Harold Bishop has a posse

The Rae St Institute > Blog archive > Panhandle Clambake

The plane has NO inflight entertainment at all; a small rear-engined thing with stumpy wings and a tiny cockpit. The staff seem to have been in this game for a while; a late thirties blond southern belle saunters around the cabin like a grinning insect and I sit here in a brown suit jacket; vaguely tanned and no doubt looking a right Florida Wanker.

I don't mind the idea that I might look like someone from Colorado though for some reason. Someone insinuated that I did a couple of weeks back. Hah. I delude myself that I have some idea of state-by-state identity after three weeks in the country. What a wank.

We descend through clouds and the sun sets; a bright crimson floating lazily over a thick grey haze below. The waning sunlight plays on the wings as we bank hard left and The Drones belt out something melancholy and half-mad.


The air bellowed, deep, rumbling in my ears as the taxi sped away from Tampa airport onto a crazy assortment of criss-crossing, entangled clover freeway interchanges (and endless construction work for their constant expansion) in the thick of the suburban mess that is Florida. I waved my hand in the passing air through the open window and the air left a thick aftertaste on it - sticky, foreboding, as I pulled it back inside the van.

The cabbie charged me ten bucks off the meter, lingering waiting for a tip - but fuck that - as the tropical heat bit through my suit into my back. The lobby was cool, modern, open.. I was home, I thought sarcastically. A belligerent rubbish monologue belted out through gritted teeth inside my head: We gentlemen of distinction are not built for the abject squalour of a woefully neglected Hostel, no matter how tempting the prospects of rowdy sessions and German tourists may be.

I cock a half-smirk and get into the lift. The rooms at the West Shore Hotel are accessed through a shabby outdoor courtyard, and as I stepped out into it I wondered in my consumerist trance if I'd taken a wrong turn.. the sense of excess, the air conditioned wasteful opulence, the faux-marble, were all gone. Bare bricks, pebble mix concrete, stinking humidity and worn white steel fencing. I found the room easily enough (air conditioning already on, like a freezer inside.. God Bless those Wasteful Seppos), but upon realising that the sinister omen of the courtyard had born fruit, and my room was clearly too small (COULD ONLY FIT ONE LARGE 4WD AND A HIPPO) and not what I had requested, I hesitated for a moment, then returned to the desk to dispense stern and swift justice on behalf of Wankers Everywhere.

They apologised profusely, and put me in a double Queen Bed suite instead, bigger than I'd originally asked for (I just wanted one big bed for the first time in a while you bastards).. large enough to house five families (and servants) for a month, and inside I pondered the strange set of circumstances that had brought me to Tampa in the first place, and fretted that something in the air in this town was already turning me into something I hate.
CNN - The War Tapes

"...troops in Iraq tell their own stories..."

On screen is Spc. Moriarty, talking about the days just after September 11..

"It was like someone hitting my house; so I rang the recruiter and said, 'You slot me into a unit, just so long as that unit is going into Iraq.'"
So here I am, in a state run by a Bush brother, in a country run by a Bush brother, twenty miles from the epicentre of the Church of Scientology, briefly half watching CNN and polishing myself up for a night out in a town I really know next to nothing about and hadn't originally planned to come to. Due to the fact that I'm an evasive bastard numerous matters of policy and protocol, I am unable to discuss here exactly why I was there. Suffice it to say that I Had My Reasons.

Going clubbing in Florida is actually pretty much exactly what I expected.. plastic people, bad music, palm trees and ludicrously large stretch Hummers. Well, ok, it's not that the music was BAD, it's just that the DJ was trying to be all things to all people, which was more than anything a result of the clientele.. leathery fortysomethings alongside plastic/collagen synthetic thirtysomethings alongside twentysomethings with far too much makeup. I was out with someone from another state -- so for most of the time we just stayed out of the way of the weird mix and tried our best Not To Startle The Natives.

And to top all this off, the club was in a shopping centre.

I know that happens in the outer suburbs in Melbourne too, but that was one thing I found odd about this country.. to centralise EVERYTHING in large scale shopping centres, even nightlife -- there's something depressing and dehumanising about that somehow. But that's not really a rational response; maybe a touristy search for 'authenticity' that doesn't actually exist anywhere.
"Ev'bahddy ready fo' tahmarrow?"


It takes me a few seconds to deciper the bus driver's thick cajun accent.

"Thu sixt' day o' da sixt' munth o' da sixt' year. Every child born tomorrow is going to be stuck with that for life."

A Flag van ferries a cluster
of Body Thetans Scientologists
Florida when you don't own a car is pretty much impossible. To get from Tampa to Clearwater I ended up having to fork out stupid sums of money for taxis.. there were buses, but on the order of one per day.. and this was a Monday.
NO BUSES QUICK CALL THE PTUA!!!! Maybe Paul Mees could transfer to the University of South Florida....
In Short, Clearwater, FL is a town that the 'Church' of Scientology basically bought. Starting from 1975 it's been purchasing major properties in the downtown area, and gradually moving people in from all over the country. The local government is now stacked with Scientology people, too.

