People here in Bali will often ask whether I miss America. My immediate answer to this question was for the longest time simply "No." But things that are new and different have a way of excusing themselves from the more sober sort of examination that comes with the passage of time, the growth of day to day familiarity. What seems at first endlesslesly curious and unique begins to be humdrum and commonplace. Such is the condition of the wandering spirit of man--it cannot forever tolerate sameness.
So do I now miss America? I have thought the thing over anew. And I can say that there are after all some things that I miss. One of them is competence.
Competence? It sounds a bit strange yes? But here is what I mean. I miss the orderliness of America, the reliability that is built into so many facets of everyday life. These are easily taken for granted. They are just there.
I'm talking, for instance, about mail that comes every day, not mail that comes maybe, not mail that comes if you're lucky. I'm talking about a legal system that is accessible, a legal system that can be used if need be by any person possessing a phone and a phone book. I'm talking about streets and highways with signs, with lights, with arrows, along with a shared knowledge of what these signs, lights, and arrows mean. I'm talking about a shared conception of rules for the road, where flow is determined by obediance, not by belligerance.
I miss the cup of Starbucks, the Grande cappuccino, made with real milk.
I miss the structure, the effortless seeming organization, the predictability of prices and places, the transit system, the freeway, the parking lot, the shopping mall; karmel korn, candied apples; the Fred Meyer store just down the block that has everything and more.
I miss the sheer abundance of America, the availability of everything. I miss Hollywood Video, and oh my God the Barnes and Noble Bookstore!
Can I live without it all? Most definitely so. But does it seem different now than it seemed before. Yes, it does indeed seem so.