I can’t believe no one has ever written about America. It’s not just blogs, I’d truly have expected there to have been books, films, articles, songs. But no. None. Not a one. So it’s down to you and me. Are you ready for this?
I’m a city boy and I’m writing to you from Long Beach, Los Angeles. It’s one of those places and this is one of those trips where I think you learn more about where you come from than about where you are. I’ve learnt, for instance, that I’m not actually a city boy, I’m a people guy. In the UK, the cities are the land. That is what the UK is: the pavements and the roads and the people. I understand that there are these, like, green and pleasant things out there but they’re out there, this is here, the city is reality.
I’ve felt the same in Paris and most certainly in New York, which I continue to maintain is the finest place in the world. Manhattan is where I am taller. I step out onto those streets and I am a taller man.
But coming to the West Coast has made a difference. Specifically, driving the Pacific Coast Highway has made an immense difference. So far I’ve driven about 700 miles with my wife Angela and sister-in-law Margaret plus Suzanne Vega on the most gorgeous audio quality experience I’ve ever had since I was last in the States listening to Sirius XM. Wait, I’m missing something: drive, PCH, Angela, Margaret, radio – right, gotcha, of course: I’m driving and occasionally being pulled over by police officers with guns.
But driving along, it feels wrong here. It feels a bit wild. When I drive somewhere new in the UK, I expect to find streets and roads and pavements and it’s all normal and ordinary. Here, you get a highway and it’s cutting through what looks like untouched terrain. A bit of desert here, a lot of mountain to the left, some huge amount of ocean to the right. Each new road, each new place on the highway doesn’t feel normal, doesn’t feel like it has always been there, it feels as if it’s been carved into the rock, cut into the land. It feels out of place somehow, it feels civilisation has just this minute reached just this point and no further.
It feels a lot like the land is allowing these roads on suffrance and may take them back at any time.
The land is overwhelming me. Usually I can’t help but noodle as I drive, thinking of the latest job, the writing project that I cannot shake, and this works well for me at home where I can drive to London and have an entire short film script in my head ready to transcribe. But here. Here’s different. I’ve got this thing on my mind about two warring five-a-side football teams in court – it’s going to be called Ten Angry Men – and I am enjoying exploring the idea, tasting it.
Until the land says no.
The land says no a lot. The LAPD say no occasionally, too, but the land is continually saying come on, William, stop it. You’re face to nose with some of the most beautiful scenery in America, the sheer scale of both geography and time, it dwarfs any idea I have. It swallows up any writing I can ever do.
What can I possibly write that will be worth a pixel next to the Pacific ocean? The impossibility of living up to this scale is the same enormity of ever bothering to write anything when we’ve already had Billy Shakespeare, when we’ve got Suzanne Vega and Dar Williams and Paul Auster and myriad others.
I’ve got another few days here in the States and I am letting this world reach inside me and mess with my innards. But then I fear I may have to shut it out, to pretend that it is worth my pressing on with writing. I have to write, it’s an illness, and writing is also the way that I get to talk to you so that’s gonna continue, I’m not letting go of that. But I do feel trivial.
I will shut out the land the way I shut out the fact that the world is replete with writers I’ll never match. Consequently nobody has ever written anything about America before. No, sir. Not a word.
Now, please excuse me, I’ve got some books from the John Steinbeck museum to read.