Manchester to Seattle
Flying from Manchester has not been a regular occurence since the holidays of my youth, the 90’s, when I would go on holiday with mum and dad. There was an air of anticipation as my train approached Manchester Airport, I was about to relive those early days where fun was my only concern.
Sadly contrasting these feelings the fact remains an airport is simply an airport and any dreams of nostalgia were diminished within 5 minutes of searching for the check-in desk. My friend arrived shortly after and we were soon on our way to Rejkivak for a connecting flight to Seattle, which did represent almost tangible joy.
The flight was a fairly straightforward one though an honorable mention goes out to Greenland as flying over it was a phenomenal experience and possibly worth the airfare to Rejkivak alone.
Our first day was a fairly laid back one where not much happened other than discovering Pike Street and the ‘alternative culture’ based activities it offered. A good skate shop, record shop and bars are located on Pike Street and it would prove to be our mainstay for drunken idiocy. In the evening we tried to go to a gig but got the date wrong so instead lingered on the streets drinking oversized cans of beer… I know it’s an American obsession but I am down with this ‘light’ version of beers they have, like I’m doing my body a favour.
The following day we went to our first ever ‘soccer’ match in which Seattle Sounders played Colorado, 90 minutes of action unparalleled anywhere else in the football world. In all honesty I enjoyed the match though the spectacle lay mostly in the observing of supporters whom were in their thousands for Seattle, not so for Colorado. The majority were a little over the top reacting crazily to firework displays as the teams appeared and singing some of the most appalling chants I have ever witnessed at a football match… “Come on Seattle, FIGHT and WIN”. Nevertheless I had a good time and was genuinely impressed that there seemed to be a legitimate football scene in America even if it wasn’t to the standard of the mighty Premier League back home.
The day was then spent loafing around Downtown Seattle, which doesn’t offer a great deal for the non-generic tourist other than a fantastic library, which was taken advantage of.
The evening entailed the second attempt to watch Danava and low and behold it didn’t happen again. We did see another band who were sadly a little standard in comparison to the mighty Annihilation Time of whom their guitarist and drummer belong. Props go out to the first band ‘Weed’, probably a namesake celebrating Seattle’s legalisation of weed, as they were a breath of fresh air and honest. I refer to honest because after each song they seemed to celebrate with screams and cheers of what they had achieved and had little time for posing or trying to match a particular convention related to the music they played.
The night, as most nights would, continued with general drinking madness with which I have an affinity for and which my friend only exacerbates. During proceedings I met some great people, many of whom may be referred to as ‘vagrants’ or ‘bums’ by the too straight laced. We conversed about our stupid accents, drug laws, alcohol and generally how people get by.
Most days and nights in Seattle seemed to follow this routine and it was an absolute joy. Granted there were no huge events in Seattle that ‘shook my world’ but I expected less of the place and therefore was pleasantly surprised I had such a great time there.
A standout night to be mentioned would be the one that concluded with me edging towards my bunk bed in a soaking wet jumper doing my best not to awake John the Marine. Firstly the wet jumper is associated with my ongoing fondness of water features when drunk and secondly I am surprised I have not mentioned John until now as he was quite the character to share a room with. As an overview John’s world revolved around reminiscing and forgetting about his military past, teaching and sitting in the TV room of the hostel. A good man none the less and one who’s hand I ensured to shake before we left for Olympia.
Olympia started as strangely as anticipated due to the stream of correspondence that seemed to attempt to discourage us from staying at the accommodation we had intended to. Nevertheless we soldiered on and made our way to the destination located in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Olympia.
Upon arrival the strangeness continued as we were let in and told to make ourselves at home from behind a half-closed door before disappearing into a room leaving us to make sense of the situation… Whether our host was intimidated by us and freaking out, genuinely had shit to do or was just doing bathroom stuff is a mystery to me though after about 20 minutes she came out. Of the lady I can say she was a nervous religious type who seemed to get through her days utilising the company of her cat and an array of medication that may be associated with the strange initial behaviour. I did my best to be as polite and un-intimidating as possible to put her at ease during our 60-second conversation but she was off leaving us home alone!
