Stephen Fry in America - Episode Four: Mountains and Plains

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In this episode Stephen travels from the Canadian border all the way south to the Mexican border, passing through Montana, Wyoming, both Dakotas, Nebraska , Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas in the process. As the episode is called "Mountains and Plains" perhaps the previous episode should have been called "Roads and Boats" (obscure reference that maybe only two of my readers will get.)

I did intend to get this out on Monday, but I was unable to watch the episode Sunday evening because my newest box has only a single tuner. I had the difficult decision between recording Sharpe's Peril on ITV or record this. In the end I decided to record Sharpe because this episode is available on the BBC iplayer here.

So, we're now travelling down through the heartland of America and our journey with Stephen starts with the airborne border patrol in Great Falls, Montana. The Canadian border is an absolutely massive affair to patrol and it's unfortunate that in this current world climate that it has to be patrolled, but such is the case. Of course, the Canadian border is hardly flooded with people desperate to enter into America, but as the 49th parallel is one of the entry points into the country it must be defended. Stephen then heads into Glacier National Park and admires the breathtaking beauty that nature can provide. This is a site that you should apparently go see quickly because according to the resident geologist Dan Faber, the glaciers are shrinking at an accelerating rate and will be all gone by 2020 - 2030.

In southern Montana, Stephen meets up with Ted Turner, a man who has achieved so much in his lifetime, on his ranch. Ted owns the largest amount of land in the US and has also brought the bison back from hugely dwindling numbers. He's a man who doesn't tolerate needless words, which of course results in a few amusing moments during conversation with Stephen - who is a man of many, most eloquent but sometimes redundant, words (and that's why we love him).

Next we fly through Idaho, a sparsely populated place also known as the 'Spud State' (kin to Ireland then!) or the 'Gem State' stopping only for a lesson on the continental divide. A concept that sounds like magic or witchcraft to me.

Wyoming is the next state on the list, a state with several national parks and also a place where wolves have been reintroduced. After Stephen struggles his taxi along some very difficult terrain he meets John and Debbie, a pair of ranchers who's ranch is the size of an English county. They are having problems with the now reintroduced wolves, who are attacking and killing their livestock and dogs. They've documented the attacks with photographs, so we're treated to some pretty grizzly photos of Animal remains. These pictures are certainly not for children and animal lovers. Unfortunately for the couple, wolves are a protected animal and cannot be shot, so they must weather these attacks as best they can.

After a quick ride with some huskies the next leg of the journey is Bismark, North Dakota. Where Stephen has a meal at Kroll's Diner ("Sit Down and Eat!") where he enjoys some exceptionally Germanic food before travelling to South Dakota to briefly see Mount Rushmore. He then travels to look at a similar, but less well known monument in the same vein. But this time it is of the Native American Chief Crazy Horse, it's an absolutely mammoth sculpture that a long, long way from being finished.

Next up, Dakota home of the Lakota Sioux and the location of Wounded Knee. Sadly it seems that the inhabitants of the reservation are feeling despair and concern over the continuation of their culture. But, in the nearby schools the language and the associated culture is experiencing something of a revival. So in some form at least it will carry on, at least for a while.

Nebraska, a wide open and utterly vast space is the place where Stephen decided to travel with a trucker, but before doing so he visits a truck store and encounters the now legendary 'truck nuts' - yes they are exactly what you think they are and yes, one does hang lower than the other. We also get a sighting of the US State magnet board that inspired the opening credits before leaving for the open road with Bruce for a few miles.

In Kansas Stephen visits a genuine ghost town, or at least a decaying town on the brink of becoming one. He chats with one Wolf River Bob about life and the situation before heading off to a most peculiar home. One Ed Payden lives in a now defunct nuclear bunker, the military have moved out and the hippies have moved in. While most of the base remains a sparse reminder of what could have been, the command section has been refitted into a beautiful home which apart from the lack of windows could be mistaken for a normal (normal for hippies) house. Then before we leave Stephen is 'treated' to hippie song and then has a quick go on the warning siren.

Briefly we visit Aspen, Colorado where Stephen looks at the ski slopes and expresses just how pointless he finds the experience of skiing. Then it's swiftly on to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where Stephen meets up with the Salvation Army. It's not just the homeless that are forced to rely on the the kindness of others, many working class families are feeling the crunch and having to stretch their few dollars further and further, a situation I can sympathise with myself. Stephen meets with one of the volunteers, a woman named Heidi who helps out where she can and also displays a very different side to her personality in the evenings where Heidi is a belly dancer.

After experiencing a little mutton busting it's onto the last State of this leg, Texas. In Houston Stephen gives a speech at a fund raising gala before ducking out ahead of the dancing. On route to his final destination, El Paso, Stephen enjoys a beach where you are legally permitted to drive on the sand before reaching the Mexican border. While travelling with the Mexican border patrol Stephen gets to watch an attempted border crossing, it's tremendous the amount of resources that have to be spent to keep the border in place.

Excellent stuff as always.


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