Americana Overload: A Weekend at Road America

It’s a family legend that my father took my mother to a swap meet on their first date. A blind date.

Nancy, a sworn non-drinker, coped by downing piña coladas before noon.

While Don hasn’t exactly passed along his love of old hot rods to his eldest, one of my favorite things to do with my dad is hit classic car shows in his ’57 Vette and scope out muscle cars.

When my dad mentioned my early arrival date would allow me to accompany him to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, I jumped at the chance. Things had been stressful since my grandpa’s passing, and I needed a few days’ break from a new house, issues with my Spanish bank and technology. I immediately cancelled plans I’d made with friends.

What I really needed was a good old dollop of Americana, the familiar lull of V8 motors and little else to do but stare at a lake with a beer in my hand.

When my dad went to college in Wisconsin, Elkhart Lake was halfway in between his hometown and his college town. For my entire life, he’s been spinning stories of the good old days when he and his friends would moon girls from the pier, stir up trouble at Siepkin’s Pub and sleep it all off the next day (yeah, I know, apple doesn’t fall from the tree). 

The town of Elkhart Lake sits along the north and west boundaries of the lake and was made famous in the 1950s, when road racing on the back county roads began to draw crowds. After a proper track was inaugurated in 1955, amateurs began racing vintage cars in time trials on the 4.5-miles track. Road America‘s classic car weekend is the biggest bash of the year, and the three days where my dad and his buddies meet up.

On Friday night, we met my Uncle Bill, cooler stocked full of beers, water and snacks for the weekend. The town was crawling with people – most decked out in Harley Davidson or Road America tees – with the token koozie and beer belly. After the hot rods roared through town, we carried our roadies down the main drag, where old-time, mom-and-pop shops sidled up to a curb-less road that once served as the finish line to the original road race.

Three bands rocked at the three bars, and after about a gazillion gallons of beer (what a sip of fresh air compared to two years of non-stop Cruzcampo), I belted out Journey until my voice was raw with my cousin and his friend.

Welcome home, Cat. 

My hangover the next morning was Unwelcome, but a reality as I sipped on a coffee without milk and watched the morning Milwaukee news. Don tossed me a hat and told me to get dressed to go see the track. I put on a cute dress and not-so-sensible shoes (though I would have done better with clothes that were way too tight and even LESS sensible shoes!).

“Oh, you meant go watch the races?” Oops. Apparently the time trials began at 7am, so we were running late. We paid $50 each to gain access, and my dad drove me right away to Turn 3 for the Ultimate breakfast sandwich. Capital U: a Sheboygan butter roll topped with Sargento cheddar and a specially made patty of bacon and brat. Doesn’t get any more ‘Sconsin than this sandwich.

Back in the ’70s when my dad and Ken would camp out at nearby Plymouth Rock, they’d watch the cars come down a shallow slope, nearly run themselves off the track at Turn 3, then speed off down the straightest part of the course. Back then, the course didn’t have barricades, and you could literally feel the cars rumbling in your chest.

I found the noise and the speed and the legendary rumble to be mesmerizing.

I followed my dad and uncle to the Pit and to a Bud heavy, where we watched the finish line. Don kept track of the leading cars around the six-lap track, where I just thought about how cool it was that he’d watch the course and its environs change over the last 40 years or so as I snacked on a Johnsonville Brat.

After two years of beginning to feel sevillana, one weekend, torque, and an endless array of condiments was all it took to remember I’m a corn-fed Midwesterner with a love of beef and hooch-mamma spotting.

What makes you feel really American when you’re home? Do you like going to car shows or car races?

My Journey Back to Spain…again

My desire to live abroad was coupled only by my worries for how to make it happen. Thankfully, my study abroad office at the University of Iowa gave me the information on a relatively new program to teach English in Spanish public schools. I threw out my plan to follow my friends Matt and Brian to Ireland and began brushing up on my Spanish.

Five years later, part of my morning coffee goes to helping my readers find a way to make their dreams of sunshine and siestas a reality. One such reader, Mike, and I have been in contact for quite some time, and he’s finally decided to quit his job and apply for the Auxiliar de Conversación program that brought me here initially. Here’s his story:

Before I get started on my story, I’d like to thank Cat for being so gracious and allowing me to write a guest post as I’ve been an avid reader for a while now. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy my post as a guest author and find it helpful in whatever capacity they are looking for. I am currently applying for the auxiliar de conversación program in Spain.

