When you drive into an American parking lot in a 2007 Chevrolet Aveo, you feel pretty out of place, I can tell you. Most of your neighbours are a good couple of metres longer, 40cm taller and 30cm wider. While you might feel a bit overshadowed, it does mean you can usually park at a jaunty 45-degree angle and still be well within the lines. Swings and roundabouts.
My Chevy Aveo, by the way, is a rebadged Daewoo Kalos. ‘Don’t worry,’ the dealer told me reassuringly. ‘It’s not American, it’s Japanese.’ (He meant South Korean.) It’s very much an outsider on American roads, and marks me out as one too – as if my Nottingham accent and awkward British politeness weren’t enough. But this outsider’s eyes, through his outsider car’s windscreen, have seen a lot.
Over 10 months and 10,000 miles, I’ve learned that lane markings, traffic lights, and especially pedestrian crossings are to American drivers as the Pirate’s Code is to Captain Barbossa: ‘more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.’
I’ve learned that Boston drivers really earn the name ‘Massholes’, and that, fortunately, their brand of me-first selfish impatience seems to be restricted to the northeast.
I’ve learned, to no one’s great surprise, that American radio is even more commercialised that British radio. And I’ve learned that Ottohaus of Charleston is the King of Mechanics.
I’ve learned – from billboards, bumper stickers, lawn signs, and Travis Cottrell – that Jesus saves.
I’ve discovered that $20 worth of ‘gas’ can get you 400 miles, and I’ve discovered that the price of cheap petrol is atrocious roads.
I’ve discovered that a Quality Inn in Selma, Alabama looks a lot like a Super 8 in Danbury, Connecticut.
I’ve discovered just how quickly blue skies can turn to blizzard in Pennsylvania or torrential rain in South Carolina.
I’ve discovered Maren Morris, whose single My Church is brilliant and is played a lot on country radio.
I’ve discovered that Twinkies are disgusting, but Funyuns taste good.
And, most recently, I’ve discovered how hard it is to sell a tiny, manual, outsider car in the USA.
- Jonathan Jones, a political researcher and F1 fan who writes about US politics for the New Statesman.