10th September 2018
Montalivet Les bains, Aquitaine, France
In the same era as yesterday’s travelogue retrospective, the early noughties, Adrian Chesterfield and I flew to Dallas, Texas to buy GMC V8 diesel engines for which we had a lively little business in Devon shoehorning them into Land Rovers.
I seem to recall we travelled early in May and the first thing that struck me about Texas was how green it was. Countless old cowboy films had led me to expect a hot, dry and dusty landscape and it was a surprise to encounter low 20s temps and grass to equal Devon’s lush pastures - although, I later learned that during the summer my old dry and dusty cowboy landscape image was the norm as the temps soared and the rain stayed away. The green I was seeing was the product of seasonal winter rains and short lived.
The next surprise was a big sign at the exit to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport boldly announcing that airport extension works were taking place to the tune of 2.7 BILLION Dollars which when completed would mean the airport would occupy more ground space than the whole of Manhattan Island in New York! !
2.7 billion US Dollars was more than the GDP of many a nation, I thought and although I didn’t know it then it was a good precursor to the scale on which simply everything was done in the Lone Star State.
We got a room at a Motel 6 where I needed to call the UK. No phone in the room but there was a public phone in the reception area. After looking repeatedly through all the available phone information documentation I was unable to confirm that the universal 00 international dialling code was all I needed to prefix my number with so I asked the young receptionist if she knew the what the international dialling code was.
She didn’t. Surprised by her reply I asked her if she had ever made an international phone call. She hadn’t.
Why would I ever want to? she asked me back genuinely puzzled and added
we got everything we could ever need right here in Texas. She then went on to ask me where I was from and how I liked Texas. I said, politely, that I liked it very much though in truth, at that point, had seen almost nothing of it. I said I was from the UK and only got a blank expression for response. Great Britain? I further ventured. Schtum. I tried again, England?
Her face lit up, she’d heard of England but it was my guess she wasn't exactly too sure just where in the world it might be located!
She turned out to be a fairly typical example of all the Texans we subsequently met. Proud and extremely knowledgeable about Texas but pretty ignorant about the rest of the world, not because they were stupid but simply because they just didn’t give a damn!
We hired a car from ‘Rent-a-Wreck’ which was just an old model full size saloon but otherwise perfectly good in every respect, but because it was not a current model could be rented at a refreshingly low rate. All fine by me!
Once hired, we drove our ‘wreck’ to the largest ‘take-out’ yard (vehicle breakers) I have ever seen. Outside of the USA I doubt such vast breakers yards exist anywhere. It’s road frontage covered some miles and it employed more than 300 full time men just to strip engines and transmissions into their component parts for racking and resale. It didn’t escape my notice all 300 men were Negro and the only white folk were a handful of managers sitting in offices perpetually shouting down telephones.
In all fairness to them, Adrian and I were treated like royalty and nothing was too much trouble. The big bossman/owner was even wheeled out to say ‘Howdy’ to us. In his spacious office he had coffee served to us and made sure we left with armfuls of ‘merchandise’ T shirts, golfing brollys, baseball caps and the like and all of very high quality.
That day we purchased not far short of 100,000 USD worth of low milage and brand new, ‘complete’, GMC V8 diesel engines, non-electronic diesel injection pumps and loads of other miscellaneous ‘stuff’ - nuts, bolts and washers of every imaginable size, engine cover mouldings, heavy duty towing ‘eyes’, etc, etc - that Adrian insisted we couldn’t possibly afford not to buy at their prices!
Nice of him to spend my money so freely I thought, but actually he was quite correct and we got one helluva lot of useful high quality sundry stuff for really no money at all.
Overall, I thought I’d spent a small fortune but I heard the guy we were dealing with talking to someone on the phone about us, something to do with the non electronic injection pumps we wanted, and he had to practically beg the guy on the other end of the phone to execute the order by explaining that he knew it was a very small deal but ‘these guys are just starting out’!
100,000 USD a ‘very small deal’ - welcome to Texas!
It was going to take a couple of days to get everything we wanted together and crated up for shipping, which was all to be done for us, so we used the free time to see a bit more of Dallas.
