Thursday, May 04, 2006


Hi. I remain in Dallas writing up the past week and preparing for the great adventure. I discussed the trip with a Mexican here. I enquired whether he judged it dangerous.
"Dangerous, no," he said. "Crazy? Definitely."
Don took me to my first baseball match in the evening. The Dallas field resembles a Spanish bull ring, layers of arches on the outside while, once inside, it is high teck with every imaginable fast food and beer stall occupying a spacious lobby that circles the tiers of seats.
Guys carrying ice coolers of cold beer and sodas continually walk the aisles yet no one appeared unpleasantly drunk or agressive. To the contrary, the atmosphere was oddly intimate, a few thousand friends getting together to enjoy each other's company.
The Rangers naturally harvested the loudest cheers, however there was no animosity towards the Orioles. A good play, no matter from which team, earned applause. I was reminded of a county cricket match (though this was less boisterous than the final or semi-final of a one day competition). And always the Texas hallmark of courtesy and consideration...
I shudder at the thought of that much alcohol being so easily available at a football match in the UK.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Sunday at the ranch: Texans like to hunt. Don is a leading member of the Dallas Safari Club. He has shot game in about every country where there is game to shoot: Alaska for bear, the Argentine for dove, pheasant in England, South Africa for what ever has big teeth, big horns, or tusks; even all the way to New Zealand for a mountain something-or-other. He and Paul purchased the ranch a few months back as a hunting preserve. They will install a weekend trailer home next month.
Don and Paul transfer to the Hummer for the drive to the site while Eric and Jack scatter dirt competitively with their rear wheels. The site is on the crest of a bluff and has views for miles over what, in Africa, would be called bush. Texas bush is mostly dwarf cedar and mesquite. The bluff forms a hook and falls steeply away right below the site to a fifty acre patch and a spring fed-pond. Thin the mesquite and scrub cedar and you could watch the game come to the water - a Texas version of Kenya's Tree Tops Hotel. Paul isn't much into hunting. His dream is to sit out on the deck of an evening and watch the animals.
Jack imagines mounting a twin barrel heavy machine gun on the deck so he can blast anything that moves.
We drink beer while Don drives us round the property on the ring road they've cleared and down a track that twists between the trees to a second pond. Jack is searching the track for hog tracks. Hogs are domestic pigs gone wild back twenty or thirty generations. Jack has a hog obsession. He wastes a hog, he imagines he's wasting an Alqueda bomber.
We leave the ranch around 5 p.m. faced with a four hour drive home.
We are two hundred miles short of Dallas on a stretch of road under repair. Don hits a hole and bottoms his oil pan on a rock.
So then there were three (bikes)...
And Don gets to drive the last part of this epic in the Hummer while I sit in the front passenger seat and watch the country fly by and ask Don endless questions.
I have travelled one thousand two hundred miles of Texas in two days in the finest of company. We enjoyed ourselves the way boys do. I have been met with extrordinary courtesy, kindness, generosity and good humor every place we stopped. We have burnt enough gas to raise the planetry temperature a couple of degrees. And I have been saved from disaster by two angels: she of the Bourbon Street Cafe and Elspeth Weempe (wise way beyond her years). Thank you from the bottom of my heart.....

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Sunday midday and we are back filling gas tanks in the town of Turkey. This is the third time the Hummer has needed gas. The tank takes thirty five gallons and filling the tank takes a while. We are in a dry county. The help at the gas station reports that we need to drive sixty-five miles in one direction or thirty-five in the other to fill the beer cooler.
The Sporting Club is across the street from the gas station. A big square dinning room has a ceiling twenty feet off the ground and the standard Texas decor of dead heads on the walls together with framed photographs from the old days of Old Timers crouching over dead meat on the hoof, game or cow. Complete a membership form and you can order a beer. A bufet is set up in the next room: a dozen different salads; fried chicken, grilled pork, broiled silverside, all the vegetables; finish with custard and appple pie. I have the beef. Delicious.
The service is typically Texas friendly, full of smiles and good will How-are-yous.
A party of freshly barbered weekend Harley riders occupy the next table. They ride bikes with all the fixings: matching luggage, satelite radio, central heating, shoe polish and a gold-tap toilet. $30,000...and are acompanied by a Harley support team hauling a Harley trailer behind a 3/4 ton Ford truck.
Texans are generous. A visitor has to be fast to grab the check (bill). Finally I succed by catching the waitress midway thru the meal. $44 for an excellent three course meal for five! England it would cost double without the smiles.
Our route onward is a zigzag in search of corners to excite the kids. Paul tends to hold back a little on the curves. He has the power to catch the pack which is something I have to work at in the Hummer. Beer is legal at our next gas stop. You have to drink it off the premises. The premises include the forcourt. Eric finds a patch of grass to sprawl on the other side of a tellephone post that marks the forcourt boundary.
Next stop is a five-hundred acre ranch Paul and Don have bought. The ranch is off a
dirt county road. The GS BMWs gambol on the dirt. The Harley irons the dirt flat. The Honda is a little skitish and Paul is a little anxious. I drive the Hummer with the windows down and blast Texas with opera...


