“Join Florida’s Turnpike. Stay on Florida’s Turnpike for 226 miles.”
226 miles, on one road. In one state. In almost a straight line.
That’s a few more miles and a lot fewer roads than my regular journey from Brentwood to Cheshire, which takes in the M25, M1, M6, A500 and A51. It’s also a lot less ‘areas’ than a journey that passes through Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. And it’s considerably fewer turns in the road, than my journey that has umpteen (my official estimate) twists and turns as it snakes past English towns and cities.
America is bloody vast. And so, so, different from the UK. It is easy for us Brits to believe in the illusion of an almost shared culture. One that encompasses the same language, music, TV and Film, as our American counterparts. But an illusion it is, because we really aren’t all that similar. American states aren’t even that similar.
Florida is quite different from Colorado for example, so how can either be that similar to the UK? They have different laws, food, dialect and landscapes, and are almost 1,600 miles apart. That’s just over the distance from London to Moscow. From the humid bayous and swamps of the south to the frigid great lakes of the north, the United States of America is just about as culturally and topographically diverse as you can get in a single country. It’s why I enjoy travelling there.
I love a lot of what America has to offer. Such as the huge roads, the huge parking lots and the huge cars. Having been given the choice of “Take anything from the midsize lane, sir” I was about two seconds away from choosing a pickup truck (yes, a pick-up truck is midsize!) before ultimately deciding that an SUV would be a more comfortable choice for my impending drive of 226 miles in almost a straight line. I enjoy the food (admit it, nothing quite hits the spot like a burger, curly fries and some pulled pork) the customer service, the sport, the Florida sunshine, the Florida storms, the California sunshine, the super friendly people, the belief that any American can become President, and did I mention the Florida/California sunshine?
Of course, America – like any country – is far from perfect, and there exists a multitude of things that I dislike, such as the continuous torture for a non-American that is tipping (how much and to whom?!), the confusing road signs and rules of the road, the love of firearms and hunting, the food (it’s not long before I’m sick of the aforementioned burgers and craving a bucket of vegetables), the lengthy customs procedures, the constantly interrupting stream of advertisements on TV, the emphasis on faith and religion and an electoral system that allows an odious individual like Donald Trump to not only run for President but to reach the Oval Office.
There are also things that I will never understand. Such as the ever-present issue of race in the USA. I am not belittling the matter, it is a subject of both historical, cultural and political importance – I just find it hard to comprehend, from either side. And how could I? I have never been black, Mexican, or Muslim in America. I have no idea what it feels like to be treated differently because of the colour of my skin or my beliefs. America is a country founded by immigrants, that seems incredibly intolerant to immigration. I’m sure the above is not the view of many Americans, yet it is the one that seems most prominent in modern-day American society.
I also don’t understand the almost blind patriotism and allegiance to the flag that is ever-present. I am not patriotic and I would neither define myself as British, or English. If pushed, I’d say the closest affinity I have is not to my country, but to my city. At most, I would consider myself a Londoner and not much else.
I grew up as a non-religious, but ostensibly Protestant white boy, with a large Catholic family (courtesy of the Irish in me) and Jewish friends, who attended an all-boys grammar school where a large proportion of the student body was made up of kids from ethnic minorities. I then went and worked in an area which at the time was the 3rd most diverse borough in London and married a girl that was born in Newcastle, raised in Cheshire and half Maltese. So, is it any surprise that I never fully identified with any one particular part?
So, whilst I may never fully understand this great country (and despite its faults it is great) I will continue to come here to travel, to meet the people and explore. Because it is vast, it is different and it has so much to offer. There are roads that go for 226 miles in almost a straight line!