This Too Is America – Impressions of a solo holiday – I

Morrison_Red_Rock_Mountains

 

Picture here is the magnificent Red Rock Mountains in Morrison, near Denver, Colorado. Pix: Author

Day Two. Woke up and went to see my surroundings. The Colorado Mountains are looking down on me from the distant, rotund and resplendent, wearing the evidence of a long winter like a cap. The thawing ice is splashed on the topmost part of the mountains, the way my late mother would spread her gari after it must have been fried. The difference here is that the snow is not afraid of the rains. Back then, we would, because a smile from heaven could destroy the efforts of weeks of preparation and blight our endless struggle against our landlord – poverty.

I loose myself from the overbearing thoughts of the poverty that my parents never successfully fought. I loose my thoughts from the fact that I am tailing that same road and focus on Colorado. This part of town is booming. On East Warren Avenue are storage units. I take an upper walk, my immediate task is to stock up on essentials – the odd biscuit, bread, eggs, oats and any lactose free milk.

But all I see are the storage units, the big cars and the classic ones, adding their bits and pieces to the phenomenon of global warming. There are also liquor shops here, I guess liquor is the fuel of recession. Most people soak themselves in it to gloss over reality, except that when their eyes are cleared, the trouble is still there, sometimes calcified.

Jerusalem Market, the signpost says. I walk past, cross one or two streets and all I see are the same things, car shops, insurance companies, collision centres aka panelbeaters for my Nigerian audience.

So I take a few shots and out of curiosity pulled the wooden doors of the Jerusalem Market. A man emerged from behind the counter as I filled my hands with a few items.
‘Hello, good morning’, he says. My mind wanders off. This is America. I am freaking black, wandering into a shop wearing khaki shorts and T-Shirt. Is this guy caressing his Luger under the counter in case…? I returned the greeting and went for a basket as I found a few more things I might want to add to the list – Pistachios, digestive biscuits (they don’t sell those ones in Ottawa?); dates and one tea bag.
‘Are you new in town’, he asks in what I now evidently see as smattering English.
‘Yes’.
‘Where are you from’, I asked?
‘Libya’, he responded. I could make out his scrawny face now, sucked of its juice by excess use of tobacco. He had just rushed out for a fix in the two minutes I’ve been here. I offered my hand, and felt the warmth of a brother.
‘And you, where are you from’, he asked?
‘Ottawa’, I replied. Then I saw him bury his head a little and reckoned, he had no clue where that is. ‘Canada’, I offered. His face brightened up. ‘How is life there? I mean the economy?’
My countenance brightened. Merchants know more about the American economy than Ben Benanke or who is in charge now?
‘Very good generally, although elections are closer in Ontario and people are looking at dollars and cents. The Liberals want to sack people so as to grow the economy and the Tories want to remain in power. There are no jobs, at least in Ontario,but maybe it’s different elsewhere. I get your idea, I am from Nigeria.’
‘Oh great’, he said. I couldn’t believe that, but pride wouldn’t let me say so. So I diverted the conversation.
‘Sorry bro, they messed up your country. How long have you been here?’
‘Since nineteen ninety something,’ he responded. ‘I think it will get better, it will…take time, but maybe it will…get better.’
‘I agree. Mine is screwed up too, but differently. I think it would have been better to let the mad man do a gradual transition rather than destroy the whole country the way it is.’
‘It will get better’.
‘I hope so,’ I concluded as he tallied my purchases.
‘$19.95’, he said as I handed him a twenty dollar bill. He handed me my change and asked what I do.
‘Am a tourist’, I replied, a false sense of self-importance bloating my ego.
I walk out from the shop and down on Colorado avenue where I picked a freshly baked whole wheat bread. Then I walk further down, across a major road and much as the glitter of the cars in the sun, a girl disembarking from a city bus and two young black boys sitting legs tucked in just in front of a laundromat caught my eyes.

This is one part of Denver, Colorado. One part of America. But the other part is equally interesting, perhaps more interesting than this glitter. For this glitter is a fake gloss over the underlying rut. And as I contemplate dropping by a massage parlour to see if they can bring back peace to my cramped feet, the evidence of the other part of America, the decaying part struck me.

A few blocks away in a mortel are two squad cars. A woman was leaning on the window of one and I couldn’t see what was in the other. Too many documentaries reminds me that where there are more patrols, there may be clear and lurking danger. So, I activate defence and careful mode. This motel, though not pristine in looks is well occupied. There are cars and a few trucks in its parking lot.

But just across the street is another one, derelict, it’s brown blocks complaining of disuse. A few light bulbs telling the unwary passerby that this too was once like the other one. What happened? It is the testimonial of a part of America that nearly eight years of Obamanomics is unlikely to resuscitate. This part of America is a relic, just like the boy approaching me, his shorts dropping from his mid-section, his walkers bearing testimony to the many roads it has trod.

His eyes met mine but there was no message of love there, neither is there hate – just that hollowness that sometimes make you think that people are saying – ‘I am not ungrateful God, but really? Really? Is this all there is to life?’ I crossed the street so that our paths do not jam. I am not afraid of him, and I don’t think he is even conscious of my passage, but I have watched too many episodes of ‘The First 48’ not to take care.

I returned to the bar for where I had called my host the night before and ordered a hamburger and the most favourite shot of the house. I paid my bills, hurried my burger and threw the Lays Classic chips in my bag. I have no intention of eating this, maybe someone might. It’s Day Two and am supposed to be catching up on lost sleep, yes and find a way to stay in connection with the rest of humanity outside wifi now that my phone did not roam.

 

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