#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 2
(Click here for Segment 1)
I arrive at Mall of America’s The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and find there’s space at the bar for me and my wheeled suitcase, so I settle in as the petite, raspy-voiced bartender tells me she’ll make me an iced tea with some kind of peach vodka in it. I agree to it, and it’s one colossal peachy drink that I’d never order on my own and I love it immediately for that.
I spend the afternoon eating shrimp cocktail with my peach drink and watching Forrest Gump on the bar TV. It’s amazing not to need to be anywhere and I soak in the feeling of “I’m exactly where I need to be.” I chat a little with the other bar patrons about their work and tell them I’m embarking on a road trip to see Trampled by Turtles in Colorado. They don’t know the band–which is a crime—but they tell me to go see the “giant ball of string,” which everyone adamantly says is in Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa. Turns out, they’re all pretty much right. [Over the course of the next few days, I find out there’s the world’s largest/second largest ball of string (collected by one man), string (collected by a community), and twine, and they’re in Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota.] Regardless, knowing my friend and travel companion, Brent, giant string is already on the itinerary along with a lot of other roadside attractions. Yes, with the uncanny and timely release of the newest Vacation movie into theaters, this is about to be a “Holiday Road” kind of trip.
Brent sends a message that he’s done with work and nearing the Mall. I pay my tab and head for the specified parking ramp. We meet up, hug, and finally say hello. It’s the first time in months that we’ve spoken out loud. Even planning this last-minute trip has all been done via message, and that has only added to the mystical nature of travel.
We head out to dinner, and he drives to the Surly Brewing Company in St. Paul, which is bustling with people between the main floor beer hall, the grassy courtyard outside, and the upstairs where a private party is going on.
We sidle up to the bar and he points out that one of the taps is labeled #Merica!
We guess that it’s a lager, and it is. We chat with the bartender about coconut porter made at the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh and never mention our upcoming road trip. I’m wearing a Captain America t-shirt, and the bartender (and everyone else all day) calls me Captain. I feast on a fantastic smoked salmon salad and farro salad with poached egg and wash it down with the Cacao! Bender.
When we finish dinner, Brent and I sit outside on the grassy knolls and watch people come and go with their beer. It’s a mixed crowd of after-office attire and pre-fall hipster layers mingling easily. I like this place.
We stare up at the big Surly sign and I say that we need a tour name. “We can’t just jump in the car without a name for the trip,” I say. Here we are, having cleared our work schedules for the week ahead, Brent from his code-writing job where he tells computers what to do, and me from my writing and waiting tables gigs, though truth be told, the writer brain never shuts off, and here we’ve no name for what we’re doing other than “road trip.” Writers name things. We need a name.
“What kind of name?” Brent asks.
“I don’t know,” I speculate. “The Great West Tour, or Trampled by Turtles or Bust, or…”
Brent smiles, “Or, the #Merica Tour,” he says. Brent has a way of getting right to the heart of things in very few words—he, and Hemingway. It’s too bad about Brent’s computer career thing because he’d be a great writer.
“The #Merica Tour,” I say. “That’s exactly it.”
And so it is.