Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The trip begins

Off we went to the Edmonton International Airport an hour early, fully expecting security delays because of the attempts in Britain, and the fact that I am travelling on a one way ticket. But there I was, the only guy in line at the check in counter, the only person at the US Customs & Immigration desk, and sitting with my own seat on the plane, no one beside me.

I travel a lot on business, flying mostly, and as regular readers of this blog may know, have all the 21st century toys, the tiny 1Gb MP3 player that runs on a single AAA battery, the noise cancelling Sennheiser headphones with amazing sound, my 2 1/2 lb laptop with the 8 hour battery life. So what the heck am I doing flying most of the length of North America chasing after a piece of technology whose best years might charitably be called 25 years out of date?

It's probably more about me than the technology, and as much about the look of the car as the performance. When the Mercedes W123 cars came out in the mid 1970s, I had just entered the workforce. I was driving the kind of car that would always appeal to me, a 1974 German built Ford Capri V6, a willing engine, competent chassis, fair price and utter lack of either pretension or commonality. I have had a few vehicles that do not match these criteria over the years, but my heart always comes back to that handful of merits. Oh yes, the #%&@ thing better start when I turn the key, too...

Remember Mercedes ads extolling the virtues of the ribbed taillights of the 123s? They were designed to move air across the face of the light, keeping areas clear so that the lights could be seen even if the car was muddy or snowy. Details like this have always kept Benz on my mind, but I had never owned one until I lost my mind and bought a tired old coupe last summer. Frankly the Benzes of the later 80s and onward lacked neither pretension nor commonality.

Anyway, tomorrow Brian and I hook up, I expect to do my hound-in-a-headwind grin, and then drive off in some dated but robust engineering, wrapped in a body style that my eyes and heart consider to be a high form of functional art. And somehow it will all make sense.

Some 4th of July notes
I have seen a reasonable number of fireworks displays in my life, from apartment buildings, from my house, from beside the river, and from a baseball stadium. But never until tonight have I seen fireworks from above.

As we flew from Denver to Houston in the gathering darkness, passing over the sequined lights of the suburbs of Dallas Fort Worth, our timing was perfect. Fireworks were rising from what I can imagine were parks and backyards 35000 feet below us.

This sight reminded me that the US is as much an idea as it is a location. People come to the US for a reason, for freedom and to escape oppression, for opportunity, for a chance to be more than they could be at home. In my own experience, living in a town where everyone is from somewhere else creates a dynamic that is tangibly different from living in a town where a grandparent grew up in a house just a few blocks away. People who transplant themselves have to expend some energy growing new roots, and it changes them and the place they move to.

So happy birthday, United States. At your best, you are a unique blessing in the world. And at your worst, you are still the land of the free and the home of the brave, in a world sadly unaware of its need for both freedom and bravery.

1 comment:

Kobayashi Maru said...

"the US is as much an idea as it is a location"

Or as Ronald Reagan metaphorized (paraphrasing the bible): "a shining city on a hill"