Sunday, 18 April 2010

A New York Postscript

Some travelers, Japanese, it appears to me, in particular, seem to be recording their journey, rather than experiencing it; not a trap I want to fall into. So I'm writing this, as a postscript because New York, the "Big Apple", didn't leave any time for tidying up my notes. My memory has never been much good, so this postscript will be even more suspect than usual.

I never really know my own motives, but it is at least possible that this delightful year wandering around rural America was just a very heavy disguise for the final frenetic week in New York, my favourite place to visit in all the world. This is the place I visited most in my life, and is a rich tapestry of memories, some so strong I can still even smell them.

But, in the spirit of adventure which characterized this last year, I decided to stay in a part of the city I've never been to before. I didn't quite have the nerve to choose Harlem, so I settled for Brooklyn, in part as a tribute to Tom Wolfe's delightful short story, "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn", which I had just read.

So when I descended out of Pennsylvania and the Alleghennies, pausing only to notice that as we came down to lower altitudes the trees were beginning to blossom, it was to blast straight onto Manhattan and off the other side; pausing only to misunderstand Dulcie one last time and make a brief detour through Chinatown.

I was staying at the Broadway Junction end of Atlantic Avenue, where there is ready access to the subway and buses. I had, of course, forgotten that quaint American custom of putting the subway over the top of everything, on a gantry of steel. So, briefly, on a strict schedule, throughout the day and night, my room may have been the noisiest place on earth. It's a good job that doesn't bother me very much. This part of Brooklyn is clearly very poor: everybody, except the policemen, is black

For my first outing, I got to take the 'A' train. Not quite as far as Billy Strayhorn took it, up to Harlem, only to the other end of Manhattan, to 4th Street in the Village. To go 'off-Broadway' for an interesting production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town". I couldn't resist this, having just visited twenty such places around the country. I wonder if the people I met saw their town like this (allowing for the changing times). They certainly didn't seem like that to me. But it did say what those people on American Family Radio clearly believe, but so spectacularly fail to say.

The setting, a community hall, was exactly like the fringe productions I go to so much in London. The only difference was that it cost $75. Miraculously, everyone had turned white.

Waiting for the 'A' train back to Brooklyn, the station was filled with the sounds of a Brahms Piano concerto. I guess that would be by popular demand in this neighbourhood.

Downtown Brooklyn was a bus ride away, and boasted a number of Irish bars. In one, the Irish barmaid explained her rather unusual name by telling me it was after the founder of the Legion of Mary. It was a curious complement to me to think (rightly, as it happens) that I knew what that was. She drew me a map of how to get to the 'A' train. After a long session, it took me a little time to work out that she was on the other side of the bar, so the map was upside-down, if you see what I mean.

I moved to a hotel on the west side of Brooklyn, nearer where the QM2 docks. I turned Silver into his livery stable en route. Before I could get my luggage into the car they were going to take me to the hotel in, he was washed and scrubbed, and away with another rider. He never really took Rozzie's place anyway.

It was a lovely sunny day, so I went out for a walk to find the nearest subway station. This was on the Broadway Express, so I could get up to Time Square and see if there were cheaper theatre tickets. But the other way it went to Coney Island, which is how I found myself, still in New York City, on the beach, in a bar which made its own beer, with a Polish barmaid who loved to play Abba, which I love to listen to. She wanted to borrow my newspaper to read about the Polish air crash. (I should point out that when I say "Irish" and "Polish", in these cases I actually mean it: they were not Americans claiming another nationality, as Americans do.)

I went up the Bronx to get a ticket for the opening Yankee game of the season. I had assumed it would be in the evening, but it was more than halfway through when I got there. I bought a ticket for the game the following afternoon (baseball players play nearly every day). The man at the ticket booth looked me up-and-down, then asked me if I would like to go into the end of the first game, and gave me a free ticket. The new Yankee stadium is a really fine place. I was bemoaning how expensive everything (that's code for "beer") was when I had to remind myself that I got in for nothing.

On the way back, I stopped off to visit my favourite bar from way back. I'm pretty sure I remember exactly where it is, but, sadly, it is gone, replaced by a pub called "Baker Street". The inside seems to be much the same, so that has to do for memory lane.

In the Irish bar in Brooklyn, I had got into a conversation with a African American, about the same age as me, who had recommended "Race", David Mamet's new Broadway play, so I stopped off at the Time Square ticket bureau to get a ticket, and made the startling discovery that on-Broadway is cheaper than off-Broadway.

After years of avoiding big theatres, it took me a minute to get used to the actors shouting at each other so we could hear them. But this is a really good play, very verbal, with lots of belly-laughs about racial attitudes. And, of course, famous faces from the TV screen.

I had organized the emptying of my American bank account almost perfectly, leaving less than two dollars behind. Unfortunately, I got fingered by a Brooklyn gas pump. It, as some of them do, asked me for my zip code when I used my credit card. Without thinking, I put it in as I would for the American debit card. Of course, a zip code means nothing for a British credit card, so I got declined and had to pay cash. I didn't think any more about it, but, unfortunately, I got shopped, and they stopped the credit card. Which meant the final car rental payment got declined. Which meant they used the American debit card. Which meant it went horrendously negative. Which meant the bank shoveled on overdraft charges like I was their only source of income. Which meant a lot of phone calls, including one to Britain. But it all got straightened out. And I got a pleasurable reminder of the delightful southern Kentucky accent of the car rental lady.

From my hotel window, I can see the Queen has arrived. The hotel is owned and operated by Indians: Indian Indians, that is. I shouldn't have to tell you this, because all hotels in the United States are owned and operated by Indian Indians. But it is in an Hispanic neighbourhood, so the cab driver who takes me to the QM2 is Hispanic. He is playing Mozart on his radio. It is the first time I have enjoyed music in a cab: and a fitting end to my stay in New York.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Thursday 8th April 2010 - Old Haunts and New Friends

          Today was a short hop across the Alleghenny River and into the Pennsylvania Wilds.  Where I lost Public Radio for a while.  I got to listen to American Family Radio.  They specialise in being peeved that the "Liberal media" (their words) ignore things they think (apparently sincerely) to be important.  Since what they believe in, being traditional values like "Country" and "Flag" and "Family", are almost inexplicable, and certainly beyond your average media jock, they are simultaneously right and unfair.  Not only are the "Liberal media" (their words) incapable of explaining these concepts, so, it appears, are they themselves.  Anyway, it made a a change.
          When I got back to Public Radio, it was Clarion University running what was obviously a news-reading exam.  As the young lady approached what was going to be the Russian President's name (it was about this nuclear treaty thing), you could tell from her voice that she knew she wasn't going to be able to pronounce it.  And when she got there, indeed she couldn't.  I wonder if she learned anything from that, like, for example, practicing beforehand.  Come to think of it, I wonder if this was the first time she'd done it.
           About 50 mile before Bellefonte (my destination for tonight) there was one of the most specific local attraction signs I've seen:  it said "(at 2280 ft) the highest point on I-80 east of the Mississippi".  I bet none of you can match that!  It is a beautiful day, and I'm in lovely rolling (still bare) wooded hills.
          Bellefonte is where the American Philatelic Society keeps its library, so I know my way around here.
 
          Later that night, I went out for some beer.  I started in the poshest bar, where they keep  their beer and their grown-up ladies in good condition, but there were not only no grown-up ladies on duty, they were selling Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on draft.  Since I was staying out-of-town, and therefore driving, I decided not to trust myself, so I didn't stop.  The next choice was my favourite redneck bar outside of town, but since it would require a difficult drive back along back roads, I wasn't too keen.  As I was dithering, a new pub leapt to my eyes.  As I got in, they not only had Troegg's, the local brew, and Yeungling's, a fairly moderate ale, they had a duty grown-up lady waiting at the bar to greet me.  She hung on my every word; wanted my opinion on everything.  I gave a long expose (now, now!) on the various beers I had encountered on my trip.  She was captivated.  Turned out the place had recently opened, and she was la patronne.  Grown-up ladies are so much more fun than truck drivers.  She didn't want to listen to any Gilbert and Sullivan, she wanted to listen to me.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Wednesday 7th April 2010 - Keep on Trucking

          As a result of my late night research on racehorse breathing, I was pretty late out of Chicago.  So I got caught in the rush hour. Actually, I expect, like most big cities, it's a pretty long rush hour, so I probably couldn't have avoided it anyway.  I thought it might be a bit of luck, and allow me to do a bit of sight-seeing, but Chicago was only visible from about floor 20 downwards, which was a little eerie.  But I did get up onto the Skyway, and see down to Lake Michigan.  I must be getting good at interstate travel, 'cos I got a lengthy honking from someone I had to cut up to get to my exit.
 
          Today's Public Radio delight was a phone-in about Scrabble: yes, a phone-in.  They had an expert to interview, and, no doubt ask penetrating questions of, but they all just prattled on about how much fun it was.  One man phoned in to say that he cheated on his wife, but only at Scrabble.  He confessed that whenever she left the room, he rummaged around the tile bag for letters he wanted.  He then told us that she still beat him, and never knew he cheated.  She is obviously just charitable about his inadequacy as a cheat.
 
