April 12, 2121
I had the chance to follow an eight grade field trip to San Diego Nuevo for the centennial of the World War 3 Memorial in Obama Park. I was invited as a chaperone, not as a writer. My niece, Swiffer, is in the class. Her mom, Bailee, volunteered me. I barfed a bit at first, but Bailee is going through a tough divorce and I want to be there for my sister. Helping my own always felt more satisfying than helping anybody else. I realized that I would get a chance to walk the Great Wall on the trip. That made the notion of listening to a busload of puberty less nauseating.
I'm not sure why eighth grade field trips haven't gone the way of organized religion. The kids could do most of the activities virtually. Some of them already have. I think that teachers keep it around for a free vacation and a chance to impose some serious detention. Inevitably happens.
We went to the Memorial on the first day. A hundred years hasn't bought much love for the memorial. The monument remains a controversial eyesore. For years I have argued that the commemoration of something as horrible as war should itself be rather horrible. Then I saw it in person. Ugh. The park has a museum dedicated to the dedication ceremony. Half the holograms were broken. A short film made a hundred years ago plays continuously in one corner. The gift shop is huge.
The second day we went to the Ocean Land Marine Experience. The theme park has no real animals. Androids everywhere. Even the "rescued" manatee is mechanical. They do have beer. I found the alcohol tent after I walked out of the Orca Pavilion. There is something unsettling about a robotic Killer Whale chastising me for what my ancestors did to pollute the planet. It goes on forever. I'm not sure what masochist designed the exhibit. Probably from Massachusetts.
On the third day we rose again and went to the Great Wall of America. It's unreal. I grew up playing the Alamo Unleashed game series. I blew up portions of that wall throughout high school- I was an explosives expert in the Alamo universe. The sight of it should be familiar. I guess it was in a way. Virtual reality remains virtual. It isn't the same. In the recesses of your mind, you know it isn't real. Virtual seems, but in the end it isn't. And we know it.
The Wall is real. We know it. And it seems so unreal.
You can't see it until you approach the summits of the San Ysidro Mountains. Funny how something can be seen from space but be invisible when it's only a few miles away. Even when you see a chunk of it, it looks like the façade of a Tex-Mex restaurant whose name I wont mention. The Wall reveals itself and its terrible reality when you ascend the "Stairs of Sorrow" and reach the crest of Mount Sopuesto. There, from the watchtower, you can see it winding toward the eastern horizon like a river of fear. Alone and in twos, people step up to the fake machine gun and peer through the scope at foreign soil. Years ago they had mannequins dressed as Mexicans, posed like they were running full tilt toward a ten-meter wall- on the American side. They put them on the U.S. side because Mexican officials refused to display them. So tourists were pretending to shoot an illegal immigrant trying to leap thirty-five feet to get back home. The dummies were considered offensive and eventually removed. Not sure if they offended people of Mexican extraction or the intelligence of every human being alive. Both, I suppose.
From the watchtower you can see the ruins of Old San Diego at low tide. Most of the kids are staring at the ocean. The science teacher is going over her global warming spiel for the umpteenth time. If the robot orca ever needs a day off, that one could fill in. Some of the kids are on the other side with me. We stare down the miles of crumbling wall, unbroken save for the overpass of Ruta Norteamericana 5. I point out to the handful of students around me that commerce flows along that highway from Anchorage to Panama, then fans out across South America. I think maybe two appreciate the imagery.
"Why didn't they just tear it down?" one asks. He has that shrill tone particular to those adolescents who know better than adults. I look at the massive wall, wide enough to allow two passing jeeps. Sturdy enough to hold up a tank. A monument to one man's hubris and one nation's insecurity.
"Maybe because the world needs to keep some of its scars," I say. "It's like when a cook burns his hand. He usually won't burn it that way again."
"That's stupid," says Shrill. "I've heard that before. People who don't know history repeat themselves. That's stupid."
"It would have been expensive, too. Does that make you feel better?"
"Robots could take it down in a week."