Driving up from San Diego through Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced to San Francisco I noticed a lot of decayed infrastructure. I guess the San Fernando Valley is still recovering from earthquakes. Over half the highway ramps were closed. It had a post-apocalyptic feel. Maybe it was temporary but it was hard to imagine a temporary situation in which one would close miles and miles of highway exit ramps on a weekday rather than work on them one at a time.
Then we were mercifully out of the L.A. traffic and over the mountains coming down into the dusty central valley. I wanted to stop in all of the small towns just to look around. It was just as beautiful to me as the drive down Highway 1 looking at the ocean, imagining life in these country towns and wondering what it would be like. I don’t know, man. The American Dream! We constructed a future where we retired to one of them (spinning out stories of each town as we passed from its general look, the billboards, the state of the train yards) Perhaps a computer-fixing store with that crazy old coot with his old-fashioned “Internet” and the stern civic minded old lady with the purple and silver hair. Oblomovka kept doing monologues in a cracked voice where he explained to the youth of the future what an ethernet cable was and what particular computer components were for, not like those jacking-into-your-brain nanotrons.
I pulled off the highway in a very small town called McFarland only to find that the gas station pumps had signs on them. “NO GAS”. Quiet and dusty. We looked in vain for the Business District pointed to by a road sign. I think we were in it. There was a tiny barber shop, a corner store, I think a pizza place and two huge churches, signs with pithy proverbs in Spanish, a big football field and then some cow fields. I wished for the time to explore McFarland and wondered even harder what it would be like to live there, the good and the bad of small towns, whether someone would just beat the hell out of me instantly or if I would fix everyone’s web sites, teach at the high school, and start a utopian beekeeping co-op despite being one of 3 lunatic atheists in town plus clearly the evil first wave of gentrification and if they would shave the sides of my head at the barbershop or not. Imagining the BBQs and perhaps a 4H auction or rodeo or two, church picnics, knowing way too much about everyone’s business, who could fix a car, who was an alcoholic, who is rich and who isn’t, and all the things that seem to go with small towns.
Later on as Oblomovka drove part of the way I was surfing around with the connection from my phone and looked up McFarland, still thinking about the impression it made on me many miles away. Aside from the boringest possible demographic info on its Wikipedia page there was one significant thing about McFarland: The Budweiser Story. In a glurgey post-sept. 11-2001 email forwarded around the Internets, McFarland was the scene of a Budweiser truck driver coming to deliver some beer to a convenience store and finding some Muslim guys in there celebrating the fall of the towers, really whooping it up. He took all his cases of Bud and left and the company will never deliver their beer to that town again. The end! This story and its million variants were debunked quickly, but of course that didn’t stop the natural life of the racist faux-patriot email forward.
Oblomovka and I then began to spin out the image of the oil painting of the incident, the Beer Truck driver guy haloed in a beam of light angelically pointing, the celebrating guys lit by red neon as if by the fires of hell, a globe knocked over on its side, an observing cat in the shadows, all the elements of composition in triangles. I can’t remember all the details that were making me howl with laughter in the car. In my mind it was as Sandow Birk might paint it and I wished for a whole series of meme paintings done in some classical style.