This is a first post of many in the following few days about my first experience in America as European. Some of the photo will be missing, because on my main Camera. You will see it later on, on my flickr account once back, but in mainwhile you can have all the photos taken with my phone.
The main reason of this trip is to go to a Convention called Garycon a special event in celebration and remembering of one of the co-authors of what made Dungeon & Dragons (a role playing game, if not the main role playing game that thrive from ‘74 till today with a big hollywood movie with even Hugh Grant & Chris Pine).
We all be remembering him by playing, making friends, sharing stories and passions. Many of the original people of TSR (the company that made D&D) there will be there. This trip is literally the trip to the Mecca of role playing games. Where the game was made, grew and it become famous.
My holiday started very very early at 4:30 am in Barcelona, preparing the last few things before leaving my home, and taking the taxi at 6:30 for the airport. The following 14 hours of the trip involve just 2 airplanes (Barcelona -> Madrid -> Chicago), no sleeping, and increase of caffeine in my body, and meeting a super friendly spanish woman from Valladolid head of department Maria Jesus, with which we had very fun and friendly conversation. So much that we exchanged contacts, and she was so happily tell me about her job, going to Huston for work, some funny situations, and her passion for Ballet fitness.
Of this part of trip I can only say that I was more anxious than anything about losing the flight, having tons of papers with me for any potential situation and control for the USA Boarding control (notorious to be a tough nut), and than everything was quite smoothly. Maybe even for this reason I couldn’t sleep, together with the excitement of traveling and everything else going in my head.
Regardless even if the transit is not the main topic, I wanted to highlight few things.
The movies during the flight
Before my screen froze and abandoned me mid flight to Chicago (of total of 8h flight it was 3.30 still left to go and they felt very very long hours… and coffee despite my adversity for it, it was a burning disgusting blessing).
I was surprise of the great range of movies and even recent ones… discarded immediately the whole Fast and Furious WHOLE series, or any other american or spanish stuff, and gone for choosing international ones.
A japanese movie and a chinese to be exact, for which I suggest everyone to see.
Offbeat Cops start with a very tough crime story with a detective of Crime investigation completely in style of classic Takeshi Kitano old 80’ to than develop his comedic route and light emotional drama and light hearted sensitivity, by pushing the main actor to become part of the Police Band learning to play drums.
This movie show at his perfection, how Japanese way of living has such contrast between rules, and what need to be get done, the incapability of being empathic, and at the same time the need to that human contact that come from such unexpected events, and the hardworking people that they are losing any concept of boundaries between balance of work and family time. I give it a 7/10 just because I love foreign movies.
Chilli Laugh Story, instead was a pure comedy gem that it will be forever in my collection of movies! YOU MUST WATCH IT. There are a lot of talented actors and the direction was quite snappy with a lot of classical exaggerated classical Chinese cultural situations that made it absolutely precious.
The plot is about a family during the Pandemic, starting at home an homemade business of making spicy Chili and selling it into the streets. This bring success, unexpected problems, but the focus here of the story it is the family. How important it is, and how frail can be when everyone is self-obsessed with their own life desires.
At the end you see a lot of young actors appearing doing silly gags, for sure this movie is made by a new generation of Chinese comedy people. Something for me to look forward and to track down for more interesting comedy and movies that it will be interesting with time.
The Border Control & The taxi Drive
America asks you, just before landing, if you bring any food that need to be declared. And it looks like that not declaring and if they do inspection, they will bill you with a hefty sum. So as proper good boy scout, I wrote everything to avoid any trouble.
It looks like that, writing everything, it what took the border control the highlight, and therefore because of Swine Flue in Africa (and obviously being Africa next to Spain or Europe), they decided to throw everything away. Even the careful made sandwich that I was gonna eat made at 4 am. What a waste.
But this highlight something that I discover later, American are used to trash food, like it was nothing. So the cheese and choccolate and wine pass, but any pork/meat will not.
