There are certain things in the UK (and around the world) that we stereotypically associate as ‘American’. But the United States is an absolutely huge country, so what may be commonplace and typical in one area, say the West, certainly wouldn’t be in Manhattan or Chicago! Nonetheless there are so many things I’ve always wanted to experience that you can only find in America, so here it is – my list of things I’ve always wanted to do and eat and see and finally achieved (and those I never knew I wanted to as well)!
1) Stay in a Motel
There’s something about a motel that is so romantic in my mind, evoking the vintage 50s Americana era and though in reality a lot of the motels are crumbling down a bit now, they still all have that retro feel. I got to stay in one of the beautifully restored motels in Miami- Vagabond Motel – but my first time was actually a little place in Safford, Arizona. I embarrassingly didn’t get the motel etiquette and tried to walk through reception to my room like a normal hotel only to have my friend remind me ‘we’re going to drive there, Sarah‘! Ofcourse.
2) Eat a Corndog
Ever since I watched The Princess Diaries and saw Anne Hathaway hand Julie Andrews a Corn Dog describing it as an absolute must American experience, I’ve wanted to eat eat a corn dog. While staying in Arizona recently I finally managed to cross this one off the list when my friend Eric came back from the grocery store with a bag of them! The first corn dog was pretty awesome, I might even go as far as to say delicious! The second.. made me not like them that much anymore. Too much fried grease. Overall I’d give corn dogs 3 stars out of 5, and I’d recommend only eating one at a time!
3) See Tumbleweed
I have this intense recollection of some sort of animated tumbleweed GIF rolling across the screen on the earliest Windows computers, yet for all the Googling I do, I can’t seem to find any mention of it! Anyway who hasn’t always wanted to see tumbleweed? My first encounter was driving into Geronimo ranch near Rodeo in New Mexico where there was so much tumbleweed caught in the fences that the driveway was almost totally blocked! That was perhaps the most windswept place I’ve been to. Flat land for miles ringed with mountains and nothing but snakes and tumbleweed. It looks a lot less like a big round ball in real life, I guess that makes sense.
4) Try Pecan Pie
Pecan Pie is probably one of the most famous desserts of the deep south, so I’m not quite sure I should cross this off my list just yet as I had it in Arizona, but boy is it delicious!
5) Drink Sweet Ice Tea in the Deep South
Ok, I’ll be honest, most of the Southerners seem to be drinking unsweetened ice tea which I thought was really not that tasty. Once you add 8 packs of sugar to it – back on track! I *may* have become a little addicted…
6) Shoot a Gun
You can’t leave the Wild West without learning to shoot and not only did I learn, I also fell in love with shooting. There’s something about the steady precision, the control over your breathing, even your heartbeat that is infinitely soothing. I can’t imagine any better therapy than target practice. You can read all about my experiences learning to shoot in this post. In a nutshell, turns out I was pretty good at it!
7) Go to Taco Bell
Taco Bell is something I’ve always heard of in books and movies set in America and yet I’ve never been to one. Don’t go. It was terrible! On that note so was iHop, really disappointing! If you want to go and eat at a chain restaurant (which you may not be able to avoid in some places in the States), go to Chick Fil-A. Started in Georgia, their chicken burgers are juicy yet crispy with a uniquely delicious taste. When are you coming to England, Chick Fil-A?
8) Visit a Walmart
Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this one, what an experience! Walmarts are HUGE and they sell all kinds of weird stuff you never knew you wanted, from Cinnabon flavoured vodka (!) to Reese’s cereal and everything in between (namely guns). Too big for my liking though, and they don’t sell fruit rollups (my favourite American sweet) so a bit of a let down. I much prefer Trader Joe’s – a hippy, surfs up kinda grocery chain which sells more than just one type of (plastic) cheese (very unusual in the USA).
9) Figure out what Meatloaf is and try it
I’ve always heard of meatloaf but never thought to Google it to figure out what it actually was! I guess in my head it was like making a normal loaf of bread but adding some meat into the mix. I wasn’t quite right… I’ve had two different meatloaves in the US – a regular one and a Reubens Loaf (sauerkraut in the middle) and I absolutely LOVED them both. I am a meatloaf convert and I’m already pickling cabbage in a mason jar to make my first rubes loaf!
10) Ride in the bed of a Pick up Truck
There’s nothing better for a person who suffers from motion sickness than taking a ride in a pick up truck because it has the al fresco option! Sitting on the side of the truck looking out at the road behind you or ahead to where you’re going, it feels like all the worries in life fade away, it’s just you and the wind in your hair! It’s also a great way to help hitchhikers without being afraid and also to fit a billion people into one truck!
11) Try Grits & Biscuits
I’d always heard of biscuits as being a Southern thing, but never exactly knew what they are. I now have the answer folks – they’re slightly saltier English scones! And instead of smothering them with jam and clotted cream, you eat them with your main meal, your steak, your fried chicken… your grits! Grits in my opinion are deconstructed polenta. Porridge, but with corn pieces instead of oats. An inoffensive and filling side to your meal. I can’t say I’m in love with grits, but I don’t mind them. If you’d like to learn how to make biscuits, check out this recipe by 82 cowboy Joe Cannon who came and taught me how to make them.
12) Ask for Water
Everyone has seen the scene in Love Actually when Colin (Kris Marshall) walks into a bar in Milwaukee and orders a ‘water’ only to have every beautiful girl in the bar flock to his British accent. I didn’t have quite the same effect – more a look of utter confusion as I asked for a ‘wore-tuh’. Eventually after being asked repeatedly whether I was ordering an ‘iced tea’ I had to change my pronunciation to ‘wad-er’. Same thing happened to any one syllable words like ‘dance’ (had to change to ‘day-ance’). It was funny and exciting at first but got old pretty quickly.
