Becky says things about … an American road trip – PART 6: New Orleans

Our Airbnb in New Orleans was a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian doll’s house, in a quiet leafy street ten minutes from the madness of the French Quarter.

It had an enormous balcony. It is important that you understand some crucial facts about this balcony, the significance of which will become clear later on:

  • The balcony overhung the pavement, which ran underneath it, 10 feet below
  • The only access to the balcony was either through the French doors in Sarah’s bedroom, or the French doors in my bedroom
  • If you wanted to access the balcony from the pavement, you would either have to climb the nearby tree, or scale the side of the building. Neither option was possible to someone who wasn’t Spiderman.

We managed to resist the urge to buy eight cases of wine and spend the rest of our lives drinking them on the balcony, and delved into the tangled criss-cross of streets in the French Quarter.

It was like any picture you’ve ever seen of New Orleans: the wooden Victorian houses were slapped in every colour of the rainbow; hanging baskets dripped from balconies that were held up by spindly, cast iron supports; strains of jazz wafted on the hot, humid air.

But it was when we came across a jazz band in the middle of a street who were playing a jazzed-up version of The Flintstones, watched serenely by a dude in a red tailcoat and a top hat relaxing on a kerb, that I really felt we had arrived in New Orleans.

We then came to the joyful realisation that, as we were no longer in Tennessee, we didn’t have to eat BBQ ribs anymore. Prior to this trip I didn’t think it was possible to not want to eat BBQ ribs every day, but it turns out it is eminently possible, and even vital to your physical and psychological health. Happily, New Orleans offered something else on which we could endlessly binge: shrimp.

So we went to Johnny’s Po Boys and shared one of these bad boys.

Shortly after this we found ourselves at the mad end of Bourbon Street.

Bourbon Street is the street that comes up in Google Images if you search for ‘New Orleans’. It runs right across the middle of the French Quarter. At one end – the end nearest our apartment – it is quiet, lined mainly with residential doll’s houses; there’s a cluster of gay bars as you get to the centre, then jazz bars, and gradually the jazz bars outweigh the apartments, then as you get nearer to the skyscrapers of the city centre, the jazz bars become full-on clubs with names like ‘Jubbly’s’ and ‘Smokin Tits House of Fun’ and ‘Sloppy Cocks’, and then suddenly you’ve unwittingly joined a bachelorette party and you have downed 37 shots of unidentified alcohol for $10 and you’re lying face-down on the putrid floor of a pulsing club and a bare-chested man is simultaneously dry humping you and trying to get you to come to the club next door where they have live bear-baiting and everyone is naked.

So I exaggerate. But it’s not far off that. The mad end of Bourbon Street was a cross between Blackpool, Brighton and Croydon on a Saturday night, with lashings of Las Vegas spewed over it for good measure.

It was hideous.

We decided we would avoid it at all costs and stick to the jazz and wine bars. This decision doesn’t make us old, just civilised.

Due to road trip fatigue, we decided to make fajitas in the apartment and get an early night. So by 11pm we were both in bed, looking forward to a long, refreshing sleep.

This long, refreshing sleep was, however, not to be.

I was awoken at 2am by what I first thought was thunder.

Upon fully regaining consciousness a few seconds later, I realised it wasn’t thunder. Thunder doesn’t go BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG.

I realised with horror that it was the sound of someone trying to get into the front door of our apartment.

Not half a second later, I realised, with considerably more horror, that it was actually the sound of someone trying to get into our apartment through the French doors of Sarah’s bedroom – which, if you recall, led directly onto the balcony.

No sooner had I realised this appalling fact, the BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG suddenly stopped.

I briefly wondered if I was dreaming and had made up the whole mad banging thing.

This brief wonder was unfortunately very quickly smashed to pieces as the BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG started again, and this time 100 times louder on my French doors, three feet in front of me.

Here are my French doors, at a more peaceful, less terrifying point in our stay:

The only way I can describe to you the urgency and violence with which my French doors were being shaken is that it sounded like Godzilla desperately trying to escape a nuclear apocalypse. The measly door knob immediately flew off and the door was being held only by the tiny single bolt at the top, and the rest of the door flapped and shook like a sail in a hurricane.