With already my heart broken in pieces because of a nice Salami that I lost going into the trash bin, I get out in just 50 minutes total from the airport to my next mission. Taking a SIM card to have internet.
Luckily until I was in the airport I could connect to some free wifi, but I couldn’t use my new Spanish internet connection because of expensive costs of roaming. But at the airport the choices were very very expensive (from 60$ per 1 month), and nothing less than that. Therefore I decide to just wing it, and make the sim card later.
This mean taking a cab/taxi and with my incredible horror, realising a bit too late that I will depend completely on the taxi to take me where I need to go, and that there is not a really regulated taxi of the city (the beauty of free american market), and every taxi looks different, with people of all kind of ethnicity.
So I end up with an Albanian guy, which car was a mess, with a classic Albanian flag attached to the car (americans or people living there for decades are proud about their own origins), no belt, and driving like a very aggressive italian (I felt like home, I must say!). The price was steeper than expected 88$ (but it was a 50min drive), but I thought that on a taxi it would have been less dangerous to move around than taking the Metro/Train system (which Chicago is famous to be an elevated train connection).
I wasn’t nervous, but I decided to go with the flow. Next time I’ll probably experiment with the public transportation (the important is not to have bags with me, which it makes more troublesome to travel), but after seen the movie The Warriors for years I have no idea what to expect, other than gangs fighting me at every stop! 😀
So for the moment Europe 1, America 0 on transportation, even the metro looked very thin and long like the British metro are.
Looking at the streets everywhere felt like some part of the america that I am used to see into movies and tv series. Civilised with alternative wooden houses and brick houses (reminding me Britain, but with more space to expand).
Everyone is driving, and only few people are on the street with the occasional cyclist, and no scooter or motorbike whatsoever.
I pass churches with the classic letter signposts
I pass VOTE for X for Mayor signs hanging all around. The classic lawn pitches signs of retailers. The few houses with easter decorations on the door of their house, and even some with actually bulb lights (the one for Christmas) just hanging around their building.
Arriving at destination
[Images to insert here of the gym]
Arriving at the gym where my contact and online friend Keith Jennings, with which we have played mostly every week for the last 1 year and 3/4 to the toughest and scariest of the adventures, the Curse of Strahd – For people that are not into RPG, understand that this is an adventure that we are playing as we were the main characters of some big TV show like Games of Thrones. It is a big deal, it is very difficult to go on with a same game for more than 1 month, imagine after 1 year.
[Images to insert here of the gym]
Keith welcome me, he is training few people, and I finally can relax in a corner of the big gym organising myself and recharging few things. He is super nice, and I talk with him and as well with his own client that is training about the geekest of stuff while the person that is being trained is taking a moment of relaxing between workout sessions. I would absolutely would train here with gusto. Huge space, lot of tools, a personal trainer motivating and guiding and nice rock music.
[Insert photo here]
If I need to describe Keith, he is very relaxed like American are, and as well in Italy between friends he would be labelled a Metalhead. Absolutely crazy fan of Metallica, and like me crazy fan of role playing games that he discovered during his youth during boy scout.
I finally take out my good camera and start to do a couple of photos around. It is chilly, but inside doesn’t seem to be any heating and it is much more bearable than in my house in Barcelona. Score for America than, we are on 1-1.
It is about 1 am BCN time, and here it is just 6 pm, I go to get caffeinated and this is my first walk into the neighborhood of Chicago. It doesn’t feel like a city at all, it is all pure suburb. I go to a Starbuck, and it feel so weird that Starbuck it is the same, and at the same time it is not. It feels a bit more lived and less perfect than the one in europe.
[Insert photo here]
The biggest female waiter that I ever seen with red air, and the tinest one with brown skin works together and serve me (a terrible) cappuccino and warm cookie chip. Yes america, it taste better in europe.
The smaller size coffee, already is the big drink that I was expecting, and the people that are there only few wear masks and they work on their computer, a couple of people practicing french, and various other people just walking in taking the order and not even saying any other word than the strict necessary to get the coffee and be on the go because busy with their hearphones and texting. Quite disconnected america while being connected.