Downtown was all high-rise offices finished in mirror glass and looked exactly like the opening Dallas skyline sequence to the long running old TV soap opera of the same name. Well, I guess it would really, wouldn’t it?!
Outside the central district there was much more less intimidating low-rise architecture and we had lunch at a really excellent and affordable restaurant in just such a building.
We trundled round to the Grassy Knoll where, in late 1963, President JF Kennedy took a fatal headshot from a sniper's bullet whilst seated in the back of his open top Lincoln Continental. As far as I could tell from my memory of old news photographs the place had not changed one iota since that fateful day and even the sinister looking Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly lined JFK up in the crosshairs of his rifle looks unchanged in any way.
We thought we might drive out of the city and take a look at ‘nearby’ Oklahoma. Well, the city seemingly went on forever and, as I recall, we drove through an endless conurbation of joined-up cities pretty much all the very long way to Oklahoma.
I don’t know what I expected to see in Oklahoma but if it was cowgirl Doris Day at the reins of her open top wagon rolling through the wild west singing that she’d just got back from the windy city I was in for a big disappointment. It was decidedly mundane, not overly urban but not particularly rural either.
A big disappointment, really - although, perhaps further away from the Texas border the State gets more interesting?
The next day Adrian drove us from our motel to the takeout yard to check on progress with our purchase. On the way there, - listening to two very witty and entertaining DJs doing their double-act breakfast radio show - and being the passenger, I couldn’t help but notice how many roadside drug stores had bullet holes in their plate glass doors.
I recall I was a little culture shocked at just how many stores were indelibly scared in this way as it was not the kind of thing one routinely saw back in Sidmouth, south Devon!
At the takeout yard we briefly befriended an Aussie guy, also there to buy engines for export to his homeland and agreed to meet up with him that evening for a beer.
We met in a bar someplace, went on for a bite to eat somewhere else and then to another bar which turned out to be a lap dancing joint. There was a cover fee to get past the door and away from the immediate bar area the interior was comfortably appointed and subtly lit.
In large, plush armchairs fat middle aged men sprawled out whilst hard bodied young women with even harder faces gyrated to the music close-up in front of them, wearing nothing but the flimsiest of thongs. Tina Turner’s hit song ‘Private Dancer’ immediately came to mind. Every so often a recumbent Mr Fatty would stuff some dollar bills into his dancers waistband and she would pull it’s micro-gusset to one side in response - presumably, for Mr Fatty’s greater ‘enjoyment’.
I don’t consider myself a prude - I spent my early adult years fully imbibing in the 70s hedonistic era of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll for fucks sake! - but I really didn’t understand what enjoyment there was to had from looking at but definitely not touching a naked young woman who appeared as though she’d gladly commit homicide if the sad fuck in front of her even tried to lay a finger on her.
For my money, it was like staring into a butcher’s shop window and trying to get aroused!
I had a similar encounter some years before in Bangkok. It was my first time there and someone had said I must go to the so-and-so club one night before I left town and so in I duly went.
It turned out to be a bar popular with fat, middle age western men who went there to ogle the very young and lithe dancers who unhappily performed unspeakable synchronised acts with lighted candles - together with the resultant hot wax! - on a large, central, circular stage.
One young lady performed a solo act smoking an entire cigarette without ever once putting it anywhere near her mouth!
What really got to me though was the sight of a very young and slender girl - she looked to be no older than 13 or 14 - who for the price of a glass of Coke - about 15 pence equivalent in local money - was compelled to sit on the lap of a sweaty, fat, middle aged European man whilst his hands and fingers roamed all over and in her.
Her face was a picture of pure misery.
I learned later these girls were virtual slaves having been ‘sold’ to the bar owner by their impoverished rural parents.
It must have been a similar financial imperative that drove the hard faced Dallas dancers too, either that or an expensive habit to support!
We flew back to the UK the next day, our business in Dallas all being concluded. At that time I was still enjoying free air travel due to the squillions of Air Miles I had accumulated and never used in my previous corporate life. I was also still a BA Gold Card holder but wouldn't be for very much longer as it time expired and required a lot of expensive air travel to maintain it’s status.
