Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First impressions of the homeland

NB: This post makes obvious the fact that I'm now back "home" in the USA. One of the best parts of travelling is those first few hours or days after returning, when you can see the place you call "home" with new eyes. So here's some of what my new eyes saw. I intend to continue adding some "leftovers" from West Africa, however, so please check back.

Almost everyone seems to be in a terrible hurry, both in cars and on foot.

Anger and impatience everywhere, partly mine—I expect everything to work perfectly, and it doesn’t. Some things are actually more complicated. Two of four automatic faucets at PA Welcome Center, for example, won’t turn on. I thought maybe it was just me, but the next guy got tricked too—it starts seeming like a Candid Camera routine. At a gas station later, the automatic soap won’t turn off. Newark Airport had already reminded me that American bathrooms are not always as clean or pleasant as I expect.

Enormous RV at Flying J Travel Plaza towing enclosed trailer.

Car running, no one inside, parked in handicapped spot at OH Turnpike rest area.

Guy sitting in passenger seat of car, engine and A/C running, while wife goes inside to buy drinks or pee, presumably. He was there the whole time I stretched, checked tire pressure, sipped my Coke, procrastinated.

I was relishing the weather, which was so much cooler than West Africa—hardly even used the A/C, which I always do on the highway—and the smell of new-mown grass everywhere. Most people seemed to feel oppressed by the “heat,” yet their “solutions” were even more oppressive. In an OH rest area, the A/C was cranked so high I was nearly shivering, yet the temperature outside was perfect. A lot of people fought for the closest parking space, and then waited in the car while one family member went into the store. How do we reach the point that paralysis inside a car is more interesting than walking around outside, or in a building?

Even in central PA, ethnic diversity far outdistances what you’d find almost anywhere else in the world. My favorite gas station in Jersey Shore, PA, normally manned by various members of an Indian family, was today staffed by a young Korean(?) guy.

Late 19th- and early 20th-century houses built right up to the main road in rural PA. Still makes sense when Amish buggies pass by, but seems crazy for cars—in the old days, presumably, traffic was so slow and infrequent there was no reason not to sit on a porch right in its lap.

Passed an Amish buggy, lady with bonnet lounging in passenger seat. Can’t remember if this means married or single. She looked strong and pale, as they always do, but remarkably relaxed. Husband’s responsibility to drive the horse, of course, so this might be her most carefree moment. Very appealing order and simplicity to this lifestyle—but then there’s all that work! Passed another Amish lady, on foot, in violet blouse, in the midst of some sort of yard work. I think she waved to me, though that seems out of character. This was near Loganton, about 120 miles west of NJ, near dead-center of the state, so it’s possible so little traffic comes through that they treat cars as curiosities rather than nuisances.

So much packaging! I prob. consumed more plastic bottles and bags in one day of driving than in six weeks of travelling. Then there’s all the receipts!

The range and volume of merchandise for sale at a Flying J, or other large gas station, is greater than at the biggest supermarket in The Gambia.

Despite all the ice, Coke in the US tastes like crap after the “real thing” with sugar and a proper bottle in the rest of the world. I’m supposed to feel lucky, I guess, for getting a nickel or dime discount for bringing my own cup. No recycling bins at any gas station, so I have to carry all bottles home with me to MI, or consign them to the landfill. At Plum Market, where “going green” is a major talking point, it’s as crowded as I’ve ever seen it, but I’m the only one with my own bag. A lady in front of me with a huge order stands there and stares into space while the checker bags all her stuff, forcing me to wait even longer.

Bumper sticker on new-ish Chevy Malibu driven by fat middle-aged lady: “My life is based on a true story.”


  1. Great details for American self-study. But it has been HOT. I can't help it if this isn't Africa.

    The Amish often wave to me. You must not do it right . . . LOL

    Let's remember the Amish have had hostility about buttons vs. zippers.

    Nice close! Great bumper sticker. A real idea lies in there somewhere.

  2. The houses in Maine that sit right on the edge of the road like that have always boggled me too. Speaking of Maine, I was so relieved to step out into the relatively cooler, pine-scented air in Kittery after driving 7 hours with no A/C to get there, I had not much patience for Mainers wanting to waste beautiful, sunny days slumped on the sofa because it was "too hot" to go outside. Automatic faucets and toilets and soap dispensers definitely make it onto my list of unnecessary, annoying inventions that cause more trouble than they're worth by "solving" non-existent "problems". It's so "hard" to turn off a faucet or flush a toilet? Try using a well or a pump or an outhouse, or waiting on line for the one tap that serves a whole village! Plus they malfunction so often, I'd be interested to know if anyone's ever done a study to see whether or not they really do save any water. Right up there with cake/brownie mixes in terms of total uselessness. Newsflash: measuring dry ingredients a) isn't "hard" at all and b) certainly isn't "hard" enough to be a worthwhile trade-off for the fake vanilla flavoring you get using a mix.

  3. Oh, I like this, I hope you're going to develop it. Many years ago, my husband worked offshore in the Gulf and when he came home on the weekends or for a week it would take him some time to get used to everything, especially colors.