Hello everybody! J Monkeys, here. Happy Saturday. I’m at a book signing in Thomaston, CT today so I’ll be responding to your voluminous comments later this evening. If you find yourself in the area stop by Seth Thomas Park and say hello.
Last week, you may remember, I was on vacation with my family. I love to travel, always have. What I like best about going new places, or even places that I’ve been before, but which aren’t home, is the subtle differences. Little things, succulent flavors for the mind, if you will. Well, last week, we took the brood to Sesame Place, outside Philadelphia.
Now I’ve been to Philadelphia a bunch of times, most especially when doing research for The Cordovan Vault which is set there. But for some reason, I’d never noticed a peculiar trait of the drivers on my other trips. Now, I’m a Nutmegger – born and bred in Connecticut. We are known as somewhat aggressive drivers. I’ve lived in New York and in Boston and I think we’re really a bit…let’s call it “less patient”. But even so, when someone is merging onto the highway and I find myself in the right lane, I do slow down to let him in. Afterall, while I might be an aggressive driver, I’m not a suicidal driver. They only have so much space to merge before hitting something and I don’t want it to be me.
Well, the drivers in Pennsylvania have a different philosophy about merging. My father (who lived in Pennsylvania for 10 years or so) summed it up thus: They sign says ‘yield’ not ‘surrender’. These people surrender. They practically stop on the on-ramp. Several times, I slowed down to well under 40 miles per hour, waiting for them to cut in! I drive a stick shift and I had to jump back to 3rd gear to get moving again. Usually with that “merging” car dropping in behind me!
I wondered about this. And there were signs on the highway that warned drivers to ‘Beware Aggressive Drivers’. What’s going on in Philadelphia? I know it’s the City of Brotherly Love, but isn’t this taking it a bit far? What does this reticence on the highway tell me about the people in this area? Are they cautious by nature? Are they more thoughtful than people from Connecticut? Philly isn’t very far from the Mason-Dixon Line, is this their brand of Southern Hospitality? I love to think about these kinds of things when I’m creating characters and developing a setting.
These little differences are so interesting to me. Of course when traveling to other countries the differences are even more noticeable. John Travolta did a nice speech about this very issue in Pulp Fiction. Watch from about 40 seconds to 1:30, the clip is a bit long, but it’s got better sound quality than the others I watched. And Mr. Travolta is absolutely right. I’ve seen all of those very things he talks about. And in the south of France, in addition to chicken McNuggets, you can get fish McNuggets. At a baked potato bar in London, my traveling companion heaped on what she thought was sour cream but turned out to be mayonnaise. Ewww.
Here’s a different sort of example of how setting influences character. Back when I was doing time in Corporate America, we hired an attractive young woman from Miami into an accounting/auditing position. She was smart and had the proper experience. Now as I said, she was an attractive woman, but she wasn’t a super-model come to life in our Hartford office – although you wouldn’t have known it watch the mens’ heads turn whenever she walked past. A few other ladies and I figured out the main difference – she was from a much warmer climate. Her wardrobe didn’t include things like sweaters, corduroy or…well, sleeves. She wore flowy, whisper thin dresses, no matter the weather. And she walked and talked in a flowy sort of way, too. Don’t get me wrong, she was a perfectly adequate accountant, she just didn’t seem like an accountant. She seemed…exotic. Growing up in Miami had shaped her personality, her likes and dislikes. She could have bought stodgy Connecticut clothes, but she didn’t want to.
Today’s Secret: Think about how setting effects your characters. Their experiences that make up their personality come in part from their location.
Today’s Question: What other fun location related quirks have you noticed in your travels?