Tsotne becomes mesmerized by shopping. We stop at a Wal-Mart twice a week for groceries; the other day, in Salt Lake, I got what I needed and waited for him back in the truck. For a solid hour by the clock. How can anyone, let alone someone who needs nothing but a few days’ worth of groceries, spend an hour in Wal-Mart? It was sweltering inside the truck, too. He says that he simply enjoys being in a different environment for a change. I notice however that when given several ‘different environments’ to choose from, he inevitably chooses that of American consumer goods. He did, after all, grow up in the Soviet Union.
Today we’re killing time in scenic Troutdale, Oregon, and did his eyes light up when he saw there was an outlet mall across the street from the truck stop. He would browse around, he told me, for ‘one hour.’ One hour is evidently the standard unit of time in Georgia. It can be anywhere from one hundred and twenty to three hundred minutes long.
I went for a walk around the town.
The first thing you notice here is that you cannot be anywhere but the West Coast. A funky little quiet downtown, old wooden bungalows in pastel hues nestles amid an exuberance of trees and flowering shrubs. Nothing is what you might call meticulous. It all has a casual, sometimes whimsical feel to it. Are those gardens surrounding the houses, or has a set of plants simply decided to move in and arrange themselves in such a serendipitous fashion?
The most common plant in Troutdale is the blackberry. It trails along fences, fills vacant lots. Veritable hedges of it cascade down the hillsides and cover the railroad embankments. Unfortunately, the berries (yes, I know: technically they’re not berries, but drupes) were not nearly ripe for the picking. It will be several more weeks until blackberry pie.
Tsotne told me a story about Georgians and their relationship to time. God, it seemed, had just finished making the world. He had made all sorts of different places for all the different peoples, reserving for himself the very best spot of all, a chunk of real estate especially favored by grape vines, tucked in between the Black and Caspian seas. When everything was ready, God called all the people over and handed out parcels. After all this was done, and all the land had been given away, along came the Georgians. They had been having a party the night before, and had gotten drunk, and the time had gotten away from them. It was late in the day that they remembered their appointment. God, surveying the hungover crew, told them that he was sorry but there was nothing left for them. They had come too late. “Oh yes, God,” they said, “but you see we were so grateful to you for all you have done that we had to throw a party. We spent all of last night singing songs of praise and drinking in your honor. And that is why we are late.” God, so pleased at this proof of their piety, promptly gave them the land he had been meaning to keep for himself.
This time, an hour has been only a hundred and five minutes long. Time to drive down closer to our destination, find a place to wait until we can deliver our load, which by the way is 32,000 pounds of frozen broccoli.