Dreamers of the Golden Dream

(In pale tribute to Joan Didion)

I read a book about modern-day Fausts on the plane to Los Angeles.  When we flew in over the city, I was struck as I am every time by the vastness of its sprawl.  Its infinity.  A thousand Halifaxes could fit inside it.  (Or so it seems.)

In the shuttle on the way home, I sit next to the driver.  As he drives through the streets of LA, he types on a laptop, flicking his eyes between the street and the screen.  I vaguely contemplate whether he is at work on a screenplay.  Later, he processes my credit card with an old-fashioned manual slide machine while driving up Palms Boulevard.  Note that this process should require two hands, at the very least.

As we pull out of the airport, he points to the highway.

"It's moving!", he cries.

"I beg your pardon?" is my witty rejoinder.  I wasn't sure I had heard him correctly, and had mostly caught the wild gesticulation.

"The freeway! Look at it!"

"Yes."  I try to match his enthusiasm.  "I've never seen it moving so fast!"  But really, you have to be an Angelino for this level of traffic-based glee to ring true.

We both look at our watches on the on-ramp, dumbfounded by the really remarkable absence of vehicles.  It is the height of rush hour.

"Is it a holiday?", he asks.

"Um," I reply.  Have I lost track of the schedule of major American holidays?  Is this how quickly one becomes Canadian?  Oh, nepenthe of the north....

"In my country, this is a holiday. But not a major one."

I can't place his accent: "What holiday is that?"

"Anniversary of the first man in space.  Gagarin."

"Ah yes, Gagarin!  The first cosmonaut!"

"First cosmonaut.  Yes."

We grin at each other. 

He goes back to processing my credit card, bored already by the vast emptiness of the rush hour highway.

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