And that was it. Yesterday was my last diary entry and, up until that point, every diary entry I've written has been accurate and on the correct date, exactly as it was written in my "Cannonball Run" notebook. This entry, posted under today’s date, is not so accurate; it's a little bit of guesswork.
The thing is, the exact date on which I came home is kinda lost in the mists of time, which is a just a romanticised way of saying I can't remember when it was, thanks to not keeping the diary up to date right up to the end. All I do remember is, it was during the week leading up to my Dad’s birthday (on the 27th), but I figured you, as my reader, have put up with this Cannonball malarkey for quite long enough; it’s time to put you out of your misery, so to speak.
But, although my memory is generally crap (as are those of my parents' - I rang to ask them if they could remember - they couldn't!), I can recall, very clearly actually, the events leading up to my homeward bound journey.
We'd done nothing but party during the final days of our time in Minnesota but when the time came, we struck a deal. As the three of us - the original three - were more or less broke, we sold the van to John and some of the other guys. Although it wasn't anywhere near the amount we paid for it, once again, it was enough to subsidise the remainder of our stay. They stumped up cash in advance and when we left, we handed them the keys to the van. There was just one proviso; they had to drop us off at the airport before they could have the van.
This, you might say, wasn’t asking very much. But from St Pauls, our route took us west through Wisconsin, then south, in order to drive around Lake Michigan, across the Illinois-Indiana state line, then west through Ohio and Pennsylvania before arriving at the airport. According to Google maps, it amounts to just over 1200 miles!
Now that’s what I call a drop off!
Anyways, thanks to John being head-over-heels in love with Kim, this tiny detail was agreed on without a moment’s hesitation. I don’t think it would’ve mattered what the other purchasers thought about the matter – the deal was done.
We said our sayonaras, packed up the van with our stuff and set off for New Yoik. The drive there was a mixture of loud singing, happiness and laughter, along with some sadness, mostly on John and Kim’s part, but also from myself; I’d had a life changing experience, seen some places that many people won’t ever see, and all that was coming to a close.
We did the drive in pretty much one hit, still taking it turns to drive then sleep. We arrived at John F. Kennedy airport in plenty of time for our flight and used the time to eat and drink together as a large group for the last time. After some final, final goodbyes, some tears, some address exchanges, we waved off the guys and made our way through to departures. (A nice little touch to the end of the trip was seeing the pop group Dee-Lite in the departure lounge, who I was a MASSIVE fan of. I actually called out to them and they turned to wave).
To cut a long story short, our flight was cancelled and those very nice people at Virgin put us up in a very nice hotel, and gave us some very nice food and drink vouchers to spend there. Not only that, the three of us were ferried to the hotel in a limousine of our very own.
You can say what you like about that Branson chap – he sure knows how to do things in style!
We arrived, we all had our own suite, so we washed and brushed up and met for dinner. We weren’t physically able to order and eat enough food to get rid of all our vouchers; we were quite literally stuffed! After dinner, George and Kim turned in for the night to be up for our 8.15am check in. Not yours truly, however, oh no, even after almost a day of non-stop driving and a meal that Henry VIII would’ve balked at, I decided to make the most of the drinks vouchers and headed to the bar.
Man-oh-man, if ever I’d been in a hotel bar that was straight out of a movie, this was it; I can remember it perfectly. Beautiful lighting, beautiful people moving here and there, a pianist tinkling away on the so-called-ivories and a terrific barman, the barman as I found out; the barman with a quip for everything. I propped up the bar, we got talking, his pal the pianist joined us every now and then, and the later it got, the noisier we got (or was it just me), although we were joined by this person, that person, that couple, this group and so on. I do remember looking at the clock thinking, “nah, 11.30pm is nothing!” in the same fashion as the hands hit midnight, then 1am. Through the haze, I can remember calling it quits at 2.30am. I made it to my room and quite literally, hit the bed.
The very next thing I remember is an incredible noise. I open my eyes – just – and realise that someone is banging on the door to my suite while shouting my name.
“Sir. Sir, you have to wake up sir, your transfer car is waiting. You have to …”
I jumped up, ran across the room and threw the door open. Standing at the door was a man with the widest shoulders I’d ever seen, before or since. I can remember, again, through bleary eyes, that he had a security style earpiece in, a very short cropped haircut and a very smart grey suit.
