My wife and I sat down this week to discuss our next big adventure.
We’ve just returned from a month in Europe, but we find that it is always good for our mental health to have the next big trip at least in the planning stage.
In fact, we try to have two short breaks and a big trip on the drawing board at all times. It gives us something to look forward to. It also helps to focus on how we spend and save, our money.
Right now though, we have short breaks to Kiama, on the NSW south coast, and Bali booked for the next 12 months, but we can’t agree on our “big-ticket” trip.
My 60th birthday, 18 months back, was supposed to be a trip to Nashville, the home of country music.
I’m a boot-scootin’ country music fan. And the idea of being able to sit in a honky tonk bar, sipping on a bourbon and listening to the next big thing is something that I’ve always wanted to do.
It didn’t happen on my 60th because of Covid-19.
Now that the pandemic is a distant memory, I thought we could revisit the Nashville journey.
“I’d rather not go to America,’’ Ali said.
“With all the shootings, the homelessness epidemic and the Trump/Biden ridiculousness I just don’t want to go there.’’
I love America as a travel destination. I first visited in 1980 as a 19-year-old and since then I have travelled to 34 of the 50 states.
I enjoy the American hype. I appreciate their obvious patriotism, and I’m encouraged by their never-ending pursuit of the American dream.
But I have to agree with Ali that, from a distance, America has definitely lost some of its lustre. Every piece of news we see, read, or hear about America seems to be bad.
Let’s look at some recent shootings and crime statistics.
So far in 2023, the country is dealing with an average of one mass killing spree a week. 2023 is on track to be the worst year in America’s history for mass killings.
America’s ABC News reported that by mid-May, 13,959 people had died from gun violence – that’s almost 115 deaths each day.
Last month on the holiday weekend in Chicago, one of the country’s deadliest destinations, Police said that 75 people were shot across the city in 51 separate incidents between Friday at 6 pm and midnight Monday.
Chicago is a tourist destination. It’s not a down-and-out neighbourhood. It’s the fourth-wealthiest city in the USA.
Brisbane is about the same size as Chicago.
Imagine if there were 75 people shot in Brisbane on a long weekend. It would cause chaos. The local newspapers and news bulletins would be filled with pages and pages of stories. You would almost have the armed forces patrolling the streets to keep Brisbane safe.
Last month’s shootings in Chicago hardly rated a mention in the news cycle. Those types of numbers no longer scare the locals. They have learned to live with it.
And it’s not just Chicago. Crime has no boundaries.
Just last week, the New York Times reported the tragic story of a woman who shot and killed her Uber driver in West Texas because she mistakenly thought she was being kidnapped into Mexico.
The 52-year-old driver Daniel Garcia, who had just started a second job with Uber in an attempt to make ends meet at home, was shot in the head while driving the woman to a casino in southeast El Paso.
He was driving her the correct way, but when she saw a sign that read “Juarez Mexico” she panicked thinking she was being kidnapped, grabbed a silver and brown handgun from her purse, took aim, and shot him in the head.
In Oakland this year, a city on the east side of San Francisco Bay, violent crime is up by six per cent on 2022 figures with a rise in homicide, aggravated assault, rape and robbery. One long-term resident said it was not uncommon to hear “open gun battles” on the street at night between drug gangs.
These cases and statistics say a lot about America in 2023. They certainly do not paint a picture of somewhere you would like to visit as a tourist.
It’s the opposite.
When I was in Europe last month an American doctor, waiting in line with me to board a cruise ship, heard my accent and asked where I came from.
“Why does Australia have such draconian gun laws?’’ he snapped when I told him I was Australian.
Instead of snapping back, I asked why carrying a gun was so important to him.
“It’s not carrying a gun that’s important,’’ he said. “It is the right to carry a gun that’s important. We are a free people and I believe we have the right to defend ourselves. And that means we have the right to bear arms.’’
It’s not the kind of small-talk conversation I thought I’d be having while waiting in a long queue in Lisbon, Portugal. But I was trapped. There were hundreds of people in front of me, and hundreds behind.
Americans discuss guns as a tool of self-defence against criminals. Fear is driving people to arm themselves. And as more people do that, others feel that they too need to buy weapons.
It is a vicious cycle fuelled by “Stand Your Ground” laws (now in 30 states) which give people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves against a threat.
But what if the threat is not real?
In April in Kansas City, an elderly homeowner shot Black teenager Ralph Yarl in the head when Yarl rang his doorbell. Yarl’s crime? He went to the wrong house.
Days later Kaylin Gillis, 20, was fatally shot when she made a mistake and pulled her car into the wrong driveway in rural New York.
Then two cheerleaders were shot after one of them got into the wrong car in a Texas car park.
And that’s a further reason why Ali doesn’t want to go to America. We always get lost when we travel. We always end up asking locals for help. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to do that in America at the moment.
Maybe we should book a campervan holiday around New Zealand as our next big trip. At least I can play some country music through the speakers as we travel from island to island.