So long America, it was fun :(

I wanted to find an image that represents the USA in differing ways for this post, I decided on this picture taken in Austin, TX. 

The famous yellow taxi. Glass highrises dwarfing the one storey eateries lining the grid traffic systems. Right lane driving. These all stand out to me as a British traveller. 

My home city of Durham bans building over two storeys high in some areas to prevent obscuring any views of the cathedral, or so I was taught on a geography trip back in school. Grid systems would be ideal, sadly this is impossible when our city was built when horses were the main mode of transport. It was also important to build in an area that was difficult to conquer, common throughout Europe. It is a city that has always taken my breath away, not just because of the views but the effort needed to walk up to the market place. You can see why the centre is pedestrianised, and how this spot was perfect for the building of a castle and cathedral.

Credit: Van Rhijn Aerial Photography

But this post is about the New World. Today, I received notification that my US visa expired. It isn’t something that I have looked to renew as I have spent the years since 2010 in Malaysia, Brazil and short breaks in Europe. A lot happens in this space of time. I lost my father and uncle in recent years which of course took the wind out of my sails. I had no ambition to travel at all but thanks to great friends and amazing family, I got back on my feet. I would love to have went back the States and it feels weird that I haven’t, I made great friends and still keep in touch.

Sometimes we don’t get upset that something is over until it is over. I haven’t thought much about the visa still being valid but now I see it isn’t, I slumped a bit. If anything it is a reminder that I need to visit this great nation once again, one so vast that one image alone cannot portray the United States of America accurately. I miss the food, the friendly people, the numbered streets and alphabetised avenues and people thinking I’m Irish or Australian.

My visa expiring has inspired me to visit again one day!

Pre-travel goodbyes

I love the inside of this card.

Happiness is living your dreams whilst you are wide awake…

It is getting to that point in which I receive the good lucks and all the bests. When it starts to hit me and the feelings of excitement dwindle a little, the realisation hits me of the sacrifices made in moving to another country. I won’t see my family for a little while. My ‘little while’ may be a long damn time for some, it depends how you perceive one year.

They need me and I need them. I also need to live, if my family didn’t do the same in their youth, what stories would they have to tell me? Would I be here at all?

Thank you to the two Scottish Margaret’s for this one!

The reality is that even though my family will miss me as much as I will miss them, we all have a duty to self progress. To be a little selfish and to treat ourselves as much as we want to treat those we love. What better way to show how much we love family than to give them something to be proud of? To show them how well they have raised us, the ambition and drive placed within us materialised in the form of a plane ticket and new footsteps in unspoiled sand.

My visit to Texas back in 2010 was the longest I have been without family, thirteen months. Oddly, I was always someone preffering to stay at home. I loved my home comforts. I assume university helped me out of that comfort zone, after my second trip to New York City during my degree. I realised long-haul wasn’t a scary experience and thanks to the Jet-stream over the Atlantic, the return journey home was a pretty short one. If I remember rightly it was only 6 hours 30 minutes (ish), sharing the whole back row with one friend. A journey back home from another part of the UK may take that time (driving of course) and that would be without such homesickness. Homesickness for me is prevented by not thinking of how far away my family are in miles but in time. No matter where we are in the world, family are pretty much in reach within 24 hours.

Please forgive the quality of the images below, I used a cheap camera. I didn’t have a smartphone back then and have never owned a professional photography camera. FYI, the first picture was from my first visit in 2008, when the foundations were still being cleared and prepared for One World Trade Center and memorial. My visits to NYC have been 2008, 2010 and 2011. The One World Trade Center is under construction in a couple of images, snapped in 2011 after I left Texas and flew from New York to London. I still didn’t own a decent camera!

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The first two visits were only short breaks, five days each. I remember flying to Dallas on that first long stretch away from home. As the green card was being placed on my tray and the captain announced how long of the flight was left, it finally hit me that I would be away for a year, starting there and then. A year! I am glad it hit me when it did, if I felt the same feeling of reluctance earlier I may not have bought my plane ticket. The feeling didn’t last long, my brain instantly stimulated by new accents and weather, new foods and sports. When I did need to contact home I could do in an instant thanks to Facebook and Skype. The whole experience wasn’t as daunting as I feared it would be whilst I filled in the green card. I still firmly believe it was the best year of my life.

I also seem to remember more of that year than I do all the years since combined. Despite having many more trips, a year of travel consists of so many stories and new experiences. Similar to how we feel about aging, time flies the older we get. As a child everything is new. Every colour and word, every animal and sound. The more our days become increasingly similar to the last, the less we notice the hands moving on the clock. Travel for me is a time machine slowing down life. When I think of being away for such a long in Australia come September, I think of the benefits.

