...Michelle St Clair, of Cincinnati, OH, who with uncanny accuracy guessed that I would pick up $19.99 in change from the road. The actual figure was $20.35.
Not exactly the life-changing sum that I jokingly implied, but it's still 2,035 pennies, and it illustrates one of the many lessons I learned from my walk. A lot of pennies can add up to a tidy sum, just as many small donations can add up to a healthy £40,000, and a lot of steps for a lot of days can add up to 3,000 miles.
These are some of the other things I learned. Well, 'learned' is not the right word, because I already knew a lot of them in theory, but they were brought home to me in tangible form by the walk.
- Walking, as Hippocrates said two thousand years ago, is indeed life's best medicine. I'm a whole lot happier than when I started, fifteen pounds lighter, and fitter than I've ever been in my life.
- Religion is a hugely powerful force in people's lives here. A large proportion of the people I met were regular churchgoers, and only three people professed themselves to be non-believers.
- People are afraid of other people. Their friends and neighbours are OK, but they don't trust the people in the next block or the next town down the road. This is true of most places I've travelled to, not just the US.
- We think of Americans as loud. It's not them that are loud, but us that are quiet. They're effective communicators; we mumble.
- Every time I come to the US, I worry that it will have stopped being the friendliest nation in the world. But it hasn't. Anyone I ever met who'd been to England said they'd received a warm welcome, but I still find it hard to believe it could be as warm as the one I've received here.
- The United States is sunny most of the time.
- There's no point worrying. Most of our fears are never realised. I rarely knew where I was going to be staying the next night, and I didn't care.
- The country is not just a collection of big cities joined by a tangled mass of freeways. Lots of Americans live in sleepy little towns. Some of these are beautiful, and others are so derelict they look like a bomb has hit them.
- For all its faults, the British health system is better than the American one.
- Huge numbers of Americans, many of them with all the trappings of prosperity, are living from one paycheck to the next.
- Huge numbers of Americans have houses piled to the ceiling with junk.
- People in the South say hallo to strangers they walk past in the street.
- 'Have a nice day' actually means that. It's not just something that McDonalds employees are told to say. I've started saying it too, because I like it.
- The other speech habit I've adopted is saying 'You're welcome'. I like this too.
- All you need to walk across America is a healthy pair of legs and the will to do so. A bit of money helps too, though my friend Matt has managed with almost none.
- Within reason, you should never turn down an invitation.
- Most people are good.
This is my last post, and I'd like to thank you for reading it. I'd also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped me on my way with anything from a little smile to a big donation. I'm grateful to Jayne for eighteen happy years and being the inspiration for my walk, and to Pam for being so tolerant of the fact that I still talk about her all the time.
This blog has meant a huge amount to me, I've enjoyed writing it, and I've really appreciated all the feedback, so I'm going to write another one. It's called An Englishman in New Orleans
. There's nothing there at the moment, but stay tuned.