travel back in time

Tuesday 21st September, Amsterdam, Netherlands

"Aren't you going to pack a sweatshirt?" Maria asked.
"No baby, I'm going to Tennessee. I was there this time last year, and I know it's going to be sunny and eighty-five degrees every day."
"You still should pack a sweatshirt," she said, shaking her head "just in case."
I assured her that I knew what I was doing. I wanted to pack as lightly as possible- just with my tiny daypack- because I knew I'd have to bring back thirty kilos or so of books on the return flight.

But how could I know that the flight would be delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight to balmy Tennessee, forcing me to overnight that night in cold, rainy Amsterdam!!

"This is your captain speaking. We are about to enter an area of mild turbulence. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts." I peeped out the window into the blanket of white, but our ride remained smooth and silent. Perhaps ten minutes later, the plane dropped through the cloud and was suddenly jostled from side to side by pounding winds. My barometer for danger in these situations is the facial expressions of the flight crew (you can't call them 'hostesses' any more, or they'll pour hot coffee in your lap, especially the male ones!) Anyway, I always figure that if the flight crew are still serving beverages and chatting while the plane lurches and leaps, we must be okay. On this occasion, there was not a uniform to be seen. As our plane was tossed about like a feather, I resigned myself to the fact that the flight crew knew we were indeed about to die, and were all either in the galley hurriedly getting drunk on those tiny bottles of whiskey, or in the toilets taking their last opportunity to join the mile-high club.

"If you are travelling on any of the ten thousand connecting flights that I'm about to read out, I'm afraid you won't make it to your connection" said the voice over the public address system cheerfully. Obviously, I thought to myself, cause we're all gonna be dead. She then proceeded to read a long list of flight numbers that I lost interest in as soon as my own connecting flight to Memphis was called. Her happy little speech ended with "Anyone affected by this should proceed to the transfer desk, to see what alternative arrangements can be made."

Anyone who knows me will know that I don't always accept what I'm told, so when the plane touched down I was already out of my seat, pushing my way down the aisle, and struggling to open that big heavy door. "These other schmucks have missed their connections" I figured "because they have luggage that would need to be transferred to the next plane." Unencumbered by such a problem, I raced through the terminal, shoving old women out of the way as I passed. There was still almost ten minutes till my flight to Memphis was due to take off. Heart racing, I tore past the waiting transfer desk and around the corner to my gate.. and bumped into a virtual wall of people. The line up for passport control was massive, and even a quick glance told me that I wasn't getting through there in ten minutes.

I turned and shuffled my feet back to the transfer desk, which by now was a sea of humanity. Obediently I took a number from the machine, and peering at the screen, calculated that there were exactly 202 people ahead of me in the electronic queue. Ten minutes later, there were still 202 people ahead of me, so I sat down in a nearby cafe and put my head in my hands. Three and a half hours later, I emerged from Amsterdan Schipol airport into a dreary, rainy world of umbrellas and dark overcoats. I remember making a loud noise that can best be written as *shudder*

"You were right," I wrote to Maria from a little internet cafe near the red light district "I should have packed a sweatshirt." I'm stuck in Amsterdam and it's already winter here. I went for a beer at a neraby coffee shop, and when I returned to the internet cafe, there was a reply from Maria. "My cousin lives in Amsterdam. Do you want me to give her a call, and see if you can stay with her?"

Maria's cousin Jara (pronounced 'Hara') was in her kitchen cooking pasta, three blocks from where I was sitting at the computer. Awaiting me after a short walk in the rain was a hot shower, a bowl of pasta with pesto, and a comfy sofa to sleep on. Sometimes thing just work out. Thanks Jara!

Jara, outside her apartment in central Amsterdam.Canal, Amsterdam

travel back in time

Wednesday 22nd September, Collierville, near Memphis, Tennessee

What ever happened to people's imagination? Last night I stayed in Amsterdam with a girl who's pet cat was named 'pussy', and tonight I'm just outside Memphis, Tennessee with a family who named their cat, wait for it....'cat'.

It's crazy how things work out sometimes. Almost exactly a year ago today, I received an email from a guy called Andy, and it went something like this: "I just had a look at your journal page, and I can't believe you've passed through Memphis already. I was looking forward to you coming to visit my family, but you didn't even contact us..."
A quick check of my address book confirmed that I had failed to ever enter Andy's address details, so even though I had his name and email address on file, when I searched my database for a host with in Memphis, nobody showed up. It was alomst the only time on the US mainland, that I'd been stuck with nobody to stay with. That's how I ended up sleeping on the floor of a hotel room of a couple of English guys. Now a year later, and guess where is the cheapest place I could find to have my book published? Collierville, Tennessee!

Andy met me at the airport. He said he'd be driving a white late model Lexus RX300 SUV, and the first vehicle I saw approaching when I exited the terminal was a white late model Lexus RX300 SUV. The driver was a woman, so I assumed it must be Andy's wife, but the driver of the Lexus made it perfectly clear that she wanted nothing to do with me, and that if I came any closer to her car I'd likely get a faceful of pepper spray. I backed away.

It wasn't long before Andy rolled along though, and we were on our way. Andy and his wife are both dentists. I thought about asking him if he could have a look at my teeth (I guess I missed my last regular checkup!) but thought that might not be appropriate. We arrived at his house in a lovely grand old housing estate just as his wife Anne and daughter Bailley were returning from their day at work/school. The girls were loaded up with our takeaway dinner, great boxes of barbecued meat, coleslaw, spicy beans and bread rolls. Anne told me to eat as much as I wanted, and being a very polite guest, I did as I was told. I went back for seconds and thirds!

travel back in time

Thursday 23rd September, Collierville, near Memphis, Tennessee

"Steve Savage, here to pick up my order of books", I said noncholantly, making myself sound as important as possible. I'd walked from Andy's house to the printing shop, and it was just after nine o'clock in the morning. I'd been awake since three o'clock, too nervous or excited to get back to sleep.

