It's only after you get the tuna nicoise and stewed prunes for the third time in ten hours that you really start to regret having requested Northwest Airlines' kosher meal. The first two times, I ate what they gave me and didn't complain because, kosher or otherwise, no one else in economy class was eating entrees out of Bon Appetit either. I picked at the third meal, knowing that I could soon eat a proper breakfast in Portland. When the same meal - Tuna & Prunes Redux - surfaced again on our flight home, this time between Tokyo and Seoul, I took one look at it, replaced the lid and tried to sleep. Lesson learned: don't order kosher airline meals, even if you happen to be Jewish, which I'm not.
Me and my bright ideas.
Even brighter than ordering ethnic food - and not even good ethnic food, like Hindi or Halal cuisine - was going to Oregon in February. An obscure bit of Oregon trivia for you: it rains a lot there, especially in the winter. In fact, only in the winter, which is why those who vacation in the Beaver State - that's Oregon, not the porn video by the same title - do so in the summer months.
But not us. No, we chose to fork over $1,500 for ten cloudshrouded days - ten great cloudy days - in the Willamette Valley. Rain or no rain, though, I found myself growing evermore irritated at being compelled to drive everywhere in America. Take, for instance, our trip to the Clackamas Promenade shopping center near Portland. We wanted to go from Target to Big 5 Sports, which are separated only by a parking lot. But, of course, this was Suburbia, USA and that parking lot stretched across two zip codes, an interstate highway and around three Olive Gardens, four Borders, and two Coldstone Creameries. Even Ernest Shackleton would have needed an Escalade to ensure his safe crossing.
The US has long been the golden goose of the paving industry with its continental parking lots and the smooth streets running through subdivisions. The size of the collective backside is testament enough to this: no one has to walk or ride a bicycle anywhere anymore, and even if they wanted to do so they'd be run down by a convoy of oblivious Prius owners.
I don't mean that I'm anti-car. Quite the contrary - I love cars, driving and even find a certain guilty pleasure in auto racing of the non-NASCAR variety. But the evolution of the automobile - for all its power, grace and engineering genius - has turned metropolitan America into little more than an unsightly canker. Turnpikes and interchanges - while quite necessary now - are a blight on the landscape in a way that underground subway systems cannot even begin to approximate. Moreover, the process engendered by the automobile has been a singularly vicious cycle: cars have allowed people to live farther from their place of work, causing more sprawl into outlying areas, leading to new highways to speed commutes, which in turn allows for people to move ever-farther away from the commercial center. The sprawl sprawls onward until - as in Oregon - you have housing and retail developments creeping up the slopes of Mt. Hood into the towns of Damascus and Sandy.
The only area in an American city that doesn't demand a carbound day is, of course, the urban center, which has become yet another bastion of the moneyed few or the penniless many. If you can't afford a newly refurbished loft in Portland's Pearl District, and you don't want to sleep behind the Greyhound Station, then you're destined for a three-bedroom ranch style on a cul-de-sac in Hillsboro or Happy Valley or outer Holgate. But at least you'll be closer to a Wal-Mart, with a parking lot large enough for your parents' RV when they're down visiting from Renton.