However, my story begins long before me just recently pulling together my application materials.

My Story

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my mom had always told me that she was forcing me to study abroad when I was in college. She had studied in Copenhagen, Denmark  and told me it was an experience that everyone needs to have. During my junior year in high school I was afforded the opportunity to go on a week-long trip through Spain with my Spanish class. It was then that I fell in love with the language, people, cuisine, and culture. I knew I would be returning to Spain at some point in my life.

A recent shot of Mike in America

When I was in college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I took a Spanish class during my first semester. It was extremely difficult for me, and I ended up dropping the class. I thought I was done with Spanish and did not enroll in the class again. After a couple different major changes, I found myself with a foreign language requirement that had not been met. Thinking it would be an easy class since I could remember some basic Spanish from high school, I enrolled in an Introduction to Spanish course. After the first class, my professor noticed that I was ahead of the others who had never taken Spanish before and recommended to me that I move up a few levels. I was cautious, but ultimately agreed. The higher level course was naturally more of a struggle, but it was far more rewarding as I rekindled my love of the Spanish language. Following the course, I applied, was accepted, and studied abroad in Granada, Spain for a semester in the spring of 2010.

Studying in Granada, Spain

 

My study abroad experience was undoubtedly the best experience of my life,  and ever since I returned to the US, I have been yearning to return to Spain. After graduation, like many people out there, I applied for a bunch of jobs and eventually was offered and accepted one. It was a desk job, doing something that I thought I may be interested in; however, it was not for me.

Mike and his host family in Granada

Since accepting the job, I have dabbled with the thought of applying to teach in Spain, but have not been fully committed to it, until now. There have been plenty of reasons that kept me from applying, primarily that my job is steady, secure and well-paidl. Essentially, it is a job that many would probably die to have, but that’s not me. It’s a job that most would imagine themselves having when they are 40 years old or mid-career professional, and I do realize that I was lucky to land in it. This has held me back from applying to teach in Spain for over a year, but I had enough. While many may die to have my job, I would die to teach in Spain.

Over the past year, I have consulted with Cat as well as anyone I could find who taught in Spain or even another country about what one needs to know before teaching abroad. It has been a huge help to me in making my decision to take the leap, so thank you for everyone for your advice. The number one piece of advice that nearly every single person echoed was that if you don’t do it, you will always regret not doing it. I truly believe this is the case because I can picture myself always regretting it and wondering “what if” had I not ever tried.

Applying for the Auxiliar Program

Once a current auxiliar directed me to the website for applying and I found it, all I could find was information for the school year 2012 – 2013 program, whereas I would be applying for the 2013-2014 program. I started to panic because I figured I was doing something wrong and simply could not find it. I thought I was missing something obvious and was going to be late in applying. I checked the website just about hourly to see if it changed or if I missed anything. Then, one day, November 5 th to be exact, there was finally an update. It said they were working on the call for applications for 2013-2014, and that the application period would open up on January 8th, 2013. It also noted the manual for the application would be posted soon. I felt an enormous sense of relief.

As for now, I have been using the 2012-2013 manual and application checklist on the website to begin to pull together my materials. I realize that some of the materials may change, but I figure this will give me a jump-start for when the application period opens. If I end up doing something that is no longer required, I’m fine with that because it’s exciting doing it since this all part of me going back to Spain to teach! The two primary pieces I am pulling together are my letter of recommendation and my statement of purpose. An applicant also needs a copy of their passport and their college transcript or diploma.

Mike hiking in Ronda (Málaga)

While waiting for my transcripts and after pulling together my statement of purpose, all I have to do is wait for the application to open and the manual to be posted. I know it’s only the middle of November, and while it said December, I am still getting anxious and still checking back just about hourly.

I hope to keep everyone updated on my journey from America’s dairyland back to Spain. While Cat and I both came from the Midwest, Chicago and Milwaukee respectively, I can imagine that our experiences will be different since a lot has changed in the five years since she first left for Spain, yet I am extremely hopeful that my experience will be just as astounding and inspiring to others as hers was and is to me.

Hasta luego.

Mike.

