heavy as my previous stuff (I found out where the clean channel was). But as I see it, it’s far more interesting. Here’s why.
As a composer, when I look at tracks I tend to try and see the whole picture - when I write a riff, I’m not just thinking of the guitars - the bass and drums are considered - you composers out there know what I mean. But when I was writing for my own voice, well, I guess I focused a little too much on the vocal - I couldn’t step away and hear it as an instrumental track on its own.
This new way of working has been great to separate me from that - I no longer just listen to how the music works with the vocal, but, vitally, how the music works on its own. I spent a little time working on an instrumental project (soundcloud.com/seas-of-furious-lizards) with my good friends Rob, Chris and Matt, and I think that the experience of writing purely instrumental music did a lot for my understanding of composing pieces as a whole.
Now, without the pressure of being vocalist and composer, I can relax a little. You know how vocalists always do a hundred takes? Well, imagine trying to do a hundred takes AND trying to compose a song at the same time. Doesn’t work. Does. Not. Work.
…ok, so it does, but it takes frickin’ ages…
So now it’s up to my housemate Adam to get the vocals right. And he’s pretty damn good at it too.
Ok, time to pick up where I left off. Will try to be less enthused with Mountain Dew this time…
So, once we were stocked with various tasty goodies and beverages, we returned to the road.
This really confused me to no end. That sign says 'Beef puts u 2 sleep', verbatim. WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY TRYING TO CONVEY?! I really can’t even guess at this. Is it some kind of warning? Like, "don’t eat beef and drive" ?! What the hell is this for?! Dear America, PLEASE TELL ME WHY THESE BILLBOARDS EXIST. Yours Sincerely, Matt.
"What’s this?", you might ask. Well, it’s a photo taken on the approach to Atlanta. Which I thought was awesome. If you watch The Walking Dead, you’ll understand why. We drove straight through Atlanta, but it seemed pretty cool.
Food in the USA. Encounter 2.
Ok, so it seems I can’t get too far without coming back to food. I guess it’s because not a whole lot of interesting stuff happens on the road - just a whole lotta road.
I was keen to get a good taste of American culture, and what better way to taste a culture than through its food? Well, in America, I’d argue there are plenty of better ways, but my curiosity resulted in a stop at Wendy’s for lunch.
Here’s the Wendy’s logo. It has a red headed girl on it & says Wendy’s. This would lead you to assume that the girl is, in fact, Wendy. I guess you’d be right.
It’s not exactly the most effective branding in the world, which I assume is probably part of the reason Wendy’s never got very big outside of the states. It’s either due to that or the square burgers.
"what?! no way!"
THE BURGERS ARE SQUARE.
…but not the buns. This perplexes me somewhat.
Here’s a Wendy’s cup. It proclaims, “Quality real food made fresh is our recipe.”, which seems a little vague to me, but fair enough. I’m glad they strive for quality, that’s great. I’m sure you’ll agree that knowing it’s fresh is also a bonus. But why do they need to state that it’s real?? Tell me, Wendy, are other American fast-food chains producing food that is not real?? What exactly is this stuff they’re marketing as ‘food’?! Questions abound. But it’s great to know that if you want actual real 100% food then you can get it from Wendy’s. Grand.
Contains: quality real food.
Rating: 7.0 (when judged against other forms of fast-food)
On the fast-food scale, it seemed better than both Burger King and Mc.Donalds. But only just. It’s very much still within that sort of realm. Don’t worry, you’re not missing much.
Anyway, back to the road…
After Wendy’s, it wasn’t long before we got on to some pretty awesome stretches of road as we drove through Mississippi. We were pretty much surrounded by swamp land. This was very cool for someone like me, who at that time had little-to-no swamp experience.
These here photographs depict some of the awesome structures we drove across - elevated roads built through the swamp.
This looks a little boring, but actually it’s pretty cool. See that grey bit? Yeah, that’s the road. See the green bit between the road and the sky? that’s swamp - as far as you can see - in every direction - swamp. It looked pretty stunning, unfortunately the photograph doesn’t do it much justice, but basically there were treetops all the way to the horizon, every so often broken up by stretches of fresh water and grassier, more marshy areas. It was cool.
Food in the USA. Encounter 3.
It’s that time again.
It had been a few hours since Wendy’s, so we stopped to grab some drinks. When we got our Wendy’s, it must have been 30 or so degrees out. This was pretty warm. By the time we were in the middle of Mississippi though, it was around 40 degrees. That’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit (100 is just a cooler number than 40… or warmer, I guess, in this case).
What did I get this time? Well, I finally had the opportunity to experience one of natures most magnificent gifts*. The Twinkie.
Contains: corn syrup mixed with synthetic sweetners and flavourings, forced into a spongey cake-like form and wrapped in plastic.