Adrian and I were flying steerage on my air miles but noting my BA gold card status at check-in I was offered an upgrade to business class. I accepted but when I asked about my travelling companion he was politely declined as he wasn’t any kind of BA card holder.
Not wishing to abandon Adrian to cattle-class whilst I luxuriated in business class I declined the upgrade, Adrian protesting loudly that I was crazy not to take it. The young lady dealing with us said no more but hit they keys on her terminal rapidly and subsequently presented us with a flourish two business class tickets and a wonderful smile.
BA certainly wasn’t the cheapest airline to fly with in those days but, my god, they gave bloody good service - and there was at least one other time in my own experience when they excelled themselves in respect of customer loyalty.
Back in my then recent corporate past I had been required to attend yet another Monday morning business meeting in Minneapolis. One option was to fly in an aging NorthWorst Airlines 747 from Gatwick departing on a Sunday lunchtime to arrive in Minneapolis at about the same local time - but your bodyclock looking for the bedroom.
Up bright and early on the Monday after just about zero sleep to stand up in front of a hostile board of directors and justify your recent European budget overspend, or lower than forecast quarterly sales numbers, or something equally thrilling!
A much better option was to fly out Friday lunchtime from London Heathrow on a BA flight to Chicago O’Hare with an onward US domestic airline connection (preferably not NorthWorst Airlines) to Minneapolis giving one an entire weekend for one’s bodyclock to catch up and synchronise with one’s brain!
On the particular Friday that comes to mind I had boarded a BA 747 with just hand luggage and was sipping a complementary gin and tonic whilst awaiting the steerage compartment to fill up. Very soon an apologetic announcement came over the PA system to say that due to a technical fault there would be a short delay before takeoff.
In the end we sat fidgeting in our seats on the runway until 5pm when it was finally announced that that particular 747 wasn't going anywhere anytime soon and we would all have to get off and make alternative travel plans.
I was not a happy little executive bunny and stormed over to the BA executive lounge full of high dudgeon complaining volubly that my entire weekend schedule was now in tatters and demanding to know what the hell were BA going to do about it?
Another young BA lady implacably took my diatribe metaphorically on her enchanting chin and sweetly asked if she were to put me on the evening Concorde flight to New York would that in any way make up for all my inconvenience?
What could I say? All sins forgiven, indeed!
I had always wanted to travel Concorde, at least once and now the chance was finally here. I grabbed the offer with both hands even though flying to New York was less than ideal as I wouldn't be able to get a connecting flight to Minneapolis until Saturday morning.
Concorde’s 92 seats had 91 other other occupants when I was slotted in just before takeoff and was populated by either extremely elegant woman or large gentlemen in Homburg hats. I was lucky enough to be seated next to a very charming elegant lady who helped make the short three hour flight over the Atlantic seem like five minutes.
Ironically, that Concorde also suffered a delayed takeoff from Heathrow as the baggage door fell off when they tried to close it! By the late 90s Concorde was getting long in the tooth and as there were only ever 7 BA Concordes put into service they were all showing visible signs of age and hard use.
However, it was still an astonishing experience to fly at over 50,000 feet at about 1350 mph without even the smallest hint of drama. From that height the curvature of the Earth is just discernible and travelling at well above the speed of sound away from the sunset is the closest thing I will ever experience to time travel. It’s a most singular experience to take off from London at six pm on a dark evening to alight in sunlit New York at 4pm on the same day!
Concorde was a true testimony to the idea of what nations might achieve if they can put aside their differences and work together. Britain and France jointly achieved what the then USSR finally had to abandon as they never managed to get their ‘Concordesky’ into commercial service.
Entente Cordiale at its best, perhaps - just like Amy and I (she’s from Rennes)!
It occurs to me that the above Concorde episode provides for a nifty link from my Dallas Travelogue to my next retrospective installment which will be recollections from a couple of visits I have made to New York.
California Dreaming Part 2 Season of Mists...