The Great Ocean ride –

A beautiful day ideal weather, a bit of wind which thankfully was either a cross wind or even better, a tail wind when ascending a few challenging hills! The climbs were vicious especially the last – but a few kilometres from the finish and as I rounded the sharp corner to see before me an incline of 16%… physiologically and more to the point, psychologically, I got off and walked as did more than half the others who were to a man, half my age! So I was not unduly ashamed. 

My one disappointed was that the route only followed the actual ocean road for the minority of the ride! I have of course travelled this road along its length at least three or four times! Once for 10 days the year that I brought my new Olmo bike only laid to rest this year – it’s carbon frame slowly turning to diamond. And a couple of times by car and then lastly by camper van about 5 years ago 

Of cacti and other prickly observations 

The iconic cactus is unique to Arizona and thrives only between the altitudes of 1000 to 3000 feet. It does not begin to sprout its’ characteristic arms until more than 60 years old! These arms appear to help with stability once it grows to be a certain height. Thousands of cacti were dug up and used in landscape gardening around the city of Phoenix where they sit forlorn and stressed. Thankfully it is now illegal to uproot the cactus. 

I write this blog as I relax in the Phoenix Hilton Suites for an extra unplanned night! Snow in the Grand Canyon. The suites are fabulous. Separate bedroom, bathroom and lounge room. This compares to what is apparently the single if not singular, place to eat at this hotel – the “Great American Grill”. It is one of the saddest, bleakest and depressing places at which I have ever sat to eat. It is situated in the huge atrium with the glassed in lifts that the reader will immediately correctly visualise as common to many upmarket high rise hotels. In this establishment the elevators ascend into heaven on the 12 floor suite but truely descend into hell. 

I should have been immediately suspicious that all was not as it seemed when for most of the night, the Great American Grill was as silent, dark and empty as the Tomb of King Kanute. I succumbed twice –  being twice, the lone diner . Both nights I ordered the Avocado, walnut, artichoke salad with cherry tomatoes and garden fresh lettuce.

One assumes that in describing any menu dish, the literal order of ingredients would refer to the importance and hopefully the quantity – the one caveat perhaps being caviar or black truffles. Let me tell you that at the Great American Grill the order of the list is inverse. So in an iceberg sort of way, the eponymous lettuce submerged to the bottom of the ocean all other ingredients, drowning out any evidence of avocado and there were perhaps two if not three crisp Californian walnuts all smothered in an emulsion of balsamic vinegar, an oil of some sort and sugar, having the consistency, colour and taste of sugared sump oil.

I was almost about to mark the kitchen up after two bread rolls arrived which had been warmed. If the bread has been heated, this is usually the first indication to me of an honest attempt at haute cuisine – I am easily pleased. Sadly the bread rolls were heated I suspect as it was the only way to rescue two bread rolls that were so stale as to resist all attempts to cut them in half even using the hand saw of an Arizonan lumberjack. Tonight I will try Tony’s Diner in downtown Phoenix.

A couple of random observations: 

In breathless anticipation of some retail therapy I took the tram and bus to the Scottsdale Fashion Precinct – well,  in much the same way as every airport duty free shopping is same, same – so the Scottsdale Fashion Precinct is an  exact replica of any and all Westfield shopping complexes in Australia! Food court on the lowest level where the vast majority of humanity sits and consumes and then groan and waddle their way through 3 floors of speciality shops without actually buying anything. 

A young woman accosts me at a booth and asks if she can apply an anti wrinkle cream to my lower eyelids. Normally I would politely decline but as I am in a foreign country – everything is foreign to me even the language, I allow her to apply this miracle unguent to my left lower eyelid. She chats away as only the Americans can, whilst fanning my face and then after a minute asks me to sit in front of a mirror and compare my left lower eyelid with my right lower eyelid. She is, as god is her witness, convinced of the miraculous improvement in my left eye. If this single application makes such a difference, imagine what an application of the miraculous unguent to both eyes, every night at bedtime for six months, would do! The only way to extricate my way out of this potentially financially crippling dermatological soft sell is to inform her that I am from Australia and a plastic surgeon specialising in face lifts! 
What’s more unlike Sleeping Beauty, “mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” , the mirror is not reflecting a falsehood. I still see wrinkles even without my spectacles! 

