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Chapter 18 - The United States of America

By Neil

sunny 25 °C
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California – The economic powerhouse

The USA. After 5 months in non-English speaking countries, it was the small things we appreciated, like understanding the announcements at the train station and being certain what we had ordered for lunch. And by the way, the first place we went when we got off the train? A sushi restaurant! Bliss after 5 months!

And we arrived into the 7th biggest economy in the world. California.

The most significant impression that I got from our stay in the USA was the economic, intellectual, and entrepreneurial powerhouse that is California. No country is perfect. But there are some things America is not only doing right, but better than anywhere else on earth. I am talking about innovation, development of ideas and entrepreneurship.

One of my favourite things about the Cape to Cape Big Trip, is learning about the countries that we are travelling through. California is the home of Tesla, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Oracle, Intel and many others. All of these are great examples of entrepreneurial and money generating powerhouses. Not forgetting that Microsoft and Boeing are up the road in Washington state.

I’ll give the example of a bloke we met in California. This bloke has a degree and a PhD. He works for a foundation that is investigating a disease. The Foundation is funded by an entrepreneur/philanthropist. There is a team of about 90 people working for the foundation and 600 contracted to it. One of the areas they are investigating is the changes that happen to proteins when the disease develops. They are then designing molecules to block the formation of these proteins. There are thousands of permutations and combinations. The job of the bloke we met is to manage the development of the information system used to analyse the results of the tests.

The intellectual firepower in this team and the entrepreneurial/philanthropic funding of the effort maybe not unique to California, but are perhaps rare elsewhere.

The high quality (and yes, expensive) education system and the American “can do” culture seem to be a huge part of this. And perhaps it is also the extraordinary salaries the unbalance American society, but which attract the most talented and innovative people to this area.

Then again, I reckon, you just can’t go past the beauty and climate of the place.

View down the beach from Encinitas, just north of San Diego, California.

The climate; not too hot, not too cold. Plus, of course, there is the Vibe, man.


Trump versus Keating.

So, travelling through the USA my literary companion has been Bill Bryson’s book about Australia called “In a sunburned country”. It is rather fabulous and, whilst the US Presidents might get quite a bit of press they are nowhere near as colourful as the Aussie Prime Ministers (of course, anachronistically, the Australian Head of State is still Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth).

Let’s take this bloke:

Harold Holt Australian Prime Minister – 1966-1967.

Now the Yanks have lost a couple of Presidents, but did they ever really lose one, never to be found? And because he went swimming?

Cheviot Beach, Victoria, Australia.

There he was, Australia’s Prime Minister in 1967, Harold Holt, having a day out with his girlfriend (don’t know where his wife was) when he decided to go for a swim at Cheviot Beach, Victoria, Australia. Two minutes later, got caught in a rip and was never found. Oops.

Still the Aussie’s commemorated him appropriately.

The Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Pool

Yes, we named a swimming pool after him….

American Presidents are famous for many things, but the Aussie Prime Minister Bob Hawke? Firstly he held the world record for the fastest downing of a yard of ale:

Bob Hawke – Australia’s Prime Minister (1983- 1991) – who once held the record for the fastest downing of a yard of ale (1.4 litres or 2.5 pints). He did it in under 12 seconds.

And then in 1983, Australia won the Americas Cup from America (it’s a sailing race). Bob Hawke, wearing this rather understated jacket famously said “Any boss who sacks a worker for not coming to work today is a Bum!”. Now that’s bloody classy.

Bob Hawke – in his Americas Cup Jacket when Australia won the Americas Cup in 1983

However, both of these magnificent examples of Aussie leadership pale in comparison to The Honourable Paul Keating, Prime Minster of Australia from 1991 to 1996.

The Honourable Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996

He was, is, possibly the most sharp witted, and humorous Australian politician ever. Here are just some of the absolute pearlers that came from him.

About John Hewson, the leader of the opposition:

• He’s like a shiver waiting for a spine
• Debating with him is like being flogged by a warm lettuce
• A feral abacus
• The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly (after Hewson asked him why he wouldn’t call an early election)

On Andrew Peacock (when asked if he thought Andrew Peacock would become the leader of the opposition again):

• A souffle doesn’t rise twice

On Wilson Tuckey:

• He’d be flat out counting past ten

And about John Howard:

• He’s like a lizard on a rock, alive but looking dead
• A desiccated coconut
• What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.
• …the brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition…
• But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.
• From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him (speaking of his 1986 leadership)
• I’m not like the leader of the Opposition. I didn’t slither out of the Cabinet Room like a mangy maggot….

Which brings me around to the present President of the USA.

