It was morning in America and today over 169 million registered voters were about to be given the first opportunity to vote for an African-American as their head of state.
The sun rose over the Manhattan skyline and burst through our apartment window to signal that a new day was dawning on America. For the Road Trippers, it was the final day together after seventeen days on the road that had taken us from the gun toting, pickup-truck driving state of Texas, through the corn fields of the mid-west to the fall leaves of New England. We were now sharing an island with over 8 million New Yorkers and were about to embark with them, on the final journey that would be the political grand final day to end all grand finals.
However, in fine Australian grand final tradition, there was always one key player in the team than let his pre-match nerves get the better of him and returned home from the night before just as the morning sun was hitting the first New York skyscraper. The Doctor had played his road trip long and hard and wasn’t about to go soft on the eve of the election. Hey, if you’ve got a winning formula, why change it?
While the Doctor got some beauty sleep, the other four Road Trippers headed out onto the streets of the city to sample election day: New York style.
Skuzzlefark, donned his now traditional travel uniform of hiking boots, knitted fleece, appalling choice of tracksuit pants and map in hand and headed down to inspect the juxtaposition that is capitalism, consumerism and democracy and took to the streets around Broadway and Union Square. To find out more about Skuzzlefark’s day, he will shortly be releasing a travel book titled, “Flying by the seat of my parachute pants: Why do people look at me funny?”
Meanwhile JT, the Rabbit and the Don headed down to 57 Broadway, in the financial district, to the State Democrat Campaign Office to lend a hand. Before the boys could help Barack, a quintessential New York pizza was needed to give them the sustenance and stamina required for such a momentous day. Unfortunately, the three of them nearly got thrown out of said pizza restaurant on the corner of E 8th St and Broadway when the Rabbit attempted a half-arsed New York accent when ordering his pepperoni. Road Trip Rule No.7 – Don’t impersonate the locals, they could be packing heat.
Once the three boys arrived at the campaign office they walked out of the lift onto a floor that was buzzing with activity. They weren’t the only people to be offering assistance, the place was heaving with locals who had walked off the street in their morning break to make an hour’s worth of phone calls or hand out flyers. Once they filled our pockets, bags and every other orifice with Obama campaign mementoes they met a campaign volunteer co-ordinator, who suggested they head into the room where most people were making calls into the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio to get out the vote. This small room that seated over 800 phone bank volunteers had made just over 250,000 connected phone calls in four hours into Pennsylvania only the night before. The boys offered their time but hit a snag when they discovered that most off the street volunteers were using their own cell-phones.
So instead of going to jail, or at the very least returning to Australia with an employer greeting us with a large phone bill and instant dismissal, she gave them a bundle of flyers and vague directions of where to go to hand them out and sent us on our way.
So off they went in search of the subway and headed to the Bowery district to hand out flyers ready to fulfil our obligation to help deliver Barack to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On the subway platform they met a woman who claimed to be a key fundraiser for the RNC in New York and had raised all the money for Mitt Romney’s failed primary campaign. As they all squished on to the subway, she was none too pleased with our Aussies for Obama t-shirts and the RNC Jump For Jesus Trampoline Centre gag on the back. However she couldn’t get too nasty, she was on a packed subway in Democrat New York. This was not her town.
They ascended from the subway to a neighbourhood that was in the lower east side and began walking north handing out our flyers to passers-by. The flyers had the location of all of the Democrat phone banking centres located in Manhattan for volunteers to go and make calls to voters in swing states. The Don, JT and the Rabbit's job was to walk up to complete strangers and ask if they were prepared to give an hour of their day to make some calls for Obama.
Of course if anyone tried that back home, you’d probably get your head punched in, but amazingly, the locals where quite receptive to it. So much so, the boys managed to send at least 40 people off to an Obama phone bank centre to help the great man. Surprisingly, some people had already made their calls at some point in the day, but were willing to go back again and make some more. I guess you don’t know if you don’t ask.
One old woman was so amazed to meet some young Australians helping her beloved Democrats that she invited the Don and the boys to come home to her place for an election night dinner party, she was serving meatballs and soup.
But the meatballs and soup had to wait. The three Aussie volunteers continued heading uptown into the East Village handing out the flyers. JT targeted attractive young women with his Hugh Grant looks, the Rabbit when he wasn’t on his blackberry targeted older voters and the Don found traction with non-English speaking midgets and the homeless.
By late afternoon, the boys put down their flyers and rested at our NYC local, Luca Bar. The Don did a quick interview with ABC radio in Adelaide and trotted out all the standard key lines, “this is the Kennedy election of our generation”, “this election is about Change” and “I’m sick of f***ing tipping these c**ts”.
While the Don mulled over what he just said to the fine people of Adelaide, JT and the Rabbit headed up to Midtown to meet some foreign affairs academic. The Don was soon joined at the Luca Bar by the rock star himself, the Doctor who had awoke from his morning/afternoon siesta (who quickly ordered a pint for breakfast), and Skuzzlefark who had returned from his day fresh with tales of meeting other New Yorkers that dig ripstop nylon pants with zippers.
By the time JT and the Rabbit returned from their intellectual verbal berating from the academic, the others boys had made new friends in the guise of the Luca barmaid and her fire dancing mate from up state New York. The Doctor who was quickly back on his feet taught the girls the finer parts of the Australian vernacular, while our hostess proceeded to give them and herself copious amounts of free wine. Guess where the boys were sitting? That’s right, at the bar. Have you people learned anything yet?
By this time it was 5pm and the bar, and surrounding establishments in the Village, began to fill up with expectant office workers ready to sit down with a quiet libation, some fine food and witness history take place before our very eyes. The owner of the bar had set up the TV and a rear projector, with CNN on one and MSNBC on the other. The Rabbit asked if he could change one of the TV’s to Fox for a laugh and he dutifully obliged.
By 9pm all the networks were putting Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes in the Obama column on the basis of exit polls! That’s right, not one vote had been counted and the polls had only been closed for two minutes. Over the next hour or so all of New England turned blue and Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida were teetering towards the Democrats. State by state, the electoral votes piled up on Obama’s side and it was only a matter of time before it was official.
So the Road Trippers, now including the Pink Pants Man, sans pink pants, jumped in a cab and headed across town to the Mansion. On most nights the Mansion is a nightclub in the Meatpacking district, but it had been converted into a phone bank centre for the days leading up to November 4. For tonight it was the main NY State Democrat close of polls function.
When the cab pulled up outside the location, the boys noticed an establishment right next door which will be all too familiar with those in the Labor Party back home. There it stood in all its glory, a venue so far away, yet a venue that is now burned into the lexicon of ALP history. A venue that took in a nerdy politician and ejected a leader of men, a man of the people, a man who would one day lead the great southern land. That venue was of course, Scores.
Unfortunately it was shut; maybe Scores were keen to put Bush behind them too and hope for change they could believe in. Anyhow, now wasn’t the time nor the hour for overpriced bourbon, fake breasts, overbearing perfume and innuendo-loaded humour.
The boys headed into the main area of the Mansion which was packed with campaign volunteers drinking, chatting and watching the coverage on the big TV screens. We headed to the bar and ordered a round of drinks that would have equalled the GDP of a small African nation, whilst the Don, who was fast becoming the media slut of the group, did another radio interview back home.
The Rabbit then set about scoping the place for the next adventure, only for him to return with passes that gained us access to the VIP section of the party.
