Having California plates is a conversation starter in Ohio. It’s a small thing, really, not one of life’s big cultural divides. But among people who camp—a friendly lot who make much use of “where you from?” as a conversational lubricant—the fact that we’re from the Golden State brings smiles, amazement and numerous follow-up questions.
Wow, all that way! Where are you headed? And on this drizzly, damp, 70-degree day in Hocking Hills, after a drive the day before from 90-degree Springfield, we are quite a bit more comfortable as we describe our adventure. And it’s as if the amazement increased with each segment eastward: No amazement to be a CA camper in Wyoming, slightly notable in South Dakota, remarkable in Illinois, gad-zooks in Ohio.
Maine should be apoplectic.
One camper, a young woman traveling solo from Massachusetts, had drained her car battery and needed a jump. Going to her neighbors at the site beside her, a local Ohio couple, she asked the gentleman if he had cables. No, he said, but suggested she check with us. He pointed to us: “They’re from California. No way they came all this way without cables.”
He was right. And we helped the poor lass get on her way.
So not being from these parts, or being from a long way away, is a notable thing. People will make guesses about you based on that, even if it’s a lighter topic such as whether you carry cables. This awareness I have of not being from here has me reflecting now on how different things are—or how different I am—from these surroundings.
They camp in the humidity, those in areas east of north-south line dissecting Nebraska. So it seems they all have AC units on their rigs. Not a un-heard-of feature out west, I realize, but we did not get AC for our pop-up because most trips out west, except for deserts in summer, do not require it. With some steamy days still lingering here in the eastern autumn, we sleep with all the windows open to catch a breeze. We’re not from these parts, you see.
They have a tangled mess of interstates, US highways and county roads here; no wide spaces like out west, no lines-of-sight to the horizon with only one pickup and a mesa in view. So driving to a campground in Ohio puts me on rush-hour interstates, doing the lane-change tango, just minutes away from a quick turn to the woods. The woods are grand, and Hocking Hills is one of the best campgrounds we’ve been in, but driving here was not like the 2-lane long hauls to western wilderness.
Not a critique, just a notation. It’s different here and well, again, we’re not from these parts, you see. And the lack of lines-of-sight here makes a GPS all the more valuable. Do we go down this road lined on both sides by tall trees? Or that road lined on both sides by tall trees?
The forests are different—thicker, with thinner trees and yet more of them. And the people, the wonderful people—some of the accents are different. The restaurants are different, some of them, like the Steak and Shake chain here, which we enjoyed in Danville, IL. (Though we re-grounded back to a familiar culture with a Starbucks visit later in the day in Richmond, IN). The traffic laws and behaviors are different; no other state I’ve found so far will, like California, post a lower speed limit for cars pulling trailers. (70 mph on I-70 through three states! Woo hoo!)
It’s a microcosm of a larger lesson, this thing about differences. The small lesson here is only about the quaint regional things you notice on a trip. The larger one is the lesson about how we respond to those differences, whether by making value judgments or simply enjoying the differences. And in the end, it may not be so much they who are different, but I.