THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
May 2013
Next month:
July 2013

June 2013

A three state day

A quiet Sunday morning in Atmore, Alabama
My new friends from Arkansas, at the Alabama Welcome Center
Florida's less glamorous side
Speranza poses for fans in Georgia
Arrived in Atlanta, a day ahead of schedule
I started in Mississipi, drove to Alabama, diverted to the Florida state line to check off that state and then headed to Georgia. Tonight, I sleep in Atlanta - an impressive city from what I saw of it in driving to my hotel.

 It was a strenuous, but great, drive. I set off with the roof down, for the sheer pleasure of the warm Mississippi morning. I soon had another encounter with the law when I was pulled over a few miles before the Alabama state line. There was a ritual dance as the cruiser sat behind me waiting for me to do something. I drove steadily at 69mph for about a mile before he put on his lights anyway. The young officer immediately told me he was going to "make no trouble" but was just curious about the "beautiful car". I told him my story, he thanked me and wished me well. He didn't even ask to see my papers. It was the first stop for a while and easily the most genial - though all the others were friendly too. He sat patiently waiting for me to pull back out onto the busy I-10 and I didn't see him again.

I stopped at the Alabama welcome center and was warmly welcomed by the charming lady in charge. I selected a leaflet about local food - as lunch was my only anticipated activity in her state. Judging by the information on offer, I have missed a lot - which is pretty much the norm for this trip.

I chatted happily for a while with a charming Arkansas family who asked to take pictures of Speranza. I invited the three youngsters to sit inside while their dad took their photos and showed them Speranza's "party trick" (coupé to open tourer in 14 seconds flat). They seemed like really nice people and I regretted, as I have so often during such conversations, that I had not seen more of their state to talk about with them. On the Great River Road section of my tour, Arkansas - you may recall - got very short shrift indeed.

I saw a bit of small-town Alabama on my way to my micro-visit to Florida and was impressed. I drove past rather beautiful upscale houses as well as neat smaller ones. The businesses, closed for Sunday, looked clean and prosperous. The various church car parks were packed with clean, shiny vehicles - for once no pick-up trucks. I stopped for a drink and some wifi at the local Burger King and was approached by impeccably dressed and polite locals, presumably on their way from Church, to enquire about Speranza. When I told them what I was up to they were enthusiastic and encouraging and welcomed me to "the real South" and its famous hospitality. The senior lady of the family group looked briely quite shocked when I explained just how little time I was giving Alabama, her sweet home. Her mask of polite interest quickly returned however.

The little bit of Florida I saw was a real contrast. The north-western corner of the Florida panhandle seemed a rather seedier place - or maybe that was just the rather sleazy "state line" shops? I have spent time in Florida before on family vacations and - although I have never really liked the atmosphere of the place - I didn't remember it that way at all. It was a reminder that no serious conclusions can really be drawn from my random samplings of such big, diverse places as the American states. If that was all I had seen of Florida in my life, I would have thought of it as a sad, poor place and would - obviously - have been wrong. I may be just as wrong in my impressions of the other states (e.g. North Dakota, Arkansas) that I sampled in only homeopathic quantities.

It was a long slog across Alabama. I had another pleasant encounter with the law when a sergeant driving an "interdiction" vehicle joked at a gas station that he wanted to drive my car around the block. I answered smilingly (and truthfully) that I had been advised that the correct response to a US lawman was "Yes, officer." He laughed but didn't take me up on it. We had the usual conversation about the perceived difficulties of driving a right-hand drive car on the right side of the road and he sent me on my way with his best wishes.

I enjoyed the lush, fertile-looking countryside but not the Sunday traffic of RVs, boat-towing trucks and "mommy vans". Having already stopped for a break at Georgia's Welcome Center (where I had another pleasant chat with a family curious about Speranza who welcomed me to their state), I took another break at a rest stop as I felt I was losing alertness. After stretching my legs for 30 minutes I hit the road again refreshed with only 125 miles to go. I was ready for another rest by the time I hit Atlanta - and delighted when it was an hour earlier than I expected. This was only because my clever satnav had updated its clock-  and therefore its prediction of my arrival time - to the local time zone. My watch and Speranza's onboard clocks however, were still on Mississippi time. 

