Welcome, Walk Free

I arrive in the US at six AM and stand in the customs and passport line to find the first news greeting me is CNN, playing on the television set that hangs on a column and that, in my past experience, usually played TSA adverts. Not this time. No, now it is telling all new arrivals that George Zimmerman, according to the tag line running below the newscasters pink faces, has been acquitted after a sixteen hour-long jury deliberation. This is supposed to be some triumph of democracy, although the image in my head is of pillars crumbling to dust. The newscasters play a clip of Zimmerman’s lawyer, looking tragic for a guy who got what he wanted, and who also looks like the main guy from Breaking Bad but without the moustache and soul. The lawyer is saying that he’s grateful that the tragedy didn’t turn into a travesty. The travesty, I deduce, according to him, would have been his client being punished for murdering a teenager. Determined to enhance my already torrential nausea, the newscasters then turn to discussing the fact that the prosecution lawyer’s not shaking the defense lawyer’s hand is big news, something that “just isn’t done”. Yes. Clearly. The handshake is the real issue at hand, so to speak and pardon the pun.
All I can think of is how accurate a portrayal this is of the current media’s mirroring the symptoms of a nation exemplified in the amusement it consumes (Today, on GENERIC REALITY TV, let’s see who was mean on the playground and who didn’t play fair!), and how sickened I am by it.

A Town

It was a beautiful little town. No wonder, really, since it was the richest one in the state. Still, if you could forget about all the money that must have exchanged pockets in order to make the town look the way it did, you might just fall in love with it.

The best way to describe it would be old-town America. There are no high-rises; the tallest building in town is the bell-tower of the church, still tolling the hour to this day. There are just two main streets, really, both filled with quaint buildings, all low to the ground. Around Christmas-time, all the windows and doors are decorated with wreaths and big, red ribbons. The shops are varied, supplying the residents with everything they could want – from specialized yoga clothing to vintage fur coats; from good quality generic groceries to specialized health-foods; from magazines and sweets to books and toys; from sushi to Italian to Mexican to baked goods to good, old diner fare.

The town’s small train-station is quaint, no doubt about it. Standing on the platform, you can easily imagine an old steam-engine pulling into the station while men in suits and bowler hats and women in dresses in muted hews get ready to board it to go into the big city a few stops down the line. You can imagine parents sending their child off to the big city’s university in a train like that, with a steamer trunk loaded and a handkerchief waving goodbye out a window. Even today, the platform seems to contain ghosts of those people from other decades.

The town is beautiful, almost like a real life Disneyland.

Across Five States: Into Maryland

We entered Maryland in the early afternoon. We drove on a main highway, and the biggest change I noticed was the lack of trucks and the return of cars. Regular cars, small, light, compact and sane – unlike the monsters we’d been driving with for the past day. Suddenly, we were the biggest on the road, including the SUVs, and there was a feeling of fear as we wove through the growing traffic that we would crush one of these tiny aluminum vehicles. It felt also like a return to civilization – we were suddenly around pleasure cruisers, commuters and road-trippers, instead of being around people who were doing a job as they drove.

All this, of course, was only because we were again on a smaller freeway, but commingled with the knowledge that we were so very near our destination, it caused a bit of a shock. It felt like we were almost done with this magical trip, so short but yet so full of experiences. When we stopped in Maryland at a Waffle House for coffee and sustenance, we came very close to deciding to stop at a motel again for the night and drive into Virginia the next day. None of us admitted it, but I felt that none of us really wanted this road magic to end – the feeling of being severed from any one time and any one place, belonging instead to constant movement.

In the end, though, we decided to push on despite everything. We still had unpacking to “look forward to” and we wanted to get it over with as soon as we could. We payed for our coffees, climbed back into the truck, and after some frustration over the rats’ water bottle leaking we set off again, knowing we’d be seeing another state in just a few more minutes.

