Yesterday on the Weather Channel

Epic scope, conflict, drama, danger, survival: the Weather Channel’s got everything. The Weather Channel is an intensely American experience. It’s one that, for me, highlights the contrast between the two continents I live on. I don’t have a TV in Peru, but, even if I did, South American cable systems don’t carry the Weather Channel. It’s North American weather, of course, so why would they? It’s only when I’m in the States that I get to see the Weather Channel. Maybe I’m weird, but it’s fun to be back and watch those sophisticated, animated, meterological models eat up our continent again.

weathermapLike yesterday. Here comes an arctic front out of Canada sliding its cold colors down the corridor east of the Rockies, curving southeast into Texas. Then here comes a second front up from the Caribbean–a warm storm burgeoning northwards out of the Gulf. “Lots of moisture,” the meteorologist says, as always. And these two fronts are crashing into each other right now, as we speak. They’re colliding over east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, blending, morphing into something bigger, something with a stronger sense of purpose, something more serious with deeper colors, turning north, gaining speed. Undulating like a snake, the black line between freezing and not advances inexorably up the map, trailing blue rain ovals to the south, pushing white snow oval north. The white ovals multiply, covering the whole northeast; white and blue ovals stack up over the midwest. Indiana shows white; Kentucky, a frozen baby blue. Now the whole country east of the Mississippi is animated, outlined, and colored in. It’s a huge storm system, but it’s always moving; the entire sky is always moving. The sky will take the whole huge thing north and east into the Atlantic tomorrow, they say. Out over the Atlantic to harass shipping there, I guess, and to keep Icelanders pinned to their version of the Weather Channel. (How do you say, “Oh, no! Not again!” in Icelandic?)

Early this morning I open the back door and peek out. Sure enough, the cold Kentucky morning is blue, not white. Rain, not snow. The Weather Channel was right.

American meteorology. Very cool.

How does it feel?

Today Matt Rogers gave me a haircut (Disco’s Chop Shop, Main St. across from Druthers, Campbellsville, KY). Matt and I were part of the group from the Campbellsville and Nashville Vineyards that visited Peru in 2005, so Matt knows something of the contrast between here and there. “How does it feel to be back in the States,” he asked me.

I never quite know how to answer that question. I think it’s because I feel so many things. I told him it’s like traveling between two planets. But one of the even stranger things is that one planet (Peru) knows that the other (the U.S.) exists but not vice versa.

When you get to know everyday South Americans and they get to know that they can trust you, they’ll start asking about the States. The U.S. is in the news a lot down there, and about half the TV shows on cable in South American are exported U.S. series overdubbed into Spanish. (CSI is hugely popular.) They know the U.S. can’t really be like TV so they ask: What’s it really like? Does everyone live in big houses in the suburbs like on TV? What do they like to eat? Why do they shoot each other so much?

Americans, on the other hand, don’t ask much about South America. It’s not that we don’t have the potential to care. It’s just that there’s nothing here that brings it to our attention, while everyday life here demands every ounce of attention we’ve got. There is, actually, some South American TV programming on our TV cable systems (I saw some Colombian soap operas on my sister’s system in Texas), but it’s in Spanish so we surf right by. And U.S. papers and the TV news don’t say anything about South America unless there’s a disaster.

So how does it feel to be back in the States? It feels like being stuck between two planets. Not really on one and not really on the other, either. Spacewalking. It feels sort of like spacewalking.