I woke up to find quite a weird text from my brother. He seemed to think that I was considering marching for the KKK as opposed to against them. I’m not really a big fan of bigotry so I’d just like to emphasise the word countermarch here, in case anyone thought I was a closeted racist.
I wasn’t that hungry for most of the day, so kept nipping into supermarkets to buy snacks, as opposed to buying lunch somewhere. I was led to believe that the food here is considerably cheaper than in the U.K. which is weird because almost everything I found on the shelves seemed to be $5.99 or higher. I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that everything probably is cheaper. The prices only seem higher because food tends to be sold in packets 2 or 3 times larger than the UK equivalent. I’m curious to know why that is. Is it because people eat more, or do they have larger families, or go food shopping less often?
I’ve got a habit of looking at Google Maps, going “Yeah. Yeah. I know where I’m going”, putting my phone away and then ending up in completely the wrong place. Oftentimes it’s a bad idea but occasionally it pays off. I stumbled across the Reading Room of Boston Public Library, which it turns out is a really nice place to write in. The wifi’s a decent speed and the air-con’s not on at a stupidly cold temperature. More importantly though, the room feels like it could be used as a location for films like Harry Potter and the Riot Club – it’s got those green desk lamps that you only really see in old libraries.
I kept getting distracted so it took me about 4 hours to write 800 words but I finally got it posted. About a 10-minute ride on the T from the library is Faneuil Hall, one of the main attractions in Boston, so I thought I’d take a look. I instantly regretted it. Not because it was overhyped or boring but because I didn’t realise that it’s split into two parts. The whole of the ground floor consists solely of souvenir shops. That closes at 9. The, arguably more interesting, Great Hall upstairs closes at 5. I arrived at 5:25 so all I could do was endeavour to come back another day. Quincy Market’s next door but it wasn’t really anything special – it’s just food you can get elsewhere but with inflated prices. Personally, I wouldn’t even bother but hey, who am I to say?
Later on, I met Greg at Porter Square and headed to a ‘cookout’ with some of his old MIT friends. I’ll be honest, these guys (and girls) were ridiculously clever; like Big Bang Theory kind of clever. When large chunks of the conversation are on doctorate-level conditional probability, all you can really do is smile and nod. I did get some really useful advice though: because I’m only 18, I’m too young to get bar work here in Massachusetts, where the minimum age to do so is 21. In Pennsylvania, however, I’m old enough. I can serve alcohol but not legally drink it, which is a bit silly really. It’s never a bad thing to know where you can find work though. I spoke to a guy who’s taking a Post Baccalaureate in neuroscience, which is essentially a two-year course taken in preparation for grad school. Apparently, in America, it’s perfectly normal to declare your major at end of your sophomore year. So, unlike in the UK, where you know in advance which degree you’ll come out with, you don’t need to know here. You just need to be accepted into a college. To me, that seems like a better system.
Speaking to Hee Yeon on the way back, I learnt quite a lot about the American healthcare system and really got a sense of the sheer cost of being ill. Just seeing a doctor for an initial consultation is about $175. If you’re ever considering having a baby, don’t do it in America – the cost of it, when you factor in prenatal and postpartum care is about $10,000. Sure, your insurance will cover a lot of that, but I was told that you still have to pay a deductible before any claims will be paid. For a lot of people, that’s about $2,000 a year. It really does add up! Like most Brits who’ve visited America, I’m now just so, so grateful that we have access to a nationalised health service.
The pep talk I gave myself last night seemed to have worked. I went down to breakfast and got talking to an Aussie guy named Mark, who’s just driven about 4,300km from Vancouver to Toronto. He didn’t go to uni until 24, instead choosing to travel for a while, and said he’d highly recommend me hitchhiking down to the West Coast. I considered it for a while but there’s no real need for me to risk doing so. I’ve now found lifts to a lot of the cities I’ll be travelling to in the next nine or so weeks. There’s always next time though!
