I’ve been to the USA three times this decade, to see places but mostly to see people – as a student I lived in New Mexico (with the two Beths), and I was still in touch with my ex-sister-out-of-law. Each trip was physically difficult – I was so ill – but looking back, I am glad I did them. They gave me plenty more stories to tell and strengthened connections with lifelong friends.
2013: The Halloween trip
Dad had died in the February, so I was feeling both that life was short and that I deserved a big trip. I had a map of the US and drew on my route: first to Pennsylvania to see little Beth and meet her daughter, then to Albuquerque, check out my old haunts and catch up with Mary, the Beths’ friend who was still there, then I’d head up to Portland, Oregon, because it always sounded like an interesting place, then I’d get the train from there to Milwaukee (2 days) where I’d stay with big Beth and meet her children.
Oof. It was way too ambitious. The USA is a big place. I’d never recommend anyone do this kind of place-hopping.
But anyway, little Beth’s new home in Downingtown, PA (where they filmed 50s B-movie The Blob!) was very nice, her daughter a joy, and I got to catch up with big Beth’s parents too. It was like old times hanging out with Beth in her kitchen.
Albuquerque hadn’t changed much – it felt good to be there in its dry air and open skies, and great to spend time getting to know Mary better.
Portland was disappointing. It was the current hip city, but I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Good place to live, probably, with a lively creative scene I’m sure. Just as a visitor – meh. Although I did go to quite a few excellent retro cinemas.
The train journey was amazing. As a sleeper passenger, you get a little cabin and all meals included. It’s like travelling first class. And all I had to do was sit there and watch the great American landscape roll by. Heaven.
Then I got to Glendale, WI, and finally met my angels! The most gorgeous, interesting and lovely kids ever, naturally because they are the daughters of my good friend Beth (I’m not biased or anything). And we rekindled our connection after not having seen each other for many years.
It was Halloween time and there were pumpkins everywhere. We went to a party at the girls’ primary school – Beth had even got me a costume (I was an alien!). We went to a farm and did a hayride. I saw the city and hung out in the suburbs. It’s an enormous privilege when you visit friends in another country and get to see real everyday life there, rather than just be a tourist.
2015: From the city to the ‘burbs
The plan this time was a double-header, with a week in NYC with my ex’s brother’s ex-wife, Melissa, followed by a visit to big Beth. It was a quick holiday, squeezed in between ditching my counselling course and moving to Spain. Week 1 was fun, even though Melissa was working and I was quite immobile and not very up for exploring. New York is the best.
Then suddenly I was in Glendale, hanging out with the girls, eating onion rings and watching cooking shows on TV. It was a little weird, adjusting from a city mindset to a suburban one so fast, from single life to family life. Though I appreciated the slower pace and saw as much interesting stuff in Milwaukee as I did in NYC. Beth gave me a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses in the city’s suburbs, we did a tour of Pabst brewery, and went to an old cinema.
2019: Hills vs Lake
Melissa had moved from New York to California, so I had to go and see her, no? Plus I wanted to escape Barcelona’s summer heat. I booked flights to be there all of August, which turned out to be quite a mistake, and not the trip I had imagined. But still, the highlights…
I finally got to be in San Francisco. I did a Beat Generation pilgrimage to City Lights bookstore, saw the Golden Gate (well, sort of, when the fog thinned out!), went to Alcatraz, saw the Bay Area.
But the best bit? Wisconsin! I saw all my ladies – little Beth joined us for a couple of days, and us three old housemates spent our time on a spit of land in the middle of Lake Michigan called Door County. It was so lovely, and we just talked for 36 hours, like you do with your best buddies.
I feel like I’ve seen as much of the USA as I want to for the moment. In terms of new places to go, I’ve got all of Catalunya to explore (I’ve hardly been anywhere!), not to mention Spain. And from my new position on the Mediterranean coast, there are parts of Europe that are now much easier to access. North Africa’s closer too. And the Middle East fascinates me.
But there are people to see in the US! So I’ll be back there again in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, when I’m strong and capable and can properly enjoy it. For now, staying home and being where I am is good with me.