As many of you know, I have just returned to sunny, warm Melbourne, after six months travelling in the USA. I have been in 46C weather to minus 15C in the States, in California, New York State and City, Massachusetts, Vermont, Toronto and Niagara Falls, Louisville and Clarksville (Kentucky and Indiana), passed through West Virginia and Virginia and Ohio, Pennsylvania, and finally Connecticut. I scratched the surface. I would need years to see the whole country and have that to look forward to in the future.
It is big and friendly and a little sports crazy, so I felt right at home. Now I am once again driving on the left hand side of the road, saying chips instead of fries, saying prawns and not shrimp, saying petrol and not gas, and in my own bed and not one provided and serviced by others, I reflect on my trip of a lifetime.
I will start with sports. I wanted to see all forms of sports. I travelled in their winter because I hate the heat, and it’s off season for Aussie Rules, and so I was able to see all the major sports on my travels.
My first and favourite sporting adventure was to see the Red Sox play the Yankees in Fenway Park in September 2013. I fell in love with the Sox and Fenway that day, and at the best possible time. I loved their attitude, made famous by their magnificent, reckless, ugly beards, and their personalities to match their hirsute demeanours. They played with style and belief. As a group, they decided in February 2013, in training in Florida, that they wanted the World Series Championship Cup. That was driven into their psyches, they were men possessed. A new coach John Farrell, a former Sox pitching coach from 2007-2010, untried in the main job, headed this unruly yet disciplined bunch of heroes. There were the new experienced recruits, like my beloved first baseman Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster, in order, a first baseman, Right Fielder, Left Fielder, Shortstop and Pitcher. Coming back for another season were Jacob Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz and Jack Lackey, Center Fielder, Second Baseman, Designated Hitter, and three pitchers.
Legend will now say that Mike Napoli started the crazy beard fest off for the Sox. His seemed to be the fluffiest, ugliest of them all, and when he’d hit a home run or do well, beard tugging became the new pat on the back. Some had lovely, moderate beards, like the young, handsome Xander Bogerts or Doubront, whose small chin beards suited them perfectly. Buchholz, Carp, Dempster, Drew, Ellesbury, Gomes, Lackey, Lester with a small hairline, Nava, Peavy, Pedroia, Ross, Saltalamacchia, and Victorino, all grew it from that camp in February, some wilder, some tamer. Even the Green Monsta, their mascot, grew a beard, as did fans, fake and real (beards that is.) Baseball is full of traditions and superstitions, once the beards were in, they were there forever. A few were shaved off for charity at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see what the look or “thing” to pull them together is this year.
After the Boston Bombings, the Executive Vice President of the Red Sox, Dr Charles Steinberg, wrote a statement, read out on a home game at Fenway on April 20th, when the Red Sox and visitors paid tribute to the victims and honoured the heroes. Part of it reads:
“Today, we gather as one. And we affirm to ourselves and to each other that we are one – one community, one nation, one world, full of love, full of compassion and full of generosity. Those feelings, powerful all of them, fuel us with passion. To never quit. To persevere. To prevail. We will run another Marathon – one bigger and better than ever. We are one. We are Boston. We are strong. We are Boston Strong.”
From the determination of the February training camp, to the Boston Bombings, the words of Dr Steinberg and beyond, the Red Sox, through their heart and soul, David Ortiz, their Designated Hitter and winner of 2004 and 2007 (and now 2013) Championships, pushed that message home time and time again. He is a giant of a man, huge, powerful, loving and compassionate. All the Red Sox knew their place, they were there to win for Boston, for the victims and for the town. David Ortiz, and several of his team mates were at the forefront of ceremonies and commemorations. This team knew and loved its heartland and Boston loved its team. They were the Boston Red Sox, and now part of Boston Strong.
The Victory Salute after the Red Sox won the Championship. Note the hairy minion.
Baseball has so many games, you almost lose track. I used my trusty Google to look it up, Sox had 97 wins and 65 losses in 2013. That’s 162 games in just one season, often up to 5 a week. I was staggered at the amount of baseball played, and the passion felt by Americans for their baseball heroes.
