Fear and Loathing on the 4th of July: Meditations in Squaw Valley

13568993_10154386269209390_2852460438790668632_oAmericans spend a lot of time in their cars. Californians in particular spend most of their time screaming at assholes in hybrid cars who don’t know how to accelerate on the 101.

Spending time in the car gives you a lot of room to think about things. As a single woman working in Silicon Valley, I spend most of my time alone…contemplating. I think about my job more than I think about any relationship I’ve ever been in. All signs point to me needing a vacation, so I took one.

My two friends and I set out to relax from our busy careers. Yes, careers was a deliberate word choice, because each of us is on a path right now. Of course, being on a path scares me to death, so eventually we had to veer off of it.

Squaw Valley California is so close to the Nevada border that if one were so inclined to throw their money away at a casino with little regulation, one could feasibly get there within a half an hour. It’s also one of the most tourist heavy places near Lake Tahoe, the bluest lake in all of California. Of course, Tahoe is like any other tourist town. All of the food costs more than you’d expect, and any souvenir you even consider buying is priced like it’s a precious jewel. In reality, the things that appear in gift shops are probably made for pennies.

I drove for about 6 hours to get here. That’s pretty much how long it takes to get from sunny San Jose to placid Squaw Valley. Our hotel sits in the shadow of two great giants, mountains that if climbed would make your legs hurt for weeks. There’s a little cable car that takes you up to the top of one, but you have to pay 44 dollars first. Once at the top, there’s a cliffside pool…but of course there’s another fee for that. Who knew it was so expensive to experience the great outdoors. Mother nature intended it to be free.

But, where there’s America, there’s industry. Tahoe City takes in millions each year, and I guess some of it goes to preserving its splendor.

Our three days were spent extremely well. We did all of the things Americans should do on vacation. We ate expensive meals and talked about our lives. We bitched and complained about the circumstances we can’t control. We drove in holiday traffic to Lake Tahoe, which was only 4 miles from the hotel but felt like the other side of the world. We lounged by the pool and worked on our tans while thousands of other Americans were doing the same thing. We even climbed a mountain.

I would have never elected to climb one of the Sierras on my own. My girlfriends are far more outdoorsy than I, and even that isn’t very outdoorsy to begin with. Trees are trees, grass is grass and the side of a mountain looks the same to me any way you view it. I begrudgingly trudged behind them wearing my David Bowie T-shirt, carrying my headphones in my hand. Once I realized what a real adventure looked like, I started to appreciate the things around me. The color of the soil and rock stuck out like an off palette color in a painting. The greens felt greener, the sky felt bluer. Everything around me screamed for admiration, like a truly beautiful person or an expensive pair of shoes.

The splendor of the region became visceral when we stumbled upon a babbling waterfall that sent thousands of gallons of water down the mountain’s mighty walls. When I stuck my hand in its stream, the cool sensation of it made everything feel like freedom. This is the kind of water people shove into those fancy plastic bottles that are more for design than convenience. But here, it’s untouched. it’s rare that you encounter something so pure and unaffected in this country.

I stopped. I breathed. I admired. And for a moment my head was clear, a feeling I haven’t experienced since childhood.

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It’s 4th of July Weekend and my bags are packed. The three of us girls have done a lot in three days, and tomorrow just like the rest of working America we will return to our jobs and dream about these moments as if they happened 10 years ago.

Sitting in the expensive hotel room that was reasonably priced due to the Tahoe off season, I plug in my computer and start typing. I wonder if my time would be better spent writing this gibberish in front of the pool, where all the shiny families are, but we’ve already checked out. Pool privileges revoked.

I watch from the breezeway, looking at the people who have gathered to celebrate. They’re from all backgrounds. Some have come just for the day, and others I’ve seen all weekend. They’re arabic and hispanic, white and asian. They gather around their makeshift alters…a poolside hot tub, an overpriced cable car, a brunch spot in Squaw Valley Village, and they worship America.

They wear their colors proudly. The contrived notion of standing on one’s own seems to be gone. They smile at you because they know you’re an American too.

My girlfriends and I have had a fantastic weekend. It was a totally Instagram-worthy jaunt through the Sierras. We were the living, breathing proof that young women everywhere can take a small amount of control and turn it into something magical. You see, it’s tough for single girls in a state like California. There’s so much to do. Everything is so expensive. People are variable. You never know if you’re talking to a hippie who lives on the Haight or a multi-million dollar tech mogul. They look virtually the same today.

But I really forgot about all of that. I forgot about the standards I had set for myself. I started to miss my own family and their traditions. I wondered about them and what they had been doing. I wondered if they even had the energy to celebrate anymore.

This is a country full of beggars, who without any other option decide to make themselves incredible. They build lives. They grill out. They drink PBR and smile about it because, damn it, that’s what Americans do.

When I return to my desk tomorrow I’ll laugh a little bit, because throughout this weekend I feel like I’ve beaten the system that time and time again proves itself to be rigged. This is America. I am an American, and the 4th of July has always been my favorite holiday.