We only spent two days in Olympia and that seemed enough, as it’s only a small place. Of it I can say there seems to be a strong scene here that seems self-sufficient and not too interested in fulfilling any hipster values so prominent in other bigger cities. I guess the path was lay by the pioneering work set out in the 90’s by the obvious examples and it seems to have done some good. I’m annoyed to say I didn’t see Calvin Johnson wandering the streets and failed to visit Sleater Kinney Street though I did make good use of my time in Olympia and even achieved ‘regular’ status at the local bowling alley. I should also say I bought some fantastic plain white socks in Olympia, skated one of the best bank to curbs I have ever found and saw two sea lions having a blast.
We left Olympia on the Wednesday and had we been there for the weekend it seemed there would be a lot going on in terms of shows and partying though we had a date with Portland for which we couldn’t postpone.
Portland was very much what I expected…. A fairly laid back city with a strong ‘alternative’ scene. Vegan strip joints, which I did not attend so cannot explain, can be used as a suggestion of the alternative kudos possible in Portland. My interests were more geared towards the bars, restaurants and music the city had to offer as well as what can found in the local Goodwill stores. The place is very much anti-chain-store which was refreshing for an American city and independent businesses made for a much more interesting landscape.
Of the people of Portland I noticed many concerned with a DIY approach to life with the aesthetic to match, however putting ‘D-Beat’ pizza on the menu may be taking things a little too far. Notably a good deal of artists claim Portland as their adopted homeland, which contributes a great deal to the vibe going on in the city. As I spent most of my time in the areas these types thrive it is an expectation that my view would be somewhat biased towards their lifestyles, obviously if you spend your whole time Downtown a very different perspective would be arrived at.
Something I always planned to do during my visit to Portland was to visit a skate park called Burnside. As I grow older I use the term ‘gnarly’ sparingly and appreciate the related connotations however this place was exactly that. Not only the layout of the park but the atmosphere too… A locals only vibe totally prevails here and understandably so because so many places must have fell victim to being all inviting. A lot of effort has been put into the construction and maintaining of the place by skaters, the same people who no doubt don’t want it to become the local scooter haven or crash pad for those who would show it little respect. Anyway the vibe at Burnside was one that was expected and I like it that way, it can continue to be the place it always has been for those who deserve it.
In conclusion I really liked Portland and could easily live there. It was as I expected it would be and my little time in the place was well justified through its people and places. I’ll hopefully be back soon.
California is a place that has been on my radar for countless years simply because it is the homeland to many skate videos I spent countless hours absorbed in as a younger man. My own California, a waxed curb on Oldfield Drive, didn’t quite compare though mine and my friends will to dream stands for something. Sadly the days of the curb are long gone however I did eventually make it to California, more specifically San Francisco.
Upon my initial step from the BART station onto Mission Street I was hit with a reality check not so apparent in the other cities visited so far. San Francisco has a problem with homelessness and nowhere is this problem more obvious than anywhere near The Tenderloin. Addiction to crack plays a large role in many people’s lives and to see crack being took so openly and freely left an impression that finding a room and the money to pay for it is not really on the day’s agenda for these very people. It would be naive to suggest that all the homeless here are crack addicts, as a majority of the homeless are simply people who can’t afford to pay a months rent. Reasons for homelessness is a debate which I won’t go into though I will say that San Francisco seems to be a place where, if it is your only option, living on the streets is a little more possible.
Whilst on the subject of accommodation what I will say of the first hostel we stayed in is that it was disgusting. I don’t wish to recite the many flaws of ‘European Guest House San Francisco’ though must mention that I was impressed with the owners decision to use staples to hold the room’s curtains up.
Anyhow my thoughts on San Francisco are varied and depending on where you are located a very different opinion can be arrived at. For example if I was to spend my whole time anywhere near the Bay Bridge I would grow to hate San Francisco because of the ‘tourist’ factor, granted I fall under this very category however I try to in a not so obvious way. Therefore I spent my time dodging mainstream tourists in areas that I admit implicate another type of tourist, however, this one I find easier to bear. Anyway I don’t care if people compare Haight to Camden, which I can see and don’t see, as it’s not going to stop me from visiting an area so steeped in history. Another obvious hangout was the Mission District and justifiably so… good bars, restaurants, coffee shops etc and for those for whom it may concern DLXSF.
A San Francisco highlight would have to be my day spent attending the Anti Hero BBQ and granted this sentence makes me sound like a legitimate skateboarder but on this day I was admittedly far from that. I turned up with no skateboard, as was always the plan, and sat hung-over in awe of Julien Stranger and Andy Roy. Despite sounding like a child describing his fondness of the latest pop sensation I have no shame in name dropping these two and they are up there with my still to come Anthony Pappalardo sighting.