          Later that night, I fell into the company of truck drivers.  I had stopped at Youngstown, and the motel was right beside one of those giant truck stops.  These places allow truckers overnight parking, with restaurants and shower facilities.  The bar was across the road, so I knew it was going to be hard to get back.  It served Great Lakes ale, from Cleveland.
          The drivers swapped notes about how far they travelled, how much time they got off, how to make good money without getting caught breaking the regulations.  There seemed to be a clear payoff between how far they could run in a day and how much time they spent at home.  In that context, I wanted to raise the subject of Scrabble, and cheating on their wives, but before I could, they decided they were going off to the "Titty Bar", which I supposed to be some Gilbert and Sullivan themed pub. 
          I myself took to heart that bit from The Sorcerer, and, despite not being a baronet or a KCB, or a Doctor of Divinity, I went home to bed respectably. The magic drink having manifested its power.  It obviously, at least, got me back across the road safely.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Tuesday 6th April 2010 - Talk Radio

          I'm up and off at eight.  New York is 1200 miles away, and I'm planning 3 or 4 days to get there.  I have to get to Chicago for tonight.  It's boring old interstate all the way, 94 down to Madison, Wisconsin, then 90 (or is it 39?) into Chicago.
          Although there's nothing much to see on the interstates, Public Radio provides good company.  It hardly ever goes out of range east of the Mississippi, so it's usually only a question of twiddling the dial to pick up the next transmitter.
          Today's memorable programme was something like Women's Hour.  They were plotting, as usual, to take over the world.  I enjoyed myself with bits of ribaldry they couldn't hear.  They weren't even approaching grown-up.
 
          Later that night, I met a man who gives breathing exercises to racehorses.  I didn't ask him how he did it, 'cos I was sure I wouldn't understand the answer.  He not only claimed to have won the Kentucky Derby (not personally, you understand), he even offered me a hot tip for this year, which is only a month away.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Monday 5th April 2010 - Transportation Matters

         The local Rotary Club turned out to cheer me and offer a free lunch.  It seems Minnesota is a hotbed of free lunches.  A young lady from the Agricultural college gave us a talk about local farming.  Garrison Keiller is constantly on the radio telling us that people around here are all mad.  It's obviously because they farm in a climate like this.
 
         I also, finally, plucked up the courage to stand my transportation people down, and broke the sad news to them about Rozzie's demise.  They had been waiting to take him off my hands.  They were pretty blase about it; and thought he was probably already back on the road in pirate colours.  Somehow, that cheered me up.  But there was a serious point:  the write-off price the insurance company came up with proved quite conclusively what a good deal they had made for me in the first place.  It's not often you get solid evidence of that.
 
          Later that night, there was an Irish barmaid to take my leave of.  She remembered I liked my glasses warmed.  That gets her honorary grown-up status.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Sunday 2010 - Multidimensional Miracles

          I was up early to get the final washing done.  Those of you who like to keep abreast of the frontiers of science will be interested to hear that in the Maytag Small Collider at Eagan, Minnesota, the infamous blacksox particle has re-emerged into this universe.  This was undoubtedly connected to the event horizon of the Chinese bamboo copy forcibly introduced last week. 
         My hosts concocted a thin and implausible tale about a fortieth wedding anniversary so that they might throw a party for me.  It went on for most of the day.  I restricted myself to regular American beer, so I (just about) managed to stay the course.
         We played catchball (a segment of baseball) in the yard.  I discovered that you wear a baseball mitt on the less dominant hand, so you can throw better.  Catching, apparently, is easier than throwing.  You could have fooled me.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Holy Saturday, 2010 - Rituals and Adoration

          Today is the ceremonial day for defiling my person with alcohol.  I have to rise late for the ritual cleansing and dressing.  Which has to finish just as the sun crosses the yardarm.  (Do you get the feeling I've spent too much time on my own?)
          The choice this year for the defiling, you will be unsurprised to discover, is the divine Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, out of Chico ,CA, although I do decide to drink it out of a Sam Adams glass.  SNPA was really a "no brainer", because, at this crucial moment when my taste buds are fully rested and pointing like a doberman, SNPA allows two distinct tastings.  It is bottle-conditioned, so I can pour half of it carefully and drink it bright, a l'anglais, then swirl the rest around and drink it, American-style, cloudy.  They both have their merits, American being, as you would expect, a much stronger, drier taste.  But I prefer the delicacy of the English style.
          The only problem is that American real beer ("micro brews" they like to call it here) is fiercely strong, so, in no time at all, my taste buds are suitably anesthetised and tucked away for another year.
          For the second-to-last part of the ritual, the traditional Cadbury's Creme Eggs are readily available.  And you don't need to be told what the last part is.
 
          Later that night a group of grown-up ladies was assembled to listen adoringly to my stories.

Friday 2nd April 2010 - All Ship-shape and Bristol Cream

          It's the day to get my Easter rituals organised.  In particular, I have to find a religious supplies shop to get some stocks of altar beer.  This is no trivial task in the United States.  The liquor store has more choices in beer than it does in french wine.  Actually, the beer aisle is not unlike the breakfast cereal aisle in a supermarket.  I feel like a small child in a candy store: there is exquisite agony in making the choice.  In fact, it takes me all of an hour.
          When I finally choose, and get to the check-out, it finally occcurs to me that other people might like something as well.  So, as they say in the Ozzie beer adverts, I throw in a bottle of sherry "for the sheilas".
 
          With alles now in ordnung, I can turn my attention, finally, da-dada-da-dada-da - to the packing.  After a week of background thinking, it falls into place smooth, as they say here, as a Clinton apology.  I have my road bag, my "just in case" bag, and the big case divided into "wanted on voyage" and "not wanted on voyage".
          And I've made a hatbox for my precious Stetsons.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Thursday 1st April 2010 - Ideas Above my Station

          Having trumped the Immigration Service yesterday, I felt my loins sufficiently girded to have another tilt at the Social Security Administration.  Having one of their numbers in my possession will greatly facilitate closing out my bank accounts.
          My last foray in that direction was way back in Montana, where a nice young lady had taken the trouble to find out how to give me a number, and was about to do the deed when we discovered I'd sent the essential document to Immigration.  (I had noted the number, but, surprisingly for the SSA, they didn't want the number, they wanted the object.)
          But now my documentation is complete, so I dropped into the local office.  It was a small office, so, although they had the mandatory man-with-a-gun, he declined to look up my bottom (to be absolutely honest, he seemed a little surprised at the offer)  He told me to take a number; from a little dispensing machine.  This, I thought, is easier than I expected.  But it turned out only to be a queueing number.
          When I got to see the clerk, she was all brusque and business-like.  I'm very sympathetic to social security staff.  They sometimes have to deal with people who are sometimes very stressed.  She looked at my documents.  No, she couldn't help, I was the wrong status.  So how was the young lady in Montana going to do it, eh?  Quick as a flash, the clerk pointed out that she (Montana) hadn't seen the document.  If she had, she'd have known I was (chorus) the wrong status.
          She suggested I go and see the Internal  Revenue, but that is a circle aound which I decline to go again.  They never do anything to help, anyway, but they collect information as they do (or rather, don't do) it.  My father told me to keep away from the IRS. He was always threatening to shoot them (well, not always, just on Saturday nights).
          Still, I suppose it's better to have a government that doesn't know what it's doing: I don't think we'd like the alternative.  I shall just have to stick to cash.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Wednesday 31st March 2010 - A Free Lunch

          I had to go up to town for a meeting with my legal team.  I wanted to check everything was in order, and that I could have a slippery-smooth exit, with no falling foul of government bureaucrats.  It is just as well I took the trouble, because there was, indeed, a severe flaw in my plans.  But, with the proper professional advice, it was soon put to rights: my I979A now nestles in my passport in place of the I94, waiting to confound the aparachik.  Another one in the eye for mere government.
 
          By the way, I discovered, and it is not surprising with lawyers involved, that there is such a thing as a free lunch.  Their ethics do not permit them to accept gifts from clients, so they had to buy lunch.  It was in one of St Paul's finest old Italian restaurants, full of Godfather figures, cheeks stuffed with cotton wool, making that curious back-handed waving gesture.  I suppose any (or, indeed, all) of them might nowadays have been Justice Department stooges, waiiting to pounce on an unethical lawyer.
          I bet you didn't know there's a special rule that allows Lenten fasters to eat masses of Italian food in Holy Week in towns with a saint's name.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tuesday 30th March 2010 - The Black Sox Scandal

          With some reluctance, I started stage one of the packing.  After a year on the road, stage one is unpacking, the creation of chaos: hence the reluctance.
          Some surprising things turned up: or rather, didn't.  As I piled all the socks together, I noticed there were no black ones.  Now why would I notice that?  I wasn't looking for it.  But black socks are an essential part of the QM2 dress code.  I had them when I came in; where are they now?  Obviously I put them in a sensible place: inside posh shoes; pockets of dress suits: unfortunately, none of the above.
          It is well-known that washing machines are secret consumers of socks, but how could they have consumed the only pair of socks I never wore?  Naturally, everything else was forgotten in an obsessive hunt for black socks: which steadfastly remained unfound.  Perhaps, like the infamous Chicago White Sox of 1919, they have been banned from ever appearing again.
          Having covered the floor in clothes, and invoked the intervention of many of the less-salubrious deities, I eventually pulled myself back from the brink before the men in white coats were summoned.  Instead, I went round to the local supermarket, where the ever-reliable Chinese had stocked a whole shelf with dress black socks, made, apparently, from bamboo.
          I also used the outing to take my dress shirt to the laundry.  The laundry is in the same mall as the barber's, and the young lady here also demanded my phone number.  I gave her a false one.  She asked me if I wanted light-, medium-, or heavy-starch.  I hadn't considered starch at all; I went for medium.
 