The illogical part of my brain was going:

The logical part of my brain decided that if this was a burglar or an axe murderer, it was the worst burglar or axe murder in the history of time. The logical part of my brain also realised that if I didn’t do something pretty quickly, the door would fly off its hinges and whoever or whatever was trying to get in would burst through into my bedroom, the prospect of which was undesirable.

So I leapt towards the door, yanked aside the shutter, and came face to face with a guy in his mid-twenties.

In a tone and pitch I had never heard come out of my mouth – which I now know to be the ‘terror’ setting – I yelled ‘What the FUCK are you doing??? I DON’T KNOW YOU!!’

To which the guy replied ‘Holy shit – am I at the wrong place?’

And disappeared.

Silence.

With my heart having some sort of awful 90’s rave, I crept into Sarah’s room where I found her in bed clutching her sheets to her face.

After both agreeing we were shaken up like marbles in a cup but essentially okay, we heard voices from outside. I listened at Sarah’s French doors (she forbade me to go out onto the balcony) and heard the unmistakable sound of drunken arseholes from the pavement below. These drunken arseholes remained laughing and talking loudly for the next hour.

Using our combined training from years of watching True Crime documentaries, we came to the conclusion that our intruder was part of the group of guys staying in the apartment downstairs, who had clearly got absolutely wasted and locked himself out, and had mistakenly thought in his drunken stupor that our balcony was part of his apartment. Whilst this was fucking irritating, it was a relief to decide our intruder had not been a mad drooling axe murderer running amok on our street.

After a few fitful hours’ sleep, we awoke in the morning to the unmistakable sounds of drunken arseholes yelling and laughing in the hallway downstairs as they left for the day, presumably to go and get utterly bollocksed and drink each other’s piss out of pint glasses.

We called our Airbnb host, who turned up an hour later with two handymen. As we surveyed the scene on the balcony, I proudly showed them the exterior handle of Sarah’s French door that the drunken arsehole had yanked off the night before, and which I had spotted in next door’s gutter.

As we speculated how the hell the drunken arsehole had scaled our balcony, and one of the handymen exclaimed in awe that ‘Motherfucker’s got some upper body strength’, they repaired my broken French doors and assured us that, as they also owned the apartment downstairs, they would contact the drunken arseholes to give them a serious warning and to let them know that they had nearly caused the two women upstairs to give birth to their entire digestive systems.

We discovered from our host that the drunken arseholes were in the US Army, and were from out of town. This was ironic, considering that everyone we’d met on our road trip had warned us to ‘be careful’ in New Orleans as it could be ‘dodgy’ – where in fact we experienced nothing but friendliness and kindness from everyone in New Orleans, including the people on the street you might consider ‘dodgy’ – and here we were, having drunken out-of-town arseholes from the US Army getting smashed off their faces and trying to break into our apartment.

Our host left us with an assurance that we were perfectly safe, and that we would get some money back on our stay to make up for nearly dying of shock and terror.

We then did what any normal human being would do when recovering from a heinous shock: we had shrimp in a hollowed-out baguette, and got horrendously drunk.

We hit the gay bars in Bourbon Street with a mathematically impossible 1,000% enthusiasm.

A brief summary of our night, in useful bullet points:

  • Drank beer, not like it was going out of fashion, but like it was coming back into fashion after a lengthy period of absence
  • Watched jazz and drank beer in a Wizard of Oz-themed bar
  • Sat on the balcony of a gay bar and drank beer and listened to a man inexplicably playing bagpipes in the street below
  • Got an emergency hot dog from a street stall
  • Drank double Southern Comforts and lemonade on the balcony of another gay bar, and got chatting to a young girl who was in town for a work convention; when she went to the toilet and said ‘You’ll be here when I get back, right?’ we nodded, after which Sarah immediately went man-down and said ‘God I am so drunk we need to leave’. So we left.
  • I was so overcome with guilt about abandoning the lovely girl, that I propped Sarah up outside and went back up to the bar to say goodbye, and found the girl wandering around looking bemused and holding three huge shots. I did a shot out of politeness, apologised, wished her a long and happy life, and left.

