I Don’t Understand America
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I didn’t travel, as my father didn't see much use for it. “Why get on a plane to go over there, when everyone from over there is getting on a plane to come here?” he’d say. As a New Yorker, I've been taught that I have had the good fortune of being born in what is, according to many, the center of the universe. Yet, in spite of my father’s logic, I’ve always daydreamed about the adventure of exploring foreign lands. Once I was old enough to fly myself, I took a few trips to the Caribbean and other resorts with hard partying friends, but none of these excursions truly fulfilled my great pangs of wanderlust.
Then on my twenty-third birthday, I visited the most exotic place I have ever been to in my entire life: Kentucky.
Scoff if you will, but to a city girl like me, Kentucky was as good as visiting China. Hell, my best friend’s family IS from China! I grew up with kids from Korea, Trinidad, Greece, Guyana, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Mexico — you name it. It took me over two decades to see my first real live person from the Bluegrass State.
There were so many things I learned on that trip that changed me, the most significant being that my little melting pot in the Northeast was far from the only crown jewel of this country; there were far more cultures across the U.S. than I had ever imagined, and my dumb ass didn't understand a single goddamn one of them. It was at this point I decided that my dream vacation would not be to backpack through Europe or traverse the Trans Siberian Railway, but rather that I would to one day drive through all fifty of these great United States of America.
Alas, in my heightened patriotism I had forgotten that I’m a chef by trade, meaning that for my entire adult life I’ve been dirt freaking poor. Then I got married, to a fellow chef of all things, so yup, still poor. Then, soon as we got hitched I started popping out kids and, well, here we are in 2013, and I’m writing a column about how I still don’t get America while sitting in my tiny apartment in Brooklyn (I do, however, have Swamp People on the television for background noise, so I’m hoping that counts for something). I’ve spent the last ten years researching the small corners that make this country special from my own tiny corner of it — watching television programs, reading books, visiting tourism websites, asking endless borderline insulting questions to any person who moves to New York from out of state, and all of that leaves me with nothing but more questions.
With my children growing every freaking day and constantly needing things like “bigger shoes” and “more food,” I doubt the dream trip to quell my curiosity will be happening anytime soon. But fortunately, the geniuses at Medium provided me with a regular column, which I can use for my own selfish purposes! I can ask YOU, the great people that make up this mighty nation, for the answers to my many, many, MANY stupid questions. It will be just like RV-ing from coast to coast … from the comfort of my couch, in my underwear, which, oddly enough, seems even more American than my original plan.
- First to the state that began my obsession — to the people of Kentucky: when I visited, you had smoking sections in all of your gas stations. Do your pumps fuel so slowly that you can’t possibly wait until your car is gassed up before you light up again?
- Also, while I was there I saw a “Pawn/Gun/Liquor Store.” Do these exist because of government permitting issues, or is this a convenience thing?
- For my friends in the Midwest: How is a bunch of stuff suspended in Jell-O considered a “salad”? Not a dessert salad, mind you, but an actual “Side dish to meat and potatoes” salad?
- In smaller cities with no public transportation, how does anyone get to work? Over 4.3 million people ride the subways here in New York every day, and our roads are still gridlocked to the point where it’s nearly pointless to get in a car. I have a friend from Austin, Texas who informed me that if I were to ever move there, to not even bother attempting to drive between the hours of 7-10 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. Is it a sort of a trade-off? In exchange for the lower cost of living, backyards, and friendly people,do you sacrifice your soul to sit in traffic for days on end?
- People of Florida: You know that when you generate headlines such as “ Florida Man Covers Scene of Burglary in Mustard; Flees with T-Shirt on Head; Pauses Chase with Police to Grab Beer”, or “Florida Man Accused of Trying to Bribe Cop After Pepper-Spraying Baby” — the rest of the country can see that shit too, right? Maybe you can find the man who’s doing all of that and ask him to stop?
