Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"I'm thumbing my way to North Caroline"

July 2012

I had spent a few days in Chapel Hill before heading off to Key West with Lindsay, but after the months of traveling and few weeks of farming hell, these were spent chilling out, sorting my stuff and life out and not doing much whatsoever. I caught up with the Pritch girls again, and it was a great feeling to punch the code into the door and swing it open to be greeted with a scream of surprise (I hadn’t told them I was coming!) from Emma, Lexi and Lexie. Lexie Kendra I hadn’t seen since before Christmas (she had spent the semester in Scotland) and it was especially nice to see her again, and catching up with them all. Unfortunately that was the last but one time I saw Lexi before I left as due to her jet setting summer work commitments she was all over the place and we never managed to be in the same place again.

After returning from Alabama I had about 10 days left in Chapel Hill before my flight back to the UK. Chief on the list of things to do was Independence Day, that staple of American traditions that I was keen to be a part of. Even if that meant being ripped to shreds for being British… Independence Day (AKA 4th July), if you don’t know, is the American celebration of independence from the ‘dam’ Brits. It is characterised by a BBQ (called a cookout), fireworks and lots and lots of beer. My idea of a great evening! A number of people rocked up at Lindsay’s house, including some of the RA’s still in town for the summer and some of the Graham 3rd lot which was great to see. Getting grilling and drinking early was the order of the moment, with lighter fluid being ‘liberally’ applied to the BBQ, resulting in a ‘flame grilled’ taste! From there it was over to Kenen Stadium on campus where a free firework display was being held. The place was busy, with everyone only allowed to sit in one part of the stadium (health a safety and all that – including the placement of loads of firemen approximately 5 meters apart from each other in all directions). Obviously I envisioned everyone being British there, so was quite disappointed to see hundreds of Yanks. Ah well, wear the British t-shirt I had with pride! I did spot another guy wearing the union flag, and catching his eye there was a mutual understanding between us: “we’ll let them have this moment for now; we still had a better empire than they ever will”. 
Getting abused for being the better nationality

 Kenen Stadium

"Oh my... look at the British kid!"

The fireworks were pretty impressive (not as good as Guy Fawks night of course – you Yanks better look that one up by the way), with live music and a bit of a spectacle going on. Though the pure patriotism did amuse me intensely, as did Sam chanting USA repeatedly on his own for about 5 mins. As you do of course… Once it was over it was back to the house to continue drinking and set off our own illicit stash of fireworks from Lindsay and I’s road trip. Fireworks are illegal to buy and set off in NC. So we bought them in South Carolina (where they’re legal) and set them off anyways. Which was a drama in itself as no one had set off fireworks before. So it was a massive guesswork fest of rather dangerous proportions, with the first one falling over before erupting and shooting over the fence behind the house in the housing estate behind. Ooops! From there it was a little better, relocating to the front of the house and next doors gravel parking lot to set the rest off one by one. They were pretty cool, and added to the beer, remains of food and good company the evening progressed well. Until Vijay wigged the fuck out and had a panic attack over something or other…

The Illegal stash of fireworks. That were set off in a completely safe and sober manner. Of course...

(Some of) The Graham 3 boys

I also got to see Connor again which I was incredibly happy about. He was in Chapel Hill for something or other, so us two, Lindsay and another friend of Connor’s went to the Durham Bulls stadium in Durham (surprise surprise!) to see my first ever baseball game. Really not sure how I had managed to go that long without seeing one to be honest! It was a good game, long though (as is the nature of baseball games), but I was glad to have gone to one eventually. The time was passed explaining to me in the ins and outs of the rules,  being taught to eat sunflower seeds (actually harder than It looks – you have to crack the shell in your teeth, then extract the shell remains whilst trying to to loose the seed and then eat the seed). The atmosphere was pretty cool, despite the Bulls loosing (apparently that’s a given!) and there was a firework display afterwards which was pretty cool.

