Chapter Four

U S of A

All Rob’s tales of travelling really inspired me, so I decided to take voluntary redundancy from BNFL and do some travelling myself.  I needed to buy some essentials such as a backpack and sleeping bag so I borrowed my mum’s blue Citroen 2CV, which used to be mine, the one the roof blew off, and set off down the M62 to Manchester.  I was about halfway there and I could smell smoke, I slowed down and it started to get worse so I decided to pull over onto the hard shoulder and get out of the car. 

Having never been in such a situation before and of course not having mobile phones in those days I thought the best thing to do would be to walk to the emergency phone and call the police.  There was no need to do that really, as I was walking away the fucking thing exploded and the police and fire brigade were there in about 5 minutes.  They had to close the motorway for over an hour because of the smoke!  I rang my mum to tell her what happened and she blamed it on me for going too fast.  I mean seriously you can’t do more than 70mph in one of those going downhill with the wind behind you.  She did apologise when the car was recovered and it turned out to be dodgy wiring.  Thank god I got out when I did, could have been a completely different story.  This was the second incident involving this 2CV.  My days of messing around with those cars were over.

Once the scene was dealt with the police offered me a lift home, but I asked him to drop me in Manchester since I still needed to get my essentials and time was ticking.  I got the train home.

 

On th 7th July 1994 my mum and brother took me to Heathrow Airport for flight BA0213 departing at 0955 to Boston, clearly, I still have the boarding pass.  My seat was 37D in the smoking section at the back of the plane.  There was an empty seat next to me and I remember the world and his wife sitting in the non-smoking section coming to that seat for a cigarette throughout the flight.  In the end, the air stewardess stopped people from doing that as I was constantly sitting in a fog of smoke and I think she felt sorry for me.  I had pre-booked a few nights in a hostel so just had to find my way there when I got out of the airport.  As I was walking to the Hostel I was approached by a youngish man who struck up a conversation and asked me where I was going.  It was pretty obvious from my backpack and demeanour that I was backpacking and luckily he was heading to the same hostel too.  I was so naïve though, he literally could have been anyone.  I have dodged so many bullets in my life that it’s not even funny.

I stayed in Boston for 2 nights and visited various places around Boston including the New England Aquarium and some of the parks.  I think the gravity of what I was doing alone hit me and I became very homesick, I wanted to get on the next flight home.  I rang my mum and surprisingly she told me to stick it out, I thought she would be all for me coming home, and probably wanted me to but knew that this would be good for me so encouraged me to stay and make the most of it.  After that, I called my Dad and he said that a friend of Lee my stepbrother’s was “twitching” (bird watching) in Cape May, why didn’t I go there for a couple of weeks, get some confidence, make some friends and take it from there.  This was really good advice and made me feel a lot better.

On the 9th of July, I got the ferry from Boston to Provincetown, Cape Cod and made my way to a Hostel in Eastham.  I really wanted to visit Cape Cod so thought I should do it while I was there despite how scared I was.  I met 2 girls at the hostel as soon as I arrived, they were lovely and we ended up spending the next couple of days together exploring.  We visited the Pilgrim Monument and Museum in Provincetown, went swimming in a lake and joined a few others for a BBQ and party near the beach.  It was amazing really and made me realise that I could do this.

On the 11th of July I got the bus from Hyannis, Cape Cod to New York, almost a 7-hour bus ride.  I arrived in New York at about 3 pm and got another bus straight away to Cape May, another 5-hour bus ride.  I must have gotten to Cape May at about 8 pm and made my way to the place Paul, Lee’s friend was staying at.  No one was home so I sat at the back of the house and waited for him.  He got home later that evening and knew to expect me.  Lee had been in touch and explained the situation.  I was able to stay at his place that night and the next day I was introduced to a group of his friends that were sharing a house for the summer.  They had an empty room so I was able to pay toward the rent and stay with them for a while.  I also bought myself a push bike so I could get around the town.  The house I was staying in was right at the end of the peninsula near the lighthouse.

I ended up staying in Cape May until the end of August.  I got myself a little cash-in-hand job at a toy store in the town and babysat for a couple a few doors down from where I was staying.  I made lots of friends and we would take the bus to Atlantic City, go swimming, go to the beach, ride our push bikes through the town completely pissed and just generally have a ball.  Two friends, in particular, were a couple from the UK, she was from Ireland and he was from London and we just got on so well.  So well in fact that we decided to leave Cape May together and travel together for a while. 