Tomorrow I stay with a friend; a former luminary of the Moscow real estate market now retired back home to the States. I have treated myself to a "proper" smart hotel as opposed to a roadside inn, so I should be well rested for the short hop to his home. Having called for room service, I am certainly better fed than usual. And Speranza is being treated as she deserves, having been installed in place of honour outside the main entrance, rather than parked in the garage with the automotive hoi polloi.

Biloxi via catfish

Crossing the Mississippi for the last time at Baton Rouge
Bumper stickers
Not a fun run, but effective
I completed my objectives for today. I revisited two states (Louisiana and Mississippi) that I have already checked off my list. I had a look at the Gulf of Mexico from the seafront at Biloxi and now I am holed up in my hotel room, plotting and scheming for tomorrow and the few days left. I realised that my revised routing missed Kentucky and have added it back in!

I have some plans to shave miles off my itinerary by diverting only briefly tomorrow to cross the state line between Alabama and Florida. I have been to Florida before - indeed I have spent longer there than anywhere in the States, so I feel a token visit will suffice.

The highlight of today was some excellent Cajun catfish at an uninspiring-looking restaurant in Rayne, LA. My satnav had suggested one nearby, which turned out to be a drive-through. It might have been possible to eat in there (and I see from the 'net that it has rave reviews) but before I could find a parking space there, I had spotted the other place just across the way.

It was clearly set up for Interstate traffic, but the customers seemed all to be both locals and regulars. Although the local accent now seems familiar from watching "True Blood" - it seems the actors in that show were merely toying with us. I found more difficulty in communication than anywhere else on the tour!

I gave up asking for the wi-fi password, having failed to understand the answer twice and noting the look of incredulity on the waitress's face that I didn't recognise what was obviously a common word! I still have not the slightest clue what she was saying.

The drive wasn't quite as much fun today as the roads were very busy, but Speranza performed superbly. Boating is obviously a big deal in these parts and on a sunny Saturday craft were being towed in all directions. One lost an unsecured jerry can of petrol overboard on the Interstate just in front of me but I was able to swerve around it. I watched others do likewise in my rear view mirror as I pulled to safety in front of the offending driver. He seemed entirely oblivious that he had just dropped a petrol bomb on his neighbours.

De-rattled in San Antone

Tex-mex lunch stop
On the I-10 road again
De-rattled and ready to go

I was at Ferrari & Maserati of San Antonio at 0800 today and was back on the road, minus my rattle, by 1000. Jim, the technician there, rapidly identified the source of the noise I had noticed as a loose and broken aerodynamic fin on the rear flat underfloor. It was interesting to see beneath Speranza for the first time. Ferrari and Maserati take pride in their cars being finished as neatly beneath as above. 

I think I know when the damage was done. I unknowingly drove over an abandoned life jacket in the port city of Duluth, MN some weeks ago. I discovered it trailing behind Speranza when next I stopped for gas. I removed it at the time but a piece of its webbing was still lodged in the broken fin. Before I detected and removed it, it must have done some damage.

On decent roads, the aerodynamic properties of the fin kept it aligned and quiet. On the heat-cracked roads of Nevada and Arizona, I heard it rattle for the first time. Jim removed the broken part and I have emailed the relevant number to my guys in London so that it can be refitted there. Speranza will be basis points less aerodynamic until it's done, which at ordinary road speeds will make no difference at all.

I was happy to note that the second fatality of the trip (an armadillo who made a sickening crunch as I ran over him accidentally yesterday) had made no lasting impression on Speranza's underside. 

I was impressed by the friendly and helpful service this morning. Jim instantly inspired confidence. He clearly knew what he was about. He incidentally identified another aspect of the "engine management" fault to be fixed under warranty back in London and I emailed on his comments about that too. Robert, the after-sales service manager and Jenny who took care of the money side of the business were welcoming and enthusiastic about my mad expedition. I was made thoroughly at home and taken care of with coffee and cookies while the work was done.

