New column: In which I ask central Maine to hang out

I think I’ve figured out why lately I’ve felt like columns have been few and far between.

It’s not because the weeks are somehow further apart, or some weird calendar trickery, so you can rule that out.

It’s because I haven’t sat down to write one for what feels like months. This one, my last one and my next one were all written about six weeks ago, in a frantic “oh shit, I’m going to be away that weekend” panic.

As it turns out, I was only away for the Fourth of July weekend, since plans I had to go away this weekend were thwarted. Still took Friday off though!

Anyway, here’s my latest offering. In it, I wax lyrical about all the “firsts” I’ve experienced since I immigrated here, and some that I’m still yet to accomplish.

The latter category basically sees me sending out an open invitation to the papers’ readership, asking them to throw a football with me, or take me ice fishing (in a couple of months, though. The river is still rushing at this point.)

Behold…

There’s a first time for everything — and I’ve got a list

Although he spent a lot of time vacationing in the U.S. before eventually immigrating, Adrian Crawford still has a list of must-do activities as long as his columns.

The last time my words appeared in these pages, two weeks ago, it was the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

While you all were opening the newspaper sometime on Sunday, I was not in central Maine (sorry, folks) but out in Los Angeles with two good buddies from my high school days who’ve also moved to the U.S. to live the dream here.

We had all the elements for a great long weekend: plenty of cold beer, good food, flawless weather, excellent company and that extra bit of energy that comes from being around dear friends you haven’t seen for a while. Of course, there were also all the after-effects of all those things: the physical and mental exhaustion of three days of over-consumption, book-ended by a 6:00 a.m. flight one way and a red-eye trip coming back.

There was something else in the air, too, that gave me a bit more of a boost: a shiny little bit of pride at celebrating my long-awaited, first-ever Independence Day in my newly adopted country.

I’ve done a lot of vacationing in the U.S. since 2008, when a bright-eyed 22-year-old Aussie journalist set out alone for his maiden voyage overseas as an adult.

In six trips over six years, I managed to visit or at least stop through around 30 of the “lower 48” states, racking up around six to eight months in total.

But because my scheduling was restricted to the months between Australian sporting seasons, or during the mid-season lulls, I was never really able to fit in six weeks of vacation during the height of summer, instead always arriving at the tail-end of August or closer to the fall.

Speaking of the fall, over the years several friends of mine have returned from trips to the U.S. singing the delicious praises of Thanksgiving and all the consumption it entails. They were all surprised to hear that in all my travels, I’d never been on this side of the Pacific Ocean for Turkey Day.

I finally got to check that wonderful, excessive day off my list this past November — the day before my job interview for the newspaper, in fact — when I spent a day with my friends the McNultys in Patterson, NY., learning for the first time the virtues of candied yams and green bean casserole.

That, and turkey coma. Oh boy.

Thankfully most work-related scheduling conflicts are a thing of the past. Now I’m here for every American holiday, whether I necessarily know the significance of them or not.

But immigration has brought around a lot of other firsts that are totally unrelated to the calendar.

Most obviously, this is the first newspaper I’ve worked at in my seven years in the journalism business. To go along with that, this is the first column I’ve ever been privileged to write and, as a direct result of that, the first time I’ve been recognized in the street (well, in the bar) for my work. All of that is equal parts surreal and humbling, seven months in.

Largely for financial reasons, I always shared apartments back home, but since moving to Augusta I’ve lived alone. And as much as I miss (almost) all of my former roommates, I’ve loved every minute of having a place to call my own.

Of course, it’s not all roses. I’ve had to make friends from scratch for the very first time which, you may be surprised to hear, is actually pretty tough, even if you’re a reasonably social creature.

I also had to sit for both written and practical driving tests for the first time since I was 16 and, despite passing with flying colors, I was a sweaty wreck for the duration of each examination. But when you’re relying on the kindness of coworkers, the tight schedule of local cabs, and shanks’ pony (Australian slang for “one’s feet”) to get around, a license is on a plane of importance equal to oxygen.

But for as many things that I’ve newly experienced since I arrived here on a full-time basis, there are a ton that I still am yet to tick off.

A story we ran a few weeks ago in the papers — about the closure of Bolley’s Famous Franks in Waterville — made me realize that, despite seven months of walking and driving past the Bolley’s in Hallowell, I still haven’t stopped by there for something to eat.

That prompted me to write a to-do list because, as I’m sure we all know, being able to cross items off a list is just about the best motivation one can have (short of a cranky editor with deadline approaching.)

The Hallowell hot dog peddler went on the list, as did a ton of other food- and drink-related goals, but there are still a lot of things I want to get done while I’m in my first 12 months of being a resident.

Having spent my childhood playing cricket (and much of my career writing about it,) I’d like to try my luck in a batting cage. My hand-eye coordination is well below par, and I’d probably take a few to the body, but I wouldn’t mind having a go.

Speaking of sports, does anyone want to throw a football around with me? I only know how to pass a rugby league ball, but throwing a spiral looks way cooler, even though I can already feel my shoulder dislocating. To go along with that, I’m really eager to get out to a high school football game sometime this season (go Rams!) if I can somehow wrangle a Friday night off work.

And once winter rolls around again, I wouldn’t mind attempting to snowshoe or cross country ski. You won’t get me on the slopes — I’ve never broken a bone, and I intend to keep it that way — but flatland stuff seems about my speed.

And on the topic of all things frozen, I’d like to work up the guts to walk on an iced-over river, or a pond at the least. There’s something unbelievable about watching from Front Street in Hallowell as the Kennebec River flows freely now, where just a few months ago it was all but a skating rink. And while I’m out there, I might as well go smelt fishing, right? Or smelt drinking, which is what I’ve been told it actually is.

So if you’re interested in watching an Aussie guy bumble through passing a football, or taking one out smelting, drop me a line.

But please — will you do it quietly? This weekend was my first Old Hallowell Day celebration, and I’m a little fragile.

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