A Walk in Ireland With Me Da
Chapter 1: Reverse Immigration
If you’ve been a long-term reader of Base Camp, you’ll know how I tend to seek out omens when I travel. Those little Jesus-in-a-burrito moments where Fate puts its finger to its and nose and either picks it or taps the side and winks at you.
So it was as my dad and I entered Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport to begin our trip to Ireland. And by all accounts things were going well. The bartender at Rock Bottom carded me and, upon seeing my name, said she remembered me from my last flight. We were nearly rundown by a golf cart carrying Dog the Bounty Hunter and his wife. “Go with God!” he called after people who had dove out of the way. (I’m not sure what type of omen this was, but I’m sure it held some meaning.). There was a huge heart-shaped cloud appropriately hovering over the Midwest when we leveled off. On our arrival at JFK in NYC we passed an Irish pub called Shannon’s. Which was our destination in Ireland.
I apparently had eaten my Lucky Charms this morning.
Then we noticed we couldn’t find our connecting flight on any of the monitors, so we had no idea where to be. And our boarding time was fast approaching.
We had to traverse the entire length of the terminal before finding some type of airport employee who wasn’t involved with janitorial services. We were told we needed to get to terminal three. “Just up the stairs, go left, get on the AirTran shuttle.” we were instructed.
Joined by a young college woman named Gillian on her way to study in Dublin, who was also confused, we set out on a journey that, if one of us was a talking animal, would have made a good Disney film. We trooped upstairs, headed across the hall of check-in counters that was so big it reminded me of the scene from the Matrix when Neo says “We need guns. Lots of guns” and all those infinite shelves come flying at you. Then down an escalator, through a maze of halls, past a confused minotaur and boarded a train to the next terminal. Then we got off, walked across a skyway, sped across a moving walkway, took an elevator down to street level, crossed two lanes of traffic, walked past three closed doors and finally strolled into the Delta area. Only to come upon the tail end of a security check line that snaked along the entire wall of the building before disappearing around the corner.
When we got close they added another person to make sure the names on tickets and passports matched up. (Ha! Take that Al Qaeda!) But they still had only one metal detector going, so you ended up taking an orderly line and turning it into a growing blob of restless commuters.
After getting a half-Ashcroft, it was a mere two-mile stroll to the very end of the terminal’s colon where we at last found our flight actually existed.
Boarded and on the tarmac, the pilot cockpit-teased up every ten minutes by saying it would be another 10-15 minutes before we’d be able to take off. This went on for so long I had the in-flight magazine’s crossword finished before we were airborne. We idled on the runway for over two hours. I think there needs to be some kind of frequent flier multiplier that takes effect in situations like this.
Adding to our chagrin, was the fact we were packed like sausage meat into the single-aisle tube of a 747. This was the first time they’d used a plane this small for an international flight, so the crew had no idea how to run their service. They scurried up and down the aisle so many times I thought they were getting paid by the lap. One stewardess who bore a striking resemblance to the Majorie Dawes character from Little Britain parked her cart even with my aisle seat, so I was treated to a polyester sheathed slap of hip fat every time she came by. Plus, we were in the back by the only bathroom, so there was always someone coming by. I had more ass shoved in my face than a proctologist. Or a party at George Michaels’ flat. I’ll let you choose whichever one is funnier.
As I said, I was on the aisle and my dad was in the window seat. Riding in the bitch seat was an older gentleman in a suit who must have been at least 6’3”. And he was not happy about being there. He’d huff loudly in aggravation, folding his arms and tapping his foot like an Idaho senator in an airport bathroom. My dad tried to chat him up on numerous occasions, but he just grunted in reply. It was like we had a pouty Mount Rushmore between us.
The final indignity was that the movie was Georgia Rules. “Starring” (in the ‘loosest‘ sense of the word (in every sense of the word)) America’s favorite felon Lindsay Lohan and Jane Fonda, who I took to be a female version of the Crypt Keeper.
Eventually descending below a thick cloudbank, we were rewarded with our first peek of Ireland. An overcast sky bruised dark blue over a deep green patchwork stitched together with stone fences. I could tell by my dad’s expression it was just how he had pictured it. He giggled and gave me a ‘high five’. His excitement only served to multiply mine.
