Seattle, Washington. The American Dream is here. Somewhere.
Perhaps it's my perfect cappuccino. Maybe it's the menu at this cafe, with three mentions of "vegan." (I chose an item that included cheese, not "vegan," and the plate melded the goodness of potatoes, eggs, shitake mushrooms and spinach into a single serving with no explanation as to why these ingredients, individually excellent, belong together.)
It's Saturday. Outside the window a man passes by with an upbeat gait, cradling a new, old-fashioned record. Another man stands across the street wearing billboards, waving and bouncing and announcing a furniture sale.
This is my first taste of Seattle. I took a brand-new train from the airport to a bus station and was about to board a bus when a wizened American Indian man called after me, "no." I hadn't noticed him before. I asked why I shouldn't climb aboard, but he didn't speak English. He pointed to his watch and scratched his finger clockwise along its face, then he mutely pointed to the bus as it drove off. I was to wait for the next one.
"I understand," I said. He rose and ambled away, vanishing into traffic. I sat at the bus stop and wondered why this mundane slice of life seems spiritual no matter how I word it.
Seattle is new, rainy, hip, laid back. An hour after landing I sit in the cafe and a feeling creeps over me. It's the feeling I always get when I enter the United States.
The American Dream is here. Somewhere.
That's why I committed details to memory, but their sum doesn't explain the feeling. To me, the American Dream is like rain you smell that isn't falling. You know it's there, but you don't know why or when or how. Your only clue is an instinct you never knew you had.
Washington, like every state, is suffering after the economic recession. The newspaper chronicles legislators' bids to rein in the defecit. Some politicians proposed withholding payments to schools with miscreant students, but they couldn't gather the votes. Others seem ready to remove university tuition limits. Maybe the American Dream is in the news. Politicians propose miracle solutions, ways of taxing the unloved and uneducated and un-anything to keep the dream alive for the rest of us. Raising everybody's taxes would be too real.
Meanwhile, I see determination. I bicycle past a large woman walking intently, determined to finish her exercise; a gangly woman flailing her legs, determined to master her roller blades; hundreds of runners and bikers criscrossing the city, determined to become fitter.
I can't figure it out. The American Dream is here. Somewhere.