Hits on the Run

September 11, 1995|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans. -- The faster you travel the more compressed the info you get. If you're in the California Bay area for a few minutes, for instance, you may hear that, ''Chez Panisse now charges for reservations.'' Chez Panisse is a famous restaurant and, later, when you deconstruct this, you understand that the fact that Chez Panisse charges for reservations signals a whole new thing, some of which is a new thing about restaurants -- I mean, who ever heard of a restaurant charging for reservations? -- and also a new thing about fame in the '90s, namely that if you're famous, whether you're a restaurant or a baseball player, you can charge for things that were previously free, like reservations and signatures.

If you go to Seattle, you are likely to hear that ''We don't jaywalk in Seattle,'' which can mean many things. It can mean that people here are law-abiding, as well as being still so laid-back that they don't need to rush across the street like maniac New Yorkers whenever there is an opening in the traffic. It could also mean that Seattle drivers, pumped by caffeine and not completely weaned from their Western heritage of hunting and trapping, will run down a pedestrian like a lost mink.

Later, you go to Portland and, while you're still in the airport, you notice the newspaper headline, ''Solar Cooking Hits the Northwest.'' You don't really have time to read the article for details but you can only imagine that, since the sun appears so rarely in the area, the natives have figured out yet another way to get the most out of it. They leave their eggs on the porch when they go to work. When they come home, presto, 10 minutes of midday sun and the suckers are hard.

But certain things are constant, no matter where you travel in the USA today: Espresso is everywhere and so is CyberSpace, and they both happened at about the same time. Americans are being woken up with coffee for cyber travel and made to pay more for it, whether it's reservations or fame. Nothing is free anymore except the sun, and it doesn't come out so much. And we obey the traffic lights.

And when we travel as fast as I did through real space, we better ready our aphorism-catcher. All you get is one insight per city.

Andrei Codrescu's new novel is ''The Blood Countess.''

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