Friday, September 30, 2011

England Trip Do Over - Part 4

After a few false starts on Sunday, I finally managed to get out of the hotel and meet the mutineer at the Red Hart for a delicious lunch of various things that had been fried (ordering a meal all on my own the night before had depleted my social bravery reserves, so I got him to order for me in exchange for buying him some chips*). We ate over an intense discussion about playing in bands and the relative superiority of +44 over Angels and Airwaves, which we both agreed was steaming pile of emo horseshit. I also had two Strongbows. I should have realized ahead of time that this would turn out to be a mistake later on, but I was distracted by my delightful company and the onion rings. After lunch we headed back to the hotel where the mutineer kept me company for a few hours until the day's main event.

Steve had been telling me for weeks that he was going to have me tend bar in his pub while I was over. I had been telling him he had no idea what he was saying for just as long. "I think you'd be a natural at it," he told me, despite my repeated explanation of how I already knew that wasn't true: a) I have crippling social phobias and b) I break and/or spill EVERYTHING I touch. When I told the bartender of Steve's plans over dinner one night he dropped his fork in shock and asked if Steve had ever actually met me. Luckily, events transpired that prevented him from implementing this ludicrous idea. Instead, he came to the hotel to pick me up, where I showed off the coils of rope that had been left behind on Saturday before heading down to the car park where we stood in awe for 10 minutes watching a black squirrel frolic by a tree (hey, it's not every day you see a black squirrel).

We headed out to a place called The Rusty Gun, obviously the most appropriate place to take an American visitor to dinner. It's also one of the most appropriate places to take Steve for dinner. As he will be the first to tell you (the comic will be the second), Steve only eats weirdo food. Take him anywhere in the world, and his instinct is to find the most outrageous thing on the entire menu and then order it. He's the exact opposite of me, really. No matter where I go, I pretty much only eat four things - pasta, hamburgers, prawns and dessert. It's because I know I like these things, and I want to make sure I do not starve to death because I ordered something I might potentially hate. Steve, on the other hand, is on a perpetual culinary adventure.

I will now go back on what I just said about myself in the previous paragraph. I order the same things over and over again everywhere, mostly, except that when I'm in England something weird happens to me where I suddenly decide it's time to try some new vegetables. I don't know why this happens - maybe it's because certain things are more common there than here or maybe it's because I'm drunk a lot - but my first trip over to see the comic I ate some parsnips in an attempt to appease his mother (the poor woman nearly short circuited when he told her I didn't eat potatoes and almost gave up on making me a roast dinner altogether. Instead she went overboard and made about twelve sides in the hope that I might like at least one of them) and I have been addicted to them ever since. For starters I had prawns (see?) and Steve ordered the soup of the day, which was celeriac. I'd never heard of it. "It's a root vegetable," he told me. "Try it." I was dubious, owing to the word "vegetable" which typically connotes "horrible things are about to happen in the vicinity of your taste buds" to me. But he wouldn't drop it, so I borrowed his spoon and (after a rambling description of Don Hertzfeldt's animated short Rejected when he gave me the crazy eye for holding it up and shouting "My SPOON is too big!") tentatively tasted the soup. Immediately, Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" began to play. Diamonds rained down from the sky, a pile of kittens appeared out of nowhere and a bevy of angels hovered nearby smiling benevolent smiles at us. Celeriac is DELICIOUS, and I made him write it down for me so I could look it up later and see if we even had it here (we do, but it's called celery root), which he did while I inhaled pretty much all of his soup.

It was at around this point when the trouble started. We'd gotten a beer at the bar before being seated and then ordered a bottle of wine to go with our dinner (me, something that had the word beef in it and seemed safe, him I don't even know what the fuck) which I drank what I felt was more than my fair share of because he kept insisting he was driving. Then our waiter, a charming and ingratiating man who resembled a young Lurch with a shaved head, brought over the dessert menu which had something on it that contained the word "chocolate" three separate times in its description. Obviously I made Steve order it for me, thus giving him the opportunity to order us some dessert wine as well. You may recall I was two ciders into the day before Steve had even shown up. Consequently, by the time we left I was well and truly fucked.

Steve drove me back to the hotel, where clearly the only thing to do was head for the hotel bar and pour more cider down my throat. We phoned Nat the Evil Lesbian to join us, and together we hatched diabolical but hilarious plans for when I return in March. Our laughter seemed to attract the attention of the people at the next table - a nice couple from Lincolnshire who may or may not have been at the wedding the previous day (I asked them but don't remember their answer because I was piss drunk). After Steve left (early, I decided, even though it wasn't. I had gotten the Loud), Nat and I joined them at their table where we regaled them with tales of how we'd met and what we'd done all week and they told us about their grown children (or something, I was drunk). They were genuinely disappointed when we rose to leave and even more so when I explained that my level of drunkenness would most likely prevent me from meeting them for breakfast before they went home in the morning. It did.