The time passed quickly as I chatted happily to a retired local gent from Fredericksburg who is as well-travelled in Britain as I now am in America. A former risk manager for a Texas utilities company he became friends with the Lloyd's broker who took care of his company's business in London. They and their wives have toured my home islands extensively together and I was touched when he told me he feels homesick for Britain now.

We talked about my journeys and his and he told me a little about his family's history in Texas in return for perhaps rather too much of my family's history in Britain. He also explained a little about the Lone Star State's sense of difference from the other forty-nine. He also gave an interesting account of Commanche pow-wows held in his home town, where the treaty negotiated between the tribe and the local German-Texan settlers is, he claims, the only one never to be dishonoured. The story made me want to return to attend the next one.

Duly reassured by Jim and his colleagues' quiet Texan efficiency, I hit the road and drove just over three hundred miles to Beaumont,TX where I will spend the night. On the way I stopped at Columbus, TX at a tex-mex restaurant found in my satnav's database. I have been getting Facebook advice from Texan friends as to places to eat and drink. Sadly, I move faster than they write. I will have to save their recommendations for future trips. However my lunch-time quesadillas were great - and enough food for the whole day, which saves a chore tonight.

I am a little tired after a couple of big driving days. The I-10 from San Antonio to Beaumont via Houston was busier and consequently less fun than from Fort Stockton to San Antonio. There were a few slow-moving vehicles en route driven by inconsiderate hoggers of the outside lane. Another thing Texans and I seem to have in common is that we don't do patience very well. I mostly restrained my own impatience, guest as I am in this great state, but those around me didn't. I spent a lot of time staying out of the way of massive, Texan-flagged pick-up trucks engaged in rapid lane-changing and passing on both sides, while trying not to look so much of a wuss as to be unworthy of my car.

I am planning another ambitious sprint from here to Biloxi, MS tomorrow, crossing Louisiana at its widest point in a single day. So my only plan for this evening is to take a relaxing bath and get a lot of sleep!

Victory or death

DSC_5906 DSC_5912 DSC_5917 DSC_5918 IMG_1800I like Texas. I knew I would. It's a matter of attitude, really. A picture I saw somewhere of a local Senator posing by the increased speed limit sign on the Interstate. The "don't mess with Texas" anti-litter signs on the roads. The Texan flag flying everywhere or pictured on cars and trucks. The way people drive here. The sense that this is a place whose people are not to be trifled with.

My hotel opened directly onto the access ramp to Interstate 10 and as I joined it, the satnav announced "continue on I-10 for 300 miles". So I did. The speed limit is 80mph and the road was clear the whole way. All in all it was a terrific run through pleasant scenery in beautiful weather . I wish I lived in Texas so that I could regularly use roads like that. 

On arrival in San Antonio, however, the heavens opened. I have never seen such rain. It was so fierce that it actually cleaned the car. It made navigating an unfamiliar city center a bit tricky though and I was glad to find a car park behind the Alamo. Water was running an inch deep on its surface as I got out of the car.

My rain gear was in the boot/trunk and took some finding after so many days in shorts and T-shirt. Soaked to the skin; my sneakers and socks squelching, I made my way to the Alamo. The place is officially a "shrine" now and photography is not permitted. The Daughters of the Texan Revolution run the place on behalf of the State of Texas and enforce their rules pretty rigorously. It looks like what it was built as - a Catholic Mission in the Spanish style. It is rather beautiful in its rustic way and certainly holds its own, visually, against the looming modern buildings around it. It has attractive, well-maintained grounds and lots of written information for visitors.

The justness of the cause of Texan independence from Mexico is not as clear to me as it is to the locals. The American and European settlers had, after all, been invited, with attractive incentives, to a Mexican province in return for taking citizenship and becoming Catholics. Still, it's hard not to be moved by the heroism of those who laid down their lives without hesitation, it seems, for the idea of a new, free Republic. It's also heartening to see the reactions of visitors to the story as told on film and by the guides.

