postcard from America

At university in the 70s, I met an American girl, and we got on really well. At the end of the academic year, she went home and I had an invitation to spend some time at her place.

The flight landed in New York, and I managed to work out how to get to the coach station from the subway. Her parents lived in the outskirts of Washington DC, and my first real look at America was the Greyhound bus station in Washington. I still recall this tall coloured guy with the sharpest clothes I had ever seen.

We had a great time in the city. I loved the Smithsonian, Goddard Space Flight Centre and the people I met. Particularly one White House Special Policeman called Tim. Instead of arresting me for jay-walking, he laughed, shook my hand and showed us to the restaurant where he ate, then spent half an hour telling me all the things the tourist guides missed.

We went to Philadelphia where I had the best pizza I'd tasted and picked peaches from an orchard Sue's family owned not far from Raven Rock (referred to locally as the "backup Pentagon").

Later we drove down to Florida, saw Disney World and Cape Canaveral and spent time on the beach in Venice picking fossil sharks teeth out of the sand. At Cape Canaveral, the guide offered me a PDP-11 if I could get the thing out of the Mercury command bunker. It was a safe offer - the machine was too big for the doors!

I only saw the east coast, but it was a great 6 week holiday.

From the outside, it looks as though America has changed a lot in the 40 years that I've been away and I'd be a lot less interested in going back now. Tim's replacement would likely book me, Canaveral is a lot less interesting and from what you see, Disney World is more faded than glorious.

Then there's the politics. I don't understand how politics has got so bad in what used to be such a great country. There's no concept of helping anyone and the "huddled masses" aren't welcome any more. A suspicion of being Muslim gets you treated like a terrorist, even service men and women are with the wrong beliefs are in trouble.

All great cultures end, and maybe we're seeing the self-destruction of the American empire. It might not be perfect, but what's likely to replace it won't necessarily be an improvement.

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