Looking for America

Greetings from Texas. Here I am after a twenty four hour journey that began at 4am (UK time) yesterday with a taste of the “Hell on the M5” that so many British commuters have to negotiate on a regular basis. Despite the various roadworks, junction closures and incomprehensible diversions, Grahame managed to get me to the Birmingham Bull Ring in time for me to catch a 0530h train to Manchester Airport. It was my first time in this particular Aviation Shopping/Travel Centre (notice that travel part comes second) and I had some difficulty in actually finding out where to board the 10.40h for Houston.

Stopping only for a much needed coffee and the latest Hercule Poirot pastiche (that’s a novel not a breakfast bun), I prepared for what I think may be my first ever flight with Singapore Airlines. Now, I never choose my carrier on any basis other than price and availability so all of that promotional advertising featuring soft fluffy clouds, soft tinkly music and soft-focus young women resembling classical Apsara has never produced in me anything more than mild derision but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

My absurdly cheap flight was two thirds empty so the cabin crew might have been forgiven for taking it easy for once but for nearly ten hours they continued to glide up and down the aisles offering ministrations to my every comfort. Triple seat to stretch out on near the back? No problem. Run out of the fish choice? No problem, perhaps Madame would like something from the Premium Class selection? Another cup of tea? Juice? Wine? Extra snacks for your onward journey? When one young man had to reluctantly admit that he had run out of miniature chocolate bars he was so apologetic I half expected him to fall on his sword. Does it really matter in this day and age? Well, it’s certainly reassuring to be served by staff who give every appearance of being part of a well-oiled machine when you hope that is precisely what you are sitting in thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic and I was thankful for once to meet a team of people who take so much pride in their work.

Fortunately I managed a couple of hours sleep between movies (I can seldom resist the opportunity to catch up on some of the latest releases) because I still had US immigration ahead of me. And this institution too fought valiantly to live up to its reputation. Why explain the self-certification machines properly when you can watch the dumb foreigner trying to take her own fingerprints unsuccessfully for the third time? Why open 36 channels when three will do? Why look anyone directly in the eye when it’s so much more satisfying to look into space over their left shoulder? And why resist the opportunity for a disparaging remark when you serve one of the most dysfunctional and xenophobic Administrations of modern times?

When I explained that I was intending to catch the Greyhound bus to Austin, my interrogator curled his lip and uttered such a disdainful: “why would you want do that?” that I might have told him I’d chosen to glissade all the way to the next city on a trail of excrement. No, I didn’t tell the little bastard that I had no choice in the matter because his (expletive) queues meant I would have no chance of catching a connecting flight. Nor did I say how much I resented his disparagement of the many friendly (if somewhat eccentric) travelling companions I had met on these bus journeys over the years. However satisfying it would have been to give him a lecture on the America of John Steinbeck it would have fallen on deaf ears. And I did have a bus to catch.

Once I had exited the immigration hall, helpful staff directed me to the correct Metro bus stop for the long ride into the Downtown area of the fourth largest city in the USA. I was thankful for the extra time I’d allocated because by the time I made it to the Greyhound terminal there was not long to wait for my bus. A roly-poly young security office checked my bags with considerably more politeness and professionalism than I’d seen employed at the airport but unfortunately this Hispanic lad, in common with so many others this far South, was almost as wide as he was tall. The only way he could have chased down a miscreant was by dropping on one side and rolling after them like a bowling ball.

Once I had made it into the departure area (a “No ticket = No entrance” policy keeps the place comparatively safe) I could survey my fellow travellers. There were the usual sartorial indiscretions: fluorescent pink trainers with lime green hair, too-tight t-shirts stretched over huge bellies of indeterminate gender, a Disney princess blanket worn around the shoulders of a skinny old white man, faded heavy metal tattoos or an afro comb sported casually on top of the head as if the wearer just didn’t know when the next proper grooming opportunity would arise.

I watched nervously as a box wrapped in yellow biohazard tape and marked “Urgent, Rabies Samples” was loaded under the bus with my luggage and set off on the 18.30h Express in the hope of catching a bit of sleep. Wasn’t it just my luck that I was seated two rows in front of Mrs Tourettes (actually that’s probably an insult to people with an involuntary condition) whose piercing voice didn’t shut up for three hours? Her poor neighbours had to hear her opinions on every subject from the efficacy of eating violets (apparently they renew the collagen in mature skin) to the mining of fancy red diamonds on the Island of Sri Lanka (in complete defiance of the science of geology). This lady was particularly partial to the film oeuvre of John Boorman and it seems she could recite every scene of the Emerald Forrest. And did. I may have dozed off for a while during the narrative of her ancestors: Irish, Choctaw, Creole and Polish? I didn’t keep track, however, the interruptions to my repose did give me the opportunity of observing a silent vignette of Greyhound life taking place in the seat opposite.

I noticed the tears flowing freely down the cheeks of a beautiful young black girl as she scrolled down the latest line of text messages on her i-phone and I leaned over and patted her hand: “No man is worth it, honey”. She managed a weak smile but later I noticed that Mr Afro Comb was also showing signs of sympathy. Soon he had slid into the seat next to her and was speaking very gently as she poured out her heart to him between sobs. As the landscape darkened around us and she too fell asleep, he covered her with his coat and quietly returned to his own seat.

My friends were at the bus station to meet me at 21.20h local time at the end of my 24-hour journey. We will visit with family and friends, talk travel and gemstones, try to ride out the worst political scandals taking place around the world and hope for a sight of a wild deer giving birth in the back yard.

Categories: North America

2 Comments

  • Chris says:

    Rabies vaccine?

  • Nicola says:

    I’ve discovered that there are regular outbreaks of rabies amongst the bat population here and there is a fear of it spreading to other wild animals. When I had my vaccinations I thought I was protecting myself for a visit to India, not Texas. Oh well, I won’t be taking a hawk out to hunt over here – the animal welfare regulations don’t permit much falconry in the USA. Strange when every second Texan has a huge pick-up truck bristling with firearms.

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