1.14.2008

Coming Home


The van is pointed north, now. Yesterday they drove through a great, flat swath of central Florida, flanked by fields of sugarcane as far as the eye could see, thousands and thousands of acres. It was stunning in its expanse. The burning residue in the harvested plots filled the air with a sweet smoke. She was reading to the boys; he, listening to music on his headphones, a mix of GN Classic (Maiden, Ozzy, Metallica), GN lite (Petty, Drive-By-Truckers, Fred Eaglesmith), and GN Introspective (Radiohead). They knocked off 300-miles, the Dodge’s big V8 quaffing 25-gallons of $3 gasoline. He can’t stop thinking about the goddam gas.

He has seen another slice of America on this trip, and like so many things in this world, he’s not sure if he should respond with a long laugh, or a good cry. On the Keys, in a modest state park, they set up camp between rows of hulking motorhomes with names like “Patriot Thunder” and “Imperial” and “The Intruder.” He is not fabricating any of these; he couldn’t have even imagined they existed to fabricate them. One evening, he was returning from a short bicycle ride and happened upon an older gentleman sitting outside his RV, his chair situated cozily by the fire. The man was smoking a cigar and watching a mammoth flatscreen television that was mounted on the outside of his motorhome. Ah, camping.

What happens when a culture becomes a parody of itself? It seems to him that perhaps this is the ultimate sign of something gone rotten, when negative stereotypes aren’t merely fulfilled, but are paraded with pride that would be antagonistic, if it wasn’t rooted in ignorance.

It all sounds rather bleak, doesn’t it? But then there was that time in the Everglades, the boys having just seen a pod of dolphins and he returning from a bike ride with news of a pair of alligators in a mudhole just up the road, the sun beating down with delightful intensity. So they hoofed it back to the gators and watched, the boys wide-eyed and a little unsure, and he was reminded of what a truly insignificant thing he is.

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