          I also found a twenty-five-year-old Canadian two-dollar bill.  I obviously brought my stock of old Canadian money in case I had to take a half-term break in Canada.  Which reminded me that I had acquired a couple of US two-dollar bills on my travels: but they were nowhere to be found.  They are probably among the things I mailed home from Montana and Missouri.  I wonder if that's where the black socks went to?

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Monday 29th March 2010 - Recidivism and Shopping

          It is a beautiful day, and fairly warm.  Spring is most decidely sprung.  Minneapolis is at the same latitude as Bordeaux, but, of course, a thousand miles from the ocean, so it can spring a few weather surprises.
          There is a park opposite, and, in the American way, it is 18-20 square miles.  Here you have to drive somewhere to go for a walk.  But a short walk allows me to indulge a favourite childhood passion, throwing stones into ponds.  I'm very civilised about it now, and only throw small pebbles, being careful not to disturb the wildlife: not when anyone is looking, anyway.  When I was very small, I would drag the largest rocks I could, and nearly go in with them in the final heave.  A bit of harmless recidivism is good for a chap.
 
          Suitably fortified, I start to size up the packing problem.  As well as the old camera and computer I lost in Philadelphia, I also lost, more importantly, it turns out now, the bag they were in.  I'm fairly sure that, no matter how brutal I am at disposal, I will have to replace it.
          So I took myself off to the local shopping mecca, a giant mall much like Bluewater.  But where you might have expected them to call it "Blooomington Mall" or "Minneapolis Mall", or ,even in a frenzy of hubris "Minnesota Mall", they chose to call it "Mall of America": no hidding behind bushels there.  The road signs tend, rather diffidently, to the more prosaic "MOA".  They could open a cheap one for the lower classes and call it "MOAB" (that's a rather obscure biblical joke).
          They claim people fly in to the nearby airport just to shop: from as far as Europe and Asia.  Bluewater was pleased when it got a rail station.  Typical parochialism: it should have been aiming for an airport.
          To my way of thinking, it's just expensive shops and mooching children.  I look at the immense, expensively-finished fabric of it, and wonder how all that could have been paid for.  I managed to find a bag.  But I couldn't find a pond to throw a rock in.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Sunday 28th March 2010 - Floods and Teenagers

          It is the time of year when the snow is melting, so the rivers get a sudden surge.  The mighty Mississippi is well boxed in here, but the boxes, so to speak, are nearly full.  The Minnesota, which flows into the Mississippi, has overflowed and now occupies its entire flood plain, looking like a large lake rather than a (relatively) small river.  The trees on its banks can still be seen tracing its normal path.
 
          This we see on our way to a teenage birthday party.  I am one of the socially nervous, who can be readily persuaded that teenagers are capable of casual canibalism.  I have been told that modern teenagers actually watch TV programmes where the characters regularly indulge these tastes.  But, being a close cousin, however many times removed, may spare me such a fate, especially as I have had had the foresight to come bearing gifts.
          As it turns out, I get treated like royalty, which means I get introduced to everybody all at once, with someone whispering names in my ear, than get sat in a corner among the favoured few, and only have to wave benignly from time-to-time.
          The favoured few are mostly parents and grandparents.  They have an inexhaustible supply of teenager war stories which are simultaneously hilarious and hair-raising.  Like old soldiers, they vie with each other over the horrors they have survived.  I discreetly keep a thick wedge of them between me and their teenagers: I could get the hang of this royalty stuff.
 
          Later that night, I contemplate the passing of Palm Sunday.  We're now into Holy Week, or the "home straight" as I think of it.  I can now start edging discretely towards the nearest bar.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Saturday 27th March 2010 - Doing the Foul Deed

          There is good news: nettles have been seized, diems carpe'd, nails hit accurately, iron struck at suitable temperature, stitches saved, worms duly caught; trunks emptied: well, whole cars, actually
          There are, of course, drawbacks.  It's a good job it's Lent.  Getting up in the night now would likely involve the stubbing and stabbing of toes.  Everything has been laid out for disposal or folding into transatlantic cases.
          Which is exhausting enough for one day.  So it's off to the malt shop for traditional American fare.  Americans of my age hanker after juke-box-fuls of sixties music and Horlicks with their dinner.  They probably also think wistfully of the recreational drug use and casual sex they missed out on at the time.
          "Malt shops" sell 'malts', a milkshake made with ice cream and malted milk, a baby food invented by a London Pharmacist come to Wisconsin, one James Horlick.  As an accompaniment to hamburger, it lacks the biting piquance of a rough claret, but Americans have chosen to try to prevent their children drinking by setting this sort of example.  Europeans do the opposite.  Of course, neither works, as the children, in their turn, miss out on their generation's recreational drugs and casual sex.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Friday 26th March 2010 - Coming Clean

          Although it is still not too warm, the sun is shining on the twin cities, and there is a definite smell of spring in the air.  In a few weeks, the Minnesota Twins will open their new stadium and play their first outdoor baseball at home for nearly thirty years.  It is time time to cut myself out of my goose-greased underwear and wash out the nooks and cranies. 
          I should also indulge myself in a haircut.  I got a trim last Autumn, somewhere in Ohio, I think: a backstreet, walk-in barber's shop, full of old men talking non-stop.  This, of course, is 'big city', so I don't suppose I will find anything similar (not that they won't be there, I just won't know where)
           I asked Google to find some, but ladies went to its barbershops, or its barbershops had gone to the dogs.  So I got adventurous (it's spring!) and tried Yellow Pages.  It gave me a measly three, and two of those were the same.  It also, inexplicably, offered three "single-men dating agencies" in Kansas: possibly a bit of fine tuning needed on the search algorithm. 
          I tried the one which wasn't a repeat, or a dating agency.  A bright young lady greeted me and asked what she could do for me.  Why do people do that?  I've walked into a barber's shop with six months of hair on my head; it's got to be obvious, hasn't it?.  Anyway, I've no sooner confessed my intent than she asks for my phone number.  Sadly, she was far from grown-up.  But she did alright with the hair.
          They also offered to trim my beard, but there's something a bit too 'Samson and Delilah' about that.  Anyway, matching it up to the hair allows me to look lovingly at myself in the mirror for an hour.  And I don'r even have to ask for my phone number.

Friday, 26 March 2010

25th March 2010 - Trouble with the Servants

          One of the servants is lying to me.  Now we're no longer busy, I shall have to find camp drills for them, keep them out of trouble.
          Dulcie suddenly volunteered the number 25361.  Well, it wasn't volunteered, really.  I asked the wrong question, and out it popped.  Seems she's been keeping track of all our travels, unbeknown to me.  And she claims it adds up to the aforementioned 25361.  That's more than once round the world at the thickest bit, which seems a bit unlikely.
          The trusty steeds disagree.  I managed to extract a deathbed confession from Rozzie (RIP) and he coughed up (after a bit of arithmetic) 13793.  Silver is currently boasting a youthful and vigorous 5517.  Which adds up to 19490.  That seems a bit more plausible.  I know that the steeds can generally be a bit optimistic, maybe as much as ten per cent if I don't air them properly, but twenty-five per cent seems a bit high.
          Dulcie is supposed to be the deadly accurate one, so what has she been up to while I'm not there? Was she off on moonlit hayrides?  Dallying with other travellers while I was furthering my librarian studies?  Were her virginal wrappings a mere family deception when we first met?  I have written to her family demanding an explanation.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Wednesday 24th March 2010 - Posting a Letter

          The trunk remains darkly closed.
 
          I found some displacement activity, although it turned out to displace more than I expected.
          I had to post a letter.  I asked Google for the nearest Post Office.  Of course, being Google, it showed me every post office in the universe, and left me to narrow things down a bit.  The one I picked turned out to be the local sorting office.  Dulcie did rather better, and found a real post office next door.
          Where I was faced with a longish queue and an "APC" (Automated Postal Centre?).  I really only wanted to get the correct stamp for whatever weight of letter I had, so, always game for  new experience, I went for the ATC.  Which promptly started an inquisition: of jesuitical proportions.  For example, it wanted to know if my letter was "rigid".  Well, depends, dunnit?   I wouldn't have considered it "rigid", but the USPS might.  The man waiting behind me had no doubt noticed I had one slim letter.  He was becoming agitated.  I was getting much more "experience" than I had bargained for, so I quietly admitted failure and joined the counter queue: quite a few places behind where I would have been if I gone straight there.
           When I got to the counter, there was another inquisition.  I was sending someone a stamped-addressed-envelope, so they could return something.  The letter wasn't sealed, because, well,  the stamped-addressed-envelope still needed its stamp, didn't it?.  The counter clerk wanted to know if I was going to put anything else in the envelope.  Well, I was, wasn't I?  Jacques Tati would have done it much better.  Everyone would have known to laugh.  Instead of getting cross, like they did.  Eventually, I lied my way out of trouble.
 
