PHIL’S TRIP TO THE EAST COAST by Phil Riffey

In May of 1993 Phil and several other International Students attending McCook Community College took a two week journey to the East Coast of the United States and back. All of the students taking the drive had found their way to MCC through placement by the ASPECT Foundation. I was the college’s coordinator for the International Students on campus and assisted them in putting their journey and drove the college’s twelve passenger van for them.

 

I designed a Sociology 299 course for them so we could have the use of the college van on the trip. Each student was required to keep a daily journal and write a final paper for the mini course.

 

Each student wrote a paper but since Phil lived at my house for the year while attending MCC and we have stayed in contact over the years, I have his permission to show the world his journey.

 

After Phil left McCook in the summer of 1993 his has graduated from University in France, obtained a Masters from the University of Kansas and spent two summers at our cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado working at Grand Lake Lodge. The following is the paper Phil wrote.

 

Operation: TRIP TO THE EAST COAST – 5/14/93

 

The first part of the trip hasn’t been very interactive concerning the contact we had with American people. Indeed, we drove from McCook to Davenport all day long. It started in the morning where all the students were to meet in front of McMillen Hall. As we got there, there was nobody at the meeting place. Steve said “I’m going to get the van, stay here and wait for everybody”. I could have waited a long time, where should the students be but behind the gymnasium waiting all beside the van? Well I guess that the international melting pot contributed highly to the misunderstanding of ours. Anyway, after a photo cession for the McCook Daily Gazette we finally left in great happiness I must say.

 

Inside the van was a noisy gossiping of happiness. I should say that in the back of the van were seated all the girls who were laughing and singing and in the front, the boys were joking. It is funny how the human being’s natural instinct confirms the rule that each boys get together and girls as well. Anyway, we knew that we were bound for an unforgettable trip and consequently, we were going to make the most of it. Let’s hit the road!

 

The atmosphere in the van was more a primary schools’ than a college’s. Jokes after jokes were graciously told by each of the participants. Steve, our official driver, was polite enough not to tell us to buckle up, I mean to talk a little down. However all the students stopped speaking 20 minutes after our departure because although it was 8:30 A.M., it was still bed time for the young and classical students we were.

 

Throughout our trip, from the beginning to the end, there were some sequences of talks, sleeps or only speechless moments. Usually we would get our energy back after a stop to a gas station or a restaurant. A breath of fresh air would naturally cheer us up for a while. You know how road trips are? A sip of the marvelous caffeine concentrated Mountain Dew beverage and here we went again.

 

Chicago – The First big city we hit (My kind of Town)

 

The first thing that we noticed walking downtown is that all the people were staring at us. I must admit that it was glaring: 12 people walking together with cameras and looking everywhere as if discovering this planet for the first time. I found this city marvelous, gorgeous, architecturally interesting and very windy. First, we were lucky because the weather was great. Although I was impressed by this city, I found the inhabitants quite “normal” for inhabitants of a big city: they indeed drove fast. We would come across money beggars on the streets who would let you go only if you gave them a coin. That was one of the first reality we had to face. We were not in Nebraska any more. The only thing to do even if it was somewhat cruel was to do what other people did, ignore them. If you surrendered to their begging, you would not have finished giving. I remember Stephan, our Swiss friend, giving some food as an alternative. Good thought!

 

Later we went to a museum of art and I had fun watching and listening to the people inside. There are three kinds of painting watchers:

 

1) Those who watch quietly and pretend to know something by the way they move, they go forward and backward, lean there head to the right and to the left.

 

2) Those who know the stuff they look at by unexplainable reason.

 

3) those who explain everything to someone with technical words and don’t even understand what they are talking about.

 

Something interesting that we very seldom have here in France is the museum shop inside the museum where we can find gifts like posters of the famous paintings we’ve seen. Outside the museum, I met an interesting African-American who told me that the human being is in extinction and that we would all going to die. He also told me that he was a professional guitar player. Laurens, Stephan and I had fun listening to him and exchanging accomplice glances.

 

The visit to the Sears tower, the tallest building in the world, was one of our most exciting experiences; indeed, the skyscrapers are almost nonexistent in Europe (only one in Paris). The fact of being at the top of it and watching the city made us feel like we were dominating the world. Our common sensation was that the building was slightly moving to the right and to the left. After inquiry, we were finally told that the building was designed to move, they was no alternative to that.

