Living In America - Where I Am

10th February 1999, revised 26th June 1999

I am living in the United States of America. The east coast. That's the side on the right, closest to Europe. I'm about halfway down, in the state of Virginia. I live in a moderately sized city, but I don't really know the name of it. It's like Sydney - one big sprawling metropolis that is split into a number of different "cities". This one usually goes by the name Norfolk. I've also heard the whole area called Tidewater. And Hampton Roads. The individual cities that make it up are Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. The city wraps around the Elizabeth River, and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Chesapeake Bay.

This little map roughly shows where I am located. Look on the right side, just under Washington, where it says Yorktown. That's where I am.

[Map of USA]

I live in Virginia Beach. When I first moved here, I lived in a suburb which has the easiest Zip Code of anything I've heard of - 23456. I moved 1 mile west and ended up with a different zip code, which was a bit of a shame. I work in Chesapeake, which is a 20 minute drive from Virginia Beach. I haven't travelled to the other parts yet, but as I get more adventurous, I shall visit them all.

This map shows the state of Virginia, and places Norfolk pretty exactly.

[Map of Virginia]

This is a big military city. I have been told that it is now the biggest naval base in the world, after the closure of Subic Bay in the Phillipines. There are a number of individual naval bases here - Norfolk Naval Base, Little Creek Amphibious Base, Naval Shipyard Portsmouth, Oceana Naval Air Station, Fleet Training Centre Atlantic, and a few more. This place exists for the military. I have been told that another naval base in Florida is being closed and another 9,000 men and their families are moving to this area. It is big. If ever there was a place that had nuclear missiles aimed at it during the cold war, then this is it. It's probably got a couple of bottles of anthrax aimed for it too.

Because there are several naval air bases here, and they are in the middle of the city, the real estate agents have maps of the city with regions marked out. When you get house listings, each house has two ratings, one for noise and one for crash. Noise can be region 0, 1 or 2. Region 0 - you get no noise from the air bases. Region 1 - you get some noise. Region 2 - you get a lot. Crash can be region 0, 1 or 2 again. Region 0 - no possibility that a plane will crash on your house. Region 1 - there is some chance that a plane will crash on your house. Region 2 - good chance that a plane will crash on your house. Obviously not many planes crash. But not many people live in crash zone 2.

So there is a big military presence, and a constant flow of people from all over the USA. I have come across quite a few of the naval people during my wandering and they have all been pretty young, and exceptionally polite. Young, fit, well-groomed and very polite. Also, because there is such a mix of people here, the accents aren't very strong. You occasionally hear strong Southern accents, but mostly the people don't have much of an accent at all. I've been listening for accents and I have been constantly amazed at how neutral it all is here.

The land is very wet. It has a wetland feel to it. There's lot of creeks and canals and waterways and swampy bits. The Great Dismal Swamp is nearby. The water table is high, so any houses with basements have a big problem with damp. In summer, it gets very hot and very humid. Sort of like Far North Queensland. In winter, it gets wet and very cold. Sort of like Tasmania. I've been here briefly in summer and it felt great, like being back in North Queensland. And I'm here now in the tag end of winter, and it isn't all that cold. I have been told that it gets a lot, lot colder than I have felt. I'll report on that when I feel it, probably next year. So far, I've seen frost and iced up windscreens and a cold dank fog. But I've also seen lovely mild days with clear blue skies.