At the baseball (with my new Alabaman t-shirt)
There were also a numerous amounts of evening activities with Laura and Michael (including another first of eating at Mellow Mushroom; a pizza place), who again I was excited to spend time with again, the Pritch girls (well, mainly just Emma and Lexie) which was always a mad night out, and a day spent in Cary with Audra (the area was stunning!), and hanging out with Pat for an afternoon which was great to do having not seen him for so long whilst travelling. I had also come to the realisation that with all the places I had been to and stuff I had seen all over the USA, there was quite a lot within the Triangle that I hadn’t seen at all over the year. Prime example of taking advantage of what’s right on ones doorstep… As a way to try and counteract this, a trip was made to Durham, more specifically the Duke Museum of Tobacco museum related to the tobacco production in the area. It was a fascinating place, with numerous traditional buildings that were used over the decades for tobacco production. Seeing as Durham was built upon the tobacco trade, and NC has so much of its history steeped in the tobacco leaf it was a fitting way to actually find out something about where I had been spending my year.

On one of the last nights out with the (remaining) Pritch Girls

There was also one other thing I wanted to do before leaving the USA. Get a tattoo. I had wanted to get one for ages, and it felt fitting to commemorate the simply amazing experience I had had in the USA by getting one. I agonised over the design for ages, and settled on getting a swallow holding a dogwood flower. The swallow represents distance, which I had travelled to America, travelled around America, and also that I felt I had come personally throughout the whole experience. The dogwood flower is the state flower of North Carolina, and it seemed fitting to have an element of the state where I lived for a year within the design. I went to Tar Heel Tattoo (keeping with the UNC theme!) to get it done by one of the artists there. Who smoked like a total chimney and was barking mad. I mean batshit crazy. So I guess the perfect person to tattoo you! To say I was really nervous about getting it is an understatement. Especially as the original design drawn I wasn’t happy with at all, but the artist – to be fair to him – was incredibly patient in taking the time to redraw it as I wanted it. And then the moment came – to be sat in the chair with the needle poised. Jess had come down with me to see it get done, and that was reassuring as she has a couple on her and was a calm reassuring presence. Lindsay was also there, as was Pat who simply wound me up the whole time – good combination of personalities which took my mind of it all a little bit. 

Tattooing hurts. Theres no two ways about it. Having a needle punched into your skin rapidly really kills. And that was just on the skin. The location of the design (the left shoulder blade) meant a lot of bone was in the area. And if tattooing on skin hurts; when the needle hits the bone it’s not nice whatsoever. The three of them had a good laugh at my winces (despite me trying to be all macho and not show emotion), and provided good chat to keep me occupied during the session. Plus the batshit crazy tattoo artist chipping in with crazy shit every so often to nervous laughter and raised eyebrows. Not that it helped at times to be honest with the pain! The session took about an hour, and at the end I took a triumphant look, a picture, and then it was covered up to heal for a bit (apparently I bled quite a bit…). The whole thing wasn’t as bad as I thought, and I absolutely love my tattoo (shame it’s in such an awkward place to look at!), and definitely an awesome memento of my year abroad. From the tattoo parlour it was on to get a well earned beer with Pat!

In the chair
The finished product

The time to leave came around all too quickly. I really did not want to leave Chapel Hill, and I found myself in the last few days looking around the place going ‘this is the last time I’m going to see this, last time I’m going to do that’. On the last night a bunch of us hit Franklin Street and partied the night away in true Tar Heel style. I was genuinely upset to say good bye to everyone, as they had all been such a part of my amazing experience in the States, and I knew I was going to miss all of them. The next morning the journey to the airport was an emotional one, and the plan journey home a long and painful one (on account of the tattoo being done the day before!). Arriving back into London Heathrow to be greeted by the family was an amazing feeling however, having not seen them since March. Although I was bitching as I left NC in the blistering heat wearing shorts and arrived in London in the same shorts but it was freezing. Which meant a not very happy Alex!

I was so glad to be able to return back to Chapel Hill for a little while (too short a time to be honest) before returning back to the UK, and be able to see those people that were still around. It was a great few weeks filled with lasts and firsts, which just shows that when you go somewhere you can never think it’s just going to be the same old! Writing this muuuch later on a train to London from Manchester I look back on those few weeks with a lot of fondness. To me it was just like the stereotypical American summer you see in music videos – hanging out with great people in the sun and drinking without a care in the world or anything to have to do. A perfect way to wrap up a perfect year.

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