Seeing friends and family has been wonderful, of course, and in a few days time I fly to my girlhood home of Phoenix, where I will gather with the rest of my family (and eat lots of fantastic Mexican food!) Luckily I've been doing plenty of walking and hiking to offset all of that extra fuel, although it's a little scary just how quickly I've slid back into an automobile-driven American mindset.
"Bye!" I called to my friend as I left to run errands this afternoon. "I'm off to stimulate the economy."
I drove around her neighborhoods of Northbrook and Glenview in a borrowed Toyota Corolla, stocking up on items for my next year in England (as my income is still in dollars, I do as much shopping as possible in America and transport it overseas). I headed first to the sleek and very affluent Northbrook Court mall, a place I've never actually been inside before. As I cruised around the massive parking lot in "my" car, I watched automatically for a space near the front, but they were all taken with luxury cars and SUVs. Then I laughed at myself once more and remembered how I walk and bike everywhere back in England, and settled for a spot in the far corner of the lot.
Walking in, I noticed a few tall, leggy blondes who were inviting shoppers to take a spin in a new Lexus hybrid. I sidestepped them, smiling at the idea of owning any car again, much less a Lexus, and entered the mall. It was gorgeous, huge and a bit overwhelming. The shoppers were all extremely attractive and very well-dressed, and as I walked past kiosks, polite young men offered me fragrance samples, designer sunglasses and even a massage pillow. I ran my quick errand and left, but not without marveling at a mall where children play in a faux tree house and where shoppers can rest on real, luxury sofas.
When I stepped back outside, the Lexus girls stopped me politely.
"Would you like to take a Lexus for a spin?" one asked? "You get a free gift card if you do."
I was tempted, but declined. What would be the point? As I was walking away, I heard a man at the stand mutter, "Maybe we should offer them free Jell-o shots."
I went about my other errands, stopping for gas (and trying not to groan at the price--driving is fun but NOT cheap) and at a few other stores. I couldn't get over the fact that they were all so big, so efficient and with such massive car parks. Truly, America is a wonderful land for the consumer. But while I'm thoroughly enjoying my time here at home, I'm also looking forward to September, when I return to Nottingham, new visa proudly in hand, and once again navigate the rainy, narrow streets on my little bike and heading out to the corner shop when I need a loaf of bread. Somehow that all just seems more real to me now.