There are boxes of few used books at the entrance, I am guessing they are for anyone that want to read, but I see no one inside picking any. And being about 7 pm here, the waiter start to throw away all the food on display in the trash. All decent good food that I could have order and eaten, just thrown completely away in my absolutely shock and disdain. And here hit me, how much everything in the way of thinking is use and throw away, especially food.
I go back, the training will soon finish, and we are heading straight to eat with the lovely and sweet teenager daughter of Keith (she goes to a school which teach her to play guitar and bass, and she would like to become a rockstar).
We eat at his favourite burger place (I asked to wanted to try a real American burger), and the place was called Kuma.
We have nice big burgers, which they are incredibly tasty. Like in Japan, free refill of water (ice cold water! brrrr….) and the music in the place it is all heavy metal, LOUD heavy metal like in a concert. His daughter order a Mac & Cheese (finally I could see what actually is in person a classic italian recipe very americanised, of Maccheroni al forno gratinati) which I know being a classic in USA.
Keith is so kind to offer dinner, I am more surprised about the price of a burger respect to european standard. So I am guessing that proper meat place cost more, than chain places, which it means you pay for quality. Infact I had to lick completely my fingers, and all the burgers were called after Metal Bands, with a lot of metal posters around, and somehow some old tv series playing in loop (think here the Curtain Red room of Twin Peaks showing in silent with subtitles in background).
I could see the kitchen smoking of hot hot food served as fast as possible, the waiter were very kind and attentive and ready to refill your water. And it was even very normal to just take away all the food leftover to be easily taken back at home (you literally package yourself the food to bring back at home of what you want to bring). I would say that the quantity was a decent portion with a buckload of chips.
Before going home, one last stop (at this moment I was 22h awake straight) to the Mall!!!! And it was amazing how strange and familiar all felt. All those movies about Clerks, The Dawn of the dead, Mallrats, Stranger things… all was there. Familiar and different. The huge parking lots multi-floor. Heated alley with electrical heaters warming no one (or just the people that would wait there for whatever reason). The huge space that occupies the Mall with all the different brands each part with each specialization. We entered Target.
The Mall was huge inside super illuminated, and barely any people were there, or working there. It was a big empty space filled with stuff. I could find even Magic Cards or Pokemon cards which normally in europe they sell only at specialised gaming shops. I didn’t wonder too much (I was low energy), just grab a back of Ritz (which the smallest was extra large, and the others had extra flavours) and checking for Sim cards (all expensive for what I intend to use), and only available were self-checkout machine. No cashiere there. Only one supervising. I must say that technology looked cheaper and very affordable than at home (huge plasma screen at least 100 or 200€ cheaper).
[Insert image of the house from outside]
We go back home. I enter the classic wooden garage with side door that lead to an alley that lead to the front garden and front porch of a wooden house with 2 floors. The top floor is were Keith family lives. Outside is cold and dark. Inside no visible heating system and it is actually a very decent temperature.
Classic super huge double door fridge, an amazing collection of RPG materials, swords, and training gears, poster of all kinds about Metallica, and I stay in this front living room because the rest of the family is already in bed and sleeping.
He prepares me an inflated bed, he add some extra tape to stop an hole, but I fall at sleep faster than this huge air bed, while a constant louder and louder “shhhhh” of the air running out, get all out and I find myself on the floor. I could this as win!
I woke up at 3:30 am in the night. Having slept aproximally 4 hours and something, and try to sleep a bit more, but cannot really catch any deep sleep the fault is for sure of my biological clock used to get up in the morning for work. I am ok with roughing it up. It is what you do when you travel, you get out of your comfort zone, and even today I will survive on Caffeine and pure will and excitement ment of something new out there.
And is in this moment while recharging my device that I write this post, resting while the sun rises on the horizon. And later on today I will write of the new experiences, of an american house, eating probably some deep Chicago Pizza dish, and going to Lake Geneva by car and getting all the sightseeing where D&D was made.