Naturally, I went back to the dorm a lot more confident and thought “the guy in the bunk below me can’t be that bad”. He really wasn’t. Con (that was his name) was another Aussie, who lives in Melbourne and spent the last three weeks working at a summer camp in New Jersey. According to him, the best time to get work in Australia is over the summer i.e. from December to February and bar-work is best found in Melbourne and Brisbane – the bars all close at 12 in Sydney. He said to get in touch if I’m ever in Oz, something I will definitely do.
After signing up for a free walking tour of Georgetown, I worked on a blog post, before deciding to venture out and find some lunch. After walking down K-Street, the home of dozens of lobbying firms and therefore, arguably, the most significant street in the world, I passed rows of food trucks on Farragut Square. Street food tends to be cheap, right? Not in DC. In a city built largely for working professionals, prices are vastly inflated beyond what they would ordinarily be. At a farmer’s market I walked past, for instance, green juice was being sold at $11 a bottle. That’s fine if you’re on a six-figure salary and leave the city at the end of the working week. It’s not so good if you’re on minimum wage and stuck there full time. It’s easy to see that, for the majority, survival in a city where 8.6% of the population are said to be millionaires, would be tough. Basic economics says as much.
Walking past the frat houses of George Washington University which, for the record, were surprisingly small, I came across a Segway tour. Now, some cities just don’t seem suited to them but DC definitely is. Riding down the National Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument would be incredible on a hot day, or any day for that matter. As it’s such a compact city and the buildings retain heat well, it often feels much hotter than it actually is. It can be 26*C but feel like 30*C, which is more UAE than USA.
At the end of Constitution Avenue is the Lincoln Memorial, the only building I’ve ever seen from a distance and unwittingly said “WOW”. It’s seriously impressive. Photos don’t do its size any justice and its design is quite simply timeless. It’s very hard to imagine that it was built hundreds of years ago. Surprisingly, there are no security checks when you enter and I do feel it’s lost its touch a tiny bit. It’s a self-declared temple to Lincoln and, for that reason, “Quiet, respect please” signs are dotted around, all of which are ignored by noisy tourists taking photos, of which I was, admittedly, one. In decades gone by, when the majority of people still had an emotional connection to slavery and to segregation, would this have been the case? Who knows? Either way, it got me thinking: has time detached us from the implications of Lincoln’s work? As I sat on the steps outside, watching Russian kids slide down the polished marble as if it were a slide, it certainly felt so. Regardless, I was still struck by just how powerful and thought-inducing that monument is. I guess everyone takes to it differently but for me, it raised the question of “What will my legacy be?”. Lincoln was a champion of human liberty; what will I champion? What will I do with my life? I just sat there transfixed for about half an hour. I don’t know what I was thinking about; I just knew that getting up and leaving didn’t feel right. It’s the sort of place that movie characters go to in those scenes where they’re having their breakdown or re-evaluating their lives.
I spent a very brief couple of minutes at the Washington Monument, so short in fact that I won’t pass judgement on it, and then rushed back to the hostel for the tour of Georgetown I’d signed up for. 40 minutes of brisk walking and a lot of sweat later I got through the door, just in time, and guess what? It was cancelled! How peak is that! I did have quite an experience in the time that I would have been on it though. A guy, baked out of his mind and, for some reason, wearing those antique welding goggles, walked in with his girlfriend. I got the impression they’d just been evicted so I spent about 10 minutes explaining how hostels work to them. I say to them: it was more to her; he was barely functioning.
Later on, I found some free macaroni in the kitchen. With a bit of sauce from a grocery store down the road, it made for a pretty cheap meal. One thing I noticed was that even though the big grocery stores have economies of scale, the smaller ones seem to charge lower prices. I guess Americans are just willing to accept higher prices if they can buy everything from one store, rather than shopping around? Maybe it’s wise to buy from Trader Joe’s and Walgreens though. Either the pasta was out of date or the sauce but, either way, I felt pretty grim after eating it. Or, maybe someone hadn’t bothered to wash the cutlery before me. It wouldn’t surprise me.
Anyway, I sat down and ate with a few people. They all had headphones in or were on their phones so no-one spoke but that was fine. As I said yesterday, I’ve realised that hostelling can be as social or unsocial as you want it to be. You can treat it like a hotel or like a commune and that’s something I was really learning to appreciate.