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Hitch-hiking USA 1979

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Hitch-hiking USA 1979

Post by Kitkat on Fri 21 Jun 2013, 13:23

[more from Jimmy's journals]

USA 1979

The London Preamble

The boat moves out of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, hugs the land to the south for a tenuous five minutes until Killiney Bay comes into view round the corner. The deck tilts, heaves and veers out to sea. Fog sinks, obscuring the buildings of Dublin, though the silhouettes of the Sugarloaf and Killiney Hill still stand out a strange black. I don’t move to the other rail, don’t see the north side, don’t feel the need.
An inexplicable sense of loneliness wells from my stomach, hurting. As I look at the Irish coast disappearing, I’m not aware of landscape, mountains, buildings, only of peoples’ lives losing significance. I’m intensely aware of this as the source of the pain. My eyes sting. It’s the tearing I encountered before and before, this time deeper, stronger.

… And friends grew small from me …

I know it will go. It has before. Not completely. The pain will be smothered beneath the sediments of the coming weeks. As my boat moves away from the Irish coast, I realize what this place means to me: more than history, culture, landscape -
It’s the people.

2 Days Later
Here I am stranded in London. Barnes Common, to be precise. Nice place, cozily tucked away amongst the trees… but not a patch on British Columbia, I’m sure.
Stranded in London, waiting for Freddie Laker to get his act together. A week in London is the limit, and if Freddie hasn’t shifted his ass by then, I’ll have to shift mine. A tour around Devon, Cornwall and Somerset seems appealing? France doesn’t. I’m into English at the moment. If it’s got to be culture shock, it must be English language culture, not French.
Four pints of Watneys last night in the Travellers’ Rest, of all places, tasted like water from a rusty tin can laced with disinfectant. Admittedly, Youngs Special Bitter tastes like washing up liquid, but it does make you drunk.
Missed Stan Getz at Ronnie Scotts by three days.
I’m not quite sure whether it isn’t an America of the mind I’m looking for. In that case, I won’t need a plane. However, there’s no hurry. Remember, we’re Irish.

Riverside Pub Beer Garden, Hammersmith
Wed ?th
Down the Thames on a sweaty summer night. Clammy laughter, changing river light. Seamus and Gary and Rose, Juvenilia and Greek tales of oozo boozo and round islands on the ends of roads from here.

The Bingo Experience
Half of them enjoy it. Half of them drink it down like 11:25 pints. The couple who played cards during the spaces between bingo games played fast. The gambling (“play”) craving drives that couple to bring a pack of cards for a quick game after each bingo game, to cause 20 grown men and women to queue 2 abreast for a hurried rattle and whirr at the one-armed-bandit machine during the interval. Body language screams “You’re wasting my time!” For these people, life itself is a finger-tapping interlude. For these people, the brief intervals of non-gambling are yawning voids.

Write an essay on “The Two Londons”, a foreigner’s impression, a Londoner’s impression. Is the dichotomy evident? If so, in what ways?

Sat June 24th
That’s a guess. I know the day. Dates don’t really matter at the time. It’s always afterwards that they become important.
I’m sitting on a train in Baker Street, going west, nearly drunk.
I worked today, Saturday morning overtime at Hammersmith Town Hall. Two of us worked in the kitchen, putting pots in acid. How ludicrous? Acid, I’ve discovered, is not as powerful as alkali, sizzling stuff. I did learn something after all from The Gutty in the lab at Presentation College, Bray, learned, despite myself and others, skills I could exploit later in my career in the field of Kitchen Science. Yes Sir. Sodium is a respected element. Question: Turn a black pot silver in 3 minutes flat. Go to the pub. Drink lager. Not bitter. Not Guinness. Call a black man Murphy. Be familiar; make it Spud. After all, it’s overtime. Go to the Gents. Piss. Straighten your face. Eat pork sandwiches and drink dark tea. Sodium acetate corrosion does not benefit from 3-hour time lags. (Point 2). Addendum: 24 hour time lags in boiling water solution – result (++) = (-) burning a hole in a frying pan. Eliminate from experiment list. Weekend results will be assessed on Monday morning. Results available to interested result-minded by approximately 8:30 am, June 26th, Town Hall, Hammersmith.
This train journey does not exist, such are the powers of mind.

Wembley Park
Cultivated, inaccessible, styleful houses. Jews around the corner. Garden paranoeia. Longway from town. Not the place to have the blues. I haven’t. I’m bright brown.

Shepherds Bush,(with the cousins)
Watched a TV documentary on The Inner Game. You can’t add it on. If you do, the movement is inhibited. You must let it grow. Relax. Meditate. There’s such a thing as trying too hard. Consciousness inhibits relaxed concentration. Sport moments can produce feelings of total ecstasy and release, a vehicle for consciousness uncluttering, fusion of mind and body, feeling outside of yourself for a second, a religious experience, an alternative to mystic enlightenment peak experiences.    

Tuesday hangover
Alack! The stars have turned awry
Black, black the colours in the sky
My brightest browns have – aaaagh!
There is some sphere in yon firmament
Methinks doth sway my influence
O’er the grizzly cliff-edge
Where hugey heights do topple it to doom

Woke up this morning a crapulent mess, cellophane wrapping round my brain. Oxygen deprivation. Plastic doesn’t let the air in.

Let’s face it – I travel through London like I travel through life: on the first bus, and the divil take the hindmost. Problem is, it’s usually going the wrong way. What’s wrong with walking anyway?

Stormy Monday Blues
For the news behind these moving scenes, join us again after this short break…

Hope & Anchor Pub, Islington, A trip into the deep 60s, R&B London style

The Blues Band
Jo Ann Kelly
Dave Kelly
Hughie Flint
Tom Mc Guinness
Paul Jones
Keith Fletcher

Walking the Dog in Ravenscourt Park
The sky was full and moving fast
Something was about to happen
I had to be out there
We started out the gate, me and Toby
He was after smells, me, sights
The sky fulled and lowered
Soon, all was sky
It touched the trees in the park
It settled over the grass
The people in the park were painted, stationary
The sky rolled through, then stopped
The people were gone
The park was empty, the trees umbrellas
Me and Toby: he after sights, me thoughts
The park was all
The rain came
We stood, looking: he, restless, straining, me, calm
The rain, the things it touched, was all
The rain stopped
The sky was empty, high
The water on the ground
The drips
We moved off

A Chance Meeting
Met Brian Kenny in busy Westminster. Doing what? Putting 20,000 pounds into a Strand bank. What a job! I feel he’s in Limbo, and it’s my job to stay out. Not that one man’s Limbo mightn’t be another’s paradise. It’s not mine. Home’s closer to that. We drank a pint or two, and parted. I got the number 600 bus.

O’Hare Airport, Boston, USA
July 4th, 1979, 2 am

“Go, seeker, if you will, throughout the land and you will find us burning in the night.”
Thomas Wolfe – You Can’t Go Home Again

Is it Wednesday or Tuesday?
Yesterday’s flight was delayed 6 hours. That delay came even after I had slept outside the Victoria Terminal from 1 o’clock the previous morning. I begin to learn the meaning of travel weariness.
No glorious entry this into America sailing high over the welcoming Statue of Liberty, but a sneaky flight into Logan Airport under the cover of darkness a few hundred miles north.