Once the former slave state of Virginia and its thirteen electoral votes were declared Democrat Blue, all that was required was for the polls in California to close and its fifty five votes to fall in the Democrat column; it was now a fait accompli.
At about 11.30pm ET, CNN declared that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the son of the Kenyan academic and a single mother from Kansas was now the 44th President elect of the United States of America.
Words cannot describe the feeling in the room at that point. To stop and look around at the Democrat volunteers who had worked so hard, some from the moment that Obama had announced his intention to enter the primary race back in February 2007 on the Springfield State Capitol, others who were probably voting for the first time in their life, to witness the shear elation and joy on their faces was a memory that will live long in the minds of all of us. African-American women and men openly wept, Americans of all backgrounds embraced and high five’d each other and standing amongst it all was six Aussies who were accepted into the Democrat family, privileged to witness and play a small part in changing a nation for all the right reasons.
It's impossible not to be swept up in the hyperbole of this stunning result. So much of a campaign's effort was to 'get out the vote'. To do that Obama campaigned not just for swinging voters but all voters in his broad church (hello Gilesy). All voters had a stake in his success – families, old and young, gay and straight, lunch-box Democrats, moderate Republicans, independents, the poor as well as the middle class and of course black and white. He appealed to the better angels of our nature, replacing self interest with national interest. The victory is so heavy with symbolism that some of its simplest meaning can be lost.
Obama broke the perverse nexus that existed between Republicans and white working class Americans who in the past voted to concentrate wealth in the hands of the super rich because of conservative Republican cultural values. Obama has changed the modern meaning of the American dream and restored the idea of America as a place of opportunity and equality.
Obama faces daunting challenges. With these challenges, there are strong historic parallels with Lincoln, FDR and Kennedy. To be sure, the challenges and expectations are impossibly high. But it feels that in just one day so much has already been achieved. Obama's victory has provided a shot of integrity and confidence that America has been crying out for. Everyone is proud of the nation's ability to right its wrongs.
No wonder Jesse Jackson wept tears of joy during Obama’s speech. 150 years ago a black man could be owned as a slave; just 50 years ago blacks weren't guaranteed a vote. Today, a black man born in that time is now the 44th President. We are moved by reports of ten year old black students in Bronx public schools telling of being woken up by their moms at midnight to be told the election had been decided and history made. When asked what this means for them one kid said "I can grow up and be whatever I want to be. Obama is our first black president but he won't be our last."
Yes He Can. Yes We Can.
New York, New York.
After our final night in Boston we arose from our Cambridge hotel and caught the oldest underground in the world and headed to the South Boston train station to jump on an Amtrak fast train and head to New York City, NY. The Rabbit informed us that the NY – Boston commute was the only commute that turned a profit for the national railway company. Wow – what an anorak.
The journey took us back down the New England coast through some ground we had already covered with the Truck of Justice, this time our driver was an American civil servant and just like Skuzzlefark he wasn’t for diverting.
The Don, who had become the morning driver across the States so he could deal with a latent case of travel sickness, was finding the train journey all a bit nauseating. He went up and asked the driver if he could have a go to relieve the nausea, producing his union ticket in the process, but the driver was having none of it the bloody scab. So he returned to his allocated seat and proceeded to change to the same colour as his Celtic strip.
The boys arrived at Penn Station and took the subway towards our palatial East Village apartment on 2nd Avenue. In hindsight, maybe a cab might have been the better option. We followed the Lurker who had become a semi-regular visitor to the Big Apple and had a fair idea of what line to catch. However, six blokes in tow carrying their recent lives on their backs across town meant that the journey slowly wore away at both their spinal cords and the patience of both the Road Trippers and the subway’s notorious commuters.
You can imagine Skuzzlefark’s face when he discovered that the Lurker had taken us on the wrong line and we had to ascend even more flights of stairs. The only thing that collectively brought a smile to most of our faces was the knowledge that JT had to drag his 600 kilogram bag with wheels up four flights of stairs after he lost his sherper in the Manhattan traffic.
Once we reached our destination we were told that our apartment wouldn’t be ready for an hour - so we headed down to a little bar on St Marks Place called Luca Bar. JT had been here before and while we were all a bit knackered from the trip down from Boston, we ate our food, drank our drinks and then headed back to the apartment to freshen up and prepare for our final assault on the greatest mountain of them all. New York City.
Upon receiving our keys to the apartment we opened up the door to the fifth floor apartment to be greeted by a classy New York two storey apartment that had a modern kitchen, tall ceilings, classic antique furniture, including an arnoir (see Seinfeld), two bathrooms and a roof top balcony. It was everything you could ask for in a great city like this, except three double beds, meaning one of the boys would have to jump in the cot with someone else.
Now while most women would have no problem sleeping together, and indeed most men would have no problem with women sleeping together either, the unwritten rule of all men is to have some distance between us when it comes to sleeping arrangements.
We’ll happily pat each other on the arse after someone takes a catch in slips, or kicks a goal from 50 meters on the angle, and some sports like Rugby League we clearly invented just so men could have the chance to lie on top of one other. But when it came to the bedroom, proximity is strictly off limits.
Thankfully after a couple of quick phone calls, additional bedding was arranged and “Awkward City” was avoided...or was it?
Once the boys had freshened up, they caught a cab across to Greenwich Village and took in a little Italian restaurant on the corner of Bleecker Street and McDougal.
Following our over-priced, under-performing meal (think Lygon Street with American accents) we headed across the road to a small bar the sat below the quiet wet Monday night Village streets. Our main purpose was to watch the presidential candidates being interviewed during the half time interval of an American institution - Monday Night Football.
It was a let down. In the end, we should have guessed, you’re not going to get much of an in-depth political debate when your interviewer is the American version of Sandy Roberts. Following the half-time interview we convinced our young lonely Irish barman to change the channel and try and locate the running of the race that stops the nation - and five slightly pissed Aussies in a bar in the Village - the mighty Melbourne Cup. Once located, JT and Skuzzlefark felt that this was far too much Australiana for one night and headed up the stairs in search of a new location. The Rabbit headed home and that left a dangerous combination in the Lurker, The Don, The Doctor, the Mikey, an Irishman and empty bar full of liquor to sample.
Our barman who was on until 4am was keen to get this five man party started and literally said, “lads I’m going out for smoke, the bar’s yours.”
It was like being in the best stocked Qantas Club you’ve ever seen, without the cold pies.
Meanwhile, across town, Miranda and Charlotte were finding it difficult to come to terms with living a Manhattan lifestyle where all the best men in New York were either gay or …… sorry wrong story line.
Meanwhile on the other side of 7th Avenue, JT and Skuzzlefark had managed to talk their way into one of the Village’s more exclusive bars aptly named Employees Only.
Inside the boys ran into some of Manhattan’s cooler kids. They also ran into a B-Grade celebrity comedian from aunty back home who surprisingly was not impressed with the Road Tripper’s heroic tales. Just to ruin the celebrity’s night The Doctor chose to baffle him with the most boring details he could muster in a conversation that would make Grandpa Simpson proud.
Realising that this was the Aussies for Obama tour and no additional extras were required, the boys moved on up the bar to people who deserved to be a part of the Road Trip You Can Believe In. And it didn’t take long. Meet independent movie director and his girlfriend that ran the Louis Vuitton store on the Upper East Side.
After the Melbourne Cup had run its race the other boys joined the fun activities that were being had with the Village Elite. It was like the Village Elite meets the Village Idiots. The Don, over an few martini’s, was impressed with some dude’s latest iphone program that enables democrat voters to go onto the www.barackobama.com website and download a list of contact numbers of potential voters in your area to call and get out to vote.
