“Feels like home,” I thought when walking around Atlanta airport. Make no mistake: it wasn’t because all airports look alike. No, this one looks very American and that was precisely the thing. Even later in El Paso, a quintessentially American city with vast spaces, enormous shopping malls and oversized cars, the familiarity dwells in my mind most of the time.
But all that familiarity goes to hell, replaced by instant anxiety the moment I hear the radio for the first time…
It was a stressful flight. I had read “horror” stories about difficult border checks and it made me nervous. I’m not exactly the model tourist, who’ll stay in hotels most of the trip. No, I’ll be walking off the grid on a not so well known trail for five plus months. That obiously puzzled the United Airlines staff person at Amsterdam airport. I could see it in her worried eyes she was not comfortable letting me on the flight to the US.
“Do you have a second document?”
“No” (Why would I need it, plus you have my passport, THE document in your hand…)
“Do you have some maps of the trail?”
“I do, a lot, but they are in my checked-in luggage.” (Thankfully I didn’t waste my time uploading digital copies on my phone for nothing. Still, you can’t see much on topographic maps at this scale.)
“Do you have your return ticket?”
“Sure, but can you read Italian?” (My ticket is in Italian. Don’t ask.)
“Do you know anyone in the US?”
“Sir, I have to talk to my supervisor.”
All this and I haven’t even actually stepped on US soil! I’m definitely going to be sent back by the actual border control! (The supervisor, visibly intrigued by my plan, finally let me board the plane.)
“Well I know the Pacific Crest Trail is on the left, and the Apalachian trail is on the right, so the CDT must be in the center, right?” asked the border control officer. “How long will it take you?”
“Between five and six mont…”
“Hey, time for lunch, shift is over”, screamed his colleague, “Come on…”
“Sir, I wish you no blisters!” He stamped my passport and he was gone.
I was certain, that The Grilling was still coming up, somewhere someone will stop me and start asking hours of questions. The feeling dwelled even after I picked up my bag and checked it in again for the domestic flight.
But that was actually it and when I entered the terminal, I took a deep breath and finally relaxed.
And so the feeling of familiarity settled in. It’s artificial, a halo emanated by images of all the movies and TV series I’ve been sucking into my cultural programming all my life…
… But then I heard it for the first time: a histeric noise, several people shouting, talking at the same time over each other… It was the radio. Some radio talk show hosts and no-name guests, shutting other people up with statments like “I feel like Hillary would be […], I honestly believe that she is a warm person […], my impression is that she is very emphatic and that makes here qualified to be the president…” (I honestly can’t recreate the chaotic discussion on the radio by typing it, I’m sorry.)
Feel, I honestly believe, my impression is… Who are you again (and what makes you qualified to express opinion on these topics)?
Having been in the media industry might make me overly sensitive and critical of attention-whoring by the Slovenian media and we’ve all been worrying a lot about standards lately… But dear coleagues back at home: we thought that we’ve reached the bottom in the Slovenian media, but the void, as I’m able to witness here, is much, much deeper. A few Pulitzer price winning publications in the US can not make up for the emotion and baseless oppinion-based mass entertainment called news and analysis which shapes itself according to public oppinion.
The media giving the public what they want – a standard model in recent years – is like a drug dealer giving you a free dose of drugs: you’ll get curious, and soon you’ll want (a lot) more. You’ll feel so good you won’t notice your demise. The drug dealler meanwhile will notice he’s becoming rich (and powerfull).
Except feeding people’s ignorance is perfectly legal.
But I’ve digressed.
The flight from Atlanta served me with another curiosity. The plane had quite a few soldiers of the army on board. After the pre-takeoff formalities the captain welcomed them on board. I didn’t think much of it, but when we landed, the stewardess did it again, this time thanking them for their service to the country, soliciting a huge applause from the passengers, who, some of them later thanked them in person.
Now this was all very honest and respectfull. You could see the soldiers genuinly appreciated the warm feelings.
Maybe I’m just a cynical and a snobby European, but although the scene was beautiful and heartwarming, I could not escape the sensation of witnessing a society being in love with… a war machine.
“People in El Paso really love their big cars”, said a really nice guy I met at the cinema. I jokingly complained about how everything here is so big and distances too long, but if you don’t have a car, you’re bound to get nowhere on foot (said the guy who is planning a 5000 kilometer hike). In the city three times larger than Ljubljana, the busses run once every hour on the main lines. Ljubljana: every five minutes. It was a bit surreal when he was impressed by that fact, expressing criticism over the underdeveloped public transit system. Expressing the love for cars was, I guess, trying to look at the bright side.
The positive attitude of people here is really quite in contrast of a stereotypical Slovenian sour can’t do it, this is stupid, be better and I’ll chop of your head style. It’s seductive and as with all seductive things – a little bit blinding.
When you see the thousands of enormous cars with engines five times the size of an average european car, you can see greatness, comfort, safety and power. But you can also see consumption, pollution, waste. Nothing here is “just enough”, not even the smallest bolt (or garbage bin, which opens automatically so you don’t need to touch it for that matter). Everything is biger, bolder, better. It’s… awesome!
I’ve spent the last few days finding the last missing pieces and supplies in stores around the motel I’m staying at. I haven’t seen one white cashier, waitress, shop employee, janitor etc. Almost all were of latino descent. Mexicans? I’m sure most of them would love to have those big cars. I’m sure that most owners of those cars would never want their jobs. I wonder if the non-border states who have voted for Trump realise that… (Texas voted for Cruz.)
Even the American dream needs someone who’ll clean its toilets.
Look at me, one day to go and I’m still washing up the stains of politics…