Highway 395 through the Owens Valley is unrelenting like a ghost of California's past, showing us the dreams of men and women laid to waste under the hot, arid landscape.
The roads are so long and straight, and the land is so barren, there's little else to focus on. Even the hum of the Honda ST's engine remains constant and unwavering as I hold the throttle at 80mph.
Why anyone still lives here is anyone's guess. Perhaps it's to get away from the congestion of the cities, or perhaps it's to prove something.
When I turned off the highway to visit Manzanar, I could feel my senses tighten.
"There's a lot of pain in here", I thought to myself.
I began to disassociate, a reaction I developed back in my childhood to escape from the pain of abuse. Except today, I use it to avoid my emotions.
A film showing Japanese children dressed up like George and Martha Washington, to celebrate Independence Day, seemed all too humiliating to a group of people whose faith in the American Dream had just been laid to waste. The same Japanese children were depicted dressed up as Indians, ironic considering the government also forced Indians from their homes.
If anything bothers me it's how we as a society have disassociated from the failures of our past.
For most people, Manzanar is simply a "Japanese thing", not a concentration camp. The US didn't even call it that, preferring to use "war relocation center" instead, thus denying Japanese-Americans the sympathy they should have received.
At one time we used the word "shell shock" to describe soldiers returning with severe psychological trauma. Just the words themselves make the condition sound troubling. Today, we call it "post traumatic stress disorder", because it sounds more friendly, and let's us broaden the scope to include any kind of stress.
Had we still used the words "shell shock", perhaps we'd feel more sorry for our veterans, and give them more attention.
The same thing about Manzanar.
I wonder if they sell similar t-shirts at Auschwitz.
Leaving Manzanar, I headed south on Highway 395, past the abandoned motels, run down shacks, and rusted sedans dotting the scenery. It's all right there for the viewing, exploring, and perusing.
I stopped at an old abandoned cafe, walked in and saw the vintage oven and countertop amidst piles of trash and plywood. There's an eerie sense that people ate sandwiches and sipped soup here long ago, that this was once someone's pride and joy. Now it's just a home for ghosts and rattlesnakes.
The desert has a way of being truthful. Without any trees to get in the way, you can see the failures of America's past so clearly.