My First Time in America.
It began with the Old Hollywood Glamour movies.
Steady, subliminal flow into our living rooms with its perfected and glossy images of The Wizard of Oz set on repeat at Christmastime. Before language could be articulated, read, spelled. We saw, heard, and were mesmerized by America’s cultural magic.
Habitually sitting in front of the television, consuming chuckle-a-minute Walt Disney cartoons, followed by that special sitcom: Diff’rent Strokes. The heyday of 1980s’ childhood entertainment.
A Disney-colored land full of big dreams with the convenience of no barrier of language. Stateside secret sauce filtering and diluting through the Atlantic pond like an experiment with chromatography.
Habits, slang, ideas, thinking did stick. The UK was flatteringly known as a top copycat. And on a superficial level, Britons smile at Americans’ awesome drawl and this is reciprocated by the admiration of our clipped British accents.
Endless and progressing into our teen years, when Nirvana arrestingly arrived. Raw, groundbreaking music driven by lyrics from Cobain’s inner life. We could relate.
The revealing, cleverly-crafted books of Carrie Fisher, brutally honest poetry of Charles Bukowski, and softly strong lines of Maya Angelou. They extended our fertile imagination and opened minds and hearts.
“We wanted a bit of this, America!”
And for generations we crossed like flocks of culture-hungry seagulls to taste the special ingredients and grow within the Petri dish of America. Except me. I had waited.
The pining subsided when a friend suggested travelling to Los Angeles, California.
There is, of course, the adage: the longer you wait for something, the more you appreciate it. It was not enough to have American friends, who see, we, doused in heritage, have something that appeals to their newer, reinvented, more maneuverable minds.
On a dismal, auspicious day in London, clandestinely slipping between time zones, a journey of ambition was realized.
Hurtled on the wide, fierce freeways to our motel by a quiet American driver, whose actions spoke more than his words. A friend of a friend. His Do it! motto very fitting, as he never failed us in his hospitality. Not once.
Scarcely any roundabouts, heaving vehicles on Scalextric road layouts, and our driver commenting that other drivers follow each other like herds.
It was November, a great getaway month, the Californian sun’s glare resulting in me having my sunglasses permanently fixed around my head throughout the holiday.
Nowhere on earth have I been wished a blessed day by an employee at Food 4 Less and then, some might say, a serendipitous meeting which shattered perspectives and circumstances.
In true Hollywood-style and feeling exalted by the occasion and larking about, my good friend burst into song: “I have a dream… I’ll cross the stream…”
I named the tune as the hugely popular Abba’s, and magnetically other tinsel-people started to home in on us.
A sweet, intelligent, displaced woman duetted with him and name-dropped Kenny Rogers and Julie Andrews as acquaintances. A heavily pregnant woman, introducing herself as Coco, a famous rapper, walked past, my friend inviting her to join in. Coco dismissed the request, after noting her credentials with a sunny smile.
Attention turned to me, when I conversed with the down-on-her-luck American, as I explained this was my first time in America.
The response that came my way stayed like an imprint of her spirit on my soul: “I hope everyone is treating you with love and respect.” How powerful, natural, generous, unexpected when knowing was all she could give.
Our affection between our small island and this vast land is evidently real. Further conversation revealed that she had never flown to the UK, but had always wanted to visit Westminster Abbey, where people close to me had been to an event only a week ago.
Unlike many of these desperate souls, I understood that this woman was being cared for by a local church.
Far removed from this scene and plight, a swanky, hip shop announced: Shift happens.
My extended summer also took in a young, streetwise man praying on a public bench. I hope he was taken care of too.
Our very accommodating driver, and Sam, who we met on the Subway and was saving up for a trip to Europe, including the UK, had never visited my country but showed us warmth and affection.
These friendly exchanges that cost us nothing, pivotal and ephiphanic eye-opening experiences that would stay, anchored the hook that will make me return, as was predicted.
America did not disappoint. If I could share the wonderful anticipation and impending excitement of this trip to those who needed to feel a natural high, I would. The country subtly shook up my world, made me glad of living, and my wiring adjusted slightly. But most of all, it makes me wonder how we link, fit together, how different we are, and how we collect valuable pieces from each other in our living.
Keri France is a sensitive and strong soul, who believes in the power of creativity for personal growth. If you sometimes feel you have been on the brink of success, despair, sadness, Keri has been there too. She believes in creating opportunities for herself, being enriched by experiences, and writing down her thoughts on what she has learned in the process. With a voice-over demo, collection of her own artwork, and now writing, she knows a good life is a creative life.