Postcard from America, US Hwy 27

and self-indulgent diary

My childhood ambition was “To be an American”. Strange because my only American experience was listening to the Cuban Missile crisis on transistor radio and a bit of TV. A salmon returns to its river to spawn. My “river” seems to be US Hwy 27 between Walmart Superstore and Ronald Reagan Highway near to Calabay Parc and Champions Gate, located 20 miles West of Orlando airport. I have visited five times in the last 2 ½ years. I always take the southern route out of the airport and connect to I-4, a road that can be a car-park at random times.

I seem to end up in a villa located in Calabay Parc. My last three visits were in three different 4-bed villas within 500 yards of each other. So connected to the USA am I that I have two Garmin sat nav’s with USA maps and a USA checking and credit card account through HSBC USA Premier.

Lugosi, Going Postal

I usually travel BA on flights 2037 out and 2036 back. This time I managed to secure a Virgin Atlantic Premium seat for £744. They can be as much as £1,200. Virgin pricing varies depending on the popularity of enquiry. My searching for the right dates eventually found a deal at £744 that bumped to over £900 when I was about to book. Using some VPN subterfuge I put myself in France and secured the £744 price.

The “right date” Is “A stay of at least 8 days, starting on a day before the villa price goes up to the Winter Snowbird season”. So, it’s a lot of going back and forth between flight and villa to get the best price. The cheapest airline flight tends to be on a Tuesday by my experience.

As standard I stay at Hampton By Hilton, Gatwick the night before, which is attached to North terminal.

I sat there in 17D, on the aisle, praying no-one would sit next to me. “No, fuck off, fuck off” went through my mind as if the power of telepathy would keep passengers at bay. “We’ve closed the doors”. Relief! Then the bastard emerged from behind me. Was friendly and only one toilet break during the flight.

I register for medical assistance which means I can carry two bags onto the plane, one with my CPAP machine and the use the buggy to get to the gate at Gatwick. A torn knee ligament un-repaired, another repaired but with arthritis, arthritic hips, overweight, can’t walk far without resting. I’m also carrying medical equipment and medications. Airlines and airport staff are really good if you require medical assistance. It gets you priority boarding. It’s marked on your ticket and the airline staff have to let you have priority board even if you can walk unaided to the aircraft. At Gatwick you can skip the long lines for security with a dedicated gate that is also used for family access. When there is a queue on the boarding bridge they hate it when the assistance agent walks a line of people past them to the front of the queue “What’s wrong with you?” is often a snide quip. On a previous trip, one great agent, carried my bags, walked me past the queue to get to the lounge and into the priority boarding section. Stayed with me and when we were waved onto the plane he carried my bags to the seat.

At Orlando it’s a wheelchair. I feel uncomfortable about using one but they don’t have buggies, and they make you wait until everyone has disembarked. That means 447 people could be in the border control queue in front of you plus whoever is there already. Orlando TSA has suspended the wheelchair lane so the wheelchair assistants now have to queue up in the regular line. The previous time I went to Orlando in May we waited over an hour. These guys rely on tips and I can’t do that to them and deprive them of $5 a bag handling.

This time I made a dash for the exit. I was the third person off the plane, as they let the Upper Class and Premium passengers off first. I’m carrying two heavy bags but its downhill all the way. 15th person in the queue for a border agent and I’m collecting my bag 30 minutes after landing. Great wheels on my bag mean it’s an easy walk to Alamo. I choose my car but the Nissan Rogue (Qashqai) I like isn’t there. It’s either a saloon or a huge Dodge Caravan, seven seater. I choose it. It’s a monster! I drive a smaller Nissan Note in the UK. It’s so high off the road I can’t get into the driving seat without scraping my shins.

Lugosi, Going Postal

People go to Orlando for the theme parks. I go to visit Walmart and Publix. Big steaks, proper rye-bread with seeds, Swiss cheese slices, Lays kettle chips (crisps), Breyers “No Sugar Added” Butter Pecan ice-cream. I watch TV with great Fox News Conservative three hours of Tucker, Hannity and Ingraham, preceded by three hours of Mark Levin on the radio.

I am a loner. I like my own company. I like to sit outside in the pool area with ceiling fan turning and watching something on the tablet while supping a cold-beer. I choose a villa where I can sit outside under cover and watch the thunderstorms at night. (It didn’t rain for the 9 days I was there!)

I don’t own a single item of clothing that I didn’t buy in the USA. I will be stocking the wardrobe with a few things from Walmart before I leave but with an existing buffer stock at home of five un-worn, un-altered jeans and two wearable it will only be a few cheap t-shirts, sweat shirts and bottoms.

At the Alamo desk we discover my USA credit card has expired. Fortunately they took my UK credit card as bond against charges or I wouldn’t have had a car.

The next two days I’m on to HSBC USA and managed to get them to Fed Ex a replacement card to the villa. Before leaving, EE gave me a one month roaming deal so I could call the UK by mobile using my existing plan. It included unlimited calls/texts and 7G roaming data. Only problem was that although my AT&T connection was registered I couldn’t make calls. I spoke to AT&T on the villa phone and a very helpful agent told me “Just add 001 for International access and then +44 for the UK”. Then I realised I could make free WhatsApp calls, as my customer discovered when they called me at 5:00 am with a video call.

