Thursday, July 9, 2009

American Road Trip

It's that time of the year again when I get on the road. This time I'm heading to the Upper Midwest (Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin) and, perhaps, a few days in Chicago, IL.

I'll be posting along the way. First up today, I'm heading to Memphis, TN. On the way, I think I'm going to stop in Tupelo, MS, and visit the birthplace of Elvis Presley and then visit Graceland Too in Holly Springs. I've already visited Graceland in Memphis so that should complete the Elvis trifecta for me.

To get you in the mood. Here is a picture from my recent Fourth of July celebrations at my friend Bo Hicks's mother's family "compound" in Abernant, AL (go Panthers!). We had a patriotic parade around the pool, said the pledge of allegiance and celebrated America's independence from the scurrilous British (cup of tea and a scone any one?) before digging into some fine American vittles (as only Americans know how). I did my part by dressing up and would have won the competition for the most American looking foreigner if such a competition existed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Giving of Thanks

Recently, I've become somewhat obsessed with American football. I don't really know why this is the case. In previous years I've been able to watch plenty of college football games on Saturdays and then, for dessert, watch NFL games all day Sunday. While I did this I used to grade student papers, so I could write it off as one might write off something for tax purposes.

Anyway, this year has been different, mostly because the University of Alabama has just completed an undefeated season in football, and will play for the SEC championship against the University of Florida. I find I don't really like watching other teams play anymore and both the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints of the NFL stink, so my interest there has waned. During my time here, Alabama has had two decent seasons but nothing this good, and no one expected them to get to this point under their new coach so soon.

Alabama plays an old-school kind of football. Blue collar, even. It's not pretty whereas Florida plays a very offense-orientated game, and thus is flashy. Sports writers and talking heads are saying Florida is going to win the game. The game is on 4pm EST time on Saturday (so that's 10am Sunday in New Zealand, but since it's on CBS it's not going to be on ESPN in NZ) but NZ viewers will most likely get the ACC championship game featuring Virgina Tech versus Boston College. Feel free to watch this snooze fest because there will be in-game highlights of the Alabama game.

In my last football post I tried to explain what's going to happen after all these games, but basically if Alabama wins the game against Florida then Alabama will play for the National Championship, so a lot is riding on this. If Alabama loses they will go to the Sugar Bowl, and if it's tight, a few other results in other championship games go their way, Alabama could play in the championship game but that's an unlikely scenario.

Anyway, this is pretty exciting, actually, and I am looking forward to Saturday.

Visit my friends TJ and Jeb's website: because it's good and will inform you if interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


It's been quite a week, what with two elections and all.

First, unless you've been hiding in the crawl space for the last week, you'll be aware that America did indeed elect Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States. I went out on Sunday night with a few friends and posted some hand-made Obama signs around town (see pic). Come Monday morning and most of the signs had been torn down but there are still a few up here and there a week later. Tuesday night was rather fantastic, and Obama's acceptance speech was really uplifting (in contrast to that of John Key's). I went to a party and there was a lot of drinking and cheering to be had, and some crying. Honestly, in the circles I move in, had Obama not won I don't know what would have happened. I think there might have been real despair, and it's finally nice to live in an America that at least seems like it wants to live up to its ideals.

Incidentally, when I switched my phone service over to Comcast today I had quite a good conversation with the operator who, despite being a Tennessee football fan, was happy to talk politics. He wanted to know what New Zealanders made of the election and I said, I think the World has fallen in love with America again. He really liked that, and I could tell he was proud to hear that.

Of course, Obama has a lot of work to do. It's easy to like the man: he's intelligent, young, hopeful, etc. I'd like to point out that he's smart. Did I mention that? He has created a lot of expectations but I do think he will do a good job.

