5 Things Everyone Should Experience in the USA

09Dec09

After my last fervent entreaty to the Web 2.0 abyss (imploring the masses to stop just staring out the window and do something exciting), I began thinking about some of my favorite American experiences, the planned and unplanned.  Here is my list of 5 necessary exploits for anyone traveling through the USA (oddballs that probably are not on your short list).

1. NASCAR Race

Lowe's Motor Speedway, Charlotte, North Carolina

While more Americans follow NASCAR racing than any other sport, it is not one typically advertised to tourists and travelers.  On entering college, I had never been to a race, let alone seen one on television (making me an American minority).  So, during a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I jumped at a last-minute offer to go observe the race and the masses at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.  Collectively, the noise, faded blue jeans, trucker hats, beer bellies, cheap cigarettes, and occasional torching cars proved to be an intercultural experience within my own country.  The speedway, lined with massive advertisements, threatens to dull your ears forever when the cars rev their engines and whip about the track.  The stands reek of booze, transfatty snacks and giant syrupy sodas.  Though it may sound unpleasant, uncomfortable and unsanitary, the whole experience is rather enlightening.  Around lap two-hundred, the novelty of listening through special headphones to the team-driver communication frequencies wears off; and, people watching becomes the entertainment of choice.

From Venti Lattes to breast implants, America truly is the land of excess.  Attend a NASCAR race to overload your senses, and to interact with a slice of the American population (a rather large slice…almost the whole pie, actually, with upwards of 200 million TV viewers each year) you might never otherwise encounter.  Just wear your favorite Budweiser T and don’t forget your ear plugs.

2. New York City Toy Stores

FAO Schwarz, New York City, New York

People always talk about shopping in New York City–the fashion boutiques of Fifth Avenue, the Diamond District, Macy’s… Yes, between the glass staircase that descends into an underground Apple store, the luxurious chocolate truffles at Lindt and Godiva, and the lavish window displays along the way, New York is a shoppers paradise.  For me, though, the most captivating of all Manhattan shops are the toy stores.  Toys ‘R Us boasts an entire ferris wheel inside the store.  Ride it (if you are not too embarrassed), then walk a few blocks to the world’s largest wall of m&ms.  After browsing the three floors of fabulous Disney, head to my personal favorite, FAO Schwarz– a magical playland of youth and fun.  Stuffed animals twice the size of an average person guard the aisles.  Shelves are filled with all sorts of offbeat games, puzzles, costumes and figurines.  The uppermost floor houses a genuine nursery of eerily realistic baby dolls, big bins of the popular Ugly Dolls, and a large Barbie display including the motorized Barbie Fashion Show pictured above.

The prices are high, but a stroll through these rooms of fanciful play things can be enjoyed absolutely free.

3. A Historical Bath House

Buckstaff Bath House, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a little town south of Little Rock known for its historical bath houses.  After riding a shaky elevator up to the main lobby, you will be asked to strip down (behind a curtain), stow your belongings in a small locker, and wrap yourself in the crisp white sheet provided.  Then, you shuffle your way into the main room teeming with other toga-wearing ladies.  Over the next hour, you proceed through a number of stations including a personal jacuzzi bath tub, a slightly silly “sits” tub, and this frightening metal box that latches closed around your body while your head sticks out the top.  The most soothing part is a little nap on the massage table, some hot towel wraps for your arms, legs, back and neck, and a cold compress for your face.

When embarking on a bath house adventure, leave modesty in the locker room.  The damp sheets quickly become transparent, toga malfunctions are inevitable, and you will probably feel both completely relaxed and completely foolish at some point during the whole debacle.  But, if on the off chance you find public bathing completely dreadful, you can always redeem the morning with pancakes and coffee across the street.

4. A Political Campaign Meet-up

War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee

Everyone who lives, visits or travels within the United States should interact with the political system in some way.  Especially exciting are the presidential campaigns, although the primaries and congressional elections are interesting, too.  Meet-ups (at their best–like the the one I attended for the outlandish Ron Paul in 2008’s Republican primary), bring patriotism, intellect, and rhetoric together in a single event, usually with free bumper stickers.  Not only are campaigns exciting to participate in, they attract opinionated, energetic people from across the nation.

Basically, politics are too big a part of society to ignore.  Expose yourself to different viewpoints.  Take time to listen to political agendas; or, at the very least, go out and enjoy the hoopla.

4. A Lacrosse Game

Club Lacrosse, Notre Dame, Indiana

Alright, so I may be a little biased about this one, seeing as I played lacrosse for seven years and coached for two.  But, my own adoration for the sport aside, lacrosse is an all-american sport, originally played by Native American peoples in eastern North America.  Anyone can attend a Division 1 University lacrosse game for a modest admission fee.  Watch fierce female athletes battle, armed with sticks and kilts, to dominate 110 yards of precious green.  In the mood for a little more contact?  Try a men’s lacrosse game.  Keep in mind, there are significant differences in equipment, set-up, and game play between men’s and women’s lacrosse (though both are fabulous).

Lacrosse combines footwork, stickwork, teamwork, and athleticism.  Plus, its a historical heirloom playing itself out before you eyes.  Definitely worth your time.  (Hint: If you are in or around Maryland during the springtime, you will see people carrying lacrosse sticks.  Follow them.)

What American experiences would you recommend?

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4 Responses to “5 Things Everyone Should Experience in the USA”

  1. swimming in upper priest lake Idaho

  2. I’m sorry to say that I’ve only experienced one of these…wow – they may take away my American passport!
    I love your blog – just found it via twitter…great writing! Keep up the fantastic work!

    • Not to worry, while not really obscurities, these are just a few American oddballs to tuck away in your knapsack of travel ideas. Your passport is safe 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting! So glad you are enjoying it!


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