Fancy a J1 trip to the US? Cian Griffin recalls his experiences of travelling to South Carolina.
“Don’t trust nobody apart from our staff, ain’t nothin’ round here but lying thieves,” warned the hotel receptionist through a full set of silver teeth.
Whether you traverse the countries of Southeast Asia, interrail across Europe or jet off on a €9.99 flight with Ryanair on the day you book it; college is a great opportunity for travel that should not be ignored. One of the most popular escapades for culchie and Southsider alike, is the J1 – or the “JWan” as I (mis)pronounce it – a summer spent working and travelling in the States.
We chose Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; a tourist spot nicknamed the “Dirty Myrtle” by seemingly every other state in the US. We had high hopes before arrival however, as our only other option had been an Ohio city in which you had a 45% chance of being involved in a knife related crime if you went out after 8 PM – groovy.
Accommodation in Myrtle Beach was as easy to find in our area as a hooker – they lived on the second floor (I wish that was a joke). We ended up in a hotel a few kilometres from the beach, right beside our employer – who had tipped us off about the place. I use the word hotel quite generously of course. It was more like one of those crappy motels from movies where drug dealing and prostitution reign; with an eternal damp smell permeating each and every surface.
“Our only other option had been an Ohio city in which you had a 45% chance of being involved in a knife related crime if you went out after 8 PM.”
The place was straight out of American Horror Story – dimly lit corridors, dirty carpets stained with marks I preferred not to question, flickering lights and pale walls that shed onto the floor. Although the bullet holes in the elevator were the icing on the cake. This image may be concerning, however we acquired quite a strange sense of ownership over the place by the end of summer, even if it was four of us to a room built for one! It may have been a crack-den, but it was our craic-den.
Our job was as comical as our lodgings, and provided just as many laughs as the (very regular) police drug-raids in our hotel; although for all the wrong reasons. We worked in an indoor amusement park and I got a job on their rope course. I was in charge of getting customers into their harnesses, explaining the rules, and sending them up onto the course.
As anyone with retail experience will tell you; customers are idiots. These frubes however, were on another level. One of our only rules was that pockets had to be completely empty while on the course; something people never quite seemed to grasp; as I had phones, selfie-sticks and even a hunting knife dropped on me from above.
Without the job however, we would have had no means of funding our social life. I – for most of my JWan – was only twenty years old, which thankfully did not affect me on the same scale as it did my friends in places like California, Chicago and New York.
“Speaking of befriending locals, it really does pay to make American friends!”
The legal age for drinking in America is twenty-one, and for a lot of my friends in bigger cities around the country, this meant that they could not get in to nightclubs. One massive advantage I found with the Deep South was that clubs were a lot more relaxed about the laws of their country. I always got in, my age just meant that sometimes I had to pay a bit extra for entrance and huge X’s were drawn on my hands to stop me from being served. Although thanks to Four Loko, a dangerously caffeinated alcoholic beverage, described as “legalised cocaine in a can”, we never had to buy drinks out, because two cans of this stuff at the start of the night (for less than $2 a pop) was more than enough to knock out a horse.
Almost habitually however, I managed to get in through dumb-luck, Irish “charm” or simply by getting to know the bouncers over the three months. It wasn’t until the end of June that we found out from our American co-workers that we could actually get in for free because of where we worked. Moral of that story is to always make sure you investigate things like that early on to save some dollars.
Speaking of befriending locals, it really does pay to make American friends. If you have bike luck as bad as ours; between theft, vandalism, car accidents and road rage from drivers forcing us off the road, it helps to have someone to drive you around when you need it.
And it also means getting invited to American house parties, where you end up standing on your supervisor’s kitchen table, freestyle rapping as a squad of Jamaican girls twerk in a circle around you and Turks shower you in dollar bills. It’s a cultural experience you need to try, because it was the best summer of my life, even if I only had enough money left at the end to visit relatives in New York for just a week.