On the 22nd we packed the car, the five of us, and left Charlottesville at 5:30 am, and did not beat the Northern Virginia rush hour traffic...and did not beat the DC Beltway traffic either. (Deirdre you Illinois transfer student, how could you be so optimistic when the Washington metro begins its peak of the peak fare at 7:30 am.) So we talked about New York City, Chicago, Ireland, college sports, in particular lacrosse, and Southern mannerisms.
Southerners warm, northerners cold, they say. Northerners don't know what to do when Southerners chat them up at retail stores and so on and so forth. But then the next day I'm shopping with my sister in Maine and this cashier randomly transfers her conversation with her coworker to us. "I have a date with Tom tonight," she says ecstatically with a rather Carolinian smile, as though to explain her flurry of conversation; and then she and my sister strike up a conversation along that thread, interwoven with discussion of Thanksgiving and turkeys.
And then I remember-- this was always the norm; because even in Cape Elizabeth random adults would always do that sort of New England cordiality thing to you as a child and you the Singaporean would always be at loss for words and maybe it was all fake but hey they're warm memories and New England suddenly feels like home. In Virginia the store clerks almost never strike up a spontaneous conversation with you, and you can feel the wants of life badly pressing upon them; you almost took pity at their condition, as though as it was a Southern version of watching "Save the Children" except replace starving African children with minimum wage store clerks. Iowa is even worse. New England? Home? It's been a long time since I felt this unalienated.
And so I rediscover houses are all so cute close together surrounded by blankets of snow and forest-- a remarkable thing given Maine's vast abundance of land. Urban sprawl was such an utter shock to me in the beginning as a first year in Virginia, staring up that winter the endless box stores that lined Rt. 29 for miles and miles. As the years passed and my friends and I discussed various urban transportation projects to deal with the urban sprawl that I had come to perceive as the norm, the thought would come to me repeatedly. Mottainai -- what a waste! And so I must admire New England values too.
Northern Virginia is so ugly, Rina says. And she lives there. I still think it could be pretty nice to live in Northern Virginia. All those livingsocial deals on fine Indian restaurants? And the Korean supermarts. And the Washington Metro is so relaxing, even as Congressional staffers and lobbyists crowd the train during peak hours. The New York Subway puts you on edge, from the Lexington Avenue train to 7 to sometimes even the Williamsburg L-line (judged the "most romantic" subway line -- but the pretension -- the bad kind -- can really get to you). Ugh. I mean, maybe New England's newfound quaintness will run out for me sometime, but I'm leaving this afternoon. Here's to romanticising.