Monday, May 11, 2009

Tales from Abroad, Pasadena Edition - Part 2: America, Land of the Large

Over the years I've been roped into countless (and pointless) debates over how different (if at all) Canada is from the US. While I've come to increasingly ask "how is one part of the US (or Canada) different from others?", there's something to be said about America that walking around today in Pasadena seems to have confirmed: America is all about being epically large.

That's something you hear about "everything's bigger in" Texas, but it's just as valid when dealing with a suburb of LA. American California, being at earliest a 19th century phenomena, is partly due to the fact that the people coming over this way had plenty of room to spread out (not to mention a little gold and a lot of incredible weather). This "tons of space" mentality seems to persist - along one of the main drags (Colorado Blvd) your average store often seems large enough to cram in a dozen or so Dutch cafes.

Being without a car (a rarity for this neck of the woods) I walked around the city for hours, soaking in the sights. I saw hundreds of pained-cement buildings, built at a time where art deco was being welding together a sense of progressive modernity and imperial grandeur (Pasadena's majestic City Hall was a particular highlight: a secular temple, half baroque, half art deco, and all California). I saw the local residents, some too strange for words, some too large for belief (I always have to remind myself that weighing several hundred pounds is the norm around here), and some with darkened skin and sweaty brows, tired from a lifetime of toiling under the endless sun.

I checked into the Pacific Asia Museum (more on this another day), and after hours of walking around under a cloudless sky I needed food. My continental breakfast was a little too continental - an English muffin, a tiny danish, and an awkward piece of bread trying to pass itself off as a bagel were my only sustenance. I needed food. Real food. American food. I had a Big American Hunger and I needed a Big American Lunch.

Enter Chipotle. I walked into this new and exciting fast food joint in search of a burrito. Things did not go smoothly at first. Being unfamilier with the burrito construction process (not knowing which bringly coloured sauce is what, which type of bean you should have with with a shredded pork, etc.) I asked the man serving me to "make it like you think it should be made". Waiters in general and fast food workers in particular hate it when you tell them to select what goes into your meal - it slows down and forces the question "what should go in a burrito?" - a deep philosophical question that you're simply not prepared to deal with when staring down a line of hungry customers and worrying about inadvertently serving some indecisive tex-mex-FOP (fresh off the plane) something they might not like.

Still, the burrito got wrapped, and even though I was annoyed that guacamole costed more (which no one told me), and that the water disperser yielded some strange ice-tea-like liquid, I was now in possession of a Big American Burrito, by far the largest object to be called a burrito I have witnessed to date. It was twice as big as my fist, juat smaller than my head, and probably contained more calories than most people in the developing world get in a week. It made the local Toronto Big Fat Burrito look like a big fat shame. I tried to eat it slowly, but gluttony gave in. When I came to my senses the burrito had vanished, and I found myself holding a mangled piece of tin foil with sauce drizzling down my wrist. The burrito was kicking in. I wanted a Big American Nap.

Whether or not America's largeness is desirable, beneficial, or sustainable is something the country is going to have to ask sooner or later. In the meantime, I'll raise a 2 liter Super Big Gulp to America's largeness and hope that the Caltech Archives will be as full of useful sources as California is people.

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