Tuesday, 20 October 2009

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine...

It was America. It was America... I didn't have the right voice for it, the right voice had smoked thirty a day through his two divorces, drank too much cheap bourbon, long ago shouted himself hoarse. I didn't have the right voice for it, the right voice would have thought me a faggot, or maybe just a faggit, with my bicycle, and a set of lycra warmers keeping my knees warm. Be that as it may.

It wasn't subtle.. It was there on the toilet door, days after arriving, the fly swat and the rhetorical question;

What do we do with flys? We squash 'em and kill 'em... We don't catch 'em and let 'em go. And that was in the liberal heartland of Washington, blue country... you come to learn that all liberals are Democrats, but not all Democrats are liberals. It wasn't subtle.. it was everywhere, big sleeves with hearts blazed all up and down them... Placards at the roadside 'a fair wage is a strong economy', 'abortion is murder' .. the churches had it going-on too, 'the bible is not yours to take and choose what to defy'.. Then there were the billboards 'Big lifestyle? skiing, hiking, mountain biking, friends, parties, kids, computers? You need a Big House' ... Money was everywhere, the country was painted green... Car dealerships took the trucks the owners could no longer afford repayments on, they weren't afraid to say as much 'we welcome bankruptcies'... Pawnbrokers worked hard into the night, under the sign 'anything of value'... You could get your bail bonds in a fast and friendly service, available 24hours.

It was America... it was the free world, the free market... that thing, invioable and true, pure as life itself... It sought out the greatest efficiencies and answers. You saw it up and down the highways... Adopt-A-Highway... Businesses paid out cash to have their brand on a signpost, and they got advertising, and the highways got cleaned.. it was perfect, perfect equilibrium. It worked in other ways too... A woman had caught cancer, and the free market allowed her to go with her didgeridoo to the farmers market, to play that didgeridoo, receive donations. Regrettably, she was pretty shit on that didgeridoo, but the free market had also provided didgeridoo lessons, so that she might improve, receive more donations, and eventually save up enough money to give to a giant insurance company in return for treatment, and the CEO of that company would take his fair share of the profits and pay a Mexican two bucks an hour to cut back the roses with his teeth and scrub the pool with his fingernails... those Mexicans, they were ruining America.

And so everyone got rich, trickle-down economics... soon enough they'd have to change the name to drip-down, so that people didn't start getting their hopes up... The problem was that nobody had any patience anymore.. It had taken the best part of three centuries for 3% of America, led by a handful of families, to accumulate half of the national wealth... three centuries, and now people wanted it to happen overnight.. it just wasn't realistic, it wasn't America, the American Dream, where you were long-suffering but eventually squeezed through into the money-lined fields of Elysium, where you hit the big-time and got to join that 3% who owned half of the national wealth. That'd be sweet, that'd be swell, and everyone wanted in on it, that 3%... but the problem was that, mathematically, only so many people could fit inside 3% before it became 4%, and even with 4% there would be a lot of people still wanting to reach the top and strike gold.... But that just wasn't it, that wasn't America, that was the beginning of a slippery slope, where one day you might even find 50% of the nation owning 50% of the wealth, and that was madness, a trade of the American Dream for the Socialist Nightmare. I wanted no part in it, and neither did the Americans. They wanted small government, and the social-welfare could be taken care of by Christina Aguilera, who was promising blowjobs, dressed in scarlet lipstick, to all those who gave a dollar to help turn hunger into hope.

But all that was skewed... America wasn't only about money, the Free Market.. America had values too, a notion of values that sat above the importance of any monetary or material asset. They had kinship, brotherhood, friendship, the helping of those friends, sticking together, thick-or-thin, to achieve the best possible results. And it worked too, the FINANCIAL CRISIS (!!!) showed as much.... Hank Paulson, former US Secretary of the Treasury was former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Timothy Geithner, new US Secretary of the Treasury had appointed former Goldman Sachs lobbyists as his Chief of Staff, as his advisers, a whole coterie of the fellows.. And it worked, sticking together like that, even when times got tough... Goldman Sachs had performed better than all their rivals in the face of economic downturn, their large rival, Lehman Brothers, had bitten the dust, a state-negotiated bailout of AIG had included funds that went directly to the repayment of a debt to Goldman Sachs... It was friendship, and you can't subvert something so special as friendship to the free-market, and it didn't pay to do so.

That was the city, or part of it at least, and then you hit the country, and you've seen everything once you've seen a roadsign that has one metal arrow upon it, pointing towards the primary school, and a second one, just beneath it, heading in the same direction, but towards the shooting range. Then there's the unfortunate coincidence, at the turn-off of 101, somewhere in northern California, where you get one sign for the animal shelter, and another, down the same trail, for the juvenile correction facility. It must have been convenient that way.

