It was a bright day. I noticed how unusually clear the sky was - a nice change from the winter clouds that bring all the snow. I saw the bus with the "travel your world with us" logo, and was greeted by the bus driver. I was the first one to arrive.
"How are you doing? Going to Baltimore through Harrisburg, are ya? Step right on in!"
He spoke with a surprisingly squeaky voice for his size, but spoke in a very slow and direct manner - you immediately got the impression that he had been in the public transport system for a long time; that he knew the ins and outs of the system; that he knew what he was talking about. He wore spectacles, those round John-Lennon types. If I had met him in another setting my first guess would have been that he worked in a hot air balloon exploring uncharted territories in the South-hemisphere; or a doctor in some of the Western movies, healing a wounded hero.
"We still got 10 minutes?" asked a guy with a rough tangled hair and beard, wearing a baja-hoodie over a green State Patty's day T-shirt; the quintessential college kid. "Yes", the driver answered. He quickly realized the kids intent and remarked, "You can go ahead and smoke your cigarette - and in fact, I'll join you!"
There they stood close to the bus, putting up their sunglasses first; and then smoking; the young and the old, in the cold. Then off we went, with powerful flares of the horns of this mighty bus, and like that, we left the snowy streets of State College, for something entirely different.
The driver kept yawning on the way, I won't say as frequently as a gold fish opens its mouth, but the yawning had a steady periodicity to it. A can of diet Mountain Dew quickly beat the frequency down. He immediately seemed more intent on driving.
We drove past the Susquehanna river. I remembered Kerouac describing it as one of the mournful rivers of the East Coast. To me it felt cold and fierce, almost terrifying: frozen, not solid, but filled with cracked icebergs that stick out of it; thorns that carve out wider banks and steeper cliffs, and somewhere in the middle of all this stands a miniature Statue of Freedom, unshaken by the shards. Freedom persisted.
It is interesting to get to see and experience America through my own eyes, a country which has shaped Western culture in so many areas and aspects. The proportions and scales of everything are so different from what I am used to. The cars, the trucks, the pickups, the red plastic cups, the roads, the magnificently great houses, distances that can only be crossed by car, 'bridge-may-be-icy-signs', stores that have inventories of forklifts and golf-cars fit for a small nation, and so on and so forth.
In all, it was quite an ordinary bus trip, with people with their noses and pupils fixed on the transistors in their hand, some had headphones, and some which sang to themselves that new song by Pharrell which is going like mad over all America and further (probably higher than they thought they were singing), and the young mother with the crying baby in the back, and the interested middle-aged woman with the tattoos who was happy to help her out with the baby. In any case, it gave me some time to think, read the Pennsylvanian landscape (trees, trees), and put some ideas down on paper.
Suddenly I was at a student bar in Baltimore - not far from the Paper Moon; a hip place if you deem it from their zealous and colorfully decorated mannequins in their yard. The place was packed for a Wednesday night; people living in the here and now. A lot of pictures were on the walls, sport pictures, baseball, football. "I like Baltimore - its like living in an action movie; you can see police chases out your front window", said my friend over our big meal. "... and I'm pretty sure this 24/7 Pizza place has bulletproof glass in the counter. Some neighbourhoods are good though - the trick is to know were they are, and not wander too far off!". The meal kept me full for the entire night and the whole next morning, as I left this Capital of Crime for the West.
I knew it was an old airplane. I felt like I was in a kaleidoscope - the one you used to play around with as a kid: the color palette of row of old 90's CRT TV sets were off, each in a different way; blue, green, yellow, purple, all with this crazy, acidic, fluorescent hue. I was riding to the West in a flying kaledoscope; the psychedelic plane; Jefferson Airplane. A particular song started to play in my head, and I wondered if I was stuck in a Big Lebowski scene, or maybe if you are in one of those funny bathrooms when you have two opposite mirrors facing each other, and you have billions, and billions of copies of yourself smiling at you; wishing only that you could see through the back of your head. I dozed off, as we flew across the bulk of the American continent, heading to what really is her most exciting city.
And this was really the way that my whole spring break experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.
Guðmundur Kári Stefánsson| 500px | vimeo | facebook |
email: gws5257 [at] psu.edu
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12 November 2014 HET trip - Results
11 November 2014 HET trip - day 1
01 October 2014 Black Moshannon State Park Observing
29 September 2014 HPF MLI blanket fabrication
19 September 2014 MLI Blankets
11 August 2014 HPF subsystem assembly
21 July 2014 Astrofest 2014
13 June 2014 HPF - Keeping it cool