Stranger in a Strange Land: Part One

I went to Minneapolis once.. rather stupidly I went in February, Feck it was cold, was not a good idea, on a scale of ‘not good ideas’ with one being putting your tongue on the terminal of a nine volt battery and ten being putting your tongue on a frozen lamp-post, this was perhaps an eight or maybe even a nine ..but it was a free trip organised by St. Jude Medical to look at their Stentless Aortic Valves, I’d go anywhere if it was free…Iran, Iraq..even Afghanistan if it’s free…don’t forget, I come from Northern Ireland, guns and bombs and terrorism doesn’t scare me, grew up with it all, they don’t call Belfast ‘Northern Beirut’ for nothing you know..

So I went to my training session on the two days and by the way ate huge amounts of doughnuts of all flavours and colours, where do they all come from? pink ones, apple ones, cinnamon ones, jam ones, chocolate ones sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and then dusted with caster sugar to finally beat my Islets of Langerhans into submission.. there seemed to be an endless supply…

I worked on Thursday and Friday and had Saturday free before I had to get a plane back to civilisation in the evening, so I thought I would wander out of the plush (free!) (and warm!) hotel and have a nosey around.. It was *a bit chilly*, I hadn’t really prepared for the cold, stupidly I thought it would be just like our winters in Ireland, three snowflakes and that’s yer lot but I was seriously mistaken, it was really brass monkey weather, for the first few minutes I felt exhilarated…like I had just entered a cold shower, I was awake and alive but then I realised just how cold it really was, my breathing actually became painful and my cheeks seemed to have gone numb..I scanned the horizon for polar bears…and icebergs.. and headed for the mall that was signposted as 100 yards away…and I walked and walked …blocks and blocks of skyscrapers but no mall…and I was starting to get concerned, no mall and no one walking in the streets, no shops for respite, no bars, no coffee shops, nothing..Scott of the Antartic’s famous last words sounded in my head “I’m going out now, I may be some time…”

But cars were driving past ?somewhere..so I followed a car up a ramp into a towerblock..and followed a couple into a lift going down to the building basement..and in there was the mall… I grabbed a coffee…they don’t seem to do tea in Minneapolis …apart bizarrely for iced tea?? That does not compute as far as Irishmen are concerned..why would you drink iced tea…in winter..with no milk..or sugar.. so I had a coffee and thawed out..

Once I felt the blood coursing through my frozen cheeks again I chatted away to a shop assistant, it seems the winters in Minneapolis get so cold that rather than have everyone outside in the streets the city thought it was be a much better idea to have all the shops and bars under the skyscrapers…ergo you can leave your air conditioned house and drive in your air conditioned car almost directly into the air conditioned malls… the chances of you actually inhaling some fresh air during the winter months was somewhat less than the chances of a dog finding a tree in the middle of the Sahara..at night…during a sandstorm..

I chatted away with the young assistant and asked her what was there to do as a tourist in Minneapolis? She said, well, really we don’t get many tourists here, in fact I was the first foreigner she had ever met (she WAS young!) so I asked if there was somewhere I could buy a postcard…she didn’t know…nor did her Manager… but he shook my hand and she took our photo?????? why????? So I directed the same query to the Manager.. and he reflected thoughtfully for a minute and then said proudly…well, we have the Mall Of America…the worlds biggest mall… and he beamed.. I was confused.. I was already in a VAST shopping mall, was this not it? and why would I want to go to another mall… and I said well, what about history, anyone famous born here, assassinated here, (BTW, how famous does one have to be to be assassinated rather then murdered?…just a thought) any famous (non-mall) buildings, heritage trails, parks, history…ANYTHING…tourist information office?…nope.. the Mall Of America was it.. I asked him how long he had lived in Minneapolis…all his life he said… I asked him had he actually left the State at any time in his life…nope.. hmmmmm

So I spent a few hours wandering around the mall, it actually turned out to be a fascinating exercise, in this country I go to Sainsburys or Tesco and see the same food again and again… and trust me, consistency is good in many things…especially in terms of bowel movements. I know where everything is and I can do a weekly shop in three seconds flat…well, three seconds flat if it wasn’t for those stupid automatic self-service checkouts saying “unexpected item in the shopping area, please remove to continue..” for Christ sake, it’s bloody shopping so how could it be unexpected? what does it think it is, the Bolivian Navy on manoeuvres in the South Pacific?? stupid machines… But wander around an American store…WallMark…Target..BestBuys and you recognise absolutely nothing, all the food is different, all the hardware is different, even the medicines are different…Paracetamol and Aspirin..nope..what the hell is Tylenol and where is the Lemonsip…all completely new and strange..

I spent ages looking at all the strange factory processed foodstuffs that claimed to be natural and healthy but had never been near a farm in their entire existence, things that would send any child in this country into a hyperactive frenzy with one lick… and they pack everything into papers sacks for you …whilst you stand there with your arms at the same length thinking “I could do this and then your queues would be half the size…you dimwit..” and the spotty sixteen year old smiles at you and wishes you a nice day …but he has that look of desperation in his face that says please help me, I’ve been trapped in BestBuys since birth and the crystal in my hand is starting to blink.. (OH for heavens sake, Logan’s Run you idiot, when were you born? yesterday? or 29yrs and 364days ago? google it!)

So I headed off and left the hallowed halls ?malls of America, the sun has come up and I actually find a park, mostly deserted, not even the obligatory joggers running around with their iPods and smarmy smug git looks and I sit down in the park by this frozen lake, across from me is some modern art of a giant spoon with a cherry on the end, what is the city trying to say..take my cherry? I’m giving it to you on a bleeding big spoon…a friend of mine in Canada sent me an equally large wooden spoon a while back, I asked was this the bobby prize in some competition I had unknowingly entered but she said no, it was simply because she knew how much I like to stir it up so now I had a huge big effing spoon to stir it up even more..She also sent me two blue stress balls to squeeze but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my balls were already blue and stressed..

The ice on the pond is frozen and two teenagers are sliding across it good naturedly..and trying to crack it.. I’m reminded of that old joke;

One night a drunk Eskimo decides to go ice fishing. He goes off into the night, sets down his fishing rod and starts to hack a hole in the ice with his axe…

Suddenly, out of nowhere a voice booms out “You won’t find any fish there!”. He looks around but can see no-one and thinks he must be imagining it so starts smashing the ice again..

The voice booms out even louder ” I said you won’t find any fish there!!” and he looks around mystified but can see no-one…He thinks I’m definitely drunker than I thought I was but resumes chipping away at the ice..

but again he hears the voice “Look, I said, you WON’T find any fish THERE!!!”

..and he puts his ice pick down, looks up to the heavens and says “is that you God, trying to show me the error of my ways?”

And the voice booms back

……..”NO! It’s the ice rink manager, you fecking idiot!!”

My butt is starting to stick to the bench, next time, I go in summer and take my chances with heatstroke, mosquito’s and malaria..