Arizona is and always has been, Republican. It is a macho white male state where the motor car rules and this is not any motor car! Indeed the vast majority are huge  SUV ‘s that resemble a Hummer that has been cut in half and called a “Suburban”. It has seating for 8, a huge rear compartment and comes, like the model T Ford, in multiple colours as long as it’s black. I failed to see any such “Suburban” SUV with more than a single occupant in all the time I walked the streets. 

As I travelled by bus to the Scottsdale Fashion Square a van drew alongside with this advertising slogan:

Phoenix Arizona Electrician

“Let me take down your shorts”

Sigh!

What every gym junkie should wear a steal at $US 895 at Marcus Neimann

Yes a genuine latte! In Phoenix Arizona! The Barista was even up to scratch

It is forecast to snow 

Sadly I have been strongly advised to drive in and out of the Grand Canyon as a severe cold front is coming through Thursday and it is as inevitable as the inauguration of Trump on Saturday that it will snow for about 4 days! I may be trapped and as I have a plane to catch I can’t risk staying. 

I have vivid memories of that childhood Looney Tunes story of Sylvester the Cat snow bound in the house with Tweetie Bird whilst the quaint old woman has left to buy provisions and every cupboard in the house is filled with Birdseed! Fearing starvation obviously as there is no cat food, Sylvester spends the next 12 minutes of the cartoon trying to catch and eat Tweetie Pie! Even at age 8 one knows this is inevitably futile but there is a childlike degree of sadistic pleasure in seeing the poor pussy thwarted and frustrated to within a inch of his nine feline life’s. 

Anyway I decided to shout myself a helicopter ride – 50 minutes of breathtaking scenery – more than adequate recompense for missing the extra night and day. 

When one thinks of Arizona one thinks of cactus, Cowboys and Indians and searingly hot deserts- at least I did. I was totally dumbfounded to see snow in and around the Grand Canyon Park. I was also amazed to learn that we ascended in our tourist van to 7000 feet and then drove for miles across the plateau (“mesa” in Spanish ). The Grand Canyon is thus a gigantic river valley at 7000 feet and the canyon descends for 3000 feet into the Colorado River basin floor. Please excuse the empirical measurements, I am too lazy to convert to metric. Our tour guide was a delightful man called Mac. If he were Australian and happened to be thin – indeed gaunt, then in our laconic and ironic way his nickname would be naturally “Big Mac”. But this is America ! Mac was by no means undernourished and so he indeed was known as Big Mac! He had a charming Garrison Keillor homespun philosophy to his blurbs as he drove along Route 44 in the Dodge Van at a breakneck 75 mph. 

Those white patches are snow!



The Red Centre of America 

A few photos of the amazing geology that surrounds Sedona Arizona. This area is where all those cowboy movies I watched wide-eyed in the  50s and 60s were filmed – I am truely on location. 
The other piece of trivia is that Lucille Ball had a Mexican style villa in Sedona still standing and a must see item on every tour company’s itinerary 

MLK day

​​​Today is a national public holiday – The anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. I was not aware of this and was so bemused by the desolate major roads in the city – so desolate as to make Adelaide on an early Sunday morning appear as congested as a Catholic Church at midnight mass!

I politely asked a passing pedestrian if it was indeed Sunday?  She was in a severe degree of,  I presume drug induced brain fog and shrugged! The iPhone came to the rescue and having already automatically set the date and time to  American central time informed me it was in fact Monday and moreover MLK day! 
There was a picnic in the park and the entertainment on the stage included this offering.  Vivienne may well be invited to join the band – if she can send off her saliva for genetic testing and confirm her Afro-American roots

​​​

6 degrees of geographical separation 

All American medical conferences have routinely between 5 to 10000 registrants, in other words they are big! This “breakthrough” event was small , I would hazard a guess at about 1500 neurologists. On every table at which I sat, the conversation would immediately or within minutes, rapidly open with a passing query as to from whence one came. “Oh I am in Philadelphia, County Clinton, east side”. The other responded that he had recently moved down south from Alaska to New Mexico, County Cibola, west side. 

