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July 2008

Passport to: anywhere but here

My passport, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

I got my passport back from the US Embassy London today. It's now a 72-page thick behemoth. They actually did a good job, with the pages seamlessly sewn into the centerfold of my passport. Ironically, the pages they added are the new style that I was complaining about last week, with silly drawings of scenes of Americana like Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a steamboat plowing the Mississippi, and a steam train through the Wild West.

Each page is topped by a famous quote about America by folks like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and (ack!) Ronald Reagan. That's all fine and dandy, but some of the quotes are religious in nature. For example, Thomas Jefferson's quote reads: "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time." It sounds like a fairly innocent enough, but considering who said it and when it was said, Jefferson is clearly speaking of a Christian God. Maybe I'm reading too much into this. But to place these quotes in a U.S. passport -- a government-issued and endorsed document that will be seen by foreign government officials around the world -- is completely inappropriate and an insult to non-Christian, non-religious and atheist/agnostic passport holders. Not to mention a clear violation of the separation of church & state. Sheesh. Ok that's my rant for the day.

With my passport firmly in hand, I am now plotting my getaway from England. Preferably to a dry, sunny locale. It's been raining on-and-off for 10 straight days here. Sure it rains a lot in London, but usually it's just a light mist. Our rain of late has been hard, steady and occasionally accompanied by lightening and thunder. It's rained three inches in the past 24 hours -- the average rainfall that London receives during all of July. The temperature has hovered around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Did I mention it's JULY!?!?

The first place I plan to use my revamped passport is southern Germany. Mr. & Mrs. Crab have decided to take a camping trip to Bavaria later this month, with stops to the beer gardens of Munich, plus Bamberg, Nuremberg, the German Alps and the Black Forest. I'm also hoping to stop in Illesheim, a tiny village near Munich that is home to a small joint American & German military base. As a young U.S. Army soldier in 1995, I was briefly stationed in Illesheim for training while awaiting deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have fond memories of New Year's Eve in Illesheim. It was my first time in Europe. Snow was falling. Soldiers and locals gathered in the town square, toasting each other over large pints of strong German ale while an oompah band played and fireworks illuminated the little village. Ever since that day, I've had a soft spot for Germany. Ich bin ein Deutschlander!

Well-worn passport

My U.S. passport, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

From Mr. Crab: For the second time in less than four years, I had to return my U.S. passport to the U.S. Embassy in London to get extra pages added. I only have two blank pages left, which I plan to fill by the end of September. Mrs. Crab had extra pages added to her passport last year. The extra 24 pages are sewn into the centerfold of the passport, and usually not very well. When I renewed my passport in 2004, I even applied for and received the extra-large, 48-page passport...a collector's item as it is no longer available! In fact, neither is my passport. The new U.S. biometrics "E-Passport" released last year has hard covers to protect the embedded microchip, which is great for security but not very good for bending into the back pocket of your jeans. The pages of the new passport are decorated with goofy, patriotic drawings that are so dark that it makes the foreign stamps nearly illegible.

Actually, we don't get as many stamps as we used to because Mr. and Mrs. Crab recently signed up for the Bri UK scheme. IRIS (Iris Recognition Immigration System) allows us to travel into several UK airports including London Heathrow (LHR) and enter the country simply by scanning our eyes into the self-service immigration machines, bypassing the long lines that often stretch an hour or longer. The sign-up is painless, fast and free. During my recent trip to Washington, I noticed that Dulles Airport now has a similar program, but it costs $200 per year.

Anyway, I'm counting down the days until my passport is returned. I feel naked without my passport! What if I have to suddenly flee the country? I'd have to swim across the English Channel!

July 4 in London

July 4 BBQ in London, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Belated photo from the American Expat Meetup July 4 BBQ in London. Of course, it was cloudy and chilly. We are not impressed with our British "summer" so far. It's been raining off-and-on all week, with temperatures barely cracking 68 degrees Fahrenheit!