And, yes, I must mention the NZ election, which NPR told me had gone to National when I woke up on Saturday morning. The reporter seemed genuinely surprised that NZ had ousted Labour and, what's more, puzzled with John Key. I'm disappointed because I've lived in a right-wing governed country for the last seven years and I've seen what I believe are the really bad side of right-wing social economics: users pays, expensive health care, underfunded public education, to name a few things. That's the direction that NZ once again finds itself moving in. I hope that National is moderate in its governance.

Russell Brown, of Public Address fame, wrote quite a good column leading up to the election about how this Labour government will be looked on favourably in the years to come and I think this is true. Helen Clark did a good job, a very good job. It's sad to see her go.

I won't finish on a down note, though. The Alabama Crimson Tide is ranked #1 in the country for football and we're going to the SEC championship. They beat LSU this weekend in Overtime. My heart can't take this.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


It would be remiss of me not to mention the upcoming American election. To some it may seem funny but I have been here almost the entirety of George W. Bush's presidency. When I talk to people in New Zealand about New Zealand's election (Saturday, November 8th) I try to impress upon them the idea of what it's like to live in a country dominated by conservative and neo-conservative ideology. New Zealand seems to be moving right (in the way it moved left in 1999) but not for any real tangible reason. Certainly, the past three Labour-lead coalitions have had their moments, but for the most part I think Helen Clark has done a good job restoring many of the social values and economic fairness that was wiped away by the Labour government (1984-1990) and the National Government (1990-1999). It just seems, then, like New Zealand is tired and wants a change.

I have already voted, by the way, via post.

People wear politics in America on their sleeve or place it at the tip of their tongue whereas New Zealanders tend to treat politics in a much more private way. We just don't advertise what we think politically. Voting is a private, personal thing. I like this, in some ways. On the other hand, here politics is about engagement but the ideals of that engagement and debate have been merely turned into shout-a-thons lately.

I went to an Obama rally in Ohio about a month ago and had a thoroughly good time. I hope he gets elected, and if every person who could vote, votes and all of those votes are counted he will win. The problem is that not all those votes will get counted and not everyone will vote. Instead, there will be a fair amount of acrimony on both sides as voting day begins. In the last election, almost 2.5 million provisional votes weren't counted and given that Obama represents so many of these people expect to see similar numbers again.

It can come down to a discrepancy in addresses, no ID, no driver's license, and so on and so forth.

Also, keep in mind that America elects its president through the electoral college system, so we know, for example, that New York state and California will send all their votes to the college for a Democrat candidate, whereas Texas and the Southern states will send all their votes for the Republican candidate. In reality it comes down to a few number of "swing" states; those are the states whose population tends to switch allegiances from time to time. Thus, you should watch for the results in: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Nevada. Further, Obama has made gains into traditionally non-Democrat states, so watch for: North Carolina, Colorado, Virgina, Missouri and New Mexico. Whoever wins needs 270 electoral college votes and each state gets a certain number of votes based on population.

I'm quietly confident Obama will win, but I don't doubt the resilience of the Republican party to tighten things in the last few days, or failing that, use whatever tactics possible to suppress the vote. This statement makes me sound like a cynic, but, hey, I was here in 2004.

Anyway, I hope Obama wins and Helen Clark forms a new coalition government.

Let me leave you with the quotable Winston Churchill who once said: "Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains."

Remember people this was the man that planned the Gallipoli campaign.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dear Reader

Forgive me for I have sinned. Yes, it's been a while since I last wrote on my blog and in the blogosphere, as it is called, it is a serious crime to go two months between posts, dear reader.

I shall attempt to make amends over the next few weeks and try to fill you in on my life and America over the last two months. Imagine, if you will, that I have been in a coma and during that time I have had my eyes opped daily by a nurse who has kindly turned Fox News on for one hour, and in this hour, as if by osmosis, I have gauged the pulse of America!

When I last wrote I had just returned to America through the magic of Qantas airlines.

I want, however, to begin in the present and, perhaps, retrospect my way through September.

