... so the crazy thing about visiting the USA is that all these things you've known only from movies, TV, the news, pop songs, turn out to exist. They are real.
I used to have an aunt who lived on Vancouver Island. (She's still there, as far as I know, but no longer alive.) I took up the plan to visit her with my parents. We didn't just go for a visit; we combined it with a vacation. For us, who grew up in the Netherlands, the landscapes are just too breathtaking to leave unvisited. So we made a tour around Vancouver Island, the Olympic peninsula, the Seattle area and its mountains, inland Washington, and back to the Vancouver area.
Such tours have nothing out of the ordinary until you meet people, and they start to tie up all kinds of references we would never fill in by ourselves. On this tour, it happened on Whidbey. I knew Whidbey, of course: it was the beta version of Visual Studio I had been trying out and reading about - now, all of a sudden, I was on an island called Whidbey and I realized the software I was using was named after the very place I found myself in. Really odd. Next thing I know, I was driving through a village and I saw an actual school bus, like you see on TV and in comics - except it was a real school bus, and the driver was scolding me for not stopping for its stop sign. It wasn't that I didn't see the sign, I swear, but the sheer weirdness of getting directions from an object known only from movies and TV that caused me to ignore it at first.
We stopped for a coffee break, and met these two lovely ladies who asked us about our further plans. Well, we said, we'd like to go up Mt. Rainier, to see some of the mountain side. Did you know, they said, that the Joni Mitchell song is about the parking lot they put up on Mt. Rainier? Well, my parents didn't know the song at all, but I did. It took a minute to sink in: something I had always assumed to be a metaphor not only turns out to have a physical existence, but is in fact the very next roadstop on our trip plan. That's pretty surreal.
So we went up there. Mt. Rainier was covered in clouds that day, and my father, an avid birdwatcher, had already developed severe trouble walking; so driving up to the parking lot was the only realistic way for us to see any of Mt. Rainier's beauty. We parked the car and waited inside. Birds approached and started to play around our car: ravens, blue jays, gray jays, putting up a generous display to my father, who could never have dreamed to ever see these birds from this close. We didn't return their generosity; our pockets were empty. But we were grateful nonetheless. We would never have had a chance to experience what was up there if it hadn't been for that parking lot.
Today, when I hear Joni Mitchell's song, I hear it very differently: I think of these birds, so close we could almost touch them, and how they don't mind the existence of that parking lot in the least. Neither did we.