So I was in Tempe presenting at a conference hosted by ASU. Of all the places that I wanted to visit in the USA, I have to say that Tempe didn’t even make the list – which, now that I’ve been there, might have been something of an oversight. There was much to like about Tempe, and Phoenix and Scottsdale. I even managed to get the full US university experience – on the second day, the campus was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Half the people in the audience ran for cover, while the rest stayed behind to argue with the cops about why they should be able to cross the police cordon.
But the conference was just an excuse – the kicker was the chance to see a bit more of the world. Rather foolishly, I suppose, I thought that the desert in Arizona would be much like the Australian desert – but of course, I was wrong. Instead of the red wastes of Australia, the Arizona desert was like something out of a cowboy cartoon – filled with rocks, sand and the biggest cactuses that I have ever seen. Caucuses that all had that stereotypical shape, with two arms and spiky green thorns.
And then there were the towns themselves. Either it was neon and glitz and beer and tequila or it was – nothing. Emptiness. I lost count of the number of evangelical churches we drove past, all promising their own special brand of salvation. And in every public building and every bus there were signs reminding people not to fly with their guns, or to make sure they had their information up to date. There were pharmacies bigger than supermarkets, where you could buy everything from beer to condoms to ammunition. There was a myriad of strange restaurants – little chains that never make it outside the US, but seem to be everywhere there. And then there were the Americans – loud, sure, and lots of them, but so friendly. They would approach us, and look at the baby, and want to know everything about us – where we were from, what we were doing there, were we going to go to the Grand Canyon, what we thought of Arizona, how long it took to get to Australia and so much more. Fine if it only happened once, twice even three times, but it got old really quickly. Sometimes, it felt like they were taking politeness to the point of rudeness.
That was before we drove north to the Grand Canyon.