Tuesday 23rd September. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
This morning was a pristine Autumn morning in Cincinnati. *Autumn is fall, for you Americans* Brisk would be the word, I guess. It was sunny and not cold, but there was a certain crispness in the air that told me I'd left the south behind, and winter wasn't far around the corner. Erin's street even felt different- it felt like a street in New York or Chicago, so unlike the southern states. The project has entered a new stage, I guess. Everything from here on in will be different.
Erin works flexible hours, and was still in bed *sleepyhead* but I had a challenge to accomplish. Apparently, just outside Cincinnati, in Fairfield, there's a huge international foodstore called Jungle Jim's. A reader had issued me the challenge of procuring from Jungle Jim's a packet of Tim Tams, Australia's favourite chocolate biscuits. *biscuits are cookies, okay* Not a difficult challenge, I figured, and Sarah and Kelli from Jungle Jim's Creative Services Department had been very co-operative in responding to my email . Easy except for the fact that there's no public transport linking Cincinnati to Fairfield.
So I walked the first few miles, soaking up the unique new feeling of autumn. Then I caught a bus, which only got me within four or five miles of Jungle Jim's. I must remember to thank Elton, a guy on the bus who heard me talking to the driver, and leant across and gave me five bucks in case I had to catch a taxi. Then I asked directions from a guy in a carpark, and he gave me a lift right to the door.
Jungle Jim's is like nothing I'd ever seen before! It's a four acre mecca of foods from all over the world, many of which I doubt could be found anywhere else in the country. They stock over 1600 types of cheese, 1000 varieties of hot sauce, and the produce department? It covers an acre and a half. I just noticed in their brochure that they sell kangaroo meat. If I'd known that when I was there, I would have picked up a couple of 'roo steaks to share with Erin. And if you think Jungle Jim's is big now, wait until the current expansion is completed- boasting a bigger produce department, bigger delicatessen and bigger liquor department, in case you can't find a beer you like from the 850 beers and 8500 wines already on offer!
I announced myself at customer services, and was informed that the gals from Creative Services were busy at the moment. If I wanted to go browse around, they'd page me when Sarah or Kelli were free. So I set off in no particular direction, past huge tanks of live fish, displays of Korean melons, Israeli lychees, durian fruit, and aisles of strange spices and condiments. The fire engine seemed fitting, mounted above a massive wall of hot sauces. The Australian section was tucked in alongside the English section, but it didn't take long to find the Tim Tams. Just then, over the PA system, echoed "Stephen Savage please return to Customer Services."
"G'day mate" Sarah greeted me with her best pretend Aussie accent. She and Kelli walked me around the store and explained all about the Jungle Jim's experience. They shouted me a couple of packets of Tim Tams and a little jar of Vegemite, and then Kelli suggested that I might be able to meet Jungle Jim himself. Great!
It seemed Jim wasn't really in the mood for visitors, and I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Kelli was speaking to him from the doorway of his office, but I couldn't see him or hear him from where I stood.
"Excuse me Jim, do you have a minute?"
"Just to meet someone."
How could I not hear his answer?
"Just a quick introduction. It won't take a second"
Finally, Jim must have given in, because Kelli stepped back away from the doorway as if he was coming out. I imagined he was annoyed at being disturbed. He appeared in the doorway, and I recognized his face from the brochure. I stepped forward, in my short pants and tshirt, with windblown hair. The millionaire businessman cast me a dismissive glance, and sneered "I'm not talking to him" and disappeared back into his office.
Can you imagine how I felt for that split second, before Jungle Jim whirled back around and came towards me with his hand outstretched, his tanned face beaming. It seems that's his favourite trick for visitors. Cheeky bugger. I was so stunned I even forgot to get a photo with the big guy. All I can say is, it's just as well he gave me a free polo shirt!
The return to Cincinnati was a repeat of the morning. I walked, hitchhiked and caught a bus. There were a couple of hours spare for me to catch up on computer work, before Erin got home from work. She works in an office not far from her house, and while she had a meeting that night, I set up in her office with my laptop plugged into their DSL cable. Erin wasn't feeling real energetic and was due for an early night, but kindly offered to lend me her car if I wanted to go out. Normally, I wouldn't have. I usually don't feel any need to 'go out', but I did fancy catching up with Sarah, the girl I'd met the previous evening when I first arrived in town. She works as a barmaid in a nearby Scottish themed pub, and had said I should come in and see her. Well, I thought it'd be rude not to, so I jumped in Erin's van and took off. A minute later, I ran back to Erin's front door and called out "Hey, which side of the road do you drive on again?" She screamed something about reconsidering the loan of the car, and I made my exit.
Sarah seemed pleased to see me, so I thought. *but what would I know* It was ten o'clock. She poured me a creamy pint of Boddingtons and politely pretended to be interested in my day's adventures at Jungle Jim's. When Sarah felt she'd fulfilled her obligation to listen to my stories, she returned to tending bar. I started chatting to the guy next to me. He and his two mates are city cops from Toledo, in town for training- drinking training it seemed like. They said that if I come up to Toledo, they'd take me on a 'ride along', watching them bust hookers and crackheads. How cool would that be for the website? At first I didn't think they were serious, but when they gave me their business cards and the Sergeant wrote his mobile phone number on the back, I reckon they were. I'd have to figure out how I could change my schedule to allow me a night in Toledo.
Sarah finished work at about midnight, and we wandered around the corner to Madonna's, a dive bar that happens to be just about the only place open at that hour on a weeknight. We had a couple of beers there, but considered it our cue to leave when the paramedics arrived with a stretcher to remove someone who was passed out across two bar stools. I dropped Sarah back to her place, and found my way back to Erin's. It was 3:30 a.m by the time I got to sleep, and I was to be on the radio at seven. Brrrr...