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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 2: Driving in 3-D

As I said, I didn't know what to expect. The only thing I could count on was the unexpected. Shaw called England and America two countries divided by a common language, which has proved to be far more accurate a concept than it really ought to have been, given that the world learns its English from the teacher named Hollywood.

Naturally there are some obvious differences. Americans drive on the right (note: not the correct) side of the road, in cars that are so large that it would be a major chore to park them in England. The roads are wide, long and straight, reflecting the forethought that went into such recent town planning; whereas old world roads follow the contours of the landscape and the towns and cities that have gradually evolved over centuries. Lanes and pavements (sidewalks) are far wider than at home; shops are huge and spaced out with large car parks in front and around. In short, everything is designed around that great fundamental of American life: the car. Not just, as Bill Bryson reminded us, it is un-American to walk, but it is almost impossible.

Driving in three dimensions along the broken remnants of Detroit's Telegraph Road, caused, I am told, by a long and bitter conflict between succeeding election winners, I commented on the amount of free space that was everywhere. Admittedly I'd spent a substantial part of the day trapped inside a plane but I felt as if I had escaped to a hill scene in The Sound of Music. Tracy, of course, was quite surprised at this. She pointed out that Telegraph Road is actually pretty crammed for a main road, at least on that stretch... I realised that I had much to learn.

Maybe this will explain some of it: throw England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together into the United Kingdom and you have a country about the same size as Michigan. Don't forget that in such a small space, relatively, we managed to cram in sixty million people, twice as many as Canada, the second largest country in the world. Call me a rebel sardine, but I like breathing space.

We only stayed in Michigan briefly, admittedly long enough to visit the Clarkston Cafe in Waterford which I then managed to frequent for a few years from a commuting distance of around four thousand miles, but we'd head back later. First it was straight off on a long trek down through southern Michigan, across Ohio, down through the Virginias to Boone, North Carolina and the big Cosmo's Conundrum meetup of the summer. Though players had met in real life before it had never happened on a mass scale; just odd people meeting other odd people, not that the odd people were odd, you understand. One couple had even met on the game and stayed together all the way down the aisle. Later in the tour I was honoured to meet the first couple of Cosmo and enjoy their friendly hospitality not much more than a hop and a skip away from Detroit, but on the Canadian side of the border.

Tracy and I, in our purple pickup, stopped overnight in Charleston, West Virginia without noticing much of the scenery. It was nice, to be sure, but nothing spectacular. We'd spent the trip down through Ohio getting used to each other's company after so much time spent together only in a virtual sense. Even had this not been the case, 'picturesque' is not a good word to describe Ohio, though Tracy's mother, who was born there, persists in labelling it 'God's Own Country'. It never ceases to amaze me how many people refer to the land of their birth in such a way, but rarely seem to still live there.

It took us until the next morning to notice the scenery, driving out of Charleston, which is a small town nestled in vibrant green hills. The highway followed the contours of the hills and valleys in true old world style and took our breath away. Tracy compared it favourably to a similar stretch of highway in Tennessee which I was lucky enough to experience a year later. To me it resembled parts of England's Lake District, but where our unblemished scenery lasts for a few miles, this lasted for two and a half states...

Of course with true American irony, one town situated right in the middle of this luscious countryside suffered under the name of Bland...

Previous Episode: The Phantom Menace.
Next Episode: The Big Meetup.

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