I was never good at geography. I spent my formative years thinking that we had two different Earths a big, flat one like the map on my elementary school classroom's wall, and a spinning, round one like the globe near my desk. I wasn't sure which one I was on, but I knew that whichever one I wasn't on was probably better. The grass always looks greener on the other planet.
So when I heard that a Ukrainian delegation was going to visit San Luis Obispo in mid-October, courtesy of the League of Women Voters of SLO County, I thought and thought about where Ukrania was. I immediately checked Antarctica off of any mental list nobody there but penguins. Ukrania didn't sound like any U.S. state that I knew of, although I get a bit muddled when it comes to the Midwest, the South, and the Eastern Seaboard. I had just pulled out an atlas of New England when it came to me in a flash: I remembered that a "K" in a place's name tends to lean toward Eastern Europe. Don't ask me how I did it. It's a gift.
Turns out that Ukraine, as it's apparently more commonly known, is a former Soviet Union member. A web site I found describes it as "mostly a level, treeless plain." People there used to be communist and maybe they still are? which is why they're sending a delegation here. We're going to teach them about capitalism and democracy.
Oct. 14 marks their arrival. You can read all about the details of that visit in this week's New Times, on page 17. Or, you can stick with me and hear what I have to say. The choice is up to you, but it's obvious which one will ... hey! Come back here! I'm still talking!
A draft itinerary that found its way onto my desk lists the sorts of activities you would expect to see in a trip like this: local performances and dining, cultural exchanges, breakfast meetings. Everything's designed to show off what a model city should look like. The visitors are encouraged to attend church, if they so desire. In-home hosts will offer wine and cheese. Docents will lead them around Monta"a de Oro.
They're going to learn about U.S. media by visiting the Tribune and KSBY. Then, tuckered out by that lesson in mediocrity, they've got the option to rest and relax or can you guess? shop.
That word comes up a whole bunch throughout the itinerary. Shop, shop, shop. Either the delegates requested a chance to load up on as many pairs of jeans as they could, or someone here wants them to get the true American experience of consumerism as recreation. Maybe credit-card debt is considered to be a sign of status there.
And this isn't just any shopping. These delegates are going to Wal-Mart. Then, loaded up with the fruits of industry, they're going to attend a Pismo Beach City Council meeting. Is anyone going to tell them about Bill Rabenaldt and the recent controversy there? Not that there's anything wrong with that.
They're also tentatively scheduled to visit Paso Robles High School. Didn't I see some numbers recently about overcrowding and out-of-date facilities there? Students crammed into classrooms at PRHS make sardines look like homeowners who managed to successfully oppose high-density housing, if you can follow that lame simile.
Then, the delegates will get a tour of the Morro Bay fishing port. Didn't I also read something recently about a multi-million-dollar drop in the industry, as well as a trawling ban and a purchasing agreement to buy out several fishermen's permits? Groundfish escaping the once-plentiful nets dragging the ocean bottom make sardines look like, well, sardines, I guess. One fish is like another to me, and one fish is probably going to be an entire day's haul soon in Morro Bay if populations continue to drop like they've been dropping. Or are they on the rebound? Frankly, I'm not a marine biologist, but neither, I'll wager, are the Ukrainians, so the point is moot.
Also on the projected lineup: Shadowing a supervisor, or possibly a North County mayor. Who are they going to follow? Atascadero's Tom O'Malley? Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just wondering if anyone's going to tell the Ukrainians about the recent controversy there, too. And if anyone's going to bring up the big "W" debate not the president, the big-box chain.
While I'm on the subject, though, I doubt anyone from our side will bring up anything about the war, the opposition to the war, the opposition to the opposition to the war, or opposition to President George W. Bush or opposition to opposition to President George W. Bush. I could be wrong. One of the best ways to demonstrate a true democracy would be to open up the delegates' ears to the teeming rabble and all of their viewpoints about this nation's leadership.
On second thought, maybe not. We don't want to scare them. Still, it might be hard to stay silent when they ask about what all those yellow (or camo) magnetic ribbons they see stuck to the back of pick-up trucks mean.
Along the way, the delegates are also going to take coffee or tea at Starbucks, specifically to see an "example of an American business success story." Yes. Yes it is.
The whole event the whole tour of the bastions of this democracy ends with a final shopping trip, followed by dinner and dancing at the Grad. I'd love to see the delegates' faces as drunk undergrads dry hump them to Top 40 R&B tunes set in an endless loop. This, my friends, is America.