Sunday, 23 September 2012

Swing State Project

(The title is a reference to a now defunct website that was big back in 2004/8 for the Presidential Elections in the US - it's now part of Daily Kos which is still probably the best clearinghouse for American politics)

Today I'm leaving Connecticut after 4 days and heading to the Midwestern state of Ohio - a classic bellweather swing-state in American politics.  I'm excited to be heading into one of the centres of political action in America but also really sad to leave Connecticut.  It's an incredibly beautiful state and one that I feel I've barely scraped the surface of.  As outlined in my post the other day, part of it are essentially commuter-belt for New York but where I was staying in Glastonbury, near Hartford, it's lush and verdant and felt like a place I could easily live. 

I headed off early this morning to get to Providence airport and was very glad to hand back the enormo-car that I've been driving the last four days.  Given I hadn't planned to do that much driving on this trip I'm a bit frustrated that I've covered 700 miles in those four days.  Some of that was necessary trips to and from the airport, but I also made an unplanned trip back to NYC (necessitating a drive to New Haven to catch the commuter train) and then a 6 hours round-trip to New Jersey (more on that below).  Still, at least I've seen some of the country!

I've been staying the last few days with Michele and her husband Gary via Servas.  Gary works as lawyer and Michele is part of an organisation fighting for access to healthcare for all residents of Connecticut.  It was fascinating to hear about the challenges of healthcare for Americans first-hand.  For example, Michele and Gary's family pay around $800 a month for healthcare insurance but even that hasn't saved them from around $12,000 in un-insured costs so far this year.  It puts any gripes we might have the NHS into real perspective.  Michele and Gary and their two children (Garrison and Vivian) were excellent hosts and I really felt lucky to be able to spend some time with them in their home.  I'm only sorry that I had two very early starts and finishes when I was there so didn't get to spend much time with them.  

The trip to New Jersey was set up for me by the Boots USA to meet one of the Regional Managers for the products that we have in Target stores here in the US.  Rachel was a great host and very tolerant of me being over an hour late for our meeting.  (The journey should have taken two hours and took four and quarter in the end thanks to an accident and then roadworks.  Not fun).  We took in a couple of Target stores and also visited Ulta and a CVS pharmacy.  It was odd to see such familiar brands as No7 and Botanics on the shelves in a country thousands of miles away from their home but it was heartening to see women responding to the brands in much the same way as they do in the UK (see my thoughts here on that).  It was also great to spend some time getting to know Target as a retail organisation.  I hadn't realised that they also sold normal groceries and were also branching out into some high-end electronics and other equipment.  

Some photos of one of the Targets - some ideas for the Baby team back in D90 I hope.  

The thing I found hardest to enjoy was the physical layout and transport we had to navigate.  As discussed here, I think that transport defines a place for its residents and the way that the transport options (or lack of) defined this part of New Jersey wasn't to my taste.  Two things that really resonated for me;
  1. There's no defined centre of anywhere - it's strip mall followed by strip mall with a short drive to the next strip-mall.  One of the places we went was actually called, 'Bergen Town Centre' but is obviously wasn't the centre of anything - a very dislocating experience.  
  2. People too the driving to ludicrous extremes - we got into the car at one point to go to the next store and I thought we were going up the road for a while.  Nope - we drove a total of 300 metres to the next shop and parked up again.  It look longer than walking would have done!  Insane.  And don't get me started on the drive-through cash-machines and off-licenses!
So I was glad to get back in the car (I appreciate the irony) and return to rural Connecticut.  I'm writing this in Providence airport waiting for my flight to Cincinnati where I'm looking forward to experiencing an American Oktoberfest, taking in a baseball game and also meeting with colleagues from P&G who are a major employment presence in the city

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