When we returned home at 2am it was all silence from downstairs, but we had not only forgotten about the drunken arseholes, it was entirely possible that we made so much noise clattering about and drunkenly laughing and dropping things that we woke them up. Whilst this would have been a satisfying payback, waking up and thinking ‘I wish those idiots upstairs wouldn’t tread so heavily’ is not quite on the same level as waking up and thinking ‘OH MOTHER OF GOD SOMEONE IS TRYING TO BREAK IN AND GUT ME LIKE A FISH.’


The next morning, Sarah was woken, not by someone trying to break into her bedroom, but by the sound of me retching into the toilet.

I did not feel well, my friends. Not well at all.

And so our road trip ended with us dragging our feet round the streets of the French Quarter, stopping briefly in a rainstorm to chat to a homeless guy (‘I don’t like Hilary Clinton, but you know, bitch was right all along about global warming’), and collapsing in front of the TV on our last night with some pasta and, bizarrely, the Downton Abbey Christmas special.

Conclusion: New Orleans is beautiful, generous, and super friendly. New Orleans is completely bonkers. If you go, go at the end of your trip, not the beginning. You will need all your strength to do it justice. And to kick the shit out of the drunken out-of-town arsehole that tries to break into your bedroom at 2am.

 

 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – PART 5: Memphis

Our first evening in Memphis was textbook: we went to BB King’s Blues Club.

In the bustling, low-lit club we ate yet more BBQ ribs, drank beer and listened to the utterly fabulous BB King All Stars (for the measely cover charge of $5, which, next to the $5 I spent on the Golden Girls magnetic bookmarks in Gatlinburg, was the best $5 I spent all holiday).

In the sax and guitar-pounding room, as the beer flowed, I got completely carried away by the cool-as-hell blues and decided that I could – nay, would – become a famous blues singer-songwriter, and how difficult could it be to shove together a funky baseline, an electric guitar and some devilishly saucy drums, and finally I’d worked out how I was going to make my fortune, and it was all going extremely well in my head until the All Stars did Purple Rain, complete with the 8-hour finale, so incredibly brilliantly, that I had to go to the toilet to recover, and I became so distracted by the inexplicably huge gap in the toilet cubicle that I forgot about being a blues singer.

Let us talk about this for one moment. Please can someone from the Department of American Toilet Cubicles and Urinational Privacy (DoATCUP) explain to me why  you must have colossal gaps in your toilet cubicles? Every single toilet we went in on our trip – be it a bar, restaurant, or that scarily remote gas station in Georgia – had a door that sort of hovered in an open space, attached to the frame by a uselessly massive bracket. In one toilet in a bar in Nashville, I sat on the loo and literally made eye contact with a woman’s reflection as she washed her hands at the sinks. I didn’t feel violated, as such – just confused.

Anyway.

The next morning we thought we’d go and see what the toilet cubicle gaps were like at Graceland, abiding by the little-known 178th Amendment ‘He who visits the City of Memphis must visit Graceland, irrespective of His feelings for or about The King, or He shall be considered a wierdo and a loser’.

So we entered the Graceland compound – a Hollywood set-style street of museums, diners and gift shops – and queued to buy tickets, then queued to enter a small room to watch a short film about Graceland, then queued to get on a mini bus that drove us across the road  to the house itself, where we queued to get through the front door. Whilst you Americans do like to make an industry out of what could be a relatively simple process, we Brits did appreciate an effective queuing system.

Here’s the old boy’s gaff:

Nice front room, where he did the crossword and watched the news:

Kitchen, where he cooked microwave dinners and drank tea:

And here’s the old dude himself:

If you love Elvis, go to Graceland. If you don’t love Elvis, you still have to go to Graceland because if you don’t then the people who love Elvis will stare at you like you have a watermelon for a head and celery for arms.


We now need to talk about ducks. Why? you ask, quite fairly. Because they are a Really Big Deal at the stately Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

So, legend has it that in the 1930s some cowboys smuggled in some ducks to the hotel (the crucial ‘Why?’ in this story was unclear to us), and chucked them into the fountain in the grand, palatial lobby. The next morning, the manager apologised to the guests for this unexpected mallard invasion, to discover that, actually, the guests were thoroughly enjoying watching the ducks mucking around in the fountain.

And that, my friends, is all that is required to start a 90-year tradition.

