I love to travel. I love seeing new things, new places, meeting new people, and trying new foods. I like experiencing different climates, landscapes, and cultures. Even in the good old U.S. of A, a couple hours worth of driving time can give you a whole different feel. Case in point: when we dropped off our son at college a week or so ago, we had to drive across Alabama, Mississippi, and most of Louisiana. I learned that Alabama has highways that threaten to eviscerate one’s tires, Mississippi has a Subway restaurant at almost every exit, and Louisiana is practically barren, except for the occasional armadillo on side of the road. Topographically, there’s almost a natural border between Alabama and Mississippi and then Louisiana. Western Alabama is, for the most part, pretty flat. Once you cross over into Mississippi, however, the landscape changes to picturesque rolling green hills. Then again, once you cross over the mighty Mississippi River into Louisiana, the terrain is once again flat, dry, and lacking forestation, with the exception of some bayous here and there.
Mississippi River at Sunset
Just like the topography, the restaurants are different, people’s accents are different, their terminology is different, not to mention architectural styles, habits, crops grown, commercial ventures, etc… It’s strikingly at odds sometimes even within 30 miles. And, just having come from Cajun country, even the gumbo recipes are vastly dissimilar! It always fascinates me that life can be so varied within such a little bit of space. From the hot, sweaty humidity of Louisiana being “God’s Country” to someone, to someone else in Tennessee thinking the same of the lush, rounded Smoky Mountains, to the fog-shrouded splendor of Seattle being paradise to a native there, completely intrigues me.
To me, growing up in the tourism capital of the world of Orlando, I’ve adopted the never-look-like-a-tourist-if-you-can-help-it attitude. I always strive to look like I belong wherever I visit. Of course, I’m sure I do look like a tourist (especially with my handy Garmin directing my every move), but if there is some way I can sort of blend in, I will.
“Just” a house! What fun to run by in the morning!
My main strategy for looking like I belong is to sneak in an early morning run wherever I am. I have run for about 10 years now, and the thought of going days without getting in a run is so contrary to my lifestyle, I just couldn’t do it. Beyond that, however, I can get a feel for each new locality I visit. In Natchez, MS last weekend, running along the Mississippi river,
Same view of the Mississippi in the morning…
I saw the night and day crews swap at a riverboat casino, two seasoned gentlemen stoke the fire for a day of cooking and smoking at an outdoor barbecue joint, gardeners pruning everything just-so at one of the many large mansions in town, and several sweet southern matrons taking their morning constitutionals looking and smelling every bit of the belles they are.
Several people wished me good morning, dogs stopped to smell me, ladies in curlers and face cream waved at me from their driveways as they picked up the morning papers, and I felt, if only for the briefest of moments, as if I were part of their world. Whether I’ve been in Natchez, Victoria, BC, Seattle, NYC, Atlanta, or Butte, MT, I feel I’ve absorbed a little bit of that city’s essence during my run.
Rosalie Hall… not my usual scenery during a run!
And since I tend to be an early morning runner, I’ve been able to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and figure out where to visit that day. I learn the names and directions of the streets, which restaurants seem to be getting ready to be busiest, and which shops look like ones I’d want to visit. So it’s almost easy later in the day to pretend to look like I belong. Yeah, I don’t have the dripping-with-honey accent, or an easy command of direction of “the” places to be, but I can get from point A to point B without too much sweat.
And if I can do that, I can pat myself on the back because I don’t really look like a tourist, even though, I’m sure I probably do…