Remember the Alamo!

No, this isn’t a reference to THE Alamo in San Antonio. Actually, we didn’t make it there on this trip – I have a cunning travelling plan that involves deliberately missing out on interesting places so that I always have something to go back for (and a second Texan experience is already being planned in my head). People may think it’s a foolish idea, but it’s the reason why I still, despite two trips down under, haven’t been to New Zealand’s South Island.

The illuminating exterior 
& the joys of unlimited Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea and a box of Sour Patch Kids
The Alamo I did make it to and will forever remember was the Ritz Alamo Drafthouse, which provided me with a cinematic experience that will take some beating. And to think, I nearly let jet lag and an adverse reaction to mosquito bites overcome me!

Regular readers will know that I am a film fan but a cinema hater, the latter owing much to two significant factors:
1. The price of cinema going in London
2. The behaviour of people in the cinema

The Alamo overcame both these issues with aplomb. Firstly, the tickets to the late night, B-movie screening we attended were $2 – that’s like a 10th of what a central London ticket would cost. Secondly, they have very strict rules about behaviour…

The film we watched was the so-bad-it’s-good The Sword and the Sorcerer, which was introduced by a real-life person before it began. As he ended his intro, he recited the penalties for talking during the movie – which included physical violence – and the procedure patrons should follow should someone near them break the no talking rule. I had a sudden epiphany – I had heard of this place! It had certainly featured on Wittertainment during formulation of their code of conduct and hadn’t there been some brilliant story of a woman who’d fallen foul of the rule?

Later investigation revealed the details…
The discovery of the video below [NSFW by the way] brought it all back – I’d definitely watched this somewhere last summer. I love the attitude of a cinema chain who takes a situation like this and simply says “You know what? We don’t actually need customers like you, because most people want to watch films without talking, or light pollution from phones!”

Honestly, in no uncertain terms is this rule taken seriously. In the trailers that followed the film’s introduction (which were hilarious and featured everything that was bad with 1980’s mythology based film) our Austin hosts murmured something and were immediately called out – and it was on the trailers! I then resorted to note passing – using the paper provided for waitress service – in order to get the odd bit of info across to my neighbours. The guy in charge was sat behind us and sporadically moved into the aisle, watching our group like a hawk. Did he not realise that we were excellent film goers?!

It has to be said, it’s amazing just how difficult it is not to talk, especially in a film as ridiculous as the Sword and the Sorcerer. Here’s a sample of the dialogue: 
“My sword stands poised, Miss.” 

“My sheath is not a place I want you putting your sword in, Sir.” 
“But my sword is very very long… and I want to put it in your sheath for I am worried about it injuring someone if I leave it out.” 
“How long did you say your sword was?”
See, utterly ridiculous! (If you’re intrigued, I’ve checked and the entire movie’s available on YouTube.)

The other thing that makes the Alamo is the waitress service. Yes, waitress service, during a movie –
which requires no talking. The seats have a bar-like table running in front of you, on which are sat menus, paper and pens. Your waitress greets you at the start and explains the system – which boils down to choosing what you want (unlimited hibiscus iced tea, a bucket of beer, frozen margaritas or sour patch kids…), writing it down on a slip of paper, sticking it in a slot on the table, and waiting for the waitress to collect it. Genius. Even the payment at the end isn’t obtrusive.

Having endured many a miserable film experience, and knowing that the closest London gets to this kind of quality (the ‘Sceen on the…’ and Curzon chains) are still way, way behind, I’d like to begin a campaign to get something akin to the Alamo over here. Who’s with me?! At the moment I’ve got a select band of London friends and one in Oxford, but surely more would love to join?

Southern Comfort

Generally, I like to think that I’m regarded as a fairly polite person. Yes, I’m a Londoner, and we’re not known for being super friendly or outgoing, but I do on occasion break the ‘no talking on the tube’ rule and always respond positively to the (many, many) people who stop me for directions on a daily basis. [I’m beginning to wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that offers this service…]

However, I don’t think I was fully prepared for the assault on my London sensibilities that would be the southern form of politeness. Reaching the gate for my flight to Atlanta, my hard exterior proved no match for the hundred or so Americans making their way home to the South (very few Brits seem to fly Delta). I’d barely been there 5 minutes when a group of men with epic beards and wearing dungarees engaged me in conversation – it was my own fault, their dialogue about the ways in which they were transporting Devon roses back to their wives tickled my interest. Before I knew it I was being given recommendations for things to do across the great state of Texas.

On board, the air stewards compounded my feelings of inferiority in the politeness stakes. There’s just something about being called “Ma’am” and having drinks brought to your seat that takes service to another level. It connected with what I like to call my ‘Waitrose mentality’. Waitrose is an upmarket supermarket (a branch is my closest grocery store) with a tendency of employing older ladies on their checkouts. This women are so nice to you that it shames me into ramping up my usual politeness several levels – headphones come completely out of ears; full attention is given; conversation is entered into; and my accent becomes even more plummy than it is usually. On board my flight, and for pretty much the entire time I was away, this was the mentality I adopted. No cynicism, no sarcasm, no ignoring people, no elbowing people out of the way, no avoiding conversation at all costs – it was quite the behavioural mind bender.

For example, when was the last time an attendant at a cheap clothing store (I’m thinking Primark…) wished you a good day, asked about the things you were trying on, or even commented on just how cute the skirt was that you’d chosen? [Lady in Old Navy, I salute you for your confidence inspiring compliments!] Or how about actual sincerity from a waitress and genuine interest from them in ensuring you have the very best frozen cocktail experience? [Cynically, we pondered whether one waitress was genuinely flirting with our male companion, or simply knew how to get a good tip – we went for the latter…]

It’s instilled from childhood too. I was slightly nonplussed when a friend’s 3 year old child addressed me as “Ma’am”, but I suspect he’s being brought up very properly. [As opposed to the child of a total stranger who at that point was using my backside as an obstacle course in the river in which we were lying…]

It all had quite an effect on me. By the time we’d boarded the first leg of our flight home, leaving San Antonio for Detroit, I’d had my first truly positive experience of airport security; a long chat with the man in Duty Free regarding the relative merits of Bombay Sapphire & Tanquerry gin; and then proceeded to chat without inhibition with an elderly lady from Michigan. Texas has changed me, and probably for the better…

…well, at least until my next rush-hour Piccadilly Line experience.

Another reason to fly Delta: that drink on the right is wine. 
It’s served in larger quantities than non-alcoholic beverages, like the Diet Coke on the left.

Texas in numbers

I have returned from the land of Cowboys… Life is something of a blurry haze currently, what with the early morning arrival at Heathrow, a mid-morning nap, a bit of work, a big meeting tonight (which I must stay awake through), and – of course – returning to a flat I’m in the process of moving out of. There are many Texan blogposts to be written (most drafted the old school way while on location), but for now I’ll simply give you a few stats:

  • Non-ironic Stetson wearing sightings: 10 
  • Frozen alcoholic beverages consumed: 6
  • Mosquito bites acquired: 17 (Approximately. 8 of which occurred in 5 mins.)
  • Open air swims: 5
  • Guns held: 2 (Guns shot: 1)
  • Hamburgers eaten: 3
  • Old friends caught up with: 10
  • New friends made: 14
  • Iced teas drunk: 14
I learnt a few valuable Texan lessons – including the importance of staying well-hydrated in hot climate, especially when drinking alcohol; and how to deal with snakes on the road. Oh, and I did a little bit of shopping and returned wearing this: 
Hello Cowboys!