Towards the end of my journey, my brother Andre and I visited Fenway Park for a tour and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and the love and memory of the game is well preserved in this building and town. I also visited the Little League Ground and Museum on my travels, so I know that there is a huge young component to the game, as well as the huge gathering in Cooperstown each year of kids wanting to be part of baseball action. It is a beloved game. And it reminds me, in terms of attitude towards sport, of footy over here in parts of Australia. It is in people’s hearts.
Fenway Tour with snow covered fields
One of the last things Andre and I did together, the day before I headed home, between blizzards, to LA (for fear of missing connections because of storms and delays), we sat and watched “World Series 2013 Champions”, the official World Series film. It was brilliant, funny, tense, and moving, an incredible documentary on the year that took the Red Sox from last to first.
I attended three games of Basketball while travelling, seeing the New York Knicks, LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The biggest highlight at the Knicks was seeing Woody Allen in the front row, even if it turns out he is a low life, he is big on his love of the Knicks. The best things about the LA Lakers game was finding the Grammy Hall of Fame and Museum before the game, and seeing the Ringo Starr exhibition, seeing the drums he played as a Beatle, his life displayed before me bringing me to tears. The basketball was never going to top that. I don’t think the Knicks or Lakers won when I was there.
The final game of basketball was seeing the Boston Celtics with the expatriate Aussies and eating pies and pasties and laughing all night. The Boston Celtics sucked (tanking) but Patty Mills, an Aussie playing for the San Antonio Spurs, was brilliant and it felt good being amongst my people (sports nuts, and Australian ones at that) and enjoying a night out.
I went to two Grid Iron games (are they even called that anymore?) with Glenn and Debbie Brownstein, a fellow Knacker, Glenn and I, and now his wife Debbie, bonded over sport and photography and the art of painting pumpkins. And eating at bars and watching the sports on TV as we’d chat to the staff. It is a habit I continued with Andre and Elizabeth back in Plymouth, and am now in search of good sports bars here in Melbourne, preferably down south of the city, going my way. (Any tips welcome).
The American Football games were brilliant, especially when coached in rules and meanings by the pure genius that is Glenn Brownstein. He’s second in charge at night of the sports pages at Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. He and Debbie took me to see a college game, where Rutgers Knights were visiting Louisville Cardinals and the Cardinals took an early lead and were in control the whole game. I was surrounded by red, white and black and the Cardinals became my college football team. They were in my colours and they WON. Two weeks later, to the dismay of my brother who couldn’t believe I got to watch two of the championship teams, Glenn took me to Indianapolis to see the Indiana Colts play the Denver Broncos. These were Glenn and Debbie’s season seats, so Debbie sacrificed her seat for me that night. We had a ball. After the first game, I felt more confident to understand what unfolded before me, and on top of that it was when Peyton Manning, a former Colt player, was playing his first game for the opposition. He wasn’t just any old former player, he was a 5 time MVP player, had played 14 seasons with the Colts, and was now the Broncos Quarter Back, part coach on field, part magician ( but we’ll all just have to forget his Super Bowl 2014 performance out of respect for his past).
Indiana Colts VS Denver Broncos
The game was also brilliant, with the Colts winning a tight contest. It was full of noise and colour and good football, a commemoration for Manning who was welcomed back to this stadium for the first time, and suitable celebrations for him were held for him before the game started. So football was great, seeing two winning sides.
The other highlight with Glenn and Debbie was sort of sports related. Debbie and her friend organised to paint pumpkins for Halloween, and I painted three small butternut pumpkins to be minions. For these we Googled how to paint pumpkins and got materials organised. More importantly, I had to watch “Despicable Me” one and two. Then I understood the world’s obsession with the little yellow creatures. My minions were sports minions, one for Glenn with a St.Kilda jumper and Red Sox painted on the back, one plain Red Sox for Debbie, and one Red Sox Minion pumpkin for my brother, all bearded thanks to me cutting up a grey scarf. The one, called Napoli, was bought to the sports bar where we watched the Championship being won. It sat up there, our Napoli, and gave us luck. Weeks later, Andre texted me that Napoli had died, and I had quite a shock thinking my young, fit, first baser had left the world. What he actually meant was the pumpkin Napoli rotted through, stunk out the house and was appropriately disposed of.
