I made landfall in America, as many before me have done, at Los Angeles International Airport aka LAX, where I was photographed, fingerprinted and treated to a full body scan sans shoes. While I get the need for security, I found it disturbing that everyone wishing to enter the US is expected to surrender such bio-data without question. I want to know what the implications are, how long my data will be stored… There was one moment of levity, however, when a male border security officer asked, ‘Are you travelling with any Tim Tams today, m’am?’
From LAX, I flew to Phoenix, Arizona, to be collected by the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus…only it’s not quite complimentary as you’re expected to tip the driver (I checked). The whole tipping culture does my head in. I’m appalled that American workers have to rely on discretionary funds like tips to make a living wage. At the same time, the monetisation of (almost) every interaction leaves me wondering if people are genuinely friendly and helpful, or just faking it for the sake of a good tip.
I promised myself I wouldn’t make generalisations, but I was struck today by how literal some Americans can be. Many people I met today explained what they were going to do before they did it, talked it through while it was happening, then reported back on what happened — even when the content was the same at all three stages. It might be politeness; or maybe it’s about risk management and an aversion to surprises, something they have in common with Thai people in that regard. I’m thinking of signs at the airport, ‘warning’ commuters that an electronic walkway will come to an end in 30 feet; or that plane exhaust, which is carcinogenic, can sometimes enter the gangway of the plane. Do I/we really need to know these things? Then again, I’m the sort of person who likes surprises.
And I got a surprise today, while waiting to check into my hotel room, when I witnessed an argument between one of the male hotel staff and a woman returning a hire car, which basically boiled down to a dispute about manners. The man (wrongly) accused the woman of profanity, adding, ‘We don’t tolerate profanity in this hotel’ (‘Fuck,’ I thought privately, ‘I’m in trouble!’); the woman took great offence, insisting she didn’t use profanity ever. And all the while I’m thinking the equivalent exchange in Australia would consist of little other than a string of profanities!
Anyway, despite having slept badly (if at all) on the plane, I took the advice of receptionist Patrick, and delayed checking in for an hour so I could get a room with a view of Hayden Butte (pronounced ‘beaut’). I killed the hour walking around Tempe, getting money changed (I live in fear of running out of small notes for tips), and accidentally choosing a vegan place to eat lunch at the Desert Roots Kitchen. There I met Des, a Navajo, and the cafe managers/staff Travers and Christian. They fed me a steady stream of tips for my time in Phoenix, while serving up a magnificent hummus plate, including a sample of peanut butter and jelly hummus they insisted I try and that, I have to admit, turned out to be delicious, as unlikely as it seems.
Travers recommended a walk up Hayden Butte, my enthusiasm for which was cemented when I looked out of my hotel room and saw the cacti on the slopes. The climb was a good work out and worth the climb to the summit, both for the cacti, and for the the stunning views of red mountains that encircles Phoenix, AZ. Gasp out loud greatness.
Now to sleep and renew my energy for more exploring tomorrow.