They weren’t bad. They were better than the Twinkie I had a year earlier in London anyway. That’s probably because they didn’t cost me £4…
*ok so in actuality this is probably the least natural thing I’ve ever eaten. Ever.
Back. To. Da. Roooaaaaddddd!
It wasn’t long before we were in Louisiana and rapidly approaching our destination. On this stretch of the drive, I noticed a few interesting things.
This was particularly impressive. You’re probably wondering why. Well, see that KIA sign? Yeah? and that flag? I guess you’re assuming the flag is next to the road, and thus much closer than the KIA sign. You would be wrong.
The flag is, in fact, a fair distance from the KIA sign, and quite far from the road. It was MASSIVE. Absolutely HHHUUUUGGGEEE. You could see it for miles. It was absolutely the most enormous crazy-massive flag I ever done gone seen with my two eyes.
Every now and then someone had a custom number plate, and if it was any good (and often even if it wasn’t), I took a photo. This guy(or girl) was clearly awesome, as their number plate was ‘WOWZERS’.
Finally, after many hours of driving (between 10 and 12 - that’s a lot of driving) we arrived in New Orleans. As we approached, it was possible to see some of the damage done by hurricane Katrina. At either side of the road were new developments, where neighborhoods had been rebuilt - often between these were large barren expanses of concrete with the odd sign still standing here or there, just enough to inform you that it used to be a Walmart or a neighborhood mall. It wasn’t hard to imagine the devastation that swept the city.
Unfortunately I have no photographs of this.
Anyway, on to less gloomy things.
Once we got into New Orleans we made a quick job of checking our stuff into the hotel before heading out to explore the French Quarter, where we staying. This is a pretty touristy area, but it’s also pretty lively, and it’s really what New Orleans is all about - music, food and drinking, though often not in that order.
This place was just off of Bourbon street, the main ‘party’ street in the French quarter. It was called Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodo.Which I obviously thought was the most awesome thing in the whole universe ever. And as it was a hed-shop type place, I spent a fair amount of time there; visiting it at least once on all three days we were there. It was like theultimatehed-shop. They had everything from authentic voodoo dolls (of course, it’s New Orleans after all), to aligator heads, a huge range of both African and Latin-American sculptures and masks, and to top it all, their very own reader, who resided behind a beaded curtain at the back of the shop. The people that ran the place were clearly awesome as they played Deftones.
This is a picture of a train track leading into down town New Orleans. Now, if you imagine turning to your left…
This river is, of course, none other than the Mississippi.
And now turn a little back to your right (because you turned so quick the first time you didn’t notice)…
Here’s a good traditional riverboat. It’s pretty big. It was awesome because it had a jazz band playing on board, and you could go for tours down the Mississippi while listening to live jazz. Live music was absolutely EVERYWHERE in New Orelans. It really was a brilliant, lively and vibrant city.
After a bit of stroll we grabbed some dinner. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this, but I assure you it happened.I ordered a plate that contained a mix of local foods. This something I absolutely had to do as it contained Jambalaya and Gumbo.
For those of you who, like me, have always been curious as to what these are, I’ll enlighten you. Gumbo is a kind of thick soupy stew. It contains quite a few spices of local/french origin, and a very distinctive smoked sausage that gave the whole thing an incredibly smokey taste. I’d not tasted anything quite like it. Jambalaya clearly derived from some of the same culinary roots, though was a rice-based dish, similar to a paella, sort of. It also had a very distinctive smokey taste, due to the sausage. Had I written this at the time I perhaps would have provided a more accurate description, but I think that pretty much sums it up.
Oh and I also had alligator to start. From my experience, I can tell you this much: it’s somewhat similar to crocodile, though less tender.
This has been quite a long post, but I figured I needed to make up for the somewhat shorter previous entry. Anyway, the following seems to be a good photo to end on…
Remember I told you there’d be guys with huge-ass beer signs? Wellhere it is. HUGE ASS BEERS.
Sorry, it’s a little blurry… ok, a lot blurry.
This was taken on Bourbon street. The guy was advertising for a bar that really did have huge ass beers.They were enormous. They had a range of different beers in beer bottles that were the correct ratio of body-to-bottleneck, but they were HUGE. Huge. Ass. Beers.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any decent pictures of Bourbon street, but basically if you can imagine a bustling street with loads of bars and small venues, with live jazz and blues filling the air, then you’ve got a good idea of it - but I really recommend you check it out yourself - there’s nothing quite like it.
And on that note, I’ll end this post. Next I’ll be introducing you to a traditional southern breakfast, venturing deep into the swamp, finding out what the hell a bayou is and watching alligators eat hot dogs. Until next time!
Ok so it’s taken like a week, but I’ve finally got around to doing the second installment of my little WHAT THE HELL, AMERICA? blog series.
