June in Houston. It’s 99F outside as we wait an hour at immigration.
A glossy US arrival video is playing on a giant screen above our booth, but we have to wait an hour and offer all our fingerprints before we’re free to pass.
Welcome to America.
Obama’s America — but has it really changed?
The freeway towards the city looks just the same. A little less traffic perhaps.
Wide blue skies are yawning high above the endless sprawl beside the road. The downtown towers inch nearer across the final swoop of our 5,000 mile journey to reach The Loop.
In the hotel at last, I flop my bag and body down and switch on the TV. There’s a programme talking all about energy costs, and today’s phone-in prize is (quite remarkably) a free green audit of your home.
And it strikes me that I’ve never heard this stuff in Texas before.
All fresh and showered by sunset, we walk on Main Street to find a place to eat. It’s hotter than July this evening, but after ten hours in an aluminium tube we’re in no mood for air-conditioned civility. Some al fresco nachos, a cold beer and a simple plate of enchiladas are all we seek.
We find them at Cabo on Travis. A perfect terrace to catch the steamy breeze of sundown.
And then unexpectedly, outside the restaurant, we find surprise again. A parked Mini, with just the perfect bumper sticker. Actual Size.
“It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
— Barack Obama, Chicago, 4th November 2008.
It’s just three miles and a lifetime’s journey from the South Side of Chicago to Grant Park, and I can remember every step.
How marvellous it was that the US election race this year should find its long-awaited finish line at the same spot as the Chicago Marathon — one of many high points I’ve shared with this incredible country through a relationship that stretches right across my adult life.
I entered the United States late one August night in 1981. Seventeen hours out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, we drove across a bridge and into Maine. Next morning, six hours and a brief stop in Portland later, I stepped wearily off the bus in downtown Boston — completing my journey from England to New England, where the history of this great nation had started.
That visit took me down the east coast to New York and Washington, in an arc via Pittsburgh to Niagara, and then back into Canada for a return flight home.
My memories of America from that trip? Coin-fed TV sets in lonely Greyhound bus stations. The wind on Cape Cod. Looking across the Charles River on a long walk out to Cambridge.
The view from the Empire State Building. The sound of dusk on Broadway. The New Jersey Turnpike. The Smithsonian. The Capitol.
A quote carved into the Washington pavement —
‘One of these days this will be a very great city, if nothing happens to it’ (Henry Adams).
My love affair with America had begun.
Posted in 2008, A1 - the best of roads of stone, Chicago, divided by an ocean, environment, heroes, history, Houston, Iraq, Kenya, life and times, politics, united in a future
So reads the street sign, and everything they say is true. The sky, the buildings, the cars, the winter weather – they all seem so much bigger here.
Downtown, early morning. A fading twilight was lifting above the Astrodome when I peered out through the curtains five minutes ago, and now it’s nearly daybreak.
The eastern horizon is promising cool and blue and cloudless – a perfect Texas dawn is calling. For now, Houston has a sleepy air, the metropolis still dappled and drowsy and awaiting the day.
If you want to know a city, just run through it streets, and look up and all around you. Breathe its atmosphere and history, and immerse your soul in the rush before your eyes.
Live a different life, for a few brief footsteps, and surrender your mind to the wanderings of your feet. Lose yourself.
Oh my love
It’s a long way we’ve -come
From the freckled hills
To the steel and glass canyons
U2 – November 2002
My watch says almost midday, and still I’m waiting for the sun to come up. I’ve been sitting in my hotel room for a couple of hours already, wide awake and yet bleary-eyed with jet-lag, but a glance out of the window and across the freeway shows a resolutely dark sky over the plains beyond The Loop.
Oh well. There’s no point in waiting any longer. I chuck on a T-shirt and shorts, lace up my shoes, trot out through the lobby and hit the sidewalk running.
It was a stiff and increasingly hungry flight which I took from O’Hare that evening after the Chicago Marathon. Elation and relief surrounded me all across the dark expanses and sparse city lights of the Mid West, as I peered down through ten kilometres of space at a blue-lit arch of St Louis far below.
And after the sensory and emotional overload of experiencing, and even participating in, one of the greatest sporting events of the world set against the brilliantly-lit backdrop of a Chicago autumn skyline, it was an exhausted and fretfully REM-riven night which I spent in the softest and deepest pillows of the Westinn Houston Galleria.