Across Five States: Into Pennsylvania

A new morning dawned, bright and crisp – though the only reason it was crisp was the air conditioning which we’d left on all night. The moment we left the Day’s Inn, however, we realized just what kind of weather we’d stumbled into. It was hot, unbearable so, and humid to boot – and this at only seven in the morning! We loaded our essentials back into the U-Haul, blasted the air conditioning once more, and were on our way.

We were looking for a decent place to have breakfast, but we didn’t find any place that wasn’t fast food until after we’d entered Pennsylvania. When we crossed the state border, though, our hunger took a backseat in our minds as we gazed in wonder at the vistas around us. Almost immediately after crossing the border from Ohio, the mundane and endless flat-lands disappeared, giving way to rolling green hills. It was countryside at its most beautiful, alternating between vast expanses of grassy knolls and forests, dark and dense.

It was stunning, to say the least. There was so much wild vegetation that many of the trees were being choked by ivy climbing their very trunks, beautiful but deadly to the trees themselves. Here and there we could spot gorgeous houses perched between trees or amongst the hills, old-fashioned and grand. In the valleys between the hills we saw some large farms as well, which resulted in our delighted cries of “Sheep! Horses! Look, brown cows! More horses!” We were like children, seeing this foreign life that we’d all read about in picture books more often than seeing it around us.

We began musing about how someone would come to live here, and whether or not we would ever want to live in such an isolated place. We all agreed that we would love to live in a secluded and cozy house and write there for a season. I imagined what the winters would be like in such a place – wind and rain whipping the trees mercilessly, snow piling up and muffling the sounds of animals and the rustle of leaves. It would be like living in a fairy-tale, and yet, characters in fairy-tales always seem so lonely in the end.

We continued onwards, trying to solve crossword puzzles and keep out of the way of large trucks, and eventually we gave into our hunger and drove off the highway and entered a town. The name of the town eludes me, but we found a Denny’s there. I’d never been in one of those either, and it was another experience of discovering America. Our waitress was a darling, grey haired, plump and gruffly kind. She brought us all steaming mugs of coffee, which we were all desperate for. We ate a pleasant meal, finishing it off with a delicious Hershey’s chocolate cake, and made our way back to our seats in the truck that was already so familiar to us.

Across Five States: Into Indiana

Soon after beginning our drive from Chicago in our great, big, lumbering U-Haul, we passed through the border into Indiana. Here was strange country – mile after mile of flat land, soybeans and grass being grown around us for health nuts and golf courses respectively. Sign after sign advertised fireworks for sale in big block letters accompanied by smiling clowns or circus animals. We passed by rest-stops, termed in Indiana and thereabouts as “Service Plazas.” McDonalds, KFC and Wendy’s seemed to be the favored restaurants at said plazas, and although we stopped for coffee and fuel once, we kept driving past all these, choosing to wait for a real diner to show up.

We were in luck! A big sign by the road showed a picture of pancakes and bread read “Cracker Barrel – 20 Miles!” We all cheered. Our stomachs were rumbling, and although we were in good spirits and enjoying the smooth road and the fellow trucks rumbling along with us, we were all ready for some protein. When we eventually reached the exit, we turned off and followed the signs right to the snug parking lot surrounding the Cracker Barrel. As I found out later, every Cracker Barrel has a store filled with “old timey” sweets, tourist t-shirts, cheap DVDs and plastic souvenirs – all these in contrast to the truly beautiful rocking chairs that were lined up on the porch for sale and looked genuinely old.

We entered the restaurant, and for the first time, I understood and believed that there is an obesity problem in the United States. I never disbelieved it, per se, but I’ve always been in the big cities across America – Los Angeles, Chicago, New York – and in the big cities there are enough foreigners and enough so called “enlightened” people who are aware of their health and so I never witnessed more obesity than I would see anywhere else. But inside that Cracker Barrel I saw just how real this problem is.