I myself was caught up in it all and bought myself a "Victory or Death" t-shirt that will frighten the Guardian readers of Chiswick tremendously whan I get back to London.

After my visit I retreated from the rain into happy hour at a nearby bar. My hotel tonight is in a remote suburb, chosen for its nearness to the Ferrari dealer where Speranza is due tomorrow at 0800, so I ate an early dinner there to avoid venturng out in the rain tonight.

UFO's and caves on the way to the Lone Star State

Carlsbad Caverns, a National Park below the surface
Where did the satnav land us this time, chaps?
Roswell's extra-terrestrial "research centre".
As promised, I began my day in Roswell NM by visiting the UFO Museum, or as it styles itself "International Museum and Research Center". In business, it's always wise to beware people with elaborate job titles. They are usually far less important than the guy with the simple one. It seems the same applies to museums.

There was almost nothing in the museum, set up in an old movie house on main street, that you or I could not replicate in a competing business. The exhibits consisted mostly of press cuttings and copies of affidavits and other documents, with some movie and TV posters thrown in.

There were tableaux which probably revealed more about the imaginations of various "witnesses" than about the likely appearance of extra-terrestrials. In pre-CGI television sci-fi (though Douglas Adams could give us a "super-intelligent shade of the colour blue" on radio) we had to accept that the appearance of aliens would be based on human actors, with a lot of latex applied. It would be rather surprising, I think, if actual aliens felt limited by the same conventions.

The last laugh is with the owners of this private museum. Having escaped the clutches of their fellow-professionals near Area 51, I walked into their business and gave them money. Not much, admittedly. For $5, most customers seemed well-satisfied, especially the excited small boys demanding that their mothers confirm their various theories. I enjoyed myself too, to be honest. It was fun - even the part about it pretending to be more.

My next destination was more worthily edifying; Carlsbad Caverns. The news that the main elevators down to the caverns 500 feet below the surface are unavailable seems to have spread. The threatened delays in using the ones still working did not materialise, so I spent a happy few hours beneath the desert in a cool natural environment for the first time in days. I got some much needed exercise by walking the "Big Room" (once again, Americans are direct in naming their natural wonders). I learned a new word for the formations - speleothems. I happily wandered about with my camera and tripod trying to get better shots than the people pointlessly, but determinedly, blazing away with tiny flashes in the vastness.

By the time I had done, it was late afternoon and I had covered only about 100 miles. As I had diverted almost 40 miles from my route to take in the natural wonders of the caverns, I had to get cracking.

I ended the day in Fort Stockton, TX. I have about 320 miles to cover tomorrow to San Antonio (or San Antone as we Johnny Cash fans think of it). With no touristic tasks on the to do list and the entire drive on one of America's fastest interstates (because of Texas's high speed limits) it should be easily do-able. I am looking forward to it.

To UFOville via nostalgia for the new and endless beauty


Monument Valley. As etched in our brains by John Ford
Traditional Navajo Hogans. With terrible wifi, no doubt
New Mexico sunset in Speranza's rear view mirrors
Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 21.40.12
A bit of a trek
Mission accomplished, now to San Antonio at leisure
You would think the main story of today was told by the picture of Speranza's trip computer. Eight hours on the road at an average of almost 70mph? What more could there be? Yet though the drive was magnificent and exhilarating it's not mostly what I shall remember about today.

 Cinema critic Keith Phipps said that, because of John Ford's films, Monument Valley's five square miles:

...have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West

I am a Western fan. I admit it. Why shouldn't I? It's only marginally less fashionable than believing in individual freedom and I am quite open about that.

As I drove with the roof down in the bright morning sunshine through that iconic landscape this morning (with Johnny Cash belting out "I won't back down" on Speranza's sound system) I was in very heaven. I did my best to focus on the road ahead as my eyes were drawn in every which direction. The truth is, Ford could have made other bits of America just as famous if he had chosen. Monument Valley is cool in its rugged way, despite the best efforts of the Navajo Nation on whose lands it stands, to make it tawdry and scruffy. But much of that region of America is every bit as beautiful. 

