Things I learnt about the USA*

*From the raw, unedited, and possibly irrelevant point of view of a first time visitor.

Los Angeles feels untidy. From the trash on the freeways, to the smog, to the rambling suburban sprawl. I never felt invited. I’m sure it’s a powerhouse of world commerce and industry, but does it have to be so dirty?

North American toilets are strange. The bowl starts very full, and water is injected near the u-bend to (I presume) start a siphon action. It seems very convoluted, and would appear to prevent any sort of “half flush” option.

New York New YorkLas Vegas is awe inspiring and embarassing at the same time. The scale is difficult to describe. I stayed at the Excalibur casino, where I was king, and walked daily through the Luxor pyramid to the conference venue at the Mandalay Bay. The walk took close to 30 minutes, via 3 casinos (reeking of cigarettes and alcohol at all hours), 3 malls, and two other conference centers. The nearest I got to being outside during that walk was the view of the gigantic wave pool – beside the shark aquarium.

Some nights I took the free monorail back to my hotel. Passing between a Sphinx and a 10-story obelisk, and stopping outside the turrets of my castle. It’s madness on a grand scale, but that’s only three casinos. I took a walk one evening: past the New York skyline and scale statue of liberty; through the foyer of the MGM grand past the lion habitat; past the gigantic Monte Carlo hotel; through the foyer of the brand new 4-block-size Aria; finishing up watching the incredible Bellagio fountain – which is just opposite a near-scale Eiffel Tower.

I think I got almost halfway up the Las Vegas casino strip. All the way harassed by people trying to hand me pornographic business cards promising “Girls direct to you!”, and being bathed by the glow of partially clad women from every second billboard.

Despite the amazing sights of Las Vegas, the one thing I really noticed was the urban design. At every corner, intersection, and hotel entry, pedestrians are coralled like cattle. Directed with fences and sweeping concrete barriers away from the roads and into races and runs. I don’t know if it’s the almighty car or the desire to keep customers gambling, but it’s disconcerting. It’s certainly changed my views. Queen Street’s newly doubled barnyard crossings are utopian by comparison.

We joke about portion sizes, but they are almost literally insane. I asked for a small coke as a courtesy when I used a Burger King bathroom in LA. The coke was about halfway between what I would call regular and large. Same goes for meals. Most Las Vegas buffets trumpeted “all you can eat, all day long”.

We drove out to the Grand Canyon, via the Hoover Dam. The Dam is certainly an amazing piece of engineering, but I was more amazed by the water level. Apparently Lake Mead is it at its lowest level for many years. I didn’t flush my hotel toilet so much after that.

Grand Canyon ViewIf Las Vegas was a car-mad fakesville, the Grand Canyon was serene grandiosity. My intitial view was from the Skywalk. An amazing feat of engineering that quite literally takes one’s breath away as you step out onto the glass walkway. But it was the unspoiled view at right that made me cry. Mostly because it was that gorgeous, but partly because Dad had always wanted to see the canyon but never got there.

The camera lens makes things much smaller than they are. To add some perspective, the far bend in the river was probably 30 or 40 kms away from my viewpoint. The river is as wide as a football field, but easily fit under my oustretched thumb.

On the way back from the canyon, I experienced more USA hospitality by way of a 2.5 hour traffic jam caused by a security checkpoint at the Hoover Dam. Luckily it wasn’t nearly enough to dampen the Canyon experience, and was further alleviated by a full-volume blast of Sugar’s Hoover Dam as we crossed back into Nevada after nightfall.

So I’m not quite sure how I feel. LA left me jaded. I’d probably come back to Vegas if only to share the jaw-dropping sights and giggling with my wife. But I’d recommend the Grand Canyon to anyone who gets the chance.

America, Fuck Yeah? I think I’d say “America: Fuck”.


  1. The Grand Canyon is spectacular. However one of the biggest disappointments of my childhood was visiting said Canyon and being denied the donkey/burro ride down into it because I was under 12!

  2. Vegas is insane. It helped me understand why so few Americans ever leave the country – why bother when you can see England (Excalibur), Paris (Paris), Venice (Venetian), Rome (Caesar’s Palace) and Egypt (Luxor) in one place?

    The amazing thing is it’s not all tacky shite – the first time I went we saw an amazing Monet exhibition at the Bellagio (although the electronic voice guide was awful).

    Freakiest thing was seeing the rows of urinals at the conference facility proudly displaying the amount of water they flush – in the middle of a desert.

  3. I remember in Vegas was by 10pm the streets where littered(literally everywhere) with pornographic postcards, but early in the morning the pavement is clean as w… normal street. weirded me out.

  4. I used to think the sames things about LA until my most recent trip there. There are tons of coll things in LA but you have to do your research. Like most places in the US if you dig beneath the surface then you find the cool stuff. Try the Eames house for a starter (and many more cool pieces of architecture). Then there are the great bars and restaurants, etc.

    Give it a chance and you find lots of things to like about LA.

  5. Just remember Vegas isn’t America, it’s a place all of it’s own!

    Re parsley72’s comment. I actually heard a couple say that while they were walking past Caesar’s Palace looking across the road towards Paris…

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