Now the USA covers an area of 9 million square kilometres and has a population of 435 million. It is a remarkable fact that into which each and every conversation I eavesdropped, not one of the attendees did not immediately give the nonchalant impression that each, to within a bald eagles pin feather, knew precisely where the other lived as they forked food to mouth. 

“Oh yah” each says in a way that reminds me of laconic Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson in that memorable Cohn brothers movie Fargo. Turns out that each had either been born in the others current town or attended the local kindergarten or went there over more than 25 years to spend every Thanksgiving with their Ma and Pa or did a year of their training at the city hospital in 1995.

This compares to my response if I attend an Epilepsy Congress in Adelaide ( local) and a colleague shares his present address as Clovelly Park in the southern city of Onkaparinga. 


Upon my return will install a similar billboard at the intersection of Grand Junction Road and Main North Road 

Brain Screening can help you think clearly

Bulk billing with Dignity

Norton Synapse Institute

Last day at the Wild Horse Pass 

I boast that religiously and attentively I attended all the sessions over 2 full days – which were indeed fascinating and many of the breakthroughs will not be routinely available until well past my retirement!

This is the hallway to the conference centre

This panoramic picture is of a nearby “village” called Rawhide! It’s a giant film set and a tourist village basically a forlorn imitation of the many genuine villages and tourist towns- Sovereign Hill in Australia springs to mind

This is the SMALLEST takeaway cup of coffee one can purchase at any and all coffee outlets! Full cream milk is called “2+2” . It may the creamiest concoction to leave a cow’s udder, but it ain’t gunna rescue the revolting black percolated coffee in the monstrous cup. Sadly the Americans fail in quality and predictablely score 100 for quantity. 

As an unrelated aside, one knows one is getting old, when the huge advertising screen extolling the entertainment at the Sheraton Casino, flashes not a 60’s night, not a rock and roll night, not even an Elvis night, no –  Tuesdays are the nostalgic 80s! 

The Naive American – an oxymoron?

From afar the daily news of deadly gun massacres, the impending Trump presidential ascendency, paints the USA as a confusing, frightening cauldron of reactionary discontent. Yet from my first step on American soil I am amazed at the open, friendly welcoming citizens. They are to a man and woman – genuine! “You’re welcome” they respond to my “thank you” and I actually believe they mean it! 

I ordered for “starters” at dinner last night the Purple Kale, pine nuts, raisins and Arizona goats cheese salad with a quince aioli dressing! My attentive waiter, Brian responded with a somewhat unsettling instantaneous, ecstatic affirmation of my request, so effusive, that I reasoned that I must have been the first person to order this wondrous salad which had been added to the menu 4 months ago at the beginning of autumn and neglected by every uneducated, unadventurous diner till this obviously cultured antipodean gourmet descended upon the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Restaurant on January 13th 2017. It apparently was their autumn signature salad. Again I actually believe he was genuine in his praise of my choice compared to the mostly superficial response “excellent choice” by his Australian counterparts.

Super size me is an American expression and the starter size salad set before me, was sufficient to satiate the entire table of 8 morbidly obese Americans seated at the adjacent table. For one fleeting moment I considered that the serve size of my Purple Kale signature salad was a consequence of the possibility that I was the lone order for the evening, and that the kitchen was faced with the prospect of a rather large barrel of wilting Kale lettuce by midnight. The Arizona goats cheese of course would be all the better for another 24 hours of maturing. I dismissed this as an unedifying if not unpalatable thought.

The other slightly unsettling aspect to my dining experience was that having done justice to the salad, Brian returned seeking my mains order and understandably I guess with breathless anticipation assumed I would opt for the Cheeks of Arizona Prairie Bison poached in elderberry juice with roasted cactus pine needles. I had to politely decline and he became as crestfallen as the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon.

Finally it was brought home to me as I dined in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass restaurant, that Americans have a 2 step approach to eating: cut and dice with knife and fork then drop the knife and use the fork to “spoon ” food towards the mouth. I felt on principle I would continue to eat with both knife and fork as my dear mother demanded all those years ago holding the knife as it SHOULD be held ( never like a proletarian pencil – a solecism that invoked the feather duster across the knuckles).

 To a man I was convinced that every diner lay down their fork and gazed at me as I demonstrated my dexterity and were in awe of my manifestly amazing fine motor skills.