Imaginary America

America has become a polarised country. When I moved back to the UK, a little over eight years ago, it was edging that way, but since then it seems to have tumbled down a slope, to the point where there’s no common ground between the parties.

When I moved there in 1976 it didn’t seem that way. There were inevitable divisions, and I found myself in Ohio, a fairly conservative part of the country. But it was hardly extreme. It was, really, the place I’d seen on TV shows as I grew up. The houses were all detached, there were even white picket fences, and everyone had a car. Jobs were easy to come by and paid a damn sight more in real terms than I’d made in England.

There were FM radio stations that played rock, a breath of fresh air after living where I could only find what I liked on John Peel’s show or the Old Grey Whistle Test.

I learned to drive and passed my test in a month on the winter Cincinnati roads, where the snow stood a couple of feet deep on either side. I bought my first car, a two-year-old Mustang II with the hatchback, looking very sporty in mustard yellow. We rented an apartment, which was not only unfurnished but came with appliances and a laundry room – you had to have flat-hunted in England in the 1970s to understand.

It was a good place, a gentle place, really. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Cincinnati hadn’t quite dragged itself into the present yet. There were neighbourhoods that still lived in America’ Golden Age of the 1950s. But after what I’d experienced it still seemed like stepping into the future.

Part of my image of America had been born with Easy Rider. The freedom of the roads with a rock’n’roll soundtrack. Not something the Queen City could really offer. But I do recall when I stepped into my imaginary America. It must have been April of the year, a day that began chilly but quickly warmed up. I’d worn my brown leather bomber jacket and put it in the back seat of the Mustang as the temperature rose. I was on Interstate 75, cruising north somewhere, and Springsteen’s Born To Run came on the radio. It was the perfect moment, the one I’d been waiting for without even realising it. Quite suddenly it all came together, and I began to grin. I was in America, in the image that had lurked, half-formed, at the back of my mind. It was real; my imaginary America existed.

That was then, of course. The world’s a very different place now. Since I left I haven’t been tempted to return, even for a visit. These days, much of the America of my imagination is a dark, scary place.

9 thoughts on “Imaginary America

  1. I hope you moderate your comments as you might not want this one…but remember when you had a liberal new girlfriend and went to see Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and then you were mad because they dissed Maggie Thatcher, and your girlfriend was absolutely shocked that you admired Ms Thatcher? That was partly the legacy of your father’s beliefs and maybe partly came from living in Cincinnati. It would be very interested to read a post about your own progression to being (I think) a liberal.

    I think they had a cactus that they named after Maggie…or something like that (in the movie).

  2. You’re quite right. What changed me? Seattle, more than anything. Kicked me on my way to becoming not a liberal (in the English definition) but a Socialist. Thank you for reminding me.

  3. Socialist isn’t the dirty word here it is in the US, although the Tories try to make it seem that way. And, although Republicans would have folk believe otherwise, it doesn’t equate with Communist.

  4. Hah. Having lived both in Cincinnati and now in Seattle, I can appreciate how one can be changed here. And then there are those of us who fled here because it felt far more comfortable. But as I’m reading the last Richard Nottingham I find it astonishing that you weren’t always of a socialist bent! And it actually gives me hope that others might change… eventually… though they would need to unbind their hearts.

      1. You should read Candace’s books, she’s an excellent writer (as well a superb historian) and an influence on the way I approached the integration of family in the Richard Nottingham books. Also another Seattleite!

  5. My closest friend still lives in Cincy, one of the best writers I know (had a great story published in The Sun last year and keeps winning awards for stories and plays). Last Presidential election he was doing exit polls for the Democrats and was spat on several times. This is in the eastern suburbs, where’s there’s money, too.
    And Richard is a distillation of who I’ve become, who I’ve been for the last 20 years or so…

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