What I did on my summer vacation

A quick recap of what Mr. Crab did on his recent two week solo summer vacation in America:

  1. Drove. I miss driving so much that I volunteered to cart my friends' bums from Washington, D.C. to Durham, N.C., four-and-a-half-hours each way, in traffic.  And did I mention I was driving a minivan?  Yes. A Chrysler minivan. (That's a "People Mover" for my British readers).
  2. Ate. A Lot. I gained about 5 pounds from all the rich American foods and huge American portions including such dishes as a Texas Cheesesteak at Waffle House, Bar-b-que pulled pork sandwich, BBQ beef briskets at my buddy Dude's wedding, pizza, sushi, Sonic Burger chocolate milkshakes, Taco Bell (twice), fried calamari and Vietnamese beef curry.  Sadly, I still have never had a White Castle burger.
  3. Shopped. Mr. and Mrs. Crab get paid in British Sterling Pounds, and since £1 is worth about $2 U.S., it's like everything costs half price for us!  I had to borrow a second suitcase from the sister-in-law to bring home all the goodies I purchased including new bed sheets, a duvet, pillow cases, Spree candy, Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, Big Red chewing gum, and a few 2008 Presidential Election T-shirts (I'm sure long-time readers of this blog can guess our candidate of choice). Target RULES. It's a good thing there are no "Tar-jeys" here cuz I'd be there everyday.
  4. Gossiped. Mr. Crab may have to enter therapy as a result of all the family & friend gossip he learned on this trip..some of which I could have happily gone to my grave without ever knowing.
  5. Cried at the season finale of Battlestar Galactica.
  6. Laughed. At lots and lots of fart jokes and other 14-year-old toilet humour. 
  7. Movies. Watched a few movies including "The Happening" (HORRIBLE. Absolutely the worst film I've seen in decades), "Get Smart" (Decent. It had its laughable moments). The best part of watching  a film in the U.S. were the relatively cheap prices...about $9 (less than £4.50) and BUTTERED popcorn. For some reason which I can't figure out, the British have yet to discover buttered movie theatre popcorn; it's usually served here salted or unsalted.  
  8. Drank some great microbrew beers in North Carolina, and a fantastic non-alcoholic drink called an Arnold Palmer (Iced sweet tea & lemonade). 
  9. Sight-seeing. I spent a day in my hometown of Washington, D.C. and hit the Newseum, a WONDERFUL museum and monument to journalism. But at $20 a pop, the tickets are rather pricey for those of us accustomed to free Smithsonian museums. 
  10. Ignored my computer, e-mail and blogging.

Happy Independence Day, ya'll!

God Bless...and save... America, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

(Above: Close-up of the American Flag atop the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, USA...better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.)

Happy Fourth of July, ya'll! Mr. Crab is back in the British Empire after two whirlwind weeks in the "Colonies," with stops in Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, Durham and Northern Virginia. I did not achieve the primary my goal of the trip, but I did have a great time visiting with friends and family and attending the wedding of one of my best and oldest friends who I'll call Dude, and his lovely bride Donna.

I don't usually get homesick, but on this trip I felt a particularly strong draw to the good ol' U. S. of A. And the one thing I miss the most about home is not a place or a thing or a food or even cheap prices. It's my friends. Some people come from very close-knit families.  Instead, I have a very close-knit, diverse group of friends.  There are about a dozen of us in the core gang, some of whom I have known for 18 years.  Most of us met while working at Broadside, the student newspaper of George Mason University. Others came into the fold a few years later at USA WEEKEND.  And a smaller few sort of lucked into the group.  Some of us are still journalists or in the media industry in some capacity. Others have moved on to more lucrative careers. Some of us, ahem, are unemployed at the moment.

People who meet our group often express surprise, even jealousy at the fact that we've all remained friends so long. There have been a couple of marriages, a couple of kids, and lots of cross-country -- and cross-continental -- moves.  We've vacationed together, from Las Vegas to Key West to Cairo to Madrid. Together we've laughed a lot, cried a bit, seen each other through thick and thin. My friends are my family.


