Britain in Virginia (when you’re definitely not looking for it)

British and American flagsWe didn’t set out to do this. Sometimes, particularly in America, you’re trying to get something done and an entirely different thing happens.

We wanted a place to stay between Virginia and Tennessee, to cut the hip-wrenching, eye-popping drive in half. And was nothing; even the ever-reliable Hampton Inns were packed.

So when Rebecca gets a sniff of a vacant room in a bed & breakfast  in Nowheresville Natural Bridge, Virginia, we jump at it.

It just so happens that the owners are British. And that they’ve themed the place as an English” inn.

This is not something neither of us need to experience. But straight out of a nativity story, it’s the only Inn with any room, and we…okay, the guy makes promises over the phone of an English breakfast, which to be honest I’m feeling pretty good about. So we go for it. Continue reading

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Washington DC (It’s like American for where I used to work)

My gosh, we hit the big city. My Lord, we found DC.

Americans seem suspicious of trains, in that it’s a vehicle they’re not driving. Rebecca and I, on other hand, are pro-train. And there’s a train from Woodbridge, Virginia to DC, in their frantic attempts to unblock the traffic jam around the city, so yeah, we trained it.

We like to show off our Big City know-how whenever possible. We are worldly, street-wise people and we proved this to our patient hosts by not only buying the wrong ticket  (and standing on the wrong platform) on the way to DC, but failing to ” validate” our tickets for the return journey.

I’ve had many train journeys in my time. Hats off to the VRE for not only creating the most complex ticketing system possible but also ensuring that advice on how to buy tickets is available only once you’re already on the train.

I foolishly believed,  when pressing the YES button in response to “validate ticket now” on the ticket machine, that we were validating our tickets. This belief was debunked by the VRE employee on the train who, upon checking our tickets, swiftly and gleefully threatened court appearances and hundreds of dollars in fines. He had gone to the same finishing school as a couple of London Underground workers I’ve met over the years. He was a sweetheart.

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Finding Refuge (a break from the wild life)

Bike and stop signI’ve been getting away from it all. And when I say all, I mean the grind and flash that I’ve come to associate with my American life.

During our visit to Virginia we are mooching off staying with friends in Woodbridge, a town lucky enough to host a square mile of land that is the Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Armed with the bicycle brought with me from Tennessee, I have been paying a daily visit to the refuge; before breakfast, before the heat goes completely bananas. And it has opened up a wonderful and entirely new area of America for me to explore – the parts where there are hardly any people: Continue reading

Driving in America Pt.2 (Death on Wheels)

Nissa SentraThere are cars on the road here that…should not be. These are the cars so smashed up and taped back together that you give them the amount of space deserving of someone with seemingly nothing to lose. I  always expect see a young punk behind the wheel of these cars, but as it turns out, driving a piece of crap can happen at any stage of life here in Tennessee. Because sometimes, you just need a car.

I bought my first car in America. It was 1995, and my 22-year-old self bought the kind of car that American guys want to buy when they’re 17 but their fathers won’t let them.

I didn’t have my father’s guidance when I bought this car. I’m not sure I even told him. He would have forbidden me to buy this car. And the thing is, between you and me, I really wanted a car.

Cars are American destiny. When you are here, cars will definitely happen. If you don’t like cars, go back to Russia. On the day I told a buddy that I needed to buy a car (and how much did a car cost? and how exactly did I do this?)  this car appeared for sale on the 10 minute walk between the hotel I was working and the post office.

The car cost $300, less than the bicycle I owned back in Scotland.

Things happen when you buy a $300 car, things best kept off the page. But for the record, I didn’t kill myself or anyone else with this car, because like most people, I was luckier than I deserved: Continue reading

Driving in America Pt.1 (Mysterious love affair)

Tire on mapLast week we took a 7-hour road-trip with 2 hours notice. This kind of formula is alien to me. Before, I would’ve demanded a month of planning. I would’ve been Googling roadside attractions, Hampton Inn locations.

In those 2 hours between knowing about the journey and beginning it, I took the car for an oil change and found time to buy water wings at Wal-Mart (not for myself), while Rebecca spent her time packing up and finding baby-sitters for two nieces (they got the water wings – both sets identically pink and ruffled, because there sometimes just isn’t to subvert gender stereotypes) and packing up the two dogs that we were taking with us.

During the 7 hour journey, we passed an enormous, brilliantly lit crucifix, listened to some emotionally chilling talk radio, and passed through what I became convinced was the same strip of land a hundred times. Thank you, Illinois.

At the end of our journey, we picked up Rebecca’s mother, spent 10 minutes walking the dogs, and then took another 7-hour drive home.

This is the American car journey. It’s last-minute, it’s fickle, and it’s based on logic that does not stand up to any level of scrutiny. But when you’re here, you roll with it.

I roll, I roll a lot more than I suspect my American buddies give me credit for.

But this is taking some getting used to:

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Conversations with Americans Pt 3: Once more with feeling

Enthusiastic talkerSometimes I worry I’m not enthusiastic enough for America. Even though a day doesn’t go by here without me expressing joy about something (mostly it’ll be sitting on a shelf in Kroger), the people around me routinely check to see whether I’m having a good enough time.

Perhaps my tone is inadequate. After all, British people sound sarcastic to American ears, just as Americans sound… (wait for it…) a little over-eager to British ears. It’s something we have to get used to.

Is it my unwillingness to drink my milk and get on a horse? Do I need to master a different set of gestures and facial expressions to convey meaning?

That might help, but I think more important is the vocabulary. It may be my unwillingness to use the key American phrases employed to show enthusiasm:

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