Finally, in Boston we had one lacklustre attempt at ice-hockey, and the problem was I got the cheapest seats, which were too small and way too far back, in the top row against the wall. It was awful and we didn’t even last to half time. We watched a little downstairs at a bar, and listened to the Bruins win and win well on our way home in the car. Note to self: get the better seats if you want a good experience. I watched the Bruins a few times on TV but it didn’t engage me like the other sports and they haven’t found a fan in me.
Some of the other memorable experiences were in Museums, like the Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Slugger Museum, and so much more. Or the photographic exhibitions I kept running into, as well as art shops and galleries. We did the NBC tour in New York, brilliant, and I volunteered and was the newsreader for our group in a recorded broadcast. On my big drive, I visited the biggest model railway I have ever seen in Medina, New York State. It even had a real Fat Controller. And of course, Niagara Falls in autumn and snow covered in February. (Another hint, stay on the Canadian side and stay at the Casino or one of the big hotels directly in front of the Horse Shoe Falls for the best views any time of year. The view from the high revolving Skylon Towers Restaurant was cool too.) I visited the 9/11 Memorial Centre, once in the day and once at night, and think that the city did a brilliant job in designing a thoughtful, meditative place to commemorate their wounds and those lost. I walked for hours in Central Park a day after a blizzard and watched the city come out to play. I watched the AFL Grand Final in Buffalo until 3am, and again, the Super Bowl with Andre in Niagara Falls almost 6 months later. I even watched a little of the frying that happened at the Australian Open this year, and read about the poor player who had visions of Snoopy before fainting. It was the talk all over town, the heat in Melbourne. I went to two dreadful, comedy clubs, one in Santa Monica and one in New York. Never again will I go to a place that gets its audience from leaflets on the street. I was sucked in both times.
And the seasons. Six months of varying weather, on the West Coast, East Coast and Canada. I had the heat in Pasadena, CA in my first week, and the minus 15C in New York on the day I lined up to see “The Daily Show”. I made a friend of Summer, being first and second in the queue, we got to recognise a fellow nutcase and spent the day together. Summer is studying screenwriting and is my children’s age and we loved hanging out and having the “Daily Show” experience, and the New York weather, to bond us together for life. Jon Stewart was so worried he didn’t want us to queue up as usual, (it was frostbite weather) and he and his staff did the best job of making sure we were ticketed earlier and let in earlier. We were awarded for our madness by being shown some of his very best shows while we waited where we were warm and comfortable. Jon is a total MENCH, or good guy.
I had the autumn leaves while driving and the snow towards the last part of my journey. And blizzards to keep me on my toes and to understand what my brother and his family live with every year. While I complain about a few winter days of chills and bitter winds, my sturdy brother deals with ice and snow and a long, dark winter. No wonder they love their spring so much. Baseball starts and the warmer weather allows some defrosting. It has been their worst winter for a long time, as it has been our hottest over here in Australia.
I have fallen in love with New York and Plymouth, and road trips, and talking to people wherever I am. I found all the people I met (except maybe 2) in six months, helpful and thoughtful and engaging. I discovered my brother, in a different way than I have ever before, I came back home with a good friend. My decision to stay 5 weeks in the snow in Plymouth proved to be the right one for two reasons, bonding with Andre (and his new partner Elizabeth, a perfect match of sports fans) and avoiding the unexpected snow storms plaguing the southern states who were ill prepared to deal with the rare weather conditions. Chaos reigned supreme on their roads, which I had intended to travel. In Plymouth, with the circumstance of my brother being between jobs, life, even in blizzards, was awesome. I was shown how to build a real snowman, and she lasted a week. She wore my combination Red Sox scarf with my St.Kilda emblem sewn on the other end. I’m hoping the good karma rubs off. It was a pretty cool Snowman, even with the boobs (Snow Woman? – Ed).
I met brilliant art teachers and guides who were able to give me art pointers for the children’s book I have created. I was taught the process of “boinking”, highlighting so parts of the image stand out. I had sent a copy of each painting to my fake Grandson Luke, I am the third wheel Nanna to this 3 1/2 year old and he has enjoyed getting post cards and writing about all the weird things I saw while travelling. I visited with family (Andre’s kids and grandkids in East Bridgewater and Dad’s cousins in Toronto) over in the States and had my three children, all adults now, join me for parts of my journey. I spent a month with my sister Denise, and more time with Andre. I wrote over 170 chapters of my journey, keeping my mother completely in the loop and wearing out all my friends and family with the writing and photography and adventures. Funny things just kept happening.