          Later that night, I finished Cormac McCarthy's "The Road".  It's very good.
 
         

Tuesday 23rd March 2010 - Dodging the Column

          When I cleared out Rozzie (RIP) last Christmas, I packed everything into bin liners and stuffed them into Silver's trunk.  Eight months of just throwing things in the back, and sometimes clearing a space to sleep in had not got them in the best of order.  And "AR" (After Rocinante"), I kind-of settled into hand luggage and minimum changing about.  If I couldn't find something, I just did without it.
          Now I have to clear up and put things in order, so I can carry everything on and off the ship.  I have to peer into the dankness od Silver's trunk, and haul everything indoors to sort out.  It's something I'm not at all keen to do.  Probably because it will inevitably be done badly.  Most people will say "just get on with it", but I have this feeling that the longer I leave it, the better it will be done when I do it.
         Or maybe it's just because I'm not very good at it.  I don't like doing things I'm not very good at.  Or maybe it's the other way round.  I've heard it said that the seccret of educating children is to try to spot what they're good at, and then help them do that..  I'm sure that's true.  In the mean time, I'm spotting what I'm good at, and encouraging myself to do that, instead of what I have to do.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Monday 22nd March 2010 - I'll Fly Away

          The interstates certainly make the case for flying.  At least when you fly, you can maintain an interest by reading.  And it's safer.
          I stopped at Portage, ostensibly for a coffee, but really just to see a small town.  This is quite a good one, with a thriving centre.  The snow has gone and the sun is out.  And I feel a bit better.
         Portage is where the French got off the Fox river, which runs into Lake Michigan at Green Bay, and onto the Wisconsin, which flows into the Mississippi.  They had to 'portage' about two miles.
 
          And, finally, I'm back in the Twin Cities.  I've a bit of business to clear up here, then it's off to the Big Apple for some fun, before I entrust my person to the Cunard Company and the Atlantic.

Sunday 21st March 2010 - On the Julian Calender, That is

          I really am a city slicker at heart.  Having spent nearly a year out in the boondocks, I've been in the suburbs of Chicago for about five minutes and already I know the train times to town and back.  And where to find today's cheapest concert (it's free, actually).
          This is important, because it's Bach's birthday: unless you happen to be Pope Gregory XIII, in which case you have to wait another 11 days.  The Chicago Chamber Orchestra is doing the honours at 3pm.  Union Pacific, in deference to the great man, have arranged a conveniently timed train there and (probably) back.
          Knowing the nickname of this city, I wrap up well.  When I arrive at the concert hall, there is a mob on the other side of Michigan Ave, being restrained by mounted policemen, shouting "you're not welcome here"(the mob, not the policemen).  I went in to check if I needed to get a number, or anything like that, then came back out to see what they were shouting about.  But they were gone.  It couldn't have been Bach they were shouting about.  Maybe it was me!
          The concert was very enjoyable
[n1514]
But I do have to say their intonation was a bit iffy in places.  (I think when you get a lot of lady fiddlers together, you need a conductor who's a bit of a bastard).
 
          Back in Glen Ellyn, the Irish pub was doing boiled cabbage.  That sounded "efnick" enough to excuse me salad on such a cold night.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Saturday 20th March 2010 - Back to the Frozen North

          I toyed with the notion of irritating Dulcie by taking US-6 or 20 to Chicago, just to hear her recalculating again, but I slept in late (it's the country air and the clean living) and there was a nice breakfast place next door, so I let her have her way.  She excels herself by getting me onto two Interstates and a toll road all at the same time: not only does this road carry Interstates 80 and 90, it's also the Indiana Turnpike, and so is going to cost money.  "Drive 170 miles", she says, and goes to sleep
          It takes me all the way into the heart of Chicago.  When we get onto urban highways, Dulcie really comes into her own: urban drivers are so impatient, but she wakes up and coaches me which lane to be in, and which turn is coming next.  Which is a blessing, 'cos it started snowing the minute we hit town.  It's still a bit too warm for it to settle on the roads, but the roofs and parks are covered.  I can see all this from the highway, because the highway really is high.  In fact, it's called the skyway.  I wonder if I'll be marooned tomorrow.
          I'm stopping in a suburb called Glen Ellyn (it might dispute the description), about 20 miles west of the lake shore.  Dulcie takes me out the Eisenhower highway, then has to choose between Reagan and Roosevelt.  She chooses Roosevelt, which surprises me, since (I must check this) I think Reagan may have been the only president who outspent Roosevelt (Reagan's road, of course, is a toll road).
 
          Later that night, I went to Glen Ellyn town centre to suss out the bars.  The very first one I find is an 'Irish' bar: I'm clearly back in the big city.  A lady comes in and sits beside me (actually, it's the only free seat at the bar). She is clearly grown-up: she's sneaked out of confession for a couple of belters.  She's also clearly Irish: she's totally unimpressed by my Lenten fast.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Friday 19th March 2010 - I've Saved the Worst Bit till the End

          Dulcie ushers me straight back onto the toll road.  Women just love to spend money, don't they?
          But these toll roads (not all the Interstates are toll roads) are not at all what I've been used to.  Usually, every exit is preceded by a list of motels, gas stations, and restaurants.  But the toll roads have their own 'service plazas', with their very own franchisees, so they're not about to advertise the competition.  And there seems to be a sad lack of those 'meerkat' adverts which advised me everywhere else.
          I'm so determined to hang on till I see a franchise restaurant I like that I nearly run out of gas.  I have to turn off and do a ten mile detour to fill up.  Still without any sign of a restaurant: perhaps the toll road owners have some control of the zoning laws.  I finally give in to my stomach, and stop at a 'service plaza'.  I justify it on the basis that this one is called "Clyde".  But, in food terms, it sells only mortal sins, so I duly commit one.
          And when I get to today's destination, Montpelier (although they now pronounce it in American), the trip turns out to have cost $14, rather more than crossing Chesapeake Bay.
 
          Later that night, I drive south about 15 miles to a rather special 1950s diner, which cheered me up again.  It's not far from US-6, which runs to Chicago.  I wonder if that made Dulcie nervous.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Thursday 18th March 2010 - The Middle of the End: I-76 West to Pittsburgh

          The end is nigher!  Having indulged myself with a coastal trek from Florida to Delaware, it's now time to turn west, back to base in Minesota, sort out a few bits and pieces before I head back to New York and the Queen Mary home.
          Having irritated Dulcie for eleven months by keeping her away from the Interstates, it's now time to give her her head.  She ushers me up state 41 and US-30 to get to I-76 as quick as possible.  On US-30, otherwise known as the Lincoln Highway, I suddenly,and, I might add, unexpectedly, find myself in Paradise.  You may be surprised to know that there are a number of motels, of varying quality, in Paradise, as though people didn't expect to stay long.  I feel compelled to report that there didn't seem to be anything special about the place at all: sorry about that.
          As soon as we hit I-76, Dulcie whoops out "continue for 146 miles", and promptly goes to sleep; I can see the attraction it has for her.  What she doesn't say, and pretends not to notice, is that this Interstate is a Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, whch means I'm going to have to pay.  I pick up a ticket on the way in.  There is no indication of how much it's going to cost.
          I-76 takes us up through the Allegheny mountains, where we catch sight of snow again.  I haven't seen snow since ... , well, since southern Alabama, actually.  We also have to go through a few tunnels, one of which is half closed, and so has two-way traffic.  I have to put up with those huge trucks hammering past in the other direction.  Even going as slow as 50mph, I feel I'm going to get sucked into the slipstream.
          But we get to the outskirts of Pittsburgh by late afternoon, without any mishaps.
 
          Later that night, it turns out the motel has the best bar in the neighbourhood, so that was a bit of luck.  I get to sit near a lady who may or may not have been grown up. She kept telling me that she graduated 'cum laude' from an 'Ivy League' school which she didn't identify, which wasn't very grown-up (the keeping telling me, I mean).  But she was also a widow, which I'm sure must be grown-up.  She also kept telling me she was a widow: now, why would she do that?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Wednesday 17th March 2010 - Saint Patrick's Day

          My wander up the east coast has brought me finally across my previous path, near Glasgow Delaware.  Last time I was here, it was thick snow and freezing.  Now it's sunny and warm.  So I go out for a look about.  One of the things I meant to do last time, but was prevented by the weather, was to visit the Amtrak coach repair yards.  When I find them, it turns out it's just workshops, with no public presence, like tours or presentations.  The guard is very helpful, and gives me an address in Philadelphia I can visit.  It's alright for him to talk about going to Philly, he's got a gun.
          But the trip is not wasted.  Next door, I find another bit of Scottish heritage.  There is a new development, which they've called St Andrew's.  Almost all the street names are Scottish, although they do seem to be something of a golfer's view of Scotland.  But they also have Robert Burns, and, puzzlingly, Keats, perhaps honoured for his homage (with the French pronunciation!) on his visit to Burn's grave.  There's even a little town square, called Boswell Square, with a bronze plaque eulogising said Boswell ("still regarded by many as the greatest biographer in Western Literature", for example).
          The piece-de-resistance, however, right in the centre of the development, is, would you believe, "Cardiff Way".  The only explanation I can think of for this strange anomaly (apart from the ridiculous notion that people who could eulogise Boswell thought Cardiff was in Scotland) is that Cardiff Way comes to an abrupt end:
[n1504]
Perhaps there is going to be a twin development, with all the street names Welsh.  Like "Glasgow", which we all know now is derived from Welsh Gaelic (or 'British', as it was then called)
          Anyway, all that Scottish and Welsh diversion seemed a suitable way to spend St Patrick's day.  Does anybody know what nationality St P. was?  Was he Welsh as well?
 
