Six Lessons from The Road -- in America
Americans are different from the rest of us.
Sixty days into my latest foray on the road around America, I finally find myself alone with a desk, time, and the warm evening skies of Orlando to enjoy.
I am trusting you will forgive the irregularity of my reporting these last few weeks. Sadly, the quieter art of writing has been somewhat pushed to the corners of my days between speaking, traveling, and documenting my time noisily on social media. And I miss it.
From California to Arizona, then Dallas to Denver, I have been given a temperature check on where America is at, as a foreigner and respectful outsider. Now, I wanted to share my six lessons from the road as I listen to people laughing down by the pool and fireworks thudding somewhere Disney-ish in the distance.
1) America is filled with good people.
I am constantly amazed by the polite and mannerly way Americans greet each other, share pleasantries and kindness, and encourage each other throughout their day. Some of it is professional customer service, where you are world-class in your ability to offer choice and endless options and do it all with a smile. But it is much greater than that. It is the kindly gesture in the elevator, the stepping back to allow another ahead of you in a line, or a shared joke about nothing in particular. This nation still has goodness running through it, like a seam of gold in a mine.
2) Change and clean ups can happen.
When there is a political will, change is possible. I have seen it with my own eyes in Venice Beach and Skid Row, where former centers of squalor were swept clean (albeit temporarily) for disgraced Governor Newsom to survive the recall. The futility of this exercise is obvious, but it does give evidence to the fact that when a politician is concerned for their own survival, change can happen. When it is simply inconveniencing or distressing ordinary Americans, it goes unchecked.
To effect change, politicians need to be made to feel much less comfortable in power.
3) Downtowns have taken a hit.
No matter the state or city, the downtown areas have sunk furthest the fastest, sometimes shockingly so. I have walked difficult streets many times in these past five years, so I have witnessed the change over time.
Downtown Denver has long been declining, but all normalcy is fading fast, as with so many other downtown areas. The public park I used to run through has been fenced off from the public, overwhelmed as it is by human waste and needles. Banks have closed their doors leaving empty units, retail doesn’t stand a chance, and barely stocked CVS and Walgreens have Security details patrolling low-cost stock. When you can’t afford to stock a CVS, your city is in trouble.
Retailers tell me it’s simply not worth the cost of trying to be open when theft and aggravation are so high. You will recognise this from your own Downtown—whether it is Minnesota, Portland, Denver, LA…it’s a bleak glimpse into a future no American wants to see.
4) Some airline staff really love power.
I remember a time when the world of aviation was a glamorous affair, like a scene from "Catch Me If You Can,” where pretty air stewardesses would buzz around dashing captains and serve champagne before take-off.
No more. Now, thuddingly dull women in angry polyester bark their demands about masks whilst expecting you to be grateful for half a glass of water and a pretzel.
“Due to Covid,” these chafing morons spend the entire flight on their oversized rear-playing Candy Crush. I fail to see how this is making anyone healthier or happier. I resent every airplane trip I am obliged to take and every encounter with these surly women who finally feel that they have power.
5) Every state in America has a different climate.
Weird but true. Sometimes, I wonder how a particular climate knows where the state boundaries are to keep so carefully within them, but as sure as the sun rises in the morning, each state is its own little weather center.
In Colorado, people hand me water bottles, cautioning me about the dryness and the height, as if I might need oxygen at short notice. In Florida, it’s all about the dampness and the effect this will have on my clothes, hair, and wrinkles. I am told humidity is great for the skin? It makes us plump, and I am led to believe this is a good thing. And in Arizona, the locals still manage to talk quite a lot about the obvious point that living in the desert is very hot, indeed.
I wonder if and how we will prevail when I look at my one little suitcase versus this fourth-month climate marathon.
6) Americans are different from the rest of us.
You are different from Brits, Australians, or any other nation I have lived in or been banned or deported from! I wonder if it’s because you are not subjects of a Royal dynasty. Sometimes, I wonder if it is in your upbringing and schooling, but I tend to think it is much deeper than that.
I strongly suspect it is because of your Constitution, and I am certain it is defended by your Second Amendment, and in turn, your First.
But, whenever tyranny shows itself in the States, somewhere else, someone stands and says no. When DeBlasio cripples New York, DeSantis stands up for the Free State of Florida. As Newsom crushes California, Arizona is emboldened to be more red. This country is like a seesaw: when one side is pushed down or depressed, another rises up to resist it.
It gives me faith. And it is the reason so many of us—myself included—look to this great country for hope.