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June 2019
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2004-11-09 Enjoy your egg, have a nice day, you're in the good old USA

Good Morning my name's Latoyah I'll be your waitress today how can I help you?"


"Hello, may I have some toast please?" "My pleasure. White brown wholewheat multigrain soda rye ciabatta sourdough?" "Brown please. And an egg." "Boiled scrambled baked poached omelette fried?" "Eh fried." Sunny-side-up over-hard over- easy?" "Not sure. Just kinda fried. Oh, and a coffee." "Comin' up tall regular large or bucket?" "Regular?". "Latte macchiato cappuccino espresso americano moccachino frappaccino or iced?" "Aagh I don't know a maccamoccachinalattaspresso and hold the pickle only came in for an egg, some toast and a coffee now I'm late for my appointment. Goodbye. Oh and have a nice day miss y'already!"


I adore my trips to the U.S of A, but there are several things which kinda get to me when I spend time there. Before I had visited this vast continent, TV had given me a rather blinkered impression of the world's richest and most powerful country - the Dallas/Dynasty/Oscars glamour, the all-American wholesome John-Boy Walton, the Ingalls and Olsens on the Prairie, Sesame Street, diners, freeways, Oprah, Simpsons and "Friends".


But when I first arrived in America it was the vastness that hit me. Everything is bigger, but not always better. Portions are huge. The obesity problem is way out of control. People drive everywhere; walking seems alien to most.


America is shopping heaven for some, but retail hell for the indecisive. There is nothing you can't buy. Outlet malls offer designer labels at rock-bottom prices. Supermarkets stock a hundred breakfast cereals, as well as breakfast pizza, microwave pancakes, artificial bacon-bits and squeezy bottled cheese. Catalogues flaunt everything from cat bunk-beds to carpeted ramps which aid your elderly canine from floor to couch! And when you pay, it is never the price that appeared on the label - there's tax on top and me with my change counted out exactly.


American TV boasts up to 200 channels, and yet there never seems to be anything to watch. There are so many commercials that if you watch a two-hour movie, it takes over three hours, and the movie's thread is in shreds. News channels, sports channels, weather channels, cartoon channels, `ad' channels and shopping channels, soaps, comedies, chat shows and freak shows are all on offer 24/7. TV Evangelists on Christian channels miraculously sense viewers with tummy upsets a fair chance in a country of more than 200 million people I'd have thought. Seconds later, the Evangelist proclaims that that tummy has been healed by Jesus (or "Jay- eez-usss" as they pronounce it).


In much the same way Ireland was almost a Theocracy for decades, since the arrival of George `Dubya' Bush, the state seems to be engendering a culture of fear, and people are clutching to their beliefs like never before. Despite the United Nations calling the Iraqi crisis `an illegal war', the USA continues to assert itself as a sort of global police force, and what has resulted is a general feeling of paranoia.


The amount of red-tape I had to get through in order to get into the country was so mind-bogglingly over-the-top, right down to supplying phone numbers of all the schools I ever attended, even the one which is now an Arts Centre.


And whatever you do, don't joke with the authorities. Irony and cynicism are used sparingly, misunderstood even, in the USA. This is the home of the Marx Brothers, Robin Williams, Woody Allen and Will&Grace, and yet (forgive the generalisation) somehow humour sometimes seems lacking. Despite all of this I love the USA  it has it all - scenery, climate, sport, music, literature, movies and rich indigenous cultures.


It is a vast country of extremes - Alaska and Hawaii, extreme wealth and abject poverty, incredible kindness of some and blatant rudeness of others, superficial unnatural `niceness' of the kids on "Barney" and the very `real' and affable American people, the talents of George Gershwin or Frank Sinatra and the Jerry Springer/ Jenny Jones freak shows, the health conscious and the extremely obese. Sometimes the eating experience seems to be more about feeding than dining - `All-you-can-eat- buffet'?


"May I have a salad please?" "Certainly sir Green Greek Cob House Italian Caesar or Rocket?" "Rocket" "Dressing? We have Italian French Ranch Balsamic Sundried Tomato Parmiggiano Peppercorn or Chocolate Anchovy Surprise". "Actually, I've changed my mind. All this decision-making has exhausted me, I'm going home."