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Morel haul

05.25.11

We went mushroom hunting out on some private property and found the largest morels I’ve ever seen.  This isn’t our total haul, just what was in my bag.  The second picture is steak with the same morels in a cream sauce with demi-glace.  This has nothing to do with Latin America or cost of living.

Price of beer in a bar: I just got here
Song currently stuck in my head: I’m Ready (The Twilight Singers)

A funny thing happen to me on my way to The US. I cleared customs at ATL and they were forcing American Citizens who had cleared customs to pass through a security checkpoint in order to leave the airport. I’m pretty sure that isn’t legal. One of the ways the TSA was able to build up as much power as they have is by emphasizing that these security checkpoints are voluntary. You can always opt not to fly, turn around and leave the way you came. Here we have a situation where people were being told there was simply no other option. I’ve dealt with the TSA often and most of the employees that you encounter at an airport are incompetent power tripping assholes, though the supervisors (of whom I’ve met more than a few) are generally professional, courteous and helpful. I didn’t take the time to discuss this with a supervisor, though I wish I had. I’m left with a lot of questions. I investigated a little online and it turns out I’m lucky I didn’t grab the duty free bottle of Nicaraguan Rum that was on offer at PTY; the ATL TSA agents have a habit of confiscating unopened, duty free rum, even if it was purchased in a secure area in the airport and even if your not flying anywhere from there.

As you might have noticed, I’m taking a quick break from warmer climes to commiserate with my less meteorologically fortunate family. They’ve turned the tables somewhat, though, as the weather up here near the Upper Peninsula is gorgeous right now. I’m staying at The Boyne City Motel (astute readers will remember this from earlier when I wrote it in the title above), ostensibly to attend The Morel Festival but mostly because my father likes to fish this lake. After last year’s weak harvest, folks are excited about the predicted bumper crop of fungi dotted about the local forests and fields.

Being back in The US creates a fog that can take days to get used to. For one thing you can suddenly understand everything around you (since it’s not in Spanish). Whether it’s overheard conversations or billboards, you have to recalibrate your focus because of the new found accessibility of distractions. But it’s not just the English, there’s so much more distraction here. Just trying to order a fast food burger is a bewildering array of large static signs, video screens, small paper signs with additional deals, scraps of paper stuck to the cash registers further explaining what is and is not available… Jesus, not even the employees have any idea what all of it amounts to. I should know, I asked. I order #13 and they say “medium or large?” I don’t know, whichever one the price listed for #13 refers to. They don’t know which size that is. It’s surprisingly common to wander into similar clusterfucks for the smallest transactions and when you ask the people around you they have no idea. They just shove money into the hand of the high schooler behind the register when she tells them to and trust that this corporation/franchisee/minimum wager has everything under control (including, it seems, them).

Price of beer on this plane: US$5
Song currently stuck in my head: Fly (Sugar Ray) (Yeah, really)

With a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a seat at gate 28 in Tocumen, it’s easy to forget you’re in the developing world. Like many nations, in Panama you literally exit through the gift shop, duty free luxury goods line both sides of the only hallway out of the country by air. In Ecuador (Guayaquil) they drop you directly out of customs and into a large shop with no clear indication which way to proceed.

I took the bus here for 25 cents instead of the taxi for 20 dollars (assuming you’re treated fairly; otherwise it goes up from there). In all I’ll ride in 2 planes, 2 trains (not counting airport rail) 1 bus and 1 car before I get where I’m going. On the bus in the developing world I try to keep my dummy wallet in the pocket between me and whoever I’m sharing the seat with; it’s not always possible, but I act on it as preference. I also just keep it more accessible than my real wallet in general(Neither of these are “real wallets”, by the way, they’re both a stack of Credit and ATM cards with some cash rubber banded to them. They’re light weight and the rubber strips tend to keep them from falling or being lifted out of your pockets.) 100mg of Modafinil is keeping the restlessness in check and makes being awake at least bearable; I left at 5am and this is going to be a long day.

I think I inadvertently blew off Panamanian Customs on the way out; they guy at security asked me something in Spanish, I explained, also in Spanish, that I didn’t understand, he went “meh” and waved me through. Somewhere over, fuck, Southern Mexico(?) I realized that I still have my custom form and no exit stamp. This probably won’t matter. Typically Panamanian, a minimum amount of effort was expended and that effort was almost immediately abandoned at the first sign of difficulty.

When you’re a foreigner with only a limp grasp of the language it’s easy to become almost entirely deindividualized. Being suddenly locked into focus is jarring, to say the least, but that’s what happens when you realize that no one is writing you off as the odd foreigner and that people know what you’re saying. The ability to comprehend the local customs obligates you to them, in most peoples eyes, but when you’re weird enough they write you a pass. For the last 10 months I’ve been weird enough; a clear outsider. Over the course of 10 minutes this changed entirely.