Jorge and I landed in the USA mid-June. Per typical summer protocol, we were instantly swept up in a tornado of Midwestern fun, revelry, cookouts, and camping trips. Things have slowed down slightly, though not much, and I can’t complain. Being home is so special to me, made sweeter by the taste of missing the damn place so much.
In getting re-acquainted with the sights, smells, and language of home, I thought I’d share some of my favorite moments since returning. Some moments that really reminded me that I’m in Ohio, and that, for better or for worse, this is where I’m from.
1. Awkward compliments about my hair. I’ll be the first to admit that most people don’t know what dreadlocks are. I know this because most people ask me about them, fully admitting their ignorance in either baffling or hilarious disclaimers that only offend me some of the time. From being asked if I’ve ever found insects living in my head (I haven’t) to what percentage of the dreads are made of yarn (0%), sometimes I think I’ve heard it all when it comes to dread-speak. But then comes Mr. Drunk Ohio Guy at the bar the other night. Ruddy and happy on his artisan beers at the Small City Taphouse, he leans over to me while I’m waiting (patiently) to order my Malbec.
“That’s a heck of a weave you got up there,” he says, grinning, eyebrows wiggling in the direction of my hair, which is piled unceremoniously on top of my head in something akin to the Marge Simpson hairstyle. I look at him, expression somewhere between Complete Confusion and Distant Amusement. I try to speak several times, but nothing comes out. A weave? For real? That’s not even…but…OK. Whatever.
Finally, I say, “These are dreadlocks. It’s my actual hair. But, thanks, I guess?” He laughs, a little relieved, and says, “Well I don’t know what you call them. I just wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or if you were gonna hit me.”
His expression is endearing; he means well. He offered me a compliment using the only word he could muster; a weave. Thanks for trying, Drunk Ohio Bar Guy. I appreciate the compliment. And I told him so, before leaving with my glass of Malbec.
2. Unsolicited advice about cruises. I went to a wine tasting the other night at a local wine shop. It was my first wine tasting in the USA, but after hosting a wine club in my own house for 6 months back in Valparaiso, Chile, I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold a candle. I mean, inviting backpackers and vagabonds into my home space to share hand-picked, South American wines curated by one of my best friends? How could I ever top the fun and conversations?
What the Ohio-based wine tasting lacked in South American wine diversity (re: it had none) it made up for in interesting vegan food accompaniments and amazing music played by talented musician friends. And, in terms of unexpected conversations on the heels of a few varietals, it didn’t disappoint.
Before I left the tasting that evening, another attendee and I began chatting because of his curiosity about what my t-shirt meant, which led to conversations about where Jorge is from, why are we here, etc. Once some travel chatter had come and gone, he asks, “Have you ever been on a cruise?”
“They aren’t really my style,” I tell him, “but I’d like to go on at least one someday, just to try. Besides, I hear you can get some really good prices!”
“Oh yeah, you can,” he says. “You know how? Go during hurricane season.”
I stare at him a moment, wondering if I’ve misheard him or missed a necessary piece of sarcasm. But he wasn’t kidding.
“If you go during hurricane season,” he says, “not only are the prices rock-bottom, you also have the chance that they’ll completely re-route the trip in order to avoid the hurricane. So if you’re up for a little adventure, that’s the way to go.”
He and his wife do this whenever they can. I’m inclined to take his advice. Because, hey—if you’re gonna go on a cruise, might as well add a dimension of terror and spontaneity to it.
3. Dealing with tornadoes. Three days after landing in Ohio and settling into my childhood home in Sandusky, Jorge and I are lounging in the guest bedroom, caught somewhere between jet lag and exhaustion from unpacking. It’s been raining on and off since we got home, with some impressively ominous storm clouds lurking on the horizon. Jorge, who is from a part of the world that doesn’t see tornadoes with any regularity, can tell that some of these storm clouds mean business.
“That sky over there looks pretty bad,” I tell him, nodding toward the particular swell of garish black cumulonimbus cloud. “It’s easy to tell if the weather will get weird, here. There’s something in the air that changes. You can just feel it.”
“So what happens if there is a tornado? How do you know?”
“A siren will go off,” I say. “That basically means run to your basement and hang out until the funnel cloud goes away.”
“Funnel cloud? You can actually see it?”
As if on cue, the curdling wail of the siren picks up. We look at each other; tension spikes in the air. We rush downstairs to find my father, who is looking out the back door and into the sky.
“Just keep an eye out for funnel clouds, basically,” I say, straining to see if the clouds are doing anything interesting.
“But it looks calmer now,” Jorge says. The winds had been a little boisterous before, but the world beyond our screen door featured a calmer scene. An eerie tranquility. “Maybe it’s going away.”
“That’s what we call the calm before the storm,” my dad says, his voice punctuated by the shrieking wail of the siren. “That’s when you know things might really go bad.”
Luckily, we didn’t see any funnel clouds, evacuate into the basement, or have a tornado touch down. But it’s a pretty spooky introduction—Tornado 101, if you will—for the foreigner visiting Ohio.