At the moment I couldn’t give a fuck if it was Christmas day. I got well and truly interrogated by US Immigration officers about my miserable pittance: how much cash am I carrying? $250. How long am I intending to stay? 6 weeks. Do I have a name and address to go to? Yes. Where? Fort Worth, Texas. Raised eyebrows, but they let me through. I won’t leave the USA a fortune – that’s for sure. Well, we’ll see.
I don’t like sleeping in airport lounges, but less do I like the prospect of wandering into darkest Boston at all hours of the morning. It’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Where is this airport anyway? I’ll need a map. Check it out. Where to go?

The airport café reminds me of the motorway limbo of the service station: unreal, but nonetheless real for being so. Is that water he’s drinking? It is! The American word is “break”. Because the American way of life exists at such a tension, an occasional break means merely a lapse into the state of ease or relaxation we consider necessary. What’s our counterpart of a “break”? A joint? A dose of speed? The television is a continuous monotone background sound. And the coloured lights flash mindlessly across your vision. Television Eye. Do people watch TV all night? Or is it like the traffic, necessary?

I haul my rucksack and guitar down to the “T” Boston subway station, buy a ticket, wait for a train downtown. Get on board. Check gear: rucksack, OK. Guitar, where? WHERE? JESUS! I LEFT IT ON THE PLATFORM! I take short breaths as the train leaves my guitar farther and farther behind. The image of my guitar in its brown vinyl cover where I’d left it leant against the platform wall burns on my retina as I whip my rucksack out at the next stop and scramble up the stairs over the bridge down to the opposite platform to wait for the next train back to the airport… please, PLEASE, PLEASE! Door opens – leap out, race for the stairs to cross the bridge, race down the stairs to where I’d left it, multiple scenarios wrestling for control as I clatter desperate down the last steps to the platform where I’d boarded the train…
There she is, in her brown guitar case…
Where I’d left her…
Leaning against the wall.
I claim my guitar I’d despaired was gone.
A good omen on my first day in America.

Downtown Boston, Quincy Market
You look up in surprise at 30-storey blocks, magnificently interbuilt amongst the colonial houses, congruent. Many nationalities in the streets…
The aggression and confidence around me is at first unnerving, then begins to infect me.
In The Great Gatsby Bar, beer’s 95c a half pint glass.
A customer makes a rash comment about a baseball team.
Barman: I’ll bet you 20 to 1 they finish woist.
This barman likes to promote argument for fun. It fills his day. He reels off his list of beers like a bus timetable.
Someone’s just asked for a screwdriver!

YMCA Washroom:
-          What part are you from? You’re not from around here.
-          Ahm frem up Pennsylvania. Boeen roun’ here coupla years.
-          Hard to get to?
-          Don’ reale know; s’go’n back home laest year but maw money din look goowad.

The YMCA certainly is a good deal. Plain accommodation, room, bed, bathroom, colour TV thrown in. at $10 a night it’s worth it. I’ll stay two nights. Maw money don’ look goowad.
And they do a reasonably cheap meal: hash browns, eggs over easy, flapjacks, maple syrup, coffee - though the breakfast bartender hasn’t much patience for a procrastinating Irish customer.
In my room, I sit on the bed and watch TV, fascinated. American TV strikes me as unsophisticated. No apparent indirect appeal, little disguise, imagination, new approach. Old formulas repeated. Ads every five minutes.

State Lottery Advertisement:
“I can take anything they dish out to me; I’ve got my number going for me.”

Independence Day is something big. They’re singing in the square, chanting Spirituals, solos and chorus, switching, merging jazz style, tambourine, violin, crazy soaring dipping rolling trumpet.
When they busk here, it’s not your Dandelion Market tinny guitar and tiny wail. They do it in the streets, and they can play!
From a distance the music sounds recorded and amplified. But as you approach the source of the music, you’re amazed to discover live, acoustic performers:
·         “Take 5” on alto sax and guitar, in the Quincy Market
·         Tenor sax and upright bass, echoing from the natural acoustics at the base of a building
·         Oboe, violin and piccolo on the T platform

Firecrackers tear across the sky above the Charles River, skyscrapers are mirrored on the Bay, crowds surge around the great ear of the auditorium on the promenade, where the Boston Pops Orchestra play the Stars & Stripes. I tear open my free pack of Marlboro and watch the sky exploding way up and down the line, burning in the night.
And it’s Independence Day.

I mooch round the leafy, cobbled streets and leaning facades of Beacon Hill. Imagine Washington Irving popping out for the morning papers.

I take the T out to Harvard, the end of the line, walk awestruck past the University Campus with its 21 libraries, keep walking to the edge of town…
My first lift! Rolly, University lecturer from Arlington, brings me home for a beer, shows me his farm in the cellar, plucks some buds, rolls  a couple of joints. We sit with his two teenage sons and listen to Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. I’m out of it. Neil Young never sounded so fine.
I break up the party – resisting an invitation to stay, restless for the road… Rolly insists on revisiting the cellar to harvest more buds for a parting gift to sustain me on my journey. Embarrassed at his generosity, I nevertheless pocket my expertly rolled Rolly rolls and off I go to look for America…

I walk through sun-dashed White Birch and Maple forest, a Don Quixote guided by the magic hand of the wayfarer’s muse…
After four or five miles, of course, I discover that in my confusion I’ve gone the wrong road.
I get a lift with anti-nuke people, engage effortlessly in incoherent back seat discussion on nuclear power.
I’m in the Berkshires. Never seen so many trees!
Under a tree on the Mohawk Trail. Stoned. What’s this? Mosquitoes? No. Flying ants! Landing on my HAND!
I imagine myself in an Easy Rider café scene, before settling to sleep under a tree.
It’s a warm night. The fireflies at first baffle, then delight me.

In the morning, I get a lift through low, rolling tree-covered mountains. Well preserved wooden houses each with its patio. Lots of churches. I get dropped outside Albany, where I get a lift in a jeep to a toll gate, halfway.
Gary Ell, recording company man, has spotted my guitar, stops to pick me up. He’s on his way to a Polka festival in Amsterdam, invites me to tag along. I’m chuffed. That afternoon, I enjoy a fine display of dancing, a whirl of red & white. Then, back to Fonda where we have dinner with Gary’s brother, wife, and mom. Then, on to the VillageTavern where Big Jim Healy is playing country music. Then, a late invitation to Jim’s home, where I meet wife, Gerty, Milt and Betty, drink more beer and listen to talk about Nashville neurosis and the music business. Couch bed.

Next day, I play with Jim’s kids – and the mosquitoes. We play American games. We drive up to the Adirondack Mountains where Jim is booked to play again.

The following day, to the softball game. Tribes Hill Junior Girls are playing. My first softball game; the kids are shocked at my ignorance! And I’ve got an accent!!

Next morning, I try to escape, but Betty comes to pick me up and I’m whisked off to Pallatine Bridge for the day for dinner, and an interview and photos with Alan, cub reporter forThe Editor. In between duties, I enjoy a game of chess, a smoke and a talk at the pub. They’re playing Rockabilly, smooth and diddley. Late to bed.

I’m away early in the morning; they take me to Otega, Unidilla, Brooks, where we have a good meal and blueberry pie before saying goodbye.

Master of Reading, Watkins,
Bighampton, Big Bend. I meet Bill Brown, hobo, watching a softball game through the fence. The Salvation Army are playing as a big rain comes on. We make uncomfortable beds, under a tree. Bill Brown, the old gentleman of the road, preaches two hours solid through the rain, on “common sense”, self-assessment and direction.