As I currently write the Alabama Crimson Tide (the football team) remain unbeaten and ranked #2 in the nation. Since there are so many teams (like 120) in the top division and these teams, in turn, are divided into conferences anywhere from 13 to 8 teams, there is no way of creating a proper knockout tournament to decide the best team in college football. Thus, after each week's games the teams are ranked, and constantly re-ranked, until the top two teams play off in what is called the BCS National Championship Game.

If you play in a good conference against good opponents and win, then it's easier to get a higher ranking. Alabama plays in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) which is arguably the toughest football conference in the U.S. If Alabama wins all their games this season they will certainly be ranked #1 or #2 and play in the national championship game.

However, it is unlikely Alabama will go undefeated. So far they have exceeded expectations and beat then-9 ranked Clemson (from South Carolina) and then-3 ranked Georgia. As a result we climbed in the polls to #2.

This is pretty huge. Alabama has a tradition of winning (they have 12 national championships) but have pretty-much sucked since I've been here in the U.S. They've had a couple of good seasons here and there, but they've lost to in-state rivals Auburn 6 years in a row, and they've sucked against LSU (last year's champion) for 5 years too. Since they play in the same division (the SEC West) in order for Alabama to make the SEC championship game they need to beat LSU, who lost to Florida last week. This is no easy task.

This week Alabama plays Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) who have emerged stronger this year with a new coach and they will be tough (they beat Florida in the Swamp, which was a major upset). I have a feeling Alabama may have to dig deep on this one. The fans are becoming cocky again, and to any New Zealander who wants an analogy to this, think about the World Cup 1/4 final in Cardiff last year.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Must You Hate Me So?

Being back in New Zealand for two weeks was pretty good. I got to see the family, see the All Blacks win, hang out with friends, etc.

Coming back to the U.S., on the other hand, was an ordeal.

First my flight from Christchurch to Auckland was delayed, so when I finally arrived in Auckland I had to run to the international terminal, fill out the departure forms and dash through security in order to make my flight ... of course that flight was soon delayed for almost three hours. Once that flight left Auckland it pretty much meant I was going to miss my connections in L.A. and sure enough we touched down as my connection flight to Dallas was leaving.

If you read previous posts about U.S. Customs you'll be familiar with my feelings on that subject. In all the times I've cleared customs (about six or seven times) in the U.S. this was the worst. The custom's officer literally yelled at me. I didn't say anything because, you know, you can't. It took a while before they finally cleared me. This is how a bureaucracy works: just be a dick because you can. The contrast in friendliness between N.Z. and the U.S. is obvious. Honestly, I don't know how to feel about this country anymore.

Anyway, although we arrived at 1:30pm PST, Qantas didn't book me on a new connection until 11:40pm that evening. They did book me a hotel room at the Westin (check out the view I had) and that is where I spent the day waiting to catch my flight on Delta to Atlanta and then on to Birmingham the next day. There was a sex shop down the road that couldn't have looked more seedy had they tried and although I didn't frequent the establishment, it was not going to go out of business for want of clientele that's for sure.

My flight from L.A. to Atlanta was delayed and we had to change air crafts and were told at 12:55am, as we waited to board, that if the plane didn't leave by 1:15am the flight could not depart. The flight attendant literally said, "everyone just get on the plane. We're not going to do normal boarding procedures so we can leave."

Now let me give you a physical definition of the word chaos: 400 passengers all trying to get on a plane as the flight attendants step aside. Utter madness. I pushed my way to my seat in a crazed sleep-deprived fashion.

So, now that this flight was late I barely made my connection to Birmingham, but I made it. My bags, on the other hand, did not, so when Lydia Jones picked my up from the airport in the morning I asked if we could wait for the next Delta plane from Atlanta to arrive which she kindly said was okay.

This was probably the worst flying experience I have ever had.

Let me also tell you how I didn't get to sleep, and haven't slept in nearly five days. On the flight from AKL to LAX the kids behind me played video games all night. I couldn't sleep at the Westin. I couldn't sleep on the flight from LAX to ATL because the girls in front of me talked all night, and now I'm so jetlagged I can't sleep at all.

