The food in the South was a big draw. Using an entire roll of paper towels while eating dinner may be an inconvenience to some (and environmental disaster to others), I however feel it is a feat of strength. Experiencing authentic southern BBQ - and all of its subsequent mess - was a definite highlight. But in addition to local flavor, I also get excited when traveling to the U.S. for other more embarrassing, less health concious reasons: my absolute love of their artery-clogging, 74% digestible fast food. Like Popeyes. Yes, Kentucky is the birthplace of KFC but I'll be damned if Popeyes doesn't have THE best (chain) chicken and biscuits. Then there's Chipotle. Why can't this be everywhere like Subway is? I was also a White Castle virgin before this trip and now realize why Harold and Kumar were so obsessed. Bless those sliders. And bless how fake they look on that website. If I lived in America, I would weigh 500lbs. Junk food is my heroin.
Dining out did have its issues though. My father has had a diffcult time eating in restaurants for about a year because of his inability to swallow at times. We all thought it was dysphagia, but a doctor's visit during the summer came up with nothing. Old age perhaps. It would pass, we all assumed. There was something else troubling him this trip though; a few years ago he had been diagnosed with skin cancer. He was not infalliable and it was this realization that really made him commit to a bucket list and get shit done. As we all should, always. He eventually underwent surgery to have it removed and was pretty much in the clear, however, there was now a mark on his lips that appeared identical to it. He asked my opinion on its appearance and I agreed that he should get it checked out before it became a bigger problem. He did so after returning home.
My own trip home was interesting. As mentioned previously, I had no checked baggage but I now did have an additional item to carry: a strained Wal-Mart bag carrying various conference handouts and pumpkin spice-flavored M&Ms. I looked like I was sloppily taking the bus after picking up groceries rather than in an airport about to head to Chicago. I thought my embarrassment would cease when I got on the plane and noticed that the seat next to me was vacant, however, a (very) late straggler boarded and sat just there. Amid eyerolls and glares from everyone around us, his opening line to me was "how old are you?". After I replied, he informed me that I should not take after him when I reach his age as he partied a little too hardy the night before, lost his wallet and nearly missed the flight. His plight was endearing, so I refrained from being my typical anti-social iPod-listening self and engaged in conversation; a very interesting converstion spanning everything from politics to the allure of cowboys (and why those from Alberta are better than those from Texas).
The gentleman I was sitting next to was a writer for the New York Times, had previously been a bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, knew the Obamas on a personal basis and...dates Hugh Hefner's daughter, who was on her way to pick him up at O'Hare since he didn't have cab fare. What strange fate. When we parted, I was never more self-aware that I was holding a bursting-at-the-seams plastic Wal-Mart bag as carry-on.
To be continued...