9 states in 1 month

From 20 January to 20 February 2010, I traveled coast to coast across the continental United States. I was able to see 8 states: Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and California; plus, the District of Columbia. The main purpose of my being in the States was to participate in a special edition of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which was put together for ten cyber-activists and online journalists from various parts of the world. On the first week of my stay, I was in a group composed of ‘new media’ practitioners from China, Hong Kong, Colombia, Iran, Lebanon, Moldova and Turkey.

The IVLP fellowship was conducted in Washington, D.C. for all ten of us (and then in San Francisco just for me, courtesy of the Institute of International Education). After the official business and the conference where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a policy speech on Internet freedom of expression, we were given a tour of the imposing city, the capital of the most powerful nation. And you could feel it, too! The history-rich buildings, the wondrous monuments, the provocative landmarks, the White House (although we only saw a fraction of the interior)… they all served to impress upon the visitor a sense of awe and admiration.

Experiencing Washington was a wonderful surprise. On the flight to D.C., I thought it was going to be a drab city, populated by boring government types and such. Far from it! Even though we were in deep winter, I could see how vibrant life was in Washington. Most people dressed in dull colors, yes, and yet I couldn’t help but see a colorful city, alive with activity and vigor. And being the capital, my ears pricked at the abundance of foreign languages spoken everywhere I went.

Contrary to expectation, there were so many young people around. Dupont Circle and Georgetown were a special treat for me — in and around the beautiful shops along the picturesque streets, college students and yuppies were everywhere to be seen. And it was easy to get to know them and talk about stuff. It was quite exhilarating!

Also part of the IVLP was a chance for us to spend time with American families. I had dinner with a wonderful family in Potomac, Maryland. The purpose of “home hospitality” was to give IVLP participants a feel of the typical American home. But I didn’t feel it was “typical” at all, because the family I was fortunate enough to meet is, in fact, quite an internationalized bunch. The man of the house was a former JAG officer who was stationed in the Philippines for a time, and his wife is a Japanese national — I was very delighted to have had the chance to practice my Nihongo with her! Their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter had recently come back from Hong Kong and Singapore, and happily joined us for dinner. Talking with them was eye-opening for me, and gave me a glimpse of American family life that’s wholly different from what you might see in movies.

On my first weekend, a couple of Manileño friends brought me to the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. This facility houses an enormous collection of aviation and space artifacts owned by the Smithsonian Institution. (It’s where they filmed the sequel to The Transformers — remember the SR-71 that turned into an old but friendly Decepticon?) As a Star Trek fan, it was incredible seeing the Enterprise space shuttle up close; I think I spent more time in that section of the Center than anywhere else.

My friends also brought me shopping (Outlet, where else?), and to an honest-to-goodness diner in McLean, VA called Silver Diner where they serve hearty American fare. All in all, it was a great way to kick off the vacation part of my stay in the U.S.

While I was in the East Coast, owing to good friends who went out of their way to host me, I was able to see New York City, Boston (as well as other places in New England), Nashua, and other cities. From Washington I took the bus to NYC, via a relatively new service called the “Bolt Bus“. Get this: comfy seats, quiet ride, free wifi, and power outlets everywhere! What’s more, the rates are incredibly affordable — I was lucky when I booked my trips online, because I got the D.C. to NYC trip (4 hours) for only $10, and the NYC to Boston ticket for only $15.

Even before I got there, I knew I’d love New York — and I did! A cousin who lives in Manhattan brought me around the night life there, and a dear friend from Davao showed me the quieter side of the Big Apple’s attractions. I also had a chance to see a high school classmate, and we had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Times Square. And in between, I gave myself time to really walk around this bustling city. I didn’t pass up strolling along the frozen lanes of Central Park either. But of all the places I’ve been to in New York, I think it’s Brooklyn that I like. It’s more relaxed, so to speak, compared to the hectic nature of Manhattan.

When I thought of visiting New York, I was apprehensive about taking the subway. But once my friend explained it to me, it was a snap. I got myself a 7-day metro pass and tried to lose myself in the city… but it just wasn’t possible. With all the signs and maps, it’s simply impossible to get lost. Of course, thanks to Google Maps, it was easy to locate the subway stations. One thing that I truly appreciated is that New Yorkers walk and commute to where they need to go, and that public transportation is reliable and efficient (which is the opposite in Los Angeles).

One of the places in the U.S. that I made a point to visit was Boston, to see an old friend from my college days; actually, he and his family live in Waltham, Massachusetts, but they gave me the grand tour of the East Coast’s oldest city. It had been more than a decade since I last saw my friend, so the time I spent in New England was a chance for us to catch up. We reminisced the good old days on frozen lakes, at an English pub called John Harvard’s (guess where that is), around Boston’s historic suburbs, and at Union Oyster Hall, reputedly America’s oldest restaurant.