Today, I went in to UA and found that my new office has nothing in it, and I'm supposed to start teaching tomorrow.

On the bright side, my former flatmate Bevan Docherty won bronze in the Triathlon, and while I know he wanted to put a gold medal next to his silver that he won in Athens, bronze is still pretty great.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Nu Zild

After a rather long day (involving four flights) on July 30, which missed July 31 entirely, I found myself back in a rather rain-saturated New Zealand on August 1. I arrived at 4:30am which, as the crow flies, is too early even for customs to open so we had to wait for that. The nice thing about arriving in Auckland is the not so subtle push to buy Duty Free alcohol. One literally has to walk through the DFS store and its delicious selections of cut price booze before clearing customs. Also, the limit of alcohol one can by via duty free when entering NZ is one of the highest in the developed world. Thus, gin and vodka was purchased.

The thing I really like about customs in NZ is how friendly everyone is. They also play soothing NZ bird calls. When traveling through U.S. customs you are made to feel like you have offended everyone by merely flying to the country, but even at 5am all the customs people in NZ were friendly and polite. Yes, I'm talking to you, America. Be more nice.

Anyway, I had to wait four hours before my connection to Christchurch, so I bought some coffee and read the NZ Herald. After two losses in a row everyone was wailing and gnashing their teeth over the All Blacks, but as you shall read this was all for naught. It was nice to drink some decent espresso coffee again, although the blind man with his guide dog in the men's bathroom at Auckland Domestic isn't something I want to see again.

When I got home Christchurch was, predictably, like the rest of NZ during this time of the year, cold and wet. My mum took me home to the farm, which U.S. readers will see more of next week, and I tried to sleep but couldn't. I ended up coming to Lyttelton in the early evening and consumed some nice Indian food with Hollie, Tom, Vernon, Gavin, and Monica (who is now 7 months or so pregnant). That was fun.

On Saturday, Tom, Hollie and I went to Canterbury Museum to see the "Fred and Myrtle Flutey Paua Shell House" exhibit and then the DaVinci machine exhibit, which involves an over-zealous model maker's attempt to build scale models of DaVinci's designs. I think I can speak for everyone when I say the 8-canon tank was rather bad ass. We also stopped by for some beer and nachos at the Dux de Lux, something I sorely miss when living in Tuscaloosa. We also had coffee in Lyttelton and I like the way coffee makers here include floral designs in the froth.

Later that night, we ate fish 'n chips and watched the All Blacks (NZ's rugby team) hand the Wallabies (Australia's rugby team) their ass. The final score was 39-10, and following last week's loss to the same team, this result was a welcome form of revenge. Australia's coach, Robbie Deans, is a NZer and there's been talk NZ hung on to the wrong coach following last year's world cup debacle, but I'm happy he lost. I could never root against the All Blacks, even if they bit heads off kittens in their spare time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

5000 miles

In the last three weeks I've driven almost 5000 miles (that's 8000 kilometres for those favouring the metric system). I'm back in Alabama now, where I quickly seem to have fallen into a malaise. The trouble with traveling so much is that one is constantly seeing new things and while coming home to six dead cockroaches in my apartment constitutes something new it's not quite the same thing as traveling to a Native American ruin in New Mexico or almost falling into the Grand Canyon. The other problem with traveling so much is that it's tiring and when you finally stop you feel pooped. As Alissa said in Las Vegas, you need a vacation from your vacation.

Anyway, the trip was really gratifying and even though there was a lot of flat driving through the High Plains of Texas, etc, that might bore a truck driver, I actually really liked being on the open road and being able to see nothing but land and the horizon.

