Five O’Clock

In the US, the sentence ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’ means time for a drink. Or a libation, which is Americanese for an alcoholic drink. I’m on my way back to Europe from the States, and my life revolved for one week around the five mark.

Pretty much everyone wakes up then, and with the five hour jet lag I settled right in. By 5 pm the whole show ends, and occasionally, assuming the verb exists, one libates.

Since I was on a college campus, most of the time I was on an aqueous diet—I have never in fact consumed so much water in my life. American universities are dry, and only the university club served alcohol.

I didn’t initially realize why, but of course the issue is the drinking age—unless you’re over the tender age of twenty-one, no alcohol for you. Of course students are for the most part intimately familiar with booze, they just hide in dark corners and drink. Nevertheless, serving alcohol to minors is a criminal offense, so if you let a teenager have a sip of wine—commonplace behavior in any family dinner in Southern Europe—you can get into deep shit.

I also had to mind my manners in the land of political correctness, where every problem is not a problem at all but an issue. People have issues with wifi, issues with cancer, and issues with drugs. This time round, the issue of marijuana was particularly relevant.

The last couple times I came this way the key change was the language—Spanish. I’m not talking about Florida or California, but signage in two languages at all big stores, attesting to the relevance of the hispanic community.

But now all the major TV channels are besotted with pot. I was in the US in 2013 after cannabis was legalized in Colorado and Washington, and as I drove down I-5 early on a Sunday morning I tuned into a radio show where participants enthusiastically discussed recipes for hash brownies.

That was remarkable enough, but yesterday I watched an anchor happily interviewing a young man from North Carolina who was holding forth on his favorite types of dope—as Cheech and Chong memorably said, “makes your eyes red just thinkin’ about it.”

New England is now enthusiastically pursuing legalization, and Massachussetts is preparing for an election battle on the subject in 2016.

The 2015 Boston Marathon. The downtown  area is packed to capacity, preparing to receive thirty thousand runners—America responds in style to last year's terrorist attack.

The 2015 Boston Marathon. The downtown area is packed to capacity, preparing to receive thirty thousand runners—America responds in style to last year’s terrorist attack.

Courtesy is in fact the best word to describe my trip. From students who applauded enthusiastically to professors who entertained me every night I was in town, I couldn’t ask for more—I was told I would be treated like a king, and in this republican nation, I was.

Of course this is a land of contrasts, and some things will always seem peculiar to the European visitor—the two that stand out both begin with a p: public transport and profligacy. In general the first doesn’t exist, at least in the European sense. When I filled up my car I understood why—I was running on empty, and I needed gas for Boston—I pre-paid forty bucks, and by the time I hit twenty-six the tank was full. As I got my money back I told the gal it would cost me one hundred dollars in Europe to fill up, and watched the look of amazement on her face.

Profligate? The servings, of course, which translate into a population that is patently and systematically overweight—particularly the poor, bombarded by ads for cheap junk food. But also the waste—in this country recycling takes a back seat.

You could do breakfast in my hotel without ever seeing a staff member, and most days that’s exactly what happened. Plastic bowls, plastic plates, plastic forks, plastic cups, and mostly plastic food. There were devices on hand to prepare it all, and everyone went about their business, methodically shoveling food as if there was no tomorrow.

I brought the good weather with me to the East Coast, which has suffered a particularly harsh winter, but no one was interested in my gift. Instead, people sat watching the three TV sets that flashed ads for food, back pain remedies, and automobiles.

When it all was over, the plastics went into the overflowing trash can. Saves on jobs, even trashy ones, but what about the cost of buying and dumping all that plastic? Oh well, it probably comes from China and finds its way back.

And I can’t help thinking how lonely it must be for old people, breakfast with no one to talk to, in a world of plastic and machines. How I miss the short-order cook, a true American classic.

As I strolled down Boylston Street, I saw multitudes clad in purple windbreakers, sporting the logo of the Boston Athletic Association. What a great souvenir—I was in New York on nine-eleven 2002, and now inadvertently found myself in Boston one year after the bombs exploded.

I ducked into a sports shop and threaded my way through the mob inside, many of the good folks already wearing the coveted apparel. I tried a couple on for size, and found a match—Awesome! (perhaps the most overused word in American history.)

Then I happened upon the price—one hundred-ten dollars is a sobering tag—a man can buy a lot of wine for that. I went back out, disappointed, pondering on how much the Chinese who made the garment charged Adidas for it.

I looked up and down the street with new-found respect: there must have been twenty thousand bucks of purple gear out there.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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