Is there anything on Earth as exciting as going to America?
North Pole or Antarctica, perhaps; beyond that space travel.
America is our all, our best and our worst, and regardless of what you think of that, whether or not you like it, America’s culture defines the modern world. The USA is who we are as 21st century citizens.
Like I said, whether you like it or not.
Personally, I love it!
It truly is our land of hope . . . ignoring the fact that Australia did the same hope with a whole lot better results: Americans may queue for hours to get a glimpse of ‘we the people’ on parchment, but Australians are the only people on Earth entrusted with voting for their constitution – and the only people on Earth whose people must vote to change it.
Australia is peaceful, relatively unarmed; yet that peace brings with it a harping discontent whose outcome is incessant whinging and a universal desire to knock off their well-earned perch anyone at all who lets loose with life by giving it all they’ve got.
We even have a name for it graced with capital letters: Tall Poppy Syndrome. It’s a peculiarly Antipodean version of the Queen of Heart’s random declaration: ‘off with their heads!’
For all its faults, America requires the world’s citizens to give life their all and their best and this is an extraordinary gift to our times.
Last night I flew into the longest night from Brisbane to LA, racing around the earth to meet the sun as it rose on the same morning I’d left behind, the great silver wing of the plane my shifting horizon riding the night wind to a misted dawn in southern California.
It took some time to clear the border guards at LA International Airport, because having recently renewed my passport before it expired I was a candidate for ‘identity theft’. Australia, apparently, is the only nation on Earth who doesn’t cancel previous passports when they are renewed early, leaving poor old Uncle Sam under the delusion a) I had two valid passports and/or b) I was not who I claimed to be.
I knew things were getting dodgy when the border guard fingerprinted all my fingers and thumbs, rather than four digits of one hand as per passengers ahead of me in the queue.
After two laps of this massive massive airport in the shuttle bus I finally got offa that LA freeway and found my hotel, the Wilshire Hotelon Wilshire Boulevard. And so began the most bizarre morning of relaying the same 400 yards a 100 times between between three mobile phone shops trying to sort out SIM cards and internet access for my phone, iPad and computer. I won’t bore you with the details, but three different telecommunications providers in the land that gave us the i series of technologies could not provide me with 3G data access for my phone (unless I bought a new one), could offer only hideously expensive access for the iPad – one young salesman even kept a straight face while he announced Americans didn’t use iPads, at least none that he knew (…could this be true?), and nothing at all for the computer (out of stock).
So I sat on the steps of St Basil’s, where I could have parked my car for six bucks a day if I had one, and watched LA’s Korean citizenry go by while I recovered from a mission that ought to have been overwhelmingly simple.
Then this afternoon, after allowing one exhausted body a deep one hour slumber, I went for a great big walk around the neighbourhood.
Santa Monica Boulevard was thata way and I thought I’d make a go of finding it. Not for any reason really, other than Sheryl sang a song about it.
Which brings me back to my point about iconic America. It’s in our bones. Our lives have been shaped by the utterly brilliant job Americans have made of telling stories about themselves in songs and movies and sharing them with a wider world. Which is why even the most cynical among us will be awed when we stand in the ordinariness of modern America, which is graced with an impossible humility in the context of itself, and pay homage to the people and places we know so well from our radios and tv sets.
I never did find Santa Monica Boulevard. I walked and I walked, following the lead of the tall and spindly palms leaning slightly towards the alluring light that says ‘ocean this way’, beyond the Korean quarter and into the Spanish, where in both cases the English language played second fiddle on the riot of signage, through industrial corners selling cars and rabies for $5 (true story) and past the huge beautifully tended cemetery that prompted me to wonder why humans pay so much attention to the dead and concluding that it is because we intuitively know that those who have lost loved ones can bear no more grief….and that perhaps it is easier to tend the dead than the living – who demand much and take more, and surrendering, eventually, to the soles of my feet that were beginning to rub on hard worn sandals.
Santa Monica Boulevard tomorrow will be just fine.