So it turns out that my USA holiday posts aren’t going to write themselves and I know that there are a few people keen to hear them so I better pull my finger out. We spent a total of 3.5 weeks in the USA – an absolutely amazing country to visit and one that I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting twice previously, although this was MS’ first time. We arrived mid afternoon in LA after about 20 hours of flying and transiting through Sydney and what seemed like an eternity of MS chucking the sh*ts on the flight over because of the lack of leg room in economy. We’re all in the same boat buddy – well kind of. The fact that he is 6 ft 2 and I am all but 5 ft surely makes a difference to the level of comfort onboard a 747.
We overnighted in LA close to the airport in a reasonably priced hotel. It wasn’t anything flash but the beds were comfy and the copious amounts of hair loss ads on the TV sure made up for it. We ventured down the road to get some food for an early dinner only after confirming with the clerk that it was safe to do so. It is LA after all and almost everyone is packing, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. We ended up at the clerks recommendation of Waba Grill which was only a 10 minute walk down the road and wasn’t particularly amazing. Imagine a fast food place that serves brown rice and teriyaki marinated meats with avocado and there you have Waba Grill. It was a little better than the other option next door – Little Caesars, whose newest product was bacon wrapped pizza. Actually on second thought maybe we should have gone to Little Caesars. It was the first day of the holiday however and I was still holding onto the completely ridiculous notion that I wasn’t going to put on any weight in the USA despite the long lists of burger and BBQ joints I had in mind.
Early next morning we flew from LA to Charlotte in North Carolina for a short stopover that ended up being delayed (thank goodness for the rocking chairs at Charlotte airport) and then finally to Columbia in South Carolina where my uncle met us. My mum’s brother and his family have lived in the USA for about 15 years now and this was MS first time meeting them. Just for a bit of inside info my uncle and his family are moonies and their particular way of life, as you can imagine, is a little different to many including both MS and I. It was MS first time being in such close proximity to people that are so deeply religious and he found it both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He challenged my uncle on his beliefs (in a polite way) with conversations about the big bang theory, Adam and Eve and even Obama Care over the few days we spent with him – at Walmart, at Sam’s Club, in the car, at Verizon and back at Walmart again. Despite how it sounds it was a very friendly interaction but it’s obviously a conversation that my uncle has had plenty of times. In fact he freely admits that his responses have been well crafted over the years whereas MS was almost completely out of his depth. We had a great time with them but without being rude or disrespectful since my uncle will most likely read this I live my life very differently to those of the Unification Church.
Three days after we arrived we hired a car, said goodbye to my South Carolina family and after MS got his bearings for driving on the complete other side of the road in 6 lanes of traffic at 90 miles an hour we were on our way north to Durham in North Carolina (about a 3 hour drive). Along the way we passed a road sign advertising a Gun Expo in Charlotte and since we weren’t constrained by time we figured we would stop off to check it out. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside and my Go Pro had to be put away the minute I stepped in the door. Pointing a high powered assault rifle with a scope and a laser sight at someone elses head so they can show me the accuracy of their favourite weapon isn’t something I thought I would ever see myself doing but it was pretty interesting to see the conservatives in their element.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Durham and headed straight to the Backyard BBQ Pit which was due to close earlier than we expected. It meant an early dinner of 5pm but it would have to do. I had heard about Backyard BBQ Pit on my beloved show Man Vs Food and kept it on a list ever since as one place I wanted to go to. We arrived to an unassuming brick restaurant on the side of the road with a sweet smell of barbecued meats in the air.
There was quite a line inside because the place was very popular and despite the questionable cleanliness of the eatery (cue waitress swatting blow flies with a broom) we took our place in the line. I’ve eaten at plenty of places where the hygiene was questionable and still lived to tell the tale. One that comes to mind was a road side hut that my cousin and I stopped at whilst touring Sri Lanka with Intrepid. We had a fantastic curry lunch served in large clay pots in an open air dining room. Before getting back on the bus I went to use the bathrooms and caught sight of the blow fly laden kitchen, a sight I would have preferred not to see.
Back at the Backyard BBQ Pit MS ordered the rib dinner with a trio of meats including brisket, ribs and pulled pork with sides for US$10.49 while I chose the Brisket plate with choice of sides for US$6.49. We both chose the mac n cheese as well as the hushpuppies – think deep fried mashed potato – and took a seat at a booth on the side.
The styrofoam take away boxes that seem to be a popular serving option in the US don’t make for a particularly aesthetic meal but they do the trick. One thing that was very obvious to me in the USA is that they live in very much a throw-away society. I thought we were bad in Australia but sh*t they are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of waste produced and no one seems to care (unless they are from San Francisco).
The best part of my meal was easily the mac n cheese. That cheesy, fat ladened pasta was so ridiculously rich I shudder to think what was in it but I didn’t come to the USA so question the calorie content of my food. My brisket was lovely in a vinegary sort of way. I recall my South Carolina cousin telling me about the difference in BBQ in the southern states – some swear by the vinegary type brisket and pulled pork whilst others think covering it in BBQ sauce is the best way. I’m definitely the later. Bring me the BBQ sauce! In fact, you can just leave it on my table. I tasted MS’ ribs and got a bit of food envy – he had definitely made a better meat choice than I had.
Later we explored our first Whole Foods supermarket of many which was conveniently located across the road from our hotel. If only for the entire fridge of different Kombucha (my new found love in life) I give Whole Foods 5 out of 5.
Next morning after a gym session in the ‘no judgement zone’ that is Planet Fitness we were on our way to Richmond in Virginia but not before stopping at the ridiculously popular bagel house Bruegger’s Bagels.
As you can imagine, bagels are hugely popular in the USA and the line for bagels at this place was well out the door. Bagels for breakfast soon became our ritual much to the dismay of my ass.
For lunch we made it to our first Chipotle for the trip as recommended by my mum and dad – think Zambrero but tastier and not such a damn rip off. In my opinion it’s one of the best fast food options in the USA and there are thousands of them around the country. I can recommend the Barbacoa with lots of Tabasco Sauce.
Later that night was our second BBQ stop Buz and Ned’s Real BBQ, another one I had seen on Man Vs Food. This was the other type of BBQ that my cousin was telling me about, the one with the BBQ sauce smothered all over the meat (aka my kind of dinner). We both ordered the BBQ Pork Sandwiches (MS had two because he’s a growing boy apparently) with more mac n cheese, hushpuppies and also fried okra (another popular southern dish). The mac n cheese wasn’t nearly as good as the one we had the previous night but I enjoyed the brisket burgers way more. And the fried okra? Well that kind of just tasted like oil. I love BBQ and it was one of the things I most looked forward to in the USA but I find it very rich and filling and can’t eat a whole lot of it.
The next day we were back on the road again and after our regular bagel breakfast we stopped at a random servo somewhere on the outskirts of Virginia. Inside I glanced at a newspaper on the counter with about 15 mugshots of people on the front of it. I asked the attendant if those were people that had gone missing and she said that it was people that had gone to jail that week. Only an emoji could convey my reaction to her reply.
To be continued… xo