Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feeling the contrasts

‘back in Seattle for the holidays, plunging into a whirlwind of  shopping, shipping, and socializing.  It’s not without adjustment.

I’m finding that I’ve adopted a more “voluntary simplistic” way of life in Maastricht, not quite Thoreau, but still walking to local shops, taking the train on longer trips, living without a car, trying to get a better balance between working and leisure time, making time to read and write (drawing is on the New Year’s list).

DSC09419 Okay, I still fly like a demon, so my carbon footprint is still immense.  And I now live in three different countries: the exciting news of the past day is that my UK work visa was granted in just 12 hours (!), clearing the way for me to start my research project and to teach at Cambridge starting next month.

Even so, the plunge back into a US style and pace of life has been bracing.

The holiday traffic is dense and aggressive, especially around the major shopping areas, and it’s taking more time and energy to make the rounds than I remember.

DSC09420 Once inside the malls, the crowds are thick and salespeople feel pushy.  A lot of venerable stores are closing forever and there are 40-60% discount signs in every window.  There aren’t a lot of shoppers carrying bags of purchases, so I think it’s making the shopowners more desperate on this last weekend before Christmas.

A lot of familiar procedures seem to have become more complicated as well. For example, the post office has set up a package shipping center, all touch screens and sequenced instructions to weigh, pay, stamp, and drop boxes down a big slot. Not to sound old or Luddite, but now I have to figure out what to do while a line waits, find out I can't do half of what I want, then wonder if it's been done right in the end.  I still prefer to stand in the (shorter) line to the counter, let the clerk tell me my options, then buy stamps and a money order at the same time.

The local talk radio station had a contest to find the most irritating people or things of 2009: the new light rail system and various bits of pubic art topped the list. A lot seems driven by small government / free market people who want to limit public investment in things that they won’t use or don’t like.  But I don’t know how to leave a regional rail system to wholly private initiative, its the sort of infrastructure investment that becomes useful only when it’s fully functional.

When it’s done, they’ll love it.  And ride it.

It’s all leaving me a bit homesick for my road art and NS Rail, walking to shops and joining friends for Quiz Night.  I’m sure that I’ll take up the slack in a day or so and it will be like I was never away, but the transition has been sharp-edged.

I’m even missing George (smiling, left, in the London Underground, but absent, right, at the Nespresso counter at Macy’s), but can always go see him in the Up In The Air movie if I need a fix.

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