Thursday, August 11, 2011

So He Loaded up the Truck and Moved

I saw the look of fear in his eyes after I raised the question:

“This place is great! Why doesn’t everyone live here?”

He stumbled slightly for words:

“I…uh…well….not as great as it seems…well”

I was standing under a squatting shade tree in the fading post-drizzle evening grey. Mosquitoes buzzed angrily at my lathering of citronella repellant.  Over its protective odor I could still smell the faintly ripe scent of estuary coming from all directions. If I began walking I would find myself at a shoreline in under an hour; regardless of the direction I chose. But I would not walk. I would stay under the dripping tree and talk to this sputtering man about California till it got fully dark.

I had never really visited Rhode Island before. Looking at the path interstate 95 takes through the state I realize that I must have driven through it before, but 95 through Rhode Island is built on a little strip of land transplanted from Elizabeth New Jersey. If I had any notions of what the rest of Rhode Island was like I imagined the hulking rust towers of Gary Indiana dissolving into a stagnant oil-slicked pool. Strange wild-haired people lived in poorly preserved vintage cars; the hoods were open to reveal that the engines had all long ago been removed.

The previous day I spent a few minutes looking at the Capital building for Rhode Island. I noticed that most of the windows had air conditioning units in them. Was this some ruse planed to turn away potential immigrants: “No central air here, and our other capital is a trailer”?

I had not brought up California to the sputtering man. Someone else had realized the two of us would be attending the same function in San Diego in a few weeks. I began wistfully recalling a fire on a Coronado beach where fighter jets with wheels extended for landing would occasionally scream over our heads with a jet–fueled intensity. I wondered about how much of a tangent this newly-met person would endure, but it was the suggestion that I move everyone I knew into his smallest state of the union that started him sputtering.

Earlier in the afternoon I met a woman with Bo-Derek braids who talked at length about her Mercedes. It or one just like it had come from California, and the story of its trip was her story. She fogged at the memory of those people who had ridden with her in her German car, and tenderly missed them.

These were not the people I wanted to see in Rhode Island, but if I had known they were there I would have.

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