- 18 Oct 08, 03:10 AM GMT
PALISADES, NEW YORK: The bus rumbled into the quiet cul-se-sac before juddering to a halt. This was my final destination. It was time to step off for good.
Since the start of my journey, I'd travelled more than 7,500 miles across 16 states. I'd spoken to dozens of Americans about their hopes and fears as election day approached.
But having made it from one coast to another, I reasoned that the US had probably endured quite enough of me by now.
I had one last appointment to keep. Kurt and Kristan Bridges had been following my blog, along with the rest of the BBC's Talking America coverage. They'd invited me round to their home to give me a send-off. Not for the first time, I was touched by Americans' capacity for hospitality and kindness.
The couple's home in upstate New York looked like the sort of place most of their countryfolk would aspire to raise a family. Kristan and Kurt had worked hard to get here. There were no Republican or Democrat banners on their lawn, just Halloween decorations.
We talked politics. Kurt, 41, who ran his own audio-visual technology firm, was for Obama. Kristan, 32, hadn't made up her mind yet: she saw good and bad in both candidates. Having quit her job as marketing executive to look after her two small boys full-time, however, she marvelled at Sarah Palin's ability to balance her career with her family.
Kurt was fascinated by how a foreigner like me saw his country. "We're all interconnected now," he said. "This might be my house, but we're all neighbours."
Like so many of my readers, Kristan wasn't afraid to tell me, in good humour, what I could have done better. "You said you'd put on weight," she scolded, smiling. "But you didn't tell us what you'd normally eat back home. That would have been interesting for your readers in the US."
A load of rubbish normally, Kristan, just less of it. But so much for the notion that Americans are insular. If I'd learned anything on this trip, it's that preconceived notions won't get you very far here.
I'd met conservative Texans who were green energy pioneers and gun enthusiasts who turned out to be cheerful, homely moms. Likewise, there were the gay activists who espoused family values and religious faith, and the evangelical Christians who believed the church ought to stay out of politics.
I wouldn't dream of claiming that any of the people I met were representative of America as a whole. How could they be, in a country so magnificently vast and diverse?
To truly do justice to the range of experience here, I'd have to interview 300 million people: a feat that would test the BBC's resources, not to mention my shorthand. But I hope everyone I spoke to provided a snapshot of how surprising and illuminating this place can be.
These were nervous times for Americans. In Memphis, Mississippi, Las Vegas and West Virginia, I heard how the least fortunate face hardship and uncertainty. Even the traders on Wall Street and the socialites in Manhattan were edgy.
But against backdrops of poverty, I also heard truly inspiring tales from the Native American runners of New Mexico and the ballet dancers of Harlem.
I encountered some individuals whom I deeply admired - among them Rahim Al-Haj, the Iraqi oud player turned anti-Saddam dissident, and Dusty Flynn, who was compelled to help others after the death of her husband.
In particular, the story of the incredible James Meredith, whose lone stand against racism was one of the defining moments of recent US history, showed me how far this country had come. Within a lifetime it had gone from segregation to an African-American man running as a prime contender for the presidency.
Yes, race was still a sensitive issue here. There was the (very) occasional ugly remark. And one politician's comments landed him in hot water. But I don't think any comparable nation has made so much progress in so little time.
And despite the acrimonious tone of this election, I'm confident that Americans will continue to come together. You only have to look at their music - be it nominally black or white - or their food to see that this nation of immigrants is the world's biggest and most successful melting pot.
Sitting across the dinner table from Kurt and Kirstan, I didn't want to leave. But I knew I shouldn't outstay my welcome, either.
As I stood up to go, I told them what I'd say to any American right now.
Thank you. And good luck.
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