One of Andy's staff drove out to meet me there, and carted myself and the load of books back to Andy's house in her pickup truck. The next twenty-four hours was something of a blur, as I sat on my bedroom floor in the middle of a mountain of boxes, books, and envelopes of all shapes and sizes. I tore open box after box, piled the books in tall piles around me, and spent most of the next twelve hours signing personal greetings in hundreds of books, and addressing (and licking!) envelopes. Thankfully, Andy insisted I take a break at about nine in the evening, and he and I headed around the corner to a Mexican restaurant, where I filled up on tortillas and enchiladas- and even a taco off Andy's plate when he wasn't looking! Of course it's extremely rude to eat Mexican food without beer, so we washed it down with a couple of refreshing Dos Equis cervecas. "Dos dos equis, por favour!" Haven't I picked up Spanish quickly?

Bailey, showing me her tonsils..Andy in his MR2.

travel back in time

Friday 24th September, Pleasant Shade, near Nashville, Tennessee

A familiar sight, the big red barn, viewed from my bedroom window at Glenn and Shirley's.

"Damn, I really wish I'd worn underwear today!" It's not often I hear myself say that sentence. In fact before 12:20 p.m today, I can't even remember if that sentence has ever come into my head before, but it did this morning.

Andy had waited patiently outside the post office for most of the morning while I posted books to all corners of the globe- Poland, Australia, Singapore, Egypt, even Scotland and I didn't think anyone really lived in Scotland! I'd been up since three o'clock, frantically trying to get as many books as possible signed ready to be posted that morning. Every book that I didn't manage to post, I would have to carry with me to Nashville and Pleasant Shade. Well, there were still a couple of dozen left, but time had run out. Andy had wanted to fix me a big lunch before I left. He said he didn't want to let me leave hungry, in case I gave him a bad review on my website. Instead he shuttled me home to grab my backpack, and we had a little over half an hour to get into Memphis to the Greyhound station. The dirty dog *sigh* "We'll take the other car. It's faster" Andy gestured towards the garage. I looked back at the powerful Lexus for a second and wondered how it could ever be considered 'slow'. We opened the garage door, and loaded my books and backpack into the tiny trunk of Andy's bright red Toyota MR2 Turbo, and off we went. Once at the Greyhound station, I bent to pick up the three boxes of remaining books- about eighty pounds (almost forty kilograms) in all- and from somewhere behind me came a loud ripping sound, accompanied simultaneously with a fresh draft of air in my crotch and a mysterious feeling of freedom. About the same time, a sudden silence fell on the crowd of unsavoury characters that were loitering nearby. I had split the ass of my jeans from waistband to crotch. With the heavy boxes already in my arms, there was little I could do apart from hug the wall as I walked sideways to the main entrance. Of course at some point I had to bend over again to sitr the boxes down as I paid for my ticket. I did so as discretely as possible, but judging by the gasps and groans from around the terminal, it mustn't have been a pretty sight. An unusual bit of quick thinking saw me grab one of my shirts from my small daypack, and tuck it into the waistband of my jeans, forming a sort of makeshift apron, but on the back instead of the front.

But then the terrible realization struck: they were my favourite jeans. What would I wear now to tomorrow night's wedding?

The ride to Nashville took almost five hours. Tim, who I stayed with in Nashville last year, came to pick me up at the station, and whisked me home where his wife Donna was just spreading a banquet of Chinese food out on the table. Suddenly, Tim and I now have a lot in common- we're both travel writers! His first book, The World's Cheapest Destinations, has been a great success for him, and Tim was very helpful in seeing my book come to fruition. Tim and Donna are keen travellers- planning their trip to Peru next year- and Tim is currently working on his second travel book. I will let you know more about it when it's finished.

But I wasn't staying with Tim and Donna this time. My mate Glenn drove in from Pleasant Shade to pick me up. When I came through this way last year, I worked for Glenn for a week or so (if you can call touring the Jack Daniels distillery, or knocking off at lunchtime to go to Hooters 'work') and he said that if I wanted to come back anytime there'd always be work. Just prior to that visit he and his wife Shirley had bought three old houses for removal, and had them placed on a big block of land they own. I wondered if the houses had been fixed up and were rented out already, but Glenn said that they have been busy with other work (like a vacation to Mexico, and another one to the Dominican Republic!) and incredibly the three houses are still in the same condition as the last time I saw them, with the exception that they have come down off their blocks and have been mounted on permanent foundations. Looks like I'd have my work cut out for me,eh?

To see the photos and stories from my stay with Glenn and Shirley last year, click here and follow the links to Pleasant Shade.

travel back in time

Sunday 26th September, Pleasant Shade, near Nashville, Tennessee

"Well Miss Shirley, Ah seen another pair but they had straipes on 'em, and thet was a bit too faincy for me!" - The father of the bride, at last night's wedding, responding to my friend Shirley's question about the new overalls he wore for the ceremony.

Yes indeedy, this wuz a weddin like I ain't never seen before. They wuz guests in tuxedos, aind guests in overalls aind baseball caps. I weared a pair o' Levis (my backup outfit) aind a short sleeved shirt, with mah faithful haiking boots.