Cowboy. På drift i ett annat Amerika



You´re travelling to a spot on the map called Surf. The reason for this is that it sounds very much like America and you have heard from an old song about Surf City that there are two girls for every boy, and surfers are gliders, dancing on the surface, and this doesn´t come easy to most people in times like these.

As you are driving to Surf the road narrows in careening curves. Sand has blown in over the asphalt. You are passing a female TV reporter in a power-suit, blow-drying her hair by the roadside while her assistant holds her script and the six o´clock news is coming up. The transmitter on top of the bus has been ready for hours.

Now the ocean is visible and the road comes to an end. A rusty freight train is rolling along the shore, over on this side of the tracks skinny birds are playing on marshy land that looks fragile.

“Turn around, I don´t know anything,” says the guard with his shades tucked behind his regular glasses.

You can sense the military presence. There are no longer any surfers in the grey water. And you think to yourself: who would tell anything to a man with that kind of sunglasses?

Highway 1 winds along the west coast, where the European discovery of America came to a halt – and where immigration nowadays takes its beginning. At the university in Berkeley, Asian students get the best grades, and in the Mega City down south Latinos are reclaiming the territory that the film industry and the black muthafucka gangs would borrow for a while.

On Highway 1 you are transported through the dream of California. The road runs in the same direction as the fault which will one day open up in a serious way. It passes exquisite private villas, bent-over broccoli pickers, foam-covered sandy beaches, seedy motels, and meditative redwood groves. It purrs and rumbles, it twists and winds; it gets absorbed by nature and, therefore, becomes intimate with your senses.

In Don DeLillo´s “White Noise” the narrator discovers that he has at least one thing in common with his teacher colleagues, his deep fascination for watching catastrophes on television.

“For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set. If a thing happens on television, we have every right to find it fascinating, whatever it is,” one of the university teachers tells him. In the flow of words, images, numbers, facts and particles, only catastrophes can grab our attention, he explains.

“We want them, we need them, we depend on them. As long as they happen somewhere else. This is where California comes in. Mud slides, brush fires, coastal erosion, earthquakes, mass killings, et cetera. We can relax and enjoy these disasters because in our hearts we feel that California deserves whatever it gets. Californians invented the concept of life-style. This alone warrants their doom.”

You do not know what you´ve been missing until it is presented to you all in one place: cosmology, astrology, tarrot cards, energy healing, submission to the Lord, religious borderline experiences. You may become an imprint run through an image processing programme, an email in a spiritualistic orbit. Your new tattoo can be made permanent or wash-and-go. With a determined workout in the sand, you can acquire skin with more fibre than a silo full of muesli.

On the beach in southern California, the same sort of drumming has been going on for decades that has been wandering from Venice Beach to Tibet and from Haight-Ashbury to Ibiza and Marrakesh; ganja-smelling boys with congas in improvised constellations, one love, a hypnotic rhythm that meets the world with bloodshot eyes.

The houses have low roofs and are made of wood. In the garage you can place your bunk, in the communal fridge your bowl of yoghurt. Had you been 20, you would have wanted to rent a room here in order to ponder what to do when you turn 21.

Bikini girls are lying in the sun or sitting in lifeguard towers. A cloud of seabirds surround the children throwing frisbees at the sky. In the damp and insistent cold underneath the pier, crew-cut gangs are lurking dressed in baggy pants the size of three persons. They have got a lot to prove, but exist mostly as silhouettes. Maybe they came here dragging their feet through the desert, maybe they were washed ashore from some self-destructing pirate ship. When they look at you with their grim eyes, you wish that they had been allowed to join the circle of conga players.