June 3rd 1981

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0

A day to remember, certainly, packed with incident.  Still, one thing at a time…  Woke up after the best night’s sleep we’d had yet in the Caddy.  Just as we had got used to it… ah well.  The bugs were pretty bad there, so we drove on a bit further, coming to another rest area, this one equipped with “comfort area”.  We took the opportunity of cleaning up both ourselves and the inside of the car.  Next stop was for petrol and breakfast.  We bought $5 of former, hoping that would be enough, and some fluid for windscreen washer.  Then breakfast at adjoining café – coffee and a doughnut, very nice too. 

We pushed on to Brownsville, travelling pretty fast, and luckily saw an Information Centre at the beginning of town, and they provided us with a map, so we were able to find the address very easily.  Needed more petrol, though, and we also used a car wash.  Funny ‘twas, a manual one.  Val put the money in, and suddenly water came out of this gun at terrific pressure, soaking both of us.  I grabbed it, and managed to turn it on the car, washing away most of the grime.  Then a quick picture of briefly clean car – it was a dusty town – and straight on to Tamiri Sapir’s place.  It turned out to be an electrical equipment shop/warehouse.  Much to our amazement, he didn’t want to inspect the car, and simply paid up the $75, no fuss.  So out we went – first stop Continental Trailways station, to compare the bus fare – too much.  Still, it was cool there – the day was a hot one – and we could dump the tube bag in a locker and walk around relatively unencumbered. 

We took a walk into Mexico – just like that, eh?   Only a dime each, and a walk across a bridge over the Rio Grande.  Mind you, I wouldn’t say the land over there was representative of Mexico, any more than Calais is of France.  The insects in the trees all did their best to create the right sort of atmosphere, with the tropical noise, and the heat – it was getting hotter and hotter – helped, but most of what we saw was gift-shops, and, for some reason, dentists.  However, Val was able to buy a pair of sandals.  We walked back to the USA – another dime and a chat with US Immigration.  We stopped off at the Trailways depot, because I had stomach ache, re-filled our water bottle, and then tried the suburban bus station to check out a bus to the airport.  They knew nothing about it, but directed us to the Brownsville Urban System (get it?) stop across the road, where we were able to confirm it was the right place with a passing bus driver.  Next stop – food.  Milk, chocolate milk and bread from the supermarket, and then a place to sit down.  We spotted a patch of green a couple of blocks away, so headed for that.  We sat down and rested against a tree, where it was both cool and comfortable.  Comfortable, that is, until we noticed we were being dive-bombed by caterpillars, who were climbing up the tree and falling on us.  The place was infested with them, and though I at least was pretty nervous, we were able to eat a fine lunch. 

I was burning up in the sun, so we decided to visit one of the large air-conditioned department stores, and browse.  In there, I suddenly discovered two of our creepy friends had hitched a ride on me – they were swiftly brushed off to, no doubt, an early demise.  Time was moving on, so we set off back to Trailways to pick up our bags.  This time a church provided us with a cool resting spot on our walk – it was quite modern, though old-styled and full of candles burning.  Having cooled down a little, we walked back past some broken-down houses to the bus-stop, waited 30 mins or so and caught a bus out to the airport.  Nice little airport it seemed, tho’ rather quiet – hardly surprising as it happened – the last flight for the day had gone!  We asked at the desk – our flight was going from Harlingen, 25 miles away.  Pretty depressing, since it meant a trip back to town and the Trailways bus. 

We got outside, + Val decided she might as well ask around the hangars to see what was going on.  While she was gone, a bus came, but I waved it on – thank God – because Val came running out with a big grin on her face – she’s got us a lift to Houston in a two-seater plane.  She’d spun a hard-luck story and the pilot – Neil, a Dutchman, liked Englishmen – had trained at Kidlington.  Neither of us could believe it when we took off – we felt like cheering.  Val sat in the back with the cargo – strictly illegal – while I sat in the co-pilot’s seat.  A terrific flight – much more exciting than a jet, able to see much more.  We both had trouble with our ears tho’.  We landed at Houston, and Neil dropped us off at a small terminal, where we went inside and ordered a courtesy car to the main terminal – real VIP treatment. 

Couldn’t figure out where the car was parked tho’ – we walked around in the dark, among road-works etc.  Finally asked – we were at a totally different airport – Houston International – 35 miles away from Hobby.  We enquired about a bus – there wasn’t one.  Then a taxi – $26.  Finally, Val suggested trying a car hire.  That was even more pricey, but a man there hiring a car offered us a lift.  Totally unbelievable.  He was a nice guy too – obviously a bored businessman.  But it was only when he dropped us off at the car park at Hobby and said “Goodbye gentlemen” that we realised he thought Val was a feller.  We picked up the car and went down south of the city to be closer to NASA.  We decided to celebrate our great day, and went to a place called Bennigan’s – really good. 

Val had a cheeseburger, I had a special chicken sandwich, and we had a beer each.  We also made friends with the waiter, a guy called Greg, so much so that he invited us to sleep at his house, in his bed – he was going out hunting.  So we waited for him, followed him back, sat up talking for a while, and then to bed – a real bed.  PS – Greg thought that Val was my son – bleeding cheek.

Quite a day, indeed, and a diary entry to match, three times as long as anything yet.  But I remain amazed, and somewhat contrite, that I should have devoted as much time to describing the insects as I did the flight, with not a word about the trip, what we said, what we saw, and most especially the enormous excitement of coming in to land at an international airport in a tiny propeller plane.  My devotion to recording the minutiae of every aspect of making it through the day was clearly intense.  Note that Val was accused of being male twice in one day, while only one of those two people thought I was old enough to be her father.  But note even more carefully the first of many many occasions when Val took charge to get us out of a hole.

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