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NY Trip Retroblog: Saturday July 7th

NY Trip Retroblog: Saturday July 7th

From Noo Yoick to Joe-ja

What a difference an hour-and-a-half flight makes. From New York, where everyone is pencil thin, is clad in labels and eats sushi, to Georgia, where people are built more like small escarpments, drape themselves in massive sheets of elasticated polyester sportswear and don't eat anything unless it's been deep-fried for a couple of months.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We caught a cab out to La Guardia, and I checked in for the flight down to Atlanta. Check-in was painless, if functional; then it was "au revoir" time, which was less painless, and far less functional.

Got a window seat on the right-hand side of the cabin, which turned out to be a very good thing indeed. Track 2 on Underworld's essential Dubnobasswithmyheadman album is called MMM Skyscraper I Love You and I've heard it was written after Karl Hyde saw New York from the air. The weather was perfect and the view absolutely spectacular as we blasted into the sky, parallel with the East River, Manhattan's blocks scrolling past us. Then we banked across the water, over the white-trailing powerboats and a helicopter passing far below, rotors twirling like a bright white sycamore pod. It certainly made me want to craft a seminal techno album on the spot, but I settled for grinning madly instead.

The flight was fine, even if the cabin staff were rather brittle. If you spend your working life saying "thank you" to people as you shuffle up and down a two-foot-wide aisle, collecting people's trash and dirty crockery, then I suppose it's difficult to sound sincere every time. All the same, I hadn't realised that "allllllrightythankyou" was all one word. I found myself thinking of Fight Club.

97 minutes and one civil war further south, I landed in Atlanta. The view from the air on the way in was impressive, then worrying. Hectare after hectare of neatly laid out residential estates, set in copious woodland. It all looked very pleasant, anyway, and it's nice that they have the space to develop the area without overrunning it, I thought - then changed my mind.

As we neared the airport, there seemed to be more and more estates being built, closer and closer together, and the developing started outnumbering the developed. I saw huge tracts of woodland with sketched-out roads already etched through them, waiting for the bulldozers to move in. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm a fan of cities. I'm all for urban development, and big cities make for interesting and diverse cities... unless they're composed entirely of suburbs. Not even suburbs; it struck me that none of these houses were near anything - except each other. No shops or facilities within walking distance or even short driving distance, no hubs tying these uniformly spaced acres of houses together, no geography of community - not visible from the air, anyway.

My fears concerning the overall sameness of the sprawling suburbs were later confirmed; all the roads in the area where my uncle lives are called either Peachtree or Roswell. What's more worrying is that when he tells people he lives "on Peachtree, between Peachtree and Peachtree", they understand.

I was met as I came through the gate; I had forgotten that they let the riff-raff through as far as the departure lounge in the States. Family strife aside, it was nice to see everyone again. [Background information: my uncle is divorced and now lives in Atlanta. Two of my cousins happened to be visiting him the same week I was due to be in New York; hence my quick detour to Atlanta before returning to Tokyo.]

The contrast with New York, as I said earlier, was striking. Suddenly I was in the America of wide highways, air-conditioned SUVs, excess greenery and shopping malls set in the middle of car parks the size of Belgium, all familiar scenery from childhood family holidays. I had a quick history lesson as we headed towards the centre of Atlanta; we were driving through real Martin Luther King country, I learned. Naively, I was surprised to hear just how much racial segregation there was, even today; they made it sound like two very separate communities cohabiting the same city, side by side but without interaction.

My uncle is working as an obstetrician, and he had some rather unfortunate stories about some of the names that the mothers he had met bestowed upon their children:

  • A Mrs. Davidson who named her son Harley - and not because she liked the make of bike; she honestly hadn't realised until my uncle pointed it out to her.
  • A woman who named her son (phonetically) "LeMONgelo", with the stress on the "mon", a bit like "Di Angelo". Sounds okay, perhaps - you could imagine him presenting a late-night talk show, anyway - were it not for the way the name was spelled. She had eaten a lot of lemon jello during her pregnancy... you can see where this is going, now, can't you? That's right; the kid's name was actually spelled "Lemonjello". I kid ye not.
  • A woman who named her daughter (phonetically) "Shi-THAID", a bit like "Sinead". Think for a second about how you might spell that, though. Got it yet? Uh-huh. That's right - poor kid.
Dinner was an all-you-can-eat buffet. We're not talking motorway service station fare, either: the various counters and the range of food available corresponded to a small supermarket. I was quite restrained: one rather stacked plate of hamburger steak, chicken, bacon, chipolatas, four types of vegetables. Oh - and another plate of salad. And two large cokes. It was a shame that I spent so much of my time in New York without much of an appetite, given the excellent restaurants, but I was certainly making up for lost time at this point.

But this was nothing compared to what some of the man-mountains around me were putting away. There's nothing wrong with being, er, fat. Apart from possible self-esteem problems, of course, but that's society's fault rather than yours, really. But being so fat that you need a crane to stand up - that's not good. I mean, it can't be healthy, for starters. I had Onion story after Onion story after Onion story running through my mind at this point.

It struck me how perfectly geared towards producing and catering for obscenely overweight people this society had become. You build a large restaurant rather than a small one because you have the space to do so. Because you buy food wholesale for your big restaurant, and because American food prices are really low anyway, because the farms are so big, you can charge your customers low prices, encouraging them to eat larger meals. Everyone drives to your big restaurant because they live so far away - hell, it's all they can do to walk the hundred metres needed to do one lap of the pot roast counter - and they eat big portions. Big country leads to big restaurants, leads to big meals, leads to big people.

The people are getting bigger but the country, obviously, isn't (psst, George! invade Canada, go on) - so what's going to happen in a few hundred years, when the average American is the size of Mount Rushmore? Surely the country's just going to pop, splattering Canada, Mexico and liberal swathes of ocean with massive globs of fat (Fight Club again), SUV parts and fanny packs the size of circus marquees. I'm betting the tsunami will wipe out most of the Pacific Rim, Central and South America, and the western European and African seaboards, making Afghanistan, paradoxically, one of the safer places in the world to observe from.

We did a bit of shopping; I bought some trainers, some software and some 35mm film for the Olympus. It was 8:55 in the evening and the teenager behind the counter of the weakly-lit Electronics Boutique, buried deep in the windowless mall, was wearing mirrored aviator shades. He got my change wrong, and then even forgot to give me my damn shopping. Christ. I thought about asking him how many fingers I was holding up (the correct answer would have been one), but let it pass. I was on holiday, after all. The guy in the camera shop was really friendly and knowledgeable, though, restoring at a stroke my faith in American customer service. A real conversation beats a polite irasshaimase any day.

Back home to shoot some pool with cousins Rob and Jane; then Rob and I put some CDs on and I tried to squeeze all the American candy I had bought for omiyage into my luggage - no mean feat - before falling asleep, exhausted but happy. I am Jack's warm feeling of contentment.

Posted by chris at July 17, 2001 02:18 AM | Permalink

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