After a Year on the Road, I’m Surprised at What I Missed About Random Life
Oklahoma, the land of QuikTrips and endless refills!
This week marks a full month that I’ve been back in Washington, D.C. from the One-year Retirement. There are plenty of weighty topics I could cover in reflection on the world and on America: how I’ve changed, how Washington, D.C., has changed, what has remained steadfastly the same, and what it all means for humanity.
But then I realized that would be heavy and boring, and — much more importantly for me — hard to write. Instead, I decided to write about random items and behaviors in the States that I never thought I’d appreciate. That would be easy, and listen people, I need to ease into this real-world thing. I can’t over-exert my brain for more than a few minutes before lapsing into a coma. My wife assures me that these “comas” in fact are just the daily afternoon naps I seem to be taking on the regular now that I’m living the life of Area Man Seeking Employment. I disagree, and I’m sure some lab tests would prove me right, if we just had health insurance.
There are items and aspects of your life no doubt that you are thankful for — family, friends, gainful employment, the comforting heft of a Japanese Katana sword in your skillful hands (no? Just me? Fine.). But there are some elements of your Great American Life you probably didn’t know for which you should be grateful. So in no particular order, here are the things I’ve been appreciative of/giddy about/overindulging in since we came back to good ‘ole U-S-of-A.
America is the land of the soda refill. U.S. restaurants treat your ability to get more of your same non-alcoholic drink order like an inherent right stipulated in the Declaration of Independence — Life, Liberty and the pursuit of more Dr Pepper! Lady Liberty beseeches thee — give me your tired, your poor, your thirsty masses yearning to drink straight from that self-service soda fountain!
Outside the U.S. your drink order should be treated like rations on a lifeboat. I would ask for a pop abroad and would receive what I was sure was a scale-model soda bottle for a little girl’s dollhouse. I would sip from the comically tiny bottle like a canteen on the Sahara, ensuring I had at least one sip of my seemingly 4-ounce beverage at the end of my meal. Want more? Just ask! And you’ll be charged five euros for another dollhouse bottle.
When I’d returned to Oklahoma, I was delighted to see my server swinging by to drop an identical glass of soda next to my half-full super-sized glass on the table. By the end of the meal we had the empties lined up on my table like 747s on the runway trying to get out of Laguardia for Christmas. Sure, a lot of this is related to our American outsized portion sizes, our excessive abundance of everything we want here, our wasteful ways and blah blah blah I promised not to make this weighty so let’s just appreciate the quick service and the afternoon caffeine buzz, shall we?
Clothes dryers around the world — and especially in Europe — look just like dryers in the U.S. The machines are both washer and dryer in one, but they’re basically only doing one of those two tasks. When it comes to the drying cycle, if you need a machine to just move your clothes around in circles for 30 minutes, they’re perfect. But if you want them to actually make those clothes less wet, well you’re out of luck. These contraptions have the drying capacity of butterfly wings. I’ve seen dryer clothes come out of the business end of a Slip-’N-Slide.
So I guess what I’m trying to articulate here is that these dryers don’t work very well. Yeah, I know, they’re more efficient because the Europeans are more conscientious about not burning tons of coal and blah blah blah that’s great but I had seven pair of underwear hanging over my Amsterdam windowsill and had to go commando to see the Anne Frank House, which seemed kinda inappropriate, so thanks for nothing, Europe.
Like an American soda refill, you can spend all night with old friends and still have more to take in. And like American dryers, old friends can … um, dry your clothes? Ok, so that last part didn’t really flow like I’d hoped. Anyway, it’s been great catching up with old friends, talking for hours without missing a beat from where we were before we left. We’d worked during our trip to connect to our friends via Skype, FaceTime and other means, but it’s just great to sit down in person and share a laugh with someone who truly knows you.
The next time you’re sitting down with a good friend over refilled sodas in your impeccably dry clothing, take a moment to be thankful for the little gifts provided by life in our little bastion of democracy. You may not realize it, but you’re living the Great American Life.