          Later that night, I sneaked out to parly with an ex-policeman who claimed to traffic in shoulder patches, to see if he could get one of my missing ones.  He certainly talked the talk (his name was Patrick too, and he was festooned with shamrocks).  I arranged for an intermediary to act as my agent, but I'm not going to hold my breath, as they say.
 

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Tuesday 16th March 2010 - Crossing the Channel

          I'm staying right on US-13, called the Military Highway here in Norfolk.  I'm going up through Delaware, to cross over my earlier path near Glasgow (can't leave them alone, eh?) before heading off west.  Much to my surprise, I find the motel I stayed in last time is actually on 13, just where I want it, so Dulcie can have the day off.
          US-13 actually sweeps out across the Chesapeake Bay, in an 18-mile Bridge-Tunnel combo. 
[n1483]
It's mostly a low-level tresle bridge, with two mile-long tunnels and a high(ish) bridge.  Including the approach roads, it's 23 miles long, so it's much-of-a-muchness with the tunnel between Britain and France.  I wonder how the costs compare?  This looks much cheaper, as well as being a lot easier to use.  I wonder why this solution wasn't chosen.  Could the desire for cross-border control have demanded all that extra engineering?
          I knew I wouldn't be in Delaware when I got to the other side, but I half-expected Maryland.  In fact, it's still Virginia, known as the "Eastern Shore".  When we get to Maryland, it seems to have an "Eastern Shore" as well.
          The weather remains fairly good for the whole journey, so I guess we're travelling behind all the rain the forecasts were warning us about.
 
          Later that night, feeling like a rest, I settle down to watch some TV, but the volume of advertising again starts to irritate me.  So I went down to the big cinema complex at Glasgow and watched "The Green Zone" instead.  I was hoping for something like the Bourne films, so I was rather disappointed.  I could have gone to the Digital-3D version of Alice in Wonderland instead, and I wish I had,  if only to experience the technology.
         

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Monday March 15th 2010 - The Helpful Bathplug

          I hadn't realised how helpful bathplugs, especially defective ones, can be.  Only yesterday, one stripped me of my Roman Emperordom, and lo! today is the Ides of March: not a day anyone would want to disport themselves as a Roman Emperor.
          I sneak out early, in my most plebian outfit, to get early to the car rental people.  They are very helpful, and immediatley offer to accompany me to the tire-fixing place.  The tire-fixing place are equally helpful, and take the wheel, allowing me to get back and sorted out, carefully avoiding any imperial displays.  (The flat tire, by the way, had a doorkey (yale-type) stuck in it.  I hope whoever lost it had to spend the night on the beach, and I hope it was cold.)
          Then I just have to stop off to get the wheel changed, get everything back in the trunk, and it's off to Norfolk VA.  The forecast was for rain, but, although it's pretty dull, all we get is a bit of drizzle now and again.
 
          On a fleeting visit to downtown I happen upon yet another battleship.  It being Norfolk, they've got it parked on the front lawn.
[n1470]
I guessed it would be called the Virginia, but that never got built.  It is, in fact, the Wisconsin, which actually saw action in 1991, in the first Gulf War.  I expect it's only here because they couldn't get it up the St Lawrence and across the Great Lakes.  It also has a row of bars near it, which I tell Dulcie to remember for later investigation.
          And that was quite enough tourism for one day.
 
          Later that night, Dulcie whisked me back to the downtown bars.  They actually turned out to be a kind of indoor mall of bars and restaurants, and after a bit of looking around ("Eat, Drink and Play", for example, turned out to presage a licensed video games parlour: whatever next?), I ended up in the local naked ladies bar with the rude name.  It was fairly quiet, except for the naked ladies, who liked to whoop and shout a lot.  The only other candidate was at the other end of the mall, where I started, and it was even quieter, with no naked ladies.
 

Monday, 15 March 2010

Sunday 14th March 2010 - A Monument to Lawyers

          We've moved to Daylight-Saving Time, so I've lost an hour.  That turns out to be small beer, as a defective bathplug causes my whole Roman Empire to fall.  The Emperor is too decadent to go and collect a bag of sand, so it serves him right.  Still, without the opportunity to read several chapters in the bath, the hour is more than made up for.
 
          But I waste some time dithering over whether to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial or the beach first.  Since we're an hour ahead, it's the middle of the day before I decide.  I got enough sun on the ferry, so I will take to the beach late.  But when I actually see the light of day, it's quite cold and dull, and I have to get out my puff jacket again.
          The Wright Brothers' Memorial Park is a testament to lawyers.  The Wrights chose Kill Devil Hill not just because of the ocean winds and the slope: they were also interested in a soft, sandy landing: the hill was a giant sand dune.  When the nation turned it into a national monument, the lawyers drew up a map, with coordinates to delineate the place.  The dune, undaunted by mere lawyers, upped and started to move out of their park.
          Now you and I might have extended the park, and organised options for the future, but the government planted trees and grass to stabilise it.  The sort of place the Wright Brothers would have avoided; it now looks nothing like what they needed.
[n1416]
But, to the government, it happened 'here'.
          The last time I was here was around thirty years ago.  My memory tells me there were other huge dunes about, with people using exactly the properties the Wrights used, for hang-gliding.  It's all developed now.  If you tried hang gliding, you'd end up in someone's front room.  There's even an airfield, with a tarmac runway, in the Memorial park.
 
          When I got to the beach, there were still some surfers out
[n1461]
but the weather was closing in, and they cleared up and left.  Pretty soon it all looked as desolate as it must have in the Wright Brothers time
[n1463]
and, well wrapped up, I enjoyed a quiet walk, with the place to myself.
 

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Saturday 13th March 2010 - My Companions Let Me Down

          Dulcie is obviously getting frustrated in the absence of Interstates: she played one of her pranks on me this morning.  I asked her last night how long it would take to get to the ferry, and she said two hours and forty minutes (well, actually, she's a bit like Data in StarTrek, she said 2h38m).  So I allowed myself three hours, and even then, got started fifteen minutes early.
          After a few miles, when I'd got clear of Wilmington, I noticed she was calmly forecasting our arrival 20 minutes after the gate closed.  So I did some mental arithmetic and worked out I had to exceed the speed limit by about 5 to 10%.  So I did.  But it means having to concentrate much more, and look out for patrol cars, some of which are unmarked hereabouts.  I'm fortunate to be able to follow a sheriff's deputy for a fair bit of the way, and he's doing what I'm doing.  Unfortunately, after quite a while, he comes up behind another driver, who then has no option but to drop a bit below the limit.  I just have to take that on the chin.  But we're getting close, and it's becoming clear that Dulcie's been lying.  I interrogate her carefully, and it turns out she's added the ferry route to the time calculation, but not at ferry speed (I'd have noticed that).  When we got to the terminal, her advice was "board ferry", so she knew.   If I'd got a speeding ticket, I'd have made her pay.
          The Ocracoke ferry is called the Silver Lake.  The journey takes about two-and-a-half hours (it's slightly further than Dover-Calais), and the weather is so clear I'm worried about sunburn.
          To get from Ocracoke to Hatteras there is a 20-minute free ferry which runs every hour.  As I come in sight of the terminal, the attendant starts to wave furiously.  I manage to race straight on, and it promptly leaves.  It's still lovely and sunny.  This is an ocean inlet, and I reckon, technically, we get into the Atlantic, 'cos the water changes abruptly from brown to blue.  I can see ocean breakers in the inlet.
          And, as if on cue, a dense sea fog descends.  I hope they have radar.  They certainly have a large horn.  So does the ferry coming the other way.  We get quite close, because the channel, which is marked, is really quite narrow.  The markers are just too far apart to see ahead and astern at the same time.  I expect they enjoy playing this little prank on the landlubbers: keeps the old adrenaline flowing.  I'm reminded that this is the place where the British Navy got Blackbeard.  I expect that's why the Coast Guard are lurking about in the fog.
[n1411]
          It is a great relief to get back on solid ground.  But there is a lot of sand and water on the ground.  Either there's been a lot of rain, or the ocean has been invading.  Negotiating these pools (negotiating? Hah! I'm just following the man in front) takes out one of Silver's tires.  A rear tire: now how did that happen?
          Unfortunately, I've just had a long phone conversation, and I'm out of battery.  So I have to do a tire change myself.  Actually, I'm sure that was much quicker than waiting for help, although two passing drivers, young and fit, stopped to see if I needed help.  The spare is one of those 'donut' emergency tires, so I shall have to get a fix quite quickly, which is a nuisance, because I don't want to stop anywhere for too long.  Needless to say, the rental company office is closed till Monday.
 