Next morning, he’s gone. I get my first lift on the back of a Ford Pick-up heading for Scranton. “Don’t sit on the oil.” I get a crick from contorting my legs to avoid the oil. Three miles on, I pass Bill on the side of the road. I wave as he gets smaller. Then we round a bend through the trees. It’s one of those moments.
Into Pennsylvania State now. The hills are higher, trees and more trees.

Get a lift with a predatory gay, who drops me in a bad place on Interstate 81. I switch onto the State highway, and get stuck in hick country in very hot, humid weather. Tortoises pant across the road, a dead woodchuck lies, roadkill. Eventually, I get down to R.11. Now I know what American back roads can be – Phew!  
Lightning. Thunder. Sudden downpour. Electricity poles down across the road.
Talk to several people who don’t give a shit about the possible consequences of nuclear power. Nuclear power can’t be argued for in terms of what has developed in the past. It threatens longer lasting and greater scale of danger. The Three Mile Island reactor meltdown happened less than three months ago. People are worried about their jobs.

Lift with Franklin Cromis, super-efficient ex-military policeman, who served in Korea. He gives me a bite to eat at his home, then we go up to the gun range. Franklin’s intolerably hyper. He shows me how to hold my shoulder for the recoil. I fire his Colt 45, and Magnum 44 at the target. The Kraak-kraak-kraak in the still mountain air brings a deer out to the edge of the forest to look. It’s not the hunting season. He knows.

Today I make slow progress. A rake’s. Feeling low. Maybe it’s the state I’m in?
We’re in Mennonite country. The Mennonite, or Amish communities have isolated themselves away from modern America. Their clothing and crafts and tools are 18th Century, by choice. They’re non-technological, self-supporting and very religious. It’s a big moral question: the old or the new? Or both? I think some of each, but not all of either.
Is the development of, and participation in a highly efficient and ultra-modern affluent society desirable? What are the priorities?

I’m sitting on the bank of the Susquehanna River, having cut off the legs of my jeans. Flies, mosquitoes and ants are attacking on three fronts. It’s bloody hot! In the 80s Fahrenheit, but it’s shady here. I had to get off that highway. I’d like to camp tonight.
Time for a smoke.
A rapid chain reaction of sense explosions: smell triggers visual image triggers sound, reverb, triggers touch, texture triggers taste. Waves of colour shift and dissolve like Sesame Street cartoons, to form new shapes, colours, rhythms as sense in turn triggers sense…
I’m woken from my euphoria by visions of people descending from another world…three kids who’ve come to swim. SPLASH!!! The bodies hit the water, while way across the river, a heron skims in to land bright white against the far shore’s green…
Seeing me probably startled them too!

That was good. Better still was the next lift in a pick-up truck to the Shippensburg Exit “camping spot” behind the Rockwells’s Camping.

Camping my arse – a nightlongthunderstorm. I get taken in by a landscape gardener. He gets up at 5:30 AM, then makes me feel slothful by asking “You getting’ up? It’s after eight!” They’re goers. Nice, but goers.

Lift.They say temperatures will be in the 90s today. The next lift gets me over the state line into Maryland. We’re southbound on Highway 81.
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Posts : 3832
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Re: Hitch-hiking USA 1979

Post by Kitkat on Sun 23 Jun 2013, 23:59

I’m in Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley is a faraway slice away to the east, while the lovely jungled Blue Ridge forms the western skyline as we rise higher… We’re moving on. Gonna eat some miles today…

I’m out of Maryland, chewing Granola bars…Some good country music on the radio.

A pause to reflect on the stories I’ve been hearing from Americans I’ve met so far from Boston, through New York and Pennsylvania states:

The child-parent relationship seems to place a great emphasis on the child achieving independence, perhaps too much, too fast? My hosts and benefactors have emphasized their need to improve their houses, jobs etc. Some are engaged in buying a second house, moving. People are demanding, competitive, never quite satisfied with what they’ve got.

o   Abrupt

o   Unreflective

o   90mph

You aim to get a lot more done, because you feel you need to, e.g. look at their achievements in art, music, industry. The will is there to succeed. You see it around you. I can do it!


On the other hand, if you can’t do it, you get fucked up. There’s no limit to your expectations, and therefore you’re permanently dissatisfied.

”Nice people, but different.”

Norris is a mainstream American who was giving his views on the Mennonites.

I get a lift with a Texan some 300 miles all the way from Woodstock, Virginia to here. He gives me some bad news about Mexico, a warning.


Knoxville, Tennessee

Sunday, July 15th, 10 AM

Sunday Morning Coming Down

You know that song? I didn’t even know it was a Sunday. I didn’t even care. But now the fact that it’s Sunday is quite important. I’m cooling off in the shadow, looking across the street at the people filing into the Baptist church. Organ and bell sounds float across, mingling with the traffic, the stench and the heat.

I’ve been burned by the sun, and burned by the Tennessee State Police.

“See – yaw – aah – dee?”

Thank God I’m Irish. It’s a blessing, after all. Diplomatic immunity. Island of Saints and Scholars. Suppose he must’ve thought I’m either a Saint or a leprechaun. And I’m too big to be a leprechaun.

“Aahm – note –gone- a bruing- yewda – jail.”

(Whoopee! ) No. Instead, you’re going to let me bake in this hell-hole of a town with no state road west, only a fucking highway I’m not allowed to use. God save America! And the motor car.

Let’s face it, I’m a bit pissed off at the moment. It’s just too hot! High 80s, and the further west I go the nearer it will approach 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not my idea of fun, whatever shit they tell you about sun. I’m homesick for rainy Ireland, but I must soldier on to New Orleans. See New Orleans and die – of sunstroke! Why the fuck does it have to be Sunday?! I need some sun-tan oil, fast. Here Comes the Sun would be a vicious satire in this place. It’s not all right.


Nashville, Tennessee

It took 8 hours - 7:30 AM to 4:45 PM - to get out of Knoxville. That’s a record I’m not proud of, but I’m so happy to get a lift all the way to Nashville. 

Michael Mirra is my saviour, a blow-in from New York City. He gives me the lowdown on Nashville. The Opry is mediocre tourist stuff. I believe it. And some background on the the Civil War, the Confederates, the cultural divide, the Battle for Nashville. Three US Presidents were from Tennessee. The Appalachian hillbillies stood for the Union! In East Tennessee, they prevented the Confederates from occupying the mountains. Tennessee split. Michael talks about how the Acadians, from Nova Scotia, displaced by the British heavy hand, moved down the coast as far as New Orleans, became Cajuns.

Michael warns me the Oprey House is a rip-off, rather like Disneyland, and not the best music anyway. Suggests instead Downtown Tours, Music Row, Music Square. I look around. Public announcement speakers blare American style advertising drivel. The big sell. All major studios are on Music Row, and some minor ones too, probably where Big Jim Healy cut his single “I’m walking Beside You on Your Wedding Day”, a copy of which he gave me. They praise you up to the eyeballs, promise to make you a star and promote your record. For $2,000 you get 50 records pressed. Period. Anything more is the American Dream.

Not only did Michael take the time to explain his adopted home to me, he also invited me back to his apartment when I couldn’t contact the YMCA. And when he left for work in the morning, told me to help myself to the ice-box, and left his address on a slip of paper with a key to his apartment.

