Driving into New Bern from the North Carolina Coast, I caught the local commercial radio station. And I quickly learnt of two new makes of car that I had never encountered in Europe. Forget your Infinities and the like - the makes I was referring to were the "Knee-sonne" and the "Hun-day", makes of vehicle that have, apparently, never been sold across the Atlantic. Obviously nothing at all to do with "Nissan" and "Hyundai", both of which are well-known vehicles in Europe. Not even an American could get the pronunciation sooooooooooo wrong.
But joking apart, the amount of adverts about car sales, special offers, unrepeatable deals and the like - the USA must be awash with unsold cars. No wonder the whole USA automotive industry is in a state of collapse (and the events of the period between my visit in May 2005 and writing up my notes in Feb 2006 merely confirming this) if they are having to go to all of these lengths to dispose of them. The crisis must be worse than one has been led to believe.
And in between all of the adverts they had a music break. And who would have thought that here in the depths of darkest North Carolina (it was indeed pretty dark by this time) that I'd hear a local radio station belt out "Radar Love" by "Golden Earring". It's not their best track by a long way give me "When the Lady Smiles" or "Long Blond Animal" any day but it's still nice to think that a non-English speaking band can get airplay this side of the Atlantic. Amazing!
What was even more amazing was that it was followed by "Aqualung" by "Jethro Tull". I could see me liking this area of North Carolina rather a lot! Especially as, even more amazingly, I found myself coming into New Bern and encountering a roundabout. And not one by "Yes" either, although given the music that accompanied my drive into the town, you could be forgiven for believing that. Especially as roundabouts in the USA are so rare as to be almost unkown. I'll be back up here tomorrow to take a photo of this, that's for sure.
It had to be a Magic Roundabout, of course, because given the hour, all I could think of was ""Time for Bed!" said Zebedee".
So this was New Bern, then. The first impressions were that it was quite nice. Lots of water (I'm a Pisces, remember) and nice pretty lights. I had a good chance to have a look around the town as I drove around looking for a motel, as at first glance they weren't entirely evident, and decided that I could quite happily settle down in a place like this (I bet that's caused real estate prices in New Bern to plummet, I should say).
No, not even a Motel 6 here. We must really be off the beaten track.
Do You Know The Way ...
But eventually I found a motel that looked as if it might do the business. This is the Palace Motel - and we can all cue the famous Peter Sellers line in "Return of the Pink Panther"
"Do you know the way to the Palace Hotel?"
Reasonable accommodation, reasonable price, but once again a dreadful smell in the room. Perfume this time, though, just to make a change, although the cynic in me suggested that this was merely to hide the smell of the damp. Why is it that almost every motel I've ever stayed in in the USA has smelt of something disagreeable? At least it didn't smell like the one in Flagstaff, though.
One thing however was that there was no light working in the room. Rather than call maintenance, I spent 5 minutes as a do-it-yourself electrician, following which fiat lux, and sure enough, so there was.
I forgot to add that an enormous cloudburst greeted my arrival in New Bern, rather like the one that accompanied my arival in Aix-en-Provence in France in 1994 - on a motorbike. Merely going from the car to the motel offices and back to the car, and from the car into the motel room saw me drenched to the skin. That was bad
What was worse was that where the car was parked, water was sheeting off the roof onto the boot. Every time I opened the boot to get a suitcase or whatever, I was soaked to the skin and the boot was flooded.
Turning my attention to more practical matters, though, I noticed that it was now after 9:00, and we all know what happens in small-town North America (and even sometimes large-town North America) at 9:00 at night. Yes, they pull out the communal battery and everything closes down - a phenomenon I first observed at Tadoussac, Canada and in countless other places ever since. I didn't imagine that New Bern was going to be any different.
The presence of a Taco Bell over the road was somehow kind of comforting. Ever since my exploits in Santa Fe in 2002 trying to hunt down some chili beans, I'd been hankering after a really good mexican tacoway, so I decided I wouldn't miss out on the opportunity to try a Taco Bell, especially as by now it had stopped raining.
Three bean burritos looked like the answer to my prayer, and I have to say that I found them absolutely disgusting (I've since perfected the technique of a good bean burrito at home). Having said that, however, and remembering just how hungry I was beforehand, I can safely say without fear of contradiction that I have never been so full in all my life after what for all intents and purposes was a small meal. And at 89 cents a throw too. That was what I call value, even if the food was disgusting.
On the way back to the motel afterwards, I noticed this in the motel car park. This looked like a mega-piece of equipment, that's for sure. And I couldn't believe what was pulling it (and oooooh! for a decent camera to photograph it.).
Neither will you believe what was pulling it, either. So I'm going to carefully edit out the motive power with the intention of willing the suspension of disbelief, and hope that it is still going to be there next morning so I can take a clearer shot. If it's not, I'll have to edit it back in again.
