Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Back at a computer, and back in Dublin, for a week of paid employment to help fund the Mississippi trip.
Since I last posted, I’ve seen two 4th of July firework displays (one on the 5th, complete with orchestral assistance and accompanying lightning – in Burlington, Iowa), ridden my first jetski (don’t ask) and been struck with helpful jetlag which saw me up at 1 in the morning watching Tour de France highlights.
Seems peculiar to be back, but gives me a chance to reflect on the first 800 miles of cycling:
– 800 miles across the US brings you a lot fewer changes in landscape, culture and attitudes than 800 miles across Europe (obvious really, but still . . .)
– the donut effect happening in most Midwestern towns is seemingly unstoppable. All the stuff that people need (the one Walmart Supercenter, the fast food chains and franchise ‘family dining’ restaurants, the Office Depot, Jiffy Lube, Motel 6, etc) are on the edge of town near the biggest road junction, surrounded by huge carparks with no sidewalks. The walkable downtown with handsome redbricks is entirely screwed over by this move, and since people don’t ever want to walk more than 5 yards to get anywhere, and are convinced from the TV ads that the chain stuff is better than the mom and pop stuff on offer downtown, the old main street is left to rot. Not a pretty sight.
– food is cheap but oh so bland
– my informal test of the degree of civilisation in the town is the availability of an espresso machine. If I get another cup of hot brown water. . .
– people are friendly and generous to a fault
I’m clearly tired and a little grumpy right now, but it’s much less pleasant to be cycling down the Mississippi than it was across France and Italy. If I’m writing a book about it, it doesn’t have to be pleasant to do the trip of course, and nobody made me choose this route. But by the same token it’s a valid part of my experience to say that you couldn’t pay me to live in most of the places I’ve been through since Fargo.
Best overheard quote of the last few days: (to an erratic driver in other vehicle) ‘What the hell are you doing now? I read palms not minds.’