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The American Dream

The American Dream

This particular adventure draws to a close; in a few minutes Pablo the limo driver (cheaper than a taxi) will return, hopefully with my luggage, and we’ll be off to LAX. The pictures on this page I took earlier today around the Getty Center. There are two American dreams. It’s ironic that I’m typing this while in Los Angeles, the magnet for people looking for the first one:

Dream 1. The shortcut to wealth. Be discovered, become a star; quickly build up a business empire and make millions. Protect your wealth through whatever means, be they economic or political.

Sycamore tree

Dream 2: Find someone special. Afford a house with a white picket fence. Raise a family. Grow old together, enjoy each others company. Stay healthy, stay out of debt. Read. Be optimistic. Live modestly.

I met plenty of people who were after dream 2. Some, like the couple at the last meal I had on an Amtrak train, had found it. Others were looking. Those two dreams; they partially but don’t totally fit the political scene. Many Republican voters would prefer dream 2; some Democrats have achieved dream 1.

Open plaza

What connects them both is opportunity and education. Learn how to find the opportunities. Give yourself the skills to take advantage of them. Whatever American dream you follow, unless you get extremely lucky or are born into money, you’ve got to go for the opportunities. And they’re there. If you want them and go for them. And you have a large slice of luck with things such as health. So Americans seem quietly determined; at least the ones I met. Perhaps this is a manifestation of their ancestry, with people determined to leave behind poverty and repression and make a better life. Maybe it’s a desire to get on in life. Connect with like-minded people. Move on, and build what is still a new country, make it better.

And maybe this is why the US has what I call The Hive. It’s an extremely intense network and community of self-driven digital library researchers and practitioners. They each make considerable use of Web 2.0 and other net technologies to what some may think are extreme degrees. They don’t *have* to do any of this; they just do. I met some of The Hive at #IL2008 and #GLLS2008; others online, through Twitter and Flickr and Facebook and email.

Roses

This doesn’t exist in Britain to the extent it does in the US, and I’m not sure it could. Work conditions, negatively, count against it. Americans would say “Just do it.”; Brits would say “Why on Earth are you doing it?” in that ever-cynical way I’ve gotten tired of over the last decade. Cynicism is not the same as intelligence, which is why Britain would never elect someone like Barack with a message of “Hope” and “Change”. By coincidence I had a late night twitter exchange with someone senior from the UK academic digital education scene, who made pretty much the same point about a lack of any substantial UK “Hive”. This needs investigating properly (RB: we need to talk).

What is America? It’s being in wonder at something without looking for fault or cynicism in it. It’s strangers saying hello. It’s trying at something. It’s having conversations that are never dull or predictable. It’s having an opinion. It’s making a cause, and voting, and elections, and not giving up when a hurricane washes away your house but going back and rebuilding it and making a home and starting again. It’s an utter diversity of landscapes, communities and people. It’s being awake, it’s realising what’s outside and what you want to do, and who you are. Smell is the strongest sense, and to me America smells of Amtrak diesel, pomegramates and lemons, strong coffee in a Memphis diner, badly made tea, gumbo, the dollar bill, hotel cookies, peanut butter at Graceland, Louisiana swampwater, Seattle breakfast fruit, rooftop swimming pools, bear poo, the sweat of a nervous taxi driver, the breakfast buffet at #glls2008, hot dogs on Santa Monica pier, fish feed at Monterey aquarium, Pike Place in Seattle, cheesecake, the Mississippi at sunset, deep Chicago pizza, the edginess of El Paso, hotel conference room carpets, the hair of someone hugging you who was a stranger yesterday and will be a friend for life today, a library in Montana, the tangiable excitement of a crowd counting down the seconds to their president-elect…

Walkway

But there’s only one colour for me and that colour is blue. Blue for the sky over the Getty Center in Los Angeles as I type this, of the sky over the Canadian rockies, of the Mississippi at dawn, of the sky over a Swedish-style house with a white picket fence I glimpsed in Minnesota and can’t forget, of the eyes of Brooke and Holly, of the winning party. “Soak it up – be inspired – let yourself be open – you don’t know what might come in.”

I did, and found America, and home.

Thank you.

Pictures, not words

Pictures, not words

Not blogging much for a while; too busy to write prose. Most days though pictures are getting uploaded to Flickr.

The growing set for this particular trip are here… and here’s a few for now from today’s eight hour train ride:

Union Station

Waiting area

Amtrak train

Los Angeles and Santa Monica

Los Angeles and Santa Monica

It’s morning, and around 80 degrees. The eight lanes of traffic on the road outside are getting heavy. A mile or so away, jumbo jets are queuing up to take off, on their way to Japan, China, Europe and Australia. The view from the window:

Waking up in LA

As you may have guessed, I’m not in Berneray. Instead, I’m in an airport hotel in Los Angeles, California (Is that last bit necessary? Does anyone *not* know where LA is?). It’s about a week into the trip away, though it seems a very long time ago now since Shonnie Alick dropped me off at Benbecula airport. Yesterday and today are jetlag recovery days. As it’s my first trip abroad as a middle-aged bloke, and as jetlag has hit me hard on the last two US trips, am in chill-out mode for a while. Especially after the 11 hour flight here, though that wasn’t too bad. Heathrow Terminal Five was modern and relaxing, though the range of things to do was a little disappointing. The flight itself was pretty good; some spectacular views of Greenland (below), Canada, the Rockies, the vast midwest desert and Las Vegas

Greenland

That Asus EEE is also damned useful in small spaces; I knocked off a whole presentation and about half of a paper in the seven hours of battery power (yay for solid state memory).

Working at 32,000 feet

LAX wasn’t too bad this time, and I was out of there within an hour of the flight getting in. Non-US arrivals are thoroughly checked; passports are scrutinised (not just checked) on three occasions. Two fingerprints and a picture are taken. The questioning can be detailed; I was worried for a few moments that my reply to “Why are you here?” of “To encourage librarians to use Nintendo Wii’s in their libraries” (which it is) may have misconstrued as taking the mick, but they let me through. Today, like yesterday, I’m off to Santa Monica. Last evening was shopping and pier time; today will be beach time, a swim in the Pacific (surely warmer than the sea off the Uists, though probably not as clean), and possibly a trip to the Getty Center.

Pier from the sidewalk

I’m travelling by Amtrak to get around the US on this trip. This’ll be an interesting experience, and it started yesterday when making the first reservations in the fabulous Union Station in central LA. Amtrak, oddly, seems to operate more like an airline (used to) than airlines do now. They advise you to arrive 90 minutes before, check in your baggage, and do other bits of admin before getting on the train. Tomorrows trip is a mere 8 hours (so no overnights) from LA to Salinas, after which I’ll make my way to Monterey where I’m presenting in a few days time.

Pacific

Logistically, so far so good. Sensibly, US hotels often have laundry rooms, so I’m pretty up to date with clean clothes, supplemented by cheap purchases in the UK (Primark) and the US (Gap). And so, with just laptop, camera and towel packed, it’s off to the beach…