TCS Daily


America: Purple in the Corners

By Ilya Shapiro - May 25, 2006 12:00 AM

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA and KEY WEST, FL -- I do lead a charmed life. Not because TCS flies me to all the exotic locations from whence my datelines originate; nor even because my day job provides such plentiful perks; nor even because my green-card lamentations are yielding dates and other serendipitous benefits.

No, the font of my privilege lies in a place where I certainly am a permanent resident: Purple America. Even though, by my own admission, Purple America is not so much a place as a state of mind, it has proven a blessing for me to know and meet so many people who share that mental state. A blessing in that, along with being caring friends and colleagues, these folks represent the very geographical diversity that allows me to travel around the expanses of Red and Blue America to write these dispatches.

Most recently, I had the distinct pleasure of leaving the primaveral rain of our nation's capital twice in a two-week span to visit the slopes of the Sierra Nevadas and the shores of the Caribbean.

I flew into Reno after work one Friday and immediately noticed that quintessential hallmark of the "Silver State," slot machines in the airport concourse. Not willing to parlay away my hard-earned Purple dollars -- or, as my judge's secretary called my writing income, "girl money" -- I blew that gambling den and crossed into California.

On the surface Tahoe is a rugged, fairly red part of the country that is visited by blue-staters from the Bay Area and elsewhere. In that it was somewhat similar to the place I learned to ski this winter, Leavenworth, Washington. The cosmopolitan feel of the place shone through.

For one thing, half of the ski instructors are foreigners -- and not even from typical skiing countries: I predominately met Englishmen, Aussies, and Kiwis. And there was a certain enviro-hippie vibe -- perhaps from Crunchy Cons but more likely from the bobo infestation.

Then, when we went to a nice, rugged steakhouse called Clyde's -- you could imagine gold miners going to a place called Clyde's -- and found d├ęcor that would not have been out of place at Manhattan's Nobu. And what was playing out of the speakers but Matisyahu, the hassidic reggae sensation sweeping the charts (word to your mensch!).

All this cross-cultural synergy -- along with too much local shiraz and lactic acid to the head -- led me to suggest "Brokeback Mountain" for that evening's viewing. In retrospect, I shouldn't have supported that sort of lifestyle: you know, making terribly slow films where not much happens but everyone ends up unhappy. (This is what caused all the controversy? I'm surprised enough people stayed awake long enough to care either way.)

Departing Tahoe, and with a brief stop in Sacramento -- which sort of plays Washington to San Francisco's New York, to mixed success -- I soon found myself getting off the Cessna at Key West International Airport ("Welcome to the Conch Republic" it says above the terminal's sole gate). So I essentially went from the love that dare not speak its name to the love that won't shut up -- Key West being the Castro District on spring break.

On my only previous visit to Margaritaville, I stayed in the only gay guest house on Duval Street -- which is another story entirely -- but this time my friends and I camped in Bahia Honda state park, nestled between the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay. It was a tranquil weekend punctuated by visits to Ernest Hemingway's old haunts. (We went to the saloon. The sun set. So did the beer. In our stomachs.)

And to a Thai restaurant: squeezing into the market crevice among Chinese takeout, sushi, and geographically isolated pho houses -- Northern Virginia hosting a leading concentration -- Thai is definitely the new brown (Hyde Park, Chicago, has four of 'em for godsake).

In the end, between high winds, outdoor showers, half-crazed islanders, and peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwiches, this adventure was more Carl Hiaasen than Papa.

But the Purple spirit remained; in both Tahoe and Key West, among all the snow and sun diversions, there was room enough for both free markets and free minds.

Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer whose last "Dispatch from Purple America" made common cause with Israel.
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1 Comment

And this metaphor is baloney-colored in the middle
The purple peregrinations began feeble and is now getting pathetic. Is there some reason the author can't just go around the country enjoying its diversity without compulsively labeling everyone he runs into with his bogus and profoundly unimformative color scheme?

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