Every day at 11am and 5pm, the Peabody hosts the ‘Duck March’. Which is conducted by the Peadbody Duckmaster. I am not joking. This is the most coveted position in America next to the guy who seals up the gaps in toilet cubicles.

So there we were, at 10.50am, hanging over the balcony in the Peabody lobby, eagerly awaiting the appearance of these ruddy ducks.


Yes, that is a red carpet. For some ducks.

At 11am on the dot, the Duckmaster – clad in a red tailcoat and a top hat – grandly announced in a faux English accent that in a few minutes’ time the ducks would descend in the lift from their suite – yes, their suite, the suite for ducks on the top floor of this five star hotel, I hope you’re grasping the magnitude of the duck situation here – and they would proceed to waddle up the red carpet and hop into the fountain.

And a few minutes’ later, that is exactly what they did.

There they are.

I mean, underwhelmed is the wrong word – I have had no previous experience of this sort of duck ceremony on which to base my expectations – and there was obviously something delightfully charming about the gravity that was bestowed on this event – so I’ll just say that watching some mallards waddle up a red carpet and cock about in a fountain left me simply whelmed.

 

Later that afternoon, we spent an incredible four hours at the amazing National Civil Rights Museum, which is built around the shell of the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. If you’re in Memphis, go. It is astonishing. And, in case you spend quite a lot of time wondering why the initials ‘MLK’ are stamped on pretty much everything, I can inform you that they quite clearly stand for Martin Luther King, and are not a peculiarly mis-spelt announcement for MILK, which was the misapprehension under which my road trip-addled brain was labouring for a good two hours, until the realisation hit me like a massive and wholly justifiable fist.

We then spent an hour driving around the centre of Memphis trying to find the Hertz garage to return our trusty little car to her rightful home. It took an hour, because the Hertz garage felt that a sign the size of a thumb that was half-concealed by a window frame behind seven concrete pillars, was sufficient to alert people to its existence.

It was during this frustrating circular drive, and our subsequent walk back to our hotel, that we experienced the city of Memphis in all its bustling glory.

And when I say ‘bustling glory’, I mean absolutely silent and deserted weirdness.

I have been to many cities, and a usual characteristic is an abundance of traffic and people. You know, the things that make up a city. Life. But Memphis had none of these things. We walked a mile back to our hotel through the ‘centre’ of the city, and saw three people, one tram, and a dog.

Even when we had walked to and from the Civil Rights Museum in Downtown Memphis – Downtown, which normally signifies the place where all the busy cool stuff happens – there had been merely a dribble of cars and the odd pedestrian looking a bit lost.

Either there is a good trade on invisibility cloaks in Memphis, or everyone was at Graceland. They are the only two feasible explanations we came up with for the spooky emptiness of the city. It did mean that there were no queues when we stocked up on provisions at Walgreens, but if anyone has any explanation as to why Memphis is so creepily deserted, I’d love to hear it.

Due to an ungodly early start the next day to catch our AmTrak to New Orleans, we had an early dinner at the famous Rendevous restaurant – more ribs; I mean, by this point we were starting to take on a shiny BBQ hue – bid farewell to the blues bars on Beale Street, and hunkered down in our hotel room to pack and watch Con Air. 

Conclusion: The blues are fabulous. The museum is fabulous. Hell, even the ducks are fabulous. But, as a city, Memphis is… peculiar. If you go, stick around Beale Street. Because apart from the ready availability of invisibility cloaks, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else going on.

Next up: Jazz, shrimp, a very drunken evening, and a dramatic home invasion escapade in New Orleans. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip PART 3: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

After an overnight stop in Athens, Georgia, we ploughed up through the green and red fields of rural Georgia under a crystal clear sky, briefly cutting through a thin slice of North Carolina, where we passed more churches than was surely practical. I immediately had a burning question for these churches:

WHERE DO YOUR CONGREGATIONS COME FROM?

Seriously. This is how the drive went:

Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. House. Church. Gun outlet. McDonalds. Fields. Church. House. Church. Gun outlet. Fields. Church. Rifle range. Church. McDonalds. Church. House. Fields. Gun outlet. Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. Church.

I can only imagine that their congregations are solely made up of gun-wielding McDonalds’ employees.

