Well in a day or so anyway. Today I'm doing the last minute laundry and checking of flight details etc before I head out over the the Atlantic (hopefully avoiding Hurricane Sandy!) and down to Texas to see my husband.
I found myself wondering earlier, just how many other people do this. I say people, although I guess the vast majority are female, though surely there are at least one or two guys who write to American female inmates and make the journey to see them occasionally. I doubt there is any way to officially count the numbers entering the USA to visit penpals and husbands/boyfriends/fiances each year, simply because most would not give that as their reason for entering the USA. I answer the border guards' questions as and when they are asked, I don't generally volunteer any unrequested information. I stay with an English friend while I'm over there who has been there for 30+ years, and once a border guard did ask me why I would want to go to the small town my friend lives in. I told him that is where she lives, and I could tell he thought I was crazy just for that. I can imagine his opinion if I'd told him that 2 days later we'd be driving up to Palestine to visit my husband in prison. That's why I, and many people I know who do this, don't mention visiting prisons when we travel. It's really not worth the hostility and condescension you receive.
But still I wonder how many people from Europe, Canada and even Australia make this journey each year - and some, multiple times a year. This will be my 10th or 11th visit, I'm not really counting. Each time I'm there, I spend around $500, which isn't much really as I don't treat it like a holiday. Might not sound like much going into the American economy just by myself, but what if there are thousands of people doing the same thing - and spending considerably more than I do - each year.
It is interesting to note the difference in attitudes at the moment between President Obama and Mitt Romney when it comes to all things foreign. Mr Romney says that to be effective overseas, America must be strong at home. That's a very insular view, as if we over here care much in general about how America is at home. We just want to be sure that America isn't dragging the world into yet another war it can't win and has no business financing or facilitating. Mr Romney didn't make a good impression when he recently visited Europe and the Middle East. Someone should remind him that you don't make friends by insulting people or insinuating that you're better than they are.
By contrast, Europe seemed to enjoy President Obama's visit a couple of years ago, particularly his Irish "relatives" the O'Bamas. That was pure genius. It doesn't matter what his political leanings are, or his social policy or even his foreign policy, what Obama has that Romney doesn't is an understanding of people. He doesn't talk down them, he doesn't take a paternal stance and speak as though he knows what's best for us if we would only listen in some Victorianesque tone voice and painted smile. But he can be decisive, and he leads quietly. Maybe Americans would rather have a noisy blusterous individual who stumbles over malapropisms and unimportant things like the truth, and leaves a trail of destruction in their wake. If they do, I'll be leaving America with Mr Romney in charge. And if that happens, it might just get even harder for me to return, because I'm sure I'm not the kind of person he wants hanging out on his turf, even if I am spending my money there for a while.