A Uniquely American Experience

September 19, 2010 in North America, Travelogue, United States

I don’t think Ezra could have had a nicer day.  It started the night before, whilst setting the dinner table with Daddy.

“Hey Ez, hand me the napkins… Gracias.”

“Dad!! Don’t call me THAT!”

Daddy, quizzically, “What?”

“You called me a ‘grassy-ass!!’”

Tony giggled. “Hey Ez, how’d you like to go ride some roller coasters tomorrow?” “Will I be big enough for Bizzaro?!” “Wear your new shoes, and we’ll see.”

Becca & me at Six Flags

It really couldn’t have been a more perfect day.  For one serene moment the blue sky with dollops of whipped cream clouds reflected like a Monet in the mirrored surface of the river before we plunged, screaming, down the precipitous drop of Six Flags’ biggest roller coaster.  Ezra emerged electrified, “LET’S DO IT AGAIN!”  And so we did.

In fact, we rode almost everything twice.  There were virtually no lines, for anything.  We decided to pay attention and visit theme parks on “Muslim Family Day” as often as possible.  Not only were most of the usual throngs that clog the park notably missing, the atmosphere was even more “family friendly,” and we spent a pleasant day visiting with the same Mama and four girls while we waited to board rides, I got to practice my little bit of Arabic, and there was even halal food.  Hannah pointed out that I should have brought my head covering from Tunisia, and I wished I had.

Truth be told, the roller coasters were a decoy.

The blue crystal moon rose through the indigo skies and found us sitting on a long row of folding chairs that were zip-tied together.  The children were chattering excitedly to their Dad, listening to the sound check.  Becca, in her new Owl City T-shirt was off in search of refreshment.  I sat, with my eyes closed, and listened.

Ez & me watching the concert

Sound is layered thick, like batting in a quilt, stitched together with patterned lines of laughter at a nighttime fair.  The barkers in the distance, selling their wares, the whirr of the rides, almost drowned out by the shrieking of the riders, the braying of an animal being bedded down for the night, popcorn popping, the din of the chatter of the sea of humanity, ebbing and flowing between booths and buildings and the quiet beat of my own heart.  Smells are embroidered over the sounds, in colorful patches designed to comfort those tucked in beneath: the sweet, sticky scent of cotton candy, layered over manure, right next to the salty buttery popcorn reaching me on a breeze that also delivers the intoxicating cologne of the man two rows up and the bitter lack of the man right in front of me.  State fairs are a uniquely American experience, the Big E, which combines all of the New England states, is no exception.

The screaming started as a wiry young man who notably lacked stage presence and the innate sense of how to end a song took the stage.  What he is good at, he is very good at: weaving word pictures and blending sounds into a sweet, savory mix that is reminiscent of the electric tunes of my childhood and yet something entirely new.

Hannah was mesmerized by the violinist and cellist that joined him on stage.  Ezra sat in the aisle, wide-eyed, and mouthed every word to every song, until he got so tired he crawled into my lap.  Elisha, characteristically, watched everything but the stage and later commented on the lights, the sound guys, the details that the rest of us blend into the whole. I noticed Gabe, at one point, sitting with his head down and his ears covered.  He had a headache.  We were seated in front of two girls who could have broken glass with their vocal chords alone, and I shared his pain.

Owl City

The kids loved the concert.  Not being a massive Owl City fan, I amused myself people watching, inventing particularly torturous ways to remove the screaming parts from the girls seated behind us, watching the lights of the ferris wheel cast a kaleidoscope of colors into the night and inhaling deeply… not for the same reason that one inhales deeply at a Dave Matthews Band concert.

The thing I was trying to bring into my soul and carry off from the night was the Americanness of the moment.  So often I lament the state of our culture, our country and the myriad of negative influences that we bring to the world.  And then, once in a while, the smoke clears and here they are: Americans, in all of their silly, goofy glory, eating fried butter and fried jelly beans, carrying around big cups of lemon shake-up and pretending that the “Opa Opa German Beer Tent” is a culturally broadening experience.  Genuine in their smiles, with hearts as big as the star of Texas.  Every now and then, I just have to love them, to love us.

A few short weeks will find us buying our vegetables from women sitting on reed mats in mercados where the sound quilt includes bronzed hands slapping maize dough into tortilla rounds and the chatter of mayan layered over the cackle of chickens and little children selling candies.  I am looking forward to that, but I don’t want to miss this moment, steeped in the best of America, watching my children swim in their own culture for a while, even though they don’t quite fit… the booth they stopped at first in the fair barn? The booth with international embroidered patches.  We’re still looking for Tunisia… and we found it!  At a fair in Massachusetts, of all places, but they only had one, so we decided to wait until we find four… “Tunisia is a great country!” the Arab selling the patches exclaimed.  Yes, it is, but there’s no place like home.