Potter Goes Americano

We are setting up a tent in 110 degree South Dakota. There is a breeze every eight minutes, and it is just as uncomfortably warm and biting as the sun. We don’t talk, just work through sheets of sweat that drip down our faces. Upon completion of the tent we get back into the car and begin a short, quiet and agreed-upon journey to the steak house we saw on the way into the campsite. It’s been twelve hours of driving and walking around the Badlands in South Dakota. Our lips are dry and cracked and our faces red from the sun.  
When we step into the place, ten minutes later, we are so grateful for air conditioning that we both almost weep. The floor is covered in two inches of sawdust and country music is playing. The wall is draped in American flags and the heads of a variety of unfortunate animals. We become immediately aware that we are in the minority in three areas: we aren’t wearing cowboy hats, our belt buckles are smaller than a goat and our belts are not decorated with any sort of cutting tool (axe, knife, saw). We are seated near a wide window, which reveals a vast, rolling prairie outside darkening under the setting sun.
Everything about this steakhouse is quintessentially American. That is, except us.
“Smashing view, that!” I say.
“My word, Jennings,” Collin says, “haven’t seen a view of that calibre in at least a fortnight.”
“Oh, go on you sorry git,” I say. “Last time shan’t have been any time in recent memory.” I open my menu. “Cracking list, this.”
“Indubitably,” Collin says. We stare at each other in irritation. This was not our idea.
With the arrival of the waitress, we pull it together for a moment. “Haai!” she shouts at us. “How ya doin’?”
“Good.” I say with constraint. Collin nods in agreement, his lips tightly pursed.
“OK,” she realizes that no more is coming from us, so she pulls out her notebook and asks: “Drinks, boys?”
“High Life,” Collin says.
“Me. Also. That.” I agree.
“OK,” she says again, eyeing us with a squint, then she’s off.
“Randy old bird, that one,” I say.
The idea to listen to the Harry Potter books on tape was Collin’s; as was the idea to listen to the British recording as read by the uber-British Stephen Fry. It has taken us a relatively short while (6 hours: a short while in 3-week road trip time) to realize that everything about our driving experience is British. British Stephen Fry reading a Book written by a British woman, who uses all British English grammar, vocabulary and colloquialisms. When not listening to Fry’s Potter, I am reading Chris Moore’s Fool, which is a retelling of King Lear as told by Pocket the Fool’s point of view. Even our GPS voice is that of a saucy computer generated British minx. 
The irony is that on a road trip across the great heartland of the United States, we have now become British. Making this a more bitter pill to swallow is the fact that having taught in Prague for eight years, I have been inundated by both Czechs and Americans who speak English so appallingly British that it’s clear they wish they were sipping gin and tonics with Hugh Grant at the Henley Regatta. For this reason, my faux-British sensor is exceptionally sensitive and I eagerly and avidly mock those who trip its grumbly wire.  
In order to combat this disturbing turn in our national linguistic allegiances, we have come to a steak house in South Dakota which slaughters its own cows and which screeches America! in every possible way. However, it’s not working yet.
“Right then, do you fancy the T-bone or the Sirloin?” I ask Collin.
“Sirloin, I do believe, and I can’t wait to have a proper tuck in, at that!” he says. We both cringe.
The waitress has been lurking and she pops up on us like a friendly ambush. “So boys, here are your beers.” She plops them on the wooden table in front of us. “What’s it gonna be?”
“Sirloin. Medium rare. Please.” I feel a Britishism coming forth so I stuff my High Life into my mouth and drink. 
“Same thing, please.” 
“Bloody copycat,” I say around my beer.
“Now, where you boys from?” the waitress asks. 
“Green Bay,” says Collin. 
“Philly,” I say. 
“Oh.” She leaves.
“A bit of a goof, that waitress, isn’t she?” 
As we’ve spent the day sweating and walking, the steaks, salad and beers go down fast. The whole while we try to stave off the Britishisms by just staring out the window or at the customers’ handguns or the baseball on TV, a game I swear I understood less by the time I left the place.
We get back to the campsite and spend the night drinking High Lifes, slapping away mosquitoes and then dropping into the sweatiest sleep in recent memory. We’d be better off in Nottingham this time of year. Perhaps next summer.
Til then, God save the Queen.   
  1. #1 by Jeremy Nicholson on July 31, 2012 - 6:56 am

    Hoping you stopped in at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. The town is fun. There’s a brew pub in Rapid City called Firehouse that is pretty decent. Reading this made me miss the Badlands, I’ve managed to be there once every decade of my life, and the last two times for extended hikes. Made me want to be a Park Ranger for an instant when I was 13.

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on August 4, 2012 - 7:47 pm

      Absolutely did the Corn Palace! Surprisingly fascinating stuff.

  2. #3 by Andy on August 13, 2012 - 7:38 pm

    Oh the irony is enough to bring a big, smug grin to my face. Verily, good sir.

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