A few days ago, we celebrated the U.S. of A’s 241st birthday. We did so, no doubt, with plenty of beer, burgers, hot dogs, and fireworks. But what makes America—dare I say this?—great? What is this thing called “Murica”? Is it our big cars? Big houses? Hot dogs? Apple pie? No, it's something even more prosaic. It's ice. But it’s more than that, because many nations have ice, it’s rather the ubiquity of it that defines America and makes us stand tall above the other nations of the world. Ice is everywhere and it's generally free for the taking!
This recently occurred to me one night walking down a dimly light hallway to my hotel room, having just arrived from the airport. Around the corner from my room was an alcove, and above it was a sign that simply read "ICE." Inside, an attentive ice machine hummed with stalwart efficiency.
This was a large, convention hotel (39 floors in all). By my rough calculation, there had to be at least 90 ice machines in the building, not including those standing watch in the bars and restaurants. That's a lot of ice. I'm not sure the iceberg that sank the Titanic contained that much frozen water.
But then again, hotels have had a long association with ice and ice machines.
Back in the day, the first thing I did when we stayed in a motel--after testing the T.V., of course--was take the little plastic bucket with the plastic liner and get some ice. It made little difference that we wouldn't need all that ice, in fact we didn't use it most of the time, it was just...what...you...did.
And so that night, out of habit, I grabbed my bucket and shuffled to the ice machine, and with a cacophonous roar, old faithful filled my bucket to the rim with clear, clean ice. Unfortunately, there was no minibar in the room and the bar downstairs had closed. And in the morning, I had a bucket full of clear, clean water.
I don't think I've ever seen an ice machine in a European hotel.
And what is it with the Europeans and ice? If you have ever visited Europe and asked for a Coke with ice, you'd be luck to get three, but more likely, two diminutive ice cubes. Europe has trains that travel 200 mph and amazing highways, so surely they have mastered the mundane engineering that goes into designing and building ice machines. This is likely one reason the Europeans are lousy at cocktails. Cocktails require ice (or at least the good ones) and lots of it.
Maybe we use a lot of ice in America—and let’s be honest here—because we can. We can afford to produce tons of ice for cocktails, ice cream, and ice sculptures at wedding receptions. Ice has always conveyed a sense of luxury and decadence. After all, the Romans had ice and snow mixed with their juices and wines for cooling effects. Though likely apocryphal, the Roman emperor Nero would have snow and ice transported by runners from the mountains to Rome. Top that Pax Americana!
There’s a lot of talk out there about American decline. I don’t see it based on the 24 oz. cups filled to the brim with perfectly shaped cubes of crystal clear manmade ice. I’m not going to worry until I have to ask for a fourth cube of ice at my local McDonalds. At that point, I better have my passport ready and a fast car to the border.