Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The President and I.

Or...Bye, George.

This is the story of how I first met George W Bush. Or to be more precise, the tale of when I first took notice of him. He still doesn’t, to the best of my knowledge, have a clue who I am.

The conductor shook us awake and I left behind a dream of riding horses or of tumbling down a cliffside. One of those dreams of perpetual motion. He babbled something and tugged at my sleeve. I couldn’t understand enough Turkish to work out what he was saying, but it was clear he wanted us to get off the coach. Michael and
I yawned down the steps and into the bright morning light reflecting off the crisp surface. Our bags had already been dumped in the snow.

Snow was somewhat surprising. The previous day we’d been walking by a waterfall in short sleeved shirts and now mist streamed from our mouths.

“Did we take a left hand turn and end up in Russia?” I asked.

Michael shrugged as we picked our kit up out of the snow and tramped across to broken down shed that pretended to be the bus station.

It took another four buses each decreasing in size - until the last one carried mainly chickens – for us to reach our destination of Goreme. Nice place. You should go sometime, but if I were you I wouldn’t go in January.

As we sat in the deserted cafe of the only affordable hostel open and slurped glasses of tea to warm our lives, CNN played in the background.

“The Republicans say that they’ll take this to the supreme court if need be,” the orange anchorman said.

“Have they not sorted that out yet?” I nodded at the screen.

Michael turned, looked, and sipped his tea.

I’d heard of George W Bush and already considered him a bumpkin. His campaign had been littered with heavily publicised, nonsensical, manglings of the English Language.

“They misunderestimated me.”

“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”

“I know how hard it is to put food on your family.”

“The most important job is not to be governor. Or first lady in my case.”

This was 2001 and I couldn’t believe that it looked as though he was going to lose the election and still, somehow, get into power. A complete moron, bank rolled by who knew what agenda, was going to be given control of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal.

I didn’t realise quite how bad it was going to be.

Nine months later and I was settling into my life working in the half-finished Docklands. Walking around in the warmth of the summer’s sun, the light sparking on the still water you would be forgiven if you didn’t look up. For high above our heads were the skeletons of incomplete buildings; skyscrapers pinned together by steel girders that flashed with the sparkle of welding.

“The internet’s slow,” the dark haired girl grumbled over lunch. I raised an eyebrow, but couldn’t be of much more help. I’d only just learned how to send an email.

Then, inexplicably, the rumours started.

“A plane’s crashed into a building in New York.”

“Not just a building, the World Trade Centre.”

“They’re saying was deliberate.”

“How did it get so close?”

“It must have been a VTOL fighter launched off a boat?”

“An airliner!”

“Jesus! Into one of the towers?”

“Both of them!”

“An accident.”


“Oh my God! They’ll hit London next!”

“Don’t be daft.”

“Holy Crap they’ve just crashed into the Octagon!” someone with the BBC working launched themselves out of their seat.

There was a general look of bafflement – especially as some of us tried to work out why anyone would blow up part of Sheffield University’s student union - until eventually someone suggested: “Do you mean to the Pentagon?”

I was tempted to ask whether they even knew what it was, but piffy, snidey, superiority-complex sarcasm was out of place. Fortunately, I was distracted by someone nervously hyperventilating.

“Oh my God! We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!”

“We’re not going to die,” I said, trying to sound calm and reasonable. “Why on earth would we be in any danger? We’re in a seven story building on the edge of Docklands, London Docklands, and this is happening in the States.”

“It’s all part of the grand plan. We’re so dead.”

“There is no grand plan,” I started, but then the power went and she released the most deafening shriek I’ve ever had spat straight into my face.

We were, somewhat pointlessly, evacuated and sent home for the afternoon. People were ushered out the building as though it was on fire, a mess of high heels clipping down stairs and fluorescent jackets shimmering in the torch light. Outside in the car-park people kept close to the walls and looked around carefully. Eyes were drawn to the skies. I couldn’t decide, as one group scampered to their car, ducking low, whether they were afraid of planes or snipers.

