Archive | April, 2012

Ghost people

26 Apr

Before reading this post I want to press upon you that I really am no expert on American society having been in the States for only 3 weeks. Therefore this observation is simply that, an observation. With that said it is something I have seen over and over again this past month and after speaking to a few locals I don’t think it’s all in my head.

So homelessness is obviously a global phenomena and I would be a fool to say otherwise but there really is something about homelessness here in the USA that stands out in a big way. In London, like any major city, we have a massive problem with people living on the streets: Whether it’s down to substance abuse, mental health issues or young runaways there are always people that slip through society’s net and end up sleeping rough BUT I really do have to question just how big the holes are in the net here in the USA.

Homelessness in the USA by state

Firstly, the number of homeless people that I see every day is so much more than what I’m used to. Both in Washington DC and here in Denver the parks, city centres and cultural quarters seem to be home to hundreds of homeless people. These malnourished, dirty and bedraggled individuals, often shouting at cars or mumbling into paper bags (archetypical hobos many of them) are a stark contrast to the lavish museums, shiny malls and multi story car-parks which surround them. As a personal example, whilst walking from my apartment in uptown to a craft store on one of the main roads I passed 8 people talking to themselves, that’s 8 people in 3 miles! This was so striking that at first I thought everyone must be using Bluetooth…

Homeless people on the 16th Street Mall in Denver

And yet, despite being so much more conspicuous and vocal than I have ever experienced before (and living in such landmark and popularised areas) these people are ghosts: A dirty woman stands weeping in the middle of the park and families walk by feeding the geese; A sunburnt man with a cardboard sign round his neck shouts racist remarks at passersby and people look right through him.

Now I’m not advocating that we all become ‘good Samaritans’ and rush to ‘help’ these people (In some cases you’d have to have a deathwish!) I’m simply astonished at how much these people become the wallpaper to everyday life here in Denver. In London a woman shouting at traffic would be given a wide berth but I believe that at least it would turn heads, but not here. When I’ve asked local people about the situation a number of them refer to homelessness in the USA as more of a lifechoice or a subculture. A few have made comparisons with the way these people live and the Occupy movement, a sort of rebellious counterculture if you like. Now I do see the logic in this to some extent, and perhaps for some it is a choice, to be honest I haven’t stopped to ask. But whilst I know it would help us all to sleep at night if we could pass off all these people as eccentrics who simply enjoy a life on the streets… I just don’t quite buy it. Firstly here in Colorado the weather is extreme to say the least, I still haven’t experienced the coldest months but I’m prepared for months of heavy snow and subzero temperatures contrasting with the current sunburn inducing heat. Cold like that can kill you, surely nobody would chose to sleep rough when it’s -15c outside or when your sleeping quarters quickly become a snowdrift? Well at least nobody in their right mind and that leads into my next point.

Many of the people I see walking along aren’t just quirks they’re seriously disturbed, if living rough is really a choice then surely you need to be compus mentus to make that choice? Junkies and paranoid schizophrenics are hardly a rebel subculture, and are not the kind of people that should be trusted to look after their own best interests. Whilst I understand that they may not function in society at all, and dragging them into our care is no doubt a tremendous struggle, it does upset me to see SUCH a failure in the duty of care.

Ok, so I’m really no longer entirely sure where this is going and I fear its disintergrating into a bit of a bleeding-heart rant as I haven’t really got any solutions to offer. All the same I would like to end on one point: As much as Britain takes a wrap for being a ‘nanny state’ that allows ‘freeloaders’ and the ‘workshy’ to take advantage there is something to be said for a state’s duty to care for its people. I think that perhaps Britain has gone too far one way, but having lived here for only a few weeks I feel that there is another extreme operating here in the USA.

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Dinosaurs!!!

2 Apr

My theory for why so many kids love dinosaurs is that it’s the last time you’re allowed to believe that monsters are real. The idea that these strange and sometimes huge dragonlike creatures once owned this entire planet for around 165 million years is just fantastic no matter what your age.

The human race hasn’t a jot on them; Here’s a little example that I came up with (using a few/many sheets of paper and some rather dubious arithmetic) if the last 230 million years could be represented by the windows of the empire state building, the reign of the dinosaurs would light up 4,663 windows. So imagine the New York skyline at night with 72% of all of the windows of the empire state lit up. Now, if you try and picture the same image for the full time humankind has existed it’s really quite pathetic: Just 71 windows light up (and that’s being generous), that’s a mere 1% of the entire building. Phew, elaborate metaphors are hard work!

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So what brings me to the subject? Well it turns out Colorado is THE spot for dinosaurs! Fossil ones obviously; cloned mammoths and dinochickens are sadly still a good few decades away at least (see http://www.geekosystem.com/russian-south-korean-clone-woolly-mammoth/ and http://blog.ted.com/2011/06/07/building-a-dinosaur-from-a-chicken-jack-horner-on-ted/ ). Therefore, I have decided to use this as the perfect excuse to get nerdy and reawaken my 7-year old wannabe paleontologist. At the end of my first week I decided to go to Dinosaur Ridge, just 25 minutes drive west outside Denver with my Dinopedia in hand. Dinosaur Ridge is an area near the foothills of the Rockies where tonnes of fossils of dinosauria have been found, including the first ever Apatosaurus (formerly known as Brontosaurus) and Stegosaurus skeletons. I got such a kick out of the whole thing and couldn’t recommend it more highly; I got to touch an ornithomimus footprint and I saw the petriefied rippled shoreline of an ancient seaway that ran through prehistoric North America. It was very special and I can safely say Geology rocks! (Haha, I crack me up sometimes)

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This is of course the perfect excuse to run down my top 5 prehistoric creatures and with barely baited breath let us begin!