We collected our luggage and caught a Bus Eiren coach for Tralee. We had to transfer in Limerick, which gave us a few hours to hang out. It was still to early for the pubs to be open, so we wandered the town. Limerick was a bit rough around the edges and seemed to be lacking in overall spit and polish. But the Celtic Tiger was rearing its head here, with construction cranes towering over shiny new buildings along the banks of the River Shannon.
I treated my dad to a Cornish pasty from a small takeaway shop. Or should I say ‘subjected to’? It was filled with scant chunks of rutabaga, a few sinewy strands of meat and what appeared to be silken lard that would surely harden to caulk inside our arteries. It was like biting into some kind of organ from an alien being. We made a rule not to buy food within a three-block radius of a bus station again.
Our days’ end destination was the village of Camp. Which I pictured either being filled with rugged outdoorsmen or gay men singing musicals. Or gay rugged outdoorsmen singing musicals.
It turned out to be none of the above. But no less entertaining. We were dropped outside the nice and new Junction House B & B perched atop a hill that let you see the entire length of the Dingle Peninsula. Our host, John Doyle, worked mainly as a wine distributor and he packed enough energy for three hosts.
I’ll admit to worrying how my dad would like everything being, well, different. Travel can throw some shit at your from weird angels and you need to be ready to lean into the wind every now and then.
But we couldn’t have asked for a better first evening on the Emerald Isle.
Mr. Doyle walked with us down to the Junction Pub (so called because of the railroad tracks that once passed right by it) and pointed us to the sea. He then summoned up an aging golden lab that accompanied us down to the kelp-laden shore. It was good to stretch the legs and smell the brine in the air and look back at the jumble of hills we’d soon find ourselves in.
Back at the pub, John introduced us to the owners and the regulars in between placing bets on some local horse races. But most importantly, we were able to partake in our first pint. Which had to be Guinness. Surely there is no beer that looks as graphically pleasing. From the sinuous lusty boil of the settle, to the calmness of the finished pint looking like a pious preacher in his white collar.
“To Mrs. Hamm.” I muttered before touching my lips to the pillow of form and letting the dark nectar part those clouds like sweet and smoky rain. It was worth the wait. Not just the five minutes for the pint. The thirty-nine years it took me to get here for it. (By the way, first Guinness of the night is always ‘to Mrs. Hamm’. Buy me one and I’ll tell you the story.)
When we inquired about food, he took us into the village to an ancient stone pub called The Ashes. It was one of those old boozers where you have to duck to get inside and none of the corners seem to meet at the same angle. Of course, we had to have the fish and chips.
We told our waitress we were staying with John Doyle and she called him and within a few minutes he was waiting for us outside. He told us he’d already called ahead and arranged a room at a B&B in Annascaul; which is where we’d be hiking. They’d also come pick up our luggage and have it waiting for us when we arrived.
I looked in the rear view mirror and saw an incredulous look on my dad’s face. He couldn’t believe the hospitality we were receiving and I knew he was pleasantly surprised. Then the look turned to extreme uneasiness and I saw him white-knuckling the armrest as John zipped along the winding shoulder-width roads on what my dad was envisioning to be the wrong side. I saw him catch a shriek in his throat a few times as we came around a corner to find a lorry barreling at us in the right lane.
We had a few more pints at the Junction Pub. Dad left after just one, but I hung out talking with John and a local musician and watching some World Cup Rugby.
I was feeling really pleased and really enjoying the free pints I was receiving (but I always stood my round) when suddenly it felt like someone had slipped some Nyquil in my stout. I did a little narcoleptic head bob over my pint and knew it was time to go and wrestle with jet lag in my dreams. I said my good-nights and walked out into the chill dark.
At the top of the hill, I turned to look at the lights of a ship finding its way home in Tralee Bay. The edges of the Junction Pub were lit with dim light and I heard sounds of laughter escape when someone stepped outside for a smoke. Through my heavy vision I tried to imagine it being a hundred years ago. Ahhhh, Ireland.
Dad was already snoring when I came in the room. But I swore I could see a little smile on his face.
[In Our Next Episode: Sir Edmund Hillary Drank Here]