Dear America,

It was great to see you again and even though we didn’t have much time to catch up I realized how much I have missed you.  They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and frankly . . . I think that’s bunk. I am convinced though, now more than ever, that being away for so long has opened my eyes to a whole load of qualities that I never knew I loved about you.  I love your baseball and apple pies but who doesn’t?  I miss your purple mountains majesty and your fruited plains but China has those too.  Ok, I’m not sure they have purple mountains but to be honest I haven’t seen yours either I was just saying that.  Where are they exactly?  I bet they’re cool.  Point is, I’ll always miss your big stuff but it’s your cute little quirks that really got to me this time.

I miss your gas stations.  I really miss driving a car but it’s more than that.  I feel at home in your filling stations.  We have a bond.  I know that whether I am traveling your highways or trolling your cities I am not far from a giant, well lit sign with removable numbers that inexplicably add an extra decimal point to your currency.  Three dollars and forty three point nine cents for a gallon of gas?  You don’t see that in other countries.  I also know that I will be warmly welcomed by at least eight different flavors of coffee, a shining wall of refrigerated carbonation and multiple thousands of bags and boxes of sicky sweet,  uber-hydrogenated, ultra-processed, slickly marketed variations of corn, wheat, meat and chocolate surrounded by t-shirts and fake license plates that offer brilliant wisdom with proverbs like “There’s too much blood in my alcohol system” and “Did you eat a bowl of stupid for breakfast?”.  I miss you America.

I miss your waiters and waitresses.  I miss that little speech at the beginning of a meal that goes something like, “Hi, my name is Alan and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”  You know why I miss that so much?  Because I really believe that Alan will indeed take care of me.  He frequently asks me if “WE”RE doing okay over here” even though I am the only one at the table.  Why so plural Alan?  You know why?  Because Alan is in this thing with me.  We’re connected he and I and he is genuinely and deeply concerned about how I am doing over here.  And if I am not doing okay then WE are not doing okay.  I miss that.  Some people say it’s about the tip.  Cynics.  They don’t know Alan like I do.  He told me as he gave me the bill (and I quote),  “if there is ANYTHING else I need” just let him know.  That’s a true friend.  Out of respect for Alan I refused to cheapen our relationship by leaving a tip . . . or should I say a bribe?  Alan would never take money to be my friend . . . I know because as I walked away he waved and though I could not read his lips he gestured, “you’re number one!”  No sir my friend.  You are.  I’ll miss you Alan and I miss you America.

I miss your loud mouths.  I have a confession to make America.  On previous trips I have been overwhelmed and even annoyed by your news anchors, your “investigative reporters” and your radio talk show host.  Your obsession with presenting the conflicting argument no matter what the original argument is has, at times, seemed to be spinning out of control.  Maybe it was the brevity of my trip but this time I found myself chuckling and even entertained.  In China the news is accepted with little public outcry but not in you America.  You accept nothing.  You expose it and crush it and beat the living daylights out of it and when there is no daylight left in it you hoist it on a stick and march it through the city streets.  Sure someone fed homeless people but how much did that free soup really cost the taxpayers?  Sure someone’s pet goldfish dialed 911 and saved an elderly man who was having a heart attack but should the price of fish food be covered by medicare?  I miss you America.

It was good to hang out again America.  It was good to be reminded that a nation is not the sum of its stereotypes.  It was nice to remember that you are so much more than the face I see on the news and the conversation I have with Chinese taxi drivers.

Hang in there.  You are missed.

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