Like a gym session, don’t worry about how crap you feel doing it, think of the results!!

Discovery

Hang on, was I on Route 66? Looking through my Texas pics I noticed the signs below the giant cowboy, even if they didn’t catch my attention at the time.

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Apparently not. Well, kind of. I asked google the question and the website route66news was kind in response.

‘Yes. It sits on an obscure and short-lived alignment of Route 66 from the 1920s.’

That’s enough for me to brag about!

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The author adds:

Although the Big Texan no longer sits on Route 66, it began on Amarillo Boulevard (aka Route 66) in 1960 and often shows its Mother Road roots in the gift shop and decor. It moved to Interstate 40 during the early 1970s after Route 66 was bypassed.

Then an input from West Texas A&M University marketing professor and Route 66 researcher Nick Gerlich:

‘A solid argument can be made that the current Big Texan sits on or adjacent to the 1926-1928 alignment, which followed 18th Ave SE in from Washburn. The current freeway obscures much of that now, but the BT is one of few businesses to be able to say it has sat on two different alignments.’

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Have any readers been? I miss that place. 

Even if I haven’t been on it I have visited a venue that has contributed to its legacy, I wouldn’t be researching the historical route right now. I guess that’s just as good as being on the route and not realising at all. 

Glass half full and all that.

Preservation

I feel my blog posts can sometimes give mixed messages. This post probably won’t help, however I hope it can be relatable.

I watched a very eerie video today, I took two messages from it. Firstly, we are all hostage to time. Secondly, although I want to embrace the future I should not shun the past.

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The above image was taken in Texas, I cannot remember the exact area, it wasn’t far from Amarillo. A town with a pride in its history, the colours and design begging for my attention. Heck if history is something I want to evade, why would I spend so much time observing it? The truth being, I don’t want to shun history, I just want to see it as that. History.

As much fascination as I get learning of the Aztecs and Vikings, I would be pretty pissed off if I had to live like one today. I am more than willing to take aspects of history that are still of benefit today without feeling obliged to respect it all.

During the elevator ride up One World Trade Center, a fantastic animation displays New York City’s history in under one minute. St. Paul’s Chapel emerges very early in the animation and remains there for the duration. The Twin Towers emerge and fade away in a few short seconds.

It is astounding that a building designed in the 1700’s is still visited by tourists and a 20th century building was destroyed by terrorists with beliefs very fitting of the centuries past. I cannot deny the desire to keep such an old building standing. I can reject the beliefs that led to it being built.

I value history, always have and always will. Does this mean I should resort to history for answers to 21st century questions? Never have and probably never will. The future will be far too exciting. If we obsess over history we will never truly appreciate having what our ancestors didn’t.

 

Domination

Photo taken outside of the Texas State Capitol, Austin.

Many protesters we see on our streets are ones that are content with a world of sin, not asking questions of a God but of the sinful people that are a the direct result of Gods actions. I guess it could be compared to hating the robber that robbed your store although he had a gun to his head and had no other option…

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We are a species that fights for it’s rights, values freedom and evades oppression, usually when it is humans on the other end causing such inequality. Why not look at the person with the trigger finger? How effective would fighting for justice be in a world corrupted with sin overruled by a God that cannot do anything about it?

 

God and Death Row

I have been drawn into one of Youtube’s ‘Top Ten’ videos, I admit they are very addictive. The one I watched was ‘Top Ten Creepiest Websites… Part Two’. Judging by what I read I don’t want to check out Part One in a hurry. 

One website that got me was Goodbye, Warden. It is the last words of over 500 death row inmates. Some short, some made the most of their last breaths. Some remorseful, some still maintaining their innocence. Although I could not make my way through every single one, many that I did read were pretty religious. Here are a few examples,  some are just segments due to the length of their last words.

I just wanted to say thanks to all who have supported me over the years: Reverend Campbell, for my spiritual guidance; Aaron, the father of Darrian, my son; and Maurie, my attorney. Thank you everybody. This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love y’all. Thank you, Chaplain

Grandmother, Lilia, and Robert; have hope for me. I am with God. Thanks for being with me and all of your love. Mom, take care of my daughter. Many kisses, Mom.

The guys back there waiting, keep the faith and stay strong and put your faith in the Lord. Many times in life we take the wrong road and there are consequences for everything. Mistakes are made, but with God all things are possible. So put your faith and trust in Him. 

From Allah we came and to Allah we shall return. I would like to give thanks for the unjust way my trial attorneys John Donahue and Frank Hollbrook purposely denied me a fair trial. I would like to thank Walter E. Reeves for bringing up claims that did not exist. Most importantly, I would like to thank John Hurley, who was suppose to be off my case but was granted to be back on. For those who kept agreeing with me, keep it real. y’all will always stay real in my heart. Barbara, I love you, Al and Paul, I love you. Jess and Chong, I love you now and forever. 

