The Unfree Country

Mmm, Fried Chicken!  Delicious Southern Fried Chicken served in a greasy bucket.  It’s not real food, it’s chicken crack disguised as food.  Wash it down with a liter of coca cola.  Yum…  sugar rush and tooth rot… too much fun.  Am I crazy?  Am I really doing this?  That’s right, I am.  I promised Ms. B.  One night a week, we’d get a real room with real hot showers, a big bed and a television.  That’s what we are doing today.  It’s a temporary stopover in the real world… the very real world.  But I had to push the metaphor.  That’s why I insisted on the fried chicken and coke.  Ms. B. only wanted a night in a room with hot showers.  But if you are going to live for a night in the absurd world that corporate America has created, you have to consume the absurd “food” it provides it’s visitors…  Mmmm, delicious… fried chicken and coke.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, the pickup truck in the dark of night when we are camped out at that freaky spot in the middle of the woods.  That is some scary shit.  Ms. B. is frightened and she looks to me for comfort.  I’m a bit stoned…slightly paranoid…and imagining the worst but I attempt to project an aura of calm.  “Don’t worry,” I say, “it’s just someone passing through.  They’re probably trying to find a shortcut to Tallahassee.”  Meanwhile, I reach for my stone hammer which is on the floor under the passenger seat.  I don’t own a gun.  I always say it’s more dangerous to have one than not to have one.  But at this particular moment, I’m not so sure about that philosophy.  Of course, the driver of the approaching vehicle doesn’t know if I have a gun.  He’s probably as afraid of our unknown vehicle on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere as we are of him.  But I feel vulnerable now.  I’m trapped in the back of a car.  I wonder if it might be sensible to climb out of the vehicle to await this possible confrontation.  I could crouch behind the car with my hammer and surprise the stranger if he approaches us aggressively.  But really, this is all just paranoia.  We are parked at a camping spot; nothing strange about that.  Our windows are steamed up so no one can see in.  It’s very, very unlikely that anyone will stop and bother us.  No doubt this guy will drive by and not even notice us.

The closer the truck gets, the slower it goes.  When the headlights hit us, it slows to a crawl.  The interior of our vehicle is illuminated blindingly by the bright light.  It seems to shine for a long time.  I grip the stone hammer tightly.  What the fuck is going on?  Why the bright light?  What do they want.?  But the truck doesn’t stop beside us.  It crawls on past.  We are in darkness again as we watch the taillights keep going slowly beyond us.  But they only go a short distance ahead before they do stop.  Now what?  Another camper perhaps?  The taillights disappear and there is silence.  Did he turn off the vehicle or continue down the road?  We can’t tell.  We wait there in the dark silence for something to happen.  The air sizzles with tension.  It feels like something is about to happen.  And then, all of a sudden… whammo!  The bright headlights are shining on our interior as the truck starts up again and revs the engine.  No one comes to talk to us though.  Instead, the loud truck with bright lights, shifts into drive, spins its tires and speeds past us and disappears back the way it came.  How about that?  A little entertainment for our exciting night of camping…

The next morning we awake to paradise.  All that weird creepiness from the night time seems perfectly harmless in the light of day.  A rope swing, a fire pit and some shot up bottles.  What’s the big deal?  We are parked near the end of a dirt road with a turn around just ahead.  That explains the freakiness with the truck last night.  More importantly, we are parked on a bank overlooking a bend in the river.  We couldn’t even see the river in last night’s darkness.  Now it’ looks almost visionary.  Somehow or other, we have found a perfect backwater bayou.. a regular alligator heaven.

By all accounts, this place is perfect for our purposes.  We could seek out the ranger, get a permit and stay for free or very cheap for several days or even a week.  Then we could unload our bicycles and amuse ourselves riding and exploring this maze of dirt roads on this backwater bayou.  But we still need gas for the camp stove and we have no coffee.  Paradise just ain’t paradise without a morning cup of joe.  So instead of setting up our tent and temporary home, we leave paradise behind and go seeking supplies.  Sometimes the search for sustenance leads away from a happy home.  It’s an unfair universe.