Coming from the UK, the idea of road trip is usually something like a two hour drive to somewhere that happens to be remarkably similar in culture and climate to where you set off. Ok, so a few people may travel for like three or four hours if they’re going to Scotland or Wales or something, and they’ll find the locals either a little more drunk or the signs somewhat unintelligible. But essentially the people and the climate remain pretty consistent.This is not the case in the US.
So everyone clearly knows the US is pretty big. Like… big. …like… twelve-hours-road-trippin’-in-one-day-to-get-to-our-destination big. The word ‘big’ is really starting to lose it’s meaning for me.
So you read all about Asheville. Well, it was beginning to drag being up there in the beautiful scenery, with the mountains, bears, wolves, enormous insects and strange fried food. So it seemed like about time to move on to Louisiana for ridiculous heat, swamps, gators, music and… strange fried food.
So, first thing first - we hit the interstate. It was pretty awesome driving through the mountains on the way out - pretty much clear blue skies, beautiful scenery, and ehm, trucks. But like, cool American trucks.
So here’s a less scenic shot. Basically, I wanted to illustrate just how southern the South really is. They have places called ‘Waynesville’ and ‘Clyde’. WHAT?! CLYDE IS CLEARLY NOT THE NAME OF A PLACE. IT’S THE NAME OF BONNIE’S ACCOMPLICE. AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO BONNIE IS.
FOOD IN THE USA. ENCOUNTER 1:
From here on in I’ll make a few brief excursions from the overall ‘journey’ to discuss things I picked up on the way. I had to try as much of the crazy American food as I could - this is the land of Twinkies and Lucky Charms after all.
My first experience of candified wonderment on the road was this. A ‘Mr. Goodbar’. This just brought up some memory I had from an episode of Two and a Half Men, in which Berta says something about one of these. So I had to try it.
Contains: peanuts, chocolate
It was ok. So much so that I’d have perhaps named it ‘Mr. Okaybar’. I guess I’ll never get a marketing job at Hershey’s.
So, what beverage did I have with my Mr. Okaybar? Well, the time honored, American-loved, Mountain Dew. Or Mtn Dew, because apparently the person behind their branding is a 14 year old teenage girl that texts all of her concepts to the graphics department, who I can only assume are also 14 year old girls, and thus reply with, ‘ya datz way kl i got it up in phtoshp nw, lks wkd xxx’. ?!?!?!?!?!?
Contains: the dew of mtns.
Rating: TWELVE MILLION POINT INFINITY
Despite the slightly ridiculous branding, this stuff is easily my favorite softdrink. It was when I was over there 10 years ago. It was when I was over there 16 years ago. And it still is today. It’s awesome.
BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE.
The American’s take their soft drinks pretty seriously. I guess because they actually have decent temperatures over there, so hydration’s actually important. As such, this is no ordinary bottle of Mtn Dew. This is a ONE LITRE bottle of Mtn Dew. ONE LITRE!!! And what’s perhaps even more impressive - the car actually had drinks holders for one litre bottles. The famed larger-than-life USA portion sizes are clearly still going strong.
ONE WHOLE LITRE!!
*it is still possible to buy a regular half litre bottle, however.
I had a can of Mtn Dew from the Chinese Supermarket (I know, right?) once I was back in the UK. It was kind of flat, and thus disappointing. Wish they’d bring it back into circulation properly (and not that mountain dew energy stuff, bleh).
Next (yes, more food things, I’ll try to be quick through these).
Oreo Cakesters! These things were pretty awesome. They’re like Oreos, but they’re also like cake. So cool.
Contains: cake, oreo cream filling stuff
I’m not gonna say they’re the best thing in the world, but if you feel like some cake, but also like some Oreos, then these are definitely your guys.
SO MUCH CRAZY CHOCOLATE!
This was at the counter as we were leaving. The guy at the cash register probably thought I was crazy for taking photos of this stuff. You’ll notice a couple of familiar friends - m&m’s (left), Rolo mini’s (top left), and Twix. But oh wait, what’s that?(right middle) - that’s right, it’s a Kit Kat. But not as we know them. Also, notice they are King Size packs - roughly the size of two whole Twix. Astonishing, right? I guess it must be the huge rolling landscape and the warmer climate that allow the Kit Kats to mature to such a size.
End of Part One.
Unfortunately I got too excited about the Mountain Dew, and thus didn’t cover as much as I’d intended in this post. BUT FEAR NOT. I’ll resume soon, for there are still gators, zombies, firearms, guys with huge-ass beer signs, trucks, Jambalaya and even more ! ! !
So I took a brief trip to the states recently to visit my grandparents & go on a bit of a music tour through the south. Upon planning this, I was initially a little worried that the south would be full of Christian fundamentalists out to show me the light of Jesus, or righteous right-wing political types brandishing firearms.