I am ready for the transition.

The inmates above were pretty religious, with the assumption that heaven is the fate that awaits them. It’s fascinating to read in a world in which many believers assume that religion is what keeps us from committing immoral acts. Are they believers because they have little else to cling to by this point, or were they religious all along? I guess we will never know…

An atheist in the Lone Star State

What does Bacon, Venus, Athens and London have in common? They are all places that some Texans call home. For a state that is capable of swallowing my entire country whole, it is no surprise that there are some cracking names to be found on the map.


Everything is bigger in Texas, right? During my 12 months there it was hard to disagree. Overly ambitious diners compete in the Big Texan 72oz steak challenge in Amarillo, the 102,000 capacity Kyle Field of Texas A&M. I doubt I will find a British equivalent. The English Premier League, the worlds most watched sports league, can only currently dream of a stadium of this size. It was interesting to compare the difference in sporting systems, university football (soccer) is unheard of in the UK, Google is quicker to find British University American Football teams.


The city skyscrapers, the vast canyons, the intense summer heat leading to miles of scorched fields and campfire bans, the unrelenting patriotism and national anthem at every opportunity, the State flag flown outside every other building… for my first experience of the United States it was by no means a let down. 


I lived in a college town in West Texas. I was offered an internship shortly after completing my university course, my J1 visa granting me 12 months of employment and one month to travel before flying home. I travelled with four classmates and it didn’t take us long to realise the English accent was a rarity there. Not that many believed we were English, our Geordie dialect is one they weren’t prepared for. For a bunch of twenty-one year olds, this soon turned into a blessing. 

As most of my time was spent with students from around the States, I wasn’t directly exposed to the Bible Belt belief of many locals. The contrast between the local community and students seemed apparent in a couple of ways. Humorously, I was watching an episode of the Jimmy Kimmel Show in which Lubbock was announced the city least interested in sex. A survey which can be read here on Lubbock Online was conducted by a dating site. This does not correlate with this Everything Lubbock article which suggests the cities STD rates are amongst the highest in the nation. Maybe it’s the city least willing to admit they have sex? Who knows. 


As the months went by, I found more and more examples of the high levels of religiosity I was expecting. I ended up collecting more Bibles than late night Whataburger receipts. The friendly Texan welcome was even seen in the Gideons after I told them I was an atheist. ‘I like you. You are going to Hell, but I like you’, was one response I received. Not that I particularly liked the person that was okay with this fate, I was at least able to have a two way conversation. 

I was comfortable telling people I was an atheist. It was still a shock to them, resulting in a reaction I was not used to in the UK. Even my then American girlfriend had questions and we had the occasional debate, this did not affect our relationship. I did hear stories of families being torn apart due to religion, well, more a family members choice to leave it behind. One of my colleagues knew of someone that was disowned by their parents for being an atheist.  How anyone can choose to abandon someone so close to them, choosing to remain loyal to a God that has never been so close, astounds me. Nevertheless it happens and this is why I blog. 

One road trip had us leave San Antonio for breakfast, hit Austin for lunch and end in Dallas for dinner. On route I remember a giant billboard spanning the road, reading:

‘They are commandments, not suggestions.’

Pretty eerie to encounter after hours of nothing but farms, fields and the occasional dustnado. Oh, and this huge replica of Jesus on the crucifix. I cannot remember where I found this, but it totally caught me off guard.


It still annoys me to think of that billboard. I would love to have met the church or organisation that had this put up, the anonymity of the sign meant my anger turned towards the Texan authorities for allowing such a message to further pollute the highway. Being on the road was an further eye opener to the levels of faith communities had. ‘Pray for rain’ was spray painted on the side of a barn, a message that clearly had little effect during the record braking heatwaves of 2011. Churches filled in their hundreds, I willingly attended a service one day in Dallas, sitting right at the back was no issue due to the widescreen TV’s and speaker systems. I opted out of putting money in the collection tray, well, because funding a religion that tells me I’m going to hell would be like an African-American picking a hooded hitchhiker up and giving him a ride to the next KKK rally. 

This being said, I loved the experience I had here. The people I met were some of the friendliest I will ever meet and I actually feel ashamed I have not been back. Texas is often given a hard time, on occasions this may be justified. Any destination is as fun as you make it and I made the most of what the Lone Star State had to offer. This wouldn’t have been possible without the awesome people I met there.

Oh, I would also recommend The Atheist Experience for any Texan atheists, or anyone looking for fun debate. Located in Austin they welcome anyone onto their show for discussions, sometimes with very interesting encounters. Their website can be found here.