          Later that night, I find myself in rather a posh bar, so I treate myself to a steak.   It's not just the servants who can misbehave!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Friday 12th March 2010 - Planning, and its Effects

          Because this wander up the East Coast is so indulgent, it's difficult to choose where to go to next.  I've spent so much time knowing exactly where I'm going next, and what I was going to do when I get there.
          I've been thinking vaguely of stopping next at Norfolk, but, looking at possible routes, I occurs to me that I can go part of the way up the Carolina Outer Banks, which would allow me to re-visit Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright Brothers made their first powered flight.
          Their is a ferry at a nice civilised hour, but when I go to book it, the dark forces of the universe have intervened and broken the boat.  So I'm faced with the choice of getting there too late, or starting off before seven, or going the long way by road.  I check with Dulcie how long she thinks it will take, and book on the early one.
 
          Later that night, I'm invited to see a Tiffany lamp which came from a grand old house in Glasgow, Missouri.
[n1373]
The viewing included Wahoo (a game fish, somewhat like a barracuda, prized for it's delicious white flesh) for dinner, and a hootenanny for afters, so it was a very pleasant evening, although it had to be curtailed because of my early start.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Thursday 11th March 2010 - A Lesson in Misplaced Loyalty

          I have fallen in with the Wilmington Old Bottle Club.  They're off on a spree this morning, and I'm, as ever, keen to join in.  Unfortunately, it turns out they're interested in the bottles, and not their contents.  I have got myself into one of those agonising situations where people hand me fragile obects to admire, and the room turns into a garden shed of obstacles and hard edges.  I simply can't believe what these things are worth, but they're clearly very old, and I don't want to be the one who breaks them.
          With some hilarity, I'm then dragged off for a lesson in an obscure bit of Scottish history.  It's about the Battle of Moore's Creek, which took place here just before the Revolutionary War/ of Independence.  I'm distraught to discover the Scots formed up on the English, or 'Loyalist' side, apparently because they had promised to, in return for land and tax holidays.  They were massacred in a battle lasting about three minutes, providing a public relations triumph for the American, or 'Patriot' side.
          It's not so much that the Patriots were better organised, and more cunning, although they were.  It's more that the Scots were led by donkeys (it's happened a few more times since).  They didn't so much walk into a trap as charge into it. 
[n1369]
It was, apparently, the last broadsword charge in history.  Not only did they not see any of the warning signs, they didn't even look.  The commanding general was called Donald Macdonald.  Perhaps his entire troop were Campbells, and he was wreaking revenge.  Can you believe that on the day of the battle he had the nerve to call in sick?
 
          Later that night, after a brief sojourn at the Brewery, I'm invited to appear on Public Radio.  The appearance turns out to be a word picture describing my enthusiastic approval of a "celtic" band from Raleigh called Barrowburn, performing 'live'. 
[n1372]
In the modern world of media-savvy political protest, 'live' has a pretty technical definition, meaning recorded specially in front of an audience ( I nearly said "live audience", admitting of the possiblity that it might sometimes be done in front of a dead audience), rather than on a gramophone record.  No doubt there will be some editing before it is aired, if only to make for a neat length.  The word picture of me will surely end up on the cutting-room floor, since it was really only a bit of typical American over-enthusiastic hospitality.
 

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Wednesday 10th March 2010 - Into North Carolina

          After nearly a year in the US, I finally asked, at breakfast this morning, for "tomato juice", as opposed to "tomatto juice" (I'm sure you're aware that Americans pronounce it correctly, or "regular", as they would say, aren't you).
         Afterwards, Dulcie has no choice but to lead me onto US-17, but she managed to disguise it heavily at the beginning.  She did display a bit of recidivism at Myrtle Beach, and had me on the bypass before I could gather myself.  Momentary lack of concentration can cause serious problems on the road.  But this didn't bother me too much: what I saw on the outskirts suggested that this was where Blackpool got most of its worst ideas form.
 
          Today is Wilmington, and I'm not even going to pretend I want to look at old buildings.  The promentory that Wilmington is on is Cape Fear.  The name may have come from early explorers being trapped in the shoals created by the tidal turbulence, or it may be a corruption of Cape Fair.  Whatever the reason, Wilmington is another big port.  It is the home of the battleship USS North Carolina.
 
          Later that night, I repaired to the Front Street Brewery, a bar with a brewery in it, inside a glass room.  And eight different brews on offer, varying in strength from 4.8 to 9.1.  But I can't tell you what they were like.  I wouldn't have been able to tell you about the 9.1 anyway: that's much too strong for beer.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tuesday 9th March 2010 - Tourist Encounters

          So it's up and off to Charleston, which is still in South Carolina.  We stay on US-17, and, to my surprise, Dulcie happily concurs.  US-17 runs along the coast, and, except for the huge concrete highway bridges (Americans just love concrete), it is, well, 'coastal'.  In fact, it is popularly known as the lowcountry, conventionally spelled as one word.  Dulcie steers me safely into the heart of downtown Charleston, where I stop for a tourist encounter of the first kind (that's observation): I go down to the battery and take a picture of Fort Sumter.
[n1358]
          Fort Sumter is where the Civil War started.  It's the black streak to the left of centre.  The fuzzy lump to the right of centre is one of those huge container ships.  Pretty soon I'm getting to a tourist encounter of the second kind (physical effect): it's putting me to sleep ( Hynek,who defined the alien encounter scale, specifically mentioned catelepsy as one of the defining effects).
          I then go for the third kind, and try to make contact.  I go into one of the downtown motels to ask their rates.  This is a chain I recognise.  It's one of the cheapest I've stayed in, in Pottstown PA.  I almost lost the power of speech when they told me.  I fled to the interstate to look for a motel nest.
          The first intersection I come to has a 'meerkat' advert for one of my favourite breakfast places, and I suddenly remember I haven't eaten yet.  As I turn off, I see an advert for the best of the cheap motels.  So that all worked out nicely.  Except their internet wouldn't work, nicely or other wise.  But there is a chain bar across the road, and it usually has internet, so I pop over there.  They don't, but the staff, conspiratorially, invite me to try to pick up one of the other hotels, and, after a few false starts, I do.  (Smoking is permitted here, not just at the bar, but also in the restaurant, which is the first time I've encountered that.
          This is the stuff I'm happy at: darkened taverns with strangers talking nonsense to each other, attempting to arrange close encounters of what is now called the seventh kind (have a guess!)
          Perhaps I should just stick to the interstates.  Except I'm going to Wilmington next, and the interstates don't go that way.
 
          Later that night, I drove downtown for my kind of encounters.  In the first bar, I was just about to sit at the bar whan this decidedly grown-up lady took the stool.  If I'd been sitting on it, it would probably have been an encounter of the fourth kind (abduction).  I told her to go have a seventh encounter with herself and left hurriedly.
          The next bar I found was called the Blind Tiger.  This, I found out when I was researching the whiskey gangs in Alabama, was a generic name for speakeasies during prohibition.  The practice was to get the patrons to pay for entry to see some exotic animal (like a blind tiger) then provide the booze free.  Whatever kind of encounter that is.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Monday 8th March 2010 - The Beginning of the End

          The weather is telling me I can no longer delay going north.  I've decided I can make it to Savannah, Georgia today, up US-1 to Jacksonville, then following the coast on US-17.  North out of Daytona beach, there it is:
[n1351]
          It says I've had my little holiday, and very enjoyable it was too, but this is the road home.  This is wrapping things up, collecting my thoughts, preparing for re-entry.  I need a demob suit, and counselling, but, as ever on this trip, I have to provide all that for myself.
          In fact, fulfilling some perverse need to stay close to the Atlantic for a while, I'm not actually going to Savannah.  I'm passing right through it, heading for a holiday resort called Hilton Head Island, where I've marked out a reasonably cheap motel.
          It's an uneventful journey, except for the joy of ignoring Dulcie, whose Interstate obsession continues unabated.  US-17 joins forces with I-95 for the trip through Savannah, allowing her a bit of relief, so I don't really get to see the place at all.
         
          Later that night, I toddle off to look at the ocean again, but the journey had taken seven hours, which was way more than I expected.  At these latitudes, night falls pretty abruptly, and the ocean is shrouded in darkness.  I repair to the recommended bar (the recommendation came from the young man packing up the "tourist help" stand.  He tells me it has "music and (here he gets excited) girls".  I try to explain the concept of 'grown-up' but he happily tells me that's how he feels, because his lady-friend is all of 49.  I tell him that's a very doubtful grown-up, and he looks confused).  Once again, I'm confronted with a row of taps offering some of the best beers in America on draft, including no less than three from the wonderful Sweet Water Brewery in Atlanta, which I first encountered in Birmingham AL (that's me practicing some recall!).  I enjoy the soda water instead.  Well, I don't actually, but nevermind, eh?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sunday 7th March 2010 - A Day of Rest

          Being a holiday Sunday, I sat about doing nothing.  Well, actually, I had to keep getting up and moving about, 'cos yesterday's walking really had taken it's toll, and  the old joints (well, "old joint" actually, since only one is involved) were (was) in danger of seizing-up.
 