This is something I am often trying to communicate in these posts; badly I fear. The joy of this tour is being in places that have been backdrops to my imagination since I was a boy. Other bits of the American West simply don't jog memories of Sunday afternoons as a little boy watching John Wayne movies with my family. That's why I loved being there so much. I seem to have invented nostalgia for things that are - in reality at least - new to me.

Monument Valley, which straddles Arizona and Utah was, alas, my only taste of the latter. I felt rather guilty as I drove out of Utah to read the "Thanks for visiting, come back soon" sign. This trip is just too short. I must select what to see so ruthlessly that I regularly disappoint people I chat to on the tour when they ask what I saw in their home state. America is big - what else can I tell you? I can only achieve a brief taste of each state.

I did no journey planning last night. The bandwidth at the Navajo-owned hotel where I was staying was derisory so my online activities were much curtailed. This had the advantage of destroying my usual routine of reading blogs and online newspapers so I was out and about bright and early. I had "done" Monument Valley by 11am - especially as the 17 mile self-guided "scenic drive" was on a dirt track so rough it was recommended only for SUVs. So on the car park of the Tribal Park Visitor Center I simply entered the address of the Ferrari dealer in San Antonio in the satnav and did as I was told.

The first thing it told me was that I was 1,050 miles away. At my normal rate of progress, I would arrive on Saturday. So I resolved to drive far enough today to get my Wednesday and Thursday drives to a normal, comfortable length. Hence the epic journey.

I expected it to be tough but enjoyed every second. I saw some of the most beautiful countryside and some of the least prosperous towns of America. My lunch stop was in the town of Chinle, near the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. It's a Navajo name for a 91% Navajo town and it looked dreadful. These posts are touristic, not political, and you probably think me very uncritical. I am, and it's not just politeness. I am open about my affection for America. Q even suggested it was unseemly, given that Americans threw off the British yoke to build the nation I feel so at home in. I do have a pretty serious bias (one reason I chose my blogging nom de guerre) but I am not blind. Aspects of Native American life here, in particular, disturb me. 

I plan a serious "summing-up" post when the trip is over and will save critical comments for that. For now just let me tell of my one personal interaction in Chinle. I had eaten my lunch quietly, undisturbed by the usual attention to Speranza - for there was none. The Navajos seemd entirely unimpressed by her. Only one schoolboy stopped to take a picture with his camera phone and the lady at the next table mistook her for a Ford Mustang.

I, however, did attract interest. I guess I was discernibly foreign. The lady taking my lunch order struggled with my accent until I Yanked it up a bit. As I was leaving a man of my own age came up to me and asked where I was from. After a couple of attempts, I managed to communicate that I came from "London, England". He smiled broadly and offered his hand, which I shook politely. "It is a good day for me", he said, "I have shaken the hand of someone from another country for the first time". I was very touched and really didn't know what to say. I am as ordinary to me as I am exotic to him, and - I suppose - vice versa. If the organiser of my photography course in New York is reading this, she will be saying I should have asked him to let me take his photo. And she is right. If it were possible to kick oneself while driving a supercar at speed I would have done so when that thought occurred to me, fifty or sixty miles later.

About a third of the drive was in Arizona. I took great delight again in its landscapes. I could never live there as the climate would be unbearable to me but - to look at and to drive in - it's one of my favourite states. And there were more childish delights in driving through drifting sand and clouds of red dust, as well as dodging a dogie and (oh the delight!) tumbleweed rolling across the road. I picked a bit out of Speranza's teeth at the last refuelling stop and found it surprisingly brittle. Maybe she had toasted it? The dogie did not end up in her radiator grille, you will be glad to hear. That no cowboy showed up to lassoo him was the only disappointment of the day. I also successfully dodged a deer and two - count them - donkeys (or were they mules?). Some locals seem remarkably careless with their livestock.