White 'Flag' vans scurry around town, pulling up to the curb periodically to deposit swarms of people in crisp white shirts emblazoned with the "S" Scientology logo. These swarms of people scurry into buildings, and another swarm will appear, bundling into the same van which then scrambles off elsewhere. The epicentre of downtown is also the epicentre of this activity. When I visited, at lunchtime on a Monday, 1 in 4 or so vehicles going through downtown were one of these vans. The Church owns two of the four corners of the centre intersection, and just up the road from it is the Fort Harrison Hotel; a run-down Italianate 1930s hotel, paint peeling and generally shabby looking. People in the same crisp uniforms.. white shirts with beige or black pants, and sometimes other coloured shirts in some cases (usually for 'higher' people presumably - walking in groups of two with Important Looking Folders).

Scientology's 'Superpower' building
with 'optional' wall.
Opposite the Fort Harrison Hotel stands Scientology's new 'Super Power' building. Ornate yet cheap; thin low grade rendered cement. A bridge links it to the hotel. A wall is missing... yet it doesn't appear to be currently undergoing construction work. What the hell happened here? There's no scaffolding, there's no tarps covering the holes in the building.. it's as if they just stopped, changed their mind most of the way through and decided to go off and do something else.

The whole inner downtown area has a decidedly weird feel about it.. hoardings on a Christian Church take subtle jabs at the Scientologists ("Come in here for real 'Super power'"), the non-Scientologist locals go about their business slowly, and overly-chirpy, overly-groomed, weird types scurry about half-mad, all big fake Tom Cruise grins, neatly pressed shirts and very 80s scarves for the women. They move in tight groups; they are ferried in Scientology-only vans; their buildings are connected by bridges.. all so as to avoid any potential for outside influence. Jesus, I thought, even Televangelist Pentecostals aren't half THIS fucked up.
'Park' co-conspirators swing one fearless ax

Scientology is perpetually embroiled in enough conspiracy theories to fill a grassy knoll or two. Its image isn't of a religion so much as an Orwellian shadow society carrying out its deceased leader's will via mind control while zealously protecting the brand.

But the most valuable piece of knowledge that's been reinforced of late has to be that "South Park" creator-producer-director-writer-voices Matt Stone and Trey Parker remain positively fearless, which in their industry places them in an elite group of, oh, two. And in these guys, Scientology has obviously met its match.
The sad and worrying thing is that the part of the South Park scientology episode where "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" is down the bottom in a manner one might expect could potentially be taking the piss, IS ACTUALLY WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS BELIEVE. Not all of them, oh no, if you're given the secrets of OT-3 before you're 'ready', you'll become sick and die. Or that's what they're told.

Upper level Scientologists really do believe that millions of tiny invisible aliens are stuck to them, and these aliens come from a distant past holocaust conducted by an alien overlord called Xenu. One must talk to these aliens to 'audit' them out. If that's not enough to bring about schizophrenia, then I don't know what is... Among other choice things that Elron decreed as holy and unquestionable truth:

Ground Zero from the air as we fly
worryingly close to the New York skyline
At Tampa Airport a scary, TARDIS-like machine called a GE EntryScan seals me inside, puffs me with compressed air and sniffs for explosives. My bag is swabbed, and my phone and wallet. The whole process is more thorough than anywhere else so far, but the once their testing is complete all they do is scribble 'TSA' on my boarding pass in green marker. Which is worrying... I know it's a little thing, but they don't even have a stamp?

Flying back I'm reminded why I decided to go by train across the country - Nobody on the plane speaks to anybody else for the entire three hours; a crabby woman sits two seats across from me, the seat between us full of her belongings, stacked four feet high. She communicates with her fellow humans purely in scowls - my first sight of her is her giving me a grade four style greasy as I walk on, yet she's eager to talk to any number of people on her phone WHILE THE PLANE IS TAXIING AND ABOUT TO TAKE OFF.

The blunt approach of a flight attendant from the first flight would have been appreciated here.. none of this "please madam, no mobile phones." rubbish, but rather "if you keep using that phone, we're all going to die a horrible fiery death."
As we were taxiing for takeoff out of Sydney, an old man standing up to get something out of the overhead lockers was rebuffed with "What the hell do you think you're doing? We're moving!"

People putting luggage in inappropriate places were also told "You can't leave that there, it'll break your legs." or "That'll decapitate someone."

5 Comments - [post a comment]

scandles - Idaho, Monday, June 26, 2006, 8:21 PM
You edited out the mysterious black car filled with two strange men escoting you to said destination (. . . sssh, I haven't said and won't say), the huge and bloody cow on the table, a movie pitch (one that most definitely would win you awards if one was daring enough to produce . . . a documentary "Peanut Butter and Jelly Erotica" ) and oh yeah . . . Sex on the Beach. Shame.
Dr Henrik Ziegler, Thursday, June 29, 2006, 11:30 AM
Oh Jesus, you make it sound so Eyes Wide Shut... :)

Though there was no mention of said strange men due to the Legal Department being unsure whether I should refer to one of them as a Salesman or an Engineer..

oh and the Peanut Butter Porn film was something a friend of mine made a few years back --

ok - Idaho, Sunday, July 2, 2006, 12:13 AM
So I was try to juice things up a bit.
paraderm for the soul - hobbes, Saturday, August 5, 2006, 7:54 AM
has the great cultural abyss that is europe swallowed our fair narrator whole???

psst - beth, Friday, December 8, 2006, 11:51 PM
i'm getting tired of reading the same blog over and over. After almost 5 1/2 months, you owe me some new material. err, that sounded a little demanding. . . please.