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The US is a strange place in a lot of ways. One thing that I haven’t fully gotten used to even after all these years is that one day there will be an empty plot of land in front of a newly constructed building, and the next day there will be eight palm trees, all the same height, all in rude health, neatly bordering a walkway, four on each side. It’s the kind of thing that makes me paranoid about all the trees around me — did this one really grow here or was it brought in, or, as I like to put it, is this one natural, or is it man-made? Sometimes I hike up a mountain and look upon the city below, and instead of going, “Wow, what a view,” I ask, “What percentage of trees here are man-made?”

I don’t think my paranoia is unreasonable. They even have fake grass in the backyards of houses so the pets won’t ruin it. (The nitrogen compounds in dog pee can ruin grass apparently.) It’s a lot to swallow, and it makes me feel like a country bumpkin, which, having grown up in a very different country, is perhaps exactly what I am.

Another place that is very American is a climbing gym. I’m not sure if these originated in the US, but there is something very American about their spirit. Take a pretty dangerous activity like rock climbing, something done by a very small minority of (mostly crazy) people. And put that activity inside a gym! Make it completely safe and sanitized, create climbing walls of all sizes, shapes and difficulty, and watch how people start coming in by the hundreds. Essentially, take this wild outdoor activity which is possible only in a limited number of places, and make it possible anywhere, at any time. In fact, it’s a bit like making any tree available anywhere. In the process, also create a new breed of man — one who can climb impossible walls in the gym, but hardly ever climbs outdoors. American innovation, anyone?

(I may sound sarcastic, but there is something to admire here, and also something to be wary of. The belief that the external world can be wrangled into any shape that the mind decides upon is admirable, and pretty much summarizes the American pioneering spirit as I understand it. But on occasion this leads to unforeseen consequences which then lead to a backtracking of actions. I have written about this in the past.)

Multiply by a million the belief that “we can create anything anywhere” and what you end up with is Las Vegas — a dazzling city, with a single-minded dedication to entertainment, built smack in the middle of the desert. Be it gambling, stage shows of all kinds, and modes of entertainment that I probably can’t even conceive of, they’re all there. (And golf courses too, by the way, out in the desert.) But the most incongruous bits — and therefore also the most brilliant/hilarious bits — have to be the replicas of European cities, or other ancient cities from around the world. All of those cities embody many centuries of history and culture, and so their superficial re-creation in the Mojave desert, within a city that is barely a century old just seems like the ultimate American wet dream.

Compared to Las Vegas, it is far easier to obtain Palm Springs and Indian Wells. For these, you need only multiply the belief that “we can create anything anywhere” by, say, ten thousand and one hundred respectively. The former is a typical desert resort city and gets a lot of tourists, but the latter is really only known for the tennis tournament held there every March.

Tennis is one of those sports that follows summer around the globe throughout the year. But March is one of those times when the weather isn’t quite summer-like anywhere on the planet. Except perhaps in a desert in the northern hemisphere, where the spring temperatures are perfect for tennis. And so it comes to pass that in the Sonoran desert we have the best attended tennis tournament outside the Grand Slams, and the second biggest tennis stadium in the world. Only in America.indian wells1indian wells3

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