JT got the latest on local fashion from an “insider”, Skuzzlefark spent most of the night knocking back invitations for Sex in the City and the Doctor, Lurker and the Mikey amused themselves with tales of wonderment that would only make sense if you to had much to drink.
All in all, it was good preparation for the big election day that would occur in less than five hours. We had tasted a little bit of what New York had to offer....and we liked it.
We awoke from our New Haven slumber to a stunning day in this Ivy League town. The weather had been quite cold lately but Yale threw us a curve ball and we took full advantage of the warm weather and wandered the streets of Yale University in our speedoes. When walking through the main quadrangle we passed by a group of environmentalists who had set up a stall. Seeing this as a good opportunity to stick the boot into some ivy league trots, we headed over to engage in some banter. Problem was, these guys were moderate than we were. Boring!
So we returned to the Truck of Justice and shipped up to Boston. On the way up we wandered through northern Connecticut and into Rhode Island before arriving in Boston just in time to meet the peak hour traffic. Y’know, some on the Road Trip We Can Believe In, may have questioned why we were taking in Boston, but for others who are not narrow minded and bigoted against those of Irish heritage, this was an opportunity to take in a city that wasn’t just a salvation for millions of starving Irish, but also the cradle of freedom and liberty that birthed an new independent nation.
Our journey to Boston also coincided with Halloween. You’d be amazed to realise that Halloween in the US is more than just kids trick or treating and overdosing on lollies. For the adult population, they too get into it in a big way. We headed across town to a famous restaurant for some Massachusetts lobster and came across hundreds of young people dressed in Halloween costumes ranging from Tinkerbell to Tiny Tim. After dinner we headed to Boylston Street, home to many bars and the building that houses the US series Boston Legal. Paisley.
The following morning we all loaded back into the Truck of Justice and headed out to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The centre is situated on Boston harbour and is home to the great but tragic story of America’s first and only Catholic President. Going through his story reminded us how much of an impact he had on America before his life was cut short in Dallas.
After we raided the gift shop and bailed out the US economy at the same time, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and catch up with an expat Aussie called the Lurker who had flown in from London that day.
We headed over to Harvard for dinner so we could pahk the cahr in the Haarvaard Yaaard and get some clam chowdah.
Our last day in Boston was spent taking the Freedom Trail around the city and followed the story of America’s fight against British rule. Along the journey we were joined by the Pants Man, a fellow traveller from Melbourne. Two things were remarkable about the tour and neither had anything to do with the historical nature of the journey. One was why did Skuzzlefark choose to wear shorts when the mercury was clearly hovering around freezing point and secondly, what was the Pants Man thinking when he put on pink tracksuit pants with his Australian Rugby League jersey that morning?
The journey took us from the city centre up to the suburb of Charleston and Bunker Hill. The scene of the famous clash during the civil war, where out-numbered patriots of freedom held off the might of the British Army and were ordered not to fire ‘til they could see the whites of their eyes. They did and ended up winning the American Revolution.
We descended back down the hill and headed back to the hotel to thaw out. That night we headed out to some Irish-American bars and prepared for our journey to New York and the impending election day.
New Haven, Connecticut
The following morning, we all boarded the Truck of Justice to head north to the town of the University of Yale, New Haven, CT on New England coast.
Before leaving Washington however there was one more bit of sightseeing to be done; Arlington - the National cemetery and home of the burial place of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Some criticism has been levelled at this blog for perhaps going into too much detail around these things so we will simply say that Arlington does a tremendous job of honouring the many men and women who gave their life in the service of their country.
Besides this stop the drive up was uninspiring and largely uneventful. We did drive through some scenic country-side, the north-east gives off an amazing array of colour in the fall and the Don was given ample opportunity to use his word of the trip “deciduous”.
Meanwhile the Doctor had quietly decided to see how long he could hold a small poster of Obama against his car window. It wasn't until they finished that day's driving that anyone noticed this pointless exercise when the Doctor answered his own question with a sense of proud achievement: "Four and a half hours".
But the real story of the day was of American cuisine, particularly that of the fast food variety. On this day the Road Trippers experienced both ends of this cheese reliant industry that is clearly responsible for shaping, in a very real sense, Americans.
The first experience was Wendys. It was way back in Dallas that the group became aware of this “sandwich” chain which has the slogan “It’s not fast food, it’s Wendy’s”. They have outlets along every interstate highway in America and can lay claim to the signature burger the Baconator. The Baconator has either two or three beef patties, patrons presumably settle on a preference based on the level of health care insurance they have, and American size servings of melted cheese and bacon.
JT, since becoming aware of its existence, had been insisting that the group stop into a Wendys and having ticked the box for biscuits and gravy was now lobbying hard for the group to sample the Baconator and on the drive to New Haven he, unfortunately for him, got his way.
Two of the five simply flat out refused to participate. The Rabbit and the Doctor took what JT felt was the Shane Warne “baked beans” approach to touring and walked off to a Burger King being closer to their cultural understanding of fast food. Of the three remaining it was only the instigator of the experience that actually ordered the famous meal.
The whole experience was incredibly depressing. The store we settled on was in the backlots of Baltimore. Readers should picture a very empty store, very, very bad musac and staff who had clearly made a number of decisions based on a very, very, very high level of health care insurance.
As hard as it might be to accept, the Sheik of Tweak might have been on to something after all. The Baconator which incidentally has square patties, was awful. JT’s blood pressure went through the roof just opening the wrapper. It is the only time any of the trip resented our universal Health care system which had inspired the choice of the triple deck option. The group early on had instituted the rule that due to the size of US meals we should always aim to leave something on the plate and JT was more than happy to follow that rule than on this occasion.
The other end of the experience was dinner in New Haven. We had been given some good tips from a friend, and reader of this fine blog, who had studied at Yale and as soon as we arrived put our faith in his local info to try and erase the memory of the now cursed “sandwich”.
We ended up, eventually, at Frank Peppe’s. (The Rabbit is the worst person alive at giving directions and seemingly thought the restaurant was in Montreal.)
Our friend, like all our readers, knew his stuff. Frank Peppe made the best pizza any of us have eaten. From the photo’s on the wall, which included Bill Clinton and Ronald Regan, we got the impression we were not alone in this conclusion. Apparently Clinton actually prefers a place down the road that we had tried first but had been informed by the owner that our arrival at 9:15pm was too late and we had to go elsewhere. Our waitress at Peppe’s told us he was known for a gruff persona but his pizza was good. Amusingly they were cousins but hadn’t spoken for 15 years.
Once the Rabbit had been talked out of ordering spinach as a topping we were delivered up a classic pepperoni and sausage pizza and a chicken special (a choice the Rabbit had not been talked out of).
The chicken was great, the pepperoni and sausage amazing.
The food on this trip has not been the standout. The servings are huge, fries are ubiquitous and cheese, or in some circumstances clearly a synthetic recreation, often served in equal volume to the rest of the meal.
Frank Peppe’s signalled that New England was going to be more rewarding in a culinary sense than the south and Midwest had been.
The trip went to bed with our faith restored in America’s fast food.
The following day after the Road Trippers met the next President of the United States, the boys decided to fill our final day in Washington DC by taking in all the monuments and museums that line the national mall. The boys split up with The Doctor and Skuzzlefark visiting the Spy Museum while The Rabbit, the Don and JT checked out the Lincoln Memorial etc.