Though we like to pride ourselves on our hospitality – Ireland of the Welcomes – I’ve been astounded at how generous Americans have been to a stranger. First, Rolly in Harvard, then Jim Healy in New York, Franklin in Pennsylvania shared not only their cars, their time, their advice, but also their homes, food, entertainment, families. I’m pleasantly surprised, humbled. Though I’ve been carrying a tent, I’ve yet to pitch it. Only in Boston have I had to pay for a hotel.

And the America I’ve travelled through has been surprisingly familiar. Thanks to Hollywood films, TV programs we’ve seen since we could talk, pop music, my pre-conceptions of America have been largely confirmed.

Except for their extraordinary hospitality – that’s astounded me.



I went to Wind in the Willows. Saw confident, extrovert funny ragtime guitar player. It’s a nauseating sensation to walk out of an air-conditioned building into the sun at 9O degrees F; the blast hits you in the face like you’re opening an oven door.

Watched an exciting softball game end 10-9 (or 10 to 9 as they say).

I enter a bar on Broadway that had been recommended:The Den. Singer sitting on stool, crooning and strumming guitar. Four people leaning over the bar. I order a Budweiser. I receive in exchange for one dollar a can of beer which is opened for me. The bartender walks away. Two of the customers walk out. The singer finishes his song. The two people clap. I stare at a spot somewhere between the ceiling and the door, while hurrying to finish my cigarette. The two people praise the song. Singer says he won’t change the words, because of the good response the song gets. One of the audience is a songwriter, the other, his girl. She says she knows nothing about music, but knows literature. It’s definitely stream of consciousness. Singer says thanks, plays another song. Someone looks in the door and disappears. The barman is looking out another door onto the street. The couple are about to go. I finish my can and leave.

Broadway is almost dead. Disappointed, I head down to look at the river and the State Capitol building on the hill before walking home. Some more people laugh at my sunburnt legs. I’m feeling dispirited, shortchanged from Nashville. Play a half-hearted game of chess with Michael.


Next Day

I was planning to leave this morning, but postponed it to this evening. Discovered I’d lost $20 from my pocket, either pulled it out in the bar last night or it was picked. Can’t remember where, which makes it worse. My interest and enthusiasm are at a low ebb. No more the eager traveler, flightless the culture vulture. Can’t even face leaving the house today to go downtown. The heat, perhaps? Or indifference? Or perhaps this isn’t my scene and I should leave for home? $200: how many weeks – two? Three? It’s economy time. The standard of this journal reflects my drooping spirits. Cheer up; you’re hitting the road tonight. Up! Up!


That night:

I’m standing under a romantic Mobil sign in a Tennessee sunset. I note the ratio of lifts to passing cars gets smaller the further south you go. The rolling wooded hills appear more attractive as the sun sinks, greener, more solid.

Send me a car…


A lift - in a warm, windy convertible!

I’m now sitting in front of a filling station, two old men seated outside, talking.

“Wheah yew heayadin’, Boey?”


Very occasionally, a customer stops, fills and goes. The evening is flecked with flying insects. Beetles, moths and bugs inhabit the air in multitudes

“Krekee, krekee; Tleekch, tleekch, tleekch!”


Overhead, the continuous crackle of the blue, electric killer.

It’s warm, sleepy warm.

From his hidden perch in the gloom, a late bird says “Fit!” across the space to where I sit.

A cat hunts around the station forecourt with her kitten. No-one bothers her.

From behind me, crickets whirr and beep, toads gurgle, highway traffic sounds distant through the thick night.

Twenty miles to the Alabama State line. Ahead is cotton country, but here is just fine. I’m at peace with my surroundings, sensing the soft vibes. Here is real laid back. Suddenly, and quite by surprise, I’m in the South.


Time for a smoke.

I blow smoke downwind across the grass over the grasshoppers and crickets. Very soon they’ll all be stoned.

The glory of being stoned is the wonderful chance of sensing each new sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste with the wonder and surprise it deserves.


Treatise on a Roast Oaf (A Fantasy)

Moments on a perstwurn yulian bloobology with the perpeutlad dun yewey seethens as bag yomegy unperkerb ith wom dequant surfer-ay zethon did whackfay inny thumpat zthernay.

Azherpnin Anazoolugu de termin tissue. Anurzay anasurlojay a bloopop nagunga ab idsurm le senthgy auaractarailum a loompa di they ahrapurchosolabone a bnootly le thersus. Adeetheeut le tusca aherm in ib poostla a hernkin a doobla a lahaharishas le hoobi indudadna hi hidengi an I sponsors a bpeudlru in nsengi a ndan enough le mo molactstherus I ndona  imbuc le sthuumick absolutismum a ngurgy gar a lungi I bwablum i nesth la lab lactrum ge bazahithmay. “Oh hobe nogoobly a hustpur de heedi, deedrum ye yekmahari ye yolob de sipboodrum…”

Dioherriada Dream, my seluca machine. The queen’s a dunk. What a slogan, Mister Strinse. We could boob the gooby by reean nyrian.

In the chorus now the crickets play like a jazzband, an orchestra within which each Jiminy Jominy runs out to the tip of a grass stem to cheerfully add his own solo, with the band hangin’ in behind with a good tight sound.

“Krekee, krekee, krekee, krekee…

Tleekch, tleekch, tleekch…

Korkig, korkig, korkig…

Chikitee, chikitee, chikitee, 

Ksseeeekhhh! Ksseeeeekshhh! Ksseeeeeeeekssshhh!”

Like a series of slow stills in a cinematic cartoon coming at you so slowly that you can trace the movement at ease. Plenty of cuts are thrown in your face [Charlie Chaplain smoked dope!], each new sound coming on the trail of the last, each a separate sound you can freeze or take slices of.

inter-sense impressions, but also intra-sense impressions each impression disconnected from each other but interconnected by a series of electric bonds each lorry takes an aeon getting up to the corner it could have and did flash by six times before it eventually arrived the sense impressions are not only disconnecting but also overlapping so a sight impression can merge with a touch impression can merge with a taste impression one gliding into and becoming part of another…

Wow! I just saw a lorry’s lights heading up the highway and thought it was a plane taking off… I freak every time one turns the corner…

Lorry stops! Lift!

Going to Birmingham. I gibber back some nonsense in reply and fumble my way and stuff into the cab. Then, Wheweee!  We take off. For the next 1½ hours we’re on a high powered jet plane just about to leave the ground. Then it’s my own private jet whizzing low over the Alabama countryside…

I can hardly understand a word he’s saying over the roar of the engine he certainly couldn’t make sense of me doesn’t matter we land safely at Birmingham Airport and I disembark…


Birmingham, Alabama

At the service station, got a lift with a queer.

Didn’t know for sure at the time. He bought me a coffee and a hamburger. Certainly didn’t expect he’d want me to go to bed with him for that? Apparently, yes.

I accept the ride. Takes me to his place. Offers a beer, and a smoke. But he won’t turn the radio off, or the fan, won’t get off the fucking settee to go to bed because I won’t go to bed first what a fucking child. I get no sleep as for some strange reason after going to bed at 4 am he gets up at 6! After all that, when I reach the safety of the road again I’ve gone just about nowhere.


Lift with another psycho

Bent on sex, this one. It’s a 20 Questions scene. I’ve met this type before. Just question them back, give them some really good answers and they shut up. Gives me the creeps, though.

Short, stout, double chin and belly, black stubble, greasy. Comes in an Easy Rider pick-up truck, except instead of the shotgun hanging on the back window – there’s a crowbar. Turns out to be an extremely unpleasant man. Leaves me in a fucking National Park!

