The Sky Is Bigger in America

And the Ground Cracks on Contact

October 17, 2020

I went to go get my flu shot on Thursday. The school demands it, which makes sense, to avoid further, unnecessary illness in pandemic times. Flu shots can be done at the pharmacy. Just a regular ol' pharmacy the size of a small mall.
I go up to the guy, tell him what I want. He nods, and asks for my birthday.
I tell him 21st of June. 1993. He looks a little confused. And repeats. "So, 06/21?" I look confused, and then nod, realizing they flip things around over here. I knew that. Then he asks my name.

Oh jolly, this is always a good one. Fortunately, he has the wherewithal to pretty quickly ask how to spell it, rather than ask several times. He asks some more things, looks at his computer for a while, then asks my birthday again.
...I give it, he types it in, no further comment. I was a little confused.

He asks my phone number. I tell him it's danish. He goes ..."uh, right uh, ok. We don't have the ability to write language codes. Sooo.. I'll write none, and then type it out in the notes. Ok?"
I nod, wondering what he'd say if I say no, but just tell him my number. It's at this point he asks whether I'm getting this for school. I say yes. That I'm an international student. He nods; this makes more sense now.

He asks if I have insurance. I panic for a moment, before I remember that I do! It's part of the university tuition, so I actually do. He asks for my card. I show him a .pdf on my phone since I can't download the actual app outside the American app store—which I somehow can't access with a danish phone, even in America.

He takes my phone. Looks at it. Squints. Back to his computer. Types in some things. Types in some more things. Looks at my phone. Is silent for a while. Mumbles something. Asks me to hang on while he gets his colleague. Colleague comes over and looks at my phone as well. Also squints (the text was small). Goes back to his computer.
The first clerk asks me to go sit and wait a while, as there's now been a bit of a customer queue building up behind me.

I go sit, and wait. The other people come in, and pick up their medicine. One of them also sits and waits near me. We all have our masks on.

After the queue has cleared, he waves me back and hands me my phone, and a form I need to fill. The typical stuff, you've probably filled these at hospitals: My name, my birthday (again), my phone number (again), my healthiness, whether I have allergies, etc. It also asks for my weight, in lbs, which I don't know. And my phone doesn't have internet so I can't look it up.
I ask. They calculate it for me.

They accept the form, and I have to sign on a machine (I already wrote my signature on the sheet). It asks me if I want RITE Aid, which I don't know what is. It then asks me if I'd like to decline advice from the pharmacist on how to use the medication (of which I am not taking any). I say they can give me advice.

I wait another minute. Then am brought into a room, greeted, stabbed in the arm with a needle, and walk out. I am given a pamphlet.

I've now been in California for 2 weeks. I arrived on the 2nd of October.
The fires were still a thing, then. Trump had just gotten tested positive.
World moves fast. #2020.

Anyways, the sky is bigger in America. That's my claim.

I don't know why. I started thinking this when I was on a trip over here in 2010, travelling from Seattle to San Francisco, with my parents. I don't remember what caused it, but it must have been something to do with the sky. Being big.

And on my subsequent visits here, I've just felt this sense that the sky is bigger. It's like the field of view is increased. Like the ground is lower.

It's perceptual—I don't think it's real. I look at the sky now and it doesn't look much bigger, really.

It just... feels bigger.

It's a placebo effect I can't shake off. An illusion I know how works and yet I'm convinced of it. A lie I choose to accept.

We all know the saying "everything is bigger in America."

It is. Their cars are bigger, their roads are bigger, their stores are bigger, their boats are bigger, their houses are bigger.

It's just all big. But the sky?

That's like saying the ocean's bigger. (It is, the Pacific is bigger than the Atlantic, lol).

I haven't felt it to the same degree being here now. Maybe it's because living here is different than travelling. Maybe it's because the sky has just been fucking blue since I got here (with like 1 exception where it was grey for a day), meaning there's not that sense of space that clouds give.

But where the sky is big and clean and smooth, the ground is just big. And rough and brittle. It's prone to breaking. There are fires. It's dry and hot as hell (and this they tell me, is "nothing"). Everything takes longer. Every action that requires interaction with another system has friction. You read the example in the beginning. People ask if you're an amazon prime member when you shop at Whole Foods. Don't get me started on the postal system—for which I'd already had to send 2 letters, each sent with a different method and cost, despite them being virtually the same type of thing, and the priority option was cheaper than the other option. I don't get it.

The trees are massive. The traffic crossings are anti-pedestrian: Pressing the button will always cause you to be able to cross the next time it's your way, never immediately. The beach is big and sandy, and the waves are huge. That's mostly a Santa Cruz thing, though.

It's not the people's fault. The people are nice and friendly and welcoming. On the street, in stores, they say "hi, how's it going?" to strangers. I don't know how to answer back, give a weak, muffled "hello". It's not normal for me yet. The clerks who struggle with the same systems are kind about it. They know; perhaps they don't know any other way.

In that sense, the people are of the sky, rather than of the earth. We walk on it, and we perhaps even cause it to crack--but we can also navigate those cracks to the best of our abilities. Until they become so wide we instead have to make bridges.

This is the first in a series of probably more blogs about my experiences with moving to America.
If you missed it, I've moved from Denmark to Santa Cruz, CA, to study for at PhD in Computational Media--I'll be working with Interactive storytelling and how games tell stories, which I'm extremely excited about, but I couldn't have picked a weirder time to do it. So these blogs are a bit of a way to maintain sanity about it. Hopefully you're ok with them getting a little metaphorical at times; I can't help it.