Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Charleston – Terre Haute (November 9)

Day 56

Marty escorted me from his house for 20 miles and from there on it was straightforward. He had invited me to stay for another night, but I had my tight schedule to keep to. In the past I haven't been made to feel nearly so welcome in the homes of 'so called friends' back home. I'm almost embarrassed at how accommodating people have been to me and as a naturally cynically, cautious individual I often worry that there is some kind of weird subtext to their friendliness. This speaks volumes about my neuroses, my upbringing and my experiences in Britain, and although I'm looking forward to going back to my flat, sleeping in my bed, and returning to all my little routines, niceties and comfort zones – I view reentering British society (even with my half-life on the margins) with a weary heart. I do miss some things about my fellow islanders, like the subtleties and nuances of interaction, and of course British humour; but I do not miss their duplicity, bitchiness, moaniness, meanness and tendency to blow hot and cold. I could go on. Americans are so straight, honest, decent and kind. What you see is what you get; whereas I often find it so difficult to read my own people and haven't a clue what they're really thinking, or how they feel about me.

Today the weather reminded me of how it might be in Scotland at this time of year : cool, drizzly, overcast; and also the scenery was like East Lothian, with flattish, empty farmland and pockets of trees. The rural settlements amuse me here, as even a place of 500 inhabitants (and you're usually told the population) has a pillared, pompous bank, a post office with a great big American flag, as well as murals and signs emphasizing the town's individuality and proud, self-absorption. These towns often flag up their sporting achievements too and if any even slightly famous people were born there – one promoted itself as the home of 'Miss Teen USA winner' in some year. The cycling was easy, like a walk in the park after a Sunday roast. I'm so often applauded for my fitness and braveness, but what I'm doing doesn't seem like a big deal to me. This undertaking has honed my mental sharpness, as well as my fitness, and made me feel kind of invincible. Maybe I'll turn around when reaching Charleston and come back the other way, like Forrest Gump when he walked across the country; or maybe I'll become super-human, like Neo in the Matrix. Only I would just look stupid in a long, black, leather coat.

Left Obama's home turf of Illinois and entered the Eastern Time Zone and a dusky Indiana, where Terre Haute lay just across the border. Pronounced 'Tear Hout' and that's what should be done with it. The main streets in so many of these medium-size towns have no individuality or life; wide, busy thoroughfares, straight as a die, teeming with endless chain hotels and restaurants, and strip malls. Banality reigns supreme and grandeur is supplanted by blandeur. The woman at the first motel said they had wi fi, so I tried to get it to work in front of her before I paid. Only then did she admit it didn't work so well. The woman at the second place, which was clearly a bit too pricey, said hello, then took a reservation over the phone, lasting a few minutes, and in my mind's interpretation of her mind, took precedence over someone standing in front of her in cycling gear, so I walked out. The guy at the third place said it was $49, when a sign outside advertised $31. I said I had Triple A membership (thank you Anthony) and beat him down to $39. I couldn't place his accent and asked him where he was from. By way of answering he said “You're British right? You occupied us 60 years ago.” An interesting and not altogether friendly way for someone in the service sector to describe they are from Jordan. Dined at Bob Evans (that's what it was called) and ordered exactly the same Cranberry, Pecan & Chicken Salad and French Silk Pie I'd had in Columbia.

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