After an hour winding through the deep green veins of the Smokey Mountains, we emerged into the flat valley of Gatlinburg. I had imagined a quaint Swiss-style resort tucked humbly in the mountains, hanging baskets blooming from wooden chalets, the smell of mulled cider wafting on the fresh breeze  – the odd cow roaming pensively – instead, we got the Blackpool of Tennessee. Under the disapproving gaze of the hazy blue Smokies lay a bustling strip of arcades, amusements, hot dog and doughnut stalls, tacky bars, shops selling all the tat you could possibly wish for – and it was when I saw the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the movie memorabilia store that I wiped a tear from my eye. It was ruddy brilliant.

Upon walking through the door of the Airbnb office, the moustacheod cowboy behind the desk drawled ‘Ah, there y’are, Becky and Sarah,’ and when I asked how he knew it was us, he replied ‘Cos there ain’t no other soul comin’ my way today.’

Three minutes later we were back out the door with the key to our condo. This relaxed process was a far cry from the Spanish Inquisition we’d had checking in to the Daytona and Athens hotels, where we had been asked for ID, credit card, date of birth, known allergies, top ten favourite album covers, mother’s maiden, and favourite sexual position.

Our Airbnb was on the fifth floor of a condo complex (block of flats to us Brits), with a view from the balcony that was reasonably acceptable.

A couple of hours later we were sailing high above the mangle of shrubs and trees as a ski lift hoisted us up the mountain, our bare feet dangling in the hot air, our knuckles whitening and our colons twitching at the beautiful yet almost-certain-death below us.

At the top of the mountain, bathed in the red evening sun, was an Alpine Disneyland: a toytown of chalet-style shops, a bar, and a complex of rope bridges clutching the tree trunks of the mountainside. All accompanied by some yodelling. When one finds oneself in a mountaintop toytown, the only thing to do is to have a pint of incredibly strong local ale and go for a stroll on the perilously high treetop walk. This we did with the alacrity of a couple of slightly tipsy mountain goats.

The next morning, we felt we should do A Walk as that’s what people do when they’re in the mountains, so we drove into the darkening, tangled heart of the Smokies to do A Walk to Grotto Falls.

At the entrance to The Walk was a sign telling us that at any one time there would be 37,000 bears watching us, and if we should come face to face with one we should firstly try this:

And if Mr Bear took umbrage to that, and if we were still alive, we should secondly try this:

That was the long and short of it, anyway.

Fortunately we didn’t get to practice our bear-survival skills, and made it to the extremely pretty waterfall with merely a few splodges of bear poo on the soles of our trainers.


Are you a die-hard supporter of the 45th president of the United States? Do you live in the Gatlinburg area? Do you enjoy a statement t-shirt? Then it’s your lucky day!

Bizarrely, neither Sarah nor I fancied any of these jolly t-shirts, but we DID fancy the movie memorabilia store, where we spent probably the happiest 20 minutes of my life.

After a hard day of not seeing any bears and avoiding being gunned down by Tennesseans as we took photos of us giving Trump t-shirts the finger, we spent the evening on our balcony playing cards (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cards – thank you, movie memorabilia store) and drinking wine, which was a delightful way to spend an evening until a bug flew into my nose and I threw my wine in Sarah’s face in shock.

Question: what do you do if you’re staying six miles from a Dolly Parton-themed theme park called Dollywood?

Answer: go to Dollywood.

It.

Was.

Brilliant.

For three solid hours we were flung about on some of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on, and I became intimately acquainted with Sarah’s vocal chords.

In the gift shop – a veritable shrine to Dolly Parton, her plastic face beaming from every item – I had the following illuminating conversation with the pink-capped girl at the checkout:

Then came Funnel Cake-gate.

A Funnel Cake is America’s way of making a doughnut even more lethal to your arteries. Instead of a single lump of batter plopped into the fryer, the batter is piped into the hot fat so it creates an intricate nest, thereby increasing the surface area of available fat-soaked dough by approximately 23,000 times. It is then doused in icing sugar.

