I went to the east coast of USA for the first time a few weeks ago. The trip started off very well. I bought a magazine from the book store at the airport, and the chap said “Enjoy your flight”, to which I responded, “Thanks, you too.” I then boarded and showed the flight attendant at the entrance of the plane my ticket so they could check it. Apparently this isn’t a thing in USA, because the flight attendant and I just had a staring contest for a few seconds before I awkwardly lowered my ticket and walked towards my seat.
First stop was DC, which was pretty neat. Since my existing views of the city were formed by a combination of House of Cards, The West Wing and Miss Sloane, it’s fair to say that it was a little different.
When I was walking from the train station to my hostel, a man came up behind me and asked, “Are you going to the vegan conference?” I was kind of surprised, so I just said yes without thinking. “Oh cool, me too.” he said. I asked how he knew I was going. For a brief moment, I wondered if I was famous, but he just pointed the the vegan sticker on my luggage.
Anyway, turns out I was going to the conference, I just had no idea what he was talking about at the time (sorry!). It was the Green Festival Expo, with a combination of environmental and vegan stalls and presentations. I spent the afternoon there and got to try some of Quorns’ new vegan food line up, as well as meet some people from the Humane Party and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, one of whom happened to be an effective altruist. He was very excited when I told him I used to work with Effective Altruism Australia.
The one downside of the conference was, as is seeming more and more common, the general disdain towards GMO food and blind positivity towards organic food. To avoid sounding like I’m repeating myself, I’ll just refer you to here for my feelings on this. In short and simplistically, it’s not backed by science.
One evening at the hostel, I was sitting in the common area working on my laptop (covered with vegan stickers), when a woman sitting next to me told me she liked them. “I’m vegan too.” she said. I’m pretty late to the ‘put stickers with messages on things you own’ party, and I always assumed it was mostly to try and convince others of the message, but now I’m wondering (from my anecdotal data) whether there’s more value in signalling what you’re interested in to other people, and meeting people with similar interests.
I was lucky enough to get a tour of Capitol Hill (which you can do by contacting your local congressperson or senator). I saw a Trump supporter at Capitol Hill (I could tell because they were wearing a ‘Make America great again’ hat and a Trump t-shirt), bringing the number of Trump supporters I’ve knowingly seen in person up to two.
I also enjoyed the never-ending selection of museums, almost all of which were free. I especially recommend the National Museum of American History and the Newseum (which was around $20 – it was worth it, but there are many free alternatives which are good).
I made some friends and went looking for politicians and staffers in local bars known to be politician hangouts like Bistro Bis, but failed. Until I left DC I was still holding some hopes for discussing socialism with Bernie Sanders over a stout.
In Philadelphia I stayed with my cousin, who moved to America 15 years ago for work, met and married an American then never came back. He took me mountain biking, and only told me that he once snapped his collar bone after I agreed. While rolling down those rocky paths and swearing in Australian I was very grateful that my university’s health and travel insurance included leisure travel.
I didn’t get around to exploring many of the classic tourist sites in New York as I was at the Reducetarian Summit for most of my time there, but I did get to sample some of the fine Manhattan vegan foods (see below for a compilation of bomb vegan food I found on my trip) and not so fine bars.
I had a pretty interesting experience at one very small bar I went to with my friend. It was very dark and underground, with a single bartender and about 10 patrons. My friend gave me some money to buy us a drink then went to the bathroom. I ordered him a beer and got a coke for myself. “I don’t serve that kind of thing here.”
“Oh, I’ll just get a water then.” He gets me the beer and water, then says something to the effect of “If it gets busy tonight, I’ll have to ask you to leave if you don’t order anything.” I was pretty surprised but he looked deadpan serious so I just said ok. When my friend got back, I told him what happened and he agreed that was kind of strange. The bartender must have overheard because he comes back and says “If you’re going to make me sound like a dick to your friend at least tell him the full story.” “I thought I did.” “You left out half of it.” “Which part?” “Where I made it clear I was joking.”
It can’t have been that clear. He said I didn’t understand hospitality and had probably never worked the industry. I told him I did for several years, unless the Australian hospitality industry was totally different to US. He backtracked a bit and became the nicest guy ever. Weird. I told another friend later and they said that happens sometimes in Manhattan.