Down the Coast 6: What I Expected to Find

Driving through America was like driving through fiction. All the names I had heard in movies and on TV shows, all the culture that had saturated mine, and here I was at the source, driving down the Oregon Coast, crossing the border into California, hitting highway 1, travelling through Big Sur and then into San Francisco, Roger’s poor transmission struggling up all those hills.

There’s so often such a big gap between the image you hold in your head of a place before you’ve been there – the  place as you expect it to be – and reality. Most of the time, these imagined places are eclipsed once you go and experience the real thing. I remember Prague being very different to how I expected it to be, but I don’t remember how. Same with Borneo, Berlin, Vietnam, Barcelona, the Balkans: most of the places I’ve been to. In my seven-year-old Canadian head, Australia was a very different place to what it turned out to be when we moved there. And I don’t remember how it was I pictured them before, but it seems to me that they are places all of their own: imaginary but somehow substantial. I wish sometimes that I could compile these places – these imagined lands –   preserve them somehow.

I expected the US to be a monster. I expected it to be big, gluttonous, ignorant, racist. I expected most Americans to be kinda stupid, and annoying, and probably rude. I was expected them to be fat and unhealthy and all of their food to be fried or sugary. In short, I was expecting to be disgusted by the States: by it’s grotesque commercialism, consumption and waste, by its insulation and self-absorption. I knew that there were good people too: the people’s whose books I had read or movies I had enjoyed, whose opinions and knowledge I’d read in magazines, but I wasn’t expecting these people to be in the majority.

I was right about one thing. It’s really big. It’s too big, in fact, for any single, accurate impression, except perhaps one of the sheer size of it. This was my first impression, and I was expecting my second to be desperation. But actually, despite all the broken systems, the crumbling economy and the the various wars on things we see form the outside, things are pretty calm in there. Business as usual.

In fact, culturally, it seems that American is pretty much Australia but bigger. Or Australia is pretty much America but smaller, with the main differences between the two countries mostly stemming out of this difference in size. Well,  the small part I drove through, anyway. Though I only really drove through 3 out of 52, each state of America seems to function culturally almost as different countries. There are different accents and different political slants, variations in laws and attitudes. So I’m sure there are the fat, rude, ignorant people out there somewhere. They just didn’t really hang out in the places I went to.

Nope, I just kept meeting interesting, intelligent, good, friendly people. For all the times I got lost – and there were many – there was some friendly soul to help me find where I was going. Most of the people I met had a sense of humour. Most I wanted to talk to. Geographically, the country was stunning, the coastline and landscape constantly changing, most of it well maintained. Not much to see on the interstates, but the coast roads sure did make for some fun driving.

Already, that imagined, expected United States has pretty much dissolved. Or at least the part that applied to Washington State, Oregon and California. All good places, by the way.

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