It’s been 6 weeks since touching down here in the Land of the Free.
First up was a thorough lesson in Civil Liberties courtesy of Homelands Security- they detained me for five hours with several rounds of interrogation over the details of my trip, my personal history, finances and past drug use.
My recent months within ‘interesting’ countries such as Colombia, Jamaica and Mexico must have flagged me up as a case worth investigating. And I probably look the sort with my small backpack and carefree smile.
Various cross-examination techniques were employed to destabilise/antagonise me into admitting something incriminating. A drug test was repeatedly propositioned, seemingly to gauge my reaction - something I’ve since confirmed as a hollow threat and a dirty trick if you ask me.
Fortunately my visa was issued and I got through - many people have been denied entry to the US this year for admitting to less than I did - click to read more here.
Landing in the comforts of a developed society was a real culture shock after several months backpacking. And I totally lucked out - being hosted in my first week by a friend’s brother who works in finance and was happy to share the luxuries of his lifestyle #hottub #pool #sunshine
For a time I was wide eyed with awe and appreciation over such things as a plate of food with minimal risk of poisoning...a temperate coolness in the air...sleeping under a downy duvet. I’ll work to keep an ongoing sense of gratitude and appreciation for these pleasures that can easily be taken for granted.
Being back in a Western society also felt significantly safer- I was able to relax in a way that I hadn’t been able to for some time. I’ve been living slowly in an effort to fully recover my energies...the lifestyle had become a bit of a battle recently - something I wrote about in Episode 7 which you can check out here.
As ever I’ve tried to distil my insights for your reading pleasure:
- It’s easy to get fat in America and I did
- Couchsurfing is AMAZING
- Social Spirits
1) It’s easy to get fat in America and I did
Can I say fat or is it politically incorrect nowadays? Well I gained weight and I suspect it wasn’t muscle mass - the only lifting occurring was my hand to my mouth.
As mentioned I’ve been taking it slow and enjoying more rest and less movement. Finding comfort in a homely setting has generally led to more indulgence…and if indulgent consumption is your mood then America is your Mecca!
From the best of global cuisine to the worst of fast food. O the milkshakes! The burgers! When you know you shouldn’t but you do anyway...for three weeks.
Worry not reader! I’m well on the way back to my lithe and supple self - it’s been yoga classes, long walks and low-carbs all week. Overall I think it’s good to allow and tolerate some slackening - provided you’re conscious and can find the discipline to call time and draw the line.
2) Couchsurfing is AMAZING
“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”
Couchsurfing is a social platform (kinda like Facebook)...you create your profile and look up others’ profiles who live in the area you’re visiting. You make contact and hopefully hit it off and get to stay on their couch for free...hence ‘Couchsurfing’. You’ll be able to pay the goodwill forward when you’re back at home and able to host future visitors.
I spent a couple of very happy weeks between four new San Franciscan friends/hosts - learning about their lives and diving directly into their best recommendations of local culture. If you’ve got a trip then I thoroughly recommend getting your head around this tool. Ask me if you’d like to know more!
3) Social Spirits
I’ve divided my 6 weeks so far between 3 cities/states on the West Coast -San Francisco, California...Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.
In each I've been surprised at how many homeless people can be found sleeping rough/camping out on the sidewalks - many seemingly blighted by poor mental health.
Statistics indicate around four times more homeless per capita in the US than the UK with 25% having serious mental or drug abuse problems.
Homelessness is the visible tip of an iceberg of injustices - exacerbated (state depending) by a lack of Social Welfare, such as the system we've had in the UK.
It’s an ongoing source of astonishment that we can live in the richest society in the world, spending vast sums on silliness, whilst the sick are neglected.
Of course many people and organisations are doing fantastic work to plug the gaps left by poor government. This spirit of positive change, independence and courage is aligned to the reputation of the West Coast…originally the Wild West for the bravest gold digging settlers, later the fertile hotbed of many counter-cultural movements.
Nowadays it’s a global hub of technological innovation, but also of social innovation...it’s no coincidence that these three West Coast states have been the first to legalise Cannabis...with the rest of the country and world set to follow suit. Let alone those working on the frontiers of justice around LGBT rights, immigrant rights, black rights...
It’s been inspiring for me to spend time around people imbued with this attitude - that change is possible with hard work, unity and open minds. I’ll be doing my best to carry this forward in my own work as an artist/actor/activist.