My first holiday to American took place in 1993. Rather ambitiously, we visited Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all in two weeks, taking trains between those cities. We used one of those "Rough Guides" to book hotels, which ended in us staying in some terrible places, including a motel two bus-rides away from the Strip in Las Vegas, which had a fire alarm that beeped with a low battery every minute and a freezer full of mincemeat. The worst hotel was one in San Francisco which was where prostitutes took their Johns. The corridors contained drug addicts hanging out on the stairs, we had to check in via a bullet-proof glass window and when we got to our room we found that the bedsheets hadn't been changed, there was a hole in the wall and scary Charles Mason graffiti on the door. We checked out instantly and were charged for an hour.
This summer, we're doing the holiday again, although this time just the Chicago and San Francisco parts. I barely remember Chicago from 19 years ago, although Hotel Cass, where we last stayed is still there - one of the few buildings that seems to have remained in an area that now looks rather gentrified. Chicago is a walkable city and seems cleaner and more relaxed than New York. We took the subway to "Boyztown", the gay area, although it was the middle of the day and everybody seemed to be taking a nap. Escaping the relentless heat, we went into a full coffee shop, where we were the only people who were not sitting alone at a table, with a laptop and headphones plugged in, completely disengaged from their immediate surroundings like that row of robots in the Flash Gordon film. I'm sure they were all tweeting away and updating their Facebook statuses, but it felt sad, like a vision of the future that I didn't want to belong to.
And the world is changing. There's a nice book shop near our hotel here, although both times we've been in it, it's been empty. I wonder whether it'll be there in another 19 years. Ray Bradbury's vision of a world where people don't read books is unlikely to come true, but they'll just download them onto their Ipads without having to leave their rooms.
Still, I suspect my Ipad's going to come in handy over the next two days as I'll be confined to a train cabin as we go through Denver and Salt Lake City.