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The only thing that changes is the weather

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 21, 2001


"We have a strong tendency to stick with tried and tested views of the world, even when the evidence suggests they are no longer working." — Chris Wright

Not long after Dolly the sheep was cloned in Scotland scientists discovered that her replicated offspring, was not a newborn, but a genetic continuation of the two year old ovine, complete with the expected wear and tear associated with two years of life as a laboratory animal. Young but hardly fresh, Dolly's double was tired at birth.

Aging sheep is the perfect analogy for where I find myself in the late summer of my discontent. To be exact I am in Ohio. The first week of my stay was odd to say the least. Commuting between rural mid-Ohio and the industrial northeast was like traveling back in time on a daily basis. Towns such as Loudonville, Perryville, and Lucas, retaining an old world charm, are a reminder of how far we have traveled down the slippery slope of progress.

Connecting these small communities to the sprawling mass known as Cleveland is an expanding freeway system well on its way to mirroring the worst aspects of Southern California. Adding a third lane to the interstate is probably a good thing, now if only they could reduce the need for a forth, something that is already needed as a result of the suburban subdivisions that are sprouting up in what were extremely fertile farmland.

Before coming to Ohio, I was under the mistaken impression that California was the state most addicted to the automobile, boy was I wrong. Whereas Californians are addicted to the automobile for their transportation needs, the folks here in the Buckeye state not only depend on vehicles for getting around, a majority of them seem to depend on them for meeting their recreational needs as well. Discovering this cultural reality convinced me Americans have little in common other than a shared federal government willing to sell them out to corporate interests, while leading them down the wrong asphalt path.

Last week I found myself in a situation much like Dorothy when she was whisked out of Kansas. In my case, however it was not Oz that had me feeling completely out of place but the Mid-Ohio Miller Lite 200. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I actually attended an Indy car race. Talk about your fish out of water scenarios. Not only did I not speak the language, or care to, I was surrounded by people who got their jollies watching other people drive around in circles for hours on end. After about ten minutes I was so bored I began to fantasize about cars spinning out of control with fatal results. Far from a blood sport, I discovered these races to be just one huge commercial for the likes of Texaco, Target, Shell, and Marlboro, not to mention a complete waste of time, energy and the aforementioned fertile farmland.

As folks discovered I was from Southern California, they asked what I did for a living. When told I was an environmental writer, to a person, they all assured me that these races were "very environmental" because the cars ran on methanol. Talk about selective reasoning. What these people failed to account for in their claims of environmental sensitivity was the fact that they all drove hundreds of miles to get there, the race grounds had absolutely no recycling facilities, the racing teams went through tires like Madonna goes through hair styles, and a helicopter hovered above the track at all times. This, by the way, is just the short list.

Feeling like Margaret Mead during her first weeks in New Guinea, I learned more about the people and customs of Ohio, than I thought possible. Adding to this understanding were trips into Cleveland, which is completely different from the small towns to the south. This is not to say these distinct areas do not have things in common, because they do. Both urban and rural communities are graced with beautiful buildings in varying degrees of repair, antiquated transportation infrastructures, and enough McDonalds franchises to leave this jaded anti corporate cuisine activist to believe Big Macs to be the official food of Ohio.

In short, Ohio is not that different from California other than the weather, what counts for recreation, and a lack of soy products. Where are those ruby slippers when you need them?

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