I woke up Monday and was not any more English or 20 years old than I had been earlier in the week. I was supposed to have lunch with Felix and Charlie and their progeny. When Felix texted me to let me know something had come up and they couldn't make it, I gratefully went back to bed until the middle of the afternoon. I only got up again in order to collect the stranger from Hitchin station, who had cleared a few hours of his schedule to spend the afternoon with me tying knots in things and showing off some tools he carries around in a very nice pair of cashmere socks. I was starving by the time he left and decided to go out for a delicious roast dinner (no parsnips, sad sad). That accomplished, there was nothing left to do but pack up my things (and my new rope) and try to catch a few hours sleep before catching a bus to the airport for my flight home (I didn't. Instead I called the bartender and had him put the cat on the phone so I could tell her I was on my way home because I am insane).

Even when I've been away somewhere brilliant, and even when I leave somewhere before I really feel ready to go home, I always feel an enormous sense of relief as soon as I'm back on the ground in Chicago - it's how I know I'm in the right place. I was grinning from ear to ear the entire cab ride back to my apartment. When I got there, I discovered that my amazing roommate had bought me two bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos (I do not know what they do to the Doritos in England, but it isn't good), some Reese's peanut butter cups and a huge pumpkin (he would later tell me it's my "practice" pumpkin to help me decide what to carve on my real Halloween pumpkin). Home sweet home.

I'll see you in March, Hitchin.


Monday, September 26, 2011

England Trip Do Over - Part 3

I woke up Friday to brilliant sunshine and a wide open day. Both of these things are atypical of all my previous trips, so I was very excited. I wandered around by myself for a bit, simply because I could. The one thing I made it a point to do was wander up Tilehouse Street because it is my favorite street in the world. Since I grew up with an English family as a huge part of my extended one, I'd been hearing about it all my life, and had developed a picture of what England looked like in my own head which was shaped entirely around the loose oral history I'd been hearing about since I was 3. My first time visiting the comic he had taken me on a walking tour of Hitchin, which I thought was lovely, right up until we hit the bottom of Tilehouse Street, where I stopped in my tracks and stood with mouth agape. That was it. That was my England. Apart from its not being constantly shrouded in mist (and I've been told to come back at a different time of year because it will be), Tilehouse Street was exactly what I had been picturing all my life. It was like someone had mined my brain, extracted that image and had it built in real life. The comic insisted that was to be expected, as my family was from St. Albans which is just down the road and looks very similar, but I wasn't having it. Magic had just happened. I wanted to stay there forever.

Tilehouse Street

I was getting pretty hungry, having not eaten the night before, and had decided to call Nat the Evil Lesbian to see if she wanted to meet for lunch, but decided first to have a walk through the arcade. Which is where I simply ran into her. It was my second time bumping into someone I knew and I was probably overly excited, as walking around town bumping into people is basically her job desciption. We went and got some lunch which we ate on the lawn at St. Mary's Church, and which led to the only dark point of what was an otherwise perfect day: on finishing our lunch, we were about to throw our rubbish in the bin* when Nat exclaimed, "Oh look, there's a giant spider in there!" There was. A giant, GIANT spider. Like, huge. Like, way bigger than any spider in England has a right to be, because listen up England, one of the reasons that I go there is because there are not supposed to be any huge bugs that can get me, ESPECIALLY not spiders. THIS IS WHY I DON'T GO TO AUSTRALIA OR BRAZIL. You are supposed to be a safe haven for me, and you are RUINING my fantasy of a land of tiny harmless bugs with your ridiculously large bin spiders. CUT IT OUT. Nat, the one who is terrified of actors dressed up in scary outfits who pose no real threat to her whatsoever, for some reason decided to THROW HER THINGS IN THE BIN ANYWAY, thus disturbing the giant spider which obviously WAS a threat to our lives and making me scream like an idiot, "What the fuck do you think you are doing? THERE ARE OTHER BINS. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?"

