Back Home Again
Updated: Nov 14, 2022
I've been home now for ten days and whilst my suitcase is unpacked and the washing done, elements of my holiday are still swirling around in my head. My travel diary, the in-depth jottings of each day's experiences, is still on my desk.
Over the period of exactly one month, I travel through eighteen of the fifty states of the USA. And whilst much of it is seen through a train window, the road trip that takes me from Cleveland on Lake Erie in Ohio to Tennessee is more than I expect. The autumn colours in the thickly-wooded states of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, are especially beautiful, and there are views that are almost indescribable; like the sign for a fuel stop on top of the tallest pole I have probably ever seen. An aberration rising from an otherwise pristine natural autumn forest. Why are companies allowed to erect monuments to commercialism when preceding signs clearly alert the driver of the services available at each of the exits?
My train journeys are better than I had expected. The negative online reviews are unwarranted. From the quality of the food to the cleanliness of the trains, I am pleasantly surprised on both journeys. In fact, my experiences on Amtrak in October are so positive that I will be inclined to include other train journeys across America to my itineraries in the future.
The 'Transit' app on my phone is amazing. I didn't realise that no matter where you are in the world, it lists all the public transport options in the current area, their specific stops and uses real time to advise when the next bus or train or tram is about to leave. I use this extensively in Boston, where I use public transport to visit my sister-in-law and to travel further afield to the town of Salem. The Boston M.T.A. trains look antiquated but are clean and efficient and provide an excellent service. I take the train to Salem along with half of Boston one Saturday. Salem is meant to be a quaint little town where museums tell the story of the Witch Trials from 1692 - 1693. Over 200 people had been accused and nineteen were executed for the dubious crime of being a witch. Stephen King's novel, Salem's Lot, had freaked me out as a young adult and I've been curious about the town since, but I am not prepared for the month of October Halloween Festival, which totally commercialises the town for the entire month. I can't blame them for cashing in on Halloween; I just need to visit at another time of the year. However, all is not lost. I see some amazing creatures from the depths of fantasy, which make my day interesting, and seem to ignite responses from members of the God Squad who chase said creatures and try to 'convert' them to Christianity. Whose souls are they trying to save?
If you ever find yourself in Boston, visit the tour desk at the Marriott Hotel. I meet the most delightful gentleman, who had worked in Melbourne in the 1980s; an interesting man with a wealth of life experiences.
I spend a week with my friends in Tennessee not too far from Nashville. Their home, a farm on a wooded road just out of the mobile phone coverage is really comfortable; a home away from home. A welcome sign is in every window and a black dog and a black cat immediately consider you part of the family!
But this isn't a time for burying myself in the country, in fact it is the opposite. We spend an incredible night at Dalts, a diner in Nashville. Apparently the brainchild of Dave and Walt, two executives from the TGI Friday chain, it had opened in 1980 and apparently the prices haven't changed much since then. In a side room, a jazz quartet is in full swing. Along with a very nice meal where I try catfish for the first time ever, the evening is a delight. There is an atmosphere that live performance creates and it is my hope that younger generations are available to take the place of the 'old guys' when they are no longer available to perform.
I meet a number of interesting people, visit museums and monuments, discuss art, photography, and listen to local gossip. I step on ancient trails and I visit the area in which my childhood hero, Daniel Boone had once roamed. I find out that Mr Boone was not just a mountain man, but a law man with a whiskey distillery. I didn't see that on telly when I was a kid!
I spend a weekend in the centre of Nashville. It's noisy and it's vibrant and it seems that Nashville is one big party. It is unique! From tractors carting tourists along Broadway to mobile bars that traverse the streets purely on pedal-power, one cannot help but to feel happy here. I visit the museums of Glen Campbell and Patsy Cline and I spend a couple of wonderful hours exploring the Country Music Hall of Fame. Most museums are closed on Mondays so I spend a now quiet weekday on the Hop-on-Hop-off tour, which allows me to see Nashville in a completely different light after the noise and the mayhem of the weekend.
Chicago, a city with a reputation for gun violence, was a highlight. I spend a few days there over two visits, since it is the starting and ending points of my train journeys. The magnificent Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, The Bean, Navy Pier, the El, a cruise pointing out the city's history in architecture, and the Tiffany ceiling inside Macy's are all covered off during my first visit. When I return a few weeks later, I have only one day to explore the city. My hotel this time is located in the 'Paris' end of Michigan Avenue near the city's oldest building, the Water Tower. A day on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus gives me a new perspective of Chicago's city centre and the perfect weather is a bonus. I'm sorry to say that I do not experience any wind during my visits.
My last stop before returning home is Santa Monica in Los Angeles. The extortionately expensive hotels across America, but particularly in Santa Monica mean that I have to forgo staying at my favourite hotels close to the pier and I end up staying in Days Inn on Santa Monica Boulevard some 3.2 kilometres from the beach and pier. My Transit app comes in handy as I use the Big Blue Bus to and from the beach. At $1.25 per trip, it is also reasonably-priced.
It's sad to see that most cities have suffered horribly since COVID, although perhaps the decline had started prior to 2020. Like Melbourne, large numbers of shops, restaurants, and other commercial buildings now stand empty and unfortunately are beginning to look quite derelict. Where this happens, the homeless gather in doorways of disused buildings. California seems to attract huge numbers of homeless and if they are not camping in large numbers along railway lines or under bridges, they are lying in the streets, in doorways, and anywhere they can safely lay their heads. There has to be a solution. This is a global issue and is not restricted to USA; this is not a criticism, merely an observation.
Governments across the world are spending huge amounts of money on long-term concepts, but they are not looking after their own vulnerable citizens. What can be done? Perhaps instead of attending useless talkfests in far-flung developing countries that achieve little, there should be international discussions on how best to tackle the issues of homelessness.
I leave Los Angeles on the evening of October 31, and arrive home on Wednesday morning November 2. The fifteen-hour flight provides time to unwind and to reflect on a wonderful solo adventure through the United States. Until next time....