Looking at Travel Destinations: the United States

  • America still exerts a call on the Western psyche. We’ve never quite gotten over the fact that (barring all the massacring of native residents and keeping of slaves) it is essentially a two century and counting experiment in the genuine freedom of the individual. We have also never gotten over the fact that its media have pervaded our ears and eyes for more than 60 years. Ever since the radiogram became a fixture in every home, and Alistair Cooke started his Letter from America, we were hooked.
  • Here’s the thing about America: everything you ever thought about it is probably true. People do still live in clapboard houses clustered around Main Streets that look like the set of Groundhog Day. There are flags hanging from every other porch, or standing proud on well clipped lawns.
  • New York really is the most exciting city on earth. It isn’t as beautiful as London nor as groovy as San Francisco; it doesn’t have the sheer physical effect of Bangkok, nor the colour of Hanoi. But it is still the place where Harvey Keitel was beaten by the Mean Streets; where Travis Bickle scared the daylights out of criminals and politicians alike; and where you can get the finest pizza anywhere in the world, at any time of day or night. Oh, and see the old guy in the corner, drinking limoncello? Probably a mafia don. Travelling in America is an undertaking best divided by coast – unless you have a few months to spare, in which case the best thing to do is fly into New York, circumnavigate the whole landmass state by state, and fly back out of New York again later in the year. If you are going to do this, do it on the Greyhound bus. It’s the most interesting way to see a country for which part of the romance is those huge roads bisecting thousands of miles of nothing at all. When you leave your own car at Gatwick airport parking, or whatever airport you have chosen to fly from, and set out to see the Free World, you’ll have a list of things to see and do in your head. Select them, as noted, by coast. If you are going to New York, stay there and see the Statue of Liberty. Visit Ellis Island. Go and see the former site of the World Trade Center. Get lost in Central Park, which is undoubtedly the finest piece of urban garden planning in the world. It might not be as lush as Sydney’s free Botanical Gardens, but it is much bigger and it has an ice rink in it too.
  • Go to the New York Public Library, and recreate that scene from Ghostbusters, by running screaming down the steps. No one will care – they see hundreds of people do it every day.
  • Actually, that’s not a bad way to get into the States. If you have trouble working out what you want to do, and where you want to go – think of your favourite scenes from your favourite films, then go to visit all the locations. You can see hundreds in New York alone; or Chicago; or Philly even. In fact, it is only in Philly that you can run up the steps of the Town Hall like Rocky and jump around at the top. Again – don’t worry. You won’t be the only one.
  • Sarge Baker is a travel writer. He uses likes Gatwick airport parking.