Wrapping up America
I'm want to try and wrap up my America trip quickly. I haven't done much since I got to London, but I want to start writing about stuff a little closer to now but still feel an urge to wrap up the previous trip. So I'm going to rip through it quickly.
A Brief overview
Here is a list of things that happened post Charlotte in the approximate order that they occured.
I stopped for lunch in Asheville. And loved the place so much I stayed for dinner, went to a bar to watch some bluegrass music and met some awesome people. Overall North Carolina continuously had my best experiences.
I had to stop at this bowling alley and play a game. I mean look at it.
Nashville on the other hand didn't have as much appeal. Just had a weird vibe about the place or something I don't know. I went to check in to hostel in the center of town when I realised I'd left my driver's license back in Charlotte. Decided to leave the hostel and keep driving. But I kept going west rather than doubling back, I'd get my license on the return.
I played poker on a river boat in Metropolis. And I met Superman.
Got to St. Louis and realised I left one of my shirts behind in Metropolis. Kept looking for outdoor stores where I could by a replacement icebreaker shirt. Ended up driving straight through St. Louis without stopping. Only thing I can say about the experience is that months later when House of Cards featured it in the background of a scene, I recognised it.
Got to Kansas city. More degenarate poker playing.
Started driving through Kansas. I'd been warned Kansas was different, it wouldn't be fun to drive across. I didn't believe it. I've written a more detailed account of Kansas below.
Abandoned plan to drive to San Francisco and started heading south again.
Played poker at two different Native American Casinos. (I played a lot more poker than I realised).
Stopped in Dallas for dinner at a restaurant that was recommended to me by a vegan at the first Casino in the previous point. It was very good. The next day was the anniversary of the JFK assasination. Something a traveller might want to stay in town to experience. I drove east instead.
Finally got to New Orleans. Visited Bourbon street. Seems like a fun place if you were drunk but wasn't my cup of tea. Stayed one night in a hostel, but there was no room the next night, stayed in my car.
After a grand total of two days in New Orleans, decided it wasn't for me and headed north. Amount of live music experienced: minimal.
Spent my birthday alone driving a car.
Made it back to the jewel of America, North Carolina. In Charlotte I got my licence back and had a great dinner at a Vegetarian restaurant. The next day I found myself in a college town called Greensboro further noth. Stopping at another vegetarian restaurant (I mainly navigated around the country using the Happy Cow phone app) I made friends with the wait staff. They were the best. They took me out to a bar after they finished work. Told me about the Civil Rights museum in town which I checked out the next day. They were so lovely, I went back and had lunch there the next day before I had to get back on the road. Have I mentioned that North Carolina was my favourite place in America?
2 days later I returned the car in Washington D.C. and caught and bus back to New York.
Because I got back a few days early, I was able to kind of experience Thanksgiving with Nick before he was leaving the country. I say kind of because I don't think there was an actual American amongst us.
And on the last evening my friend Chevy was in town from London. She was staying at Nick's after I left. So we went out, and went ice skating in front of the Rockefeller building. Then at about 4am I started making my way to the airport to catch my plane to London.
Kansas: A study
"Kansas is different, you'll see"
I want to focus a little on Kansas in more detail because it's kind of a turning point in the story and an example of where I think I went wrong in some of my attitude to travel on this trip. A lesson I should re-learn now.
There were some phrases that were repeated again and again as I would cross America. When I mentioned that my original plan was to hitch across the country I would get a lot of "Oh no, you're crazy. You can't do that anymore."
I believe there is a lot revealed in the psyche of, if not Americans in general, at least the ones I met. What is revealed, I'm not entirely sure. There is definitly a lot of fear in the air. I would often think unfounded fear, and then I'd remember how many guns were around.
Something else I heard everywhere I went, when I told people where I was going, "Oh, they're not as nice as us here." This always turned out to be a lie. Everyone I met was lovely. I never met these phantom awful people everyone else was afraid of. Again a statment that reveals something, not so much in what is said but in the sheer repetition. Here is good, there not so much. 1
So seeing the obvious falseness of this commonly held belief, I dismissed the warning I kept receiving as I moved further and further west.
"Oh yeah, it's nice driving through here, but Kansas is different."
I figured all this exaggeration about the madness inducing flatness of Kansas was just that, an exaggeration. How wrong I was.