Next morning, despite my criticism of the motel the night before, I have to say that it was the best night's sleep I'd had in years. I was well away when the alarm rang in the morning. In fact, I was so far away that I remember having this feeling when I woke up that I was somewhere in North-East Canada and that New Bern was somewhere around Bathurst, which had been the scene of my triumphs 18 months earlier. I've no idea how I'd got that idea, or where it had come from, but it's not very often you can get into a sleep so deep that you can have an impression like this imprinted on your mind.
But never mind. Beautiful bath, nice rough towels that agitated the spots that I sunburned yesterday
"was it that warm, Eric?" "yes, indeed it was"
Another thing about this motel was -- "FREE COFFEE". Yes, but when I saw the sign "Do not pour coffee into trash can or into plants", it made me wonder why the coffee was free. However, it wasn't as bad as it might have been. I've had a lot worse in North America than this. (I mean, Did you need to ask? Did you really think I was going to pass up the chance of free coffee, no matter how bad it was?)
However, first things first. Grab the camera and rush outside to see if my weird rig of last night is still there. And sure enough, there she sits, bathed in glorious sunlight. And do you see what's pulling it?
Yes, a Ford F-350. No surprise that they are so popular and people like my Canadian cuz Darren likes trucks like this. I can certainly see the advantage of someone like me owning one of these, that's for sure, if an F-350 can pull a rig like this. But I'd go for the flatbed model, as you can imagine. Much more versatile than a straight pickup.
But I was seriously impressed by this, that's for sure.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was still very early. And very nice, and very warm. I hoped this was how it was going to stay. And I was going to take advantage of my early start and the nice weather by doing a quick exploration around New Bern. Remember, I told you last night how much it looked like I was going to like the place. And I had a roundabout to photograph. Now how sad is that?
So back in the car, fire up the motor, switch on the radio, and what should I be greeted by but "Born to be Wild" by "Steppenwolf"? Yes, I was liking New Bern more and more with every minute that passed. Especially when we were treated to a most unexpected blast of "Rush"
" Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion, unobtrusive plays that song that?s so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood"
Off on your way - hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers for the spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact in your happy solitude "
Now that was what I thought to be quite apposite! Yes, a fine old Canadian band.
One thing I didn't enjoy seeing in New Bern though was this sign, though.
What got my goat about this company is the sign it's displaying at its motel here. Here's a company that forgets that Christians make up only something like 17% of the world's population. So which company in its right mind wants to exclude itself from 83% of its market?
Now Days Inn prides itself on being something of a national institution in the USA. But if you look beneath the surface, you can see that's it's really something of a joke. The company's president, Joseph R. Kane Junior proudly announces on its web site (on 14th February 14 2007) "You're sure to see that there is probably a Days Inns anywhere you want to be. In fact, there are Days Inns in over 12 countries". Now, does this sum up the cosmopolitan ambitions of most Americans, or merely the president of Days Inn? Can you get much sadder than this?
And what about the idea of a secular society? Like I've said before, any society that wants to bring religion so much into its mainstream day-to-day activities has a serious problem. It's hardly any surprise that there's a clash of civilisation and religions in the world if the "leading companies" in the USA adopt such a partisan approach.
But one thing the Americans fail to grasp - is that they are only something like 4% of the world's population. They are seriously outnumbered. Furthermore, as long as Americans are happy in their comfort zone and lack the motivation to strap an explosive waistcoat to their own bodies and go out amongst their enemy to wreak their own personal vengeance, then they are destined for ultimate defeat. The Germans couldn't defeat the French and the Yugoslav and the Czech partisans in World War II. The Americans were kicked out of Vietnam by a bunch of poorly-armed peasants. There's no reason to suppose that they will do any better in Iraq.
In fact, events show that they are coming a very poor second. Their only response is to pour more and more troops into the 21st Century equivalent of Verdun, and for many of them their only future is to die like dogs on the street. The first rule of any propaganda war is of course to make sure you have an exit route that you can take without losing face. Not so the USA. They just dig themselves a deeper hole by now threatening Iran with war.
But the days when the big bully would shout and roar and make the small people tremble. Nowadays, it's the custom to stand up to bullies and to laugh at them. While the bushbaby is menacing Iran with idle threats, his own military commanders are opposing him and his own allies are humiliating him, his citizens have already deserted him. The bushbaby is trying to stem an irresistible tide, and all he has left are his feet. Silly Cnut!
And as long as second-rate US companies like Days Inn are prepared to throw 83% of their potential client base in the waste bin, then nothing is going to get better. And when some of the big American motel chains go bible-bashing like this, you realise that this is a country with one hell of a serious problem.
So now we have the introduction out of the way, let's start on the guided tour of the city