During the years since I brought my family to America on holiday I have often said that my favourite landscape in the world is that of New Mexico. On this tour I have wondered, as I praised the beauty of this state or that, if I would be disappointed to return here. I wasn't. Artists rave about the light and I am not enough of a scientist to account for why they are right (altitude, lack of pollution, the colour of the local rock and soil?). The colours range from pastels to deep reds, the sky is just the same colour as Speranza and there's something "just so" about the light. The landscape looks fresh, clean and beautiful as though God had just downed tools and walked away. I had the highway almost to myself for the last 75 miles of my journey and thoroughly enjoyed the views of sunset in my rear view mirrors.

Roswell, NM is my stop for tonight simply because it's at the point on the journey to San Antonio where the remaining mileage divides neatly into 260 for Wednesday and Thursday. I didn't, I promise, come for the UFO connections. Now that I am here, it would be churlish not to visit the UFO museum, though. More of that tomorrow. 

If you know a better 'ole, go to it

A petite part of a grand canyon
Young, friendly tourists from the Netherlands (they will post their names in comments when they get to the internet)
Your humble blogger
Your humble blogger's not so humble Navajo Taco lunch
Another view of the un-photographable (at least by me) Grand Canyon
I thought revisiting the Grand Canyon might be a waste of time as my family and I had done the definitive tour. However I decided that the 25 mile "Desert View Drive" alongside the Canyon was a good chance to put Speranza's roof down and listen carefully for whatever the rattle was that was bothering me yesterday. 

I left my hotel, checked the tyre pressures (all correct except one, which I adjusted) and set off to the National Park gate. The sun was shining, it was a balmy 90℉ and my first pleasant chat of the day was with the enthusiastic young ranger manning the pay booth. As soon as I had checked my route with another Ranger in the visitor centre - it was on my way so would cost time, but not miles - I put the roof down and set off.

I had a far better time than I expected. My previous visit to the Canyon had been great, but I doubt anyone has ever really seen enough of it. I had several attempts at the photographic impossibility of capturing an impression. I failed. It's impressive, trust me. Just go!

I chatted to other visitors from Connecticut, France, Ireland and the Netherlands. The Netherlanders told me they had seen a German registration plate in the park today - on an RV, of all things - and were curious about how I had shipped Speranza. They were touring the States themselves; two nice young couples in rented muscle cars. We traded our travellers' tales for a few moments, I took their photo and promised to post it here.

I had been out of sorts yesterday. I was not glorying in the tour as I had been. I was, to be honest, a bit homesick. I think that may have been because I'd had three rather lonely days. This morning, however, the various pleasant chats cheered me up. By the time I finished my Canyon run, I was in spirits again - not least because I couldn't make Speranza rattle, no matter how hard I tried. I abandoned my plan to stop at some roadside "auto repair" shop and contacted the Ferrari dealer in San Antonio - the next one on my route - to schedule a visit. From today's journey, both through the Grand Canyon National Park and along roughly-surfaced US 160 to Monument Valley, I may be wasting their time. I hope so!

A cheery ranger at the park, with whom I had my second pleasant chat of the day had told me I must not pass the Cameron Trading Post, thirty miles or so past the park's East exit, without stopping to try the Navajo tacos. "You won't get anything like them in Europe" he said. He was a man of substance, like myself. He had clearly appraised me as someone who would appreciate such a treat. I did, but in my feeble European way could not finish it. It was nothing like the Mexican variety (hard or soft) but more like the way they serve Yorkshire pudding in Yorkshire, as a plate-sized base with meat on top. But it was not batter-ey but bread-ey like a strangely sweet pizza base. I am not explaining it well, but it was delicious.

The Trading Post itself was impressive and seemed to be doing great business.I was proud of myself for resisting the temptation to buy another cowboy hat that I would have worn in the next few days here and then consigned to the back of my wardrobe with my existing examples. Perhaps, I thought, I was finally growing up.