We sat down at a table and were served by a nice young fellow whose name tag read “Chris.” It was wonderful to be sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by the smell of food after having sat cramped for hours in a small seat in a truck with the faint smell of my brother’s rats to keep us company. We ordered, we ate, and we went blissfully on our way, full of nutrients and renewed energy.

Back, With a List

In the whirlwind of movement between family members, boxes and different US states, I never managed to write like I’d planned. Despite that, I would like to remember some of the interesting, hilarious, eye-opening and strange things I encountered on this trip. I shall now compile a list of the memorable things, more or less in order, and I hope to elaborate on some of them in the coming days. Ah, it feels good being back in my own home with my fingers on my own keyboard and my tired eyes looking at my own computer screen. And so I present The List of Things I Thought About and Did on My Trip [also known from here on out simply as The List]:

1. Chicago. Chicago is amazing. Simply being in that city was incredible.

2. Tiny dogs are ridiculous, and I hated them with a passion until meeting the three belonging to my cousin. I still think small dogs are ridiculous and more like wind-up toys than animals, but I no longer hate their sweet little hearts for it.

3. Second City e.t.c, the Chicago-based comedy group, are incredible. Their current show, titled Brother, Can You Spare Some Change? had me giggling for days. In fact, my mother and I constantly refer to puppies raining from the sky and how Obama will somehow make smoking good for you and burst into fresh waves of titters.

4. Helping one’s brother move all his things from one apartment to another via U-Haul is an interesting experience that results in soar arms, immense self-pride, and, in our case, travelling across five states in the space of twelve hours, thus making me that much closer to understanding just how large the USA is.

5. You know those haunted houses that are always set up at fairs or in amusement parks? The good ones make you feel like you’re never getting out of them, and even though you know the whole thing is kind of silly you still have a sense of fear and impending doom tugging at your rational thinking. Ikea is just like that.

6. I learned never to buy flat-pack furniture when it’s on sale. Doing so results in frustration and an understanding that you have been duped into buying something that is never going to be put together right because it was built faulty from the beginning – thus allowing such a sale of the damaged products to ensue.

7. Southern Hospitality isn’t just a myth. It’s real. It’s also sure as hell a lot more sincere than the friendliness of the West Coast. Seriously, people in Virginia are SO NICE.

8. Despite the people being nice in Virginia, it seems the tow-trucks are evil beasts with wills of their own. The biggest hazard in a certain county there is that your car will be towed for certain unless you have all the right stickers, badges and other nick-knacks hung in the correct places around the car.

9. The Vietnam Memorial and The Lincoln Memrial in Washington D.C. both moved me much more than I ever expected they would.

10. I saved item ten for the realization that has struck me once again now that I’m back home. No matter how well suited I thought I was to write in my current state of extreme grogginess and jet-lag, I have been proved wrong.

On that note, I hope I will be forgiven for the oddness and inconsistency of my haphazard list that doesn’t seem to much of a list at all. I bid you all a good night, and I will promptly fall into my own bed and attempt to read, even though I know quite well I will be asleep with the book on my face within minutes.

…And Away Again

I shall post the next part of my ongoing story tomorrow in all likelihood, but I decided to write a short post tonight about my upcoming trip. Yes, another one.

My brother is graduating college, and my mother and I are flying to Chicago next Wednesday to join him in this exciting time. After his graduation, we’ll be helping him move out of his current apartment and relocate to Washington DC where he will be moving. I’ve seen Chicago before, recently even, and it is a marvelous city. However, what I’m most excited about this trip, apart from seeing my brother walk the walk in his cap and gown, is seeing Washington DC, home of the White House, home of our current president, Mr. Obama.

There is something so exciting about going to the hub of the US government – the city is supposed to be amazing, young and lively. There are, of course, the museums and the various memorials and sites to see around the city, but there is also supposed to be a hip and cool music scene apparently. It’s going to be an experience, to say the least.

I shall keep posting as much as I can during my trip, though I can’t promise regular posts – it will probably be like my last trip, a post every few days, sporadically.