September 21 – 24, 2018 (Fall)
Gratitude: Thank you
Currency: Dollar ($)
Cost of living: High
For the first time in more than a thousand days, we found ourselves back in the United States. A couple of WOW Air flights took us from Sweden to the eastern seaboard, where we spent a weekend with family before riding the rails to our next home in Canada. Oddly, out of all the borders we’ve crossed in the last three years, those two countries gave us the hardest time. Ahh, welcome home!
After so long away we naturally had a laundry-list of things we wanted to get. Like… laundry! White t-shirts could be bought in giant packs here, a trend unheard of in the rest of the world. On our first day of shopping we stopped in to Target for a few other basics we’d been missing. M&Ms came in massive bags for relatively little money. Even compared to European hypermarkets, America’s love of variety and scale is unparalleled. A corner market might have one or two choices of granola bar. A hypermarket a half-dozen or more. Target had an entire aisle. Who needs that many kinds of granola bar?! We do, damn it. And what’s more, just down the street we were finally able to scratch an itch we’d had for months. No, not a real itch (like we could afford healthcare in America!). We’re talking about burgers. If there is one food that the United States inarguably wins at, it’s cheeseburgers. We stuffed our faces in gleeful fashion.
Our most exciting excursion had to be the “Big E,” or Eastern States Exposition. A multi-state fair sounded like the most quintessentially American tourist attraction we could think of. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont all pool their resources to put on on a grand collective state fair, with agricultural competitions, promotional booths, and every conceivable fried food. Each state has built a replica of their statehouse to serve as a centerpiece for local artisans and cuisines. As fun as it was, we weren’t happy that the grounds were absolutely mobbed with people. Lines everywhere. But we consoled ourselves – by our standards the food was incredibly expensive and the queues kept us from overspending. We did sample a couple of apple cider donuts from Vermont and our very first lobster roll in Maine’s pavilion. Plus, plenty of craft beers from the different statehouses. We wandered through the barns of livestock (even alpaca), overgrown vegetables, real-life butter sculptures, and too many MLM products. Finally we found our way to a beer tent with a guitar player who keyed in to the fact that our 30-something audience responded well to acoustic covers of early 2000s pop music.
Getting around sans car, simple and cheap in Europe, can be a headache in the United States, even on the densely populated east coast. We arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport and the free Silver Line bus took us as far as South Station. We then boarded a Greyhound – depressing after Europe’s brilliant cheap coach buses – to Springfield, Massachusetts. Danielle’s brother kindly agreed to pick us up from the bus station and put us up for a few days, even lending us his car to run errands. We caught a Lyft to Springfield’s Union Station to catch our Amtrak train to Albany, and from there to Montreal. Trains are very infrequent in North America, and prone to delays. Our short two-hour train to Albany was two hours late in arriving. Good (?) thing we already had planned an overnight stay there to line up our next train to Canada.
Though we were only in the States for four days, that proved plenty for us for now. After years of being unable understand local languages we found ourselves assaulted with English conversations that were difficult to tune out. It felt dirtier and angrier than we remembered. And we felt out of place. But it was admittedly also easy in a way we almost forgot life could be – we could talk to cashiers in stores! And order from the menu without a translator! We’d been kind of, I don’t know… scared of returning? Proud of staying away? Whatever it was, our streak was broken. We came, we saw, we survived. And yeah, we left again just as quickly. But there’s no reason we can’t swing by from time to time, to this complicated home of ours.