On the second stage of my tour

Filed under: US tour 2009 — iain @ 21:21:35

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.

At this point I need to give a big shout out to Pam, the office administrator at the Phoenix office, without whom I would be writing about a much less exciting week. Given the list of locations where my friends lived and the times at which they were able to meet me, she managed to arrange an itinerary and book flights for me without breaking the bank. Sadly, though, even Pam was unable to concoct a schedule which would give me a meaningful stopover in DC. I was all excited about going there and doing the Fallout 3 tour. You know you are a nerd when you want to go to the capital of the US to look at landmarks which you recognise from a video game where they’re depicted in a post-nuclear holocaust state of disrepair. As it happened I would have had to pay an extra $500 to fit it into my timetable and that didn’t seem worth it for a day and a bit.

The three places which did make the cut were Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ll just pause here to allow any American readers to recover from bursting out laughing, which I discovered was the correct reaction to being told that I was going to Columbus. Visitors from other parts of the world please talk amongst yourselves.

OK. Columbus. Not exactly a popular tourist destination. The purpose of my trip, however, was as much about meeting the people I’d known from internet forums and online games for all these years as it was about seeing the sights. Sure I could have gone to New York by myself. I’m sure it would have been fun. This way I would get to find out what Dick and Don were like in person. And if I would be shot and killed by either one of them.

Dick had planned a whole weekend of fun activities. By coincidence he’d been invited to a Halloween party on Saturday night and decided that no one would mind if Don and myself tagged along. But I am getting ahead of myself. That was Saturday night. There was still Saturday afternoon to take care of before then. We were going to Circleville.

On this particular weekend the town of Circleville, Ohio was holding a pumpkin show. They had pumpkins. They had big pumpkins. They had bigger pumpkins. They had pumpkins weighing in at hundreds of kilograms. They had even bigger pumpkins than that. They had pumpkin pie. They had pumpkin ice cream. They had pumpkin drinks. They had pumpkin keyrings. They had pumpkin hats. They had pretty much anything you can imagine with pumpkins in them. It was totally bizarre and utterly fascinating.

For lunch Dick had arranged for a trip to Thurman’s, bar/restaurant which proudly boasted that it was soon to appear on the TV show Man vs Food. I was not familiar with the show, and asked my host for more details. I listened with interest as the premise was explained. A man (the one from the title) travels the country challenging restaurateurs to produce meals which he would be unable to consume in their entirety. "And who wins?" I asked. "Usually man."

Thurman’s had presented man with their famous burger. As you may have guessed it is famed not for its taste, admirable though it is, nor for its accompanying pickle, which is apparently standard fare for pretty much any meal Stateside. No, the burger was famous for being big.

I set about my burger with gusto and for a good while it looked as though I might be able to finish it. I’d had a week to acclimatise to American size meals and was doing quite well. Then it started to go badly wrong. I felt really very full. By the time we left the eatery and headed back to the car my stomach was already beginning to make some horrific noises. I pictured myself in the bathroom and began to wonder what it might be like to be a newborn baby not yet introduced to solid food. We arrived at my hotel where I advised my friends to wait outside and headed to the toilet, where I remained for some time.

I did not feel better as the day went on. As Jeremy Clarkson once wrote, I began to fear that I might die, then, later, that I might not.

Happily I did not die. I emerged from the bathroom several kilograms lighter and after a period of convalescence I was able to attend the Halloween party as planned. We arrived to find a healthy crowd of people already on the scene, dressed in some very interesting costumes. It soon became clear that Don and myself were in fact the only ones not in costume. It soon also became clear that, along with Dick and his girlfriend, we were also the only ones who were not gay. Dick had neglected to mention that it was a gay costume party. Or that he didn’t really know anyone there. Hey it’s a free party!

Actually the party was a lot of fun. Everyone was tremendously friendly and there were some great costumes. I was particularly impressed by the chap who dressed as "Homo Depot" although at first I didn’t get the joke. Another partygoer who arrived earlier had announced that he would be so attired and I was left scratching my head wondering what on earth the significance of "Homo Depot" could be. It wasn’t until the dude showed up in his orange apron and toolbelt that I made the "Home Depot" connection and had to concede that he’d done a bang up job. Not all the costumes were so good, though. One guy wore entirely normal clothes … with a scarf. Apparently he never usually wears scarves because all his friends realised instantly that it was the key element of his costume and recognised who he was supposed to be. Alas I was none the wiser.

Sunday’s main event was paintball. Dick and his friends (actual friends who he really does know) are keen players. I’d only ever played once before, in the cold and wet in Milton Keynes, and in truth I wasn’t looking forward to the game all that much as my previous experience had been miserable. The good news is that this time it was much more fun.

The sun was out so we weren’t shivering and slipping over the whole time, although I did take a tumble in one round. Don and myself identified a fallen log in the centre of the playing field as a good position to defend but there was quite a large area of open ground between it and our start point. We decided that as soon as the game began we would make a dash for it. The cry of "go!" went up and we dashed as promised. With just a few metres to go my foot caught a tree root or something and I came crashing to earth with a thud, a sitting duck out in the open. I began crawling to the big log despite the fact that I’d twisted my ankle quite painfully. To my surprise I saw Don crawling along too. After the game he told me that he’d seen me hit the dirt and thought I’d spotted the other team, so he decided to keep low too. I explained that actually I’d tripped over a root and gravity had done the rest. Also it hurt. So much so that I sat out the next two rounds, after which we’d all run out of paint and decided to call it a day.

After the game I was treated to a real cup of espresso which gave almost as much pleasure to the man serving it as it did to me drinking it. Dick’s pal, whose back yard we had previously been splattering in paint, used to run a coffee shop and he still had (as, let’s face it, you would) a proper espresso machine which he was only too delighted to fire up. He’d become disillusioned with his friends only being interested in drinking Starbuck’s coffee, as I’d become disillusioned with only being able to drink Starbuck’s coffee.

The espresso thus enjoyed we left. My final action of a surprisingly fun weekend was to enjoy a genuinely delicious meal at what we dubbed a Sous-chef type restaurant in reference to Don’s tongue-tied description of what he termed a Chef type restaurant, namely a restaurant with a famous chef’s name above the door. This modern take on a 50s diner, whose name I sadly forget, did not have a famous chef’s name above the door or indeed any chef’s name. Nonetheless the food was good and we were happy to bestow upon it our newly-created compliment.

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