The last time I went to the US, 11 years ago, it was my last big Journey as a student. It was the last time I traveled the way I traveled as a university student - you know: on a budget, dirt poor, hostels and backpacking and such. Everything after that was Vacations - because Vacations only exist when you Work, and indeed they are defined in contrast to Work. Vacations connote a minimum of 3-star hotels, room service, and bathrooms you don't have to share with the entire floor. Oh, and baggage that rolls on wheels, rather than weighs on your back.
This most recent trip was worse than a Vacation: it was Work. We were travelling to meet with several universities, along a route that was eerily similar to the route I took the last time - except everything was different. Instead of traveling with friends, it was colleagues. Instead of buses and trains, domestic flights. Instead of grubby youth hostels, business hotels. And instead of Seeing The World, it was Meeting Important People.
So I can't really say I got to see the US the same way I did in '98 - after all, to paraphrase Heraclitus, you can't go on the journey twice. The country has changed, and so have you.
I did manage to sneak some time away to go for a few walks through the various cities - Washington and New York primarily - recapturing a bit of that old feeling of excitement, wandering alone through a foreign city. For various reasons (sheer exhaustion and the cold being high on the list) Boston was experienced primarily indoors, or within the various meeting rooms of various universities. New York remains for me one my favourite - if not the favourite - cities, for the simple reason that I've never felt like a stranger there - not when everyone feels like a stranger. There's an equality of alienation, and, because of that, a sense of being at ease. You're much more yourself than you could be elsewhere.
I Have a Dream
It's a bit ironic that the only time I can undertake major journeys now is when they are work-sanctioned: other than that, the thought of a long journey seems impossible, with the conflicting schedules my wife and I have. I have thought about returning to visit my old University in the UK, but such a trip seems impossible to plan now.