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The New World: Part 4 (of 3) – Faded Memories and Marriage Mania

I am writing this blog with a slight fever and a fan behind me moving gently from side to side to keep me cool. It reminds me that we are still going through this pandemic and that it is not over yet. Thankfully it is not a fever brought on by COVID-19 and it is very, very slight but I did have a silent panic when I felt it coming on, with more of a sweat on my brow than usual in this weather and my body starting to shake. It’s just not possible to have a simple cold anymore! I feel much better now, but also what a reminder of how different things are compared to just over a year and half ago, when the world shut down for all that time and travel came to a screeching halt. I consider myself lucky that I went abroad when I did, even if some say that the virus was hovering around even then.  

And while I have now been enjoying writing this series of blogs for the past few months, time has now come to close the story of my little adventure and go back to sitting and waiting until the next one. When will that be? It’s impossible to say but I do have a destination in mind at least. Until then, let’s get back to the story.  

From my last blog, you may remember that I had just arrived in Philadelphia and had begun what was to be obviously a very enjoyable but ultimately immemorable night with an old friend of mine from uni days. I would start by writing about that night but to be honest, I just don’t remember any of it. And that is a very scary thought. There is one memory there and that is that I thought that the bar lady was quite attractive, but I couldn’t actually remember what she looked like! I do have a few snaps of me and my friend that were taken by said bar lady, but I do not have the courage to share them. (I look awful.) 

The next morning, I awoke with a cracking headache and in a complete daze. It wasn’t just my head that hurt, however. I had aches and pains all over my body but at that moment I didn’t really pay too much attention and went straight to the bathroom to get ready as I realised that anything I would have done in Philadelphia (run up the Rocky steps, for example) would have to be saved until next time, as after being told by a car rental company that I could not drive a car up to Pittsburgh the day before (and in hindsight that really was for the better), I decided that I’d take the train up there instead. I had a friend’s family pre-wedding party to get to and I just couldn’t be late!  

When I walked into the bathroom up to the sink to brush my teeth, I could not believe what I was looking at. There in the mirror was me, but a little different than the one from the day before. I had scratches and bruises over my face and on inspecting the rest of my body I found various other ones dotted about that I could not account for.  

That’s all you’re getting!  

My friend came through after hearing me shuffle about and could only laugh. He remembered, all right. To cut a long story short, I apparently disappeared for 20 or 30 minutes in the night (as would often happen when out drinking back in the day) and came back looking like this. While I didn’t have much time to ruminate on that at the time, this was one of those things that put me off heavy drinking forever. Eventually anyway. For now I had a wedding to get to and couldn’t be bogged by those thoughts quite just yet!  

Scrambling to get ready and making sure I had everything, we jumped into my friend’s car and he rushed me down to the station (I was able to at least drive past the steps). We said our goodbyes and then I ran into the station, suitcase trailing behind me. I looked at the timetable and saw that there was just over ten minutes until the train was scheduled to leave. Perfect! Or so I thought… I walked quickly up to the window and asked the lady for a ticket to Pittsburgh. She looked at me rather derisively. ‘Passport, please,’ was all she said. Passport! Passport! I cried (internally). ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know I needed it,’ because why the hell would you? ‘It’s in my suitcase…’ I started saying and she flat out said that I wasn’t ready and she wouldn’t sell me a ticket. I tried to argue that there was still time, but she wasn’t have any of it. I gave her the middle finger (internally. I’ll admit that sounds a bit dodgy but you know what I mean) and sat down on one of the benches. Despite the harrowing situation I was in, I did notice that the station was actually quite nice. I never really put America down for its train stations, but it wasn’t bad at all. I obviously wasn’t in the mood to take a picture, so here is one I stole.  

It’s quite lovely, isn’t it?  

Pretty stations aside, I just had to get to Pittsburgh. I tried another car rental place and they told me the same thing as the other (my American friend told me they were probably lying) and so I frantically messaged my friend to see what we can do. Well, there was only one thing for it. Greyhound. Now to anyone who is not American or hasn’t spent much time there, this probably doesn’t mean much to you. But whenever I mention that I took a Greyhound coach the reaction is always the same. A sort of squirm or contortion in the face. For the British people out there, it’s basically a worse version of National Express coaches. After receiving directions from my friend, I made my own way to the nearest station through some questionable parts of the city. I may have not had much time, but I couldn’t help but take a picture of this: 

Tickets purchased, I waited until my bus was shouted out by one of the ladies there and we all got on board. I was sat next to a delightful fellow who was approximately twice my size who took a good quarter of my seat space. I didn’t say anything, of course. With one change, more shouting, and various service stations along the way (most people were buying drinks and snacks. I had the added items of plasters and Neosporin to my list to patch up my face), I soon realised that I was not going to make it on time. It was getting later and later and with delay after delay, I crumbled and told my friend I wasn’t going to make the family party and would have to get a hotel. Well this time I was thankfully in the same time zone as the day before and also on the same day so I was able to book a room at the Hotel Inn Express, ready for my arrival in Pittsburgh.  

A poor photo of my hotel room.  