Then, driving along Route 160 in Arizona (in air-conditioned comfort with the roof up again as by now as it was 111℉) I discovered that am not. I swear to you I saw a man on a horse, with a lariat looped around his saddle, roping some creature I was moving too fast to identify. I was in traffic and couldn’t stop but I yeee-ha'd, gentle reader. I am not ashamed to admit it. I don't know if he was for real or just practising for a rodeo, but I saw a cowboy. If I were finally grown up, that would not have made my day.

I am now in an indestructibly good mood and looking forward to Monument Valley tomorrow as much as anything on this trip to date.

Grand Canal to Grand Canyon


Not a bad run
First stop, the Hoover Dam
Private sector road sign
The Nevada turbines (there are more on the Arizona side)
I have nothing to say about the Grand Canyon yet. I am in an hotel nearby, but I haven't ventured near. I was here years ago with my family and we saw it in the best possible way, from a six-seater light aeroplane. I can't imagine anything I do tomorrow will better being flown inside it in a lazy circle.

Today's short video (above) shows the drop off zone outside my hotel as I waited this morning for the parking valet to bring Speranza round. Nicely understated, isn't it? That's Vegas for you.

My tourism today involved a visit to the Hoover Dam; a masterpiece of early 20th Century engineering. I took the tour of the subterranean generators and stood more than 500 feet beneath the surface, hoping that those 1930's workmen - recruited hastily from America's unemployed by the six company joint venture that built it - reinforced the concrete properly for the tunnels we were in.

The film they showed us as part of the tour was oddly Soviet in tone. I can't imagine they have changed it since the 1950s at least. My libertarian nature was disturbed by such lavish praise of politicians, however long-dead they all were. I am confident they were no less scoundrels than the current crop. Who else but a scoundrel would even be attracted to a career that involves taking money by force from your fellow-men to bribe your voters spend on things you arrogantly think will be better for them than their own choices?

I was even more suspicious of the notion that such an enormous piece of infrastructure, which makes life in huge tracts of America possible by supplying electricity and water as well as by preventing the floods that used to bedevil the region only generates just enough income to cover operating costs. Private enterprise built it, of course. It would have collapsed long ago otherwise. Had the private sector also been left to finance it, surely a better business model could have been devised? That such a massive, technically-successful, investment produces no profit at a stage when all the capital investment has been recovered and it should be a cash cow seems unthinkable.

In fairness a European equivalent would probably run at a loss.

I did enjoy driving over the dam, twice. I entered Arizona by that route briefly before returning to continue there by normal roads. I was puzzled to see a notice about changing time zones, even though the "Arizona time" and "Nevada time" clocks on either side showed the same time. It turns out that Arizona doesn't do daylight saving time, so that its version of Mountain Time is currently the same as Pacific Time. That will change when I venture to Utah and then New Mexico.

I was nervous about entering Arizona as the gentleman whose company services Speranza and prepped her for this trip had an unfortunate experience with manacles when pulled over by a State Trooper where when driving the Bullrun some years ago. I went over his coaching as to how to speak to an Arizona State Trooper in my mind repeatedly as I drove. He made the very English mistake of being cheeky to a policeman, apparently, which did not go down well. I am under instruction to use my youthful acting experience to play the part of a submissive statist if pulled over. I am driving very conservatively, to the amusement of the local boy racers, in the hope I don't have to put those long-disused skills to the test.

The day was also somewhat dampened because I suspect another slight problem with the car. A slight rattling noise has appeared from somewhere beneath. I suspect an exhaust pipe fixing, or something similar, has been vibrated loose by the rough roads. I shall find some roadside auto shop in the next couple of days to get her up on a hoist and tighten whatever is loose before something worse transpires.

I think I also need to check my tyre pressures as in the 111℉ heat of Arizona today, they were high. The tyres were running at up to 155℉ (Speranza has tyre temperature monitors like a Formula 1 car). That probably accounts for the higher pressures. It may also have hardened the ride sufficiently to contribute to vibrating something loose. I couldn't let air out of hot tyres of course, but I can check the pressures in the cool of the morning. Or the lesser heat of the morning, to be precise.