          Later that night, I felt fit enough to watch the "Oscars".  But there really wasn't much point, 'cos I hadn't seen all the films: how can I tell whether they're getting it right or not if I haven't seen all the films?  And none of the ladies fell out of their dresses, so it was a waste of time all round.  There are better ways of wasting time.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Saturday 6th March 2010 - The Climax of Bike Week

          It's Bike Week in Daytona Beach.   It's another beautiful day here, and Saturday is "Cruising on Main Street" day (nothing as organised as a parade for these guys).  I can take great pleasure in cared-for mechanical objects, so I just had to go hang out.
          I walked up-and-down Main Street, in and out of bars, enjoying the cameraderie and the machinery, till I could walk no further.
 
          There were aged rockers
[n1278],
and aged bikes
[n1269]:
some, apparently, historic
[n1264];
lady bikers
[n1279],
some of whom might, just possibly, have been grown-up
[n1328],
and some who clearly weren't
[n1301].
There were helmets
[n1332] [n1322] [n1337] [n1348]
and a bemused cyclist, who had clearly misunderstood the event title (as I confess I did when I first heard it)
[n1344].
And, of course, the stars of the show, exquisitely customised bikes
[n1294],
and trikes
[n1326],
one with what must be the ultimate acccessory
[n1339] (by the way, as you can see from the propeller configuration, it's an autogyro, not a helicopter).
And some people who had just come on their motorbike
[n1346].
But all of it drowning in a shimmering sea of chrome
[n1316].
 
          Later that night, once I'd uploaded, I just sat about enjoying the pictures.  If you're a glutton for punishment, they're all at
http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=mvslavin&target=ALBUM&id=5445669545660236113&authkey=Gv1sRgCLP6lsmJmYLy5gE&invite=CIrTt5YM&feat=email , but be warned: there are about a hundred (one of the joys of digital photography is you can make as many attempts as you like at "getting the shot", and only have to worry about needing to stop to replace the battery).
 

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Friday 5th March 2010 - Back to Nature

After getting a few things up-to-date, it was off to the National Wildlife Preserve at Lake Windrush.
Ever since they took me into the Mojave in their 4-wheel drive to visit Glasgow California, I've been a big fan of the Park Rangers. When people denigrate government (which is a very popular sport here) I like to point out that there's another side to it. And so it proved today.
I was told it might be a bit cold for the 'gators to be out-and-about, but I was hardly into my stride (this was essentially a walk to catch up on all the walks I've been missing for the last 10 months) when one popped up about twenty yards away. Actually, it was just sunning itself, the 'popping'as just my perception. I controlled my instinct to flee (and my bowels) and got a picture. It was sunny enough to avoid camera-shake
[n1195]
After that acclimatisation the rangers went the whole hog (if you'll pardon the metaphor) and produced a big bull
[n1207]
I also got an Anhinga, a turtle, an armadillo, a great heron (I think), a big bird of prey (an osprey?), and flocks of egrets.
[n1209] [n1210] [n1216] [n1212] [n1203] [n1205]
And, as if that wasn't enough exercise to be going on with, it was of to Lyonia in the afternoon. Lyonia is part of the county library. It is reconsituted Florida Scrubland, and the home of scrub jays. These are native to the Florida peninsula, and not found anywhere else. There are large and emphatic instructions not to feed them, but it is clear from their demeanor that they expect something, so the instructions must be being ignored.
When we disappointed them, one of them tried to eat me
[IMG_2248]
Thank goodness it wasn't an alligator. I hope I don't get ornithosis.
After another long trek, we repaired to the library cafeteria for a well-earned glass of water. After 10 months of practically no walking at all, today seemed to consist entirely of walking. I shall be stiff tomorrow.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Thursday 4th March 2010 - A Bit of the West Indies

          It being Bikers' Week, the the Daytona Beach News-Journal has a large coloured picture on the front page of, em, "Coleslaw Wrestling".  I suppose if I was the editor, I would have been unable to resist the temptation either.  The fourth place went to a grandmother from Virginia.  But she was only 42.  It's not just newspaper editors: even grandmothers aren't grown-up during Bikers' Week.
 
          Then it's off for some sightseeing.  There's a warm spring close by which attracts West Indian manatees at this time of year.  They're mammals, a bit like big (sometimes really big) fat seals.  They normally live in the river, but this spring delivers millions of gallons of warm water every day.  There is a Southern-Romantic backdrop of Live Oaks festooned with Spanish Moss.
[n1162]
Like me, they just want to hang about in the sun.
          I also found the Fountain of Youth (don't tell the grown-up ladies!). 
[n1187]
That Spanish ponce came here looking for it.  Of course, it's a big tourist attraction, so every town in Florida has one.
 
          During the afternoon, I'm priveleged to witness some commercial transactions at the local tire depot.  The tire man is unable just to sell tires, he has to explain all the options, and why he would choose what he wants the customer to choose.  I was sold.  I nearly bought a set, and I don't even have a car.
 
          Later that night, NASA, who live just down the road, called to say they were going to let of some fireworks in my honour.  It was really only one great big rocket 
[n1192]
but they had put a weather satellite on top of it.  I expect all the Floridians watching were hoping this would appease the gods and bring some warmer weather (to my amazement, they think it's cold here).

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Wednesday 3rd March 2010 - No More Glasgows

           So that's it!  I've done my 20 Glasgows.  Now for a bit of a holiday.  I'm off to the Atlantic.
 
          Heading across the Florida panhandle to the coast, Dulcie elects to use I-10, and I choose US-90.  We bicker about it the whole way.  I finally fall silent and enjoy the scenery, but she nags relentlessly at every junction, maintaining, all the time, an icy calm.  90 runs right onto US-1 at the coast, so I reckon I don't need her help anyway.  My aim is to take 1 down to St Augustine (emphasis on the last syllable, which rhymes with "bean"), then onto Florida A1A which runs right down the Atlantic coast (Did I mention I was going to the International Speedway at Daytona Beach for my hols?).
          It turns out I'm really quite anxious to see the ocean, 'cos I get quite miffed when I can't.  This being America, prime real estate with ocean views is not free, and has been sold off for big houses, condos and hotels.  After quite a long way, I do eventually get a glimpse:
[n1148]
and somehow I'm filled with relief.
          Dulcie is now determined on I-95, and is issuing directions coldly, calmly and relentlessly.  I'm beginning to enjoy ignoring her.  Could this be what freedom is about?
          It's not as warm as yesterday, but, inside the car, it looks like a beautiful Summer's day.  Being 20-odd degrees south of where I usually am, the sun is actually at the mid-summer height I'm used to.
          It's Biker Week in Daytona Beach, and soon I am joined by swarms of motorbikes, some of astonishingly exotic design.  When I finally turn inland on US-92, I can hardly see the road for bikes.  In fact, as I pass the International Speedway, the sun is starting to get low, and I can hardly see anything at all for flashing chrome.
 
          Later that night, I fell straight into bed, exhausted.  Because of the route, and the beautiful day, I forgot to stop (except, of course, for traffic signals).  And Dulcie's constant barracking was quite tiring too: if I'd got lost, I'd never have heard the end of it.

Tuesday 2nd March 2010 - Way Back Then in the Land of Cotton

          I was going to miss out the Courthouse, because everything was already fairly clear.  But who am I to deny the fair grown-up ladies of Butler County Clerk's office their right to gaze upon my person?  So it was one final trip up 319 to Thomasville.
          To begin with, I couldn't make head nor tail of the computer Deed index.  But a grown-up gentleman took the trouble to help, and it soon became clear (because he told me) that this index only went back to 1985.  So it was looking through that awful writing again, for possible names.  I made a few guesses at what might be interesting names, but never found anything.  I found the map laying out the present plantation, and found some deed references for neighbouring land, but they went cold in two hops.  And since there was only a grown-up gentleman to help, I couldn't work up a lot of enthusiasm.
 
          I did bump into an interesting story on a page facing something that might have been interesting but wasn't (if you follow me).  Back in 1860, the widow of one Theoseus B Davis paid $2003 for a female negro slave (I didn't need to say negro, did I?) aged 22, and her two "Mulatto" children, a boy of 4 and a girl of 2, being sold as part of her husband's estate in open auction in front of the courthouse.  Now what do you make of that?   To keep it in context, I'm told a "prime field hand" cost around $1800 at that time.  The price, at the very least, indicates the widow was bidding hard against somebody, and determined to win.  Do you thing it possible that the widow knew the father?  Do you think there was any deathbed plea?  Who would bid that high against her: and why?
 
          Later that night I fell in with a nest of Englishmen.  They gather here because this bar shows English football on Sundays.  They fell into discussing the finer points of the beer, just to test my resolve.  Of course, I passed.  One of them showed me some college senior-year essays he was marking.  I don't know how typical they were, but they were, in both literacy and language terms, truly appalling.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Monday 1st March 2010 - Nothing New Under the Sun

           For the last two years or so, I have had a 'Google Alert' on the word "Glasgow".  That means I've asked Google to tell me every time it gets a mention on the internet.  I wonder, sometimes, if it's getting it right, but, in the end, I just have to accept what I get.  (It's a bit like when Google says, after a search, "here are the first ten pages out of ten million": how are you ever going to know if that's true?)
           Anyway, this morning one of the pages was entitled "Glasgow Middle School takes top honors at Louisiana Science and Engineering Fair"  Oh, no! Louisiana!  I have been relying on the United States Geological Survey's database, and, although it's all been fun, and I've had a real good time, this is not the moment to tell me I've missed one.
           So I drop everything and get Google proper to find me this school.  Which , I discover with great relief, is on Glasgow Avenue in Baton Rouge (the next avenue is called Edinburgh).  I don't think I could have taken another Glasgow at this stage.
 