I do think that overall Americans are very nice people. The only Americans I’d properly met until now were all abroad, and they are certainly a different breed of their own, as with any country national, I suppose. More worldly for one thing! The lady at reception of this hotel was certainly nice but not the worldliest of Americans. When I gave her my passport to check in, she was very impressed by my UK passport and from a friendly ‘good evening’ and a few other exchanged words she thought that she would take it upon herself to guess where I was from. She looked at me and my passport a couple of times with real concentration on her face. I could hear the clogs spinning around in her mind.  

‘Ireland?’  

The next morning I checked out and made my way to my next hotel (that I had properly booked in advance for the wedding), the Sheraton, which was conveniently located right next to the venue for the evening – a boat!  

But still with some time to spare until the festivities, I went into the city centre to have a wander and do some sightseeing. I started off at Andy Warhol Museum and then popped into a restaurant from some beers and lunch. I was lucky that they kindly took my UK driver’s licence as ID as I’d left my passport in the hotel!  

A few beers and a burger later, I continued my wanderings and remembered I needed to pick up a shirt for the real event which was happening the next day. On my way back to the hotel I came across a tailor. I went in and asked for a shirt and they measured me at which point the tailor said, quite candidly: 

‘Shit, man. You got a small neck!’ A bit different to what you’d get in the UK.  

I wasn’t sure how to react, but in the end I was able to get a shirt and all was well. I didn’t have any other plans for this day other than going out for dinner at a local restaurant bar and getting to know some of the locals. Sometimes with British card does one wonders and makes it easier to start a conversation and get a little attention. There was a lot to do in the coming days, so I thought it best to go back to the hotel to get some rest.  

Can you see Saruman?

The next morning I went down to the hotel pool for a quick dip to swim off the hangover, which worked a charm. Today was the day of the first of two big events: a boat party around the waters of Pittsburgh! There was still a whole day of light before then, so today I thought that down to my love of baked beans, what better place to go than the Heinz Museum! Yes! There is a Heinz Museum in Pittsburgh. Who knew? I didn’t. But it was as equally fantastic as it was surprising. It wasn’t all baked beans and tomato ketchup but also a look into the history of slavery in the US and what a big part Pittsburgh played in the eventual abolishment of it all those years ago. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, I would really recommend it! Coincidentally I am reading a book on the abolishment of slavery at the moment and Pittsburgh came up a few times and I had one of those ‘I’ve been there!’ moments.  

Come the evening it was finally time to hop on the boat. I thought I’d be a bit nervous at an event like this, but alcohol really does solve a lot of those problems. It certainly helped to have my friend and his wife there but otherwise I was surrounded by people whom I’d never met, some of which were well aware of who was. One of my few claims to fame is my television appearance on House Hunters International, and there were a few people who recognised me from there (and I think my friend told some of them I was!), which helped as an icebreaker and it all rather funny really. I met a lot of great people that night. The downside is I haven’t had a boat party since then and I’d have one every weekend if I could! The ride itself was fantastic and seeing the whole of city from the water at night time was a real treat, especially Orthanc.  

We’ve now reached the last stretch of the holiday. The wedding day! I treated myself to a lie-in today, as I knew there wasn’t much else I would likely end up doing in Pittsburgh with the time I had. So the last thing for me to do before the wedding was to check out a local supermarket and grab some snacks and treats to take back with me.  

A very blurry picture of some of the stuff I brought back. Let’s hope immigration don’t have anything to say about it… 

Come the evening it was time for celebration. This was the main purpose of my trip to America and I was so happy that I had been able to get here on time, despite all the problems I had with getting myself there. I believe my friend’s father referred to me as ‘resourceful’ or something along those lines. I’ll take it! With my new shirt on, all suited up and a dabbing of Neosporin on my cut-up face (which by this point was thankfully already on the mend), it was time to get a little teary at the ceremony and take advantage of the open bar.  

The ceremony itself was very short but as I usually start blubbering as soon as I sit down, I think it’s usually the shorter the better for me! More time to drink, talk and dance with the locals. And that I did. As with any wedding I go to, there is always… an interested party and this wedding was no exception, which made the evening all the more enjoyable. Many drinks were drunk and dances danced under the watchful eye of the relatives and the celebrations went on into the late hours of the night until it was time for us all to go our separate ways and say goodbye.  

Weddings are a funny thing really. It’s one of the rare events that I’ll go to that one meets so many people from different walks of life that have all come together to celebrate the relationship between two people. It’s such heavy burst of socialising, often with people whom you’ll never see again and for many including myself, is a very emotionally charged affair. Nonetheless, it remains probably my favourite social event of them all and I can’t wait for the next one!  

Then came my final day in America. Having mastered the art of booking an Uber, I hopped in and was driven to the nearest airport to make my final trek back to Japan. Thankfully very few issues this time, but as I arrived at Centrair Airport in Japan, one of the ground staff looked at very suspiciously as I ran for my suitcase, looking incredibly tired and scarred. After a very awkward exchange of glances, I ran off to immigration as I needed to get the train. Immigration was then equally as suspicious of me and asked me a lot more questions than normal and even checked my suitcase! After double and triple checking my documents and closing my suitcase, he let me through and off I ran again for the train home.  

Job done.  

In closing, I’d like to finish by expressing how much I enjoyed America. Having not been there since I was a child, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my trip there. While the country is massive and I explored only a small portion of it, I think I got a good taste of what it’s like and given any opportunity to go back, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat.  

See you again soon, I hope!  

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