If anyone is planning on visiting the U.S. and is interested in seeing more than L.A., Las Vegas, or New York, I recommend getting a rental car in those places and making small trips into the country. For example, get a rental car in Las Vegas, drive to the Hoover Dam, Mojave Desert, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, which are all places within 5 or so hours and, I think, you'll enjoy seeing more of the country than you would staying in a city (of course) or via a tour bus. And you aren't going to drive enough to kill one another (if you're traveling as a couple or a small family).

By the way, on Thursday night I stayed with Bard in Memphis and, yes, you can see a pyramid in the photo (to your left). It's the old arena, which has since been mothballed after the FedEx Forum was built (where the Grizzles play) next to Beale Street.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Don't stare while in Truckstops

If sadness were to have a physical manifestation it might be the Travelodge in Amarillo, TX. Surrounding I-40 are all the new motels: Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, Hilton, etc, and then there's the Travelodge, which might once have been a place of granduer. Not anymore. Amarillo is a stock town that time has passed by with barely a wave. I'm not saying it's a bad place; rather it's like Memphis or Birmingham. What was once a place of industry has fallen on hard times. You get the gist.

So today was a long day of driving. I left the Knights Inn, where I was ripped off in multiple ways, in Flagstaff at about 8:30 PST and made my way East. The drive back through Arizona and New Mexico was as equally pleasing as the first drive through it. I think, maybe, I'd like to live in New Mexico. I'll let the thought fester for a while and see what bubbles out.

I drove through three time zones and now find myself back on CST.

This is the end of my motel stays, which have progressively gotten better and then deteriorated. The Travelodge is better than the Knights Inn, so maybe my luck is improving. Tomorrow's another long driving day to Conway, AR and then I'm going to visit C. Bard in Memphis on Thursday.

I'd like to offer some sort of insight into today, but it was a day spent mainly thinking about leaving Alabama soon. I'm really restless and would sorely like to do something else, but my work visa ties me to UA and by extension Tuscaloosa. It's a strange feeling knowing I want to leave. I said to a few people before I left that I'd take this 2-3 week trip and then I'd know the answer about whether I was going to stay. I've half answered that question, but I might not be able to leave. That's one answer. The other thing is getting the feeling to leave. It's easy to be in a comfort zone in Tuscaloosa but I've grown weary of it and UA. But for me knowing, having the desire, is strange. I don't know what I'll do with it. Maybe I'll suppress it or maybe I'll find something else?

Viva la Nuttings

I’ve had a rather jam-packed last few days in Las Vegas with the Nuttings (Shawn and Alissa). The temperature often reached 110 degrees, but I have to say, and this is part of the old debate (dry versus humidity), that the humidity of Southern heat is far worse than desert heat. You just have to drink a lot of water in the desert.

On Thursday, Alissa showed me around the Strip. We walked through the casinos and talked, often people watching. The highlight for me was seeing a woman at the MGM Grand with an oxygen tank on wheels and a 12-pack of Pepsi sitting at a coin slot. I guess, if breathing becomes such a problem in life you just don’t care how you look in public anymore. The low part of the day was locking my keys in my car on the 5th floor of the Stratosphere carpark.

On Friday, Shawn had work off and we each purchased the “Power Pass” for $75 and this basically lets you do a lot of stuff that would otherwise cost much more. It’s good for a day but you can buy multi-day passes. The highlight for me was Madame Tussaud's wax museum because I got to pose with a wax replica of Jenna Jameson. Shawn kissed her. I did not. I also saw tigers, lions, dolphins, Las Vegas from a replica of the Eiffel Tower, art buy Georgia O’Keefe, a midget, etc. Basically, Las Vegas is a town where you can do or eat anything imaginable at any time. I even got to eat at a Mariachi Mexican Restaurant, followed shortly afterwards buy a liter of beer at a Bavarian Beer Restaurant. I actually couldn't finish the beer because I was full of Mexican food.

I’m back in Flagstaff now in a different motel. My room has no windows and the worst wifi connection one can imagination. Today, it’s off to Amarillo, a mere 600 miles and 9 hours driving away.