Drowning in the Land of Madness (Day 1)

“It’s hard to make nonfiction seem believable.”

–   Kurt Vonnegut

 

Saturday

I am on a plane, and terrible things are happening.

I have long suspected that invisible beasts live inside the clouds, hankering for a bite of the tasty metal that flies above them. Right now one of these beasts has grabbed the plane and is shaking it wildly. I tighten my grip on the armrests. A voice comes out of a speaker on the underside of the storage compartment above me. It’s the pilot telling us it’s just turbulence. Deep down I know it’s something more and I know he knows it too.

The pilot is either a master of flight or a tamer of luck and he somehow escapes the grasp of this invisible plane eating creature. The fuselage stops shaking and I exhale and loosen my grip. An air hostess, with her hair pulled back, red lipstick and blue shoes, begins a seductive walk down the aisle with a metal cart bearing the fruit that will calm us travel-weary alcoholic passengers.

In 1987 American Airlines stopped serving olives with their salads. As a result they saved around $500,000 a year. The olive company that supplied them got mad and fought for the people’s rights to eat olives while hurtling through the sky. Eventually American Airlines gave in and put them back in their salads. With this knowledge in mind I order a Martini with extra olives.

The olives are free and anytime a corporation offers you something for free you damn well take it. So long as the free thing doesn’t lead to you buying something extra from them you take it and you ask for more. Every free thing you take from a corporation is costing someone somewhere money. It is your duty, friends and cohorts, to do all you can to take money from the pockets of every capitalist poverty-making bastard that crosses your path. They are not your friends. The olives are a ruse designed to lure you into their evil money grabbing traps.

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t have any olives.” (How am I supposed to rebel under these circumstances?). “Or Martini, but we do have whisky, wine, or beer.”

Hangovers are designed to teach us a hard lesson; to not be so stupid in future. Some part of this lesson makes it to the front of my mind and I make the sensible choice of coffee over booze. I watch the air hostess finish serving her treats to the other passengers and then take a seat at the front of the plane. She sits there smiling to herself like some kind of strange attractive robot. What goes through the minds of these unusual people? These sky people. Spending so much of your life in the air must make you feel separated from humanity. Unhinged from the Earth. Crowbarred into the clouds by impossible flying machines. Crossing date lines and time zones. These people do not, cannot, judge time by the clock, but with geography and calculators. These people are only certain of their true age on those fleeting moments they spend in the land of their birth. Madness must surely chase them around the globe. She is still smiling as I finally turn my glance from her and to the film that is just starting on the screen in front of me. It is the new X-Men film, Days of Future Past.

The screen goes momentarily black before the film starts and I catch a horrifying glimpse of my reflection. Is that haggard looking man really me? I look at my brother. He at least has shaved before the flight. And had a haircut! My god, how do people find time to do these things? When we land to be welcomed by the long awaited embrace of our parents they will think my brother has captured a tramp and is trying to pass him off as me. I run my hand through my hair but it’s no good. Nothing will help me. Luckily such things as hairstyles can be easily forgotten with the simple aid of superheroes. The movie starts. The inane boredom that comes with watching such movies gives me time to reflect on the frantic journey that got us to this aircraft.

We left home this morning at 4:30am. We had been up the night before until 2am drinking weird beer that David, my brother and traveling companion, had discovered. It is called Cubanisto and is a combination of beer and rum. We discovered that the beer does not freeze. We assume this is because of the rum in the drink, but maybe it’s something else. Maybe the unnatural combination is enough to thwart basic thermodynamics. We were unsure if we liked the taste of this new discovery and so drank as many bottles as we could to in order to give the drink a fair trial. We are still undecided. After finishing the beer we opened a bottle of Jameson’s whiskey.

By the time we fell asleep we were beyond drunk and only an hour and a half later we were up again and struggling against our own self-inflicted retardation to overcome and defy the simple yet impossible tasks that mornings insist upon. Like putting on trousers and brushing teeth. Somehow we managed these things. Deano (the man who was volunteered to take us to the airport) due to his decision to not get completely shitfaced, was freshly showered and smiling at us like a smug fucking sensible adult. David currently lives in a caravan in Deano’s garden. They are old school friends. The reason David is slumming it like a gypsy woman is so he can save enough money for a deposit for a mortgage. He agreed to give us a lift to the airport. Deano has many cars I’m too hung-over to recall which car we went up in. It could have been a tuc-tuc for all I can recall.

