Friday, 20 April 2007

In America


I'm in Morgantown, West Virginia. That's not some kind of joke, I actually am. Besides, if I were going to make up something about being in America, why would I say I was in Morgantown?

I haven't been to the states for years, not counting that jaunt to Point Roberts on New Year's Eve, since, well, you have to go through Canada to get to that. Everyone is friendly here, overwhelmingly so. Coming from London, their smiles and jollity take you aback. At the same time, in no way do I find these people anything less than genuine. In fact, their lack of guard is a bit frightening. Vulnerable, open.

I've just had what they describe as a continental breakfast, although, I'm pretty sure that over on the actual continent they don't eat make-your-own waffles, Krispy Kreme donuts, fruit salad in syrup and those packages of Fruit Loops where you cut it down the middle and it becomes a bowl - for their petit dejeuner. Oh! Bonjour!! We (two other conference panelists and I) sat down in a lovely appointed lounge with mahogany furniture, eating off polystyrene plates with individually wrapped plastic cutlery.

The town seems typically small town America, frozen in time in many ways. I doubt it looked very different in the 1950s. There's Krispy Kreme in several locations, Target, one 'exotic' Chinese takeaway, and drive-through ATMs, you know, which allows you to combine being a victim of mugging and carjacking in one easy stop! In answer to some obviously pressing questions:

1. Yes, people are on the whole, larger, here. Thing is, it actually seems less shameful. There's a celebration of the fatty sugary foods here, the pre-packaged junk that's far more honest than Britain's Taste the Difference range self loathing.

2. No, I wasn't scrutinized for looking like I could be South Korean and you know, (shh) like I might write 'plays'... However

3. Yes, everyone brown was stopped at the airport. Everyone without a US or Canadian passport was fingerprinted and photographed, including old ladies so decrepit it's doubtful they'd even have fingerprints anymore.

It must be hard to work in security checkpoints in America. When your existence is defined by your vigilance, there can never be any payoff, any beautiful release. That little burst of joy in fulfilling a project.

'Oh, it was toothpaste. I thought it was a bomb!'

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