Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Where do I start with this one? Willy Wonka, I suppose, and his famous competition for a tour of the factory. The feeling of joy and wonder that flowed through Charlie Buckets heart when he found that ticket is the best way of describing how I felt walking out of the U.S embassy in Dublin with a J1 visa in my back pocket. For those of you who aren’t aware of a J1 visa, let me explain. It is the Golden ticket for all College and University students in Ireland. A pass that allows right of entry to live and work in the US for the entire summer. A ticket to a world of endless possibilities, endless opportunity and the chance of living the American Dream,well, for a few months anyway. The prospect of another summer at home stacking bails and watching the highlights of Wimbledon drove me to apply for the visa and it was the best decision I ever made.
With the visa secured, it was all about settling on my destination State side, the impossible choice between West Coast or East. Biggie or Tupac, but I liked both! So many headed for the white sand of California while others for the Big Apple, Ocean City or San Antonio to mention but a few. California almost had me but there was only one place I was headed and that was Boston Massachusetts. Home to thousands if not millions of second and third generation Irish-Americans whose families had made the trip in years gone by. Boston holds a special place in the Irish psyche and even though I was headed for the other side of the Atlantic, I knew I’d be surrounded by my own, and that was an added comfort.
In those days, my organisational skills were a little loose, to put it lightly. Even the prospect of a three month trip to America wasn’t enough to focus my mind on the important details which others had been sorting and organising since the previous December. April was fast approaching by the time a member of my crew eventually got around to booking flights and organising our first nights accommodation, but that was us. We'd fly from Dublin to Heathrow and catch a connecting flight from there to Logan Airport in Boston. In my youth, a family holiday consisted of a weekend away in Waterford so it’s fair to say that I wasn’t a seasoned traveller before my trip to America. I hadn’t been on a plane in nearly ten years when we shot down the runway in Dublin and jetted off for a summer in the sun. Everything was new and the excitement was hard to contain.
When we arrived in Heathrow, one of the lads came up with the genius idea of purchasing two litre bottles of vodka from the duty free. “It’ll speed up the journey, be grand” was the message and who was I to fight against such wisdom? So in we went, bought the bottles and stashed them in our hand luggage, the party was starting and we didn’t want to miss a second if it. Of course, drinking duty free was banned on our American Airways flight but that wasn’t going to stop us. The wheels were barely up when I took my first swig from the head of the bottle. It was passed back and forth between the three us and the built up excitement ensured that quick progress was made through its contents. My mother had warned me about the dangers of drinking in the air before I’d left home that morning, but I’d brushed her worries off as an old wives tale. I was headed for the States and nothing could stop me now. They weren’t going to turn the plane around because I'd had a few vodkas, surely not!
The problem with vodka is that it causes noise levels to rise when consumed in large amounts, and that’s not ideal when flying trans-Atlantic. I’m sure a bar or two of the Fields of Athenry rang out in the cabin as we approached the half way point of our crossing, but I can’t be certain! One of the Air hostesses began taking greater notice of us after that, and she wasn’t best pleased with our behaviour. Her attention, however, wasn’t enough to quell the party and progress soon continued through the bottle. I was living the dream until I had to rise from my seat and make my way along the isle to the bathroom. I took one step away from my seat, and it was then I realised, I was absolutely locked! My legs were similar to those of a baby giraffe, I just couldn’t straighten them. The walk to the bathroom couldn’t have been any more than twenty steps, but it may as well have been twenty miles.
Looking back now, a scene from Wolf of Wall street comes to mind when I think of that walk to the cubicle. Like Leonardo DI Caprio desperately trying to get Donny off the phone but unable to control his limbs enough to do so, I struggled on in a similar fashion until I reached my destination. A loud knock at the cubicle door was the next thing I remember, it woke me from my slumber and of course, it was my friend the air hostess who’d found me. What a helpful lady she was! I was instructed to return to my seat as the captain had turned on the seat belt sign in preparation for landing. A splash of water on the face and off I went, good as new! Well, not quite, but the sleep had done me the world of good!
Soon after arrival back at my seat our lovely air hostess appeared once again. “If you boys don’t stop drinking, then you’ll be on the next flight back to Ireland”, was her message, and she delivered in a tone that we all understood. The bottle was tucked away into the bag and the rest of that flight was spent enjoying a few well-earned winks in preparation for our arrival in Boston. When we arrived, I walked along the aisle looking and feeling rather sheepish as the air hostess stood waiting at the exit. I was prepared for a further tongue lashing, but needn’t have been. She waved us off with a beautiful smile and a simple message to take it easy over the summer. I walked out onto the stairwell and was met with blazing sunshine. I filled my lungs and took my first step on to US soil. I bet Neil Armstrong felt just like I did getting off that plane when he took his first steps on the moon. Only, I’d doubt he was after the same amount of vodka on that journey, but you’d never know! One of the lads turned to me as we strolled to the terminal, “Jesus, thank God we went through Homeland security back in Dublin, there’s no way they’d leave us in here, stink of vodka off us.”.
How right he was, we’d dodged the first bullet of our American expedition and the world was now our oyster…