With reality and normality still many hours and gallons of coffee in our future we dragged our suitcases to Deano’s car and heaved them into the boot. We drove for two hours, from Bournemouth to London Heathrow. The whole trip so far had been kind of a blur. I vaguely remember stopping at a service station and having a McDonalds for breakfast, but that could easily have been a fitful dream. We made it to the airport and thanked Deano for the ride. “She’s mint, Bill,” he said (which, in the language of Deano, means “No worries, chaps”).

Check-in was hard and confusing. Not by any fault of the airport. We just hadn’t sobered up yet. We were living some kind of dehydrated nightmare. We navigated the normally reasonable airport sucking on bottles of water and mumbling incoherencies. Eventually we made it through the various obstacles laid out by well-meaning transport authorities. We rambled through check-in. Stumbled and fell along endless corridors with moving floors. I watched the people standing still on the moving walkway while we stupidly galloped along beside them. Have humans really evolved to such a point that we no longer need to walk? We have reversed evolution so that our environment is adapted to fit us, and not the other way around like nature intended. We have made the ground move so that we don’t have to. I refuse to become one of these lazy future people, and David, through some kind of unspoken agreement, seems to feel the same. Not once did we make use of the travelators, even though our bodies would have been thankful for the ride.

We made it to the gate and sat and waited for two hours before we were able to board. The time was spent staring at the floor while our minds slowly disintegrated. Finally the gate opened and we boarded the flying bus.

Before we took off a part of the ceiling collapsed into the plane and two men in high visibility jackets came on-board and gaffer taped the plane back together. I felt like freaking out just to scare some of the younger passengers but my tiredness prevented me from carrying out this perverse act.

I don’t know if it’s because of the strange men on either side of me and David that prevents us from sleeping the sleep that we so desperately need. But we land in Charlotte, North Carolina, without even a nap over the past eight hours of flight. With two hours to spare before our connecting flight to Phoenix we wander aimlessly to the gate.

Drinking so much before a full day of traveling is not the right way to go about things. Deep down I know that drinking more is not the solution to this problem but I have never been a particularly wise man. Neither has my brother. Opposite our gate is a sports bar and after a lengthy discussion we decide to give up on our travelling sobriety and try some of the ale on offer. The discussion goes like this –

“Beer?”

“Sure.”

The Americans have misunderstood the meaning of ale. These reckless lunatics do the unthinkable to this normally wonderful drink. Those of you who have a particular affection for the great British ale might want to skip this paragraph. Imagine buying your favourite cheese only to discover it is now made of chimpanzee milk. The ale, and this is unforgivable, is fizzy. And not fizzy in the natural fermented, froth on the top, kind of way. No. They have taken a perfectly good ale, presumably tasted it and assumed something was amiss, and carbonated it. If you want to try this horrendous miscarriage of a beer there is no need for you to travel to America. Simply take a decent Ringwood ale (or whichever ale takes your personal preference) and put it through a Soda-Stream. Too much Hops. Too fizzy. Undrinkable. We had two pints each. The cost for this affront to the honest beer loving alcoholic? $38. Bastards.

We board the second and last plane in our trip. Apart from some initial confusion, regarding the inevitable time travel achieved during such trips, the flight is uneventful. We board the plane at 16:30 and it is supposed to land in Phoenix at 18:30. But as 18:30 comes around I ask the air hostess what time we land and she says, as expected, “Six thirty.”

“But what time is it now?” I say.

“It’s three thirty,” she says.

We have somehow travelled for two hours and now find ourselves three hours in the past. We must have travelled through some kind of time vortex.

We land, collect our suitcases, leave the airport, and get in a taxi. The taxi driver is from Somalia. He seems like a decent sort of chap. He asks us how our Queen is doing. I ask him if he had considered becoming a Somalian pirate before opting to be an American Taxi driver. He says he has not but notes (regretfully) that those Somalian pirates sure make a lot of money.

Finally we arrive at the Covered Wagon RV Stop in Black Canyon, Phoenix. And there are my parents. Thinner than I remember, and tanned as African camel leather. We hug. They show us around the RV. We go outside and sit in the immense heat. Dad hands around beer from the cooler. Mum has a whiskey and coke. We talk. We eat cheese and crackers. Exhaustion makes the evening brief and finally, after only an hour and a half of sleep in the last 48 hours, me and David make our beds and sleep.

And so it starts. This trip from Arizona to the Mohave Desert. And for what reason? You could boil it down to an excuse for a free holiday. Or curiosity of how our folks have suddenly decided to live. But it’s more than that. I heard that some writers write better when they are constantly on the move and surrounded by booze. It gives me the chance to experiment with a genre I love; travel writing. I’m sure these things normally involve a lot of planning to ensure the book has some kind of coherent narrative or point. But forget all that, I think I’ll just have a drink and see what this country is all about. Don’t expect a travel guide.

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