We demolished this arterial onslaught in around eight minutes (theme parks are hungry work) and experienced a brief moment of sugar-induced elation, during which we planned every detail of our campaign to be the first female presidential duo of the United States, and then, as though draining through the bottom of a bucket, our blood sugar levels succumbed to the greatest sugar and adrenaline crash in the history of the universe.

It was all I could do to drive us back through the mountains and crawl into a late afternoon coma. The lesson? Roller coasters + funnel cake = absolutely nothing. Forget it. You’re finished.

Conclusion: Gatlinburg is F.U.NAnd if you’re a Trump-supporting, church-going, gun-toting, bear-fighting, Funnel Cake-loving adrenaline junkie, then you should definitely go.

UP NEXT: Rain, country music, and another booze-filled afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 1: Daytona Beach

Cherished Listener, behold a tale of two English women’s road trip in south-east USA.

My friend Sarah and I galavanted through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana in a whirl of suffocating humidity, BBQ ribs, gallons of beer, Trump T-Shirts, life-changing hangovers, bears, and a dramatic home invasion escapade – and I would like to say things about it.

So without further ado, turn off Netflix, get yourself a cool beverage, tell the cat to shut up, and we shall begin.

DAYTONA BEACH 

The car journey from Orlando airport to Daytona Beach started badly and went downhill from there.

I first tried to leave the Hertz car park through an exit clearly marked STAFF EXIT ONLY and was ushered back out the right exit by a polite Mexican; then within minutes of being on the freeway (freeway or highway? Is there a difference? Does it matter? What does anything even mean?) we had missed three exits and I was trying to quell the rising urge to go back to the airport, fly straight back to London and tell everyone we’d made a terrible mistake.

After eventually deciding we were going the right way, and navigating the 319 inexplicable toll booths that all charged 75 cents for the privilege of driving past an unmanned shed, it was all going well, until there appeared in the road ahead of us the jagged, ripped flesh of a car tyre that looked like it had been spat out by a T-Rex. There’s not much one can do at 70mph on a four-lane freewayhighway packed with rush-hour traffic, so I elected to simply run over it. This felt similar to driving over a tree branch embedded with six-inch nails.

Clearly I had just irrevocably damaged the rental car we had been in for less than half an hour, and our pierced tyres were going to flatten and flop about and eventually spasm off and whip into the air causing a devastating multi-vehicle pile-up, the tragedy of which would pale in comparison to the $3million we would have to pay Hertz, so I got off the freewayhighway and checked our tyres in a McDonald’s car park.

Anti-climactically, they were fine.

I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get back on the freewayhighway. You Americans may wonder at my driving abilities, but let me tell you, when one is sitting in the wrong side of a car, on the wrong side of a road, everything becomes wrong; in this case, driving two miles in the wrong direction, performing approximately 13 illegal and wrong manoeuvres, driving the wrong way down a road, and inadvertently and wrongly turning on my windscreen wipers during a frantic three-point turn.

It was then that I vowed we would never again exit a freewayhighway unless the SatNav told us to, and even then it’d have to have a damned good reason.

Miraculously and only partly wrongly, we made it to our oceanfront Holiday Inn, and the next morning’s sunrise from our balcony made up for our distressing car journey, and for a night battling an air conditioning unit that sounded like King Kong with a chest infection.

We waded through the cloying 95-degree-4895%-humidity in search of breakfast, and it was on this short journey that all our fervent hopes that America is playing a massive practical joke on the rest of the world were shattered – for slapped on an electricity generator was a bumper sticker that defiantly yelled TRUMP PENCE 2020.

To keep our spirits alive we breakfasted in the Daytona Diner – a nostalgic haven of movie and TV memorabilia, adorned with plentiful images of Betty Boop being provocative with a Harley Davidson – and the waitress patiently explained to us the 297 different ways we could have our eggs.

After breakfast there wasn’t an awful lot to do up our end of Daytona Beach, unless we fancied getting a tattoo or visiting the mini golf where we could ‘feed and hold live gators’, so we spent the day by the hotel’s oceanfront pool.

It was at the pool that I made the following three important anthropological observations about our American cousins:

1. Americans do not swim. At least, not those Americans in Daytona Beach. Not a single one of the 20 or so Americans in the pool swam more than two meters. Instead, they plopped themselves in, arranged themselves in a convivial circle, and had a semi-submerged chat. An hour later, they emerged wrinkled and refreshed, and flopped onto their sunbeds with the laboured sigh of someone who has just swum the Channel.

