Travel Fatigue and US hospitality
Greetings fellow pub-goers, it's been a while and I'm all traveled out.
Maybe it was an attempt to make up for the lack of going anywhere over the last two years, or just a yearning for being anywhere else -- but after visiting my family earlier this year, going to a wedding in a hot country last month, and spending three weeks just now in the US -- I can safely say that I'm done.
There is only so much walking under the midday summer sun in a hot country that I am willing to do, and I think I'm well past any healthy limit. Plus, I just can't handle takeoff's and landings anymore. It's gotten to the point that I automatically revert into a meditative state where I hum a song to myself with my hands clasped lightly together until the plane levels out.
This post is a long summary of my trip to the US midwest.
Caution: I will make long sweeping generalizations that will likely piss off a lot of people.
I'm used to being in control of my life, knowing where I'm supposed to be at a given time and getting there in the ways that make sense to me, usually independent of Big Brother/Tech.
When you travel in the US, all that is pretty much thrown out of the window. Don't like the Google Services Framework on your phone? Well tough, the public transport system stops working at late hours and Uber/Lyft are your only hope to get home. That or walking, and since I simply could not get these apps to work on my phone, I did a ton of walking, usually at very unsociable hours in the morning.
Friendliness in General
I was expecting people to be cruel and unforgiving, just like the politics that divides the country in twain but found the opposite. I could be sitting alone at a bar reading on my phone, and someone would invite me to join their table of friends. I mean, just, unbelievable friendliness.
Homeless Are Not Swept Away
Where I come from, the police come every night to round up the homeless and place them in centers so that the public don't have to deal with them. They're barred entry from going into shops or libraries, and unless they're playing music, are treated as invisible entities.
It was different there. The homeless were not hidden, they were there in plain sight, hanging out in laundromats, riding the buses, walking the streets, using the libraries, and sleeping on public furniture that wasn't designed to keep them out.
I had breakfast twice with one guy who helped me work the laundromat, spoke with a few at the bus stations, and gave freely my spare change to anyone who asked (for some reason US currency does not feel very real despite being worth the same as EU currency).
The Public Baseline is Cheap and Plentiful
US libraries seem to be really well stocked, open to literally everyone, giving out free WiFi, and plenty of opportunities for families with kids to have a fun day out.
Transport in general seems extremely accessible and cheap during peak hours. Buses came every 10 minutes or so, and if you didn't have the correct change (usually $2 (!!)), the guy just waved you on. He didn't care if you paid or not. I saw this happen to lots of people, in many different buses. The light rail system was similar (again $2(!!)), in the sense that no one actually checked that anyone had bought a ticket.
Getting a free large cup of water at every eating establishment seemed to be the norm, and you could freely use the restrooms in any establishment, even if you weren't a customer. I wish everywhere was like this.
Food and Drink Variety
I had never had Mexican food before, and there seemed to be a culture of microbreweries on practically every street. I have never ate and drank so much in my life. That being said, beer was more expensive than I was used to ( ~ $5 for an ale).
The food was also not as good as I remember it being. Before the trip, I was practically salivating in anticipation of all the good food I would try in memory of a previous trip I'd had before Corona to the West coast.... but to be honest I was really let down by the quality of food in the Midwest. With a few exceptions (a beef skillet burger almost killed me in how rich and fatty it was), the food was just... okay. Large portions, but not really flavorful. I've actually eaten better food in Swiss train stations (albeit, half the portions and double the price).
Fun Characters I met on the way
- Two Homeless Guys: I introduced them to AirBnb (they all had smartphones somehow). Every now and then they'd rustle up enough cash to spend a night in a hotel, which would come to something like $60. I setup an AirBnb profile so they could spend half as much. One of the guys had a drinking problem, so I explained the basic rules that guests need to have when they stay over (i.e. no drinking or antisocial behaviour). I hope it works out.
- Married Christian Couple: they believed in Jesus and in his love, but didn't buy into the whole church hierarchy thing. We got talking on the plane, they seemed cute and interesting, and they even asked if they could pray for me, which was kind of awkward but also quite sweet.
- Kentucky Guy: I took Amtrak around Lake Michigan to see some family, and I was sat next to a large guy from Kentucky who was going to help out on his brother's ranch. He didn't talk often, but at one point he pulled out a VR headset and asked if I wanted to play. I did and it was awesome (wow VR is better than I'd thought). He also had an "SS" tattoo on the root of his thumb (*cough!*) and had set up a WiFi hotspot named "FuckJoeBiden". Yep. We didn't talk politics, but I shared a coffee with him and he told me about his life in Kentucky raising cattle.
- Amish: I had never seen the Amish before. The women were beautiful and the men were strong and bearded as heck. It was like experiencing a movie first hand. I never saw them on airplanes, but I saw them often on Amtrak. They also had smartphones, digital cameras, and a few of them would be picked up by cars, so I'm guessing that some degree of technology is allowed in order for them to travel. I wish I spoke to one of them, but I was just somehow too shy.