We never make it back to that particular backwater bayou.  The quest for coffee goes awry and takes much longer than expected.  We end up in the big city of Tallahassee where we manage to get turned around in traffic but accomplish little else.  We do see the occupation in the center of town and we do manage to find a good cup of coffee but otherwise, the visit to the big city is a complete waste of time.  No doubt, Tallahassee has many pleasant aspects and interesting neighborhoods like every big city in the world.  But we don’t see any and I am glad when we finally escape the congestion and get out of town.

It’s amazing how much the world can change in a very short period of time.  Yesterday we were lost and alone on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.  Today we are stuck in traffic surrounded by strip malls.  Shoulda, woulda, coulda…  Why didn’t we stay?  AAaaugh!  It’s like some kind of nightmare.  How much corporate sameness can you crowd onto one street?  We came this way because the map said it was a scenic roadway.  If someone thinks this neon and concrete is scenic, they should have their head examined.  But alas, this is America, where beauty is “developed” into ugliness for the sake of economic success.  I can’t change the world so I have to learn to live with it.  So let’s get ourselves a bucket of chicken and a room with wifi.

It’s really not that bad but it is more or less exactly the same as the million other rooms in all the same corporate hotel chains that clutter the American landscape… a cage with gold bars but a cage nonetheless… We watch an Indiana Jones movie, eat the corporate food product and I have a few horrifying thoughts when I awake in the middle of the night in the plastic room in the plastic world.   Tortured chickens in their tiny cages that provided our food product somehow combine with suffering human victims of America’s war on coca in the Andes Mountains…  Really, the only thing stranger than my nightmares is the reality they are based on.   Am I the only one who sees a problem here?  Success is failure and failure is success.  The politicians on the radio talk about economic growth.  Theoretically, growth will bring more jobs.  But in reality, the growth of corporate America is the death of independent America. Mom and Pop go bankrupt and the entire nation becomes a strip mall.  How much more growth can this country handle?  How many more Walmarts can we fit inside our borders?  I don’t know.  Something somewhere has got to give.

I’m not sure where exactly it begins or where it ends.  Perhaps it starts in Maine and wraps the perimeter of the entire coast all the way to Mexico.  But the pattern is unmistakable and the repetitive nature of the development is absolutely mind boggling.  The same twenty or so businesses repeat themselves over and over and over again.  The same ugly functional construction of poured concrete and vinyl siding with bright neon advertising.  And the same congested roadways packed full of big polluting cars.  Is this really America?  Is this really the dream our government wants to impose upon the whole damn world?

Thankfully, we find an oasis of sanity amid the infinite sprawl.  There are a few stretches of beach preserved by the government as part of the Gulf Islands National Sea shore.  One of those stretches is the Fort Pickens Recreation Area.  It’s a tiny peninsula of undeveloped land that juts out into the ocean away from the high rises and shopping malls.  It has white sand beaches, apparently clean waters and a little bit of wildlife.  It also has the ruins of a historical fort that was used to hold and torture Native Americans who had the audacity to complain about the conquest of their lands and the massacres of their people… kinda of like a historical version of today’s Guantanamo Bay.

It costs us nine whole dollars for a weekly pass to visit the park and another twenty dollars a night to set up our tent and camp.  But the seeming infinite civilized sprawl makes guerilla camping impossible around here so we fork over the cash for a site.  Just our luck, first night in the tent and it’s the coldest night of the year.  We came down here to escape the winter and the temperature is down in the 20s.  You have to be kidding me.  It’s probably warmer in New York.  But we are on the ocean and we do have each other so the circumstances of the universe are still pretty wonderful.

As a matter of fact, things are so good at Fort Pickens that we decide to stay there for several days.  I am still rather offended by the twenty dollar price tag for tent camping in a National Park but Ms. B. convinces me to just accept reality.  We are in the USA after all; the world’s most “unfree” country.  There are overseas wars to fund and billionaire bankers to bail out.  We can’t expect to have a right to set up a tent out in the natural world without paying the conquerors for the privilege.  That is just not the way the world works.

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