13) See a Trump Supporter Sign
Wouldn’t be a trip to America without seeing a Trump sign, and I got my first sighting in New Mexico. After that, as I travelled through Louisiana, Florida and Georgia, the Trump supporters became the norm.
14) Eat Prickly Pear Ice Cream
Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to eat Prickly Pear ice cream. My father’s old university friend who lived in Phoenix would tell me of the cacti in his garden, of eating rattlesnake and making prickly pear ice cream. While I was staying at Cold Creek Ranch, I tried some of Jean’s delicious prickly pear sorbet served with sour cream. It was pure purple bliss! I only wish we had prickly pears here so I could keep up my cactus habit. On another note, prickly pear syrup (which is used to make the sorbet) is the best margarita ingredient you’ll ever find!
15) (Attempt to) eat Gator
Gator – the well known nibble of the South which is frankly not worth eating in my opinion. I mean just looking at an alligator should tell you its not going to provide great meat. Leathery, wrinkled and ancient creatures just don’t scream ‘eat me’. I can understand if there’s no other meat around and you’re starving, but otherwise, just no. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t taste bad, it doesn’t really taste of much at all, but when you’ve been chewing for half an hour and it still doesn’t feel any different in your mouth, you’ll realise you made a mistake. My gator meal was part of a dish named ‘Swamp Trash’ I ordered at Port Breaux restaurant in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. I couldn’t resist the funny name which turned out to be gator, crab and shrimp pan fried with some delicious cajun spices. Just be careful with what trash you pick up is all I’ll say!
16) Buy a Drive Thru Daiquiri in Louisiana
America is in love with their drive thrus, it certainly shocked me when I first arrived. Do people not walk anywhere? But with sprawling towns, monster roads and very few sidewalks its no wonder you’re more likely to drink a Starbucks in your car than in the cosy interior we’re all used to in London. Louisiana, however, takes the prize as the state that is famous for its drive thru daiquiri shacks! They get around the ‘no open containers in cars’ rule by serving the drink with a piece of paper at the top of the straw! As neither of us had a car (or can even drive), we asked our Uber driver to stop by one while we were in Lafayette and he happily obliged.
The menu was insane, over 50 flavours and all bizarre and not particularly helpful (Crawgator anyone? Or how about a Tropical Itch?) Eventually we picked ‘Swampwater’ – inspired by our local surroundings and the fact that we’d just had the aforementioned ‘Swamp Trash’ for dinner. Turns out Swampwater flavour is Satsuma as the satsuma trees grow all over the swamps! Boy was it strong and the brain freeze is real! But overall one of my favourite drinks and experiences! If only we had then in London.. although they’d have to be hot daiquiris or we’d all die of cold.
17) Eat a real steak
I’ve never been a big fan of steaks (or any big cuts of meat that aren’t simmered in a sauce or a stew). Arizona changed that all around, the problem you see, was just that I’d never had a good steak! For all those people who think the steaks at Goodman or Hawksmoor in London are top steaks, you haven’t tried an Arizona cowboy cooked slab of Wagyu beef. Joe Cannon has spent almost every day of his 82 years on this earth making steaks and eating them. When he’s not doing that, he’s raising cattle. No one knows how to make a steak quite like a cowboy does. My introduction to hickory smoked prime rib at Tyler’s in Clifton was an experience I’ll never forget.
18) Listen to Jazz on the Streets of New Orleans
When you think of New Orleans you think of jazz, and for all the fancy jazz bars you can go to, the best jazz is in the streets and in those little neighbourhood bars you’ll never hear of unless you’re staying with a local. It doesn’t disappoint, I’ve never heard street music this good, it’ll have you dancing away in no time at all!
19) See a Confederate Flag
In the South it’s hard not to see a Confederate flag! First I spotted was while driving around in New Mexico, and then I just kept seeing them everywhere. It’s so easy to forget that Texas was once independent and that at another time Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were all part of Mexico. America is so huge and has such an immense history that to be honest I just know nothing about. I shall have to read up more on the American Civil War I think.
20) Visit a Liquor Store (and drink the liquor from a Brown Paper Bag)
Last Chance Liquor – I couldn’t quite figure why this place was called this. Last chance before what? It was near the border of Arizona, so maybe last chance before you get unknown liquor? Who knows but I couldn’t quite get over the novelty of liquor stores being an actual thing and not being able to buy alcohol in the supermarket or corner store like back home. The brown paper bag was exciting too!
21) Worship at a Southern Baptist Service
Finally, this last one wasn’t ever on a ‘list’ as such, but you do hear so much about the gospel style southern services. There isn’t really a Southern Baptist community in the UK or Europe (I guess because we’re not the South) so while I was staying in Georgia I tagged along on Sunday to the service. It wasn’t what I was expecting, a lot more traditional and formal and not all that different from my childhood of Catholic Mass (minus the priest in robes, the incense and the wine). I rather liked it though and had a long conversation with my friends about the fundamental differences between Baptists and Catholics, and what they said made a lot more sense.
Though I have done plenty while away on my travels, there are still a number of experiences on my list of things to do in America:
– Visit a Saloon Bar
– Try some ‘Mountain Oysters’ (calf testicles)
– Go to a Rodeo
– Visit an Indian Reservation
Have you had any ‘All American experiences’ that you’d add to my list?