US Road Trip Epilog: 28th August 2005

In the morning it's a short drive to O'Hare to drop off the rental car and use their shuttle bus to get to my terminal. My flight isn't until 6 p.m. but I need to get the car back before 1 p.m. to avoid having an extra day of charges on the bill.

Which leaves me with two very heavy suitcases and about 5 hours to kill in the airport. Thankfully American Airlines will check me in, even this early. I was worried about the weight of my luggage, as the American Airlines website says I'm only allowed 2 pieces of up to 32 kg each. The first weighs in at 33 kg, the second at a whopping 56 kg. I'm expecting some hefty excess baggage charges here, but the lady at check in just attaches a 'Heavy Object' to the bigger suitcase and let's it through. After changing my seat allocation to an aisle seat with extra legroom. Nice one.

With so much time to kill, to start with I need to find a bookshop. Terminal 5 seems to be the place to go, and though there's a limited selection I find a few that look worthwhile. More difficult to find will be a bar that allows smoking. No luck in the airport but there is a Hilton Hotel within walking distance (a pedestrian tunnel under the roads) that will do the job.

Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer. You may think that this is just an opportunity to see a photo of an attractive woman at the wheel of an old car, and maybe you'd be right, but this has been the wallpaper on my laptop for the whole of the road trip so she deserves some publicity. Maybe this will help her chances establishing a career in Hollywood ...

It would be great in the bar of the Hilton if it wasn't for the guy sitting bar next to me. He's a Puerto Rican American, a bit older than me, and as pissed as a rat. He insists on explaining various battle strategies, from the Civil War through World War II, in between shaking my hand and patting me on the back for being English. Though sometimes he gets confused and thinks I'm Irish. He likes to fight with the Irish, as he repeatedly tells me, so this isn't a good thing.

After what seems like a lifetime he decides he needs to leave. Except that he hasn't got any money, and wants me to pay for his beers. No, I don't think so, especially not at the prices the Hilton charges. After discussions with the barman (who's seen it all, I think) and the bar manager, the Police get called. What follows all happens behind me, so I don't know exactly how it gets resolved. I do know I don't want to turn around, have any eye contact, and possibly get involved in proceedings.

After all that the flight home is fairly unexciting. The extra legroom is certainly very welcome. I'm not that tall but even I find normal airline seats much too restrictive.

As well as Monday being Labor Day in the US (often wondered when that was) it's also a Bank holiday in the UK. I was a bit concerned that this would mean limited train services back home but as it works out I can travel across Manchester in the morning, during what would normally be rush hour, very easily. As well as the two suitcases I've also got a backpack with the laptop in it, and I think the hardest part of the whole journey is walking up the hill to my house dragging my suitcases behind me. I feel like a packhorse, which is quite appropriate given the history of the part of the world where I live.

At the end of the first road trip I really didn't want to go home. This time, however, it feels good to be back. I think I may have got the whole road trip thing out of my system. For the meantime, anyway ...

Time to roll the credits. Odd as it may seem, let's start with a few big corporations:

If that little section doesn't get me sponsorship from at least one of them for a road trip in the future then I'll be very disappointed. Coors Light and Winston could, I think, also do their bit. Much as I'd hate to have decals all over the Riviera, and to stand on street corners handing out flyers, if that's what it takes to get back out on the road then I can put aside my personal misgivings.

The most common question I get asked is what has been the 'highlight', both from people in the US and back in UK. This would be a good question if I'd just returned from a normal holiday, and I have no problem with the asking. I'd ask the same of anyone returning from somewhere I'd never been.

The problem is in the explaining. A road trip isn't like the standard holiday. The point of a road trip is the road itself, and that's a very difficult thing to explain unless you've talking to someone who's ever wanted to do, or has done, a road trip. Alex understood it, which is one of the reasons I was more than happy for him to come along for the ride.

By the end of the road trip I knew what the 'highlight' was. Without wanting to get all over-the-top Oscar acceptance speech about this, the highlight was the American people. Not just the guys from the Riviera Owners Association, though they did make a special effort, but the normal people encountered along the way. I doubt if there's a more friendly and welcoming country in the world.

I probably need to qualify the above. I mostly avoided big cities, which will be impersonal anywhere you go in the world. It may well help, as well, being English. If I'd been a French 'cheese-eating surrender monkey' I suspect that I may have had a different experience, as I may have done if I were Asian / Middle-Eastern in appearance. But I'm just guessing now, all I really know is the reception I received was fantastic.

Sometimes it's very easy to confuse the inhabitants of a country with the foreign policy carried out on their behalf by their government. I've lost count of the number of times I've explained to Americans that we're just as mystified in the UK as they are as to why exactly Iraq was invaded. And the number of times I've had the intricacies of the global oil business explained to me. Despite the dearth of global news on the local TV channels, many Americans are actually very switched-on to what's happening in the rest of the world.

Enough. The simple fact is that the highlight of the road trip has been the welcome I've received from the people I've met in the US.

The End
The End

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