Spent the night in Morton, Minnesota with a population of 420. All the life was down by the stop light - which was the liquor store and across the street, the restaurant. It was in fact a tiny Mexican cafe. The woman who ran it didn't understand English so her son of probably about 8 had to translate. However this was hardcore ethnic food. I thought I had ordered Chilli, salad, rice and tortillas. What actually arrived was a stuffed and lightly battered green pepper stuffed with ground chicken, salad and 3 tiny tortillas. It was tasty but not a steaming bowl as I had hoped.
As I left I said to the kid; "Guess the accent". He giggled and said he had no idea. "Ever heard of Hugh Grant?" said I. He giggled again and shook his head. "I am from England, a long way east of here" quoth I. He looked at me slightly nervously so I decided to cut my losses. There is only so far you can go before you start doing that awful patronising Brit thing of mimicking their accent and talking loudly. Had I started on about "I came here by big silver bird", I think he would legitimately be allowed to shoot me.
In the morning I set off. I was originally going to call this episode "On a bus to St Cloud". Two things prevented me. 1) I was still in my trusty Chrysler Sebring Convertible, not the world's most exciting car but serviceable, not on public transport and 2) A Mighty wind put me off my stroke.
The weather has been changeable of late. I suppose it was never going to be Texan heat of 114F. It was still showing 26C on the car temperature gauge. I bowled along through some rather fine pine forests listening to the satellite radio system. The rental company had offered it to me as an extra at LA. I refused but it was in the hire car anyway. This system entirely free from regulation so far as I can ascertain and so it has "shock jocks" on it.
Lazy journalism in the UK refers to some of my colleagues as "Shock Jocks". Broadcasting rules in Britain renders them impotent and frankly laughable when compared to their U.S cousins. There is no one on UK radio that I have heard that can in any way shape or form be described as a "shock jock" .
You have probably heard of Howard Stern, and you may have even seen his film "Private Parts" but maybe not his colleague "Bubba the Love Sponge". They are truly coarse and disgusting. As I drove listening to Stern's studio based competition: "Anal ring toss" with tears of laughter pouring down my face, sometimes I wish we could push the boundaries a bit more in GreatBritain. It was so rude as to be beyond offence. I admit I have a high grossout threshold so the stuff I have been hearing hasn't caused me to be "offended".
No one will let me do "Nazi rhyming slang" on my programme. so there seems little point to ask if I can have nude women on the show....!
Comedian George Carlin died last week and TV is still showing tributes to him. He was another who pushed the boundaries. Especially the "7 words you can't say on television" routine which got him arrested back in the 70's. This is a wonderful country despite is contradictions. On one hand you can have extremely foul mouthed guys with studios full of naked "Penthouse Pets". Then you have the right wing pundits who make wild and exaggerated claims and shout down any opposition.
Last time I was here one of them was trying to say that the U.S healthcare system was terrific but the NHS and the French system had collapsed altogether.
Try telling that to Pam who I met when I reached Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior. She was 39 and had to pay for two back operations which have left her and her husband in so much debt they are about to lose their house and their gas has been cut off. You may be cynical and say she was spinning me a yarn. I looked into her eyes and she convinced me she was telling the truth. Before you reach for the phone, I never said our system was perfect!
There are a lot of Christian stations in these here parts. They make me far more uncomfortable than anything Howard Stern or Bubba can do. Still, it is supposedly the land of free speech so there is endless choice. I tuned in to one of the many country stations picking up a few ideas for tracks to bring back to play you when suddenly a few miles from of St Cloud near Foley the radio went funny.
There were some odd squeaks, warbles and tones and then suddenly a disembodied voice said "Tornado Warning". The local Met office then went on to explain that their radar had picked up "some rotation in the cloud" that could develop into a twister. They then mentioned various counties where it could hit and that the threat appeared to be travelling up......the road I was on!!!
The skies were darkening. However I wasn't sure which direction I was travelling compared to the potential tornado.
It was going at about 30 mph so as I was doing 60 I was either outpacing it or heading towards it at 90 mph. The information continued: "Shelter in the basement of a solid building. If you are caught in the open, either hide in a culvert or face down in a ditch covering your head with your arms."
We have all seen those 1950's "Duck and cover" U.S Govt information films which seemed to say slide from your school desk to your right and cover your head with your arm. "This will protect you from radiation". I wasn't buying this ditch thing at all. Plus culverts may be full of snakes and bears and skunks and stuff. I kept on driving. Every so often I would see a car or a motorcycle then it would vanish, had they ducked and covered? Or just turned off normally to their destination?
Then the heavens opened and it poured and due to the heat, even though the temperature had dropped from 26C to 14C in the space of a mile or two, the cloudburst was mixed with steam from the road surface.
I was very glad when I squelched from the car to the motel with its fabulous view of Lake Superior.......er, in which direction is the lake?