November 11th, 2010


Dave's Yankee-land Odyssey, Day 1

Day three of my update-a-day schedule begins! 

I recently took a week-long vacation in Tucson, Arizona, to visit my brother (coincidentally also named David), and my girlfriend, Stephy; the longest amount of time I'd ever spent away from Canada, and had intended to keep up a journal of my journey while there. For various reasons, this largely didn't happen; part of it was that the internet access at the hotel I was staying at simply did not work on my laptop, and thus my internet access during those moments of leisure was extremely limited. Another, obviously, is that while I was there, I was too busy enjoying my trip to spend hours of it writing about the fact that I was enjoying it, in that spending those hours writing would significantly horn in on my enjoyment time. Nevertheless, I do have this log of the first day's events, and a few other odds and ends I recorded while down there which I intend to share.

Dave's Yankee-land Odyssey, Day 1

As alluded-to and foreshadowed some considerable weeks ago, I had been planning on a journey into the mysterious land of primitive savages down south of the 49th parallel. A region known to cartogaphers only as the "United States", and which is little-known or understood by modern man. A journey such as this I could not allow to pass undocumented, and so as I find myself far from any civilization, in the wilds of some airport in Portland, I begin this account of my journey, in the hopes that, if I should become lost forever in this primeaval darkness, there may be some surviving account of my harrowing exploits.

I set off in the early afternoon, taking the new skytrain line towards the airport. The woman sitting next to me was plainly a she-steward, and it occurred to me that I might do worse than to solicit her advice on a small matter of concern. "I was wondering if you might shed some professional light on a subject of some concern for me," I asked her. She assented, and I went on to ask her what she knew about the Americans' crippling fear of fluids being brought onto their planes. Specifically, whether or not the paints which I was transporting in my luggage. She said that would likely be fine, to my considerable relief. I realized, I told her, that the Americans have taken paranoia and bowell-loosening dread to an artform in recent years, and had not relished the notion of needing to abandon my hundreds of dollars worth of paint at my point of departure.

She asked me what the paints were for, and, always glad for an engaged audience, I whipped out my sketchbook and showed her photos of some of my body painting work. She was fascinated, while at the same time plainly uncomfortable with that interest she was experiencing. She had been taught the ways of irrational and crippling guilt and shame, and had internalized her well. It was like watching a grown woman being scolded by an invisible and silent mother for being a naughty girl. It soon came out that she lived in Alberta (or "Cold Texas" as I like to call it), and her "conservative" views made it difficult to understand or embrace this artform. Nevertheless, she did share with me a somewhat disjointed but nevertheless fascinating account of a friend of hers who runs a site called Ditchgirls, featuring women reputedly dressed in clothing woven from foliage; leaves and branches and such. I resolved to investigate it later. She could not believe, though, that there would be women who would be willing to take part in my body painting work, even as I tried to explain the matter to her. She asserted that she was too "prudent" to ever consider taking part in such a thing (not that I had intended to ask her), and I asked her if she had meant "prudish". She prudishly demured, claiming she was no such thing, and was mildly and stuffily offended by the suggestion. Soon thereafter, the train arrived at the airport and we parted ways.

I found my gate, leading to the Alaska Airlines flight I would be taking, and bid my luggage a fond farewell. I felt somewhat like a parent fretfully seeing their child off to school for the first time; hoping they would be okay, but knowing that there was nothing to be done to impact its well-being until I saw it again in Phoenix, Arizona. This was made doubly disconcerting by the knowledge that I would be making a connecting flight here in Portland, and that my bag would not be joining me during that stopover. The idea of it being out of my control for that long was deeply disconcerting.

I then proceeded to customs, and experienced a moment of gnawing horror at the "Welcome to the United States" sign that greeted me, stars and stripes abounding everywhere. While rationally I realized then as I do now that merely setting foot across that threshold and placing myself within their legal territory would not put me at the mercy of their military-industrial complex and that I would not have ill-informed and rabid christian fundamentalists swarming about me, attempting to infect me with their particular brand of lunacy, there was nevertheless that in me which recoiled at the sight. These symbols which I only ever saw in connection with murderous foreign wars and imperialistic expansionism... it hit me like a brick wall that I was putting me at the mercy of a legal system which condoned all of the excesses of this nation. Profoundly unsettling!

The border guards were bizarre. So unfriendly, so unsmiling and pointlessly brusque. I almost laughed out loud, as it occurred to me that they struck me as some crude and cartoonish parody of stern-faced and dour American guards, hostile and dead inside. Then it hit me that these people were not the parody. They were what the parody was based upon, and there was no comedy intended in it!