We won’t bore you with the details of the various sites that we saw, instead each member of the Road Trip You Can Believe in will instead provide you with an observation of what they saw on the walk around the national mall. Some cynics may feel that they are being short-changed with this instalment, and that we are being lazy by not giving a full detail and you would be quite correct.
The Doctor: The Spy Museum is a cracker. I got to see all the original gadgets used by the CIA, FBI, KGB and other spy agencies. They even had an original Nazi Enigma code machine. The only disappointment was that they had the logo of every significant agency from across the world on display at the front of the museum, but not ASIO. Guys - I know you are a regular reader of this blog so can we please do something about this – even the Kiwis got a mention for Christ’s sake even though they are just a couple of blokes keeping a keen eye on Australia’s sheep.
Skuzzlefark: The National Mall was a sensational grand statement of US patriotism – in its good form. The Lincoln Memorial, the Korean and WWII memorials and the Washington monument all represent the dignity and respect shown to true national heroes. Unfortunately for me, my decision to try to squeeze in some exercise with the touring of the Mall by putting on the running shorts and shoes was proven to be a little misguided given the five degree temperature, rain and howling winds. Persevering with my decision all day, I was a little taken aback when the beggars at the tourist sites didn’t bother to ask me for any change and I swear one of them felt sorry enough for me he was going to offer me his pants.
JT: Americans honour their heroes particularly well and the National Mall is the embodiment of this. It is grand in scale, impressive in layout and poignant in execution. My personal favourite is the Jefferson which does a wonderful job of remembering one of the truly great men of history. It is perhaps the use of the words of these heroes that provide the monuments with their power. The Mall helps you understand American patriotism because it reminds you that if nothing else the proposition that America is founded on, equality, democracy, freedom is one that is pretty special.
The Don: They need more toilets and rubbish bins.
The Rabbit: The timing was perfect … taking in great monuments of history along the National Mall just days after meeting the next President. Inspired by the memorials to Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR the Road Trippers in a slimmed down form of me, JT and the Don were reminded of Paul Keating’s public lament ‘that Australia has not had truly great leaders’ of this ilk. We reckon we’ve had a few. Maybe it’s time to recognise those of quality. The Road Trippers agreed that all Aussies would embrace grand monuments to Whitlam, Keating and may be a few others. The walk ended with a low sweep by the Marine One helicopter, presumably about to drop off W for one last time. We waved goodbye!
The night ended with the Road Trippers heading down into Georgetown for some beers to reflect on our day in the nation’s capital. The boys stumbled across a nightclub that was completely empty. What could have been a boring night was turned on its head. When you combine olives, couches with wheels, and appalling doof doof music, you’re sure to have a good night.
The first day in Washington the group was presented with a choice about exactly what the day’s activities should involve. We had been informed that there was going to be an Obama rally about two and a half hours out of DC in a small college town called Harrisonburg, Virginia. However he was speaking in the university’s basketball stadium which only held 7,000 people so we were very unlikely to be able to get in. Apparently lines for Obama rallys are notoriously huge.
The question facing the Road Trip was should we drive for over two hours in what was very likely to become a fruitless endeavour or stick around in the Capital and enjoy the experiences that Washington has to offer.
One of the five decided to stay - the idea of going all that way only to be disappointed was too much. Scuzzlefark put on the back pack and headed off to see the great monuments that line the National Mall.
The rest of the group decided that Lincoln and Jefferson were not going anywhere and this was the only chance we would ever have to experience what has been the feature of this campaign, the fabulously attended and electric Democrat campaign rallies.
We boarded the Truck of Justice and dared to dream.
There are four lane highways littered across the US, and we have seen a fair bit of them over the course of this trip. The one to Harrisonburg is a standout running through the Shennondoah Valley which provided the drive with a stunning backdrop. As we surfed the local airways we stumbled upon a talkback show discussing foreign affairs with one Gareth Evans as the talent. Readers will be pleased to know that Biggles’ communication style has not changed.
As we drove into Harrisonburg and past the University Campus our hearts sank. There would have been well over 7,000 people already in line despite the doors not opening for another hour and a half.
But the boys were not for turning. As JT walked down the line in the forlorn hope that a friend or acquaintance volunteering in the area might be there The Rabbit, the Don and the Doctor standing towards the front of the line were, out of the blue, offered a muesli bar by a young college student in line. It was the break the group had been looking for. By the time the muesli bar had been consumed we were ensconced in the line. Being in this country with an Australian accent is brilliant.
We were in the line but we were still nervous. The security for the event was unbelievable. There were Secret Service and State Police everywhere, to actually get into the building was like going through an airport. So it was not until we were actually in the building that we relaxed.
As we filed through the metal detectors we, like everyone else, were filled with anticipation and disbelief that we had made it in. We found plum seats directly in front of the stage in a raised section behind were the network cameras were setting up.
We sat down and began to appreciate what was happening. We had made it, we were in.
There is only one way to describe the whole event. It was like being at a rock concert. The hall slowly filled up with people, mainly university students. U2, The Who, the Rolling Stones and of special significance for our group, Midnight Oil, were being played to keep everyone feeling good. They really didn’t need to. When a campaign worker just came up the microphone to encourage everyone to volunteer the place went wild.
After the National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, for which everybody present stood, a uniquely American experience, the Doctor and JT went for a walk to take it all in.
As they wandered through the crowd a Democrat staffer pulled them aside and asked them if they would like seats on the stage behind the candidate. This is the section you always see in the TV coverage, the people over the shoulder in shot. After it became clear the opportunity was open to all four Road Trippers in the stadium the two collected the others and proceeded to take places on the stage.
We couldn’t believe what was happening. It would have been harder to plan out a series of events better than the reality of what was happening. We had flown halfway across the world, driven for over 2,000 kilometres all because of one man. And there we were, holding our “Change” signs about to be less than five meters away from the next President of the United States.
The warmup speakers, the Gubernatorial and Senate candidates, will never have a better crowd. They could have declared that they thought it was a joke that only American Baseball teams could play in the “World Series” and they still would have been rewarded with wild cheering.
And then the moment arrived. Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America, Barrack Obama, entered the stadium about 10 meters to our left and the place erupted. 6,996 Americans and four Australians went absolutely berserk.
As he began to speak, from our vantage-point behind him, it became clear exactly how this has happened and what it meant. As he delivered his message of change, hope and opportunity we could see the faces looking up at him with expressions that showed what it meant to each of them.
This country is doing it tough and this is not just in the obvious ways. The current Administration, it’s Party’s current candidates, and all their proxies and supporters are now only about division. They are angry voices. They seem only interested in, or capable of, scaring and dividing people.
Barrack Obama is about bringing them together. His story is not about why we should fear our neighbour but why, if he helps me and I help him, we will all be better for it. He is the man for these times. The Kennedy of our generation.
“There is no red America, there is no blue America, just the United States of America.”
“It does It does not matter if you are white, or black, or latino, asian American, or native American, gay or straight.
“In one week we can choose to invest in health care and education for our families. In one week we can choose hope over fear and division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo.”
It was a good speech.
As we stood behind him, conscious of keeping our facial expressions matched to the words being delivered, we each did our best to take it all in.
As he finished his speech to the applause of a crowd who had been as equally inspired by his message as we were, he began to walk off stage….. and towards us.
He had decided that he would not walk directly out of the arena, instead around the stage area shaking the hands of those at the edges. By the time he had finished shaking hands each one of us had had the experience of putting our hand in his and locking eyes for a period of time that each of us will not forget.
