Three months in America

 So I’ve been in the US a little over three months now, and have hardly managed to write anything. So maybe it’s time for one of those long rambly posts about whatever pops into my head while I write it.

Richmond, Virginia. That’s where we live. You can’t just name a city in the US without also mentioning its state, because it seems that every state is made up of an almost identical collection of cities. It kind of interrupts the flow of a sentence because you can’t just say “Richmond is a nice place.” Instead you have to waste an entire paragraph explaining why you can’t just say “Richmond is a nice place” and then save the place itself for the next one.

So Richmond, Virginia, is a nice place. I didn’t realise immediately just how nice it is, because it doesn’t seem to be anything special compared to some of the other nice places I’ve been lucky enough to visit over the years. But once I learned to compare it not to European villages or Himalayan hillsides, but to the rest of suburban America, I realized that it is a lovely place indeed.

We live right in the centre of Richmond, in an area called “the Fan”, so named because it fans out from Downtown, and the rest of the city fans out from here. The Fan is much loved by its residents for its medium-density housing and walk/cycleability, rare features in this part of America. Within walking distance are a large hardware store, a gross-looking chicken shop, an excellent pizzeria, a wine shop, a small but fancy grocery store, a good Japanese restaurant, the Department of Motor Vehicles and a number of bars and pubs. If we lived a mile further away we’d have to drive to get any of the above.

The DMV, as it’s known, has turned out to be a particular boon. The fact that it’s almost impossible to get around without a car means that licences are  easy to come by, and it took me only two months and $0 to get my full licence, a process that would take over three years and cost several hundred dollars in Australia. Good things come to those who wait.

Our routine here has been pretty well set for the past couple of months. Grace goes to class on Monday and Tuesday, her internship on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and work on Friday and Saturday nights. I spend almost all this time hanging around at home, doing odd jobs, playing with the cat, cooking food, sharing articles on Facebook or playing board games and FIFA with our next-door neighbours.  There was a brief interruption when I got a job, which I’ll get to soon.

On Saturday mornings we go to the local farmers’ market, but we actually buy most of our food from a lady who lives a few blocks from the market and sells homegrown produce in her front yard. For between $20 and $30 we come home with a week’s worth of veggies, from kale to beets to pumpkin to squash to tomatoes to apples to radish and so on.  We stop by the actual market for some local mushrooms, a particularly excellent Menonite glazed donut (if you didn’t know donuts could be religious, THINK AGAIN. This is the USA we’re talking about.), $2 of garlic (don’t forget the garlic) and some fresh milk.

On Sundays I play football (or did until last week, when the season finished) for a team that was clearly in the wrong division and won every game by at least six goals. It was quite fun to take the piss but not that fun to have no real competition.

Sometimes we go to the river, or the pub, or a party, or some other sort of  social event like a “cookout” or “Halloween”.

So, work. I was offered a job by a man from New Jersey who lives in Colorado and has a small business making fancy cheesecakes. One of the conditions of my visa is that I can’t be unemployed for more than three months at a time, and I was running out of time so I eagerly signed on for $8/hr before tax, or what we in Australia call about two and a half times less than minimum wage. This offered me a pretty interesting window into American life, which I would recount in an interesting way if my brain were working a little better right now.

My co-workers were all the type of people you’d describe as “interesting”, and each of them gave me a ride home at some point and spent the twenty minutes expounding (with a little prompting) their theories on American society. They’ve kind of all warped together in my mind but all fit neatly into the subcategory called “confusingly libertarian ideologies of the working poor”.

One was Barbara, a lady in her 40s or 50s who has another full time job but was asked to take some leave and so took the opportunity to earn a few more dollars in the baking industry.

Another was Tony, again in his 40s or thereabouts, who has been working odd jobs his whole life (ranging from accounting to cake decorating and everything else in between), and who went to Sydney for the 2000 Olympics, fell in love with Hahn Premium and came back with the Olympic logo tattooed on his arm.

Then there was Jason, an ex-cop who spent lots of time talking about his culinary ability, past sexcapades and suing people.

I’m not sure about the other jobs my co-workers had, but unless they paid a lot more than cheesecaking they were all living in relative poverty. Down with big government and unions and fair working conditions and long live liberty and freedom and God and the USA!

So the job itself was pretty simple: follow orders. As long as the boss man is paying you your $8 you do what he says. And you do it deferentially; this is the USA and a polite “yes sir” never goes astray.

Anyway, after a few days of this (spread over a month) the cheesecake entrepreneur went back to Colorado, and because he couldn’t trust us all to get the job done without him, he told me not to come in for a few weeks. Which is just fine, because I brought home four left-over quince on Monday and spent Tuesday afternoon making quince paste. I’m hoping I was the only one to get put on leave and not one of the others who no doubt need that $8 a little bit more than I do.

I said this post was going to be rambly, and I think I’m living up to my word (and sorry spell checker, I don’t care whether you think it’s a word or not).

Now I’m going to tell you something else I’ve discovered about the US: it’s not their fault they don’t travel.

Seriously. I’ve travelled a lot, and as anyone who has ever travelled a lot can tell you, Americans (of the United Statesian variety) are seriously underrepresented among the travellers of the world. Lots of people (not me, of course!) assume that it’s because Americans are insular, and xenophobic, and don’t care too much for the rest of the world, and there might be some truth to this. But the bigger issue is that American society hates young people. Young people have to take out massive loans to study, they have to move out of town to attend college, they have to get good marks to get good jobs to have good careers to live a decent life down the track, they actually have to attend classes and if they do happen to get a part-time job the chances are it’ll pay $7.25/hr. So it’s not their fault. American young people are the missers-out of the developed world’s young people, just as the American poor are the missers-out of the developed world’s poor. And they do make the most of it, by travelling as much as they can, to far-flung cultural paradises like California and New York and Florida and “the beach”, in that peculiarly American aeroplane with four wheels and half a dozen bumper stickers.

So I’m going to end this post on that note, and with one final, random thought.

You can’t have freedom if you can’t afford a gun.

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