This Continental Murmur.

from Bill Brown

After 14 days at sea, it's this again: The new world: Walmarts, S.U.V.'s, and grand slam breakfasts. All-you-can-eat buffets and bottomless cups of coffee. No wonder everybody's edgy. No wonder everyone's got a gun and a bottle of Xanax in the medicine cabinet. The ship just docked in fort Lauderdale. It's a perfect January morning, as glossy and bright as any tourist brochure. It's the kind of morning that someone, some where is paying for, because that's how the universe works. For every tan Floridian living in a state of grace, there's someone else with a runny nose shoveling their car out of a snow drift.

I feel like some kind of mind reader this morning. Not that I can read anyone's mind. I just know they're out there: the murmur of 300 million minds; a continental murmur I swear I can almost hear. When I get off the ship, I ask a guy in the parking lot how far a walk it is into Fort Lauderdale. The guy looks at me in that concerned way you look at someone who is obviously crazy and who's decided to talk to you. "Take a van," he says. The van drives out the main gat where security guards in aviator sunglasses are inspecting the cars trying to enter the port. The traffic is backed up for a mile or two.

"It's slow," I say, which is code for what I'm really thinking, something like " what the fuck is going on here?"

"It's slow all over," the driver replies, using his own code.

The van drops me off at the Greyhound station. It's slow there too, but slow in the way it always is. It's slow because, c'mon, if you're taking the bus, you're probably not in a hurry. It's creepy, too, in all the old familiar ways. There's the skinny speed freak pacing in front of the soda machine, and the sweaty guy with thick glasses clutching a plastic shopping bag to his chest. It's creepy in a comforting way compared to all that brand new creepiness: dirty bombs and bio-weapons and police surveillance. I figure we're doomed, we Americans: a simple people with sophisticated weapons versus terrorists with simple weapons and complicated grievances.

I buy a one-way ticket to Orlando, which sounds like the title of a novel: One-Way Ticket To Orlando, about some kid with a heroin habit who works at Disney World. Maybe the kid stumbles across some plot by Disney executives to take over the world. But in the end, we're not sure if the plot is for real or if the kid's just hallucinating. After I buy the ticket, I walk across the street to a Baja Fresh and get a burrito. While I'm standing in line, the guy in front of me orders a Burrito Ultimo, and the girl at the register asks him if he'd like it "enchilada style". The guy asks what that is, and the girls says they pour melted cheese and red sauce over your burrito, so it's like a burrito but also like an enchilada. The guy is pleasantly surprised and he says he's glad they offer this option, and the girl says that she thinks it's a really good idea too. Meanwhile in the corner of the dining room, a TV is tuned to CNN. There's a live feed from Kuwait where the number of U.S. troops just topped 100,000 and an invasion of Iraq is inevitable. Suddenly, I feel like I'm in a scene from One-Way Ticket To Orlando, when the main character finally figures out that the president of the United States has been kidnapped and replaced by the animatronic Abe Lincoln from Disney's Hall of presidents. The world is in great danger, but what can the kid do about it? He's just a minimum-wage junkie, for god's sake. I order a veggie burrito and the girl asks me if I'd like it enchilada style. I ask her what that is, and she tells me, and I say that sounds pretty gross.

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