Four hundred miles of real nothing on the way to nothing real


Refuel #1
Blogging station for this evening
Grandeur de folie
Refuel #2
Nevada is a rugged state. I-95 US 95 started minutes from last night's hotel and took me almost to the door of The Venetian in Las Vegas. That's easy to write, but it was a four hundred mile drive through bright, hot, emptiness - at least of human habitation. The main recreations were watching for state troopers, wondering what the other motorists thought they were doing out there, admiring the resilience of the truckers who keep America's markets running by their constant epic journeys and speculating as to how the residents of the sparse, dusty settlements keep busy. 

Some of them keep busy as prostitutes. This much I can aver from the huge mast signs advertising brothels with such enticements as "free all-night parking for your truck". Some run diners. This, unlike the prostitution, I can confirm from personal experience. I had a BLT and some weak coffee and it finally clicked, d'oh, why Americans expect free refills. I asked for my refill for the first time and it helped get a bit more caffeine to keep me alert on the long haul.

Most other inhabitants seemed to be engaged in military activities. I passed Army barracks, depots and saw numerous signs of air force bases. I also passed near the infamous Area 51 at one point, as witness the business activities of local residents who have set up "Alien" diners etc. As a fellow-citizen of those Scots who scalp the credulous around Loch Ness, I am in no position to moralise. Equally, having seen that expert scalping in progress, I would be a real fool to fall for the American version. So I didn't. I drove by, laughing.

My entry to Las Vegas was surprisingly stressful. I had had a whole highway mostly to myself all day and it was odd suddenly to find myself in traffic. Mr Siegel would be very proud of how his little project has grown. It's as tacky and culture-free as it always was, and gaming machines are - though the lucrative monopoly is long gone (lost to, amongst others, the native Americans) - everywhere.

People come now to see the "destination hotels," a concept pioneered by local hero Steve Wynn and now deployed around the world - for instance in Dubai. If you have a dusty nowhere you would like to fill with tourists, then the hotels themselves must grab the tourist imagination and hold it. Like The Venetian, for example, where in a crazy and expensive feat of engineering a model of the Grand Canal, complete with gondolas has been built on an upper floor. Not on the ground floor, where the earth would support it, you understand, that would not be mad enough to be a "destination" concept.

These concepts are their own draw and most tourists will never care that there's no cultural foundation to them. Am I sounding snooty? I hope not. I chose to come back to The Venetian because it makes me laugh out loud with its outrageousness. I want to watch the gondoliers again, precisely because it's nuts. This multi-billion dollar missing-the-point tribute to my favourite Italian city makes me smile. I can see the Campanile (no, not really but don't be picky) from my window and why shouldn't I enjoy that?

I also used to take my family to Dubai regularly on holiday; though it is every bit as culture-free. Please don't get me wrong; I love a good destination hotel and admire Mr Wynn's creative genius. That an attraction is invented by another human doesn't bother me at all, as long as it's fun, it entertains me - and as long as, unlike Area 51 and Loch Ness, no-one is trying to fool me.

Having been in a culinary desert for even longer than I have been in a real one, I am looking forward to some excellent food tonight. A suite almost as big as my London home is also pleasant, although the roadside inns of America anyway provide lavish space by European standards. Our architects may say that "space is the greatest luxury" but here in the land of endless land (mostly held in great "parks" by the state, and of no earthly value at all if it were all released onto the free market at once) it's nothing, or nothing much.

Best of all (and here's a sign of how travel warps priorities) there is 24-hour express laundry service. Hurrah! No launderette worries for me for another 10 days. Although if my laundry happens in Vegas, does that mean it stays in Vegas? Let's hope not.

Incidentally if anyone is worrying about the videos, making them is quite safe. I have a clamp on my screen to hold the satnav. To make a video, I just clamp my iPhone in place instead. I am paying full attention to the road at all times!