I walk to the next exit.

Excuse the cheap term, but this is Red Neck Country.

Between Birmingham and Montgomery, still more trees, still in the state forest.

People driving pick-up trucks. My initial impression is of a close, closed people with deeply inbred ways, tightly knit against outsiders.

But the black girls are very pretty, and the accent is cute.


Stopped in a place called Calera.No connection with Calary Bog? Just a thought. Had a fine meal for $5. Too big, actually. The cost of living has come down a peg. Fags are 10c cheaper. It’s hot, and humid like an outdoor sauna bath (though I’ve never even been in an indoor one).

The white folks wear baseball hats and earline hair, have big, high-lipped mouths, buck teeth, and giant ears.

Something weird about this country –  this guy picks me up (in his pick-up, of course). He has a revolver strapped to his belt. Local vigilante? Ku Klux Klan? Making sure I’m not an escaped niggah painted red?

Well, I finally got a lift with an Alabaman who was neither a queer, a pervert, nor packed a gun. He gave me two beers. We passed a billboard:

Welcome to West Burton

Home of Miss Teen 1977

Owanna Burt





Here’s one for you, Owanna!

This is subtropical, man! Steamy jungly. Ivy covered woodland, dark brown rivers, red soil heavily eroded almost down to bedrock. Coal mining country. Alabama feels primeval: ancient railway lines crossing roads to disappear into thick deciduous forest, broken down Coca Cola bars on the roadside; there’s a feeling of past here, status quo.


Lift with a young guy:

“Don’t know aold folks guive you ride roun here.

Evabaddy knows eyanbaddy eyalsses bezniss.

You fart here someone gowan smeyall et down theya.”


Young black kid on bicycle outside house:

Yew won’ git no radd roun heya!

Wha don’ yew git the bus?

         Me:   Ain’t got no money.

                  -  Pause – to think -

Black kid:  Yew go in that white house over theya.

      Deyall give yew manny! (pointing at his own house)

Me:           When ah git ta Mobile, ahm gonna jump in the sea.

Black kid:  C’n yew sweeyam?

         Me: Sure.

Coming into flat, moist farmland. air is heavy. Cattle. Dilapidated wooden farm buildings. Blacks and whites move around almost independently.

“People roun’ here don’ do nothin’ fer nobaddy, mines theya own bizness.”

Every so often, pick-up lorries pass, loaded with black people apparently being transported to work. They laugh at me for looking red, and not getting a lift. I laugh at them for being black and happy. We laugh together.

Just got picked up by a black county cop. Checked me for a record. I didn’t have one. Looked at my ID.

“Oh! Ahrrland?!”

I waited with bated breath… expected him to tell me his great aunt was from County Kerry… but no. Nothing more. They’re not like that here.

It’s getting late. There’s a beach in Mobile, they say. But there’s not much skin on my legs. Hark. I do believe there might be a storm coming on again…


July 19th

Still here. God’s own pisshole. I’m getting paranoid. People keep driving up and down in their Ford and Chevrolet pick-up trucks, squareheads, baseball caps staring at this object on the street as you might stare at a three-headed hog. They just don’t want to know.




Crickets deafening. Strange night shrieks. Clouds of steam rising 6 feet off the road.  Beyond both sides of the road, blackness, huge depths. Lightning bugs flicker. Don’t leave the road. The endless road. Purgatory.

11 pm. Pitch black. No shelter for miles. Everything shut. Everything dreeping, steaming. There’s only one thing worse than hot rain – that’s freezing rain. But I’d even swap that now. I’m footsore, necksore, backsore. I can’t even sit down. Everything’s a slop.

Gas station closed up. House next to it. Sneak up. No dog. Canopy. 3 feet wide dry patch. Change clothes. Sleeeeeep.

Wake… dog sniffing… on extended chain…


Seems confused.

Don’t bark.

Don’t move.

…  …  … …

He’s gone.

Quiet. Sleep.

Mosquito… car… COPS!!!

Get up.



“Where are you going to / coming from / etc.???”

“Where’s the dog?” (Cop says he thinks I’ve done away with it! – sees it – tells me it will tear me to bits – drives off)



Struggle against despair to get out of this place. 60 miles to highway. Maybe someone passing through… maybe a lift for half a mile…

Car stops. ???



Mobile!!! Yess!!!!


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Re: Hitch-hiking USA 1979

Post by Kitkat on Sun 30 Jun 2013, 22:47


Out of Alabama to New Orleans

The old man’s visiting family in Gulf Sands. He drives slow, offers tour guide commentary on the folks in the poor clapperboard houses we’re passing, hands out cold cans of beer from a container on the back seat:

Ya see over theyah? Nigruhs. Set on de porch. Won’t work nohow. Got too good for it.”

Pretty, the red and pink blossoms on the magnolia trees, pink myrtle, Spanish Moss. The parasitic Kudzu weed, that they say was brought here by Korean war veterans, has thrived and spread, choking the roadside forest; its trailing vines give the appearance of tropical jungle.

After much commentary (and many piss calls), my host drops me in Mobile, Louisiana. It’s raining again.

At the YMCA, I’m told they’re no longer renting rooms. A boarding house rents by the week only. Shit. Stuck inside of Mobile?


I get a bus out to Route 90.

Burger King – Phleugh!

Get a lift, share a joint.

I’ve reached the French fortress at Tascacoula.

Get a lift to New Orleans with the captain of a shrimping boat. His fortnight’s pay is $2,700 + $300 bonus. There’s work all year, but drifters come and go. Captain Shrimp tells me every “coonass” carries a gun or a knife. Kill your ass for five bucks. Near enough to freak me out. Then the Captain leaves me at an intersection on the west edge of New Orleans at 11 o’clock at night. “…only 60 blocks west of the business district.”

Brightness at midnight! The most awesome flash of sheet lightning I’ve ever seen. For a quarter of a second the sky is bright blue, the surrounding country visible as if it were high noon. A world-ending light! I’d never imagined there could be so much power up there!

Delta land. This place smells like a sewer, feels like bathroom air after a bath. Mosquito. Hit! Plumped on blood.

Then I see a guy riding a bicycle, meandering slowly down the highway! Amazing. This reassures me.

I find a coffee place. Think I hear someone speaking French. I try to tune in… no, it’s not… yes, it is. No. It’s Cajuns talking Creole.

I hitch two lifts, both young guys. The second driver is Chinese, leaves me right to the door of the Y, where they have rooms for $10 a night. The rooms are old. There’s no AC. The humidity is stifling. I’m sweating. It’s 90 degrees plus. But it’s clean. And tomorrow I can go hands-free.

I count my spending money: $169.71c left. I must stay here two nights at least. If I run out of money, I can always make all-speed for New York.

New Orleans

There’s no way I can see 1/100th of this city, so I’m going for the French Quarter.

The streets are straight, grid pattern. From 1719, the Spanish colonized up the river; the French came later. They’ve preserved the early French buildings, lace pattern iron balconies; old style shop windows stock real antiques, not imitation. Restaurants cook Cajun food. Jambalaya, crawfish pie, gumbo, are all on the menu. So that’s what the song is about. I don’t try it. Apart from having little to spend, I’d need someone to share a meal with. I miss someone to share this newness with, to exclaim “Wow! Look at THAT!. You can only let it roll over you: the French Market, the steamboats, the tugs, the river. The RIVER! It’s a half a mile wide!