Similar to Seattle San Francisco continued to be a fairly relaxed affair with the occasional night of drunken oddities which were only fueled by the arrival of a third travel companion and well-known Sheffield legend. It was upon his arrival that the decision was made to visit Big Sur as we could now rent a car and access the places we considered less accessible. Moving on the place was truly amazing and made for one of the best days of the holiday until we began our journey home. I lay casually asleep as the others chatted over hip topics associated with their lives until there was a sudden jolt of the car and we were all over the road for a brief second. As I awoke my first word was “SHITTTTTTTT” as I prepared for the car to flip over down the embankment to our right. Fortunately though we had skilled driver who took no shit and dealt with the situation like a pro despite it really being a somewhat terrifying occasion. To elaborate a little on the cause… a huge piece of metal flew from the car in front of us into and under the bumper of our car. Upon inspection the front light and bumper were smashed leaving us terrified of the prospect of getting fucked over by an insurance company as so often happens in this world. Fortunately our ‘full insurance’ meant exactly that and we luckily escaped financial turmoil as well as physical.
My final evening was spent washing my clothes.
Oakland and Berkeley
During my time in San Francisco I put in the effort to visit Oakland and Berkeley. Firstly of Oakland I found it to be quite an industrial place with a Downtown that was a little generic and probably like many others throughout America. My evening was made enjoyable by the people I came across as I went to Oakland on a solo mission and despite some initial concerns I was embraced by the locals at the gig I was there for. Of these people Jeremiah was a good egg and despite our slight age difference we got along well drinking 40’s in the park and sneaking more into the venue. Interesting conversations were had and a general sense of being a little embarrassed to be American made this group of people, and in particular Jeremiah, solid company for the night.
Berkeley seemed to be something of a University town and is a good place to visit for the day though I found that was all the time I needed there.
Around 10 years ago I travelled to New York twice and absolutely fell in love with the place. Granted my life at the time centred around two skate videos ‘Eastern Exposure’ and ‘Mixtape’ and being in New York allowed me to live out a fantasy. This time I knew I was going as more of a tourist than back in the day though was still excited by the time I would be spending there.
Upon my arrival in New York I was to head to North Brooklyn to Rockaway Ave, a place linked with a few renown hip-hop stars early days. As white and British as I sound I was off to the ghetto and was surprisingly fairly excited. My bed was based in the basement of a guy’s house whose only knowledge I had of was that he had a motorbike and I had seen a picture of him sat on it. Arriving at his house there was sadly no man and no motorbike and during my entire stay I never saw either. A windowless room in the ghetto was not paradise though was an honest representation of where I was financially at. Furthermore my suspicions that I wasn’t staying in the greatest area were confirmed when a guy tried to mug me. It sounds dramatic and if I wasn’t as drunk as I was I may have reacted to the man and his fake gun very differently. In regards to the fake gun it was his hand under his shirt and the request to go down the street with him “NOW” was met with drunken bafflement… I laughed and said “No way!”. Had I become a man? Ironically this is not the first time I have been ‘fronted’ on with a fake gun and whether it be New York or New Cross I dealt with the situations well, via the means of an alcohol, both times.
New York continued to be a good time and despite hitting up some of the ‘obvious’ areas I had a blast and real good record shops, bars, street sips, lurking and so on went down in my final days. Highlights include my slightly autistic partner in crime for the whole stay, seeing a somewhat depressed Anthony Pappalardo, seeing the mighty Citizens Arrest and finally making it to Tom’s Café for those in the know.
To conclude this was most definitely one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. My expectations of the American people were far from what I imagined and I guess this is why it is necessary to see and experience things for yourself. I was honestly touched by how caring, considerate and down for helping many of the people we came across were and it is something I will never forget. Obviously the landscape of America is a thing of beauty, even at its most ugliest, and that will also continue to stay with me.
However moving away from the place and its people I must emphasize that the honorable mention must go out to my travel partner Tom Archer. A good friend, with the tendency to sometimes slip up by insulting me, Tom made the whole experience that much better and I thank him for it. Through thick and thin we managed to make sure we had a good time and I am happy to say that the biggest argument we had was based on the subject of why in the early hours I shouldn’t be standing wasted in a water fountain, soaking, refusing to go home.