I eventually got through the compulsory dehumanizing process of having most of my clothes and belongings stripped from me and put through a scanner, though I was in some sense almost disappointed that it was only brown-skinned people who got the more thorough treatment of being put through the "see what you look like naked machine". It looked fascinating!

Sitting down in the boarding area, I attempted to make use of the airport's free wifi, only to be forcefully reminded that you get what you pay for. In this case, I had paid a sum of zero dollars and received approximately that level of service in accessing the internet over the course of fifteen minutes, every website refusing to load more than their most basic and rudimentary elements on my browser.

The flight was uneventful; an hour-long trip to Oregon on a twin propeller plane which was spent reading Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars; one of the hundreds of books which I inherited upon the death of my father some four or so years ago and which I am perhaps a third of the way through having read now. A highly idiosyncratic book, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Arriving here in Oregon, I made another attempt at connecting with the Internet on a machine at a kiosk. Requiring a minimum of five dollars to operate for thirteen minutes or more, I fed one of the impossibly bland American bills into the machine, only to be immediately told that the machine could not connect to the internet. I became enraged, and all the moreso when I saw the clock counting down on the lower right hand corner of the screen. Indeed, upon realizing there was no mechanism by which I could be refunded and no customer service person I might speak to on the topic, I became double-enraged, and stormed off in a triple huff, resolving to leave the matter of internet connectivity aside until I arrived at my brother's place.

Seeking out pleasures of a more gastronomic nature, I found a Wendy's, and was taken aback by what I saw. I had always been told that portions at American restaurants were significantly greater than those in their Canadian counterparts, and this was certainly on display here. The largest hamburger I would consider buying was the smallest one available here, aside from those in the culinary ghetto of the children's menu. I ordered that, somewhat nonplussed, when I caught sight of the single silver lining in this dining experience: Dr. Pepper on tap! Such a thing is unknown to me in Canada! The drink just has not yet built up much of a customer base in my homeland yet, to my annoyance. I blame the inane law - only repealed a few short years ago - that stated that the only soft drinks which could contain caffeine were colas. While Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew and their like have always existed in Canada, their lack of caffeination has rather hamstrung their ability to grab, addict, and thus hold a committed group of soft-junkies.

This experience opened my eyes somewhat, and as I toured the airport, killing time while waiting for my connecting flight, I realized that the stereotype of Americans as uncommonly huge people was not without merit. While not everyone here was overweight, it was plain that, if you are the sort of person who doesn't make the decision to stay in shape, it is much easier to become much larger here. Looking again at that menu, I realized I simply COULD NOT SURVIVE in a country like this. I struggle to keep my weight under control, even given the comparatively modest opportunities to pursue the goal of morbid obesity that Canada provides me. Here? I would be lost. Utterly lost, and would soon come ro resemble the man I saw sitting near my departure gate; by far the largest and softest human being I have ever seen in my life, whose body was like a sack filled with melting ice cream; possessing some small measure of definition yet near the top, but which was little more than a flowing sea of fluid flesh near the bottom. A man whose life was surely a cautionary tale which I resolve to learn from. The sight of a bottle of Diet Coke in his hand was at once both sad and brave. A confusion of emotions welled up in me at the sight of it.

The next leg of my journey, to Salt Lake City, was less noteworthy, though the sight out of the plane window as we circled the fabled lake of salt for which the city was named was surreal. It was such an overpoweringly unpleasant sight that I could not help but marvel at the idea that anyone would voulentarily commit to creating a community here. I suppose that when those early Mormons sought out land to hide from the law and from christiandom within, they chose well; picking out a plot of land that there would be no competition for, as no half-way rational person would ever choose to live there. A grim and inhospitable sight.

Finally, I arrived in Phoenix, a city I've always wondered at. Seldom will you see a land so decidedly and fixedly artificial at this one; the view from the plane confirmed everything I had gathered while learning about the city from Google Maps; the greenery of the city extends to the very edge of the desert and then stops on a line which is as straight as a ruler. It's a remarkable sight, and slightly unsettling, in a "man's conquest over nature" sort of way. Exiting the plane and making my way as swiftly as I could for the baggage carousel, I was gladdened to see my brother standing there, looking greyer and more stout than I remembered him from our last meeting some seven or eight years ago, but no less a welcome sight. Another welcome sight greeted me a minute or so later when my luggage appeared on the carousel, none the worse for wear in spite of its anxiety-inducing time away from me. Seconds later, we were on our way into the warm Arizona night, and thence to his place in Tucson, where I met his girlfriend, Heather, and some hour or so later was sound asleep.