Wednesday, 12 May 2010


First, breakfast at a convenient branch of “Kettle: America’s Kitchen.’”
Never heard of this chain before, they are comparatively small and not particularly thrilling.
My Texas style chicken fried steak with coffee, fresh orange juice and iced-water filled me up. Shortly afterwards the indigestion started.
I rode across the countryside taking the non-interstate route in an attempt to make it a little more interesting, sitting bolt upright in my seat letting fly with horrific burps and belches in a largely futile attempt to reduce the pressure.
Cattle stampeded. Mothers shooed their children inside. The National Guard were put on alert as “Alex Lester’s Horrible Digestive Tract Circus” hit town after town. I think emergency prayers were also said in a multitude of local churches as word spread and the population got wind (sorry) of the approaching storm.

The scenery has become pretty ordinary, insofar as scenery in the broad expanses of the US can be “ordinary”. Yet more miles of ranch land as I headed further south towards the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the best things about having no itinerary to speak of means that I can change my direction or destination on a whim.
Had intended to head for Laredo on the border with Mexico. When I arrived there it was horrible. Urban blight and decay. Viewed from the outskirts, I decided that it would probably be better to head somewhere else: Corpus Christi “The Sparkling City by the Sea”. Big university town too.

That’s better. The weather on this trip has been variable and, as the day wore on and I travelled closer to the coast, the temperature rose and the humidity increased. By the time I pulled into a sea-front hotel parking lot it felt like I was standing by a tumble-drier vent. This reminds me, I am about due for some laundry activity. Fast running out of stuff. As I dragged everything out of the case, I was able to tell where I had been by the odd food stain and the whiff. The hotter the atmosphere, the pongier the clothes.

The motel was a fairly cheap deal and the other side of the parking lot was an Art Deco style Diner, which looked original and it specialised in sea food. The internal economy was now back on even keel and it had been about 11 hours since breakfast, so I went in.
I ordered shrimp with pasta and a basin of the stuff arrived with a spicy sauce and green and red peppers and black olives. It was delicious.
In the booth in front of me two elderly Latina ladies were discussing the senior citizens discount menu, with the waitress and endlessly re-jigging in order to get the best deal.
“If I just have the fish platter…”
“That comes with two sides”
“Will I get the soup?”
“No that is extra”
“What if I only have one side can I have the soup as a side?”
“Yeah we can do that”
“What is the soup?
“Garlic potato”
When it, arrived both ladies crossed themselves before starting to eat.
Maybe I should have tried that at “Kettle”.
Then it was out to a bar.
I found a sports bar and feigned interest in the Basketball.
Oddly enough I recognised a couple of the players then remembered why. They had been involved in scandals of various sorts so had made the mainstream news, just as everyone now knows O.J. Simpson.
As it was a sports bar, beer was only available in plastic cups. It felt like I was at a picnic.
The woman behind the bar - a student - was talking exam results with other student customers in between being given relationship advice by a man in his forties.
“But I’m only 24”
“Well, you should play the field a bit”
“I’ve only had two boyfriends”
“Well, it obviously wasn’t meant to be...”
After my second she said to me…
“You want me to give you one in a glass cup?”
I was honoured. I obviously wasn’t a whooping violent sports jock given to smashing beer glasses into stranger’s faces. This bedraggled and generally disreputable unshaven bloke with the funny accent was obviously harmless.
When I returned from the “restrooms” – where, incidentally, I didn’t have a rest - I noticed everyone else now had a “glass cup” and a DJ was setting up his wheels of steel.
Once “The Game” was over, somehow it became a less dangerous place. Maybe it was a curious local law. There was another curious local law about to present itself.

I left and walked in the heat and humidity the two blocks back to the motel. As I rounded a corner, within a stones throw of my destination, a woman’s voice called to me:

“Hey, its you”
“Erm, I am aware of that. I have been me for some 54 years now”
“You know me, I’m the waitress from the restaurant”
“Ah yes, I recognised you now sorry its dark”
She was sitting on a bench, flanked by a man and a woman and standing at the back having a cigarette was another bloke who spoke.
“Ah, an Englishman”
He said in a Scottish accent.
“Ah, a Scotsman” I said
“I’m from Jamaica” said the guy on the bench in a distinct Southern drawl.
“I’m German” said the non-waitress woman in a distinct Southern drawl.
“I’m Italian…well Polish/Italian,” laughed the waitress in a distinct Southern drawl.

It is interesting that being such a new country and made up of immigrants, Americans always tell you their country of origin even though in most cases they have never been there.
It probably would be more difficult to do the same thing in the UK.

“I’m a Saxon”
“I’m a Norman”
“I’m a Pict”
“I’m a Scot”
Back to the man with the Scottish accent.
He was an oilman who had been on a business trip.
Too late. I was dragged inside the bar which was an Irish Pub. Judging by the Southern drawls of the customers it was packed with Irish people.
It had spectacularly icy air conditioning after the heat and humidity of outdoors.
So persuasive was the Scotsman that I stayed until closing time. He would not let me pay. I did offer, but no. I tried to leave but he said no. I was full of beer. I protested but he insisted that I changed to shorts. Or “shots”. This is where the local law kicked in again. He ordered a double. “Wild Turkey”. The barmaid refused. You can only have one shot per glass. So he ordered two shots and I was presented with two glasses. I poured one into the other. Hah! You think you Americans - particularly in the Deep South - are rebels. This is what an Englishman who is full of beer can do. In a polite reserved and slightly meek manner.
There seems to be plenty of money in the oil industry, as I was regaled with tales of expenses paid trips including a selection of thankfully not too lurid tales of a recent trip to Mexico, where he had had five massages in four days. Three of which ended with (his term) “A good finish”.
He was a Radio 2 listener and when I explained who I was he didn’t believe me.
At midnight the bar closed and we tottered along the street to the hotel. On the corner we made our goodbyes. “You’re not staying in that dive, are you? He said.
He then carried on up the street to his five star hotels.

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  1. There you go, see how liberating and educational of local culture, socialising (ok then, partying) can be. Never knew about 1 shot/glass. BTW when you get down to Pensacola watch for the 'old bill' (Highway patrol) and speeding. But you'll be ok - they use PDAs to write the ticket out, and they are programmed for a USA zip code. Can't handle the 6 character UK post code. LOL. Makes them very cross though. Love the expatriate shoe/blog Best ~ CW

  2. Hi Alex nice to see you are socialising with the locals was that your birthday bash it sounds as if you had a great night Now you be careful out there

  3. Hi Alex, how fantastic that you go all the way to USA and then get pi....ed with a Scotsman - and at no cost to you - who said all Scots were tight-fisted. Best get your laundry done and get smartened up before TDL gets over there....... Meggie

  4. Hey Alex, forgot to ask on my last message - are your sandals holding out or will you need a new pair before you get home - must be a great feeling knowing that people in USA actually know who you are - I suppose your show goes out there at a normal time - not through the night like here. Keep the stories coming, they are excellent. Meggie