Tuesday, March 25, 2008

German teens for Obama

Even on vacation, I run into students. Not necessarily my own, but 16 year olds are 16 year olds, so I consider them my students, even if for just one day.

While in California last week, I decided to leave my friends--all of whom were blogging or working (but not both)--and travel a bit on Highway 1. If you've never driven Highway 1 down the California coast, I had been told, you must. And now, having seen at least a small chunk of it, I have this message: If you've never driven Highway 1 down the California coast, you must.

Just south of San Francisco, literally 20 minutes out of town, you hit some of the most amazing scenery you've ever seen. Cliffs plunging into the ocean, waves crashing into the shore, the road narrowing and winding and begging you to pull over. To wander. To wonder.

I didn't go far, having planned to stay at a couple of hostels 30 miles apart. Both were at cool, old lighthouses. Both were literally on the edge of cliffs. Imagine sleeping to the sound of the surf. Imagine waking up to a million-dollar view. Imagine paying 20 bucks a night. Not bad. Oh, and imagine meeting some interesting characters along the way.

A couple of middle-aged bird watchers from England.

A guy from Wisconsin, having just returned from a year abroad not quite ready to go home, to go back to the grind.

A German family of four driving the biggest, baddest SUV possible, bursting into the hostel kitchen with many bags of groceries, chattering and laughing and infecting everyone with at least a little good cheer.

The Germans spoke perfect English. Turns out they moved from England to Germany a few years back, and the kids go to an international school, studying in English. At the kitchen table, as I sat lazily eating a bowl of soup, the kids sat down with bowls of Cheerios and chatted away.

"Dad will let me drive through Death Valley, watch," the boy told his sister.

"No way," she laughed. "Why do you think so?"

"I just know it."

"You wanna bet?"

They never bet, and I tried ignoring them, my nose in Haruki Murakami's Dance Dance Dance. But then they changed topics, started talking about Obama and Clinton. Wondering if Obama's speech on race would help or hurt him. I put my book down.

"Excuse me," I said. "Can I ask how old you are?"

"Sixteen," the boy said.

"And you're from Germany?" I asked. "And you're talking about Obama?"

"Well," the boy said, "my friends and I at school are really interested in global warming and issues surrounding that. And so we're trying to find out as much as possible about the candidates."

"Wow," I said, thinking about my students back in Chicago, wondering how many of them listened to Obama's speech, wondering how many of them are interested in global warming and issues surrounding it.

"So, who do you like?" I asked.

"I think they're both pretty good," the boy responded, slightly hesitating. "So far I think I like what I've heard from Obama more."

"Don't worry," I said, "I'm an Obama supporter myself." He looked relieved. "And if you think his speeches sound good on TV, you should hear them in person."

He looked excited. "Really? You've seen him speak?"

I said I was from Illinois, that I saw some of his speeches when he was running for Senate, even made it to his victory celebration. He had been popular then, but the days of just showing up at his events and getting in are over. And we chatted some more about politics, about the school in Germany, about learning to drive.

Their parents eventually came back. We laughed about the monstrosity of a truck they had rented. The dollar is weak, the euro strong, so Germans can splurge a little.

"You know," I told the dad as they were heading out, "Death Valley is a great place to learn to drive." The guy looked at his son, who burst into a grin.

"No way," the dad said. "You are not driving."

"See?" the sister squealed, and the family swept out of the kitchen, onto the beach, leaving their laughter and positive vibes and political curiosity floating in the now-quiet hostel.


Alice said...

Thanks for your vignette. It reminds me of when I volunteered for Obama's Senate campaign and towards the end, they had a 'thank you' rally for the volunteers at the Armory up in Andersonville/Edgewater neighborhood. After the speechifying of the usual Chicago pols, Obama spoke to us and it was amazing. I don't remember the exact words, but I do remember that he left us thinking we can do anything. Imagine the power of that spreading from sea to shining sea.

Anonymous said...

... and then imagine it spreading overseas ...

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that there really is a chance that having Obama as president would make a difference in the world view of the US. Electing him would be a powerful sign to people around the world that we aren't quite as bad as we're made out to be in this country.

And, yes, Death Valley would be a great place to practice driving. In retrospect, I wish I had practiced there myself. We went camping there before I knew how to drive. And, of course, we chatted with a German college kid we met. He was taking a tour of all of the US national parks. Those Germans sure know how to make the most out of their time off.