Hey ladies (and fellas), I’ve got the best remedy for heartbreak/any kind of life crisis/a general sense of unrelenting boredom from your everyday existence. It’s called Missouri, and you want to go to there. Trust me.
When I was planning my Toronto escape route, I’d tell people about my impending trip to Missouri and would most often be met with a look of puzzlement and the inevitable question of “Missouri? Really? But why?”
I can’t pretend it’s a destination that’s always been on my must-see list. The truth is, a very good friend had recently relocated there from NZ to live with her US army boyfriend, and had yet to receive any visitors — despite brilliantly selling her new home with various facebook pics of guns, pickups and the wide-open roads of middle America.
It was certainly enough to lure me. With a blank slate and time on my hands, Missouri offered just the right amount of new, daring and exciting experiences — which partnered well with my freshly adopted attitude of ‘Fuck it, things can’t exactly get worse’.
So off I went, with very few expectations other than the prospect of getting to shoot a gun for the first time, ride on the back of a motorbike, and perv at a few muscly military men in the process.
Right from the start, it was apparent that I was entering foreign territory.
When I originally booked my flight, I wasn’t aware that I’d be flying directly onto Fort Leonard Wood army base — but I soon figured it out when I saw both the size of the plane and the fact that all my fellow passengers were kitted out in uniform (I’m smart like that). Sure enough, just under an hour later I had been picked up and driven off the base, first having to show my ID at the gate (you have to be accompanied by someone from the army to be allowed access to the base) and getting a bewildered look when handing over my Ontario health card, which happened pretty much every time we crossed in or out. Sorry for puzzling you army dudes with wacky Canadian locales.
And so began my Missouri adventure. Day two saw a trip to Waffle House, home to everything good and greasy, including their famed hashbrowns (choose from smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped or country … just don’t ask me to explain what any of that means).
And later, a visit to Walmart — which needs no introduction, except to add that I’m fairly sure having an entire section devoted to weaponry and ammo isn’t something you’re likely to find at a Canadian Walmart.
They also have multiple racks devoted solely to Duck Dynasty memorabilia, including lots of pink camo ladies’ hats. Meanwhile, over at another of Missouri’s top attractions, The World’s Largest Gift Store (their claim, not mine), aisle upon aisle of tacktastic products await the eager buyer. I’d been warned about the amazing selection of goodies, in particular the lineup of dazzling wolf tees (choosing which to buy was an especially tough decision), but the home decor section had to be seen to be believed. And yes, I am now a believer — that no home is complete without an Armadillo Wine Bottle Holder.
When the excitement of Walmart and armadillos eventually wore off, it was decided a trip to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede was in order. Because, after all, who doesn’t want to experience “The Most Fun Place to Eat!”? (Missouri loves its superlatives, apparently.) Plus, anything even loosely connected to Dolly has got my attention. Though the buxom blonde herself didn’t technically make an appearance in person, she did pop up on the big screen at the grand finale, belting out some patriotic tune that got the audience riled up.
It’s hard to accurately describe the magic that is the Stampede, suffice to say a telling of the ‘birth of America’ and the Civil War through song, dance, trained buffalo and — wait for it — ostrich racing, plus a cutlery-free wild west-style dinner, makes for one very weird evening out. Weird, but definitely memorable.
Really, though, the highlight of my Missouri trip had to be the chance to get up close and (somewhat) comfortable with firearms. That was a pretty big deal, for someone generally terrified of everything that guns represent, and the indisputable fact that my holding one was putting the lives of everyone in my near vicinity in danger.
But once I’d gotten over the sheer strangeness of holding a gun, and once I’d managed to work out the best stance considering just how incredibly heavy they are (leaned up on a surface seemed to work best for me and my weakling arms), it was a real thrill to fire the thing. I was a pretty poor shot, initially. And I don’t think I ever successfully pulled the trigger without jumping with fright once it went. But at some point I managed to work out a good position to allow me to hit the target — sometimes even actually close to the centre.
It must be said, firing off a round at a target that you may or may not be imagining is some particular person’s face is a really great way to unleash some pent-up rage. I highly recommend it.
So, Missouri shall remain a treasured memory, and I’ll be the first to sing its praises to anyone who’ll listen. But the truth is, what made the trip so fantastic was my amazing hosts — who spared no effort in showing me a bloody good time in the ‘Show Me’ state. Maybe it could have been some other slice of America in which I experienced so many firsts, but I know it wouldn’t have been quite the same. It’ll always be Missouri that helped unleash my inner redneck.