I like listening to the accent, as wide as the river.

A magic place: smells, sights, sounds… and the knowledge of the myth realized.

I’d like to buy souvenirs, pick something specially for each person. But weight and cost forbid.

Saturday night, I hit the French Quarter. I can’t really participate without a buddy, can’t exploit the abundance of things exotic. Though I’m limited to spectator status, I’m not disappointed.

The system in Bourbon Street is new to me. The doors to most of the bars are open to the street, so you can watch the entertainment, including the nude dancers. You can hear the music perfectly well from the street. You don’t pay a cover charge to get in, but if you enter, you must buy drinks, beyond my budget. Instead, I stalk the street. From each door, a new sound: Dixieland, Kansas City jazz, Country Rock, Black Funk, Country & Western, Electric Bluegrass, Zydego…

I find a mini-mart off the main drag, buy beer, bring it back to Bourbon Street, walk up and down, tune in, tune out, tune in again to the continuous entertainment. No hasslers here, though plenty of hustlers: black kids tap-dance in the street, an old man tap-dances too, conserving energy and dignity, a Kansas busker plays slide guitar, exudes confidence. Oh, for a neck like that.

The heat is luxurious; I’m beginning to learn how to use it. Mardi Gras must be something special if this is what just a regular Saturday night has to offer.

That guy blowing the big baritone sax is into the groove.  Tight, honky piano rhythm pulls the horns together, rolls along on a fluid bass… the break… the solo… the step up, finger snap, hip swivel… back to the vocal… the round off, the “Yeah!” , the look of pleasure on the singer’s face. Jazz is the music of spontanaeity; if it’s calculated, it’s dead. Though each band member knows the tune, each is also expected to add experiment, personal comment.

That black guitarist behind the big vocalist is licking so smooth, fading, pushing short clips between the phrases, offering delicious short breaks that leave you hungry for more. As I look through the window, he looks up, smiles, I shout Yeah! Play it!

I move on down Bourbon Street. The Jazz Preservation Society is the only closed door. Pity.

And then there is the House of the Rising Sun, red and white fronted, ladies slinking along balconies fronting dimly lit, shuttered rooms…

I return through the warm night to my YMCA room, head filled with jazz, myth, magnolia Old South, confederates, plantation, Southern Man…

An Uneasy Night

Get a bus to the western edge of the city, and Highway 10. Got that road adrenalin going. Got to burn some miles. My route takes me across five or six rivers flowing through the flatlands and backwaters of West Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico. This is swamp country, bayou.

At the Lafayette horse race meeting, I fall in with a drunkard gambler and his submissive, complaining wife. On the way back from the races, as we swig from the Scotch bottle in the car, she takes a dislike to me, warns her husband: “Don’t let that guy in the door.”

He surrenders; I get jettisoned in a bad place. By the time I’ve walked the three miles back to the highway, it’s dark. It’s hot, though not as humid as New Orleans.

On the slip road to the highway, I meet another hitch-hiker with a guitar.

WHAM! Cop car! WHAM!! SECOND COP CAR!! Hands on car. Stretch out. Frisk. ID. “Wherayewfrowam?

Yewcn GO!”

The other guy gets pulled in.

Pick-up. Talk, talk, talk.

Queer looking type. Only going up to truck stop. I’m going for coffee (so is he).

Talk. He can fucking talk. He’s fixated on something. Invites me to stop for the night. Watch it, Jimmy – don’t walk into a hassle again. I’m tired. It’s dark and late… what have I got to lose? Look at his hands. Rings. Look at the dashboard: a flag of Peru, a Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, John the Baptist, Saint goddam Everything up there.

Plastic Jesus, Plastic Jesus

Ridin’ on the dashboard of my car

I don’t care if it rains or freezes

I still got my Plastic Jesus

Ridin’ on the dashboard of my car.

John Prine

A true blue idolator. A weapon I can use against him, if pushed? I prepare for trouble, while keeping my mouth shut.

He engages in a tirade, a rising oration all the way back to his house, about:

1.     women (all bitches and whores – except his mother)

2.    people who smoke dope and don’t spend their lives accumulating (like his Dad)

French name. Cajun? French degree. Ex-army. About 35.

We arrive at his house. Check it out. I count six shrines in his sitting room, and shiver.

This is not hype. I’m getting cautious, observant of my surroundings; survival could depend on it.

He lives alone. Doesn’t take no truck with women. Yet he drives around picking people up, and professes to know a lot about local women?

He praises his house, his acquisitions.

Travel is a waste of money and time.

This guy’s a religious freak. He’s twisted. He offers to wash all my clothes, insists on WEIGHING me??

I stay cool. Don’t open yourself to people until you’ve sussed them thoroughly.

This guy’s a fish. As we drink coffee, the tirade continues.

“The last boy who stayed with me…” (if it wasn’t so unnerving it would be laughable – prepare to get out of house at first sign of danger)

No. It’s not cool, but it’s OK. I think.

I shower, seeing that girl in Psycho, tensed for the knife.

I feel sorry for him. His dog is his soul companion. He needs people to talk to, or at.

More stories, more manifestoes, voice morphing to demoniac timbre.  

At last, quiet. Sleep. Away, away…

I chide myself that I should be grateful for his hospitality, while maintaining a defensive unease throughout the rest of the night.

Into Texas

Back at the highway exit. Lift to Houston. Wow! Roll a joint and what would you like to hear? Neil Young? Decade it is.

We ride into Texas on a Neil Young trip, swathed in delicious sadness. It’s funny, second time round: the music connects me to Boston, and the first ride of my trip. Again, Sugar Mountain, Southern Man, as the South rolls by, tall, white mansions and little shacks, when will you pay them back. It all fits together. And every word is carefully loaded, ridden over by roughshod guitar.

Lift with a Montreal Canadian going to Brazil. Long way! We cross the bayoux, swamps, delta land, onto the wooded plains of Texas – almost go under an oncoming trailer – and AWAKE!

And so, to Houston. But it’s THIS side of Houston. I have to walk, and walk…

Picked up on a pick-up. Windy skin.

Eat at a Hungry Farmer place, good beef, pretty black Texas girls. Walk again.

On the road again. Slow. Interminable city limits and narrow exits make it impossible to get a lift. Walk. And walk.

Exhausted, I sleep in public, outside a Safeway Supermarket. The wind’s getting ready for a big blow off the Gulf, hurricane warnings on the radio. It’s been coming in from the southwest. I just want to sleep.

Milk and orange breakfast. Prepare for that sun.

New strategy: fuck the exit ramps – get onto that highway, under the bridge, into the stream, and stay cool. It works. Get a lift with a painter with the American spirit – Atyouman! – to another bridge, where a John Wayneian woodman brings me 200 miles down the road to Dallas. I’m chuffed.

Blowout on side of the road. Mexes. 5 cars. Buy that wood. Buy that guitar.

Farming land. Ranches. Cattle.  Wide open spaces. Straight road. Hot sun, cooler shade. 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Texas. Across the plains, horses’ heads nod rhythmically, small, private oil wells pumps.

At Denton Bridge, I spot a black man who puts me in mind of Lightnin’ Hopkins. Cool.

Centreville. Same accent. At ease.

Fort Worth, Cowtown 1849, and this time a feeling other than city as something to be got through. This town is a destination and a discovery, my only address in the United States.