When I'd calmed down a bit and thrown my own rubbish away in a different, spider free bin (I made her check before I would get near it), she went about doing the tour guide portion of her town ranger job, and took me inside the church, to meet the coffee guy in the square, and to her office where I bought a bunch of souvenirs including a bottle of delicious apple juice to take home (which did not end up lasting even 24 hours). Right around this time, I got a text from MrBalls, who was on his way into town with his best friend, her husband and their offspring. I went off to meet them at Halsey's for tea where we ended up having the best waiter ever. First of all, he had no idea what cakes they had, so we sent him in to go check. When he came back he still didn't know what one of them was. "It looks like the apple ones, but the decoration on the top is different so I think maybe it's not. But the woman who brings the cakes said this morning that she had changed some of the decorations so it might be. I really don't know." I fell in love with him. After our tea and a fork duel, MrBalls and I popped over to see Felix at his salon before heading to a birthday party at the Sunrunner.

We were early, and so we got our beers and sat outside waiting for the others with one other friend, the mutineer, who had shown up when we did. People started trickling in one at a time, most of whom I didn't know but was introduced to by MrBalls, Nat or Sulu. Much of the night is fuzzy because beer! What I do remember is MrBalls saying the mutineer was the most perverted person he knew, which made my head spin around fast enough to cause whiplash so I could argue the point - they both conceded when I pulled my pink bullet vibrator out of my purse, turned it on and started poking the mutineer in the arm with it. Later, after the party started winding down, he was kind enough to walk me home and make sure I made it safely into my bed.

The next day I got up late and had time for very little other than to have some tea and a shower and get sort of dressed before heading to the train station to collect the stranger, who was spending the afternoon in Hitchin with me. I walked him through the square pointing stuff out as if I owned the place, and we stopped for some coffee and a snack at the coffee stand where I greeted Rick the coffee guy like I'd known him all my life. A light rain dissolved into an absolutely beautiful afternoon, which I missed entirely due to the fact I spent all of it indoors. However, it seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed by the wedding party going on in the hotel right outside my open window, which we spied on in between various attempts to disrupt it.

After walking the stranger back to the train station, I realized it was getting a bit late (by Hitchin standards) and I had better find something to eat before the whole place closed down. This led me to do the unthinkable: I discovered a restaurant BY MYSELF, went inside it BY MYSELF, ordered dinner AND dessert BY MYSELF and somehow got through all of those things without dying or bursting into tears. I got a text from the comic sadly informing me of our F.C.'s latest humiliation (which I had wisely chosen not to watch) and text-gossiped with Nat about our respective transgressions the previous evening.

As mentioned in a previous post, I am not English and I am not 20, and my liver can only handle so much abuse. Consequently, instead of going out on the most lively night of the week, I called it a night and went to bed. Besides, I was meeting Steve for dinner the next day, and I had not yet spent an evening with Steve that didn't end with the room spinning. Sunday would not turn out any different.

*trash in the garbage can

Saturday, September 24, 2011

England Trip Do Over - Part 2

There are two things I forget every time I go to England: 1) I am not English and 2) I am not 20. I woke up at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning with a raging hangover and wanted nothing more than to down a glass of water, roll over and go back to sleep. It was not to be. We had planned a trip to Thorpe Park which everyone had been looking forward to for a month, and begging off because I drank too much was not really an option. I got dressed sitting on the floor of my room and made it downstairs to the car where Sulu, MrBalls and i.c. hater were waiting on Nat and me. "Good morning!" grinned i.c. hater as I slid into the backseat.

"No," I replied. We collected Nat and headed out. Now here's the thing: I love roller coasters. LOVE them. But some years ago I started noticing a change in my constitution. I had always gotten a bit motion sick on long car rides, but at some point in the mid 90's I realized that I was starting to get motion sick going on roller coasters. One particular trip to Cedar Point ended with me collapsing in tears - I'd gone on three brilliant coasters and was so shaken up and nauseous I was sure I would never be able to ride again. Luckily, I quickly discovered the joy of Dramamine and my thrill riding ways were able to continue. I was totally pumped, despite my hangover. "Even if I puke after every ride," I announced as we walked in, "I am going to RALLY LIKE A CHAMP." We got on the first coaster and I kicked my feet happily as we chugged up the first hill. And then we plunged down it.

You guys. There is no amount of motion sickness medication in the world that can counteract the effects of both motion sickness AND being hungover at the same time. I came off the ride almost in a daze from how bad I felt. We ended up settling into a pattern where I would go on two coasters in a row and then sit one out while I recovered. This worked out really well since as it turns out, Sulu is kind of a giant pussy about roller coasters and I often had her for company.

