In the Thick of It

With one week to go, the nature of our trip has changed a lot. We’ve gone from itinerant dwellers and lone travellers to cohabiters with a group of four others in a flat in LA for an entire week. No more quiet meals and being in bed by 9pm. We’ve been chatting around the table over food and staying up far later than is sensible with a small one.

It’s official, we’re here.

After our arrival, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Once we realised that not having a car in LA was like not having air conditioning (unacceptable), we hired a snazzy green vehicle, strapped her in and set off. I was not expecting what came next. I’ve driven in London, as much as I don’t like it, so a crazy amount of traffic is not new. However, when pulling onto a seven-lane freeway with people swishing in and out of lanes without indicating, I realised that this was going to be a challenge. It was dark, I was tired, and the lane I was in kept turning into an exit, forcing me to cut in every few minutes. When we finally made it to the place we were staying, all I wanted to do was stagger to bed. But there were four other people waiting for us, with food and drinks, expecting conversation. While it seemed a challenge, once we were sat down I realised how much I had missed having company. This was the end of our solo adventure.

Checking out the safety card on flight number 17

These changes were very strange, but very welcome. It felt so odd to have more than one person to talk to in the morning, or to be asked about what I’d been doing. We’ve shared everything, so that has become a completely defunct question.

In some ways, I worry that being away from other people for so long has tainted my ability to be thoughtful. It simply didn’t occur to me to make more than enough coffee for two people, or that I should offer to make things for dinner, or get other people a drink when I got one for myself. This is something I may have to work on. I know that having a baby is a reasonable excuse to be selfish, but it may have limited mileage.

Corn dogs. Not advisable.Is that you, David?

If there was somewhere that was going to provide an enormous contrast to our quiet existence as a family of three, the Fourth of July in LA would definitely be it. We did a slight warmup in a bar watching the England v Colombia match (we were the only ones cheering at the end) which gave us some sense of what it might be like, but I’m not sure anything could have prepared us for the extravaganza that was about to hit us on a Wednesday night.

Palm trees? Check. Big shiny buildings? Check. Hello, LA

Compared to Europe, it’s fair to say that the US is loud. And, in some ways, invasive. I don’t expect people to ask me how my day is going when I buy a cup of coffee, or make small talk while I’m buying a ticket for something. I’m sure I come across as a stiff Brit when I balk at these questions or stutter over my response. It’s not my fault I’ve been raised in a country where overt familiarity is treated with suspicion.

Oh, but it was lovely. Taking time over dinner, sitting around and chatting, being able to share our adventures with others or just talk about current events. I’ve always been gregarious, but I was surprised to find just how much I’d missed having conversations with other people. Before we left, our opportunities to hang out with others became fairly diminished thanks to the arrival of the small person, but I’d still had plenty of time interacting with others. The good news is that both my social skills and my French don’t seem to have atrophied too much.

Hanging out on Hollywood Boulevard

Just when we thought we had adjusted to our new social existence, the biggest holiday in the US calendar arrived. I’d had a couple of ‘Britsgiving’ occasions back home, but that was just a matter of sitting with some friends and eating. I didn’t quit realise just what Independence Day meant this side of the Atlantic.

In preparation for the celebrations, we bought a lot of beer, meat and salads covered in mayonnaise, which fitted pretty well with what I imagined a party in the US was like. As the afternoon wore on, the guests started to arrive. I had spent the first half of the week talking mostly in French, so luckily I was reasonably well equipped for the French speaking guests, and our nine weeks in Latin America also turned out rather useful for the Spanish speaking contingent. There was sangria, ribs, ceviche, hot dogs and Budweiser – a real cultural mix.

Getting into the mood…

It wasn’t until the sky started to dim that things really took off. What we hadn’t realised was just how exuberant the local neighbourhood got at this time of year. While there had been a few stray fireworks interrupting the calm skies (and upsetting the baby as we carried her into the house), this was nothing compared to what was coming.

First there were a few bright circles of colour further away, just visible through the tree in the front garden. After a while, they started to get closer. Someone behind the house was obviously getting their party started, as a barrage of colour and sound lit up the sky. Then, right next door, a cavalcade of family members lined up along the street and placed launchers on the floor. They counted down from three, and huge rockets exploded barely a few feet from the safety of the garden we were standing in.

Who needs Disneyland?

And then it had begun. From the front, the left, the right, behind; everywhere you looked there was a new firework. Some squeaked, some fizzled, some rushed into the sky with a whoosh and then tumbled coloured stars over our heads.

The neighbours pulled rockets, firecrackers and enormous sparklers out. There was even an actual cannon in their arsenal. Each time it came out there was a cry of ‘cannon!’ followed by the younger ones putting their fingers in their ears. The sound was not just heard but felt, rattling bones as it shook the ground.

In scenes reminiscent of Wayne’s World, there were shouts of ‘car!’ every time one was approaching. They honked their horns in appreciation and waved out of the window. Before long, we’d started chatting to the pyrotechnic neighbours, who, it turned out, were continuing a long tradition in their family by shaking up the neighbourhood. If we wanted to catch the next show, all we needed to do was be there on New Year’s Eve.

Amazingly enough, the baby didn’t wake up!

Needless to say, this was an enormous difference to the previous week. Evenings had been spent sitting quietly while the little one slept, perhaps reading a book or watching something online before turning the light off between 9 and 10pm.

Contrast always highlights difference. Only once we’d immersed ourself in the company of others and experienced this extremely loud party did I realise just how quiet our lives had been before. Far from losing my voice, I found that I had an urge to communicate, to talk, to tell people about the things we’d been doing and the experiences we had. There are some drawbacks. The bags under my eyes are testament to the lack of sleep resulting from late-night conversations. But my brain and body feel invigorated by the human contact. Plus, there’s something to be said for having other people around to entertain the baby.

Happy to back in the thick of it!

All in all, I’m enjoying my return to the world of others, even if I hope that there will also be some quiet moments and earlier nights in the not-too-distant future.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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