The next stage of my tour was … the 1970s. Or so it appeared as I landed at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport, the airport that took a raincheck on the last thirty years.
The original plan was for me to spend a week working in Phoenix then return home. As I had forgotten that I was no longer a contractor but a permanent employee who could take time off work and still get paid I had saved up a whole load of annual leave days and so decided to stick around in the US and go on a bit of a tour. I’d contacted some people I know from the internet and despite the short notice (ie "hey guys I’m in the States next week, who wants to hang out?") a few of them were keen to meet up and do … I dunno … stuff … we’ll figure something out … it’ll be fun … and not in any way weird to hook up with people you only know from hanging out online, no sir.
On arrival at the bar I began what would become an ongoing quest to find some local beer. There’s no point going all the way to Phoenix and drinking the same beer that you can find in a Cambridge supermarket, I reasoned. Stella and Budweiser were out. As were the beers I might drink in Cambridge. "What have you got that’s local?" I asked the barmaid. She seemed confused by the question. With hindsight I can see why that might be. After all I was in the bar at a hotel. People go there to fight jet lag by getting drunk, or to watch those curious American sports on TV. They don’t go there to sample local brews.
Once she understood where I was coming from she was able to offer some suggestions from the beer list. Since I didn’t know and hadn’t tried any of them I decided the sensible thing would be to start from the top. The Shock Top.
I found Shock Top to be – not to put too fine a point on it – awful. It looked and tasted more like fizzy orange than beer, and I struggled to finish it. Indeed, had I not been jet lagged, tired and parched I may not have been able to. But finish it I did, whereupon I asked what was next.
Landshark, I was informed, is "just like Corona." As far as I could see the similarity began and ended with the fact that it was served with a slice of lime. This beer was even worse than the first one. It had almost no taste at all. Drinking it served no purpose other than to fill the bladder. Next.
The next beer was a big improvement in more ways than one. A product of the really, actually local Four Peaks microbrewery, Kiltlifter claimed to be a Scottish-style ale. If they say so. In any case it was markedly better than the first two.
Four Peaks is very popular in these parts. In fact I was later informed that they brew and sell so much beer that they shouldn’t technically be called a microbrewery at all, and had to apply for special dispensation to carry on operating as such. Pleasantly surprised by the Kiltlifter, I decided to try an 8th Street, billed as an English-style beer. This too was perfectly drinkable if not particularly English-style.
Four beers down … and only one to go really, because I sloped off to get some sleep at that point and the next day I discovered Widmer which was to become my staple for the rest of the week. Indeed on Wednesday I got talking to a chap from Jacksonville whom I convinced of the merits of my new-found favourite and who was so grateful at being introduced to it that he bought me three more in addition to the two I’d already had. And some Cognac, when I’d managed to explain to the barmaid what it was. And some more. I remember being the last to leave the bar. I remember prodding at breakfast the next morning. What happened between those two events is a mystery which may remain unsolved forever.
Phoenix Sky Harbor claims to be the world’s friendliest airport. I don’t know if that is true, though I suspect it is the world’s best-named airport. I do know that it’s a decent and efficient airport to fly into. I found that out on October 19th. Later I would learn that it’s a thoroughly depressing place to fly out of. Three weeks later, in fact. For a moment, as I descended the stairs to Immigration, I worried that I might discover more about the outbound facilities much sooner than planned.
The very first words I heard spoken on my very first trip to the US were "wrong way boss" as a security guard indicated to one of the arriving passengers that rather than head towards all the desks with the immigration officers waiting to fingerprint you and ask you if the purpose of your visit was to commit a terrorist act, she had indeed chosen to go the wrong way.
At that moment I was suddenly terrified that I wouldn’t even make it through to the next room. Surely I would be deported for making some smartarse comment while getting my fingerprints done.
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