When you visit Walmart you get to see the working-class, blue-collar side of America. I am struck at so many unattractive people. Several cars in the car park would never survive an MOT. Very multi-ethnic. Lots of Hispanics/Latinos speaking variants of Spanish. It seems that most Walmart employees speak English as their second language. Overweight people like you’ve never seen, many using electric disabled chairs, so overweight that they can’t walk.

Lugosi, Going Postal

Then there are the Veterans with a pneumatic steel prosthetic leg or missing arm. No wonder that veteran health affairs are such a big topic in America.

And then there are the “booty butts”. You can’t help but notice them. I find them to be freaks of nature and I don’t know why black women are susceptible to them.

Walmart has installed many self-checkouts. A manned check-out is a rarity. It’s all done on trust. No weighing as you put your scanned items down. Plastic bags, as many as you want, always useful for packing the luggage when you return home.

Walmart is like Tesco/Asda (They own Asda). Publix is like Waitrose.

Lugosi, Going Postal

I arrive at the villa around 6:30pm. Its dark but fortunately they left the lights on and I can read the digits on the key safe on the wall. Bags down, change into t-shirt and shorts, check that the Wi-Fi is working and then I’m off to Publix to stock up on food. On my return I realise I have about six mosquito strikes on my legs. It’s a Florida hazard.

Lugosi, Going Postal

Lugosi, Going Postal

Lugosi, Going Postal

And the finished articles!

Lugosi, Going Postal

Lugosi, Going Postal

Michelob have a very interesting new presentation of their Ultra, lower calorie/sugar beer. Aluminium, bottle shaped canned with caps.

Lugosi, Going Postal

Through a 52inch HD lounge TV I have a window into the USA soul. I have arrived on mid-term election day and the big news is the Broward County electoral fraud. They only seem to discover Democrat votes in basements and the back of cars.

Lugosi, Going Postal

If you only made an impression about the USA from TV adverts you would find they are obsessed by health. Health ads feature patients from a wide ethnic/gender mix extolling how their lives have been enhanced/saved by “Acmavix (acmavictohypernaut)”. It’s always a brand name followed by some internal drug industry name.

They tell you what it cures followed by smiling actors telling their stories. Then the warnings:-

“Don’t take Acmavix if you are allergic to it (which you can’t know if you haven’t tried it!)

            “Don’t take Acmavix if you develop internal bleeding”

            “Don’t take Acmavix if you develop shortness of breath”

            “Don’t take Acmavix if you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant”

            “Don’t take Acmavix if you or your family have a history of diabetes, heart-attack or stroke”

And so it goes on. Lawyers also run ads:-

“Have you or a family member suffered permanent health damage, injury or death by taking Acmavix? If so, call Greenway, Southern and Pawboy, attorneys at law on 1-800-78766654 where we you may receive compensation up to $5m”

The car ads are wonderful “I want one!”. Big muscle RAM pickup trucks catch the eye but it’s the technology I love. They now have cars where the dashboard is one big screen. Lane assist, automatic slow-down in case of the distance with the car in front is too small, crash detection, all around cameras, overtake blind-side warnings, sat-nav, traffic and internet. All of these are creeping into our own cars and some have been around a few years but in the USA many of these come in standard cars. Great cars cost nearly half what a car in Britain costs.

Lugosi, Going Postal

Day One slowly becomes Day Eight. A visit to Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland to get a pair of Timberland boots $91 costing about £130 in the UK. To Walmart for $6.50 Fruit Of The Loom track-suit bottoms (2) and $6.50 track-suit tops (2). Three t-shirts at $3.50 each and a Gotham Steel copper/titanium frying pan, $14.95.

I know how to live it up on holiday!

Leaving day. I check-out at 12 noon, deposit my bag at Disney Springs, Cirque du Soleil where Virgin will take your bag so you don’t drive around with it all day. Standard procedure is to now head for Florida Mall food hall, get a Chinese meal and leave for the airport filling up at Target to return the car with a full tank. Florida Mall has 20 different fast food outlets.

Lugosi, Going Postal

My usual lunch is noodles, chicken with broccoli and Orange Chicken, $10. I reckon that’s about £14 worth at UK prices. Its good food because it’s always fresh.

Lugosi, Going Postal

Downside! Later, at the airport I was very thirsty. No, not the salt. My blood sugar was 31!  It has never been that high for 40 years! Whacked-in the insulin and got it down to 8 by the time I boarded.

My ticket was marked “TSA Pre-check” so I go through a less crowded security line. Instead of putting your bags and stuff in baskets for the scanning they were shoving it through on rollers. Didn’t even have to unpack the tablet.

The boarding area is Disney Chav City. 40 minutes before the Gatwick flight is a Virgin flight to Manchester. Disney jackets and Mickey Ears, and the kids had toys and Goofy pyjamas. I realise why the on-board cabin announcer says “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls”. There were a large number of school-age children at the airport. Legally they shouldn’t be there.

Lugosi, Going Postal

Virgin changed my seat to 14C, the best seat in the cabin and five feet from the loo. It’s almost en-suite! A bulkhead aisle seat with the most leg-room and the window seat passenger can get past without waking you. With a tail wind they shaved an hour off the flight. Only 7 hours.

Perfect holiday. Food, shopping, telly, Star Trek on the tablet, warm (85F), they (mostly) speak English.

Transport and Accommodation by:-

Virgin Atlantic, Rentalcars, Hampton By Hilton Gatwick, Gatwick Valet Parking, Debbies Villas

Clothes by:-

Walmart, Timberland.

© Lugosi 2018

Audio file