Friday, July 31, 2009

Notes on Being "From Away"

You may have heard, but I no longer live in Los Angeles. And I no longer survive on merely "two wheels." Last month, my partner/wife (depends on state) and I packed up our cat and our household and high-tailed it across the country to Waterville, Maine where I will be a Postdoctoral Fellow of Non-Western Music at Colby College starting September 1. While I'm grateful for the job at such a nice educational institution, some very basic things about my life have fundamentally changed.

I now live in rural New England. I live in a state with around 1 million residents and a city with around 12,000 people. Everyone knows that I am not from around here. Mainers have an expression to describe people like me – "from away." And that isn't necessarily a good thing. In the campaign to preserve the right for same-sex couples to marry, the opposition is quick to inform voters that the other campaign is using dollars and personnel "from away." (Technically, both sides are doing this but no matter.)

The climate and food politics are really different here. The locavore movement has been huge in this region for quite some time, which specialty license plates saying "support local agriculture" and the Hannaford's supermarkets featuring "local produce" alongside produce from Mexico and California. Also, many restaurants proudly support local agriculture. I often hear, "Maine was local before it was trendy." All of this local agriculture is really different from what I am used to. When I go to Farmers' Markets, I will encounter produce that is about 6 months off from what we used to get in our CSA box in Los Angeles. We are still eating a lot of chard, kale, and squash. It also means that I'm more likely to encounter blueberries and goat's milk products than I ever thought possible. Unfortunately because Maine has been trapped in unseasonal rainfall and a nasty bit of blight invading crops, it means that all produce is much more expensive here.

The rain also means that I am riding my bike significantly less than I used to. At first the rain was completely discouraging, but now I am of the opinion that unless the forecast predicts a 50 percent chance of rain or more, I will ride if possible. But thunder storms (and flood warnings) happen, and I'm still not riding as much as I'd like. Whereas a typical week in LA had me riding between 150-250 miles a week, here I'm lucky if I can hit 90 miles. It's quite depressing. Sure there are cycling clubs and groups in my area, but people here are content to do 30 miles maximum. They all think I'm a little intense in my desire to go long.

And cycling is really different here. The air is clean. There are no major climbs. There are significantly fewer cars on the roads. Cyclists ride two-three-four abreast. And there are cows and wild turkeys alongside the roads. Often when I ride around, I never have to stop at a traffic signal. There is less of a need to fight about cycling etiquette because there is so much more space. Whenever I talk about my collisions with cars in Los Angeles, people just don't understand. Cycling culture shock is not something I expected in the least, but there it is.

Rural New England also means that I am now the proud(?) owner of a car. I try to avoid using it whenever possible, but I'm driving much more than I want to be. A few weekends ago, we drove to a camp site with our bikes in tow and went for a nice ride around a Maine peninsula. It was beautiful and vastly different from what I am used to. We'll see how I continue to adjust in the coming months.

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