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Stateside: Bright Light, Big City

Stateside With Rosalea

Bright Light, Big City

Which of these billboard statements is the odd one out? ''Sofa and Love $499'', ''Jesus saves from hell'', and ''Get horny again''.

The first two I saw on my BART ride to Oakland airport last Friday; the third one was the first billboard I saw as the SuperShuttle brought me from Kingsford Smith in to Sydney. The photo on the billboard was of a woman clad only in her knickers lying on her back on a bed with the arm of the fully clothed man lying next to her strategically placed over her breasts.

It really is a different culture down here - you never see such straightforward references to matters sexual in the United States. Ads on TV for viagra-like substances euphemistically show a man throwing a football through a tyre swinging from a tree. Wait a minute? IS that euphemistic? Something about "Go take a flying..." comes to mind every time I see it.

Arriving in Sydney at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night - the very night there's an extra hour for partying as daylight saving ends - was quite something. It's twenty years since I've been here, but I don't recall it was so full of young drunk people back then (maybe because I was one of them). In fact, the Aussie drunk theme began earlier that day, in the Oakland terminal, where several lads from Down Under arrived at 7 in the morning with open bottles of beer in their hands.

Flying across the Pacific has improved no end since I flew from Auckland to Los Angeles back in 1999. For one thing, the awful, awful terminal at LAX that serves Qantas has been totally rebuilt, re-opening in 2002 with black marble floors and many more seats for waiting passengers to relax in. And the 747 fleet has been revamped with screens on the back of the seats in economy class and a great selection of movies to wile away the 13 and a half hour flight to Sydney.

Sunday morning telly here is a sort of shearing shed imitation of the Sunday morning talking head shows in the US - one of them is even called Meet the Press. Joh Howard was on talking about the new anti-terrorism legislation he's trying to get through this week. An ad for Microsoft that played in the break starts with the same image of a little girl running into school that they use in the US ad, but the voice-over is dull and downbeat compared with its Yankee counterpart.

On the other hand, an ad for a ute, which shows a boat being towed across the red desert by a dad with his wife and kids in the spacious cab, has a sly dig at the US. It ends with a techie in a mission control centre phoning up his boss while an image of the family waterskiing plays in the background. "Sir, there is water on Mars, but *we* didn't find it."

Within a two-block radius of where I'm staying in the centre of town is a 7-eleven, Starbucks, Subway, Kinko's and the usual MacDonald's and Burger King. Friends I visited last night, who live in an inner city suburb where there has always been a huge population of Greeks and Italians said they once overheard an American tourist comment about the expresso coffee readily available in local stores: "Starbucks has only been here three years and already it's easy to get expresso coffee anywhere." Like it was invented in the US, right?

Sunday morning I stretch out on a park bench with the Anzac memorial at my feet, and read that overnight Sydney elected a new mayor - an independent woman - and that Ian Thorpe disqualified himself from the 400 metres Olympic team by toppling off the starting block. At a nearby intersection, a Kombi full of brass band instruments and two Sallies goes by, while a group of mounted police wait to turn, and a bloke in a ming blue straw stetson begs for cash. The light is so bright, I have to buy some sunnies.

On a radio talk show playing in the taxi on my way to Redfern, an outraged dad who'd been at a lfooty match the night before when some larrikin threw a beer bottle onto the field says that his little son keeps asking him why people get drunk and throw things on the field. And the announcer declares that "it's the first time since 1908 we've had a Dustin playing Rugby League. Been a lot of Dust-ee's." "There's only one Dustin," says his mate, "and that's Hoffman."


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