 

We spent the evening playing soccer on the yard in front of the motel so rusty were we at the end of this day. Like every evening, we tried to find a cheap place to eat. The best deal we could get was the salad?bar type of deal so that we could eat all we wanted for approximately $ 5.00. Almost all the restaurants were the same. You could order some meat accompanied by a choice of potatoes, French fries or fried seafood. The green type of vegetable was very seldom offered (like beans, peas etc.). The only type of green vegetable you could find was served cold in the salad bar. Unlike in Europe, where the tips are included, we Europeans, usually forgot to leave one. Steve would occasionally remind us of this mandatory deed, thanks, God!

 

During the trip, we would take our breakfast in the room in the morning after having bought the food the day before. This would give us the economy of time and money. One night in Pennsylvania as we were all looking for some things to eat for breakfast in a grocery store, Steve told to the owner that we were coming from Europe so surprised was the owner because of our accent. Anyway, the owner gave us 15 free cookies for our breakfast. The contact with the Americans was fairly good. It seemed as if people loved to hear us speak with our own foreign accent. It might have been a way for them to escape the every day life routine.

 

NIAGARA FALLS

 

For lunch, the Japanese team, Atsumi, Maricco and her father, who were all tired of American food, decided to go to a Japanese restaurant. So almost all the students decided to go with them. After the stroll we took to those huge falls of Niagara where we had been all moved by the tremendous power and amount of water these falls offered, we took off for Syracuse where we spent the night at a movie theatre and in our rooms talking and watching TV with the girls.

 

The interstates we took in our trip were in majority free, but around the big cities, we had to pay a toll. Not very expensive compared to France where the Motorway -as it is called- is not free: around 90 French Francs for 500 km ($ 19 for every 280 miles). The speed limits are not very high compared to my country (65 miles in U.S.A for 75 in France).

 

BOSTON

 

As we were wondering where we were in downtown Boston, a business looking man with a smile came by to help us to find our way. We thought it was surprising from someone of a big city to offer help without our asking… But it wasn’t all, as we came to the motel to check in, we realized we had reserved in another motel in New Jersey. The manager of the motel offered to cancel the other motel for us and to accept our discount card. Thank you so much because we were ready to go to bed so exhausted were we at the end of the day.

 

Driving in Boston was pretty difficult, it was not surprising because we were told that Boston was a “big small” city with not that many road to drive onto. The second day in Boston was still rainy. After we visited the U. S. S Constitution, which unfortunately was being restored, the group split up and one bunch went to the aquarium. It was the best aquarium I’ve ever been into. There was the best variety of fish and we could even touch and caress some species. We also saw the project of cleaning the water around the Boston area. Indeed, the Boston Atlantic water suffers from city pollution, and trash dumping in it. I should say that I was not really convinced because the way they presented the problem. The result was given without even talking about the way they were going to get it.

 

New York City

 

We arrived in NY city where, surprisingly, it wasn’t so hard to find and to get about despite the traffic. The hotel was a four-stars type but because we had a discount or I don’t know why, we really got shabby rooms in the attic. Small beds, too soft, towels rod in the bathroom that fell down when you tried to hang them… We ought to have suspected something. Anyway the good part was that we didn’t have to use the van in New York because we were in downtown. So coming out right in Manhattan was easy.

 

At night we went to Broadway street to check out the shops. 70% of the shops were strange bargain-type of shops. These shops, that were in general HI?FI shops, were pretending to give a discount of 50% of the regular price. The fact was that the regular price was doubled. So the discount price was the normal price. Got it? The good part is that you could bargain, but you felt like you had been cheated anyway even if you thought you obtained a good deal. I guess the shop owner slick smiles after buying confirmed it. New York City is a kind of like Paris in the streets. You come across the same kind of people: entertainers in the street who would do anything for money. However, talent is shown and originality too. Black market salesmen with t-shirts, watches, who always carefully looked around to check if there was a cop in the corner ready to catch them.

