A verbatim record of a diary I wrote while visiting friends (Paul & Rice) in Austin, Texas during the Easter holidays of my second year at University in 1994. Re-blogged on the anniversary of each entry. 2017 Commentary, where necessary for context, added as footnotes in italics.
I call this account “a video diary in non-video form” because ‘diary’ sounds… …well a little drab and soft really, doesn’t it?
I aim to make the reader feel part of every entry. I hope to match the style of Michael Palin or Clive James* but I’m not sure how that will go. I aim to include the unexpected aspects of visiting America, to educate, evaluate, criticise, elucidate, inform, encourage and probably mislead your perception of real life in this nation look upon as some sort of elevated monolith of the world community, when basically its peoples are the same as us with ambitions, fears, traumas and ‘Roseanne’… …just like we are!
I also aim to stop writing like I’m at University – this is my holiday for God’s sake!!
Finally and most importantly, I would like to share my most fundamental motivation with you. As Garth Algar** once said: “I just hope you didn’t think it sucked”
I think there’s a lesson there for us all…
* They both were, and still are, amongst my greatest influences of travelogue writing.
** sidekick to Wayne Campbell in ‘Wayne’s World’, 1992 film.
Friday 18th March 1994, 16:49 (GMT)
MID-ATLANTIC – ACTUALLY, MORE LIKE SOMEWHERE OVER CANADA
Took off from Manchester this morning with no problems. As always*, I had the filet mignon for lunch; an American Airlines speciality I must say. The film (‘The Addams Family Values’) has just finished. This means I have successfully endured the first 6½ hours without turning to this diary to keep me occupied – I thought I would have written reams and reams by now! Well, there’s always the Austin flight (in addition to the 1½ more hours here!)
The reason I have not yet got bored is partly because of the bloke I met. An artist from Huddersfield** no less! More later – snack time!
* Stretching credulity a little! Two months previously, I’d flown to Denver, via Chicago, also with American Airlines for a skiing holiday. I’d had the filet mignon on that flight as well.
** Another friend from University (Matt) is from Huddersfield.
Friday 18th March 1994, 17:40 (GMT)
PROBABLY STILL OVER CANADA
The Immigration and Customs forms have just been filled in. Still just over an hour to go. Everything looks white down below but as I do not have a window seat, I can’t confirm what’s happening right now. The newspaper says ‘unseasonably cold’ for Chicago. Oh well!
Austin is supposed to be 29°C – Chicago’s probably going to be 29°F!! Anyway this bloke (Andrew) lives about 3 miles from Highburton*. He’s into skiing and has watched Manchester United for over 20 years — now is it obvious why I haven’t started ‘The Liar’** yet?! He’s going to Toronto to sell his paintings and we had an interesting chat about marketing art — you learn something every day!
* Matt’s family lived in the Highburton area of Huddersfield at the time.
** Semi-autobiographical novel by Stephen Fry.
Friday 18th March 1994, 13:46 (CENTRAL; GMT-6)
CHICAGO O’HARE AIRPORT (T3)
I don’t fly to Austin for another hour yet so there’s plenty of time to hang out and take in the scenery — again!
Yes I’m once again sat in the little café in Terminal 3. Everything is the same (Michael Jordan is everywhere!) — except it’s not snowing. Little things spark off my memory like those bending iron columns — what were the initials again? Must remember to ask Martin!* Well, yes, they’re still here, not surprisingly!
It was a weight off my mind to ring Chris (whoever he is!)** who confirmed that Rice and Paul will be at the airport in 3½ hours’ time. I think Dad was pleased I rang — from the very same ‘phone booth from which he rang Grandma only 8 weeks ago! Not that he was to know that, but it sort of seemed right.
Blasé as I appeared before I left (well I probably was blasé), I’m not now; I can’t really comprehend that I was sat in that very yellow plastic chair 2 months ago (unless they swapped them around for some reason) — but the effect is just the same anyway!
OK: an in-joke for anyone who has been to an American airport before: “Mr Bloggs; Mr Joe Bloggs. Please contact the information desk.” — it really is the little things, isn’t it?!!
