A to Zed of the USA by a European Nomad – P, Q & R

Po’Boy

Catfish Po’Boy

While this is the name of a YA novel I am still hoping to publish one day, it is better st the native New Orleans sandwich. I discovered this working-class delight when I made a research trip to NOLA in December of 2015 for the aforementioned manuscript, which was also my MFA thesis. A Brooklyn friend of mine who now lives in London put me in touch with a New York friend of hers who has been working for years part-time with post Hurricane Katrina victims. Not only did she give me a very personal and moving tour of the Lower 9th Ward (one of worst hit districts) but she took me to an off-the-beaten track café for my first Po’Boy – Buddy’s Po”boys.  Just because I was doing research certainly did not exclude me trying some of the best cuisine I have eaten in the US. (Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised with the Spanish, French and West African influences – all places I have spent time, by the way!)

It was a hole-in-the-call corner joint near the lake, mainly frequented by locals as far as I could see, which is always a good sign. I chose da bomb, grilled shrimp and catfish with hot sauce. 

Quakers 

For me one of the exciting things about being in the US at this unprecedented time in their history, is being part of the #metoo #shepersevered #womensrights movement. Women are rising – in response to attempts to diminish their power and silence their voices, women are harnessing their outrage. They are more engaged, energized and resolute than ever. 

I just want to give a head-nod to some people who preceded this movement and whom you might not immediately think about, the Quakers. Living in New York, and near New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I have frequently come across their past and present influence. 

During the 1600s Quakers fled England in large numbers to escape religious persecution in part because the leaders publicly challenged the English class system. Quakers, believed that all men and women were equal in the eyes of God and should listen to their “inner light” or conscience to guide their spiritual connection with God and the Bible. 

Many Quakers believed that they were to follow four main tenets: Simplicity, Truth, Equality, and Community. Their dedication and commitment to equality and community led many of them to become social activists.

U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Seneca Falls Convention titled 100 Years of Progress of Women: 1848–1948 (Elizabeth Cady Stanton on left, Carrie Chapman Catt in middle, Lucretia Mott on right.)

In the summer of 1848, a break occurred with more traditional Quakers when approximately 200 progressives living in central New York banded together. They provided model relationships where men and women worked and lived in equality, and introduced joint meetings of men and women, giving women as equal voice and foreshadowing equality between men and women in American society. The Progressive Friends came into existence just weeks before the groundbreaking event of the First Women’s Right’s Convention in Seneca Falls. This meeting launched the women’s suffrage movement, which more than seven decades later ensured women the right to vote. 

I visited Seneca Falls in October 2015 when I was visiting a friend on the Finger Lakes. The older I become, the more I appreciate predecessors on whose shoulders I am standing.

Road trips

Whether you see yourselves as a Thelma and Louise duo or more a Kerouak, there’s no doubt that road trips are awesome. And I would contend there’s no finer country for a road trip than the USA. The mythology of the American highway is as deep and long as the Grand Canyon. Books, music and films have added glamour, ghosts and grit to what in other countries would be merely a long, even boring, drive.

One of the most obvious reasons why you should travel by car is that you are 100 per cent more flexible. No timetables, no schedules, no nothing. You can do whatever you want and feel like doing. And even better, you don’t need to plan where you are going. 

The journey is the destination, a road trip is an adventure! It’s about the road tripping experience. It’s about all the fun breaks, the diners, the landscapes, the chats with fellow-trippers or strangers… simply everything! It’s about the moment! It’s about you! It’s about everything and nothing!

Road trips take you out of your comfort zone and expose you to new things. In the busy-ness of daily life, we can get distracted and lose sight of what’s really important. It’s not about money or possessions, but about friends, new encounters, and experiences.

Sure, it does take some money to travel, but it doesn’t have to be much and you can get quite inventive. All my trips have been done on a very limited budget. I spent two months traveling mainly in California and Colorado this summer and cooked 90% of my meals and stayed with friends or cat-sat through www.trustedhousesitters.com. I did a ton of walking and was amazed at all the urban hiking one can do. 

No, I have not yet done route 66, but I have done long stretches of route 1 down the east coast from Maine to Key West. I have done a good stretch of the Pacific Coast highway in southern California. And I have done a road trip of all the New England states one summer, then the next summer’s jaunt included: New jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

I’m a big audiobook fan so oftentimes I will pick a novel set in the locations through which I am travelling e.g. I listened to Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides on my journey south. Even if I had a ton of money, I would still choose to stay with local friends when I can. Nothing beats friends, deep fried chicken and local craft beer around a fire pit in rural Tennessee; listening to a new friend’s superbly skilled neighbor on his guitar just outside Asheville, NC; traveling out on the ferry to Little Cranberry Island in Maine to meet the locally loved and famous author illustrator, Ashley Bryan; or finally meeting a Polish-South African friend and hiking in the Northern Cascades just east of Seattle.

I have enough stories for a lifetime, and memories on the road that I wouldn’t exchange for a million dollars. Gas is still pretty cheap here, so hit the road, Jack…. 

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