In theory, we are headed out to see my in-laws today. I say in theory because Sam has been running a slight fever the past two days and the weather outside is lousy for travel (3 inches of rain at least since dawn yesterday). I’m a little leery of travel when there are sick kids and bad weather involved. But if Sam’s temperature drops and the skies clear up, well then it’s over river and through the woods to my in-laws we will go!
Ah, a trip to my in-laws. What a wonderful time we’ll have. If you hear sarcasm in that last line, take it with a grain of salt. The fact is I enjoy visiting my in-laws just like I enjoy visiting my own parents. Or rather I would enjoy visiting both my in-laws and parents if they didn’t live in the foreign countries of Washington, D.C. and Arkansas, respectively.
Now before you start howling about how geographically ignorant I must be to call D.C. and Arkansas foreign countries, let me just say this. They may not be foreign countries to you, but they sure as hell are to me. See, I grew up in York County, Virginia. Back in the mid-seventies when my dad transferred to Fort Eustis, York County was a very odd place to be. It had farms, but it wasn’t exactly rural. It had highways and shopping centers, but definitely not enough to make it a city. We had enough people to make a town, but no Main Street and everybody was so spread out we really didn’t know each other like the good folks in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry did. Was it a suburb maybe? No, there weren’t enough people to call it that either back then. It was just York County… small, quiet, sleepy little York County, part of the great historic triangle area of the Virginia Peninsula, along with Jamestown and Williamsburg (and if you folks don’t know why these three places are historic, then you’ve got some serious catching up to do on Colonial American history).
Anyway, way back in the mid-seventies, I lived in the boondocks, for lack of a better word, and over the last thirty years (my god, has it been that long?) this little boondocks has exploded into a happening population center. We’re still not a city – too spread out and no skyscrapers to speak of – but we have become one hell of a sprawling metropolis with shopping malls and Panera Bread cafes and the occasional military base shoved in just for laughs (at last count, we had five military installations within spitting distance of my house). So I guess you could say that I am a lifelong resident of the land of Suburban Sprawl, a relatively pleasant if mind-numbing place that thinks it is immune to the sorts of problems you’d find in places like Washington, D.C. and Arkansas – poverty, homelessness, drugs, gangs, etc. (Although we do happen to have those problems in spades around here, but we like to blame that on the neighboring cities, I think.)
Nope, we’re not at all like those weird foreigners in Arkansas and D.C. I remember the day I found out my father was going to move my mother out to Arkansas. She was not exactly… how shall I say it? Excited to go? Or rather, she was very excited, but it was more over her plans of how she was going to kill my father and then chop up his body into little pieces and throw it into the canal behind our house so that Dad could sleep with the fishes, because he sure as hell wasn’t sleeping with her anymore (and people wonder where I get my homicidal urges from).
Having visited the place many times before with my dad (he claims he was raised there), Mom knew Arkansas was a foreign country; a barren, uncivilized place that lacked such social necessities as Starbucks coffee, Barnes and Nobles bookstores, gargantuan outlet malls and multiplex theaters. Arkansas is mostly chicken farms and rice paddies from what I’ve seen, with the most serious sign of civilization being its crystal meth industry. The natives there seem to thrive on folk art and country western music, but since neither Mom nor I were raised on that sort of stuff, it all seems really weird and foreign and it just makes us homesick. I do try to keep an open mind about the place whenever I visit my folks, but that’s so hard to do when I realize that the two major topics of conversation down there are a) when is the Rapture coming, and b) how much weight people plan to loose by the time the Rapture arrives. Apparently, it’s better to be thin when God comes to take you away. Excess weight must make bodily assumption harder to do.
At the extreme end of the spectrum of foreigness is Washington, D.C. The D.C. I think stands for “Damned City” which is short for “City Of The Damned,” because you know that with that many politicians crammed into such a small area, that whole place is most certainly going to Hell (and unfortunately taking the rest of us with it). D.C. is home to such weirdness as public transportation (something unheard of in York County) and homeless people. I swear to you, I’ve lived in York County 30 years and never have I seen a homeless person on these streets. Probably because they’d get run down by our local lunatic NASCAR wannabes if they stood on the side of the road with a cardboard sign that read, “Homeless. Please help.”
Every time I go to D.C., I feel like I’ve landed on the Planet-Formerly-Known-As-Pluto during its annual Freak Festival. While visiting our nation’s capitol (see, I’m not that geographically ignorant), I have seen a full grown woman scream at a park full of people while stripping off all her clothing in broad daylight. I have been accosted by winos who reeked equally of alcohol and piss, and could not decide if they were bums or politicians or both. I have watched one of my brothers-in-law’s ex-girlfriends sing karaoke. I have never fully recovered from any of these experiences.
My darling husband Michael claims that D.C. is not really a freak show, and that the crazies we run into every time we visit are the exception rather than the norm. Apparently they sense my unease at being a stranger in a strange land, and thus feel compelled to come out to greet me and make me feel welcome. Either that or else we keep showing up during campaign season, when all the politicos are out whoring themselves in the name of patriotism and freedom.
Oh well. Strangeness abounds wherever I go, so maybe it is just me. In any event, I must draw this all to a close. Sam has stopped fussing and her temperature is back to normal. The rain has died off and I think we will be able to drive, rather than sail, to D.C. Wish me luck this weekend. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of interesting stories to tell when I get back.
Here’s an old drawing I’ve done, just some random weirdness to add to the blog. I figure, it’s October. Why not?
Roland, 7 October 2006