Planes, streetcars and automobiles

The past few weeks have been hectic to say the least. Here’s a round-up of some of the things we’ve seen and done.

Flagstaff, Arizona: Fifteen hours sleep in 72 hours. Coffee our fuel. From the Grand Canyon to the Meteor Crater via Flagstaff; we came across a surreal quaint chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Dove.  Exterior was taken straight from Alice in Wonderland, the interior decorated with prayers for loved ones. We found out later, that in ‘84, Alicia’s aunt and uncle married there.

Onwards, late afternoon, already exhausted we arrived at the crater. The man in the box asks for $16 to see the hole. We pay the extornist, see it, take a few pictures and leave.

Drop off the rental car, two minutes over, no charge, running in the red, no charge. Three hour wait at the bus terminal followed by a 18 hour ride to….

Witchita Falls, Texas: ‘Home to the world’s smallest skyscraper.’ Humid, hot, desolate and an abundance of cockroaches.

Houston, Texas: The interstate highways were dotted with 50 ft high billboards advertising the next big gun show. We met with Alicia’s friends who were happy to open their amazing home to us.

We were treated to some novelty Americana in the Lone Star State with a visit to a 50s style diner for a chocolate shake and sundae.

We took a trip to see visionary, John Milkovisch’s house. Himself, family and neighbours drank over 50,000 cans of beer, which over time he has built around his home to create The Beer Can House. Whilst the initial project involved a fun process, neighbours now see it as an eyesore.

We were witness to a natural phenomenon in the city centre as a bat colony awoke and left their home in the thousands by darkening the sky at dusk.

We attempt to leave Houston on the midnight bus. We arrived at the terminal to find that the bus we wished to board was full (a condition in our Discovery passes is that we may only book an hour prior to the bus’ departure, making reservations difficult.) An hour away from friends, the Greyhound bus terminal, Houston, is not a welcoming place at night. Next bus was not until morning, another eight hours away. Car rental would be $450 for the day, not including the petrol to New Orleans, LA, our next destination. Hotels, hostels, motels were all expensive. We barricaded ourselves with chairs in the decrepit restaurant and sipped coffee until dawn. Surviving the night, a sympathetic teller was able to put us on the 9am bus out of there.

New Orleans, Louisana: Arriving at dusk, we were tired and hungry. The hostel, kindly picked us up from the terminal and brought us to our lodgings. Taking a quick shower and dressing in the claustrophobic rooms, followed by fish tacos, whiskey, then bed. By 9am the sun had its hat on and was shining its scalding rays down on NOLA. The four blocks to the streetcars were brightly coloured with French style colonial houses. The streetcars were full of life as they cut through the city’s major attractions. The residents were as colourful as the houses, as a walk through downtown had people begging for their picture.

At night, downtown was alive; people in costume dancing in the street, music blaring from building to building, strippers giving teasers in the doorway of their club, reps throwing enticing offers to fill up their bar.

Famous for their carnivals and parades, the streets had remnants from previous years. With beads hanging from the trees, roofs and many lying in the road. and still thousands more were stocked by shops, ready to be sold.

Leaving NOLA on the Greyhound we were confronted with the same problem of finding a seat on the bus. Both the teller and the town sheriff were empathetic to our situation but neither were able to get us onto the bus we wanted. Bending the rules we were comped a ticket for the next bus out of there, at 8am. With another night looming under siege in a bus station we were disheartened to hear that the building closed at 10pm.  The generous sheriff offered us a lift to wherever we needed to go. With no hostel booked in this unfamiliar area we had a need, but no where to go. He offered us a park bench, which was patrolled every hour by police. We declined and instead chose a 24hr watering hole. After lugging our bags for two miles we sat down with rewarding pint in hand. With nine hours left and beers at $7 a pop we realised it would be cheaper and more sensible to sleep than to drink. We found that the hostel from the previous night had a vacancy. Sensing our need and urgency they happily charged us more. And the taxi they kindly ‘ordered’ to take us to the terminal in the morning never appeared.

Orlando, Florida: Home to Mickey Mouse and a haven for child molesters. Although the 16hr ride to Orlando was comfortable and gladly uneventful, it consisted of several recently released convicts and unbeknownst to us we were being driven into a crime scene. A few nights prior to our arrival at the Greyhound, Orlando, a passenger attempted to smuggle a gun on board a bus. When challenged, the man ran, shots were exchanged and the man fell, wounded.

It was well past dark when we arrived there. Oblivious to the previous night’s events, we stood in the unlit car park waiting for our ride…

Out of the darkness two headlights blinked at us. Like a moth to the flame we approached, cautiously. CLICK. The car door opened and our anxious friend stepped out. With adrenaline pumping, she hurried us into the car, shoving us onto the back seat, then lifted our bags and threw them into the boot without explanation. Door closed we made a hasty retreat.

The following day we went to Downtown Disney, a ‘shoppertainment centre’ with everything from live music to giant Lego models.  Home to the young, the beautiful, the over-sized, the over-priced and the downright weird. We spent a good few hours enjoying the atmosphere that only Disney and alcohol can bring.

And then, on June 9th, Alicia’s grandmother sadly passed away. We dropped everything and got on the next available flight to Boston, MA

© John Brownlie 2012.

Inside Grand Canyon Park

Waking to the warmth of sun on our faces, the once empty car lot was filling with families, cars, trucks, vans, and RVs. Tour companies were dropping off bus loads of tourists.
The Grand Canyon had woken and come to life.

Going inside to the Visitor Centre we were presented with a short impressive documentary on the formation of the canyon. At over 275 miles long and over one mile deep, we had a lot of exploring to do and not a lot of time to do it in.

With map in hand and a rough plan in mind we set out.

The continuous sculpting of the six million year old vista is left to mother nature. Transportation at the attraction is limited to special shuttle buses that traverse the rim of the canyon in an effort to preserve and prevent overuse of trails. Frequenting every 10-15 minutes, it was not long before we were heading away from the welcoming tourist trap into a wonder of the world.

Leaving the bus you are immediately hit with the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon. Stepping out onto one of the many thousands of precipices, unfenced and raw, you feel instantly vulnerable as the relentless wind pushes at you.

Looking out onto the intricate and savagely made landscape is unmistakably mesmerising. The unbashful beauty of the multi-million year surroundings are enforced by the intense colours of the seismic rocks. Standing at over 7000ft you feel minuscule to the mammoth.

With time and money being our only limitations on this trip, we were treated to an abridged version of the canyon. Regrettably, several hours after arrival we had to push on.

Next stop: The most well preserved meteor crater in the world.

© John Brownlie 2012