I met amazing people, and now have new friends to keep in touch with. I was amongst a convention of clowns and painted 17 portraits (most in two nights, not much sleep) that were auctioned by the clowns for the hospital charity they are all connected too (and raised about $450) I didn’t even have to travel to find them. They came and stayed in my hotel in Plymouth. I was in heaven. Suddenly, the hotel was turned into a circus and I was right in the centre of the madness.
I visited the Houdini Museum and met Dorothy Dietrich, the only magician to do the one trick Houdini was too scared to carry out, catching a fired bullet in her teeth. Dorothy and her partner ran the Museum and did kids shows and magic shows. Dorothy is the most famous female Magician in the world, and has performed in some of the largest venues and for Presidents. She is now in Scranton, PA. I bought magic tricks that amused and settled young children on aeroplanes and trains. Say g’day if you ever go that way, as they have collections of Houdini’s gear along with their own.
I went to so many musicals and would have seen more if I had time, “The Lion King”, “Motown the Musical”, “Spiderman the Musical” twice (unfortunate but a note that if you are going to see it, sit upstairs), Billy Chrystal’s “700 Sundays”, “Book of Mormon” twice, “Beautiful” about Carol King and “A Night with Janice Joplin”, “Avenue Q”, “A Perfect Crime”, and “Stand up for Heroes” (a fundraiser for returned service men and women, highlighted by Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and Bruce Springsteen performances.)
Bruce Springsteen at the “Stand Up for Heroes Benefit”.
I have pretty thoroughly walked the Lower sides of New York, and next time, hit the Upper’s. I have been to the base of the Statue of Liberty (need to pre-book, especially if you want to walk the steps to the crown) and Ellis Island and three times to the top of The Empire State Building (try and go in off season and not holidays of any kinds, unbearable queues otherwise). I have shopped with my youngest, a huge feat in endurance, in New York and LA. I have been on wonderful road trips, many of them on my own, and the biggest boast of all is that I drove in LA. I now have a mantra, if I can drive in LA, I can do ANYTHING.
My daughter and I drove between San Francisco and LA, along the magnificent coastal road, seeing hundreds of seals lazing about just out of LA bounds. We also drove to San Diego Zoo, and saw more koalas than I have ever seen in Australia. We hit Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Studios and Disneyland. Warners was my favourite, as are the Looney Toons. I just can relate to the Looney.
On my various road trips, I kept buying CD’s, and hearing new music as well as returning to old favourites: “Freedom is Coming” (songs of Freedom, Resistance and the Underground Railroad), The Mamas and the Papas, John Denver (and drove along his Blue Ridge Mountains), Dixie Chicks, Arlo Guthrie (we got food from the old Alice’s Restaurant and stayed overnight in Stockbridge Mass.), Jackson 5, Josh Turner, Brad Paisley, One Directions, “Walela” with Rita Coolidge, Laura Satterfield, and Priscilla Coolidge, Roy Orbison, “Motown the Musical” Carol King, “Avenue Q”, Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Buffy Saint-Marie, Bruce Springsteen old collections and “High Hopes”, “A Night with Janis Joplin”, Doobie Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Fresh Cut Grass, John Mellencamp, Peter Paul and Mary, The Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, Sonny and Cher, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, The Rat Pack of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Joel, Woody Guthrie, Kenny Chesney, “Book of Mormon” and “Frozen” from Disney. On top of these, local artists on the streets or subways that I bought were DR Suss One, Yacouba Diabate, Team Sonar, Gabriziel Royal, Patricia Smith, Mecca Bodega. I also picked up a Broadway fundraising collections of songs from all the musicals currently playing.
Driving along American country roads, listening to mostly American music, seeing the autumn and winter drive along with me, and then writing and painting and barracking. It was a trip that I will remember forever, with all my loves involved.
Now the adventure must continue at home. I feel very blessed. And look forward to seeing all my Almanac friends at the season launch. Another adventure awaits.
The blizzard in Plymouth had benefits. A brother and sister at play.