July 3, 2011

HE WAS AN AMERICAN LONG BEFORE THAT DAY:

Why I’m Becoming an American: Forty years ago, this country embraced a broke Brit. On July 4, I’m giving back—with the oath of citizenship. (Simon Winchester, June 26, 2011, Newsweek)

I took a year off before Oxford, bought the cheapest ticket to Montreal, traveled to Vancouver, and then crossed the American frontier by way of the Peace Arch into the seaside town of Blaine, Wash.

I then spent the magical days of that spring and summer hitchhiking through every corner of the country, from Los Angeles (dinner with Kirk Douglas, coffee with Johnny Carson), to New Iberia, La. (guests of the Tabasco sauce factory owners), from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. (shaking President Kennedy’s hand) to Topeka, Kans. (horse riding with Harold Stassen), to Wheeling, W.Va. (where at 2 a.m. one frightening night a young man of lustful intent asked me if I wanted a b.j. to which I, quite innocent of such matters, spluttered thanks, but I already have one at home), to New York City, and myriad places in between.

All told, I hitched 38,000 American highway miles, and it cost me just $18. I had entered at Blaine with 200 crisp bills in my pocket; and when six months later I left for Canada by way of Houlton, Maine, I had 182 of them left. Such kindness I had never known.

The experience changed me, profoundly. That summer, somewhere inside me was germinated the vague idea that one day I might make common cause with these kindly, warm, open folk, and even eventually become (as I heard it was possible to do) one of them.


Posted by at July 3, 2011 6:00 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« THE NEXT AMERICAN CENTURY: | Main | EVER MORE ALIKE: »