I moved out of Chicago on July 24, which means I've been on the road for a bit more than 3 weeks now. Doubts about whether the trip would be worth it have quickly vanished. Just in the Northeast, the variety I've seen is remarkable. And better yet, the friends, family, and strangers I've spent time with have given me lots of good ideas to chew on.
Big Town, Small Town
It's easy for me to forget just how different different parts of the USA are. My first two stops - my hometown of Youngstown Ohio and New York City - make about as stark a contrast as two cities can. Shadowing my Dad as he worked one day I got to watch arguments at the Mahoning County Court of Appeals, stroll into the Youngstown fire department and meet the Fire Chief, and then grab lunch at his favorite diner where he knew the staff. When I grabbed coffee with my friend Jim, he told me how Suzie's - the cool downtown bar - lets him set up and shoot installments of his concert series with local bands on a few hours notice via text message. When my Mom and I got lunch at the plaza near her house, we ran into our family friend who runs the plaza.
Of course, Youngstown is not all cozy hometown familiarity. It seemed like every other billboard was advertising an opioid rehab center and the epidemic has touched everyone's life in some way. And while I'm proud to know folks who are doing good work founding or growing local businesses, the exodus of young people from the area shows no sign of slowing.
Then I was off to Boston and Orono, Maine. Boston was fun, if unremarkable. Wonderful friends from Pittsburgh and Chicago hosted me in Lexington and Cambridge, respectively. I did some touristy stuff and moved on.
Maine was a blast. I have family in Orono, home of the University of Maine. My aunt, uncle, and cousin were wonderful hosts and they packed my visit with all the Maine activities I could handle. We visited Acadia national park, went kayaking in the ocean, and ate lobster and popovers. Orono's small town vibe was - there is no better word for it - charming. My cousin is able to walk to her high school, everyone on their street knows each other, and for a number of years the local minister was also the weatherman.
The biggest delight of the trip is getting to have long conversations with people I admire. The example that most sticks out to me is the friend I stayed with in New York. She's a year away from getting her law degree. While most of her classmates are locking in ~$200k corporate jobs, she's doggedly pursuing labor advocacy. She pushed me to think harder about the impact of whatever work I'll be doing next, especially as I'm moving from public interest work to the private sector. Reflections that have grown out of those conversations might find their way into a standalone post. I could probably write 5 posts about different folks who have gifted me with a new perspective so far on the trip.