Harold Bishop has a posse

The Rae St Institute > Blog archive > Oligopoly -- Where Everybody Knows Your Name...

Dick Cheney, yesterday.
Does he have to pay Peter Costello royalties for that smirk? Or is it a mutual licensing deal?
America is a country where a lot of fingers are in a lot of pies they probably shouldn't be - not unlike Australia; eg Rio Tinto® Australian Chief Scientist™ - and one of those with a larger number of (larger) fingers in a larger number of pies than most happens to be one Richard B. Cheney. Doyenne of the left for his COMPLETELY NOT AT ALL CONFLICTED involvement in Halliburton/Kellogg Brown Root (Building a Democratic Iraq, Whether They Like It Or Not™), favourite of Fundamentalist Christians everywhere for his Lesbian Daughter and thus status as an Easy Target (either as Hypocrite or Sign Of The Apocalypse/Moral Panic Inducer), and favourite of the Health Insurance industry for his 22 year history of heart attacks, Cheney is an all-round well liked gent with hobbies including hunting, fishing, and hiding inside mountains impervious to nuclear attack, controlling the "Coalition" and its adventures everywhere.

So it should come as no surprise then, that the second leg of my cross country journey had some Cheney-induced mirth. Amtrak is under a cloud; the "President" wants to remove all funding for the next fiscal year (the money would be better spent on killing people, I guess), and funnily enough, both passengers and staff agree on the thought that Dick Cheney would, strangely enough, benefit from a complete shutdown of it, were such a thing to happen.

You see, Dick Cheney is a former director of the Union Pacific Railroad - he supposedly (according to passengers and staff) is still a shareholder, though I can't find anything in a quick cursory web search to substantiate this. Either way, people he has been close with - and will probably return to working with once he's out of the public sphere - will benefit from Amtrak being taken off Union Pacific lines, as it'll free up more capacity for freight. It would also dramatically reduce maintenance requirements, as freight lines need less maintenance than passenger lines.

In an environment where the executive is looking for any reason available to shut Amtrak down, it's been asked threateningly to reduce food costs by $17 million per year by the first of July. So on the second leg of my journey, the run from Chicago to Boston, the plates were plastic, and so were the glasses. Minor things, yes, but symbols of the deliberate grind the system is being put through. In a context where Americans paying the equivalent of 90c Australian per litre are complaining about 'unreasonably high' fuel costs, surely the idea of viable passenger rail is at least a reasonable, if not necessary, proposition.

But enough politics.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name...

As first impressions go, Boston beat all prior comers hands down. Within 20 minutes of being in town, I was sitting on the T out to Alewife, directly opposite a man holding a plastic bag full of live grasshoppers, while he frantically SMSed someone with the other hand. There's something beautifully deranged about that, and as first impressions go it beats crackheads and boarded up windows by a country mile.

Boston is a great little big city; the meandering colonial feel of bits of Sydney, without the Wanker factor. The city itself is easily walkable, yet its suburbs sprawl far out across the undulating hills of New England, forming the northern section of the Eastern Seaboard Megalopolis that spreads down past New York to Washington and Baltimore. As all cities do, Boston has its share of political scandal and pork barrelling - their Big Dig project has been going on for over 15 years, attempting to unpick the broad scale destruction of the inner city done by building huge freeways in the 1950s by hiding them underground. The project was meant to be complete years ago, but cost overruns, corruption, and dodgy deals have dragged it on and on far beyond the point anyone still cared. That aside, instead of elevated freeways now there are big empty strips of the city, and wide areas of construction.. but even that is better and less dehumanising than double decker fume-belching concrete monstrosities.

I stayed the first night with a friend out in Marlboro.. Marlboro is something like what Melton would be if directly west of Melbourne were hills and trees as opposed to broad basalt plains and dull brown paddocks; semi-rural, and finally a glimpse of American Suburbia proper; meandering cul-de-sacs, 2 storey mansions on large blocks, and this was the 'dodgy' side of town - the nowheresville of Broken Flowers and the like - not some idealised Disney Plastic Small Town Feel™. Their local bar is a TGI Friday's in a shopping mall, and the nearest public transport is a fifteen-twenty minute car ride away.

Massachusetts is no different to anywhere else here - the alcohol age is enforced with an iron fist (well lubricated) and an eye for detail (THIS "PASSPORT" SAYS YOU WERE BORN IN 1781). Although on balance it's harder to tell the difference between a 20 year old and a 22 year old than it is to tell the difference between a 17 year old and a 19 year old.

American beers are an odd mix. Seasonal beers, anyone? Samuel Adams' Summer Ale is highly recommended should you fancy some lubricated consorting with Seppos and happen to be here at the right time of year, but Pabst Blue Ribbon doesn't get any similar seal of approval (MAYBE JUST A PUNCH IN THE FACE). Heineken is still Heineken (as long as the taps are clean), and Bud is still Bud (ie: Cheap).

As sightseeing and tourist attractions go, for cynical bastards such as your humble narrator, they're viable, but only in a small group so you can snipe and judge everything a-la the two crabby old arseholes from The Muppet Show. Visit the Cheers bar opposite Boston Common AT YOUR PERIL, PEOPLE. Unless you bring Scandinavian Repellent and perhaps some headphones to avoid the rather weird combination of piped 80s music and loud dutch conversations (ALSO -> SCREAMING CHILDREN). THE GIFT SHOP SELLS CHEERS GOLF BALLS -> WHY?! (OK, to be fair, the food was actually quite good, and the staff were friendly.. I just Really Don't Like hanging around so many tourists.)

On the second day my gracious hosts took me on a fairly comprehensive walk through the inner city. Said Cheers bar aside due to prevalence of children and animals, Boston has plenty of bars to keep you lubricated while on such an adventure, and a brick line to make it easy to stay on the self-guided tour we were doing. AND NO WE DID NOT AT ALL GET HAMMERED AND SPEND TWO HOURS RANTING ABOUT TIME TRAVELLING HIPPOS AND HANGING SHIT ON CIVIL WAR BATTLESHIPS WHILE STUMBLING AROUND TRYING TO STAY ON THE PATH. All persons concerned were very well behaved, and the model of both Australian and American good Tourist Behaviour.*

After walking for hours, then trying to find somewhere we could continue to self-medicate and watch a Red Sox game, we stumbled across a rather stern and savage looking Scientologist in the street (WHO WE MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT MUTTER STRANGE INSULTS ABOUT TO EACH OTHER AS WE WALKED PAST), then into a bar where all the staff seemed to have been recruited from a modelling agency, except the bouncer who had a semi-psychedelic freakout when he saw the hologram in my passport ("WHOA! THIS THING IS LIKE, FLASHING STUFF AT ME!"). Several vodkas later, we ended up at a fairly decent Seafood restaurant. AND THEN I HAD CLAM CHOWDER. I HAD NEVER HAD CLAM CHOWDER. AND IT WAS GOOD.

And I said, "I'm in Boston. I'm eating Clam Chowder. And it's good."

And all was right with the world.

Then we started on the red wine, and it all went downhill from there.
OK, so this is a week NOT VERY old. New York blew me away, and then I went to Florida IN AN ATTEMPT TO DESTROY THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY FOR THE GLORY OF XENU ETC and also for other reasons.. stay tuned. I've just had about 20 hours in Montreal; in 5 hours I'm off to London. YOU BASTARDS BACK HOME HAVE IT EASY.
* No warranty of truth, express or implied, is given.

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