I can not get away from here, as my resupply has not arrived yet. So I need to stay another night and I honestly can’t wait to move. I want to run, swim, hike, paddle! Here in town I have not been camping, but staying in a Hotel again. It’s just too weird to camp with so many houses around. Tonight though, I will make sure to get out of town and finally sleep under the stars.
I head down for breakfast. I have kept my paper plate from yesterday and I am still using my paper cup from a few days go. People look at me funny, I get judging looks in the hotel lobby when I turn up with my used plate. In big letters it says „100% recyclable“ on it. Around me loads of big people with lots of those plates piled high with greasy and pale bacon, fake scrambled eggs and weird baked over humps of some sort of cheesy pizza or little weird sausages and all topped with loads of mayo or other sauces. I loose my appetite so I decide to leave and just get something on my way. Now I want to recycle my plate, but looking into the only trash bin, makes clear that there is no such thing as recycling in this place. The bin is full of leftover foods and plates. Some of them still full. I am getting angry. I go to the hotels counter in the lobby and ask what is up with recycling there. A young woman gives me a puzzled look. She obviously has no idea what I am talking about. I explain. She says something like „uhhh, I don’t know about that, I mean, its fine, you can just put your place in the bin. It really doesn’t matter…“ obviously she still didn’t understand so I explain further. She just shrugs and says „uhhh, I don’t know, I mean… I guess we recycle… some times… and others, um, we don’t?“
It takes me a while to calm down while I walk to my first meeting. Most towns in the US are not made for walking. Here, the inner city has good options, but as soon as I leave the center, I don’t know where to walk, there is no pedestrian area and I feel like I am breaking the law as I climb the side-rail to hike next to the road. The constant line of pickup-trucks are blowing their fumes up my nose and I am starting to hate it all. What am I doing here? What in the world is the outdoor-value of this? And I mean, what in the world did I expect? This is, after all, supersize USA. For the first time, I really miss Europe. I miss the mountains, my mountains. My mountains with no highways or plastic cutlery, my steep and rocky Alps with all their fresh air.
The disconnect is too big for me to handle here. That is, I guess, what drives me mad. It is the underlying frustration with this country, that makes little situations like a hotels recycling system turn into something I can’t handle anymore. If there is one thing I am bad at, it’s accepting disconnects as something I can not change.
So what do I mean by disconnect? I have talked to various people in this region. Different political opinions, various social status, ages and jobs. They all have a few things in common. They all care „deeply“ for the environment, a few even studied „something with the environment“. They pick up trash, agree that water is an important resource, they know that climate change is happening and is affecting their surroundings. And they all drive very large cars. Most of them have take-away in styrofoam packages and other absolutely unnecessary waste in large quantities regularly. When I mentioned using tupperware once, one person laughed and said that would be „kinda weird“.
But now that I write about it, I find that this may not even be what so bothers me. I will try to think out loud here for a second, so bear with me. It is something else. It is that everyone seems to agree with me, but…. I still find myself not connecting with people when talking about our general responsibilities. It is like everything is so large, that they are somehow removed from the core, from the reason and the understanding that we ARE a part of this, that is matters how we act, what we do or don’t do. I mean, everyone has been super friendly and helpful, I really can’t complain. So why do I? I can only think of it this way: I don’t belong here. I feel a bit like a centimeter next to an inch, like a degree in Fahrenheit next to a Celsius, like a meter next to a yard. We have no understanding of each other, we are made from a different mind, and yet we relate, as we can be summed up to measure the same condition or place.
They are playing „country roads, take me home…“ at this very nice Bluebird Cafe where I am sitting. I find it fitting that this very American song makes me sad and homesick. The same contradiction I feel within myself: Connected to parts of American emotional and communicational culture, and realizing very clearly that I do not feel at home here, but that I actually miss my minuscule Europe with all its flaws.
I take a deep breath. I am thankful to have my writing. It takes pressure off. Now they play „rocket man“, another song I love. The guys here turn the music up loud when there is a song they like. Then one of them grabs a guitar and passionately plays along. So there you go: Something I love. And there it is: I am smiling. I am actually feeling much better now. And I know that I will have more days like this along the way. But I also know for sure, that I will have many days of joy, utter excitement about the immensity of the landscape, the beauty of the sites and the kindness and openness of the people.