The newest attraction at Thorpe Park is Saw. There are two rides: an absolutely insane roller coaster with a drop that is greater than vertical and a sort of haunted house type thing. We went for the haunted house first. Along the way we had picked up a couple more friends, so the seven of us plus the four or five people behind us were lined up train style with hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them and sent inside. We were immediately accosted by a terrifying man who went straight for Nat (she was in between Sulu and me), prompting her to scream, or rather screech "STOP TOUCHING ME!" This had the effect of basically painting a target on her, and in every subsequent room the monster people seemed to go straight for her. I got through the entire thing mostly ignored while Nat kept up a steady stream of screaming and yelling: "STOP TOUCHING ME! GO AWAY! FUCK OFF!" The situation wasn't helped by the fact that our friend at the front of the line was as terrified as Nat was and was leading the line along at a pace that made it seem as if her shoelaces had been tied together.

Next up was the roller coaster. There was a queue*, so we were idly chatting while we waited when someone brought up Ben & Jerry's ice cream (this happens every time MrBalls and I are anywhere near each other) and led to a comment from i.c. hater to the effect that he hates ice cream (i.c. hater! Get it?). We demanded clarification. "Well, I don't like the way it is so cold. It's really a bit agro, isn't it?" The rest of us were all perplexed, but true to his word he refused to eat it any of the Half-Baked pint we bought on the way home.

This time around, it was Sulu who became hysterical on the ride. She was sat between Nat and me for moral support, and the both of us were patting her legs reassuringly as we went (straight) up the hill and she babbled uncontrollably. At the top of the hill she started screaming and she did not stop for the entire ride. She was physically shaking when we came off it. I was a bit shaken up as well, but it was of the hangover variety, so as the rest of the group prepared to get back in the queue, I was fully prepared to sit it out with a PTS Sulu. Except that when the suggestion was made to go again, she was the first one to agree, and then she RAN to the entrance. It was impressive actually, I don't think we could have paid Nat to go back in the haunted house.
Saw the roller coaster. Note that the way up the hill is vertical. Sulu was not a fan.

The drive home was much more lively than the drive out had been and, as previously mentioned, we stopped for a pint of B&J's which four of the five of us shared, though the bulk of the thing was consumed by myself and MrBalls. Also at some point we invented the term "Dickmuff".

The next day I was feeling much better, which was important because I had some seriously grown up plans, y'all. Specifically, I managed to get to Hitchin rail station, buy a ticket and a return from the nice ticket counter man, get myself on a train to Kings Cross in London and then find the prearranged meeting point at St. Pancras station all by myself LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING ADULT. I was meeting a total stranger, hence the bright purple, highly recognizable hair. I'd been internet stalking him for some seven years, and realizing that I could do whatever I wanted on this trip and that I had nothing to lose, I'd e-mailed him and asked if he would be interested in meeting me for a drink. I should back up a bit. The stranger is sort of my idol, internet-wise. His writing is spectacular and is the standard by which I judge all other websites of similar material. I'm not the only one who has noticed, either - his site is fairly popular. So when I sent the e-mail, I wasn't really expecting there to be a response, let alone that the response would be "yes" and "I'll clear my afternoon for you." I figured it would get lost in the sea of fan mail he must get constantly, or that perhaps he doesn't bother to arrange meet-and-greets with potentially crazy fangirls from the internet. I immediately freaked out because HOLY CRAP WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR and also shitshitshit what if I can't think of anything interesting to say? By the time of my trip we'd been corresponding for a few weeks so I was marginally less nervous (though not comfortable enough to do something intelligent like wear shoes intended for walking in, given that he had told me we'd be walking a fair amount. Instead I wore heels because looking good seemed way more important and I like to pretend to myself that I'm hardcore). We went for lunch and had tapas (my first time, somehow I had missed out on this brilliant cuisine for the first 33 years of my life) and then went and found a coffee shop that served genuine for real delicious coffee, which I took a photo of because I had never seen real coffee before anywhere in England. It was a wonderful afternoon and went by very quickly. The stranger had another engagement, so we made plans for later in the week and then I went home (by taking the tube back to Kings Cross because I am VERY MATURE).

Back in Hitchin I discovered the one thing that would make life in a small town in England difficult for me (actually the second of two things. As I apparently told everyone repeatedly while drunk, what I would miss about Chicago if I moved is that I can get Mexican food made by real Mexicans when I am drunk at 5 in the morning, and in England even if I could find something open that late (unlikely) it would almost certainly be curry and I don't like curry. Tacos!): everything shuts ridiculously early. Well, I say everything, but I mean everything decent - Subway was still open when I got back, but I didn't go for it. I was starving but there was no way I was eating Subway, which I can get at home, while I was in England. It's the principle of the thing. Instead, I went home and made myself some hot chocolate, surfed the internet for a while and went to bed. I had an adventure planned for the next day insofar as I had absolutely nothing planned at all and was going to be truly on my own as far as how to entertain myself. Shut up, it was very exciting for me.