5. Crassigyrinus

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A Carboniferous predator, about 2 metres long and one of the stranger looking beasties with a long fishlike body and tiny little legs.

4.Cyamodus

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Like a reptilian ray, this aquatic Jurassic pseudo-turtle had a hinged shell and fed off shellfish in what is now mainland Europe.

3. Desmatosuchus

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A 5 metre long armorplated vegetarian crocodile, just awesome!

2. Liopleurodon

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One of the top predators of the Jurassic seas and at 25 metres long you can tell why. Here’s a cool video from the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpDqTdXfEcA&feature=relmfu

1. Deinonychus

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Having adored Jurassic park and been uniformly terrified and obsessed with raptors from the age of 7, it’s Deinonychus (not velociraptor as they are named in the film) that is number one for me. Unlike the film versions we now know that most raptors were actually feathered, having even found examples of actual dinosaur feathers in amber.

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Now on a related note here is one of my favourite scenes in cinema history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnRxQ3dcaQk

The Kindness of Strangers

2 Apr

I think one of the things that has bowled me over the most about people here in the US and Denver in particular, is how aggressively nice and helpful everyone is! It’s almost impossible to not make friends here; everybody from checkout lady to crazy bag-lady wants to be your mate. Even before we landed in Denver people went out of their way to be welcoming and we found ourselves flush with phone numbers and business cards. We spoke to a couple of middle aged women who (having a poor grasp of the queens English, wot wot!) laughed at my use of the word ‘rubbish’. Both gave me their numbers but were interrupted by a sporty looking young woman offering to look out for any work going at the local museums. People actually fight over being nice to you! (Admittedly it does help having a super sexy English accent!) My slowly swelling ego aside, I really feel that the friendliness of the locals has played a huge part in how comfortable we have felt with the move.  Here are three standout examples.

I was walking down the 16th street mall on our first proper day in Denver, and I happened to be wearing a T-shirt with the name of a Greek island I’ve been visiting since I was a fetus. Anyway, I was in the process of almost getting myself run over (To pre-empt a worried 3am Skype call; mum and dad, I’m very careful and looks both ways, honest!) when a middle-aged woman with short dark hair and sunglasses suddenly shouts at me ‘Oh my gawd, are you Greek? I haven’t met anyone who knows about Antiparos!’. 5 minutes, a short tram ride and a passionate discussion about the state of the Eurozone later, we have exchanged emails and she promises to take me out for ‘the best Greek food in Denver’! All achieved in under 10 minutes through the sheer power of my T-shirt’s awesomeness!

Free tram ride up 16th street Mall… very very cool!

A few days later I decided to check out one of the bars here in Denver. Whilst the first choice was shut (a gay cowboy bar called ‘Charlie’s’… don’t judge, I’m sure it’s about 70% ironic… maybe…). Therefore I ended up in a diner come gay bar called Hamburger Mary’s. What first stunned me was that the place was so crowded on a Tuesday night. I ended up staying for drag queen bingo, (Yes straight friends, this is actually a thing!) and the two drag queens took a shining to my accent; I ended up with a free shot of something gross (It tasted like something you’d throw up after eating too much Christmas pudding). After a few hours I decided, having got chatting with a nice bunch of girls, that I would stay for another beer… (As those of you who may know me this may come as no surprise that I ended up staying out till 2am with more than a few beers in me.) The two drag queens took pity on the poor lonely Brit (I might have milked it somewhat) and drove me to somewhere called X-bar. Once there I was taken by my two terrifying chaperones and introduced to what seemed to be the entire gay community of Denver! I was bought drinks, quizzed about the Queen and British dentistry but most importantly made to feel very welcome. It really contrasted with the snootiness and image-consciousness of Soho in London. This felt more like a bunch of guys and girls (who happen to share gene Xq28) getting together for a midweek piss-up; no airs and graces, no aggressive sexuality and no prissiness.

Last one, and it comes with a bit of a plug, if you move to a new city and you’re looking to meet new people, or even just want a novel experience in your hometown, check out comegrubwithus.com. Before moving to Denver I stumbled across this site, set up a profile and created a meal at a mystery restaurant with total randomers in my chosen city, Denver. It basically functions like an ofline socialnetworking site; you create an event, people in the area sign up to attend and then once 5 or more people show interest, it’s on! I ended up at a pretty decent pizza restaurant with 7 other Denverites. I met a lovely woman who works in film and television and have agreed to have her over for a film-night and perhaps go out for a pub quiz known as ‘geeks who drink.’ I also met a couple who work in videogames, and a friendly gay couple who happen to be making the move to London in a few weeks (talk about ships in the night). Anyway it was a cool experience with a distinct lack of awkward silences. I got a lot out of it and who knows may even have made some new friends.