What strikes me the most every time I visit the US is diversity. Nature-wise, they have everything: Forests, lakes, canyons, beaches, glaciers, deserts, mountains, wildlife etc. But diversity is even more blatant among states. We drove from Canada until the Gulf of Mexico, then headed west. Winter was brutal in the desert. Chased by the elements again, we rushed to San Diego (California), where my aunt Sana lives.
The road from Tucson to San Diego crosses the rich Sonoran desert before stopping at the gate of California. Steep black rocky mountains guard the horizon like the gates of Mordor. The tiny sinuous line faded in the immensity of the mountains.
Driving up was exciting. For each turn, I tried to hit the sweet spot between power and inertia, to draw that perfect line everytime, like a F1 driver. La Chichona behaved like a good girl. Thanks again Bill, you are the man!
After the mountains came the first signs of modern civilization. Wind turbines stretched out as far as the eye can see. Then came a micro Sahara, round orange dunes eating the road on both sides of California’s doorstep. The dunes opened on an impressive solar farm, with thousands of black panels waving at the sun. California, you make me smile.
We arrived to San Diego after 9 hours behind the wheel. I was sweaty, tired, and desperate to find a shower. There were no showers at Walmart, and washing off outside on the busy streets of San Diego wasn’t an option. I had heard of something called truck stops, a place where truckers stop to sleep and shower.
We paid $ 12 and got a ticket number for a shower. The bathroom was large and fully equipped. There were warm clean towels, toiletries, even a hair dryer. The inside was cleaner than an operating room. The tons of chemicals they had put was irrelevant. It was so spotless you could eat off the floor. The shower was hot, powerful, and had no time limit. If only I knew…
Each state in the US lives in its own space-time continuum. Some are ahead of their time while others are stuck in the Dark Ages. So many contradictions are taking place in the same country. The ones we encountered were racism, religion, and prison sentences. On these three, Texas is closer to Saudi Arabia than it is to California. I wonder who shaped whom.
I saw the impact of one’s environment within my family. My aunt Sana and my uncle Moe are siblings, Moe being the youngest. They moved to the US roughly at the same time, in their late thirties. Since then, they both prospered in the American society, but in opposite directions.
Moe came to Texas after ten years in Germany. His lifestyle in Texas was slightly different. Besides work, he socialized with his in-laws and spent his limited free time in a closed conservative sphere. I visited him many times over the years. The only things I saw change were the size of his house, and that of his pants. Fifteen years later, he had become a good Texan citizen: a true conservative, and obedient consumer.
My aunt Sana and her husband used to live in Montreal until they got fed up with the cold and immigrated to California. Their social environment was manifold and rich. Sana filled her free time with outdoor activities, cultural events, and new experiences. The mix of cultures and lifestyles she found in California had an amazing effect on her. I had not seen her in over ten years and could not believed my eyes. Sana looked as if she was aging backward. She had a healthy glow, a fit body, and a smile that radiated happiness.
It was hard to accept one could change so much, especially siblings. The younger looked old and beaten, while the older shone with vitality. One saddened me, and one inspired me. Your environment shapes you. Moe and Sana were the proof.
If I ever settle down somewhere, I would seek their seniors. A grandma dancing in the streets or an old man carrying a surfboard are good signs to watch for.
Happy old folks have life figured out.