When I was at school there were bullies. The way to minimise the activity of a bully was to ignore them. To remove, if you like, their oxygen.

We were in San Francisco when the President announced the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. 147 countries have so far ratified the agreement. The President's move is isolationist. The world will continue to work on addressing the climate challenge. California, New York and Washington will continue to work on addressing climate change. The US Government will not be at the table. Unfortunate, but frankly not critical to the success of this accord.

I have completely lost interest in the present President of the USA. The world will continue on. The best way to deal with a bully is to ignore them. To remove the oxygen. To fight hard against the silly decisions, but to get on with life.

The best headline I saw was in the New York Times after the Paris Agreement, “China steps into the void left by the US Withdrawal”. That, I think, says it all.


Friends, Romans, and Trains.

After travelling 22,000 km’s by bus, and 3,500 km’s by boat to get from Cape Horn to Tijuana, we were very pleased to be able to travel by train up the west coast of the USA. Train travel is just so much more civilised. You can move around, go to the restaurant car, sit at tables, even take a shower.

Back in the 1820’s when I was University, I did a “thin sandwich” course; ie the first year was in the University, and the second, third, and fourth years were 6 months in the University, and 6 months in industry. For me that meant 6 months in Frankfurt in 1984, 6 months in Lyon in 1985, and 6 months in Toronto in 1986. Yes, it was a cool course, as was coming out tri-lingual.

In 1984 I met a bloke called Alex. The last time I saw him was during my first year travelling in 1992. It was time to catch up again. It was a little off putting to do the sums and work out that we’d met a third of a century ago and the last time we met was a quarter of a century ago. He now lives just outside of San Diego and it was great to meet again; talk about life, the universe, and everything.

Alex and Neil – Encinitas Beach, north of San Diego, California.

Nik and I then travelled from San Diego to Los Angeles by train. The first train that we’d taken on the trip. It is called the “Surf Liner” and it was amazing. So amazing and so overwhelmed were we not to be on a bus playing power ballads that we in fact that we didn’t get any photos. But here is the route we took between San Diego and Los Angeles:


There is a panoramic roof viewing car:


And the views of the coast are spectacular:


And then I take you back to 1986 in the ongoing history of my life where I met up with a guy called Ian in Toronto. In the late 80's we went on to create legends of Dionysian revelry everywhere from Canada to Europe. Life, marriage and kids then intervened for both of us, and we were now catching up again after 12 years. Interestingly, when we got together this year in Long Beach, our memories were sort of the same, but not exactly. For example, I have no memory of the goat on the train between Munich and Athens. Ian has no memory of the bottle of Johnny Walker Whisky on the same train. That may be because we started the trip with a full bottle and halfway through it was empty….. It may be because we made the trip when the train travelled through a country called Yugoslavia…

Ian, Diane, Nik and me at a restaurant in Long Beach, California.


We may have created some more legends of somewhat more subdued revelry this time, but we are certainly not going to leave it another dozen years before we catch up again!

Whilst I have been to San Francisco a couple of times before, I’d never done much of the tourist scene. So Nik and I took the train, the Coast Starlight from LA to San Francisco and it was very picturesque.


San Francisco is a great town.

San Francisco tram.

We went out to Alcatraz, the jail in the middle of San Francisco harbour.


I got put in jail. Again.


Then it was on a bus from San Francisco, 3 hours up north to a town called Ukiah where Nik’s Aunt Zoy and her wife Katherine live. It was a wonderful stay and the coast line in northern California is truly stunning.

Nik with Aunt Zoy and Katherine + the Lucy the dog by the mouth of the river Navarro

Then a fantastic walk along the boardwalk at MacKerricher State Park

Photos from the cliff top walk at MacKerricher State Park


This is the path of the train we took up the west coast.

The path of the Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles to Seattle

The last part of the trip was the 24 hour train ride from Oakland to Seattle. But before boarding in Oakland, it was time for oysters and ribs! After 3 days of being 'happily' nearly vegetarian with Nik, Zoy and Katherine - Yum!


This time, instead of following the coast, the train went inland up over the mountains in northern California and Oregon. Once again, it was a wonderfully relaxing journey - we felt so spoilt after the hard toil on buses down south!


After 5 months, our first view of snow capped mountains and snow on the ground. And all this from the civilisation of the train with showers, a restaurant car and observation car !

So the USA. From a latitude of 31 degrees north to 41 degrees north in 2 weeks. Now it was time to move onto British Columbia and Yukon in Canada prior to continuing to Alaska…


Posted by capetocape2017 13:29 Archived in USA Tagged california train us australian president prime ministers

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Loving it all. I need to work Dyonisian revelry into the conversation more often!

by Geoff Silagy

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