2. Beards are there to be worshipped. The 60-something whale-bellied dude who had the bushiest, silkiest, lushest beard we’d ever seen (for this reason we inventively named him Father Christmas) lounged against the side of the pool sensually stroking his facial mane, while a hareem of adoring women bobbed round him, clearly seduced by the silken foliage. Sarah and I were mesmerised, particularly when he told a story in a deep, chocolatey southern drawl about his previous hotel in South Carolina where a kid shit in the pool.

3. The pool is a perfect place to show off one’s dedication to the gym. An oiled terracotta beefcake, adorned with hoops in both ears and a signet ring the size of a golf ball, spent two hours manfully astride his sunbed staring down at his pecks, which he flexed in turn to the beat of ‘America’s Greatest Stadium Ballads’ that he was kindly playing on his portable radio for all the pool to hear.

After a few hours of my skin slowly dissolving in the sun, I went for a stroll on the beach.

And it is stunning.

It is endless, silky (much like Father Christmas’ beard). Clouds floated in the wet sand. Clusters of tiny birds scuttled back from the lapping waves. Children busied around castles and moats. Elderly couples lounged under marquees, holding hands and peering contentedly into the blue. A topless man frantically pawed at the sand, whipping up torrents with his hands, muttering under his breath ‘It was here somewhere. Motherfucker was here somewhere.’

I called it a day and went back to the hotel.

That evening, after a cab journey to Daytona Beach’s main drag, I decided we should go to a biker bar. When in Rome, and all that.

A quick glance at Google Maps told us that the promisingly-named Main Street was the place to go for biker bars.

It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach.

Walking down Main Street at 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach was simply a sunnier re-enactment of the opening scenes of 28 Days Later where the dude wakes up to discover that he’s the last human left on earth.

There was no one. I mean no one. Despite the many inviting bars with names like Dirty Harry’s, Filthy Mike’s, Downright Unpleasant Steve’s, and the echoes of heavy metal wafting onto the baked pavement, there was not a soul to be seen.

After making it to the end of Main Street without seeing so much as the lovingly-coiffered fronds of a beard, we came to the conclusion that a) Main Street is actually an abandoned film set that no one’s got round to demolishing yet; b) Main Street doesn’t come alive until much, much later when the hoards of bikers emerge from their cocoons of corrugated steel and drink beer and compare clutch brackets until dawn; or c) Main Street had been hit by a devastating and extremely localised plague, which had wiped out its entire population, and the chipped, peeling facades actually concealed piles of decomposing corpses.

Whatever the reason, we had abjectly failed to have an authentic Saturday-night biker experience, so joined the gaggle of tourists at the end of the pier at Joe’s Crab Shack.

And there I innocently ordered the fish and chips, and innocently discovered that the batter of the fish was basically KFC skin.

I don’t mean my fish was coddled in actual chicken skin – although I wouldn’t put it past you cheeky Americans – I mean that the Colonel’s secret herb and spice mix had somehow found its way into my fish batter.

And after 13 seconds of resisting this heinous abomination of an English classic, I gave in.

We had a post-dinner stroll along the dingy Boardwalk, passing the amusement arcades, fried chicken and doughnut outlets, and the decaying bones of a wooden roller-coaster.

We weren’t 100% sure about this dusty, tattered edge of land that was Daytona central, although it didn’t fail to provide a somewhat clichéd introduction to the South, particularly in the form of the baby-holding guy who was wearing a T-Shirt that proudly growled ‘Spare me the debate – I’ll stick to my guns’, lovingly embroidered with images of rifles.

After finding ourselves on the outskirts of a U2 tribute concert, we decided we would permit jet lag to get the better of us, and wearily taxied back to the hotel and the throaty splutters of our air conditioning unit.

Conclusion: Daytona Beach is stunning. Daytona is like a humid, unkempt Brighton. And we never did find out if Main Street rose from the dead once the blazing red sun went down.

UP NEXT: Moonshine, the hangover from hell, and the best Monday afternoon ever in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. 