Sunday a.m. The road we follow from Palo Duro back to Turkey has humps and corners and views forever. Eric and Jack lean into the corners and are gone, chasing each other round the school yard, speedometres registering 120 m.p.h. Don sits on his Harley, solid and sensible as a granite Texas rock. The Harley vibrates. The Harley makes noise. Lots of noise. Only a rock could survive.
Meanwhile, Paul, a good lawyer, cruises along a little to the rear in absolute comfort in the law office silence of his new Honda while I bask in the massive comfort of the Hummer.
Saturday was Country and Western.
Sunday started with Swan Lake turned up high and crystal clear on the satelite radio as I swooped across the void.
Now I have Bethoven's Heroica ramming me through the curves and over the low hills.
Hey, Josh.
Hey Jed.
So you'd plisten to the Chillie Peppers or whatever.
But a BIG Hummer? And the Texas Panhandle?
Believe me, kids, what ever the choice of music, THIS IS SERIOUS SERIOUS BLISS.
Jealous? Hah!


Sunday is the day of rest. We have miles to cover and are up at 7 a.m. First stop is a farm twenty miles out of town. The farm grows Cadillacs. The Cadillacs are planted out in the middle of a vast field that may stop at the horizon but probably doesn't. The field is flat as a skate rink. The Cadillacs are nose down up to their windscreens in the earth. This is sculpture both impressive and seriously weird. I will post a photograph once I find out how.
Next halt is nowhere. This is the Texas panhandle and Galileo was talking nonsense when he said the world was round. The world is flat, believe me.
The road runs straight for thirty miles: not a house in sight, no animals, not even a tree. Telephone and power cables that have nowhere to go weave pointless patterns across this vast expanse of nothing. The Boys on The Bikes ride in a bunch. Travelling a British country lane the Boys and I would be BIG. We would fill the road. Children and old ladies out walking their dogs would find us threatening. In the Panhandle we are the minute pieces in a board game. The sun sparkling on bike helmets is the controlling ray operated by whoever is operating the game. Reach the end of the board and we fall off.
Midmorning we enter the Palo Duro State Park. Tough Stick...which is what the player of the board game has done: gouge a stick viciously across the board.
The result is ripped red cayon country right out of a Hollywood Western.
We stop. I take pictures. Eric and Jack strike attitudes at each other and swop bike seats. Jack's is a custom seat three inches lower than the standard model. He has long legs that have been cramping up over the past day and has to stand on the foot rests or stretch his legs out over the engine, shift arse from side to side. Eric has the standard seat and has shorter legs. He claims to be comfortable with Jack's seat. I suspect Eric would claim to be comfortable sitting on six inch nails.


