Sunday, April 24, 2016

The State of the Nation

Yeah, we visited my homeland last week, so it is now time for me to report on what I found.

Before I begin, allow me to confirm that Americans are still the most welcoming, friendly and effusive people on the planet. They are large (my god, the amount of sugar those people go through) and loud (but that’s part of their charm) and will give you the shirt off their back (if not the sugar and butter icing off of their cake) if you ask for it, and it is a joy to be among them.

Unfortunately, before you can be among them, you have to pass through the gauntlet of thugs, thieves and Jack-booted bullies who collectively make up the the odious organisation known as the TSA.

This year, it was our pedometers.

We have been carrying pedometers for many years, and have passed through airport security a number of times with them, but there now appears to be some unwritten prohibition about them because, after the usual “I can see you naked” scan, we were pulled aside and treated to full-body pat-downs and I had my hands swabbed for explosives residue. All because we were carrying pedometers.

It’s not really their fault; TSA agents obviously have to fail an intelligence test in order to qualify for the job (they don’t want people who can think, they just need to be smart enough to follow orders — “Jawohl mein kapitan!, um, I mean, sure thing!”) so the agent in question probably couldn’t pronounce “pedometer”much less know what one was and he innocently mistook it for a nuclear detonator or something.

Really, it's an easy mistake to make.
But—and I really need to stress this—while we were actually IN America, we were treated very well.

Also, I found one of these in my suitcase when I got home.
They didn't steal anything, though, so I guess I should consider myself lucky.
Weather: prior to leaving, I checked out the weather in upstate New York and was distressed to discover that they were having a snowstorm. However, by the time we arrived, the snow was gone. The cold weather, on the other hand, had moved in to stay. The wind was sharp and bitter and the trees were bare, making it seem more like mid-February instead of April. One night, my son took us to dinner in Albany (driving us to a location that looked like a place you would take someone to kill them) and we about froze wandering the streets looking for a suitable restaurant.

Obviously, I have been living in southern Britain too long; I am turning (no, I have turned) into a weather wienie.

Fortunately, warmer weather followed, and before we left, we enjoyed sunny skies and temps in the high 70s, so “well done” New York.

The Radio: One day, while driving around on my own, I turned on the car radio and tuned it to my favorite oldies station, only to find they were playing songs from the 1990s! That’s not oldies! What happened?

These Kids Today: My grandsons are now 5 and 4. When we showed them our digital cameras, they had no idea what they were. In their world, photographs are taken with phones or tablets.

These Kids Today, Take II: My grandsons aside (they are the definition of precocious children) people seem to be getting stupider. I noticed, with some alarm, that you no longer have to tax your brain figuring out a tip. Tips are helpfully printed on the receipt, showing you how much to pay if you want to give 15%, 18% or 20%. That is truly astounding, both the fact that people are no long able to figure percent in their heads, as well as the notion that 20% is a reasonable tip. I consider myself fairly generous, but even I stop at 15%.

Apparently, even the people who figure out the tips can't do math, either.
In addition to that, I was in a store and bought $17.73 worth of merchandise. At the till, the cashier asked if I wanted to make a donation to some worthy cause. So I handed her a $20 bill and told her to put the change toward the donation. “So how much would that be,” she asked.

In her defence, I was in a Wal-Mart, so I really shouldn’t have expected anything different.

Driving: I take to driving on the other side of the road fairly well. I admit to “going British” on occasion, and finding myself in the left lane wondering why cars are driving toward me, or pulling to the extreme right when a truck approaches, thinking the road will not be wide enough for both of us, but for the most part I am a careful, polite driver.

The indigenous population, however, are not.

They have forgotten how to use their blinkers: Now, using the turn indicator was never a popular sport in the Capital Region but, since my last visit, they seemed to have agreed to abandon it altogether. Negotiating round-abouts, turning into a side street, changing lanes? No need to alert anyone to your intentions, just swing your car in any direction you feel like.

They have learned how to run red lights: It used to be, if you were waiting at a red light, you would wait for the other light to go red, then you could go, even if—for a second or so—your own light remained red.

Now, it seems, you have to wait for the other light to go red, then wait for your light to go green, and then wait a few more seconds as two or three cars run through the red light. Then you can safely go through the intersection.

It keeps you on your toes while driving, and it reminds me of this joke:

A guy and his girlfriend are out driving. He runs through a red light. “What are you trying to do,” shouts his girlfriend, “get us killed?” “Relax,” the boy says, “my brother does it all the time.” Next red light, same thing. The girlfriend protests again and, again, her boyfriend says, “Relax, my brother does it all the time.” At the next intersection, the light is green. The boy stops. “Why are you stopping,” the girlfriend asks. The boy says, “My brother might be coming.”


Okay, back to my observations.

Christmas: There were an unusual number of houses still decorated for Christmas and, at night, many of them were lit up. On the drive from my son’s house to the place we were staying, we counted six houses lit up for Christmas. Now, the distance we drove was several miles and I admit that six is not a very large number, but when the number you would reasonably expect to see is ZERO, six is quite startling.

Come on people, it's April FFS!
NOTE: I stole this off the web; it is not one of the houses we saw.
All of them were more tastefully decorated but I was driving and couldn't get a picture.
Politics: Really, the less said about that, the better.

United Airlines: We flew with United this time. It wasn’t awful. In fact, it was sort of okay. But if United wants to up their game and get into the “Hey, it was really nice” league, then I suggest that each and every United employee book a flight with Virgin Atlantic — it doesn’t matter where; just fly Virgin — so they can see how it is done.

Fly the friendly skies of Virgin
So, the State of the Nation is pretty much okay,but you should take another look at your driving manuals, develop a taste for other flavors besides sugar, brush up on your math and, well, Trump, really, get a grip.


  1. Weather in NH has been startling extreme during this period. Leaves are finally coming and it was below freezing again, this morning. Brief balmy intervals, then back into the tank. I'm worried about the prospects for this summer.

    1. Yes, this warm/freezing weather plays havoc with the crops. Let's hope it doesn't do much damage.

  2. We always get at least one of those "we rifled through your luggage" cards, I wish I knew what they were looking for!! I have considered leaving them a note on the top of the stuff in the case just to say Hi, but as per your point about the pedometers I thought it might not go down well!!!

    1. They make up rules to suit them at the time. They are bullies, pure and simple.

  3. I hate almost all American drivers with a passion. OK, - hate the act not the person, - so I hate American driving and yes, it is getting worse. My husband and I were out for a short drive (we're talking two miles) the other day. Given the Chicago traffic, this took about twenty minutes, but in that time, the number of people who simply pulled out and shoved a giant SUV in front of us without so much as a "By your leave" was outrageous. No one, but no one bothers with indicators, and we had two drivers cross three lanes directly in front of us, to try for a parking spot that was actually a fire hydrant space. It's no wonder I walk everywhere.

    1. I found the driving shocking. It wasn't that bad last time I visited. What's with these people?

  4. There are too darn many of us all fighting for the same space! You just grip the steering wheel till your knuckles are white and barge in. Of course, this is only if you have a big, mean SUV or pickup truck. For me, in my little old Impala, it's wince and dodge out of the way!

    1. It helps keep your reflexes sharp, though ;)