There were two mirrors in our Phoenix motel room. One presented us with a flattering, slimline profile, the other one told the truth. We had both put on at least half a stone during our two-week American adventure.
My wife said she wished she had an air valve in her side she could flip open so her body could deflate. I just wished I could bend over and tie my shoelaces without going purple in the face.
Yesterday at breakfast, the local TV news was sponsored by a burger joint called Chompies.
In a three-minute infomercial, the TV station’s pretty, petite news anchor stood next to three trestle tables groaning under the weight of Chompies specialities while she interviewed the owner.
Most of her questions focused on the restaurant’s piece de resistance, the Chompieburger. “My that’s a mouthful” she said. “What are we talking about here?”
“That there, ma’am, is ten pounds of prime minced beef, the biggest beefburger in the state of Arizona. On top, there’s half a pound of melted Swiss cheese, half a pound of tomatoes, ten sliced gherkins and a bottle of ketchup. And in case you’re still hungry, we like to give you a ton of French fries on the side.” It looked like an actual ton but in reality it was a mere kilo of greasy chips.
The news anchor was visibly impressed. “Ten pounds? That’s what I weighed when I was born. It’s like eating a baby.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mr Chompie beamed. He was as proud of his food baby as if it had been his own child.
As we goggled at this heart attack on a plate, all around us our fellow guests were serving themselves breakfast. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, pale-grey discs of meat called ‘sausage’, biscuits ‘n’ gravy (which looked like more like croutons in porridge), inch-thick waffles, golden syrup, blueberry jam and whipped cream. They were big people, these American breakfasters and without wanting to belittle them in any way, they looked like they were eating themselves to death.
Several of them in their early 50s were already using wheeled walking frames to get around. They looked pale and tired. There wasn’t much energy in the room. Just a whole lot of calories – a fair few of them round our own middles. With a healthcare system that’s about to exclude 23 million of its own citizens from adequate health insurance under ‘Trumpcare’, America’s obesity crisis is beginning to resemble the future as predicted in the animated movie Wall-E, where men, women and children, too fat to walk, are transported everywhere in automated armchairs.
Back in real life, so many people have keeled over while eating and drinking in the Connolly’s chain of Irish-themed pubs that each bar has a defibrillator behind it.
Even up on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon where the air is pure and nature reigns supreme, we saw a young Native American, already around 18 stone at 18 years old, sucking soda pop through a straw.
Nothing unusual about that, except the container he was drinking from was a gallon bucket.
The Plot Against America thickens with Trump’s chilling rise to power
Truth really is stranger than fiction. At La Guardia Airport I was looking for a book to keep me busy on the flight from New York to Chicago. One title jumped out at me: The Plot Against America.
It just happened to have been written by America’s greatest living novelist Philip Roth, one of my favourite writers since I studied American Literature at university in my early-twenties.
The book is set during the Second World War. The Nazis have conquered most of Europe and invaded the Soviet Union. Japan has entered the war on their side. It seems like just a matter of time before Britain led by Churchill is overwhelmed.
America is reluctant to get involved, although President Roosevelt, seeking a second term in office, is keen to persuade American voters that intervention is the right thing to do.
So far, so historically accurate. Then into the picture steps Charles Lindbergh, the pioneering aviator, already famous for his solo flights across the Atlantic, young, handsome and a big hit with the American public.
He campaigns for the Presidency with the promise that America won’t enter the war on his watch.
To prove it, he flies to Berlin and does a deal with Hitler, whom he openly admires. To everybody’s amazement he wins the election and becomes President Lindbergh.
Almost immediately he begins to speak out against America’s Jewish population, claiming that Jewish interests are behind the war.
Lindbergh wants to make America “more American”. The story unfolds through the eyes of a nine year-old Jewish boy whose life and the lives of his family are torn apart by a creeping tide of anti-Semitism that threatens to engulf the whole country.
Roth wrote The Plot Against America in 2004 but the parallels with modern America are chilling. Lindbergh snuggles up to Hitler. Trump is cosy with Putin. Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism wins him a shocking victory in the US presidential election. Trump’s dog-whistle speeches demonise Muslims and Mexicans and his promise of an “America for the Americans” elevates him to the White House against all the odds.
I won’t spoil things for you by revealing how things turn out in the book. But let’s hope there’s a happy ending for America and Mr Trump is ejected from the White House as swiftly as he arrived.
Buzzbomb bird turned out to be as mindblowing as the Grand Canyon
Ever since I saw a 1970s magazine ad showing a hummingbird sipping from the neck of a Drambuie bottle with the word “Nectar”, I have been fascinated by these little buzzbomb birds, some as wee as a bee, with a similar taste for sticking their beaks into flowers.
So I was really excited to hear that not only were they resident in California, where they are regular visitors in everybody’s back gardens, but they also thrive in Arizona. Our big adventure was visiting the Grand Canyon but my secret desire was to finally see a hummingbird.
I wasn’t disappointed. En route to the Canyon, we visited the ruin of a Native American pueblo out in the panting heart of the Arizona desert, surrounded by low-growing, smoke-blue and pastel-green sage bushes, yucca palms and desert flowers.
Catching my breath in the 40 degree heat I caught a flash of violet and emerald. Suddenly this tiny ball of colour stopped and hovered next to a yellow flower. Its body switched from the horizontal to the vertical and it plunged its beak into the nearest blossom and drank its fill.
Wikipedia will tell you that the smallest of the species weighs just a ninth of an ounce, that its heart beats 1260 times a minute and its wings flap 50 times a second.
But nothing you can read compares with the thrill of seeing this sparkling jewel of the desert in the flesh.
It’s something I’ll never forget and as mindblowing in its own small way as the Grand Canyon we gasped at later that afternoon.