- If you live in Minnesota or Alaska: did you know there are places where you can live where the elements are not plotting to kill you? I know you’re worried that if you move to a warmer climate someone will pepper-spray your baby, but there are tons of states where it’s perfectly nice and you won’t wake up to find your second-story windows opaque with snow.
- Do people outside of Long Island like Billy Joel? I’m only a few blocks from the water on the west end of it and I can’t stand him, so I’m wondering if his powers are contained to some sort of radius.
- If you live in the country or any rural area, do you ever think that right at this moment there could be serial killers hiding behind trees at every turn just lying in wait for you, because what better place to be picking off people than in the middle of nowhere where there are nothing but places to hide and the nearest cops are hours away? If I were you I’d think about that shit all the time.
- If not serial killers, then what about bears?
- Is is MissourEE, or MissourAH? Is it insulting if I say it wrong? Or if I try to pronounce it correctly, since I’m a Yankee, do I just look ridiculous, like those people who randomly develop accents any time they say a Spanish word because they want everyone to know about that time they did one semester abroad in Barcelona?
- Do people go to Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s on a Saturday night like we go to clubs and bars here in New York City? Considering that every one I’ve seen has been off a highway, I have to ask, how are you supposed to get home? I understand “designated drivers,” but if you’ve ever been sober and watched your friends get drunk, you tend to realize what jerks they are and never want to go out with them again. You also begin to wonder, “Do I look like that much of an idiot when I drink?” and start to evaluate your life choices pretty harshly, which is not the sort of thing you ever want to contemplate at an Applebee’s.
- People of Boston: Your bars close at 2 a.m., your public transportation closes at 12:30 a.m. I can’t be the only person confounded by this, nor can I be the only person who has walked two miles down Commonwealth Avenue in a blizzard, completely shitfaced. I look forward to telling those stories of hardship to my children one day.
- What do people that live outside of cities do if they need shampoo and beer at 4 a.m.(this has happened to me)? Or what if your kid wakes up in the middle of the night needing medicine? Or, you’re super pregnant and bolt out of bed at 3 a.m.because you really need nachos, Snapple, seven layer cookies, and donuts? Do you have any idea what sort of horrific fate could have befallen my husband if I wasn’t able to immediately obtain nachos, Snapple, cookies and donuts?
- People of California: I’ve met hundreds of you here in Brooklyn over the past few years, and all you talk about is how perfect the weather is over on the West Coast; how New Yorkers would be so much better off if we’d just learn to relax a little bit. Well, if California is so great, then why do you keep moving here? Based on pictures and weather reports alone, I would be more than happy to move to San Diego right this very second with nothing by the clothes on my back, but now I’m starting to wonder if there’s some sort of shadowy cover-up regarding the “Best Coast.” Has Google already taken over the whole state with it’s army of robots and you’re all just keeping quiet about it?
- Also, California: I don’t want to hear how great your damn avocados are, followed by “the ones here just aren’t the same.” I know that’s really just a statement rather than a question, but seriously, I love those things and I don’t like you teasing me with some sort of inaccessible “Golden Land of Avocados” I can’t reach, particularly if it means defending myself against the Google Deathbots.
- This question is for all the farmers out there: You know those towns that get famous for the giant prizewinning produce, like a fifty-pound watermelon or 2,000-pound pumpkin? When that thing is done winning blue ribbons or trophies or whatever, does the whole town get to eat it?
- Finally, I need to address one of my favorite topics in our house: State Fairs. I’ve never been to one, but my husband, whose family roots are in Iowa, has told me countless stories of summers spent eating what can only be described as total gastronomical abominations. We’ve watched numerous television programs that highlight specialties such as deep-fried pudding, deep-fried bubble gum, deep-fried meatloaf, deep-fried butter, and more. What’s the bathroom situation like at these things?
If you have any tough questions about New York, like why we spend too much money on haircuts, how many times we’ve been mugged, where our children go to run free, or why anyone would root for the Mets, let me know and I’ll explain it all! You can count on me, because in the tradition of all native New Yorkers, I’m essentially an expert on everything. Experts are our fourth most popular export, after bagels, Seinfeld, and very tight black pants.