I saw a lot of rest stops on this trip. And each state has a definite fee to their rest stops. All had the same basic layout accross the country but there is a stil a unique feel to each state. But Kansas is the scariest.
Scariest is the wrong feeling. Foreboding.
Kansas is the most Foreboding.
At each rest stop in Kansas is a speaker crackling out the weather report:
Fine Weather Today.
Getting Colder as the week continues.
There may be snow by the end of the week.
Honestly at this point I feel like I'm living in some post-apocolyptic film or video game.
And I'm a little worried about snow later in the week, I'm not prepared for that and I know I'm heading up the Colardo mountains. But the weather report says it will be fine for a few days. So why does this whole situation just give me the heebee jeebies.
Maybe it is the flatness. There is no corn. It's November so all the corn has been harvested. So literally the only thing I can see is this weird juxtapositon of fields of small oil pumps alongside fields of windmill genearators. And nothing.
Not nothing. Nothing I can deal with. I've breifly visited the north-west corner of Australia. Once I was outside of town, you are literally nowhere. There is nothing for miles.
See Kansas is different. There's not nothing. There's something else.
Kansas has two main routes. The interstate heading East-West, and the interstate heading North-South. And they meet roughly in the middle of the state. I'm driving west. And every 20 or 30 so miles, I would pass a small town, with a water tower declaring their name. A lot of towns, but still a feeling of nothing.
I stopped and bought a pizza from a Pizza Hut in one of these towns. I think that illustrates most clearly what I'm trying to say. You're just not really in the middle of nowhere if you can stop and buy Pizza Hut. But then I drove to park to have an a pizza picnic. And again despite being in what amounted to small town suburbia, there was that overwheling air of isolation.
I thought as I ate. I was only halfway accross the state. I could abandon this mad dash to get to the West Coast. Why am I in such a hurry. Sure it would be nice to see Andy, but I didn't have to see him. I would no doubt be back at another time. I could do San Francisco properly at another time, without an artificial rush.
But the Kansas madness must of been setting in. I was already halfway. I could make it.
Six Hours, 3 more rest stop nightmare factories and one gas station fill up later I crossed the Colarado border. The road was immediately different. There was a physical line at the border where two different strains of ashphalt greeted each other
I pulled into a rest stop and really started to evaluate my situation again. It was getting late, I'd have to stop for the night soon. People had warned me there were a few more hours of flat after crossing the border before the mountains started. More of the same if with a slightly different flavour. But then I looked at my map of America again. I had barely reached the halfway point of the country. If I was going to cross in 3 days I would have to drive without stopping. And then I would have to turn back straight away again to get back to the East Coast 2I wasn't going to make it to San Francisco. It was time to go back to plan A and head for New Orleans.
I think the lesson to learn here is that there's no reason to be in a rush to get nowhere. I'm not saying that seeing San Francisco with Andy wouldn't have been nice. But if I'd taken that route, that's not the trip I was signing up for. I would be signing up for hours and hours of driving with little chance to stop and smell the metaphorical roses. If you've read the list, you'll see I didn't really learn this lesson very well. I practically bypassed Dallas in a similar non-necessary rush to get to New Orleans. And in my rush to get there I didn't really give myself the chance to enjoy myself once I got there.
In complete opposition to this, when I removed the rush I enjoyed myself more. Washington DC and all the Nortch Carolina stops, both outbound and return journeys, were the highlights of the trips because I was able to take my time and enjoy myself, staying longer if I wanted. I think it's important still to have a need to leave eventually. I feel some of my disappointments with New York initially were that I had little impetus to go out and have daily adventures because I had so much time, but at the same time it wasn't "home" so something still felt off. I think I'm having a similar experience in London.
After all that though, and as fun as it is to evaluate decicions and experiences in retrospect and add more significance to them than they probably warrent, I think the Kansas experience sticks so much in my mind as a big deal is a geography fact. You'll remember there is essentially only two roads through Kansas. And they meet in the middle. The shortest distance south was back the way I came. So after a grand total of half an hour in Colorado I turned around, and headed straight back into Kansas. An empty pizza box in the passenger seat mocked me.
In probably a related phenomenon, everyone was shocked that I'd left Australia. It was unfathomable that someone would leave somewhere they had heard was so nice just because I wanted to see other things. ↩
Flying back wasn't a great option. There was the one way cost of the hire car but then there was also the fact that my driver's license was in Charlotte. ↩