It was an amazing way to finish the event. You could not help but get caught up with it all. There are a lot of things about American politics that leave a lot to be desired. This was not one of them.
American politics still has the ability to inspire and motivate. To get people interested and involved. I don’t think any of us would want a system like this back home but we would like to be able to attend rallies like this with Australians as excited about their political candidates as JMU stadium was.
As we drove back to Washington we reflected on what had been an experience that politics will probably not ever deliver to any of us again.
And Scuzzlefark said the monuments were good.
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The Roadtrippers, keen to avoid another chain store breakfast, were determined to find a classical diner in the rural United States and were delighted to stumble across Betty’s Country Kitchen in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It was a classic diner that harked back to the days of Twin Peaks.
John Thomas was particularly keen on the biscuits and gravy for breakfast – a particularly unique American breakfast of biscuits (basically a scone) and gravy (a rather nasty concoction of white sauce and sausage chunks). Putting on a brave face and insisting that the meal was quite tasty, JT quickly turned whiter than the sauce and left over half of the congealed mass on the plate. The rest of the group might have given JT a bit of curry over his insistence that he had chosen well but he persisted with his dubious claim.
The Doctor’s choice of blueberry pancakes seemed a safe bet until our hostess Betty indicated that each pancake was ‘the size of a plate’ and were also half an inch thick. Undeterred, the Doctor promptly ordered two of those puppies, didn’t eat hardly any of it and we used the rest as biofuel to power the Truck of Justice on to Washington. Like every other item of food in the US, they were bound to have corn in them.
Next stop Gettysburg.
It is quite clear that at some stage during this trip, each member of the Road Trip We Can Believe In will have what we have named the Andy Williams Moment. Without going into too much detail, there is a scene in The Simpsons when Nelson is determined that on the road trip with the boys that he gets to see Andy Williams live in Atlantic City.
For Skuzzlefark, Gettysburg was his Andy Williams Moment. To the random observer, seeing four blokes follow a guy with an anorak, map and a smile as big as Texas traipse across an ancient battlefield was probably something to behold. But for us it began as a chore rather than a moment to savour. But the cold winds that swept across the grasslands that is America’s bloodiest home soil battle, you could not be taken aback by how over 150,000 Americans slaughtered each other over three bloody days in the name of states rights or civil rights depending on where you hail.
But as pointed out by our resident civil war tragic (Skuzzlefark), the actual fight began when both the Northern and Confederate armies converged on this Pennsylvanian village in search of quality footwear. Little did they know that if they went to the local footlocker store on Main St you could pick up a decent pair of Dunlop Volleys at less than cost - as they had a sale on, - and were happy to take bulk orders.
Post-battlefield, the trippers retreated into Gettysburg town for lunch and were delighted to stumble across the best café we have found so far in the US. Scanning the menu board, The Rabbit managed to embarrass the group by asking, in hushed tones that the entire café could hear, for a chai tea. We seriously thought about leaving him in Gettysburg, gaffa-taped to a streetlamp.
In recognition of the quality of the dining experience, the suitably bemused waitress was presented with an official Aussies for Obama Fair Dinkum Best Meal certificate. The Don, The Doctor and The Rabbit managed to lavish so much praise and attention on her that she said she was “moderately uncomfortable”.
Leaving Gettysburg, the trippers headed straight for Washington DC. Samantha, our GPS guide, brought us into the suburbs easily enough but it turned difficult with roadworks and many roads blocked off due to official convoys that she apparently didn’t know about. DC traffic was the worst we have seen so far and Scuzzlefark was getting a little hot under the collar by the end of the 2nd hour of traffic jams but managed to wake up the crew with a spontaneous u-turn across 3 lanes of traffic to get to the hotel.
A grand day was finished up with an Aussie BBQ in the DC suburbs with some fantastic expats who gave us a great round up of DC, the bizarre governance structure of the DC/Virginia/Maryland dynamic and some good tips on places to check out.
The rest of the journey through the miles and miles of corn fields across Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania was fairly uneventful. We did manage to drive though the entire state of Ohio without touching the soil, even though several occupants’ back teeth were floating.
The hours did provide the pentagon of Road Trippers the opportunity to pontificate about the American political industry, current polling, food and the ubiquitous napkins under every bottle of beer.
Our conclusions were thus: Americans are really into cheese, processed meat and salt. Upon our return we will all get new livers and liposuction. One day we shall return to the states and introduce fruit and veg to our ally’s diets. Ok let’s not get too carried away and bite off more than we can chew, let’s just start with fibre.
Moving from fibre to moral fibre, American radio is shit. When it is not out of range, it is always a mad radical preacher telling his sheep that the bible tells us not to vote for Obama, shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity spend most of their time living in denial as their religious right fantasyland is falling around them as poll after poll shows that enough electoral votes will fall in the Obama camp. According to the political half wits on the radio, Obama’s plan to redistribute the wealth from 5 per cent of the highest income earners to middle America is socialism, and that the world is about to end if the America doesn’t wake up on election day and vote for John McCain - a candidate that most of the republican base have little affinity for him or his maverick politics.
What is clear to us though is that across television (apart from Fox News) radio and print, the Obama campaign is consistently on message, a message that all boils down to CHANGE WE NEED. Whereas McCain/Palin are all over the shop just like the Coalition was in the dying days of the Howard Government. If McCain spent less time attacking his opponent and defending his running mate’s wardrobe expenses and more on talking about anything other than the economy, they may hold on to most of the states in the south. This is something some betting agencies have recognised and started paying out, like Irish bookie Paddy Power did last week. Meanwhile we have Palin, now distancing herself from the McCain camp and preparing for the 2012 campaign. People, the wheels are falling off the conservative bandwagon.
A striking contrast to Australian party politics is the ability to energise their base in a manner in which Australian political parties can only dream about. Trying to get an ALP branch member to put up a garden sign, let alone pay for one as they do here, is a very, very tall order. Non-compulsory voting has meant that political activists in their millions are registering as Democrats, calling voters and getting out the vote. Blogs, buttons, bumper stickers is the by-product of a political industry that is geared towards getting the message out to voters that the Democrat/Republican brand is king.
Across our eight-hour journey, and indeed since we left Dallas, we have seen two Americas. Urban America is voting Obama, maybe less for whites in the south, but in rural America, they are resiliently going to vote for McCain/Palin.
The Rabbit took us on a misguided mission to find the Boeing building which we found the following day. It’s a very boring typical office building with no redeeming features at all.
We headed to the Millennium Park to see how Chicago made Melbourne’s Federation Square look like a total white elephant.
However its worth pointing out that Vics actually did a better job in the end because Millennium Park was finished two years after the year 2000 in a major embarrassment.
Chicago’s cool buildings combined with this impressive park and Chicago’s answer to Adelaide’s Mall’s Balls make this a seriously cool city.
In a truly unexpected moment we paid a whirlwind visit to the internationally acclaimed art gallery where we attempted to prove to each other that we knew something about the subject.
Despite Chicago’s large population The Rabbit bumped into The Don and his relatives in the art gallery and both road-trippers claimed they were only in the art gallery to look for a toilet and went on their respective ways.
Afterwards we visited some blues-brothers landmarks including the Daley Plaza where about 56,000 police, soldiers, firefighters and highway patrolmen pursued Jake and Elwood for their various atrocities.