Friday, September 23, 2011

England Trip Do Over - Part 1

I got two entries into my chronicle about my trip to the UK in May before I found out what I suspected all along - I shouldn't have gone. But I did go, and on my last night there, not only did I FINALLY get to spend some quality time with my Hitchin friends, but I even managed to meet and instantly befriend a few more, most notably MrBalls. And since I'd already scheduled the time off work in September for a different trip I wouldn't be going on, I decided to take a mulligan on that first trip, go back to England and do the things I wanted to do the first time.

It is amazing how much easier it is to pack for a longish trip overseas when you don't have to pack five pairs of shoes, twenty ridiculous outfits and a dozen sex toys. In fact, I wound up taking a much smaller suitcase, which was enormously handy during my travel marathon of the brown line to downtown, the blue line to the airport, the tram to the international terminal, a plane across the ocean, the longest line to clear customs ever, the tube to Kings Cross and a train to Hitchin, where blessedly MrBalls was there to pick me up in a car I'm pretty sure he bought specifically for its strong resemblance to a storm trooper helmet (also the smaller suitcase allowed my colleagues at work to make fun of the neon kitty cat paw prints I'd painted all over it to make it recognizable at baggage claim). After checking in at the hotel, we headed across the street and had a beer while we awaited the arrival of Nat the Evil Lesbian who was joining us for lunch. After some nice Italian  food with another beer and a trip to Just Desserts for a piece of cheesecake that tasted like angels having sex in my mouth paired with a delicious pear cider, we started casting about for something to do for the rest of the day. This was important: I'd been up for over 24 hours but sleeping was not an option. The only way to get through the jet lag associated with long distance travel is to power through that first day and not go to bed until everyone else does. Obviously what I needed were mass amounts of depressants. For this we headed down The Vic*, which seems to qualify as my local despite the fact that I don't even live in the same country. There we picked up a couple more friends, i.c. hater and the beautiful Sulu. Unfortunately, we also picked up a completely random drunk at the next table. I'm not sure how this happened, though I suspect it had something to do with my hair (Melle had cut it several days before under the instruction that she make me instantly recognizable to a complete stranger in the middle of London. She translated  that into bright purple with some red peeking out around my face, which for some reason does not get you a free upgrade on Virgin Atlantic). Regardless, I made the same mistake I always make - I was nice to the idiot and then we couldn't get rid of him. It wasn't so bad at first. He was annoying, but also seemed quite taken with my foreignness, right up until I corrected him that my accent wasn't Canadian but American, at which point all hell broke loose. Suddenly I went from adorable purple haired tourist to wayward insolent colonist. "You're our CHILDREN!" he shouted at me while I ill advisedly stoked the fire by loudly giving thanks to France for financing our revolution and for the lovely statue. When he called MrBalls fat, we took it as our signal to leave and went down the road to a different pub, where we met up with Sulu's old school friend who was freakishly tall and where I had my first accidental run in with someone I know. The Canadian barmaid from The Vic was drinking at a table with some nice gentleman (who would later engage me in a fabulous compare and contrast conversation (cricket/baseball, rugby/American football) which for once didn't involve an argument over which version was better) and we recognized each other. And then I got the Loud. "OH MY GOD NAT I JUST RANDOMLY RAN INTO SOMEONE I KNEW IN HITCHIN," I screamed at her, apparently  repeatedly all night long. After several hours of this, Nat finally walked my drunk ass back to the hotel. We had to be up early the next morning for our day at Thorpe Park.

*Or, in the American vernacular, down to The Vic.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

England Trip Do Over: Preview

There will shortly be a series of blog posts up about my trip to England last week, but until I get them up, here's a conversation I had with Fish on the subject of my more untoward activities during my trip to tide you over til I have a real post written:

Fish: so will you be keeping in contact with this person?

Me: i imagine, from time to time
oh and i got to keep all the rope

Fish: I saw the Facebook post. The Man didn't give you no trouble with that at the airport?

Me: Well it was in my checked bags and also, they are not insane over there. I didn't even have to take off my shoes

Fish: No full body scans? That's too bad


Fish: recon team

Me: oh well, ok then. that's way better anyway