Ten weeks in the US

Blog vodka

Over the past few days I’ve started feeling myself transitioning towards my next destination. Chatting to myself in an Essex accent, considering what something might cost me in pounds or Icelandic Krona. I’ve been resisting this as much as possible though, so that I can draw as much as possible from my last weeks here. Every day her has had unexpected surprises, strange encounters and at least one “accidental” exposure to high fructose corn syrup. This week it was American Donuts. Homer Simpson, I concur.

One of the simplest ways to access another culture is via their food. My mate Paul has worked in the grocery trade back home for yeeeeaaars. He and I discovered Eastern Europe together a few years back, as part of an Oktoberfest training mission. The first thing we’d do on hitting a new country is visit a supermarket, buy up unknown deli delights that could be placed on bread, and had a backpacker picnic. Uncle Bully would have cried if he’d been with me on my first foray into a King Soopers store. Nothing in this unfeasibly huge warehouse of edibles comes in just a single variety. A hundred different bottled waters, a dozen different icing sugars. Ice Cream. Baseball nut ice cream (no idea), cotton candy ice cream, lunar cheesecake, “Icing on the Cake” ice cream, and (I shit you not) “Premium churned reduced fat no sugar added caramel turtle truffle flavour”. I can’t be left in the freezer section alone.

A couple of days ago I popped into a bottle-shop/bottlo/liquor store to buy gifts. Same gig, key lime and cream vodka, seriously. It was a mecca for booze hags. I’ve been somewhat bemused by the ability of US TV cops to drink all afternoon, tip the barman eighty dollars, bounce of every wall on the way out of the pub, heave their last three Long Islands into a gutter, then pull out their car keys. The attitude towards drinking and driving may, just may, need addressing. Bars are frequently in the middle of nowhere, next to a highway, with huge car parks. And the beers are cheap. Cover your eyes fellow craft beer drinkers, because here I’m paying around $4 for a pint of good nitro milk stout. They stop just short of asking if you’d like that pint of absinthe in a take away cup.

I’ve been out on expeditions a couple of times with a talkative, intelligent gent, a home brewer with an entertainingly understanding of booze. Unfortunately a drink driving incident a couple of years ago means he now has to blow into a breathalyser attached to his cars ignition, prior to driving. Once the car’s in motion he then gets peeped at every fifteen minutes, and again has to blow, or something happens. Maybe the engine dies, and the power breaks and steering lock, I don’t know, I haven’t been shared a bottle of tequila with him on the road. He also had to undergo all manner of other anti drink driving education prior to even getting back in the car. So there’s punishment for those who get shid-faced, then drive, then get caught. But the inebriated horse has already bolted. Room for improvement, America. Just sayin’.

One of the most valuable discoveries in the past week, has been the introduction to the “Tiny House” movement. I’ve spent the majority of my time in Colorado living in a trailer park. Firstly these miniature communities have all the imagined entertainment benefits. The stories behind why people shift into them are often visceral, and hugely varied. They’re also far more communal than a suburban setting, no fences, entertainment spaces (car ports) open to the street, thin walls. Your bongo playing, midweek boozing and stand-up arguments are communal activities. But far more relevantly to a wandering pedlar of stories, they’re affordable. People choose to live here because they’re don’t end up tied into a thirty mortgage. Ok, and because in some cases no bank would ever offer them one. But you can buy a trailer for the price of a car, and pay a low rental fee to the park owners. There are some sound lessons here, and the owner of a beautifully renovated trailer opposite Francoise’s put me onto “Tumbleweed Homes”.

Home

The “tiny house” idea takes things a step further, it involves serious “downsizing”. These owner built shelters are all about eliminating unnecessary space, they’re a counter to the huge McMansions that loom in new housing developments, and all the stresses associated with them. They’re not for everyone, if you like swinging cats you’ll be disappointed. But you can build one for as little as $10,000, and as long as it’s small enough, you can install it on a trailer. There are minimum house size requirements in the US, but if you can mount it on wheels, you can construct to any size you like. I’m taking some of the ideas back home. I don’t need five bedrooms, I need a space of my own which I’ve built to meet my needs. And to avoid the stress of lifetime debt. And to live in a community that accepts the twitchy writer guy who lives in a treehouseā€¦

Sigh. In two days I’m leaving Colorado for Iceland. I imagine it’ll take some time for me to digest all that I’ve been through here in the States, spending time in Europe and Britain will no doubt help me apply perspective. I’ve had my expectations variously fulfilled, exceeded and trampled upon. And I’ve met some beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent people. To all of you that have helped a kiwi discover sand boarding, rock climbing, and rules around Native Americans getting exclusive rights to sell fireworks, thank you so, so much. To all the Americans I didn’t get to meet, maybe next time. I’ll definitely be back.

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