Wednesday, August 13, 2003
america. and roommates. roommates who aren't american. americans who aren't roommates.
August 12, 2003, 11.41 pm
I'll post this tomorrow, but for now just believe the time written by hand (or rather, by keyboard, but with my very own fingertips pressing down upon the keys, rather than the automatic timestamp of a distant system clock) above.
There's a strange sort of roommate politics (ethics?) around one roommate planning to move out while the other plans to stay. One has no incentive to put anything into the shared home (since that person is about to leave), and yet the other does not want to seem ungracious or nagging. And yet, in this situation both are friends, and genuinely wish the other the best, and genuinely want a good home, just not the same home. Meredith wants to paint the bathroom, and while I'm excited to paint, I'm not sure how seriously to take her painting suggestions, especially in areas where we disagree. If I'm going to be here for at least another year, whereas she's going to leave as soon as the new place is settled, why should I oblige her in agreeing to paint the bathroom green? (Although the point may be moot, as I seem to have won the argument by pointing out that green walls won't do our faces any justice as we use the bathroom mirror for applying makeup, as we do regularly, since we have no other major mirrors in the whole apartment. Rusty orange may yet win the day).
By the way. I think I'm going to set up a separate blog, attached to this one, for discussing issues of ethics and politics, since I'm interested in pursuing the difference between them, or the similarities between them, for my dissertation. I will invite comments, questions, criticisms of my reasoning, and the like, as things go by. Given that I have at least a full year before I can even begin to propose my dissertation (I can't do it until after I get through comprehensive exams), that should be enough time to have gained an idea of the issue through the blog. So stay tuned for that.
(Of course, that last note presumes that I have a readership. Clearly, I don't, and even if I did, they would long since have left, as I didn't post for over a year. But someday someone may read what I've written, and think that it's mildly interesting, mention it to a friend, and it goes on and on. Alternately still, I'll mention my blog as an example to the friends from the department who'd never heard of blogs --see the last post-- and they'll question and criticize me. How can I go wrong?)
So... I believe that I promised that I would write about my road trip. Here it goes.
My Road Trip Across the Alien Land of America with R. the Republican
Graduate school makes for strange friendships. One of my strange friendships is with R., a woman with whose politics I sometimes agree, and definitely I think she has goodness at heart, but who sometimes holds opinions that I disagree with strongly (example: liking the Bush administration). That said, she's fun, and clever, and caring, a good friend, and always up for a good time, etc., etc. I really do like R.
You know how there's a stereotypical split between East and West Coast people, between NYC and LA, between North and South California, between public transit people and car people, between cat people and dog people? On every part of that split, R. falls into the latter, and I fall into the former. Well, maybe not the North & South California split, since I've never lived in California at all, but from having talked to San Francisco people and Los Angeles people, I know where my loyalties lie.
The fundamental subtext of the road trip R. and I made, from June 21 to July 7, 2003, was our disconnect with respect to this split. I think R. hates New York for the same reasons I love it, and I think my antipathy to Los Angeles (though I was only there 36 hours, to be fair) was caused by the same reasons that she loves it. I like places where people are close together, where walking, cycling, and public transit are the norm and cars are awkward and out of place, and the nearest (very excellent) coffee is within walking distance and not a Starbucks. R. likes good roads and driving and driving to good coffee (to her credit, while she does like Starbucks coffee, she shares my desire to try to buy local, where possible). (should I point out that R., while claiming to be a Californian, actually grew up, to the age of 14, in Michigan?) So all of these sorts of reactions are going on, and I'm attempting to remain open-minded, since I'm just a random Canuck who's wandered into this bizarre country, and what do I know from California?
R. had to move her stuff back to Los Angeles since she will be teaching (adjuncting) at her alma mater this fall, and she had a couple weeks free from her NY summer teaching gig, and thus was going to drive out there, move her stuff into a storage facility, then drive back out to NY, teach some more, and ultimately fly back to LA, teach her first week, then fly back to NY, then drive back to LA for good (this last bit will occur over Labour Day weekend). She asked me if I wanted to come along for the first NY to LA to NY jaunt. I pointed out that can't drive (literally - I've never learned, and until the week before the trip I didn't even have a learner's permit). She said, that was OK, if I got a permit she'd teach me to drive along the way, and in any case she loved driving and my role would be navigator & entertainment & company. Alright then, I would love to, I said nervously & excitedly & shyly.
The proverbial road trip! To the other coast and back!
Examine a map of the United States. Note Interstate 80, more or less the Lincoln Highway, and note its directness. It runs from the George Washington Bridge (which I can see from my window, here in the Bronx) to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. On the way, it passes through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Now note Interstate 5, as it runs from Sacramento to Los Angeles in an almost completely straight line through the Central Valley. Now note Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas -- the desert doesn't come across on the map, but if you look closely at the map you'll notice that the areas you pass through on that stretch of 15 are all military testing sites or military training sites or just generally places you won't want to be, with titles like "Roach Lake (Dry)". Now look at the windy stretches of highway from Las Vegas to Utah to Arizona to the Grand Canyon to the Navajo Nation to Four Corners up through Colorado to I-70. Now look at I-70, note I-76 from 70 back up to I-80 in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, and the easy route home.
Our lives, for just over two weeks, were completely determined by the idiosyncrasies of the land we crossed on those highways. Weather, climate, people, everything changed with the highways. America is well-observed by highway. I'm sure trains run in many of these areas -- 70 follows a Union Pacific line for quite some time -- but I believe the highway has replaced the railway as the most American of transport systems -- all apologies to Woody Guthrie and his ilk. (Though I'll have to visit Germany and its Autobahn system sometime to continue to evaluate this claim).
Did I discover America? To quote Neil Gaiman in the Acknowledgements section at the end of _American Gods_, thanks his family, who "put up with my going away both to write and to find America -- which, it turned out, when I eventually found it, to have been in America all along." [Neil Gaiman, _American Gods_ (New York: HarperCollins, 2001; reprinted in paperback 2002), 592].
I discovered something about America. I'm still not sure what it was. I discovered so much of it that is empty of signs of humanity. It's one thing to pass through areas of the midwest that are heavily farmed and don't have so much in the way of population, but that look farmed and look like humans have been there, and something else to pass through certain areas of, say, Wyoming or Arizona or Nevada or what have you, and wonder how people ever ended up in such a place. (Of course, if you do this in Arizona, you're probably near some thousand year old ruins, which goes to show that people have been in a lot of places that a naive northerner would never believe).
Should I write out the trip in detail? Maybe I will sometime. It's all in a notebook, the trip log, and when I get the pictures developed maybe I'll come up with commentary from them. But I'm not sure I'm willing to commit the trip to digital imprint yet...
I will confess that I fell in love with the vastness of Wyoming, and the complete beauty of Colorado. Those were my two favourite states. California is too obviously beautiful, and I think Californians (well, those of the middle and upper classes, at least... Californians with income) have it too easy. I'm suspicious of the perfect climate of Los Angeles. I'm suspicious of all the flowers. Where's the grit? Where's the difficulty? Where's the angst? Where are the cold cold winters? How can you trust someone who's never had to shovel a walk in -30C weather, with windchill? How do you know they appreciate the important things in life? What's to stop them from electing a movie star to governor, for the second time?
Alright, that's enough for now.
jane 9:02 AM [+]