Edna Hurson, kid sister of Tess from Dungannon. I only met her once. I wonder, is she there? Ring the number. Change of number! Man’s voice? It’s Sam, Edna’s Texan husband. And Edna! And Baby girl Eva Marie Gibson. Wowee!

Cross cultural marriage comes with baggage. It’s been a rough ride for Edna. Stress after stress has built up to a crisis. Over cups of tea, we talk about Americans and Irish. Edna, the nurse, is into psychology. The Irish are guilt ridden martyrs, play games, say the opposite of what they mean. The Irish close up their emotions, the more closed, bunged up, the more explosive the temper.

Say what you’re thinking.

Sam does. He’s Texan. Live wire. He brings me down to the White Elephant pub, where a country band is playing. We sink a few beers, listen to a country band. They’re good.

“Hot Damn!” Sam’s favourite expression.

For good value, we’re treated to a John Wayne style saloon fight, complete with knife. Sam says it’s all right; the owner has got a gun; he’s probably called the cops, and it’s best we move on. We do.

Next day, Sam wants to find a spare part for his 1969 Ford Mustang, goes to a scrapyard. I tag along through miles and miles of aisles of junked cars. Sam warns me watch out for snakes hiding in the shade.

Back at the house, Edna introduces me to some more Texas Country: Don Wills (son of Bob) & his Texas Playboys, Asleep at the Wheel. I listen and take note.

I feel awkward. It’s time to go.

West Texas

I get a lift with Ken Martin, an interior decorator who’s driving his van to a job in Sweetwater, Texas, next town the road from one with an Indian name which means Stinking Water. Asks me if I’d like to earn some money. Doing what? Putting up wallpaper. Vinyl wallpaper.

Ken’s got a contract to wallpaper a bank!

We check in to a motel, Ken opens the bank, and we unload and carry the gear inside: trestle tables, rolls of vinyl, paste, buckets, brushes. The work’s tiring, but fun.

We lunch at the diner, play records on the juke box. I play Don Wills’ Stay All Night. Ken plays Willie Nelson’s All Of Me, which knocks me out first time and sticks in my brain. I play it again and again.

After work, for entertainment we drive around Sweetwater, watch the Sweetwater kids drive around town, drive to the drive-in theater. Back in the motel,w e relax with a smoke discuss electronic warfare and i-ching.

That worked out. Just what I needed. Thanks Ken. I leave Sweetwater $80 richer. I could make a career out of banking.

American-English Glossary – to date

Check it out – have a look

Take it easy – go aisy, wouldya

Realty – estate agent owned land

Rest room - jacks

Sanitary land tip - dump

Red - comniss

Soda – fizzy canned drink

y’all - ye

fag - homosexual

(to be) like to – (to be) on the point of doing something

Doobies – marijuana cigarettes

wild and crazy - kewel

Hot damn! – Jaysus!

All rIGHT ! – Brilliant!

Fort Davis, McDonald Observatory

Mount Locke, 6,800 feet above sea level. It’s cool, bright, and brilliant.

The observatory has chosen this site as the highest highway point in Texas, and because of its high ratio of cloud free nights. It’s 40 miles to the nearest store. The houses here are only for the observatory employees, who live on a stepping stone to the stars. Look down at the valley floor, a brilliant pale green, studded with the darker green of the mesquite bush. The horizon is bumbled with mountains, sedimentary beds shot through with metamorphic and igneous rocks, an astronomer’s dream, a geology student’s nightmare.

You can feel the stillness up here.

The telescope has a revolving roof, a seismograph. They bounce lasers to find the distance from the moon, to measure the changing rate of continental drift between Hawaii and Texas.

Mind boggling.

An afternoon away from Mount Locke, Van Horn is on the road from Pecos to El Paso, in badland hills where there’s a turn in the road north. Here’s where I end my westward wanderings and turn right. The driver who drops me here advises “The cops here are crazy. They’ll pick you up and bust you for walking.” American thinking carried to its logical extreme? The patrol cars pass, eying me. But they neither stop nor stop me.

Hot out of town (42 degrees Centigrade). Desert badlands to the east, mountain wall to the west. I’m headed north. Buzzards, jack rabbits, cacti. Few cars. None have stopped.

Evening. I’ve walked far from Van Horn. I make camp on a blanket.

The hour before sunset in this country is cool, tranquil, starkly beautiful. As the harsh glare softens, colour returns and the land and sky of the Indian fatherland assumes shape. The green specks of the mesquite bush darken to silhouettes. A gentle breeze relieves. Evening birds speak.

I fry rashers and rye bread, make tea.

I smoke the last of Rolly’s rolls, lie back, look at the moon, feel its three dimensions, the distance between us, calculate continental drift, study the starred sky, the vast distances above me, vast spaces around me…

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Hitch Hiking USA 4

Post by Kitkat on Fri 12 Jul 2013, 22:07

Van Horn, Texas

I wake with the dawn. Boil a billy can of tea. Strike camp.

Four hours have passed, eight cars…

Plenty of time to observe the wild life: jack rabbit, humming bird, road runner, buzzards. A little luke-warm water left. My Texaco map tells me there’s no house for 50 miles; 100 miles to the next town. What if no-one stops? They can’t leave me here.

Can they?

Impossible to look at the sun. I hug the only shade, the slowly moving shadow of a prickly pear cactus, like the ones Snoopy’s country cousin talks to in the Evening Press cartoons.

Yucca cactus. Sotol cactus. Mirage…

I’m just out of water when Mister Bowper picks me up. The Bowper ranch is 100,000 acres! This is Texas.

Down the road apiece, I get lucky. Dan Caldwell and his dog, from Brownsville, are headed for Wyoming.

We enter Guadaloupe Mountains National Park.

Dan’s the ideal guide. He’s a national park ranger, loves his job, knows his Texas. He is highly trained, articulate. We stop in a deserted valley, Devil’s Hall, on the slope of Guadaloupe Peak, 8,000 feet odd, the highest point in Texas.

Guadaloupe was the home of the Mescalero Apache, nomadic food gatherers and hunters who lived in caves. They used the cacti for food, fibre for clothing, medicine, laxative, alcohol.

We trek up inhospitable slopes, stepping on the tops of rocks to avoid disturbing rattlesnakes who may be snoozing in the shadows. We hike though gullies, rock-piles, use every inch of shade from the canyon walls. In this heat we should be drinking a gallon of water a day.

Tonight I feel the earth to my spine under a full moon, a star-spread sky, a storybook sky… the shadow of the canyon… the crisp peppercool, yawning earth… time stretching all ways like an embrace…


 Welcome to New Mexico      Land of Enchantment

El Capitane

I wonder why they call this mountain The Captain. Was it named after a leader of a Conquistador expedition, the first Europeans to venture this way, marching north on their doomed search for the legendary Indian gold? For me, this mountain is El Encantada, the enchanted mountain. We spend the best part of the day driving north, with The Captain on the western horizon. I can’t take my eyes off it. Each shift of light or position transforms El Capitane. A mesa, a long, flat, high, sheer, red sandstone table, it dominates the landscape standing sentinel over vast sweeps of desert approaches. El Capitane is my icon of the American West; it conjures up countless movie scenes. I picture the Indian lookouts signalling the approach of the invaders. Billy the Kid roamed this country: from Taos, andTula Rosa up the Rio Pecos Valley to Santa Fe. Out there is wilderness. Few souls can live off this land. Water resources are stretched.

