Well, there goes state #50. One of my wishes was fulfilled in July when I had a brief visit to Alaska; partly for a work project, but mostly so that I could get a little taste of the last frontier.
It took me a while to see all 50 states, beginning with a family road trip across the country when I was nine. I had just enough Social Studies (is it still called that?) to appreciate the history and geography of what I saw. I noticed accents, license plates, regional food and countless other things that kindled a lifelong love of travel and faraway places.
I’ve had a hard time getting a sense of the proper set of rules: Do you need to eat a meal in a state in order for it to count? Stay overnight? Pee? Touch your toe across the border, a la Four Corners? Does changing planes count?
For me, I have not counted stops or changes in airports. While I haven’t slept in every state, I have stayed overnight in probably 45 of them. At the least, I’ve had at least a meal in each one. I am at peace with my conscience.
Some people on my journeys have asked if I have a favorite state, or if I have any great insights to be gleaned from my trips over the years. I can say this:
– There’s something beautiful to be appreciated in every single state (yes that includes windswept friendly North Dakota, where they really do say “You Betcha”). Wherever you go, you will see what you expect to see – whether it’s good or ugly.
– People are pretty much the same everywhere. They do seem more polite in the South, but I never met a New Yorker who wasn’t a pussycat beneath that gruff exterior. Like Parisians, they just have “public faces” and private “friends/family faces.”
– My dining-out motto has always been “don’t order anything stupid.” You may not know what’s stupid when you order it, but you’ll know the moment it arrives in front of you. That means you should eat whatever is regionally known. Yes, a lot has changed over the years, and it’s now possible to get good Mexican food in Boston, for example, or passable sushi in Omaha. But I would not bet my life on it.
– Related note: You should avoid salad bars in the Northern Plains in winter, where they are comprised of jello, potato salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw.
My impression of Alaska, based on a couple of days? Eye popping, jaw dropping scenery, amid vast swaths of wilderness. And the surreal experience of landing in bright sunlight at 11:30pm, with everything closed and most people in bed. Nope – didn’t see a bear, and I only heard one moquito.
We live in a wonderful country, and I really can’t pretend to say I’ve seen it all. All we can do is look for authenticity, and hope we are smart enough to recognize it when we see it.
Now, on to my last continent, Antarctica.
OK – I have one confession: On that family road trip, we drove across a narrow portion of West Virginia, and stopped for gas. I only stepped out of the car to buy a bottle of Bubble Up from the machine. I put this at the end of this very long post, because I’m hoping no one reads this and disqualifies me.