Stranger in a Strange Land: The Dorthy Effect

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Dorthy Effect

Although I like Dubuque just fine, sometimes I need to escape to Anywhere-but-Here for a vacation. This holiday season’s great escape sends me to Bequia, a remote Caribbean island located in the secluded and off-the-beaten-path Grenadines. Bequia is so remote, to get there I have to squeeze myself into a contraption of aluminum and duct-taped propellers and be flung over the turquoise expanse separating Barbados and my final destination. Yet the hair I lose from this harrowing experience is worth it for I am sure Bequia is as far away from Dubuque as I can get.

I begin my first Dubuque-free day with a seaside breakfast of banana pancakes smothered in gooey syrup, fresh coffee and a divine slice of mango while seated next to the former Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Clearly, I am in an entirely different world. After settling the bill I head to the solitude of the nearest coral fringed beach, serenaded by the shade of struggling coconut-burdened palms. I unravel my multi-colored beach towel with gusto, lather myself in overly-protective sun block, and giddily crack the stiff spine of a new paperback. With a sly lick of my parched tongue, I dampen my sandy thumb, gently flip to the first page and slowly lose myself within the satirical prose of Vonnegut. As I read along I am abruptly halted mid-sentence by a dreadful word: Dubuque. Dismissing this as a fluke, I continue until I come across the sentence, “So, there was Dubuque again”. “This can’t be,” I gasp with a Hitchcock-inspired shriek. “It’s found me.” I drop the book in terror and try to outrun this suffocating shadow, but everywhere I turn I see Dubuque.

All along the yacht filled harbor boats seductively bob in tranquil waters. Across the bay several couples are hitching their boats together and enjoying cold beers just like boaters on a tucked-away muddy Mississippi sandbar on a hot summer day. But this is on the transparent waters of the Caribbean! Running through Port Elizabeth’s lone street, farmers holler sales pitches and try to entice me to browse their fresh produce proudly displayed under the filtered shade of a hastily built market. The scene reminds me of a similar harvest time walk I took through downtown Dubuque’s Farmers’ Market. But here the farmers are dread-locked Rastafarians instead of kerchief-ed Amish and are selling plump passion fruits instead of sugary cookies mon! I kick up dust as I turn a corner and continue running down a rural road and past a family farm. An old, sun-worn man gives me a slight wave of his hand, just like the notorious one finger wave farmers greet passer-bys with along the country roads of Iowa. But here instead of a chained up farm dog there is a goat in the front yard. No need for lawn mowers! I eventually end up back at my hotel where the weekly Jump Up, an all-island celebration of steel-drums, socialization and drinking, is in full swing. The smell of grilled food and the smooth sounds of reggae permeating the air reminds me of Dubuque’s block-party styled “All That Jazz”. Oh look, there’s beer in glass bottles and no open container laws!

Just like in Dubuque, I saunter up to the bar and order a beer. My wife, who has been itching to dance and I, fearful of the insufficiency of my white boy moves in a crowd that has the night’s rhythm running through their veins, politely refuse. Finally, she is ushered to the dance floor by a young local gentleman who understands how to move his hips, legs and shoulders all at the same time and somehow not look like the pale fish flaying around on the beach in a spat of out-of-water convulsions I tend to resemble. Just like at home, I am saved from embarrassing both Kara and myself and instead am free to consume more beer. But this is all happening on a beach under a canopy of Caribbean stars so dense the sky is cloudy!

I prop myself against a bamboo pole and feel the sand slowly shift to accommodate the disruption caused by bare feet. I shake my head as I think of how ridiculous I was to think I could actually escape Dubuque. The whole concept of escapism is nothing but a bunch of Hocus Pocus, an impossible fantasy. I realize that where I am from creates a Dorothy Effect in my perspective, causing me to see the world through the eyes of a Dubuquer when I am gone and to see Dubuque through the eyes of a stranger when I return. Which is exactly why everyone must travel.


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