Something’s changed, perhaps starting the almost warm welcome from the immigration agent at the Tom Bradly International Terminal in Los Angeles. Previously and especially in the early post 9/11 years, I felt like an invading interloper, blunt hostile questions thrown at my jet fuddled face. Certainly the terminal itself is a world away from the dim, gritty labyrinth next door which is where my airline used to arrive.
It could be my mindset too, that made my three day trip to Vegas quite pleasant, against the feeling of siege that marked all previous. Staying in a holiday apartment devoid of a walk through a casino helped as well, but when I did traverse some gambling halls there were less tragedies evident.
On the strip the same number of beggars and porn card agents were evident, but someone has conditioned or legislated them to be less invasive.
I didn’t meet an ugly American, in the personal sense, and realise you can find more offensively obese people in Sydney these days. My requests for service were all understood where a decade ago I got a lot of rude ‘Say What?’
There were no passive aggressive ‘Have a good day, SIR’, or unsolicited unwarranted looks of hatred from minority servers or maids. The taxi drivers in Vegas were all communicative and helpful.
Jet Blue and Virgin America have reversed the race to the bottom which had airlines in the states flying really old, worn aircraft with abysmal and rude ‘service’ that shocks new arrivals used to Australia’s excellent duopoly of VA and QF. Now you can be treated like a wanted customer and served a cup of beverage without it being almost flung at you.
In the bars and steak houses, the oppressed women still are forced to wear butt and boob revealing little black dresses, but perhaps that will shift as well, akin to what we do in Australia, which to not objectify women. No longer will you see newsstands with porn magazines offering to ‘teach your girl to give great head’ down at kid level, offending new visitors.
Over at Times Square in New York you can walk the streets without the hookers and the dealers blocking your way like it was in the pre Giuliani era. My long demolished first NY hotel had the desk clerk behind bars, with a hand gun in reach. Back then the anarchy was everywhere, I hopped up from the coffee shop table and left my mate, who was then robbed by a black guy who jumped into my vacated seat and held a knife against him, under the table in full daylight on a busy street.
At Usher’s arena gig setup, I sat back and watched the union crew actually work in harmony and didn’t see the old common situation of clusters of loaders standing smoking while the fork driver had his crib break. It all moved in purposeful harmony.
We had nothing but co-operation from everyone we engaged with – the ‘we’ being my colleague Cat Strom and I. Old mate Ray Bond, a long term frequent visitor to the states also lived there. He seemed pretty happy with how things have become.
So my attitude has changed, and I’m no longer wary and disconcerted by the USA, despite visiting its two most garish and confronting cities, L.A. and Las Vegas.
I am always taken by the valor and loyalty of the American people, who revere and respect their armed forces. Uniformed forces are invited to board aircraft with the First Class passengers. The flag is everywhere – much more than in Australia. The Americans know how to party, to express themselves, and have a steely determination not to succumb to the evil atrocities their enemies plot against them.
Long gone is the lame security that had anyone walk into any departure lounge of every airport, replaced with a monstrous regime of TSA checking that has you remove shoes, and submit to a full body scan. Yet they have finessed this, and the mile long queues of last decade are now managed more efficiently – especially if you are flying Business.
Finally even the abuse of food is abating, with less salt and less waste on my plates, although I do have a tendency to choose upmarket. In the past they shoveled everything on. You can still get jumbo everything, but choices have emerged. The liquid cheese is still available to smother your deep fried and battered whatever, but I find it best not to watch.
So viva America, and hola to all my American friends who I’ve always loved when their homeland was a lot less hospitable than it has now become.