I’m glad to say that the South didn’t let me down, and through the following posts I’ll share with you my fearful journey through the land of guns, gators and, ehm, ‘geetars’.
Upon arriving to the US I was greeted by this. It certainly met my expectations Christianity-wise, though sadly the rest of the trip fell a little short (there weren’t half as many gun-toting fundamentalist Christians as this first sign would suggest).
Once out of the airport everything got a little more real - it was around 35 degrees celsius - which, given the summer we’re currently having, was certainly very welcome - and as soon as we hit the road it was evident just how different the country was. They have mountains. They have forests. Real forests.
^ This here is a picture of some mountains. Covered by FORESTS. These were totally awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture when I got out of the car, so all I have is this lovely photo taken while we were driving.
So this is near Asheville, where my grandparents live. It’s a pretty awesome place to live if you ask me. They have bears and wolves in those thar mountains. And snakes. And other caarrraazzzyyy dangerous animals (and I don’t just mean the chainsaw-wielding hillbillies).
The next wonder of America I’ll share with you is the some of their weird and wonderful food. We went to Aldi to get some things. Yes, Aldi, just like we have over here.
ONLY IT’S TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
That’s right, because over here you can’t get these:
GUACAMOLE FLAVORED TORTILLA CHIPS -
WHAT THE HELL, AMERICA?!
"Tastes Like Butter Spray"
- no, this is not ‘spray butter’ - this is probably, in all likelihood, not a dairy product. It is a simulated dairy product in spray form and thus nothing like the product it is attempting to imitate.
I probably shouldn’t complain, we’ll likely have it over here soon enough, if not already. Anyway, the next thing is truly 100% American, and it’s also awesome.
CORN DOGS. Essentially, I think, this is a hot dog covered in cornflour and fried. They are absolutely kick ass, and I had one over there when I was a kid. I didn’t manage to get one while I was over there this time though. This saddens me greatly.
Yes, this is just a watermelon. But it was awesome, so I took a photo of it.
While I was there, I helped make a meal for my grandparents and their friends. Apparently part of that involved watching these incredibly thin slices of bread in a toaster over - to ensure that they were toasted to perfection. This was a little like watching paint dry, only without the noxious fumes to take your mind off of the tedium.
Once the guests were out enjoying the starters, it was my job to take care of the main course - the paella. I did so while accompanied by my friends Mr. Frog and a glass of sangria (left), courtesy of my grandmother’s friend Nicki, who happens to make awesome drinks.
But hold on, WHAT’S THAT?!
I’d have cropped this image to make it more apparent, but I didn’t, so there. This is a giant crazy bug thing. It had some huge pointy stinger looking thing that I didn’t fancy getting on the wrong side of. It probably wasn’t dangerous, but it was pretty big. Thought I’d share this as an example of the larger-than-usual insect life I experienced. A bunch of these guys kept me company outside while I was cooking, along with Mr. Frog and the sangria.
As well as cooking elaborate meals and hanging out with insects, I also did a little exploring of the center of Asheville. It’s a pretty small city, so the center wasn’t huge, but it did have Chicken Alley.
Pictured here, with some fairly appropriate graffiti.
If you look carefully, you can see letters in the chicken on the left. I haven’t really spent time deciphering these to see if they mean anything. I assume it’s probably some forewarning of some impending catastrophic chicken-related event. Or something.
I had to take a photo of this for my friend’s Rob & Pete, and their company Lux Technical. Just because it would seem they have some cousins across the pond.
No, this photo isn’t hugely interesting or relevant, and doesn’t really do much to illustrate the USA’s wacky charm. So let’s move on…
Right, so with this next picture, I want you to take quick look at it, then look away and try and work out what it is.
A QUICK LOOK. No cheating. That means don’t read it, just look, and then try and guess what it is. Then you can look for real.
Ok so this may not have had the impact for you that it did for me. Basically, I’d seen this packet of something lying around my grandparents’ house for a few days. It was on the tabletop in the kitchen. I’d only seen it out of the corner of my eye, and had never paid much attention to it. It looked pretty tasty. I often pondered what kind of tasty chocolaty treat it was. Some kind of small pouch of chocolate cookie-like snacks? Maybe it was a pack of edible cake decorations? Or hot chocolate mix?
IT WAS CAT FOOD.
I wasn’t expecting that. They market their cat food pretty damn well, hell, I’d try some of that.
THAT’S SOME TASTY LOOKIN’ PACKAGING RIGHT THERE.
And on that note, I’ll end this first post.
Still to come: America’s crazy confectionery, the interstate, alligators, guns (yeah, for real), chainsaw-wielding hillbillies(no, not for real), country music and New Orleans and possibly more.
…but not necessarily in that order…