- Small World Guy: As luck weird luck would have it, on the very last plane that I took I got talking with a guy who came from the same village as my mother. He fled to the same countries as my family did after the war, but then went to the US where he has a zoo of sorts and hobnobbed with random celebrities. I wish I got a contact from him, he seemed interesting and I'm sure my mum would have loved to speak with him. At that point of the trip though, I was getting less and less sociable and just yearned for my own bed.
Media Consumed During Travel
When you're in transit and you have no data, there's very little to do. I downloaded the following media from IRC XDCC networks, Ani-Cli, and Z-lib for books.
- (Show) The Boys S3: Entertainingly dark as always. Good series, I look forward to S4.
- (Anime) Samurai Champloo: The combat scenes were as good as I remember them to be, and the story in the first few episodes are real thinkers. Things got boring towards the end though.
- (Anime) Mushishi Zoku Shou: Apparently a second season of Mushishi was released that I never knew about. The first few episodes that I've seen so far seem to have the same spiritual and meditative quality of the originals. I look forward to seeing the rest.
- (Book) Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad: A trilogy about 4-inch high people trying to find their way home in the world of humans. Think Solar Opposites, but with more bleak comedy. Thoroughly enjoyed it, and a little sad that there's not more.
I'm glad that I traveled and experience so many different things, but I wish that I didn't need to do anymore this year. I slept 18 hours when I got back yesterday. I watched some mindless TV, kicked my feet back on the sofa, and just messed around with some side projects on my laptop. It was super relaxing.
I still have one more trip this year to do (also to a needlessly hot country), but after that, you could not pry me from the sofa. I will practice more staycations in the future.
Hey ~tetris, and hey ~ew!
I believe I've remarked upon how traveling around the U.S. *can* be a rewarding-yet-stressful experience. In regards to the people I met "out West", when going from St Louis to Montana, everyone was fairly friendly, and accommodating. The stressful elements seemed to revolve around the reliability and consistency of the AmTrak I was on, and a few other things that generally have me wary of domestic travel here (a Greyhound bus in the South is effectively the same as "riding coach", but on ground, and bumpier, and more cramped, and much slower, of course).
I will say that the friendliness of the Midwest, and the Western U.S. in general, is something that might be a bit more unique to that (or this, I am here now) region. I've heard of the "cold" attitudes/demeanor of people in NYC, Chicago, etc., and they all seem like cities that are both lovely in architecture, but likely unbearable in regards to human interaction.
On that, pour another of what ~tetris is having, if you will ~bartender :)
stay well, folks!
Yeah the schedule of the trains and busses weren't fantastic, but somehow I managed to make every connection and I was travelling pretty light so I just had my rucksack.
I haven't interacted much with East Coast people, but I do get the feeling that they're less approachable, or at least less accustomed to sharing a room with a bunch of strangers because their connection was delayed haha. My guess is that if one comes from a culture where everything is punctual and/or expensive, it leaves very little room for sociability and generosity
I'll take a Margerita! First time I tried one!
Hey, ~tetris! Welcome back!
~bartender? Whatever the returned traveler fancies --- it's on me!
Thanks for your report! I will say that
- traveling changes ones perspective on things and life, possibly a lot!
- folks over the planet are mostly nice, some more open minded than others, but that is not surprising, is it?
- and yes, "characters" are what makes the whole endeavor worthwhile.
Shall I add a few examples of my own?
- Me standing at the station of the light rail in San Diego, coming back from Mexico, staring at my insufficient small change. Some guy stops. "How much is missing?" "50 cent I believe?" He gave me two quarters, said "Have a nice day!" and walked on. THANK YOU!
- Me hitching a ride in Wales on an almost dry Thursday morning. The second! car stops, a VW van. "Where you're heading?" Don't remember, possibly Aberystwyth. He checks his watch. "Well, I'm running late already. I should be there now. And when I arrive I should be at the next place. So I can definitely waste a little more time, pick up someone and have a nice chat, right?" We had very interesting conversation for the next half hour or so. I never forgot this guy.
- Me hitching another ride in Pennsylvania. Someone gives me a lift. At the end he shows me the rattle snake he had caught and was carrying elsewhere in a cage. I mean, how probable is this?
- Me waiting for the Bus in Buffalo, NY, reading a book. Next thing I know, there is a girl sitting two seats away, reading "the same!" book, at roughly the same page! Waiting for that same bus, of course. We had a nice conversation, and I met her again on the way back to Toronto.
I could go on. Only slow travels will make this happen.
Cheers ~tetris, and all you other travelers. May you have surprising encounters!
PS: and yes, there is a point, where it's enough. Has happened to me.
Cheers to you too - and that's awesome -- it's crazy how it just takes one small act of kindness to make someone's day. I wish these sorts of things were reported on more!
The world is so small when you speak with strangers