American dreams and nightmares

American dreams and nightmares

On a trip across the pond, Paul Carter discovers that not everyone wants you to have a nice day.

Yee-haw! I’ve been to America, land of the free and all that. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always been something of an Americophile, largely because I think we can take a lot from their service culture in particular. I surprise myself saying that because given my usual disdain for most other people and my subsequent desire to avoid all non-essential contact or communication with them, I’d expect to find the cloying , saccharine-sweet levels nauseating to the point of bile-fuelled violence. But I don’t. Because oddly, it works. If you happen to be not only disabled but also lazy to the point of indifference/coma, like me, it’s bloody brilliant.

I mean at first, I totally wanted to go all Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Were they helping me because I was…well… disabled? If that was the case, even I would have got fed up with it very quickly. But then I realised it wasn’t. It’s like that for everyone.

Of course, I’m not saying that nobody in the UK ever offers to help. That would be unfair and there are lots of friendly, generous people out there whose assistance is genuinely appreciated. It’s just that in most towns or cities in the UK, if you ask for anything remotely outside of the norm you’ll get an expression similar to if you’d asked them to explain Fermat’s last theorem. In Latin.

I’ve written before about how complicated it is in Blighty to ask someone in a restaurant to prepare food specially – if my steak can be cut before it comes out for example. Almost everywhere in the US (where I went at least) they’d bend over backwards. Literally, if you asked, they would almost certainly bend over backwards. While wishing you a nice day. They wouldn’t even send you the chiropractor bill afterwards.

But there is one particular group of people who are the exception to all of this positivity. Taxi drivers. Specifically the ones who drive the yellow ones in New York City.

This now-lifelong-hatred (what can I say, I bear a grudge) stems from a horrendous incident when me and my disabled friend got thrown out of a yellow cab in New York by what can only be described as one of the most odious cretins I’ve ever had the misfortune to share precious oxygen with. Apparently, we’d dared to hail a cab on the ‘wrong side of the road’. Wrong side of the Atlantic more like. What’s most annoying is that I only thought of that line just now and not while I was getting out of the cab when the best I could think of was, “Welcome to America!” which didn’t even really make sense. Joke’s on you rude cab driver!

Yellow cabbies are the antithesis of everyone else who works in a service or retail job. Like those people have sucked all the joy and positivity and helpfulness out of them, meaning their bitter and twisted husks can now only find a place in society by hunching over a wheel shouting at disabled tourists. That’s how I reconcile it in my mind anyway. Let’s just say I’m even more grateful for wonderful chirpy cockney black cab drivers now I’m back home.

So it’s not all sunshine and smiles in America. The US has its problems just like we do and I can’t sell it as some kind of disability utopia – there were other experiences and attitudes I found quite unsettling but they’re stories for another time. Have a nice day, y’all.

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