When I arrived at camp, I didn't genuinely believe it was going to be like Sweet Valley High - thankfully, as I was by then a fully grown 22 year old. As to what it would be like, I had no idea. I was going to a state I knew nothing about, to do a job I had never done before, with a group of people I had never met before. Going to camp was probably the time in my life when I knew least about anything. The camp I went to wasn't in the suburbs exactly, but it wasn't far from them. Or maybe that was the country. I'm still not sure. I used to run most days, leaving the camp and jogging a route that took me down past the other camps on our road, along a long, fairly flat road with evenly spaced houses, down a hill that turned violently to the left, and round a small loop that then led me up that same hill and back to camp. The even houses, with their neat lawns and smallish sections, to me said 'suburbs' but the lack of footpaths or traffic lights or crossings, or anything else at all really, said 'country'. It was kind of a confusing area.
The closest town was about a fifteen minute drive, and contained one Chinese buffet restaurant, one toy/candy store, one ice cream shop, and, if I recall correctly, one bar that we never went to. It most definitely was a small town, and I wound up hating everything in it, apart from the ice cream shop. There was no good food, and no entertainment, and nowhere to go when I left camp on those winding roads.
Much of my disappointment in America was self-inflicted. I knew, even as I bemoaned it internally, that I couldn't just expect this place, where people quite rightly lived their lives with no regard to me, to be what I was wanting and expecting. But I still didn't have to like it - this other where there were no footpaths because nobody walked and no good restaurants because nobody ate good food, where people thought I was odd for running and refusing to put something called a 'French toast stick' with fake maple syrup in my mouth. It was not uncommon for good-hearted people to drive past when I was exercising and offer me rides from their car windows, as if I was running not out of choice but because I was in trouble.
All in all, I was pretty unimpressed with America by the time I left camp, but still very excited about my forthcoming travels because ROAD TRIP! Not quite the one of my dreams, to be sure, but still closer. And as we ventured north, and came across suburbs containing actual footpaths and more than one proper and impressive city, my feelings on the subject improved. People still didn't run all that much, and you couldn't walk anywhere, but at least there were state-built acknowledgements that legs were made to be used for more than pressing down a gas pedal.
It wasn't enough to convince me wholeheartedly of the joys of America, but it was something. Enough that even though I was so very, very happy to land in London after my final departure, I was prepared to be convinced, four years later, to give it another go, in a city this time.
Since arriving in New York, H1 and I have ventured into the suburbs a few time, especially the bedroom communities clustered around Manhattan. And...they're nice. Really quite nice, in fact. Many of them are not entirely dissimilar to where I grew up. At one stage, we were convinced moving to one was going to be the right decision for us, but instead we came to the Upper West Side, which really was the right decision for us.
Because at the end of the day, I'm just not a small town sort of girl, or even a suburbs of the big city type of girl. In short, I grew up and I learned what I like and want. Hint: it's not to be Jessica Wakefield, and it's not to drive across the country, listening to Simon and Garfunkel and setting foot in every state. I genuinely don't care if I never go to North Dakota or Iowa. I'm sure they're great for those who live there and love there, but I've found my niche.
Occasionally, H1 and I go to New Canaan or Greenwich for a day, and I enjoy wandering down Main Street and looking in the shops and listening to the gossip about people I don't know in cafes. Occasionally, we go on holiday (or vacation if you must), and I enjoy sitting next to him in the car, listening to music and eating food that tastes good in a simply crappy way from roadside stops. Mostly, though, I'm happiest to be in New York, where I can eat food that tastes good without the caveat of being just a bit crap, and where everybody walks all the time, and where running out of milk at 10pm is only a problem if neither of us is willing to make the one block walk to our local market. Usually, we go together.
So there you have it. I love small town America. And also, I kind of hate small town America. But I live in (and love) New York, so really, it's all okay.