Land of the Free – Chapter 4: There’s no place like home

Well, we’ve made it. I have now stepped foot in my living room, after completing a 30,000km round trip to the other side of the earth. The memories are many, but because of my early onset dementia, they are fading fast. But it was a really full on 17 days.

When one travels overseas, one receives the gift of perspective – I have been reminded about the good and bad things about living in Australia. For one, the coffee. Every day, every Australian should rise from their beds and thank God that we consume some of the best coffee in the world. American coffee is awful. I believe it’s made from silt dredged up from the bottom of a secret swamp, deep in the heart of southern Florida, mixed with a number of bitter herbs and goats urine, and boiled for 24 hours. The only reason I can think why Americans drink it is that it has healing properties. Anything tasting that bad must be good for you.

The other thing that I value is the feeling of (relative) safety here in Australia. LA gives me the creeps. Away from the tourist strips, I always had this foreboding, that someone was about to mug me for my wallet and my kidneys. It’s natural that one would have some anxiety when negotiating a new area, and if I was to settle somewhere in the US, that would probably pass. But since there is very little social security in the USA, and even worse health care if you don’t have insurance, the destitution seems a lot more visible.

It has also allowed me to see just how much Australians are subject to price gouging and taxation. The prices of almost everything in the US were ridiculously low compared to Australia. They were moaning in Hawaii that their gas prices were 445 US cents per gallon. Apparently their gas prices are expensive compared to the US mainland. And yet, 445 cents per gallon is equivalent to 117 cents per litre. In the taxi on the way home, I saw petrol prices at about 160 cents per litre near my house, and that is pre-carbon tax which is going to increase the price more. As I noted in my previous post, their alcohol is cheaper by a factor of 300%. The other product which I can compare directly with home was the price of a meal at McDonalds, known in finance circles as “the Big-Mac Index”. It was about $1 cheaper for a standard meal in the US, which is larger compared to the same meal in Australia.

The other thing about the US is tipping. I’m mixed on the whole tipping thing. It seems like a rort on the surface, a way for the service industry to make a couple of hundred dollars in tax-free cash a week. But on the other hand, it offers a way of direct reward for good service. I stayed in four different hotels on my travels. The three in the US had people there that were falling over themselves to help you. Carry your bags, get taxis for you, offer information. Sure, you would need to tip them, but I appreciated the service. When I arrived at the Holiday Inn at Sydney Airport, the front counter was like a ghost town. There was one person manning the front desk. No concierge, no people to help with the luggage. The one other person that was there when the taxi driver was dumping our bags in the middle of their driveway disappeared as soon as he saw 4 large suitcases that he might have to help with. Might as well put a big banner up at the airport: “Welcome to Australia, where we don’t give a sh*t.”

Griping aside, there are some other great benefits from being away from my office. The weather was fantastic. Other than the first day in LA with it’s cloudiness and sub-zero temperatures, the rest of the holiday was sunny and warm. I spend two weeks in blazing sunshine, which has been fantastic for my rickets. I think I’ve also lost about 5kg from all the walking that I had to do. So overall, a good break.

Well, I hope that these blogs haven’t bored you all to tears. You’ll have to wait until I save up enough money for my next holiday before you get any more, so a welcome break I’m sure. Until then, enjoy life, and God Bless America.

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