Cliche says travel broadens the mind. Wanderlust tells you the world is bigger than your backyard. Science says you 'live' longer when you continuously expose yourself to novel scenarios.
WG's good friend, Auckland creative and Acclaim contributor Lane Pedersen, recently spent some time in the Americas. He took his disposable camera, and pointed it at all things that made him feel something. I had a coffee with the dude the other day, and when he showed me his developed film, I knew it was the kind of art that needed a broader audience; albeit living in a world of over-sharing, there was something intangibly human about the physical once-offs from his point-and-shoot. I felt Lane had captured the essence of the friends he was travelling with, the locals he encountered, the landscapes and architecture previously alien to him. Bob Marley's One Love didn't quite start playing in my head, but I felt I had understood something about the way of living halfway across the world.
Here are those pictures.
Over our caffeine, Lane recounted his first-hand experience with the American Dream. Everyone was hustling; from the dudes at street corners certain they were the next Kanye, trying to shift their mixtapes, to the volumes of people fast-talking and fast-walking. Fancy cars were everywhere, even in the hands of young people, reinforcing an outsider's conception of California's pop culture maxim: faking it til you make it (or carrying around a life of debt for sake of appearances).
Contrasting California's livewire hustle, three days in Las Vegas, Nevada, was "long enough". Lane recalled the city as a "vacuum" - a money drain built on sand. The Hangover depiction didn't quite fit; the pedestrian, set-like feeling of the town seemed more likely to entertain hardworking people who saved their pennies to visit in the hope of striking the 'big one', than any cocaine-and-hooker blowouts (although, it's very likely that such would happen behind closed doors). There seemed no drinking restrictions, but the streets were clean and not one argument observed. Sin City was a tame juxtaposition of the uniquely fake.
Lane and his crew had also crossed the border into Tijuana, Mexico, but the camera stayed in a hotel on the USA side in light of warnings to remove any visible item of value. Walking out of North America was easy, he said, but the other side held groupings of families awaiting the return of their husbands and fathers with work permits, bringing home the closest thing to a better life in the form of money.
The crew visited a strip club (because what other kind of story are you expecting to come back from Mexico with?), but found themselves unable to stay longer than half an hour, finding the experience degrading and sad; a see-through show put on for the visiting Europeans. Snakes preserved in bottles of Tequila were sold at road side. Haircuts were $2. Homeless people with missing limbs begged for money. One US dollar could buy a plethora of things, yet poverty was of the most visible kind he'd ever seen, Lane told me.
Did many people he encountered know where New Zealand was? A resounding "no".
We talked about the dramatic influence that American culture had on our own, at home, a small grouping of islands 13,000kms away. Lane mentioned that he hadn't seen many Gen Y in America working hospitality or retail jobs, a common sight in New Zealand. We're of a lineage that aspires to save and move to these kinds of cities - those we see immortalised in film and television - so much so that we lose perspective on how much potential we have to build greatness from home.
Tipping the last bit of his flat white back, Lane gave the moral of his story: we're all hustling for survival.