Our first stop was Philadelphia, we only stayed for 1 night and just explored a tiny part of the city.  The next day we made our way to New York via bus.  Nick’s aunt had an apartment in New York and we were able to stay there for 3 nights while she was visiting friends elsewhere in the world.  It was amazing, exactly how you expect New York apartments to be, with heavy doors, heavy furniture, wood floors, high ceilings and a window that opens fully onto a main street where you can sit and smoke and watch the hustle and bustle of life.  Apart from my brief visit a couple of months before, this was the first time I had been to New York and I found it exhilarating.  We went to Macy’s and tried on wigs, we went to street markets and bought t-shirts, and we went to Greenwich Village, the Twin Towers, and Central Park, it was just fabulous. 

From New York we got the train to Niagara on the US side, it was breathtaking seeing the falls, we spent the rest of the day visiting museums and sightseeing.  The next day we headed by train to Toronto.  For me, this was fine as I had only been in America for 2 months but for Suzie & Nick it could be an issue as they had arrived in America several months before me and had already overstayed their welcome.  We got into Canada with no issues, they didn’t even check our tickets let alone our passports.  I had noticed since we left New York that the dynamics of our trio group was changing, Nick was becoming quite short-tempered and irritable which I thought was odd based on the little I knew about him.  It all became clear when we were in Toronto.

I’m not sure where Suzie was but Nick took me to one side and declared his feelings for me.  He wanted to dump Suzie and carry on just me and him.  Wow, what to say.  Firstly, Nick was a friend, and I genuinely didn’t and hadn’t thought of him as anything else and Suzie was a friend and there was no way I could do that to her even if I did have feelings for him which I didn’t.  Having explained this to Nick I decided it was time to part company and made up some bullshit excuse for heading off alone.  Shame really but there is no way we could have carried on, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.  They went back to the USA and got stopped at the border and deported for overstaying – I found this out later that year, we met up in London with some other people we had met while away and believe it or not Suzie and Nick were still together. 

I stayed in Toronto for a couple of nights at the Leslieville Home Hostel before getting the train back to New York and then a train to Chicago.  I only spent one night in Chicago, my aim was to go to the top of Sears Tower which I achieved.  From there I travelled to San Francisco.  That train journey was awesome.  I met a group of English people that had been working at Camp America and were going to spend some time travelling before heading back to the UK.  The train journey took 3 nights and days and we just had the best time.  We arrived in San Francisco on the 10th of September. 

A whole group of us stayed at the Pacific Tradewinds Guest House at 680 Sacramento Street and explored the city.  We went to Alcatraz which was amazing, we visited China Town, rode the trams, stood at the top of Nob Hill, walked through the many parks, and enjoyed the nightlife, it was just the most fantastic place I have ever been to.  We stayed in San Francisco for 4 days.  During that time a chap called Paul and I had started to get quite close and were going places as a couple rather than with the group.  The group started to disband so Paul and I decided to get the train to Los Angeles on our own. 

We arrived in LA on the 14th of September and booked into a Hostel near Venice Beach.  Our journey from the train station to the Hostel was by bus.  We had to sit quite near the back because it was busy.  We sat in a seat that was faced on into the aisle and opposite another seat.  There was a dishevelled-looking man on the seat opposite carrying a black bin bag.  On the back seat was a group of young men.  The man opposite was asking us where we were from and where we were going and so on.  He then said that he had just come from prison and started to get a bit lairy, he then pulled a long-bladed knife out of his bin bag and started waving it around.  Well, we shit ourselves and didn’t quite know what to do.  Fortunately, the lads at the back of the bus came to our rescue and ushered this guy off the bus at the next stop.  That was very scary. 

After that, we decided to hire a car for our time in LA and ended up getting a white convertible.   We drove all over LA in that car, we visited the Topanga State Park, went all over Beverly Hills and took a photo of Joan Collins, or who we thought was Joan Collins, getting into a car.  We roller-bladed down Venice beach, drank cocktails, watched Pilots in Hollywood, and did all the touristy things that you would do in LA, it was fab.  We stayed there for 10 days and on the 24th of September got the train to Flagstaff and then to the Grand Canyon.  From there we went to Phoenix and for some reason stayed there for 3 days but I can’t for the life of me remember why.  I do remember it being intensely hot though.  From Phoenix, we travelled 2 nights and days on the train back to New York.  This time we stayed in a Hostel in New York and again did the usual touristy things before flying back to London on the 3rd of October.