Saturday evening: dinner at the ultimate Texas Tourist restaurant. The line of white courtesy cars have cattle longhorns bolted to the hood. Inside we are in a fake barn with dead deer heads etc mounted high. Right by the door there's a steak on display the size of a pair of bricks. Eat the steak and they feed you free for a year (eat the steak and you wouldn't want to eat in a year). We are shown to a table beside a dais on which sits a competitor for Colestrol Man of the Year. He already has a serious weight problem. He is midway thru the two-brick steak. He is sweating and wears the defeated look of a foot soldier on the fourth day of the retreat from Moscow (take your choice - German or Napoleonic).
Don says, "Great, so we have to look at that while we eat."
We eat steaks the size of a quarter brick. Good steaks.
Go back to the hotel where Don and I are sharing a room with twin kingsize beds. Midnight and a fourth biker joins the party, Eric, a forty-plus photographer who chews toabcco and rides the same model BMW GS as Jack. Eric has bought his bike in the past few weeks. Jack has bought his bike in the last few weeks. I guess that these two are competitiors in some type of interpersonal rivalry as to who can be hottest forty-year-old teenager on the block.
Eric has a sleeping bag. I worn him to spread it the far end of the room because old men have to get up in the night and I don't want to fall on him.
The kingsize bed is comfortable. We have travelled six hundred miles. I have driven a Hummer at 90 mph without fear and am feeling confident as to the morrow.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Saturday p.m. The Brit on the Blink: Two young women in long dresses sweep into the Bourbon Street Cafe. I follow (timidly). The restaurant lobby is dark romantic. I have been outside in the light and am momentarily blind as a bat. A woman's voice (friendly) enquires whether I have a reservation. I blink a few times and an extreemly atractive young woman materialises out of the gloom. She is standing behind a wooden music stand that holds her table list.
I am probably sweating. I certainly fidgit my hands. And I am immensely British. "I am so sorry to bother you," I say. "I'm in a real mess."
Why does she listen?
Why doesn't she call the gaurd?
"I'm lost" I say. "I was following three bikers. Friends. I lost them."
The lady is listening. Patiently. And with some curiosity as to WHAT I am.
"I don't have their telephone number," I report. "I don't have the name of the hotel."
Guests are arriving, wanting their tables (smoking or non smoking?).
I appologise again and, beeing a Brit, again and again, for being a nuisance. If I could call directory enquiries? Except I don't have a phone and if I did have a phone, I wouldn't know how to call directory enquiries. The lady calls on her mobile and gets Don's home number. She gives me the number and hands me her mobile. I explain that I am unfamiliar with mobile phones. Added to which, I am old and more than a little deaf.
She calls Don for me and we get an answering machine. I leave a message (panicy). Minutes pass while I wonder what to do next and while the lady wonders what she can do next (other than apportion tables).
Her telephone rings. Don and Jane's daughter, Elspeth, is the other end. I try not to sound panicy. While Elspeth behaves as a calm mature woman of eleven going on thirty.
Elspeth consoles me. She gives me Don's mobile number.
The lady calls Don who is surprised at a woman calling.
I am saved.
And I am deeply, deeply, deeply grateful to the Angel of the Bourbon Street Cafe.
I try to imagine the same scene in England.
Help? From the greeter at a popular restaurant on a Saturday evening.
I'd still be there, out on the sidewalk, lost...


Saturday p.m., West Texas. My first mistake was in not buying a Bob Wills memorial hat. A Bob Wills hat would have protected me all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Or at least to the ranch down in Argentina where Bush Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out for a few years. I will visit that ranch (if I reach Argentina).
Meanwhile I have sinned.
I have been overconfident.
Pride comes before a fall.
Here is my fall, my plummet from fearless driver of the Hummer to trembling Brit on the sidewalk.
We hit the freeway into Amarillo. The Boys on the Bikes thread the traffic. One minute I am tapping along to Garth Brooks on the radio. Next minute I am in panic. The Boys on the Bikes have GONE.
I drive maybe ten miles with my gut in a knot.
Too late, I spot a biker pulled in at an exit.
I take the next exit and see a biker race by on the freeway.
Oh, God...
What should I do?

I don't know who to pray to.
Saint Antony is good for finding car keys.
I need to find three bikers. Bikers are bigger than keys.
My address book is back in Dallas.
I don't have a mobile tellephone.
I don't have a number to call Don.
I am a Brit with a Brit driving licence. I am in a Hummer without car papers.
Is this likely to get me shot?
I pull in at the parking lot of the Bourbon Street Cafe (live music Saturday night and all the shrimp you can eat for $10.55).


Saturday a.m. Rain. We speed on thru Fort Worth and halt for breakfast around 7 a.m. Paul joins us, a lawyer on a super comfortable Honda 1300. Jack is new to his bike. He has all the kit, the suit with armourplate caps, etc. Unfortunately his boots have filled with water.
We turn off the freeway onto country roads wide enough to be freeways back home. No cops and the speed edges up. The bikes out acelerate and out corner the Hummer. I lose a hundred yards or more on each corner and have to work at catching up. The speedometre touches eighty, eighty five, ninety. Jed and Josh won't believe me. I need Don and all to swear a certificate.
I am becoming confidant. Nashville on satelite radio, Hummer rock steady, I know where the controls are, the rain has ceased, the sun is bright. Cattle in vast paddocks. Mesquite. I spot a couple of wild turkeys on the grass verge.
I follow the Boys on the Bikes into the town of Turkey in mid afternoon. Town is what, in West Texas, they call fifteen houses and a store that closed in the sixties.
We are in Turkey for the annual Bob Wills memorial concert. Bob Wills? Country and Western singer with his band, The Texas Playboys. Check him out on the web.
The concert is in a dirt field by the town's disused redbrick High school building. Tents are pitched and RVs and trailers are parked in amongst the standard farm mishmash of new and disused agricultural machinery, abandoned pickups and rusted metal stuff that even the manufacturer wouldn't recognise.
Texas and machinery is BIG. The driver climbs a ladder to reach the controls. No place here for a man with vertigo.
The Bob Wills memorial concert is true West Texas. Three plank-and-scafolding stands face a stage which has been in place sufficiently long for swallows or house martins to have nested on the ceiling. Three and even four generations of the same family are seated in their own folding chairs between the stands and the stage. The Texas Playboys are up there doing their stuff - those that remain alive. Practiced? They could play in their sleep. The MC is a doctor. He knows half the audience by name and knows where to direct his remarks.
I remark the quantity of old people's transport: electric invalid chairs, golf carts, etc. AND I AM DRIVING A HUMMER!
This is fun. I am having fun.
Local girls collect dollars for upkeep of the museum.
Jack buys a Bob Wills memorial hat.
I write my name in the visitors book and that I come from England.
If there is another tourist, he got lost.