We enter Lincoln national Park, turn off the main road up into the hills on a road built for pretending it’s the first automobile. We chase a roadrunner up the road!! He’s fast, but doesn’t think to get off the road. I love it! He just keeps going, trying to outrun the Coyotes! Dan tells me they’re not clever, not like our Warner Brothers hero who always tricks the coyote.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad boasts 20,000 exhibits a year. They claim to have hosted 22,000,000,000 visits to these caves since they were first opened to the public. No wonder. They’re vast, magical, and yet to be fully explored. We buy tickets and follow a guided tour. A lift brings us down to a center from which we set out on mapped and signposted trails. The parts we see are well lit, safe and easily accessible.

The magnificent designs formed by liquefied limestone are probably unequalled by man in his most ambitious, splendid cathedrals. The designs interweave across the ceilings, floors and walls of the King’s Palace, the Queen’s Chamber, the Papoose Room, the Great Room, the Cathedral, the Blue Lake.

Did Tolkien or Jules Verne visit these caves? Did this place inspire Gondor, or the Journey to the Centre of the Earth?

Carlsbad Caverns is a storybook never to be finished, vast, timeless, bottomless, magical. Wish I could come back stoned.

At dusk we watch vast swarms of bats fly home to their sleeping places in the caverns.

Roswell, NM

Mesa “City” is a gas station “45 miles from nowhere”, the site of a gunfight on the map.

The ebullient, eccentric Mr. Parsons tells us his well rehearsed stories as we fill our tank, offers me his card:

“Forty-Five Miles From Nowhere”


45 Miles Northwest of Roswell, Vaughan Highway 285
P.O. Box 19
G. B. Parsons
Roswell, NM 88201


The next town, Cecicla, once copped 41 inches of rain, 8 inches in half an hour. That was the last time there was a river in this valley, now a gulch.

We’re onto flat plains, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Santa Fe. Can you feel it?

Santa Fe

I treat myself to a Mexican dinner. Avocado salad, with nachos, chicken enchilada with tortillas. Hot! Beans, rice, tacos, chilli peppers, beautiful wheat cakes fried in oil with honey.


Climbing through yet another national park through high mountains, sparkling rivers, red rock, sandstone or intrusive basault? We’re 3,000 ft. above sea level, driving through 10-12,000 ft. peaks. We pass through Pueblo reservations. No tents. Just tidy, nucleated trailer sites. Dan tells me about the Pueblo. They subsist on farming, crafting. Unfortunately, many have fallen into idling. They are a welfare problem.

Since Boston, I’ve been entertained by the quaint American custom of displaying catchy slogans or nicknames on the signposts that mark state lines and city boundaries. This one is:


Land of Cool Sunshine

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

We hear of a forest fire in Idaho that’s been burning for three weeks. I see fire and timber and charcoal and men and mountains, and my mind stretches a little further to the north west.

At Wolf’s Creek Pass, 10,000 ft., Dan and I have a few drinks and split. Worried the Western sun will burn up this Irish skin, he presses his Stetson hat on me as a parting gift. I try to refuse the gift, but he argues it’s old, battered and frayed at the rims, and he’s just got a new one. Question: How often do Texans buy a Stetson?

My Stetson sits comfortably on top of my rucksack on the roadside. Before long, like the Texaco state road maps, my hat has become a habit, the soft, felt fit around the skull. Now I wonder how I managed without it.

I get a lift with a guy in a pick-up towing a pick-up! I’m not feeling safe on this switchback road that they’re blasting to make wider. TJ’s an artist, a mature 35-year-old counter culture Vietnam veteran. He talks about advertising, subliminal suggestion, imagery. The hidden persuaders. Tiny writing on movie screens, the Coca Cola flash that prompts you to buy.

Tells me I should read Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

He’s built a solar powered underground house. Here’s another sign of the hard times, tight times America is facing.

Missed out on Route 285 because of a thunderstorm. Instead, I take an alternative route, get a long lift to Colorado Springs.

It’s late. This looks completely different to the country I’ve been seeing, even at night. The air’s fresh, sky’s clear. The Rocky Mountains form a wall to the immediate west.

Denver, Colorado

Denver – Mile High City

A man in a van stops. Lucky.

Then, the incredibly tumultuous thunderstorm finally breaks. We’re almost floating around the road. Each passing car shoots up rivers of water. Our windscreen is obscured. Rivers of rain are blowing horizontally. Thanks be to Jesus I missed that by one minute. Phew! I shelter in the Pizza Pickabone. It’s 4 am.

6 am.

Lift. Late crash. Slept till 2:30, and left. Spent most of the afternoon getting through Denver. It looks like a clean, large, cool, modern city. The people seem more cosmopolitan than in Fort Worth. But these are looks alone. I’m in my usual big city frame of mind: I’m not sticking around. I stop a bus, ask the driver directions, stop another, get on the right road to get out of town.

I’m trudging through the northern suburbs of Denver, when a motor bike stops! He’s offering me a lift! That’s a first! Rick vrooms and wobbles my rucksack and guitar and me on the pillion to Boulder, invites me to stay at his house.

To the Mall, and dinner at Molly’s.  Bluegrass music: national steel guitar and washboard, great stuff, rattling and twanging along with the ease of a vintage car! It needs only an upright bass for best effect.

These are happy, boisterous, quick-witted, unaffected people. Projecting personality – none of our think of what he’s thinking first thing. Simplicity. It’s refreshing, sweeps away cobwebs.

Three days in Happyland, “Crazyville”, they call it, fondly. Rick brings me to a party at BJ and Wendy’s airy house, where I’m introduced to more friends. Most people I have met in Boulder have moved here from the East. We play volleyball in the garden.

I’ve landed amongst freethinkers. They avoid pre-structured thinking. All around me I hear opinions, views, argument, visions. These people are opinionated in the positive sense. They talk of ecology, the wish to transform their environment. They talk of solar power, nuclear deterrents, low technology, using the ecosystem, not busting it wide open or poisoning it. Though I try, I find there’s little I can contribute to the discussion. How un-opinionated I am, in a negative sense. Is this my upbringing? I struggle to harvest and store these rich pickings of ideas.

I scan the bookshelves:

Don’t Push the River, Barry Stevens, Real People Press, Lafayette, Cal (Did this inspire Van Morrison to write You Don’t Pull No Punches?)

Anarchy, State and Utopia, Robert Nolick, Basic Books / Harper Colophon (We’ve travelled a long way from Alabama and the fear of Cawmuniss)

Subliminal Suggestion, Keys??

Wendy claims America is a nation of adolescents.

Not quite appropriate, but with an angle of truth worth considering. I feel a tremendous energy from these people. The further west, the friendlier, more open the people.

We go for a swim at Coot’s Lake just outside of town, skinny dipping. It’s a nudist beach. I overcome my Irish inhibitions to join the swimming party.

As a parting gift, Rick takes me on the pillion of his motorbike to the Peaks. From the mile high city we climb another mile, to the highest point on the road at 10,000 ft., where we stop for a smoke, an Irish Whiskey and an espresso coffee.

I sit stoned in cool sunshine, look down with Thomas Wolfe on the road we’ve climbed:

“… go make your resting stool upon the highest peak. Can you not see us now? The continental wall juts sheer and flat, its huge, black shadow on the plain, and the plain sweeps out against the East, two thousand miles away…

… Don’t be frightened. It’s not so big now, when your footstool is the Rocky Mountains.”

    Current date/time is Fri 18 Jan 2019, 22:28