It was as if every movie I’d seen as a kid had dropped into my lap in glorious Smell-O-Vision.
This is America, not the place I’d seen in RoboCop or The Burbs, but the place I knew from Harry and The Hendersons. This British kid, now a man - in the world of his movie youth.
I’d never flown Delta before and the plane touched down in SeaTac after a decent 8hr ride from Amsterdam. Nice enough food, nice enough people. The first ground-based American I spoke to was a 5ft Chinese guy who I couldn’t understand. It said, “Immigration” under his name tag.
After the Chinese/American fella stamped some shit and fingerprinted some shit, I was free to leave. Down the staircase lined with chrome handrails, past the baggage carousel - toward another staircase - this time going up.
Who the fuck designs these airports? You spend more time going up and down elevators, escalators, travelators, and staircases until you feel airsick just being on the ground.
It felt like home. America felt like home.
The first American I saw who I recognised was Trish, the girlfriend - waiting for me. We kissed and hugged and walked to her Silver Mercury Sable, not a car I’d ever seen before in the flesh. The grey-man-mobile peeled out of the car park and yet again we are spiraling downward to ground level. Am I trapped in some sort of David-Bowie-style Labrinth? A life of continuous elevation change and disorientation.
We talked a lot on the 45-minute drive from Seatac to Gig Harbor. The place the locals lovingly call “The Harbor”. We passed a giant erect nipple on the way - the locals call it The Tacoma Dome. I think the Seatac Tit has a better ring to it.
Note to self, email the Tacoma Dome marketing department and suggest Seatac Tit.
Now we are coming to a bridge, Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Gliding through what I assumed was countryside since in this part of America you’re acres away from your neighbor. No, this is a suburb. This is Olympic, Wollachet, Purdy, and now left over the spit toward Creviston Drive and a lonely-looking Burger King.
Since 2013, the burger king has gained some neighbors.
Pulling into the Airbnb of a British ex-pat cake maker, she showed us to the rental. I’d rented a hotel room in Omaha, Nebraska, circa 1987. The TV was so old it took a while to warm up the first time I used it. VHS player, toaster oven - single hot plate. My dreams had all come true. Not only had I met a hot American chick I’d also signed into a hotel room reminiscent of a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles stop-off.
All I needed now was John Lithgow in a Ford Country Squire to take me to the local grocery store and leave with a brown paper bag overflowing with brands I don’t recognize.
My initial adventure in Gig Harbor looked like a laundry list of shit kids do when the parents leave. We fucked first, showered second, thirdly she offered to drive me around and see the sights.
By sights, she meant Panda Express, pretty good. I don’t know of any chain food outlet in the U.K. that serves Chinese food.
You know you’re in America when you park up at Fred Meyer and you see a pickup truck that has a just-dragged-from-a-lake look about it. Mold inside the windows and leaf chunks in the windshield gutter.
The local hobo on his annual visit to “the store” to fetch pancake mix and a heady cocktail of liquor, pain meds, and the latest issue of “Big Ass Truck”. I’m not sure if such a publication exists, I hope it does.
America loves a good truck. They don’t exist in the U.K. except for the odd utility company vehicle and maybe the odd modern-day gorilla-bro trying to outdo his Lamborghini driving peers.
If you can’t fight, wear a big hat - that’s the saying.
In England a truck feels jaded, it feels a bit try-hard. Here in the U.S., it feels normal. It feels like a pair of warm gloves you lost eight years ago and now and suddenly found. You could just get a better, newer pair - but the old pair feels right.
Some people like a vehicle with half of the vehicle open to the rain of Washington State.
I don’t want it - but I understand why.
The problem with coming from a culture where they copy a lot of shit from another culture is that you always feel like you’re playing catch up. Truth is, I prefer American culture. I prefer the standup comedy; I prefer the movies; I prefer the language and the vibe.
There’s no worse feeling than feeling out of place in the place you’re in. There’s a part of me still there in Gig Harbor. There’s a part of me that will never leave. There’s a part of me that even now, having been away since 2016 - can still hear the beat-up black mid-nineties Civic that haunts the stretch of road between The Purdy Spit and the Chevron gas station just before Creviston.
There’s a part of me that can still hear the dickflap at The Keeping Room argue over an umbrella. We asked him where we could buy one; he kept insisting we should already have one. And we shouldn’t go around asking locals for such information.
We bought nothing from his store. He’s closing down soon, anyway.
People are above all, characters - Shakespeare said that. If the Gig Harbor population were a character, they’d be Ned Flanders.
Gentlefolk who just want to mow a lawn and occasionally make a couple of G-notes on a stock trade. As long as they can get the boat waxed this season and watch Russell Wilson do his thing, it’s all good.
This is Harry and The Hendersons. Hunting is a thing here - the station wagons have made way for giant Korean SUVs and even bigger American versions of the same thing. The women smile and walk their little dogs; the men wear jeans with sneakers and talk about what should or shouldn’t have happened in the 3rd quarter.
I like giant things like Target, I also like that you can get a cup of coffee from a lady in a bikini at a small coffee truck - I don’t want one - but I like that you can. I also like that Halloween is a going concern here and that people dress differently.
In England, you dress like a chav, if you don’t dress like a chav you dress like a person with gainful employment. Those are the two options available.
That’s not the case in Gig Harbor.
Characters exist here. I met some of them. I liked most of them. Leaving is always hard, but then - it’s just another opportunity to come back.