Mike will be contributing to Sunshine and Siestas regularly until he hears from the program about his (hopeful) return to Spain. Got any questions for either of us about being an auxiliar or about how to apply to the program? Or about doing a TEFL degree? Leave us a message in the comments, or join my Facebook page for more scoop!

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue (and yellow)

Once upon a time, the object of my utmost affection was Spain. I loved her landscapes, her cuisine and the way she makes me feel me. You could say she wooed me six years ago, and that’s why I had to go back two years later. She’s been fairly good to me, too. But after four years,  I kinda wanted to cheat on her with America. Being away for so many months, I forgot about all the ways America makes me swell with pride, grab a slice of watermelon and watch fireworks.

Red Coke signs with free refills

I’ve been relishing in the cost-free water that comes with my meals out. A bottle of agua in Spain can run me up to two bucks, so I gladly tip my glass to water or Dr. Pepper, one soft drink I actually do miss in Iberia. So far, only one restaurant chains, VIPs, which includes TGI Fridays and Gino’s, will give you unlimited Diet Cokes with your meals. And, seriously, what’s more American than a Coke?

Anyone up for mixing?

White Smiles

Everyone in America is always smiling. While in Kentucky, I was floored with the Southern Hospitality I’d always heard about. Older men held open doors for me, while others offered to help me search for $100 worth of missing traveler’s checks. Everyone did it with a smile, to boot. What’s more, I was treated to the pearly whites of two of my sevillana friends, Meag and Bri, who came to visit me on my birthday. Smiles all around.

Four days of smiling this wide. My mouth still hurts.

Blue skies over cornfields

Never did I imagine I’d love the rolling cornfields of Middle America that I grew up with. Driving through rural Indiana, my mom and I were treated to mile after mile of good ol’ American soil – cornfields, cows and rest stops. I thought back to my days at Iowa, driving the I-80 towards Hawkeye Country.

I’ve seen plenty of picturesque places,but love a good old American view of the open road.

Yellow Sweet Corn

And who could forget the tantalizing sweet corn that my family gobbles up in the summer? For my last meal tomorrow, I had just one request – an ear of kernels on the grill, still in the husk, with whatever else my dad concocts.

If you are what you eat, at least I’ll be delicious.

Takeoffs and Landings

Landing on a runway in Chicago, and I’m grounding all my dreams of ever really seeing California cuz I know what’s in between – lyrics from fellow Chicagoans Fall Out Boy, “Homesick at Spacecamp”

with permission from noticiasdeayer.blogspot.com

From my mother, I take my gift of gab and my neuroticism. From my father, a good sense of direction and a heightened need for adventure. My mother balks at airports, while my father arrives early, boarding pass in hand, ready to be onto his next journey. I’m much more of the latter.

I’m waiting in the airport in Dublin, having a Guinness at 10:45 in the morning (any wonder why I identify with my Irish heritage more than any other?). There are other travelers in American apparel – Chicago Blackhawks t-shirts or Illini caps join me for an Irish breakfast or coffee. I choose a seat at the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the boarding gates, slowly draining my breakfast while watching passengers wheel bags onto Aer Lingus jets. I admit it – I am one to people watch, and I often wonder where they are off to, whom they might be visiting, or if they’re simply going home, like me.

Twenty months have passed since I’ve last been in America. In that time I’ve turned 25, gotten married, received a promotion, become an EU citizen. I’m different, and so are my friends at home. They’re married, divorced, engaged, with child(ren). Some heartbroken, many hopeful. My sister has moved away from the Midwest, leaving my parents totally absorbed in what were merely hobbies while we were at home. Time sometimes seems to stop for me in Spain, when in fact it carries on at an even quicker pace than last year. My Great Aunt Mary Jane always has that toilet paper mentality – time, along with the TP, go faster and faster the further you get into it.

Not 48 hours after touching down, I am sitting in the dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned. Dr. Clinton has moved his office from Northwest Highway Street to just off the highway that leads to O’Hare International Airport. As Carole picks and flosses, I’m watching the planes takeoff through the mirrored windows.

Being back in America makes me think about my own takeoffs and landings. I find that I often jump into one thing, hoping to land on my feet. After all, that’s been the last four years. Everything from learning flamenco in a stuffy studio with a stuffy sevillana to even moving abroad has been a flight of fancy. But it’s so me – neurotically adventurous, typically looking before leaping, taking off frequently and usually landing right where I’m meant to be.

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