USA Then and Now

05 November, 2019 11:30AM ยท 4 minute read

In my last trip to the USA in 2000 I took a lot of photos and have a lot of fond memories. What’s interesting to me in returning some nearly two decades later are some subtle differences that some people mightn’t have noticed if they’d lived through the gradual change.

The mix of Cars is very different

When I visited I recall vividly being dwarfed by large trucks, Dodge RAMs, Chevrolet Silverados and the like, with many Buicks, Chryslers and American cars everywhere. Upon my return my rental car is a Kia, and on the road I see a roughly 5050 split of US-made vs International (imported) vehicles. I realise that the US motor industry has been struggling in some dimensions but buyers not buying them isn’t a good thing. In Australia our local car manufacturing industry died only a few years ago. It’s now not possible to purchase a vehicle built in Australia. I hope the US doesn’t follow suit and whilst I’m sure it won’t entirely it’s a striking change in two decades and the source of some concern.

There are Fast Food Restaurants Everywhere

Maybe I wasn’t paying as much attention last time but I swear that on every city block on main roads there’s at least one food outlet. It’s also possible my memory of Houston is fuzzy (bound to be after so long) but it’s uncanny to me looking around as I’m driving. There’s no shortage of places to eat and my observation inside is that no one of them individually is particularly busy. Is there an oversupply to the market? Hmm.

OMG The Simpsons (S09E19) Weren’t Kidding About Starbucks

In 2000 I wasn’t drinking coffee, but I knew who Starbucks were. Back then there were 3,500 stores worldwide (okay I looked it up on their website) and today there are 27,340. I mean - holy F@cking Cr@p! In the Simpsons episode Bart is walking through the mall to get his ear pierced and is warned the owner that in 5 minutes it would become a Starbucks so he’d better hurry. As Bart departs, all of the stores were Starbucks including the one he was just inside. So yes obviously that’s an exaggeration, but the conference I’m attending is in Memorial City in Houston and in the Memorial Hospital there’s a Starbucks. There’s one in the Target, one in Macys and one in the dead-center of the mall itself. So that’s four stores in a radius of 750ft (230m)! That’s insane.

Having said all that there’s one thing I do remember about the busier parts of many US cities, of which Houston is no exception.

Concrete is everywhere

In other parts of the world using concrete for roadways such as freeways, highways, city streets and car parks is generally only an affordance spent on freeways due to lower rolling resistance, high load capacity and longer lifetime. It’s just too expensive to put it everywhere! Where I’ve been driving in Houston there’s concrete everywhere. It’s like everything is a shade of light-brownish-grey-concrete colour (I’m not an artist - it’s like concretey-colour), broken up mainly by tress and grass. Of course it’s not wrong exactly it’s just a really expensive way to do business. Then again those car parks won’t need much maintenance for the next thirty years and what’s a pot-hole? Not really an issue with concrete. The freeways also are an absolutely immaculate work of engineering art, with fly-overs, fly-unders and people speeding like heck! (Not me though, but the speed limit clearly isn’t fast enough for most other people I’m finding).

Anyhow it’s all good really. I do love the USA and I feel pretty comfortable here. The only shame is that I’m only here for a week. I am planning a proper holiday with the whole family late next year though, so hopefully I’ll have much longer to explore much further than I could this time around.