Still shining, after all this time

The first beer on American soil. Just like in the commercials!
The first beer on American soil. Just like in the commercials: served in a cheap motel room!

Despite what I wrote in the paper a couple weeks ago about my writing having taken off (volume-wise, anyway) since I moved to Maine, sometimes I get a gnawing feeling in my stomach when I’m sitting around after dinner, half-watching One Tree Hill something totally manly on Netflix.

That feeling of mild dread generally means “you need to write something for the blog,” and often also “you shouldn’t have eaten all those provolone slices before dinner.”

This post in general isn’t about being worried about the well of material drying up – my sister told me via Twitter to relax when I posted this a few months ago – but this is semi-important foreshadowing. Plus I like to make self-deprecating cheese jokes.

Anyway, over the last few weeks I’ve been running through my head the idea of doing a “throwback Thursday” type of regular post each week, wherein I publish some of the better excerpts of the first real thing I ever wrote, a monstrous tome giving a day-by-day, beer-by-beer account of my first ever trip to the United States back in 2008, a seven-week odyssey of booze, karaoke, self-discovery and mozzarella sticks.

I figured that, while those posts would be absolutely nothing to do with immigration, or life in Maine, it vaguely fits under the Crawfin’ USA masthead and it might be the source of a few cheap laughs during an otherwise dry time of the week for other content. I still haven’t decided whether to do this or not, given the subject matter is a little closer to R-rated than the PG-13 this blog tries so very hard to be, but please post in the comments if you think you’d like to see it here.

In the interests of research, as I tried to figure out whether or not to take the leap of faith and display my earliest long-form writing to the world, I opened up my PDF copy of what I affectionately still call “Ze Book” (which no, I won’t upload) to see what parts I could possibly appropriate for use on the blog.

My first reaction was to cringe, because I desperately needed a far better editor than “myself at 2:00 a.m. after a bottle of red,” yet I did not have that in my arsenal in 2010 when I finally finished and printed the thing.

My punctuation is often miserable, the paragraph usage is dismal and some of the linguistic gimmicks and patterns of speech I used for laughs now look just plain awkward. (Side note: great, the Maine book is going to make me feel exactly the same way five years after I write it, isn’t it?) It’s even a lot more crude in parts than I really should have allowed myself to be. Sometimes it’s necessary and funny, but others it’s excessive.

But even from the opening pages, detailing my first 18 hours or so on U.S. soil, the unbridled excitement and fascination with everything I laid eyes upon is stunningly evident. It practically reaches through the screen and slaps you in the face.

For instance:

My new roommate Roland and I found this sweet “Liquor Beer Snacks Groceries” market run by a Latino guy. Everything I do seems straight out of a movie. A six-pack of Coors, some razors, Mylanta and mouthwash ran up a $20 bill. The beer here is so Goddamn cheap.

How much more excited can a 22-year-old kid get about buying antacid and a six-pack? Christ almighty. And way to read off the banner out front and assume that was the name of the store, genius.

And that, o faithful reader, is what I’m really building up to in this post: the near child-like, everything’s-shiny amazement of being in a brand-new place you’ve only ever read about, and always wanted to see.

I don’t think it ever wore off on that particular trip, as I traveled through a good two dozen states and many different cities over the seven weeks I was away. It was all-encompassing, too: from fast food joints which didn’t exist in Australia (but whose menus I could peruse online in the wee hours), to beers I’d seen commercials for while watching pirate streams of NBA games on weekdays, to yellow taxis in New York City, to the generally cheaper cost of living, to the unmistakable landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Las Vegas strip, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and more, all indescribable in how they made me feel.

And thinking about it, I don’t think it ever really wore off, over the course of six years and as many trips. On most of my extended vacations to the U.S. – 2010, 2012, 2013 Part I – I tried to make sure I visited at least one new place so I could continue to expand my horizons and find the next “oh WOW” moment.

In 2010, it was great beer and great NBA basketball in Portland, Ore.; in 2012 there were a ton, including Tampa, Fla., Kenosha, Wis. and Omaha, Neb., the second and third of which are so far off the beaten Australian tourist path that most people I told were surprised to hear I was visiting at all. Last year it was the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and the throwback to my Contiki days with a ton of college-kid boozing in Austin, TX.

Each of those places had their little pieces of Americana to keep fueling the fire in my belly to eventually make the move out here. Visiting my pal Molly in her college town of Kenosha, staying on a street straight out of everyone’s stereotype of idyllic suburbia, and crashing at my friends David and Rosie’s house, in a leafy Omaha neighborhood, made me yearn to see if I could do that myself and live that life.

Now here we are, almost two years later, actually living the dream. I’ve written at a fair length about how surreal it is sometimes, but I think that’s somewhat opposite of the point I’m making here.

Some days it dawns upon me that all of the things I was excited by seeing for the first time in 2008, consumables for example, or car makes and models that looked entirely alien to me, are now just a part of the furniture. Hell, it’s like that even when it comes to beer: I, regrettably and naively, was dying to try a Bud Light when I first set foot in America, just because I’d seen the commercials for it, and now I can’t even remember the last time I considered having one. Its close counterpart, Coors Light, is what I order only occasionally when I feel the need to sober up somewhat, but still want to maintain the motion of having a beer.

But even though all those things – the unfamiliar car models, the TV commercials for products which never made it to Australia and I’ve only ever seen in movies, the accents and the figures of speech and everything else – are becoming daily parts of life here, I still manage to find new things to be fascinated about.

Over the last few visits, I’ve taken to being a big fat kid and ordering a piece of pie after I finish my breakfast at the Downtown Diner in Augusta. I think one of the lasting images of Americana that I’ve absorbed from movies and TV over the years was that, at diners, you eat pie. That’s just what you do.

I’d only ever read about coconut cream pie, so when I was told that was on the dessert menu a few weekends ago, I had no choice but to try it. The filling wasn’t what I expected it to be consistency-wise, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t eat it in about four forkfuls.

Springtime is another thing that just about knocked me out of the park. Where I’m from, we don’t have seasons with such distinct divisions as there are in this part of the world. So watching the trees transform from dry, grey and leafless to just bursting with these bright, new green colors over the space of seemingly days was just staggering to witness. I felt like a dork every time I left the house because I was just ogling the foliage everywhere I went.

I could probably go on all day with examples, but I guess it just goes to show: Even at 28, with a terrible eight-day growth and a temperamental back, and after half a dozen trips to the same country, you can still find child-like excitement in your surroundings.

I sure have.



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