 

The group relationship became tense in NY because the group started to show different interests and wanted to see different things. But the most important fact is that we were getting tired, I mean real tiredness. Sleeping a few and walking a lit everyday would drive us to quarrel for anything . One night I had an argument with Pernilla because she was left on the street with Cecilia and Elayne. So tired to admit that she was the one who left the group because we weren’t (the boys) walking fast enough, she rushed to her bedrooms in tears, saying that we were all sons-of-a-gun. Well, I guess that confirms sociologists thesis on human group relations.

 

As we had some urgent laundry to do we desperately found a place to do it. And after that as we couldn’t agree about choosing a place to eat the group split up and everybody went to eat according to their choice and preference.

 

The other day was spent at the Statue of Liberty. The group was more and more tired. We agreed the night before we would wake up at 7 A.M. and leave at 8 but we left at 9. After a short wait for the boat that was taking us to get to the island where the statue was (despite the large crowd) we finally arrived to this huge, impressive, beautiful girl of brass. Even if it took more than 2 hours to walk up the stairs to get to the top, the statue of liberty had been so far my most exciting experience. The fact of being in her crown brought me some creepy, thrilling sensations I’ve ever felt before. The other fact was that I was very proud that this statue was a gift from France to the USA, especially when someone in the ship on our way back told me that this statue was a marvelous gift France made to the Americans in reconnaissance to their mutual friendship. M Eiffel had built it and had sent it at the end of the 19th Century.

 

After visiting the Statue the group split again and Stephan, Laurens and I decided to go Madison Square Garden where a NBA game was happening at 3:30 PM (Chicago Vs N. Y). We figured out that we could get some black market tickets, yeah right! Even 15 minutes before the end, the tickets were still $130. So we decided to go and watch the game in a bar in the front of the Madison Square arena. That was a cool game anyway.

 

WASHINGTON DC

 

The students group was getting more and more tired after all these ups and downs in the huge city of steel and concrete. After the little accidents we had with the van in front of our hotel, we were happy to leave this city. We arrived in Washington at 5:30 pm and we did not have any trouble finding the hotel. We took two rooms this time and declared only 8 people out of 11. Three girls managed to sleep together in one bed requiring a strange position and two in the other bed. Two boys had to sleep on the floor though and each evening it was the battle to pick who had to go on the floor. Sleeping on the floor is not that bad though, it might be hard but the back likes it. Ask your chiropractor!

 

Washington had been one of our most intensive walking experiences. The monuments were so far from each other that it very often took more than 20 minutes to walk from one place to another. Downtown Washington surprised us because we were first taught that it would be bigger. This city was so different than the other big cities. There were no skyscrapers, only big buildings with old architectural designs. Every wall was white. Lightness had the city beam.

 

I was really impressed by the Vietnam War Memorial Wall and the importance people gave it. There was a cemetery atmosphere; people would put ornaments, flags, and flowers on the memorial wall. That night was the first night we had gone to bed that early than 10 P.M.. So after our journal writing session, everybody closed his or her eyes and fell fast asleep.

 

The last day was our last day in Washington and also our last day before our return drive to McCook. A sort of happiness and energy hung over the group that day, it was very easy to say why, in fact all the students knew it was our last day of our trip. And we weren’t happy because we were sick of visiting but because we were tired of walking during a two-week trip. Our feet had become bruised with clogs and cramps. Our shoes had kicked the bucket.

 

BACK HOME

 

Nothing to say in particular about the social aspect with people because we spent most of our days sleeping in the van. A few of us were reading, something that entertained us for a while was the kaleidoscope I bought at the plane museum. The little problem we had for a while was the air conditioning in the van and in the hotel room. In Europe, we don’t have or very seldom have, air conditioning, that’s why it was so difficult for us to bear it in the rooms. We immediately had a runny nose with a sore throat. As Steve needed it we had to follow his desire to have air conditioning. In the van, the air didn’t blow properly on the back and we had to turn up the air blast to the max but not too long otherwise it would become too cold. Hoping that those of you who are reading this text right now understand a hint of the sensation we had at that time.

 

After two stops, one in Columbus and one in Peoria we arrived in McCook. This intense trip full of walking and visiting made us discover fantastic cities. The cities we always see on postcards and always desire to visit. When we told our story to some people in McCook and realized that we had probably visited more states than they had, we really felt spoiled. But we knew that we had to make the most of this fantastic year in the US because we knew that there might not be other opportunity to do it.