It was at this exact moment that I realised that I was wearing precisely nothing!
Now, thanks to the anonymity of the internet and indeed, this blog, I could pretend to you that I am a tall, stallion of a man with forearms like Popeye the sailor man, thighs like tree trunks and that I am constantly mistaken for a young Paul Newman, or a slightly greying Brad Pitt. However, this I am sorry to say, has not been my experience.
Let me just leave it there.
The security man / hotel employee looked me up and down once, politely told me that I had precisely 5 minutes to get dressed and then walked away. This I duly did and managed, somehow, to make it to the airport. It was only as I was checking in did I give any thought to George and Kim. Oh my gawd, where were they? Had I left them behind? Would they make the flight? What if, what if …..? Of course, I was SO worried about them that I checked in and boarded the plane without looking back. Although I felt a teensy bit bad, it clearly wasn’t that bad as I made my way on board, looking for my seat number.
And there they were!
Sat in their bloomin’ seats, two rows behind me, smiling at me as I walked down the aisle. What the hell was going on? It was clearly okay if I left them behind, but how dare they leave me behind! Of all the cheek!
I was so upset, that I sat down in my chair, asked for a pillow and went straight back to sleep until we were about to touch down in good ol’ Blighty.
Again, to cut a long story short, it was in baggage reclaim that they announced they would need a place to stay for the night as they couldn’t make contact with their old lodgings. This pissed me off tremendously, I can remember.
We made the journey to my parents’ house in silence; I hadn’t alerted my folks to our arrival, I wanted it to be a surprise. After our hello’s and welcome backs, George and Kim slept on the floor of my bedroom while I slept in my bed – mean enough I s’pose; one more evening of them getting the bed like they did in the van wouldn’t have hurt, but I was too fed up with them, as they were with me, I’m sure.
The sad thing is, nearly three months of living together in a very small work-horse of a van, driving almost 13,000 miles from one side of America to the other, from the very bottom to pretty much the very top, had tested our friendship to the limit. To be more precise, it had broken it in two. It was the perfect example of people getting on famously in one setting, and thinking that you could automatically transfer that friendship to any setting. I’m sure in some cases it can work; it just didn’t in our case.
I can’t describe the relief that we were finally going our separate ways. It’s a shame really because I know that it was entirely their enthusiasm in the first place that made me leave everything behind and go somewhere I probably would’ve only dreamed about; I probably would have just stayed where I was, waiting tables in an American diner in Bromley instead of sampling the real thing.
Some of the sights we saw were once-in-a-lifetime sights; people save for their whole lives to do what we did. If you ever go to see the Grand canyon, trust me when I say you will never forget it; and I saw it with Kim and George.
Driving through the endless desert of Nevada, seeing the faint lights of a town getting bigger and bigger, driving along the strip of Las Vegas and sampling the craziness of what the town has to offer; I did that with Kim and George.
I know they were as sick of me as I was of them, but reading back through that diary, spending time with it (and them) once again, made me realise just how special those 12 weeks were. And for that, I should’ve thanked them, not fallen out with them.
I doubt that that they will ever read this but thanks George Stoker, thanks Kim; that trip was an absolute blast!
In fact, the complete list of that incredible trip went something like this;
London, New York, Los Angeles, san Pedro, San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Beach, Upland, santa Monica, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Carpenteria, San Luis Obispo, El Chorro, Solvang, Big Sur, Monterrey, San Fransicso, Kingsburgh, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Seligman, Williams, Grand canyon, Tuscon, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Galveston, Louisiana, New Orleans, Pensacola, Kissimmee, Vero Beach, Miami, Key West, Fort Lauderdale, Disney World Orlando, Macon, Nashville, Chicago, Brooten, Belgrade, St. Pauls, then the drive non-stop, as mentioned, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York.
There you have it; 13,000 miles, or thereabouts.
There were times when I thought that it really wasn’t a very good idea to inflict it on you (or anybody!) but at the back of my mind, I figured that the junk I ramble on about here (as on my previous Dad on a Bike pages), is primarily for my kids to read back on in the future. Admittedly, an internet blog isn’t quite as romantic as a dusty old diary found in an attic, but I guess it’s a pretty good back up.
If you’re still here, thanks for seeing it through to the (bitter) end.