 

Becky says things about … being lost in translation

Greetings to you all, most splendid listeners! I have acquired a few more of you since my last post on being cheerful had the glorious fortune to be Freshly Pressed; and, as the majority of you are either from my own humble Englandland or from across the pond in Americaland, I shall say hello in both languages:

English: Good day to you, my old chums! Salutations and hello there!

American: Yo, bud! Waassuuuuuuup??? Hey y’all, how YOU doin’???

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If you excellent Americans have gleaned from the above that we English think you actually talk like that all the time and that you are a nation of  Budweiser-swigging, gangsta-Paula Deen-Joey-from-Friends incarnations, then you are sadly correct.

You see, we in Englandland just can’t grasp your language. Yes we know it’s essentially the same language as ours, but there are such monumental differences, my American pals, such crucial and paramount disparities that we just can’t cope with.  

For example.

You have no idea how a simple greeting from you can throw us English into blind panic.

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We have literally no idea how to answer this question. Do you even mean it as a question? Is it rhetorical?

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If it’s rhetorical, you need to tell us. We are a great nation, but we cannot handle a question so early into a conversation.

This language barrier has also prevented potentially millions of English people from getting jobs in America. Ever wondered why there are so few English people working in your office? This is due to a simple yet crucial difference in the language of architecture: your buildings start on the first floor and move up to the second. Our buildings start on the ground floor and move up to the first. Do you know how many job interviews have been missed, how many hopes and dreams have been slashed, due to this massively important difference?

translation1

But sometimes, America, you’re not just content with moving floors around, you take a word that we can cope with, that we think we understand and you make it mean something else! At school I read the entire To Kill A Mockingbird weeping at the injustice of inequality, rejoicing at the vigour of the human spirit, revelling in the beauty of the writing, and wondering incessantly what the hell Scout was talking about when she mentioned her bangs. 

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Listener, I did not learn what bangs were until about a year ago. For those of my fellow Englishmen who still have no notion: bangs means fringe. As in, the hair that covers our foreheads.

Yes.

I know.

No, I have no idea how they came up with bangs, either.

But bangs is nothing. Nothing, I tell you.

NOTHING compared to the brilliantly astounding lost-in-translation moment that accompanies an American talking about their fanny.

**Pause to allow my English listeners to smirk quietly to themselves.**

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You see, America, we English find the fact that you use the word ‘fanny’ to mean ‘bottom’, unfathomably amusing. I recently told the lovely Lizzy from Big Body Beautiful that I had finally come to like my rather rotund bottom. Lizzy beautifully replied that she was delighted that I was ‘sending pleasing thoughts to my fanny’. This amused me tremendously. 

Oh, America. You wear fanny packs. You sit on your fanny. You want your fanny to be bigger / smaller / thinner / plumper / wider / juicier (enjoying this, England?) – and we English at first gape open-mouthed, and then laugh and laugh and laugh.

Why?

Because here in England, fanny does not mean bottom. Here in England, fanny means

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THAT is why we find a nice American girl saying she’s been working on her fanny to try and tone it up insanely amusing. It is also why I was tormented for years by the aching, unanswerable question of why the hell anyone would invent a fanny pack. 

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And as for the biscuit debacle. Well. How do you think we feel when we see American breakfast menus advertising biscuits and gravy? It throws us into turmoil. A nice, sweet digestive biscuit covered in gravy??? Are they demented??? Our biscuits are your cookies. Would you want your cookies smothered in gravy? Of course you wouldn’t. That is why the concept both startles and repels us. And what about the Great Chips / Fries palaver? We go to America and order steak and chips expecting this:

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk
Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

And instead get this:

Courtesy of @alz
Courtesy of @alz

Displeasing.

But perhaps the greatest example of a potentially fatal translation problem comes from a friend who had the following conversation with a policeman (or police officer, if you will) in Manhattan, New York, at around midnight. In the late ’80s.

Behold.

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True story, Listener. True story.

So, my lovely American buddies, the next time an English person chortles manically when you say you’ve got an itchy fanny, or gapes bemusedly when you say you need to straighten your bangs, or whispers ‘Sss’ when you say ‘Do the Math’ (it’s Maths, America, Maths), you know why. We’re not being rude, we’re just confused.