[Somebody’s just sat in my chair — the yellow plastic one!]
I wonder why that Customs official was convinced I’d been to the Netherlands***. I don’t look like Jan****, do I?
Actually, I didn’t handle that very well. We both knew it was kidology but instead of being British and saying “I’m sorry but I’m afraid there’s some mistake here”, I overdid the staunch defence bit and sort of whined “but I havennn’t been there!!!” Oh well, better luck next time — there probably will be a next time.
At least I didn’t bleep here. In Manchester, I couldn’t believe being bleeped a second time! 10 years of air travel… (sigh)
Oh I think I found some Pepsi in my regular cup of ice cubes! — oh no, it’s just a trick of the light.
5 past 8 now at home… …I wonder what happened on Coronation Street… …Shit! What time did I ring? 25 past I think… …well that was a close one! I know I’m in Chicago and all but CORONATION STREET! Sorry Mum!*****
* My brother Martin and I had discussed the RSJs visible from the departure gate area (for some reason) during my previous visit, two months earlier.
** Another British overseas student at the University of Texas who had become friends with Paul & Rice, Crucially (and a sign of the time), he was the only person among their circle who had access to a telephone.
*** Looking very bedraggled and student-like as I did, it’s no surprise that I was spotted by a US Customs official who came over to ask me if I’d “brought anything in from Amsterdam”. I took him literally because I couldn’t believe that he would need to speak in euphemisms, even though it was perfectly clear what he meant.
**** Another friend from University, Jan came from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire but had a Dutch mother.
***** My Mum was a regular ‘Coronation Street’ viewer then. She isn’t now.
Friday 18th March 1994, 15:03 (CST)
CLIMBING OUT OF CHICAGO
As I see the last, faint cloud-obscured features of Illinois disappear, my mind turns to filling the time on this 2hr 20min flight. It hardly seems worth starting ‘The Liar’ now. There’s certainly no opportunity for conversation as there’s no-one next to me — but I got a window seat!
I realised that, unlike many of the passengers, admittedly American and ‘frequent flyers’; who were perhaps nervy about the take-off, I was hugely relieved, probably because I know Paul and Rice are waiting for me and that after a 9hr flight, this little ‘hop’ is a mere formality. OK, so I’m blasé again!
Sometimes though, I sort of catch myself off-guard and have to remind myself that I’m now in the USA all alone (for the time being) and despite the facade of casual ‘shit happens’ acceptance, sometimes it is all a little unreal.
I heard a Texan in front of me chatting to an Illinoian (?)*, saying that they wouldn’t need warm clothes as it’s (I’m sure he said) 98°!! So that’s what “damn hot” means!
The captain just said there’s some “bumpy air” on the way, although it’s pretty clear right now.
What can I see? Well, a large, (very) straight road, probably an Interstate and just lots of fields, like the plains of Eastern Colorado — no circular fields here, though!
There is a grid of roads at right angles separating the fields and tiny houses are dotted randomly about. In the distance, I can see a small town where two roads cross. It just looks like a gigantic patchwork blanket!
Well we are in the Midwest here. Agricultural heartland of the US. There’s absolutely no variation for as far as I can see (probably about 40 miles) and it’s completely flat.
Whoahh! A large town *quick look at the map*. Could be Springfield, Illinois — I dunno!
8:25 at home; I wonder what’s happening at home. More to the point, I wonder what’s happening in Lancaster. Hmmm… Paul & Rice will be told. Oh yes, Paul & Rice *will* be told**.
This clock-watching is a bad idea. I’ll have to do something or this flight will seem the same as the other one — which for a 9-hour flight, wasn’t that bad, but for a 2½?!
Wait! Captain announced we’re going over St. Louis. I can’t see it but I can see a river. Mississippi or Missouri, I don’t know.
<<Important announcement coming up!>> (hereafter referred to as !*!)
* Actually, it’s an “Illinoisan”, according to statesymbolsusa.org.
** I have no idea what this was specifically a reference to, although it’s worded in a ‘Wayne’s World’ style. I think it had something to do with a rumoured sexual encounter of one of my house-mates.
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