I took the DLR home and sat on the sofa, glued to the news. The footage rolled around and around as what had happened slowly became clear. The image that worried me the most was the shot of an aide whispering in Bush’s ear and the realisation that he didn’t have a clue what to do.

“We are in so much shit,” I whispered and sipped my tea.

Three years later we drove across most of Southern USA, just drifting across the endless horizon with one arm dangling out the window of the Monte Carlo. But everywhere we went it was clearly election year. In addition to the Presidential election certain senate and congress seats were contested, as well as various mayors, sheriffs and judges. The verge of every roadside, especially in Louisiana and Texas, was awash with signs. VOTE was adhered to every conceivable size and colour of plastic, metal and wood and then hammered into the grass or dust.

As we chewed up the miles the names would change, often out of synch with each other, as we shifted across different offices’ boundaries of authority. But all the way, in every town and shitback hole there were always signs for Bush and Kerry.

Every night we crashed in a different motel, an ever changing sea of beds, showers, morning coffee and occasionally disgustingly synthetic donuts. We didn’t book in advance just pulled off the Highway when we couldn’t drive any further and hoped they had a room. If they didn’t we had to find a way to make it to the next town – perhaps as far as sixty miles further on – and try our luck again.

So I can’t remember where it was that I watched the coverage of one of the Bush-Kerry debates. I think it was the motel in Flagstaff where we were on the second floor, where it looked like something out of a movie with the gangway out front. Mind you, they all felt like a set, but Flagstaff was where we went into town, ate tortillas and got tipsy in a bar. A taxi driver took us into town and picked us up again, but denied being the same man and in the middle of the night the windows rattled as a two mile long freight train roared up the main street.

But I digress.

“I want you to know: Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."

As Beck showered I watched the coverage of the pithy arguments, the carefully structured soulless campaigning.

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."

“They can’t, can they?” I muttered. “Not again?”

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

“They didn’t last time,” Beck walked past drying her hair with a towel, “and it didn’t matter.”

Our trip finished in New Orleans. The French Quarter had the most fake bohemian atmosphere that endeared itself. The architecture of cemeteries were incredible -miles and miles of vaults each arcanely decorated; the cities of the dead were very much alive.

We arrived in the dark and thanks, partly, to even the normally gung-ho Rough Guides’ trepidation about certain areas, stuck mainly to the more touristy bits. But we left on a sweaty afternoon and as the Monte Carlo climbed the cork screw of intersection to the flyover I glanced back at the city.

New Orleans looked worn out from that height.

Less than a year later it was almost entirely gone.

And, now, he is too.

Aside from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have claimed the lives of god knows how many people, aside from completely dehumanising the detainees of Guantanamo Bay; aside from all this he’s managed to disrupt progress in gay rights, expand the wealth gap, derail stem cell research, effectively given Israel justification for its continued suppression of Palestinians’ rights, presided over the biggest economic meltdown in decades and refused to acknowledge climate change which may just have doomed us all .

Why do I care? I’m not American, why does it matter to me?

Partly because the old adage America sneezes and the world catches a cold is true, its grubby fingers can be found pinching into everything, but also because I genuinely love America. The landscape is outstanding, most of the people aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be, but most of all I adore the myths and legends. Even though I’ve never been, New York is still the most exciting city in my head. I adore the idea of the open the road, the even opener sky and how it’s possible to become lost in the land itself.

Hopefully things will get better for them. Obama probably isn’t the second coming, but let’s face it – he couldn’t do any worse.

Could he?

And what does pistol pete, the good ol boy with the saddle sore waddle and the alpha male cock sureness make of it all.

“Well, it’s been a lot of fun.”

With apologies to Michael, Beck and anyone else who was there and whose memory differs from mine. Especially about the chickens. I suspect I’ve completely made that bit up.


  1. Which was "the most affordable hostel"?

  2. Sorry, Joe, but it was eight years ag and I have no idea. My memory's good, but not that good.

    Actually, it may have been the only one open in early January.

    Michael - can you remember?