The other thing that happened in the recent past was that we beetled off to the US. Mostly because it had been long enough since the last trip that the essential horror of driving terrible cars on terrible roads to terrible restaurants where you try to talk to twenty people who all want separate bills and still manage to have a ‘but I only ordered a salad’ argument with the staff who even I can tell want to kill everyone and hide the bodies in the dumpsters round the back, had faded.
But also because it was Convergence XX, which I wasn’t thinking too hard about since it was a week and a half away and we had this vague plan to drive round Lake Michigan and perhaps find local beer to drink.
It transpires that the Chevy Cruze used to be based on the same platform as the ‘reasonably priced car’ that was hoofed or pottered round an airfield by a selection of C21st notables. The more modern iteration is some global GM thing which is pronounced ‘boring’ in seventeen different territories. I still don’t know how the Americans, who have had more practice at car-building than anyone else thus far, can emit so many soulless vehicles. I mean, the new Golf that I was briefly allowed the other month while temporarily between Saabs, was pretty much like driving a cosmetic dentist’s waiting room. It was jolly nice, but really quite some distance beyond clinical and well into ‘Cronenburgian’. I didn’t inspect the toolkit in the boot, but I imagine it to be made of stainless steel and look like something used by an alien midwife. The Cruze, meanwhile, had an interior of fake carbon-fibre knit, a dash designed by an Amigademo group (Silents or Kent Team, I think) and the world’s most passive-aggressive engine. It was sharp enough off the mark in traffic, all busy rev and look at me and all my gears with the extra nudge-lever mode, but nose out round some artic or SUV and ask it to drop a cog, and it made noises like a small child jumping up and down in a wheelbarrow of rusty fasteners.
We pulled in to the ‘Welcome to Michigan’ rest-area for maps, guidebooks and perhaps an illustrated gazetteer of microbreweries. There was a lighthouse in the car-park. Brief investigation revealed that while it wasn’t a real one, there were hundreds of the blasted things surrounding the lake so as to ensure the shipping didn’t escape and end up in Joliet, Kalamazoo or Waukesha. There being little worse than wandering out of a bar in some far land-locked corner of Wisconsin and being set upon by a mob of feral great lakes bulk carriers, bashing their grain augers together in a frenzy of hatred. It futher transpired that visiting the entire set and ticking them off in a pass-book you can get from the Michigan Tourist Board is completely A Thing, which sounded exactly like the sort of pointless yet absorbing endeavour that European legislation ensuring sensible holidays was designed for.
I think we bagged three.
Where I’m from, there’d be brown signs pointing towards the nearest lighthouse at every major road junction. There’d also be large-scale OS maps and probably apps and an overlay on Google maps.
In the US? The functional equivalent of a cider-drinking tramp farting the word ‘yonder’ in the general direction of a large body of water.
Also, since tourism doesn’t start until May, pretty much everywhere was shut. We went to some place called ‘Silver Lake’ because it sounded interesting, and should I ever need a porn-star or stripper name, it’ll be that one. Which was shut. Apparently you can rent kit to shrink-wrap pretty much anything up to the size of a boutique motel. Boats, ATVs, road signs, taco stands - all wrapped in sturdy blue plastic and awaiting the arrival of proper tourists and not those mad buggers from En-ger-land who have come on the wrong month like embarassing relations who arrive when you are still in the shower. Thus we wandered into the next proper town (Not Mears, which was a church and a fire-station) to find a motel and perhaps an only mildly awful place to find some supper.
If you are ever in that corner of Michigan, I ask that you stop in Hart and go for pizza in the surprisingly-named Hart Pizza because the people who run it are lovely and would probably be equally delighted to play host to more wandering English people and have more rambling about SF and punk rock.