It was America, and it was the land of prohibition, of Prohibition... they still had a thing for the old prohibition stuff, it was all down the roadside. Private Property: No Tresspassing: Hunting and fishing prohibited... Parking Prohibited... Camping Prohibited... Photography Prohibited... Entry Prohibited, prohibited, prohibitedprohibited... If only some poor Iraqi had thought to put up a little sign saying 'bombing prohibited' ... or... 'It is prohibited to drop 20megatons of explosion upon civilians'... The Americans... they loved history, all down the coast, every bridge, a little sign 'historic bridge #47 - 1935' ... historic bridge #47 was made of concrete, with some little effort at a balustrade, but in general about as utilitarian as Jeremy Bentham reusing his tea bag... Still, it was historic, and that was what counted, for The Americans loved the history, the history of America, the seventy year old bridge made of concrete... over in Mesopotamia they'd come across history too, five millenia old, cuneiform tablets, the earliest forms of written communication. Bang. Looters. Gone. But they loved their history, the historic bridges of the coast.

I rode down that coast, through Washington, through Oregon, through Oregon, through Oregon. I want to ride through Oregon every day for the rest of my life, down that coast. You climb up into the redwood forest. Climb up. Climb up. The road sweeps round, hugs the cliffs, hugs the side of the hills, runs under the cover of the forest, and then you reach the top, and you pick up speed, lots of it, and you pick up more, and then you're sweeping back down the hillside, and ahead the dark of the forest is giving way to the light of the sun, and you sweep out of the forest, and the sun hits everything at once, and the trees are emeralds and the Pacific is sapphire, and it all glows white in the sun, and the Pacific is sapphire, and my god, the Pacific, it's such a fucking good name for an ocean, rocking and fluttering and sparkling away down there, like pages of books and stories and tales and gossamer yarns, and the sand is white, but not as white as the dusty trunks of driftwood, tossed upon the beach like dinosaur remains and whale skeletons. I would ride down those hillsides, and my head would fall to one side, and my nose and the corner of my mouth would lift in inquiry, my eyes would narrow a little. Really? Huh? I think there must be some sort of mistake. I died about five times a day, for a whole week, down the coast of Oregon.

And you hit California... you hit Garberville. Garberville happens all over the world, but it doesn't work the same in any other place. You get them everywhere, in towns and cities around the developed world.. They don't wash their hair, they mess their head with psychedelics, they wear sandals and thrift store clothes, talk in MAN, SAFE, PEACE, DOOOD... but they're standing on a pavement, outside a supermarket, waiting for the bus, they're waiting on the student loan company to refloat their bank's account, or waiting to get round to call their parents in search of the same service. Or they're past all that, and they're waiting on job-seekers allowances to do the same thing instead. I'm not judging, there's good people amongst that brood, but they're living a fiction, and it's obvious. Then there's Garberville... and you come out of the redwoods, and onto the street through town, one street, 250metres, and in the warm evening a couple of guys outside a bar are playing guitar and singing You are my Sunshine, and there's a kid playing sax, and there's an old movie theatre, and a noticeboard with the photo of some local felon with a tattoo on his chest, it reads, 'enjoying it was a good enough reason'.

I got a sandwich at the deli... there's a girl, driving down from Bellingham, needs to raise $500 to buy the car she's taken, or drive it back to Bellingham. There's a guy from Vancouver, was out at Black Rock, Burning Man festival, one week in the desert, dust storms, people walking up to one another in aviator sunglasses and masks over their nose and mouth, Mad Max, acid everywhere. Needs to raise the money to get back to Vancouver. There's a guy from Portland, left town when some propane explosion blew up a house and the marijuana harvest... Needs to raise the money for starting up down in Colorado, where the state just passed a bill on medical usage of marijuana. There's going to be good money to be had. And they're all in Garberville, Humboldt County, where people call one another cats, where it's an epicentre of US weed, local law-enforcement is in on it, and where the harvest needs to have the leaves trimmed off the bud. And so we're sitting around, talking, eating our sandwiches, and some kid comes by, and he's got a pile of thick hair tangling upwards, and he's got cocoa skin and a pair of jeans that are jumping off of his pubis, and he's got a girl in one hand, and in the other he's got a lead that leads up to his shoulder and winds around the neck of a feline that sits up there.. and he carried on his shoulder a siamese cat, and I know where he got that idea.

He asked what we were doing that evening. One of the guys answered

'Just chillin''
'Good... because when you got nothin else to do, there's nothin better than chillin' ... and sometimes, even when you have got other things to be doin'... there's still nothin' better than chillin''

And that was Garberville, and if it was fiction then it was certainly a convincing one.

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