It was too bad I could only spend three days with my old buddy, but I had to go back to Washington for my flight to the West Coast. I took the Amtrak for an 8-hour trip back to the capital, and then a 7-hour flight to the city I fell in love with the moment I got there: San Francisco. (It was a connecting flight via Atlanta, GA, so I might say I’ve been to 10 states… but then I didn’t really get to see anything except the airport.)

The San Francisco leg was actually part of my official business in the States. Still, I had lots of time on my own, and I put it to good use. Walking around downtown SFO was an exhilarating experience, what with the variety of places to see, interesting people to chat with, and the sights, sounds and scents to take in!

I had a hilarious experience when I was at Pier 39. I was ambling around Fisherman’s Wharf, holding a humongous hotdog I had just bought from a sidewalk vendor. Suddenly, a huge pelican swoops down and snaps resoundingly at my hotdog-holding hand!! I can still remember the awful sound that big bill made — he could very well have severed my fingers! I was still in shock when I heard a group of people laughing behind me. I turned around and proudly showed them my mustard-covered snack, cut in half by that sea bird, but still all mine. I walked away with the group clapping in glee. big grin

If I were given the choice of city to live in the U.S. it would be San Francisco (in spite of the pesky pelicans). There’s something about its character that appeals to me, and it would be great if I could discover it more meaningfully someday.

And finally, I traveled to Los Angeles on 5 February for the remainder of my journey. I flew Virgin America, which is a cool airline, if you ask me — the ground personnel as well as the in-flight people were casual and friendly, and yet very professional in their service.

Even though I went to only one state in the West Coast, I did go to quite a number of cities in California: San Francisco, Berkeley, L.A., Burbank, Glendale, Castaic, Venice Beach, etc., not to mention Silicon Valley.

The city of Castaic is not very well known (even among Americans, I found out). It’s in Santa Clarita Valley, the northernmost part of L.A. County, and it’s where my aunt and her husband live. My mom’s sister and I hadn’t seen in each other in many years, so she moved heaven and earth to get me to Los Angeles for the last couple of weeks of my stay in the States. I got to like it in Castaic… although it was rather too bucolic for my city-boy tastes. So off I went traipsing around L.A. with more friends, although I did do my best to spend time with my aunt and her lovable dogs.

My Filipino friends brought me all over the place: Universal Studios, West Hollywood, downtown L.A., Griffith Observatory, etc. Three new friends, one of whom is a regular reader of my blogs, gave me an awesome tour of the studios of The Family Guy and The Simpsons. And I got a Simpsons action figure to boot, signed by the two Filipinos, who’re über-talented artists!

This was my first time in the States, and for this opportunity I’m very grateful to the State Department (especially to Sarah L., Christopher S., Ryan M.), the U.S. Embassy in Manila (particularly to Rebecca T., Richard N., Yoly dG.), and the Institute of International Education (especially to Perrine L. and her colleagues). I certainly hope a similar opportunity will come my way again in the not-too-distant future.

My love and gratitude to my friends, Kuya Dong & Mary Ann, Ram & Martin, Bob & Lani, Lem & Rai, Ian, Grace (who put me up in NYC), Jhoanna, Ricky & Riza, Manny, Corky (who gave me an impromptu tour of SFO); to my cousins, Ate Elaine and Jenny (who welcomed me in Michigan), Paolo, Karl; and to my dear Tita Baby & Tito Alex. Thanks to all of you, I had an extraordinary and memorable month-long stay in America!

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11 Responses to “9 states in 1 month”

  1. Lanse M says:

    Hiya Bloggie!! I knew I'd find you thanks to good ole Google. Yes – 'twas memorable indeed! So next time you find yourself back in the East coast, you know now how to reach me. Take care.

  2. Nick Nichols says:

    Nice post, Blogie. I enjoyed it.

  3. Reb says:

    I hope you'll be back in San Francisco soon, Bloggie. Your perfect for this place <3

  4. gemma says:

    "But of all the places I’ve been to in New York, I think it’s Brooklyn that I like."

    I enjoyed reading about your trip and as a Brooklynite, am glad to know that you like the borough…if I may ask, which part of BK did you go to?


  5. blogie says:

    Hi Gemma! Thanks for reading my blog!

    I don't remember the names of the streets anymore. I went to Brooklyn via subway, where I got off near the borough hall, then proceeded to my friend's chiropractor clinic. We then had dinner at an Italian restaurant called something with a "pane". Darn it, I wish I'd taken down notes… big grin

  6. blogie says:

    Hi Gemma! Thanks for reading my blog!

    I don't remember the names of the streets anymore. I went to Brooklyn via subway, where I got off near the borough hall, then proceeded to my friend's chiropractor clinic. We then had dinner at an Italian restaurant called something with a "pane". Darn it, I wish I'd taken down notes… big grin

  7. mo billacura says:

    wow, blogie!
    i am proud of you.


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