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August 12, 2011
“Happy” is a state of mind—and a friendly little town in Texas
Harriet and Alan in their new “western-style” garb
I know how lucky I am to travel abroad as often as I do. But while seeing the world has been nothing less than life-changing, I appreciate our own country just as much. And after a recent four-state road trip, I believe that the United States truly is, as the song says, “America the Beautiful”—and I’m proud to call it home.
Back in early July, Alan and I, with one of our colleagues and his girlfriend, traveled to Amarillo, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Nantucket, Massachusetts, and finally, New York City ... With its Spanish and Mexican influences, and extensive artistic heritage, we loved Santa Fe’s wealth of art galleries, museums, and charming architectural styles … In contrast to the Southwest, colonial Nantucket is no less charming! Since it was early in the season, we reveled in the familiar calm that walking along the island’s remote beaches and wild rose-filled dunes offers … We saw yet another side of America in New York City, where the sophisticated urban vibe and pace are always invigorating … But gazing across the open landscape; seeing the vibrant greens and yellows of its corn fields; and spending time with some of the warm, generous people of west Texas—where we joined 16-year associate Laverne Schaff and her extended family (81-strong) for their annual Fourth of July celebration—was the unexpected highlight for me …
Harriet at the famous Cadillac Ranch
Whenever I travel, I try to immerse myself in the local culture, and visiting Texas was no exception! And we did a lot in a short time, including a number of new things: Decked out in newly purchased “western-style” garb, we learned the Texas Two-Step—a dance everyone does with each other, though not necessarily with their spouse or the person with whom they came ... Breaking from my “pescetarian” (a vegetarian who eats fish) lifestyle, I tried a ubiquitous Texan specialty: brisket and BBQ ribs (which were delicious!) ... We visited the iconic Cadillac Ranch—a public art installation that draws thousands of visitors to the area each year … I discussed politics, global warming, farming, and more with our friend’s brother Frank, a corn farmer, and even got to drive his massive tractor (with a high-tech GPS system!), quite a step up from my gardening by hand … We flew over magnificent Duro Canyon—the second-largest in the U.S.—in search of wild boar (which we never saw) with another of her brothers. And while Amarillo was a furnace-like 106˚ (a bit rough on New Englanders like us!), we had an amazing time with Laverne and her family.
The quiet downtown of Happy, TX
And the Texas welcome continued. During a drive another day, we found ourselves in the tiny town of Happy, Texas—deserted, but for a sprinkling of people walking toward the same building. It turned out to be a huge family reunion, and to our surprise, the family matriarch graciously invited us all in to join them—and we were complete strangers! After meeting Laverne’s family, this unplanned encounter further cemented my new-found affection for Texas: a place where people warm up to you in five minutes.
Looking back at our time in the Lone Star State, I’m reminded of several very important truths: Wherever you travel—Paris, Chiang Mai, or even Happy, Texas—keep your eyes, mind, and heart open, because there is always something new to learn and someone new to befriend … And being with one’s family—whether it’s large like Laverne’s and the one in Happy, or small like my own—is truly among the warmest and happiest places on Earth.
Have you visited a U.S. destination that taught you something new about America? If so, I’d love to hear more about it. You can share your thoughts and experiences—and photos—with others by posting your comments below this Journal entry, or you can email me directly at email@example.com.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be spotlighting South Africa. If you’ve explored this region with Grand Circle, I hope you’ll send your stories and pictures to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.