          Today's mission is the Thomasville History Museum.  The duty grown-up lady is poised behind the door as I arrive.  She said they had been warned I was in town, and they had expected me on Saturday (I think I did tell her counterpart at the Genealogical Library that).  I hope she hadn't spent the entire weekend there, her little heart fluttering like mad.
          But there is nothing much new here (except a rather splendid Model-T Ford out in the garage, and, the house having been built by a lumber merchant, a very fine floor).  There appear to be three standard texts on the history of Thomas County, by William Warren Rodgers, who was professor of history at Florida State, in Tallahassee.  He is now, apparently, 80, and the grown-up lady is expecting him to visit next week.
 
          When I came out of the museum, the bank told me it was 71degrees.  So I thought a bit of tourism was in order.  Thomasville, as well as claiming to be the "city of roses", also boasts an enormous oak tree.
[n1136]
It lives in a park donated by the lady who bought all the Glasgow farms.  She also donated the house the museum is in: one of the planter aristocracy.
 
          Later that night, the local bar is packed.  I'm introduced to a Mancunian, an archeomotrist from Florida State.  Roughly speaking, that's doing archeology by satellite.  That's one way to avoid the perils that befell Indiana Jones.
          I also met an English major, who promised to comment on the literary merits of my blog (and I volunteered for that while I was cold-stone sober).

Monday, 1 March 2010

Sunday 28th February 2010 - A Day of Rest

          I seem to have settled into Sunday being 'Roman Emperor' day.  It is, as a Roman Emperor himself might say, a forteriori, a 'Roman Emperor' day today, because this inexpensive Tallahassee motel has provided (as standard, I hasten to add) a faux-marble whirlpool bath.  After I have read a couple of chapters, sweated myself clean, and anointed those bits in need of anointing, I take a look at the day (this is the view out of the front door of my room, Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss)
[n1121]
          I drive downtown for a look about, but, as usual, I can't really find downtown, so I take a stroll in the local park.  The local park, as well as the usual quota of sweating girls, is full of dog-walkers.  Rather to my surprise, a very high proportion of the dogs are 'toy' sized: must be a local fashion.  Perhaps they are being walked for geriatric snowbirds.
          I find a heron, posing in a pond, trying to look like a 1960s table lamp
[n1117]
(that's not the blue water of the Caribbean: I forgot to switch the white balance back to 'daylight', and, of course, the heron had no patience for amateurs)
Then I repair to a local hostelry for a leisurely lunch.  The Canadians are beating the USA at hockey.  They're not too fussed here, they don't really understand hockey.  Someone told me they used to have a minor hockey league down here, but it failed: they probably couldn't afford the ice.
 
          Later that night, I tout my story round the bar.  "Awesome", says one man, "awesome".  Then he apologises for his vocabulary: "I've got two teenage kids", he says, by way of explanation.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Saturday 27th February 2010 - A Chink in America's Armour

          I was talking to someone the other night about rugby.  I can't remember why, but he said he'd just seen "Invictus", at the local cinema.  So I decided I would go.  I think it's another one where there might be an Oscar at stake.  The local cinema has found a way of packing the customers in: it charges $3 to see slightly older films.
          The I had a strange experience on the way back.  The radio was playing a tune, I think it must be called "Big Locomotive Number 99", and it whisked me straight back to a night at the Rockbridge Mountain Music Festival, near Glasgow VA.  I think I last heard it in a jam session on the camp site in the dead of night, and I thought it might be the same group.  But it wasn't.  It was a really pleasant memory to recall.
 
          Later that night, I did a pub crawl, just to look longingly at the beer pumps.  A young lady came in, dressed in the uniform of the Chinese Army (sort-of, all khaki with red bits, and that funny hat).  She was looking for a party, and was directed downstairs.  We assumed it was a fancy-dress party, but then several other people turned up looking for the same party, and they were all dressed normally.  There was much hilarity at the bar wondering if maybe she dressed like that all the time.
          Some people were a bit disparaging about China.  Despite having only had soda water, I had some fun pointing out that not only does China make everything they buy here, it lends them most of the money to buy it.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Friday 26th February 2010 - The Last Glasgow

          After a long and leisurely breakfast, it's off to the Thomasville Genealogical, History, and Fine Arts Library.  The very name is teeming with grown-up ladies, and I check one out as I come through the door.  Before I know where I am, there are so many old maps and books around me that I'm sneezing uncontrollably.
          The maps, from 1908 to 1995, all show Glasgow. 
[n1087]
          Where the western states were divided up by townships and ranges, Georgia, one of the original 13 colonies, appears to have been divided into Land (and Military) Districts, which, in turn, were divided into lots.  A settlement of Scots, Mc Millans, McIntoshes, McLeods and McKinnons, appear to have named this district Glasgow about 1826.  And created a village in it also called Glasgow.  That would put it pretty-well beyond doubt that it was named for Glasgow, Scotland.  It was a significant village for quite a long time, and even had a Post Office, but it now exists only as a church and cemetery.
          By the time of the, em, War between the States, Georgia, with a population of about one million, was 50% white, 50% slave.  Presumably because here in South-West Georgia they were so near the Gulf, they feared invasion, so there was a "Glasgow Independent Home Guard" for (to quote the Thomasville Southern Enterprise of July 1861) "Home protection, to quell any servile insurrection (nudge, nudge), or to subdue any invading foe": so not quite the Home Guard that Captain Mainwaring would have recognised, then.
 
          Later that night, daunted by the wonderful beer provision in the Texas Steakhouse, I opted for the the other salon on the corner.  This is called "Steel City", and is themed as a Pittsburgh bar ( that's a bit like having a Wolverhampton-themed pub in Britain).  It turns out to be an even greater Lenten test, since, among the thirteen draft beers they sell is, would you believe, London Pride.  They also sell a long list of bottled beers, which is really the only way to get 'real' beer in the US.  I get into a conversation with a man at the bar, and he insists on buying me my cola.  With things like cola, you only get to buy one, and they keep topping it up.
          The restrooms say "Yinz Galz" and Yinz Guyz" on the door.  Apparently there is a Pittsburgh dialect, which is epitomised by this "yinz" (or"yunz").  Like the Glaswegian "youse", it is the plural of "you".  The web sites which discuss Pittsburghese claim this is just like "y'all", which is used all across the south.  If that's true, then there seems to have been a remarkable development, since people say "y'all come back now" to me, making it singular, and thus reintroducing the confusion it was designed to remove.
 

Friday, 26 February 2010

Thursday 25th February 2010 - Glasgow-by-the-Sea

          After making myself a good breakfast, I instruct Dulcie to take me to Glasgow.  She only knows it by the GPS co-ordinates, so she drags me though a farmyard and up a dirt track.  When I get to the designated spot, there is a fine new summer house/hunting lodge by a lake, but nothing else.  And the road onwards looks like grass.  Since I don't have four-wheel drive, and no cellphone signal, I drag Dulcie back to the main road, ignoring her 'recalculating', and at the very next junction
[n1060]
(I know what you're thinking, I thought it myself: "No, don't go in there, that sign's a fake.  It's some deformed banjo player who wants to show you his organ.")  In I went.  It's another dirt road, with what can only be described as 'swamp' on either side.  The water seems to be at the same level as the road.  One more bucket of water and the road would be flooded.
          There is a church, and a cemetery.  But all the graves are less than 30 years old.  (There is one for a McMillan, born 1936, and given the first name "German".  Now what would be the purpose of that, do you suppose?)  I drive on gingerly and find one rather fine house.  The couple here belong to the family whose name appears on the next road, the one that led to the farmyard.  They're very welcoming, and about my age.  He tells me that it's a black church  He thinks there used to be a white church there as well, and a store, but he's remembering from 50 or 60 years ago.  There were lots of small farms, the sort "one man and a mule could manage, about 10 to 15 acres".  The hunting lodge and the farm I passed through are now a large plantation, the "Mayhaw Plantation", which bought up all the small farms and turned them into quail habitat, for hunting.  They have horses and don't want the road paved.  He thinks he might be the last man in Georgia to live on a dirt road.
          I go back round to the farmyard, which is the centre of the plantation, and find another local of my age, and he remembers much the same things.  He adds that there was a McMillan family, which sounds promising, but he says they were black.
 
           There is, apparently, a fine genealogical library at the county seat, Thomasville, which is only about 8 miles away.  But it's a lovely sunny day, and I'm only an hour from the coast.  Just in case the weather changes, I thought I'd take the rest of the day off and go to the seaside.  I look at the map, and find a place called Panacea.  Now who could resist that?  Perhaps, more appropriately, there is a place called Lanark beside it.
          And this is what it looked like
[n1071]
[n1072]
Eat your hearts out!