Saturday morning, Dallas. Don reverses the Hummer out of the drive. I climb in behind the wheel. BIG! WIDE! SCARY!
This old man has kids back in England who tease him endlessly as to how slow he drives.
Jed's friends tease me.
Now I must follow Don on a Harley and an airline pilot, Jack, on a BMW GS 1250.
Rain is falling which may slow them down.
It doesn't.
I follow their rear lights out onto the freeway.


My forty-eight hour journey ends mid afternoon in Dallas, Texas. I have slept in a chair the past two nights. Don Weempe collects me at the Amtrak station. Don and Jane and their daughter, Elspeth, are old friends who visit England regularly while I haven't visited Dallas in eight years. Dumb, because the Weempes are a great family to be with and Dallas is a great city.
So why does Don plan on killing me?
Don and friends plan leaving at 5 a.m on a bike trip. I am to follow the bikes in the Hummer with the gear. The Hummer is in the front drive. It looks BIG! It is BIG!
I lie awake worrying that I won't be able to handle something this big. And I worry that I won't be able to keep up with the bikes. This is Texas. These will be BIG bikes. I know that Don has a Harley, leather seats and studs. I'll meet the others tomorrow.


Friday: the same vast corn fields. Here, in the US, freight has priority over passenger travel and we wait again and again while long chains of freight cars creep by. Two and a half hours late so I don't have the time I had hoped for to sightsee Chicago. I DO take a step on/step off tourist trolley along the lake front for an hour ($24). Al Capone was King...I hoped for sight of gangster. How do you recognise a gangster if he isn't shooting or being shot?
Train south is a double decker. Shinny aluminium. New carpets.
I eat dinner in the restaurant car at a table with two black sisters, retirees heading back down to visit familiy in Arkansas. The one sister has a quick mischievious sense of humour while the other is quieter and gives off a sense of home and kindness. Our waitress is a large young lady, also black, with a great smile and humour she is happy to share. We are on the upper deck, the train sways and she is halfway into my lap. I make the sort of joke that, back home, makes Jed and Josh cringe. Engand, people would be embarassed. Here, in the US, everyone laughs.
We have the same vast flat fields either side, low cloud, a few hours of steady rain.
I am recovering my confidence after yesterday's homesickness and talk with fellow travellers in the lounge car. Americans are easy to talk with. A couple of people tell me they are taking the train because of the price of gas: $3 a gallon. I tell them we pay $6.50 in England - true, the distances don't compare.


Thursday morning: Anya dropped me at the train. A few tears from both of us. $8.45 peak time for a senior's ticket to the city - the same distance as from home in England to London where the fare is $40 AND I have to buy an anual old people's permit. Do you get a rebate if you die during the validity period?
The local train came into Grand Central station - beautiful. The Amtrak train left from Penn Central. The cab driver began yelling at me before I was even in the cab - first rudeness I had encountered since arriving in the US. Cab driver came from Lahore, Pakistan. Maybe American courtsy takes a generation.
Anya's mother met me for lunch at the station. We shared a TexMex starter that would have fed an army platoon. Abby tells me everone she meets says I am insane to take this trip. She says she knows me: that I'll keep going out of pride. She wants me to promies that I'll turn back the moment I get scared. I don't tell her that I already am scared!
Train fare from New York to Dallas, $154 for a senior. Train left Penn Central an hour late. Airplane seats, except wider and with double the leg room, and with a leg support that lifts. Crept for miles right along the bank of the Hudson river. Seemed as if the driver was scared the train would tip into the water. Beautiful Spring day, a few pleasure boats out already and a couple of small tankers pushing against the current. Nothing but trees on the far bank.
Options to eat in the restaurant car or at the cafeteria in the lounge car. I take a sandwich. Running late. Watch the fields go by. This is flat country, seriously flat, vast fields either side, interesting to a first time traveller.
I don't talk with anyone - mostly because I'm a little miserable at leaving my daughter and am a long way already from Bernadette and my sons.