Well, here I am, back from a nine-day vacation in the South, sunburned, mosquito-bitten, jet lagged, and generally dazed. Rather than wading through the 300 or so emails demanding my attention, how about a few vacation observations?
I split my time between big-city Atlanta and the sort of not-quite-rural, not-quite-city, not-quite-suburb nether regions that, it seems to me, don’t get enough attention in the kind of lay sociological analysis we enviros are prone to.
Anyway, everywhere I went looked almost exactly the same: big highways, endless, indistinguishable strip malls, and isolated residential areas separated from any retail or services by at least a few minutes of driving. The uniformity was amazing — the outskirts of Atlanta look more or less like little Crossville, Tenn., there’s just more of it around Atlanta. Outside the central Atlanta downtown area, I don’t think I saw a single place that didn’t look substantially like all the other places.
These (to me, anyway) mind-and-soul-numbingly uniform landscapes are populated by, um … not to put too fine a point on it … fat people. The rate of obesity is just striking. And it doesn’t seem genetic, either, since there are plenty of slim young people in evidence. They get fatter as they get older — I even see it at work in my extended family.
It’s not a big mystery why, either. It’s difficult to imagine a less healthy lifestyle that driving everywhere, staying inside all the time to escape the heat, and eating a constant diet of processed, greasy food. Hell, I probably gained a few pounds in the week I was there. Any vegetarian below the Mason-Dixon line has my enormous respect, because damn, it’s tough to find a vegetable down there, much less a fresh vegetable.
The lifestyle isn’t just making people fatter — it’s also making them more sour, less social. People are so used to their large, isolated, air-conditioned, TV-infused houses that they’ve forgotten how to behave in public (it doesn’t help that literally every public space now has TVs in it, everywhere you look). I couldn’t believe how flat-out rude people were in public spaces, just completely selfish and unaware of other people. It’s true of the adults and doubly true of their children. We went to a big indoor play area called Monkey Joe’s a few times — it’s got all those inflatable bouncy jungle gyms — and I found myself scolding children who were not my own … frequently. Most of them just looked at me blankly. They’d never heard that they ought to be aware of other people, or more to the point, they’d never heard the word no.
And while I’m at it, WTF with parents ignoring their kids? Every public place I went to — restaurants, pools, whatever — I had kids coming up to me trying to show me tricks or toys or something, just desperate for attention. Where are their parents? Oh, right, over in the corner talking on their $%#! cell phones. God I hate cell phones.
Anyway, last night I got home late to a dinner of quinoa salad with fresh vegetables from a local farmers market, along with rolls from a local organic bakery, followed by fresh strawberries and cherries from the aforementioned market. This is in addition to the crisp, warm, sunny weather, notably lacking in the suicide-inducing humidity I’d been swimming through all week. I suppose this whole post sounds like snobbish superiority, but what can I say? I’m glad I live in Seattle.
One additional note of interest: We rented a Prius for the first few days of our trip — the first time I’d driven one. My older son was very impressed with the color (red) and shape (race car). I was taken with the geeky fun of pressing buttons and the instant obsession with gas mileage from the dash display. But — not to be all American about it — the thing lacks pep. My parents’ new minivan has much better acceleration, both from a standing start and on the highway. I could live with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of other folks couldn’t.
OK, on to, you know, enviro stuff. What did I miss while I was gone? I understand there were some concerts or something?