The Two Crabs Guide to Independence Day Events in London

* The London Expat American Meetup group -- the largest American expat group in London with over 2,000 members -- is hosting a 6th annual Independence Day BBQ on Saturday, July 5, beginning at 2:00 p.m. Hundreds are expected to attend the picnic, to be held at Mile End Park at Grove Road & Clinton Road, London, E3 4PE. Tube station: Mile End. For details, click:

* From the Texas Embassy in Trafalgar Square: "To celebrate Independence day in a true American way, head to the Texas Embassy Cantina for some gorgeous food and delicious Margaritas! There will be a two-day celebration with live music and other festivities. To book a table or for more info call 020 7925 0077, email [email protected] or go to our website:

*The Bedford Park Pub is hosting a "Star Spangled Bar-B-Que" on Sunday, 6 July featuring live music from Southern rock group Medicine Hat and country band The Snakeoil Rattlers. Doors open at 5pm. The park is located at  233 High Road, Streatham, London , SW16 6EN
Admission - £8 (including food). Tickets from the venue or online at Contact – Gene Hughes at 020 8769 2836

* The Sports Cafe in Piccadilly Circus will be hosting a July 4 party featuring DJs and drink specials. For details, visit

* The British Museum is hosting a free Independence Day celebration, 6:30pm-9pm Friday, July 4. Events include a live swing band, lindy-hopping and line dancing, take in jazz and talks in the acclaimed exhibition 'The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock', and enjoy Native American crafts, print making and handling sessions in the galleries. See classic American cars on display. American beer-tasting and specially themed American food and drink to buy are also on offer. For details, click here:

* On July 4, American country singer and expat Cheyne Pride will perform "a little bit of country, a little bit of rock 'n' roll" at the rooftop bar of the Inn on the Green by Ladbroke Grove tube station. CHEER A-G0-GO dance and cheerleader group will perform in between sets. Country, rock and cheerleaders. What's more American?  Details:

The following listings were compiled by the U.S. Embassy in London June Newsletter. (FYI: The newsletter can be found here:

* St. Martin’s in the Fields Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ will be the site of a 7:30pm concert by the New London Singers. They will be singing songs of American themes and from American composers. To book tickets online (priced from £6 to £24) go to: Alternatively, call the box office on: +44 (0)20-7839-8362 Monday to Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00pm

* The American Museum in Britain will be hosting a Picnic Night to celebrate American Independence day. On Friday, July 4th pack a blanket and head up the hill for BBQ, ice cream and dancing on the lawn. Music provided by Corn Liquor and the Stillhouse Stompers. £2.00 per person or £5 per family. For more information go to

* The Democrats Abroad U.K. will be hosting a picnic on Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 12:30pm. Simply pack a picnic, a kite, and your political knowledge. Bring the family, friends, and colleagues. Location: Marylebone Gardens (just South of Chester Road, near the playground), Regent’s Park (same location as in prior years) Prizes awarded for most creative kite (with or without the summer wind!), as well as for the winner of the Democrats Abroad Political Quiz. For more information go to

* The American Museum in Britain will also be presenting Living History: American Independence Day Displays on Saturday and Sunday, July 5th and 6th. Once again the Crown Forces of 1776 joined by the Soldiers of George III will give a glimpse into the life of British soldiers during the American revolutionary War. Their humorous demonstration will not only give insights into an infantryman's equipment and training but also how men were recruited into the ranks - either willingly or unwillingly. Entry by admission to grounds. Drill displays at 1:30pm and 3:00pm on the Terrace Lawn. For more information go to

* Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington’s family, located in Oxfordshire, will be holding an Independence Day celebration on Sunday, July 6th from 10:30am to 4:00pm. Activities will include the sights and sounds of 1940’s Britain with American/English re-enactors. Meet ‘Winston Churchill’, learn the Jitterbug and Lambeth Walk. An exhibition of American Indian artifacts, clothing and pictures will also be on display. There will be a hog roast as well as refreshments all day. Tickets are £7.50 for adults, £3.50 for children; family tickets are available for £20. For more information go to

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