I managed to leave Washington DC without selling out my principles. It’s not that I didn’t try, it’s just no lobbyist wanted, “I believe families should be built around a firm foundation of wine gums”. I’m heading north east and, by the end of the day, will have arrived in my 48th and final state, New Jersey. Before I get there, though, there’s something else I should see, The First State: Delaware.
Delaware earned the nickname The First State when it became the first of the 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution of the United States. Near as I can tell, it did so purely to have something to tell tourists. I tried Delaware, but beyond buying some cheap trousers because you have no sales tax, I don’t really have much to say about you.
I’ve just tried looking up some famous people from Delaware. Several of the listings are women who were Miss Delaware. But only for years 2000, 2005 and 2007, where did the Misses Delaware come from all the other years?
Wait, wait, forget all that, Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich manoeuvre was born in Delaware. Hold your head up high, Delaware, you’ve made it.
… Seriously, Delaware. You’ve been at this existence thing for a lot longer than upstarts like Colorado, you should have more to show for yourself. I mean, I know you’re small, but that’s no excuse. I mean, look at Danny DeVito from your neighbour and far superior state, New Jersey. He’s tiny and he’s made the most of life. Get it together, Delaware.
The coolest thing about this state is the bridge out of it. That’s not (only) an insult, it’s actually a pretty cool bridge. Although, they did name it the Delaware Memorial Bridge, because even they know it’s the only thing people might remember about this state.
On the other side of the river is my 48th state: New Jersey. What I immediately notice is that it’s … quite green and pleasant. The impression I got from Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, Jon Bon Jovi and, really, anyone from there was that it was some kind of decaying, smoggy industrial hellscape, like a collapsed Bladerunner or Detroit. The area I’m driving through, however, is green fields, rivers and even a forest or two.
I’m heading up to visit some friends in Spring Lake, which is on the coast. You may remember way back in the beginning, my trip was disrupted by Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey, unfortunately, took a lot of the damage and, six months later, recovery is on going. Spring Lake looks to be doing relatively well: the buildings are repaired and a new boardwalk is under construction:
The scale of the devastation is phenomenal, but I am still taken aback at how much of it is still here, six months later. Amongst the buildings that are damaged beyond repair are hundreds of dwellings that look superficially alright, but have been rendered uninhabitable from the floodwaters. It is staggering to consider the effort that it will take to get these areas back to normal, if indeed, the families who have been displaced will want to return.
The friends I’m visiting lost their own home due to the water, then after a few weeks had to fend for themselves when political wankery cut funding to the affected families. When I met them, they still hadn’t moved back into a house (glad to say that they now have) and were working, living and raising a kid in pretty tough circumstances.
I’ve been putting something off all post. You see, six months ago, I was waiting to fly to America. I was starting on the East Coast and was planning on seeing these friends pretty early on. I knew they had a little boy, so I bought a little Ireland teddy bear I thought he might like. Then, loss of a house made it seem a bit of an awkward time to ask to crash on their floodwatery couch, so we rescheduled. For the next six months, throughout all the states I visited, this little bear came along. I started making a photo album, so that when I gave the bear over to the boy, I could show him everywhere the bear went to get to him. After the first couple of pictures, I realised the bear needed a name and instinct made me go with Bertie.
(For this next section, as we relive the memories, you might wish to pick a suitable tune, such as Sarah McLachlan’s I Will Remember You or Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. Bertie requests that you listen to his choice: Motörhead’s Ace of Spades)
Together we saw Chicago, Captain Kirk’s birthplace, space ships, prisons, cowboys, the White House, Graceland and the Grand Canyon. We experienced the blues, went to the depths of a submarine and joined in a Mardi Gras parade. We became outlaws and gamblers and meth dealers. (I didn’t include that image in the album, if you’re wondering).
But now it’s time to say goodbye to Bertie, so he can have a nice happy existence and hopefully cause a little less nuclear devastation. Tiernan, Bertie’s new friend, wants to introduce him to a new life. Namely, Skee Ball:
Well, it’s time to leave them to it and it’s time for me to head home. I’m spending the last couple of days in New York City, to give the journey a nice sense of circularity (if you ignore the fact that I technically started in Boston).