We met up with The Don and got a tip that we should go to the outer suburbs for some ribs at a place called Smoque. Unfortunately the queue for the place extended out the door and we decided to head to an Italian restaurant down the road.
This was a move worse than Hitler’s decision to create a war on two fronts.
The food was enormous in quantity and barely edible. However the worst aspect was musical, not culinary. The piano accordion player proceeded to play 50’s classics while drunk and attempting to sing at the same time. While the road-trippers were under-whelmed by their Italian experience in the ‘burbs, at the table next to them a young couple signed up to a lifetime of romance.
We settled the bill in record time and made a break for a traditional Chicago blues bar. The classic blues was headlined by a talented diva mixing between Janis Joplin and Dusty Springfield. Meanwhile the bar workers were putting the drinks away faster than the road-trippers could order next drinks.
After a suitably large gutful of beer and blues we headed home at the end of another day of American adventures.
The Lincoln Centre was informative, but was bordering on piss weak world with all the wax mock ups of a 6ft 3 man you can fit in a museum. It did wet the appetite of the Token Civil War Tragic Skuzzlefark with more civil war stuff than you can poke a bayonet at. Once the Don had set off one of the security alarms in the bedroom of the child Lincoln, the boys new it was time to hit the road and head for Chicago.
The Don has thought to bring a copy of the BluesBrothers soundtrack which made the trip just slightly less than most painful journey ever made by five blokes with enormous hangovers. With the corn fields flying by at 100 kph, the tunes of Sweet Home Chicago and the skyline of Hankcock and Sears buildings appearing in the distance, our headaches were momentarily forgotten as we looked forward to our adventures in our first big US city.
Once we checked in to our hotel we went to the hotel bar to meet the locals and get a feel for the town.
We were told there was a decent Italian restaurant down the street which we quickly moved to and were treated to the best feed we have had in the US so far.
Spurning our usual diet of Coke, fries and burgers we had osso bucco, pasta and red wine. We then found an Irish bar for a quick pint before bedtime.
Chicago turns out to be a very big city but Chicago also seems to be the frustrated younger brother of New York, never seeming to live up to the standard of its bigger older brother. But the people of Chicago have gone a long way in stepping out of the shadow. If Sears Tower is a huge expensive “two fingers” to NYC, then the rest of its skyline, a blend of modern, gothic, art-deco and art-nouveau demonstrates a city that has class and a strong independent stature that all Chicagoans should be proud of. Wow – that’s the most intelligent musings uttered on this trip so far. We don’t know what’s come over us.
In the morning we caught the underground and had lunch with a political consultant who is an expert in foreign affairs and is advising the Obama campaign.
He was kind enough to answer our silly questions and was honoured to receive an official Aussies for Obama stubbie holder as a token of our gratitude.
We hopped on a Chicago institution – the famous L down town train. Jake Blues was right, they do go by so often you hardly even notice. We headed down to the suburb of Clinton and to the Obama Illinois head office and got to meet some more of team Obama.
The office was in a bunker under the city, as if its operations were clandestine. We were buzzed in and descended into a maze-like floor packed with volunteers and organisers all running around with something to do. With the hand-written sign at the front door that read welcome to the Illinois Democrat Head Office and the temporary set up suggested this was a get in-win-get out operation.
One of the first people we came across was actually a Greens member from Sydney which was a bit of a disappointment – until we told the FBI that she was importing hemp from Byron Bay.
The girl at the front desk was kind enough to give us quick tour around the place and we met some of the people behind the operation and she introduced us to a highly strung volunteer from the Labour Party in Britain who gave us a big lecture on why Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were failing the Labour Party.
We pointed out to her that this was a road trip we can believe in and not a road tip we can concede in, and told her to take her whinny pommy attitude back to England we’re its spurred years of failure and misery on all its national sporting teams.
Following our pommy-bashing, we felt refreshed and thanked the staff for giving us the time of the day and returned to ground level and joined Chicago’s Friday night home-time foot traffic and walked back up the Magnificent Mile continued to look up at Chicago’s beautiful architecture, admiring the view along the way.
Friday night in Chicago rocks. Before we headed out, our pentagon of travellers was formed when The Rabbit joined us from a long overnight flight from Liberia via Australia. Once he freshened up, if that is at all possible after that journey, we headed out to hit the town and hoping no-one would hit us. The locals advised us to head up to the 94th floor of the Hancock building for a drink and see the city lights before we hit the town. The view was spectacular but the smell of piss on the outside of our beer bottles was slightly off-putting to say the least. So we headed down the 94 floors and tackled Chicago from below.
We headed to Pippens, a small Irish-Italian Amercian bar for a warm up drink and never left. Having an Aussie accent may be irritating to our sheep shaggin’ cousins from across the ditch, but in the US it’s the ticket to a great night with locals. G’daymateowyagoinbuymeabeercobber.
We met some girls from Cincinnati over for the weekend, some middle aged folks up from Ohio, a local who bought us a round of beers simply on the basis they heard our accents and countless others who all in their own little way made for a great night out in the Windy City.
After tumbling out of the Ozarks we moved though central Missouri at a cracking pace as we were keen to get to our next destination - mainly to avoid a lynching from the locals as we passed through Bible belt–USA. Everybody say Amen!
However we did happen to have a brush with fame when we passed though the township of Cuba, MI. The Doctor demonstrated his keen eye by spotting the local Democrat campaign office which was housed in the local Electrical Trade Union headquarters. But even before we walked in the front door, we managed to drop our beer-filled esky out of the back of the truck of justice. During the grizzly cleanup operation, some of the Road trip members managed to get beer on their clothes, which resulted in us greeting the local campaign team smelling precisely like a bunch of Aussie piss-wrecks.
Upon meeting the local Democrat operation it became abundantly clear that the small town operation in Missouri is no different to a typical local ALP branch meeting in Australia. There was the middle aged male candidate running simply to have his name on the ballot, the middle aged baby booming lefty women whose politics were lefter than the party and some boring middle aged man who simply just liked to talk endlessly just so he could hear the sound of his own voice. Then there was the young Democrat campaign organiser who was praying that they would just all shut up and make some campaign calls. But they weren’t making calls, because they were here to meet a celebrity from another generation. Singer-songwriter Carole King was touring the Democrat campaigns across the Red states to lend support for the lonely democrat volunteers. After some inspirational words and a quick chorus of “You’ve got a friend”. Cue the Doctor – who managed to slip in the queue ahead of some well and truly overstimulated middle aged women to ceremoniously present Ms King with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Aussies for Obama (see pic). To say she was confused was an understatement.
After Cuba we continued onto the interstate and passed though St Louis and the giant arch, the gateway to the west. Every global city has an icon. St Louis has the arch, Melbourne could do with a giant M. But more on that later. We had to get to Illinois and the state capital Springfield for a quiet night.
Quiet night my arse. We pulled off the interstate just outside the home of Abe Lincoln to check into a freeway chain hotel. We freshened up and headed across the road for dinner and beers at a famous American establishment named after owls. One beer led to six and before we knew, we were having a hoot of time. Every election is a fork in the road . We met ours that night. Do we call it a night and retire early to rest up for our big drive to Chicago, or do we hit the town to see what Springfield had to offer? Rest assured we hit the town very very hard.
Two rules have been established by the roadtrippers so far. 1. Always sit at the bar. 2 Always befriend the bouncer. By the end of the night we had a republican barmaid shouting us shots of whisky and an Irish-American democrat bouncer now fully committed to the road trip he could believe in. Hi Murph (this page is now his homepage on his blackberry). Once the Irish bar closed, it was onto another. These forks in the road are gonna be problematic.
