State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Damian

I am driving admiring the scenery in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio when suddenly rude and insistent honking startles me. After reading that sentence you might be surprised that there is a national park in Ohio. I know I was. What’s more Cuyahoga Valley is practically in Cleveland. There are highways, houses and urban sprawl just about everywhere. To call it the national park is a stretch. They don’t even charge admission.

Sure, it’s beautiful. But it’s not stunning in the way nearly every other national park is. Gently rolling hills and surprising waterfalls do not render you speechless. Merely pleased and relaxed.

So when I hear someone honking I am befuddled. Aren’t they here to admire the scenery? Don’t they enjoy unnaturally warm, sunny October afternoon?I decide to check what’s going on. My father used to say this is the best way of action when someone honks or yells at you but I never actually saw him do it. I need to improvise.

I stop the car in the middle of the road as soon as I can. Making sure that the honking vehicle won’t inadvertently park on our truck’s bed. I slowly open the door and walk back. I have to admit I am greatly relieved to see that the honking individual happens to be your typical soccer mom in an SUV. There is a chance I am going to survive this one.

She is a bit surprised herself that I am not a usual retiree she probably honks on this road every other day of the week. She is lucky in a way: it’s a free country as they say and I might have turned out to be a gun carrying, chain smoking, filthy mouth soccer mom predator of some kind. The surprise however does not shut her up for long. Before I manage to ask what she wants she starts yelling in this hight pitched voice usually reserved for terrorizing 4 year olds: Pull over - some of us are not out for a Sunday drive. You are driving way under the speed limit, pull over!, she adds in case I didn’t understand the first time. She does not even stop to breathe. I start to worry. I notice Natalia stepping over to the other side. It might get ugly really soon.

So I say: I am in a National Park if you have a problem with that take it up with the federal government. I actually manage to utter the entire phrase and I am immensely pleased with myself. I usually fall pray of what French used to call l’esprit de l’escalier - well, sprit of the truck in this particular case. It might not be the best comeback but it does shut her up for a second.

What I do want to say is more complex. She clearly lives nearby. The park saved her from even more urban sprawl and even more neighbors. If not for the park she would be driving at approximately 10 miles per hour which is what american commuters average in urban areas. Her house value would plummet even more. She would not be enjoying fancy food in one of the little towns nearby since most restaurants cater to tourist and would not survive without them. She would have to find a different escape from her miserable housewife existence.

The lady repeats Pull over with less conviction in her voice. Or so I think. Cars start passing us by. Pulling over is actually out of the question even if I wanted to. This is a narrow road with no shoulder and no pullouts. And I am not in a mood to be accommodating in any way. So I get back to the truck and start driving. Really slowly. After all she got on my nerves and I want to be extra cautious. She does not honk any more. Does not overtake me either. I take extra time to make sure everything is OK at the next intersection. There is a stop sign there and I am a law abiding person. Finally she turns into one of the side roads.

If it was up to me I would not spend my tax dollars on creating national park in this particular area of the country. Let the city and state residents pay for it. If we used the same yardstick most of the New Mexico, Colorado and Utah would have to be declared a national park. This one is way too civilized. It even has a train shuttling visitors and tired bikers. You are rarely further than a mile away from a major highway.

However if you are not put off by this, you will probably find a thing or two to enjoy here. And if you plan to visit do it soon. I know of one unfriendly local who will not be honking at anyone for at least a month. You are welcome.

October 28, 2010


Northern part of Michigan is rural. An attractive version of rural, where agriculture takes a form of orchards and vineyards. Nestled between lakes Michigan and Huron the land has moderate climate suitable for growing temperate zone fruit. We sample local plums, late raspberries and various preserves including exotic thimbleberry. I find that I can almost forgive the irreparable change to the environment for a cherry pie (but not for cornflakes).


There was no war here. Nor a natural disaster. The lake did not flood the town as it did in New Orleans. The German army did not march in methodically burning houses like in Warsaw. No bombs were dropped. But you’d be excused to think something terrible must have happened. The place looks like the infamous lower 9th ward in the aftermath of Katrina. Houses are left deserted, boarded or burned. Furniture is rotting on a sidewalk. Roads are beyond repair. Abandoned cars are parked on driveways leading to nowhere. It’s not quite a ghost town: manicured lawns neighbor weed-overgrown ruins. A few residents appear out of nowhere and one starts waving in our direction. In all other places in US we would approach him and start conversation. Here we turn and speed away. If America has a failed city this is it. No wonder journalists flock here to shoot photos of ruin porn much to the annoyance of locals.