Back to Ireland here we go - great friendship, much room for change

Brian John Spencer
Oct 21, 2016 · 5 min read

Back to Ireland here they go. Great friendship, lots of room for change.

I’m up at 7.30 listening to Morning Joe. Others in Ohio have been up since 4.30am to cast their ballot, early voting begins today. It’s 27 days to the Election Day and this is the famous swing state, it feels like I’m sitting in the seat of history.

My stomach is turning and my head is light, it feels how it was when I was during my teens waking up on a Saturday before rugby. I knew something big lay ahead — the end of the exchange and the departure of my co-travelers back to Belfast. I’m leaving them and Columbus for New York at 10.30 pm that night.

Even though it’s the last day, the pace set at the start holds to the very end.

We walk the cool and sunny streets of Columbus from our hotel to the Ohio Statehouse. At 9.30 we meet with Democratic Party representative Rick L Curtin.

The team spend a few free minutes getting coffee. I spin off to take some photos of president McKinley of Ulster extraction who was assassinated in 1901. Then a parade walks by. The Ohio Quarter Horse are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a gracious procession.

Rick is a former journalist with Columbus Dispatch and a current Ohio State Representative getting ready for retirement. He briefs us on his career as a journalist and his move into politics, surprising the establishment by his decision to run as a democrat having come from a republican paper. He explains some of the challenges he faced and his achievements. We then turn the discussion to Ireland and the affects of Brexit.

Then we had a meeting with Doug and Bob of Van Meter, Ashbrook and Associates public affairs in a very plush high rise office building. Doug is the chairman for the Republican Party in Ohio and advisor to Ohio governor John Kasich. We each introduce ourselves and have a wider-ranging discussions starting with the health of the Republican Party and ranging to Brexit and affairs in Ireland. I draw the whole time and later present them to Doug and Bob. We get a fantastic group photo with amazing views of the city.

We move quickly back to the hotel. It’s nearly leaving time. The guys change while I frantically try to finish the full complement of cartoons for the delegation. I’ve been frantically scribbling all morning, adding a message on the back of every cartoon.

Andrew calls the group to attention and I hand them out, adding a quick word and underlining what I said the night before, that I was overwhelmed by the character and calibre of the delegation.

I finish with a cartoon for Suzy who gives me a big hug. I tribute her for the success of the week.

Suzy said a few words of goodbye. Almost welling up she talks about her memories and the fun times she had with us and how we impacted and inspired her to get into politics again.

With sweaty palms and butterflies in my stomach I waved farewell to team #USx16. The convoy of vans speed to the airport. I was left at the hotel and memories flooded back.

It was like the time in September 2008 when my best friends left me in Toulouse for my Erasmus programme. It was like in June 2011 when I said bye to Leanne at JFK airport.

Each time there is a lump in my throat and a feeling of total insignificance, as though I’m a small dinghy, untethered from port. But as Hunter S. Thompson asked:

‘Who is the braver man? He who stayed securely at shore or he who has braved the storms of life?’

These experiences enrich my character and strengthen me, but it is still ominous when you’re standing in a big unfamiliar city in a vast unknown country all alone.

In the past I have allowed occasions of similar magnitude to get the better of me. Not this time. I feel confident and am resolute, I am resolved to make the absolute most of this unique opportunity and moment in history.

In 2011 I lived in New York as a legal intern with an interest in art, sometimes even dabbling in art, but limited by my legal responsibilities.

In 2016 this is my chance to go to New York as a full time artist and to challenge and test myself in this Mecca for all the makers and creators of the world.

I’m extremely excited.

I spend the afternoon in the hotel sorting my photos and editing videos.

I get on the Ohio bus at 10.40. I’m sitting beside a guy who’s been on from Cincinnati, his return trip. There are charging sockets and a good recline on the seats. The air-con isn’t too bad either. A lot better than the smoke-stenched air-absent coaches I used to get car-sick in as a child.

It’s amazing to be just sitting here in the dark speeding along a US freeway seeing all the outlets and the faint house lights in the rearground. Later it’s just a dark wilderness.

The coach is full of capacity — students, white and black and Asian people, and older people.

You can feel the speed of the coach, it lurches and jumps along the motorway driven by determinedly an Asian man.

We all sit there in the dark zooming along the vast plain of America at nearly 70mph, and not one of us is wearing a belt. I shudder to think.

A 3am pit stop, crumbs and snack shrapnel are everywhere as I write this.

Who was the guy we learned from?
He was kinda of mean…
Such a beautiful dancer.

Said three girls as they sat behind me munching on chips at 03:28.

Brian John Spencer

Written by

writer and artist and video-maker — Belfast|Dublin|London —

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