In the years ahead The Don, Scuzzlefark and The Doctor will be able to show their kids a photo of the three of them sitting at the US Cabinet Table of the United States of America engaged in furious debate. Unfortunately the room is a replica and the Don had taken his shirt off but it is still a memory they will hold onto dearly.
After raiding the Clinton gift shop, where they unfortunately don’t sell the original Clinton bumper stickers, the team went in search of our first Obama campaign office. It was eventually found in the Offices of the Postal Workers Union of America. The brothers and sisters of the CEPU had engaged in a bit of relocating you can believe in for the Team Obama.
By any expectations our visit to the office went very well. The campaign staff were pretty happy to see a group of crazy Australians who had travelled across the world and we were pretty happy to finally be amongst it. They gave us some Obama memorabilia, we presented them with an official Aussies Barracking for Obama certificate and we shared campaign stories.
We got a short tour of their facilities and found that a campaign office is a campaign office whether its located in Melbourne, Australia or Little Rock, Arkansas.
Meeting people who where so motivated and passionate about their cause always puts a spring in our step and we set the GPS for Eminence in the Ozark mountains.
Eminence is the other end of the spectrum from where the trip will finish. It is one of two towns in Shannon County, Missouri. Shannon is the biggest County in the State and is basically all wilderness. It has a population of 800 but an amazingly low $12,000 annual income. The only jobs are in a small mining sector and a little larger logging industry. Most people still live as they have always done, subsistence farming, hunting and fishing for their meat and they simply burn wood for heat.
The trip there was marked by two things. One was JT, who had arranged to meet some family friends in Eminence, was getting a little antsy in the pantsy about the time the other boys were taking to drive there.
The second was that as the Truck of Justice left the interstate for the increasingly smaller backways the McDonalds, Taco Bells, Arbys and Wendys were relaced with Baptist, Church of Christ, Assembly of God and Lutheran Churches. At one point we counted an amazing 29 churches in 49 miles. It provided the unique opportunity to develop a new game called church cricket. The most common Church (Baptist) was out and the more unique a church was the higher the runs the batsman was awarded. Readers might be able to assist the group at this point, if the Word of Life Church is six, what should you give the Tabernacle of the Testament Church?
Well before we got there we realised we were deep in the Bible belt and probably out the other side. A pastor on the radio we had on was warning people to not fraternise with “worldly people”. We decided that if challenged about this we would tell them the joke about Doggy Style Beer.
The houses had turned into shacks and caravans, and out front of these McCain-Palin yard signs were proudly on display like a Nuremburg rally.
We were right not to stick that Obama-Biden bumper sticker on the Truck of Justice. Aussies for Obama can now confirm that Arkansas is a southern state, and will not be voting for Barack Obama.
Despite our trepidation our visit was a roaring success. The people we caught up with were brilliant. They took us back to their amazing two story log cabin they had built themselves in traditional style and then out to dinner at the local restaurant. It would take more time than you or us have right now to give enough credit to the “cabin”. It was filled with incredible memorabilia from a previous life diving in the Caribbean, civil war antiques and the world’s most spoilt Coon Hound. It also had a collection of working antique revolvers and rifles which were in full working order. Skuzzlefark nodded knowingly when it was pointed out that the brass used in the handles of some of the revolvers showed them to be of Confederate issue. What a nob.
After a nice dinner where the trip learned a great deal about drifting, gigging, camping out and bluegrass music (it is also fair to say JT managed to bore even our hosts with questions of their fishing exploits let alone the rest of the group) the trip retired to the Hotel.
The night ended with a few bourbons and cigars around a campfire by the river near our Cabins as the group reflected on what had been a top notch day in a forgotten part of the world's biggest economy.
We visited the book depository which the Doctor’s brother had once referred to previously as the book suppository which sounds a little painful.
The depository contains a museum about the assassination of JFK (we still think it was the same Russians that took Harold Holt) which was amazing and The Don tearfully made it his business to read every word available next to every exhibit and listened to each second of video - and then followed it up by buying almost everything the gift shop had to offer.
After taking in Dealey Plaza and the spot on the road where Kennedy was shot, we made our way back up the road to meet our date with destiny. We picked up the legendary Truck of Justice which instead of a Dodge Grand Caravan with a table in the back unfortunately turned out to be a Honda Odyssey without a table in the back.
It does however have a full 16 cup holders which seems a bit strange – why didn’t they just go to a bit more effort have enough holders for a full slab? We also struggled with the basic concept of opening and closing the electric doors. Passers-by could already tell we were 'not from around here'.
Once we worked out how to open the doors, we made a quick stop to Wal-Mart where we discovered the delights of American retail. Thanks to their anti-worker policies everything’s cheap and everything's there under one roof including banks, fast food and plenty of junk in the trunk.
With the road trip now under full swing the Doctor tried to lighten the mood by inventing a new car game. The concept involved taking a photo of a body part on Pam’s fancy digital camera, handing the camera to the opposing player and challenging them to identify it.
Unfortunately JT was not keen on this game at all and insisted that swapping seats in the Truck of Justice TM every 30 minutes was more entertaining which shows what a total loser he really is.
We crossed the state line out of Texas which we have delighted in telling the proud Lone Star locals is about 1/5 the size of the state that Skuzzlefark and The Doctor were born in back in Australia.
Despite Dallas being a Democrat town Texas hasn’t voted Democrat since a young Karl Rove met a young George W Bush. Considering that in all the time we were in Dallas we did not meet one white person who told us they were voting for Obama this doesn’t look like changing. They were either GOP’ers or not voting at all.
By late afternoon we pulled off interstate 30 to drive though a place called Hope. Our main motivation for visiting a small town in Arkansas was to pay our respects to a town that gave us William J Clinton.
We arrived in Little Rock at 9pm and all a little weary. To be fair, the late nights, jet-lag, 500 kilometres worth of driving on the wrong side of the road and Fox News’s Sean Hannity’s radio program took its toll on us all.
We checked into our hotel and headed up the main street to grab a bite to eat and sample some more local ales. As opposed to Dallas, Little Rock really seemed more like how a southern city town should be. While it is a small town, its wide streets and grand architecture of its government buildings seemed more like the movies than Dallas seemed like the TV series.
The local bar, The Flying Saucer, was packed for a Monday night and had a great young vibe. It was appropriately named as the roof was adorned with plates across the ceiling of those who had drunk more than 10 pints (including many from Australia) and over 100 varieties of beer on tap, it was a good way to end the day of travelling – something we’ll have to get used to.
The Doctor was particularly taken with a local Pale Ale named Doggy Style. He said drinking it makes you end up on all fours. Interestingly this joke in very poor taste was completely blown out of the water by the table of crew-cut blokes next to us who cheered and wolf-whistled at every woman who walked past. In their defence no less than two lots of women stopped and sat down with them for a chat in response.
The night ended on closing with the group keen to get some sleep for the trip into the wild unknowns of Missouri.
The road trip that we can all believe in finally began to take shape with the last of the Trippers arriving on Sunday afternoon after the advancing party did the level best to drink Dallas dry on Saturday night. The quest in search of the essence of democracy and, failing that, full strength American beer had now officially begun in earnest.
After having a quick nap to ease the jet-lag for some, and the hangovers for the others, the boys headed to a Mexican cantina in Dallas where we were introduced to a Mexican beer called Dos Equis (which we quickly renamed 'two eccies') by a very friendly Barman called Bob. In between working at a local Market Street Bar, Bob runs a credit repair business. Apparently this business is doing reasonably well right now.
We moved on to a Texan steakhouse where we were introduced to over-sized American meals, filet mignon - sans bacon - and Zinfadel wine from the Napa Valley. It was all very classy, fine wine, fine dining, white table cloths, and more chambre shirts than a Network caucus meeting. But if you’re thinking we had deserted our working class values, our table conversation was far from anything high-class. We really must learn how to swear quietly in this country.
We headed to the Greenville section of Dallas were we had been informed there was a collection of relaxed bars and pubs. We found ourselves at a great place called the Cavern, a great place in anyone’s twang.
We mixed well with the locals and met some great characters including a archetypal hefty republican who thought Australia’s Health system was ‘communism’ and a funny and cryptic bloke who handed us business cards with ‘Director of Controversy’ as his job title, who was kind enough to give us a copy of a photo of a young Jack Kennedy that his grandmother took when they were at Stanford studying and completing other extra curricular activities. We also met a former West Point graduate who is now studying a master of politics and hopes to join the US State Department with a posting to Australia.
He paid a tribute to our road trip quest by playing AC/DC for us on the guitar.
The manager also took a liking to us and gave us Jagermeister shots in between each bottle of Mexican beer. Unfortunately this has the same effect as it does in Australia.
The night ended with us all returning to our hotel room for a game of in-house rugby. Distance, jet-lag, sleep deprivation and alcohol can make men do very strange things...
We have decided on Coopers Sparkling as the official beer for the Road Trip We Can Believe In.
Unlike official beers for other road trips, this is not the beer we will be drinking but the benchmark to which all American Beers will be judged.
What the manufacturer says:
The ale by which all others should be measured. With its famous cloudy sediment and its distinctive balance of malt, hops and fruity characters, the old 'Red Label' is a tasty slice of Coopers history.
Little has changed since Thomas Cooper produced his first batch of Coopers Sparkling Ale in 1862.
It's still brewed naturally using the century old top fermentation method and it still tastes great!
Sparkling Ale contains no additives or preservatives.
What Aussies Barracking for Obama says:
This is a tough challenge for any American beer to match.
A popular Australian breakfast beer Coopers Sparkling is also perfect any time of the day - knocking back a six pack at the beach, drinking a slab with mates over a BBQ, preparing the Beer Goggles at the Espy and it is even better for watching Australia kick the world's arse at sport.
It seems to bring out a special quality when combined with watching Rugby - encouraging all pub drinkers to attempt line-outs, AFL spekkies, starting headbutting competitions with fire-hydrants and doing the old 'crouch-touch-pause-engage' with the 112 tram to Albert Park Lake.
Strong enough to sterilise the barbie or clean sump oil from engine parts but delicate enough for washing fine china - its has even more uses than WD40.
Sparkling Ale contains the special ability to instantly wipe your memory and teleport you to the nearest souvlaki bar.
Alc/Vol - plenty
Nickname: The Doctor
Place of residence:
Preferred candidate in primaries: the fat kid from Hey Dad
Hobbies: bathing in
A communications professional, Matt has been known to articulate complex government policy with a particularly effective and succinct style including such strategic phrases as "because I said so", "I know you are but what am I?" and "that's it - I'm dobbing".
A pillar of the Melbourne establishment with his MCC membership and a sado-masochistic obsession with Melbourne Football Club, Matt enjoys pretending to have a social conscience and fooling progressive thinkers with constant references to 'community', 'inclusiveness' and 'I really want to go to that four hour poetry reading and interpretive dance recital on The New Social Paradigm - Exploring Contemporary Juxtapositions of the Tasmanian Asparagus Growers Collective in the 21st Century.'
Matt is looking forward to seeing how conservatives in the United States deal with their underclass, particularly left handers and people who chew with their mouths open.
Place of residence:
Preferred candidate in primaries: Jeb Bush
Hobbies: Quokka Soccer
What can you say about Steve?
You could say that as a child he was rescued from a refugee camp on the outskirts of the town of Owerri in the aftermath of the Biafran War (his father had been aide-de-camp to the leader of the Biafran forces, the inspiration for the Frederick Fortsyth novel The Dogs of War, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu) by the maid to a reasonably unintelligent KGB sponsored Belarusian investment banker looking to start, ultimately unsuccessfully, a high tech synthetic industry in Nigeria?
Perhaps. But more accurately he is originally from
Nickname: The Don
Place of residence:
Preferred candidate in primaries: Rowdy Roddy Piper or Wesley Snipes
A full-blooded ranga who hates the rangers, The Don is a feisty competitor who is no fan of weak beer.
He has tried hard to improve his image in recent times but while you can take the boy out of Warragul you can’t take the bogan out of The Don.
He is a man of many contradictions. He loves trade unions but hates gay unions. He loves soccer hooligans but hates hockey mums. He loves Irish republicans but hates the American version.
But don’t worry, everyone thinks he’s mad – even the taxi driver.
Nickname: John Thomas
Place of residence:
Preferred candidate in primaries: Jake the peg
Hobbies: taking it waaaaay too seriously
Raised and educated in
In 2008 he invited Malcolm Turnbull to join him in a bipartisan Twin Republics Campaign. Tom's reputation for taking often unorthodox views was evidenced by his highly publicised expectation that Suharto's leadership of
In his spare time, Tom is a little-known author of political thrillers with his most recent work 'Notebook' sparking front page reviews. His next work is reportedly an analysis of the voting trends of soccer moms and NASCAR dads in the
Nickname: The Rabbit
Place of residence:
Preferred candidate in primaries: Jed Clampett
Hobbies: Driving with the handbrake on, eating lignite, global warming.
Brer was raised by Johnny Young and the Young Talent Time team.
After he was excommunicated for impersonating Bevan on a Christmas Eve special he became totally committed to carbon offsetting.
In 1999 he changed his name by deed poll to Loy Yang. In the winter months when he’s not starting bushfires in the Daintree (the leaves are too wet), he spends his free time burning petrol in his backyard.
It was his idea that morning FM radio presenters should laugh at their own jokes to help ratings.
Here is our itinerary.
And here is a map of our route.
This is just the basic plan and we may stray from the path if we can find better things to do with our time - like just spending three weeks in Dallas drinking Lone Star beer and winning the national rodeo championships.
As you can see we have booked the Truck of Justice (tm) otherwise known as a Dodge Grand Caravan, and are set to head north and perform a long hook turn across the country as we head towards Washington and up to Boston - and in a remarkable piece of planning - backtrack to New York City by train.
We leave on the 18th of October meaning that we leave this month, which is almost as exciting as the prospect of dacking the naked cowboy.
This is the blog site of five young top Aussie blokes who from 19 October will cross 1300 miles of the US of A to leave our indelible mark on the most powerful nation on earth, make the Whitehouse Republican-free for four years and hopefully find full strength American beer.
Keep visiting this site for regular updates of our madcap adventures as we confront our enemy in Dallas in the very Republican deep south and embark on an epic road trip to Boston - the spiritual home of America's Democrats who are now campaigning to have the bloke pictured above assume control of a rather large stockpile of nuclear weapons - among other less meaningful things.
In between we have set up meetings with some of the insiders behind this election to find out more about how politics works on the other side of the globe.
But we will also give the Yanks a taste of Australian humour along the way showing a stunning display of sarcasm and irony they haven't seen since we won the America's cup.