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On a somewhat smaller scale, I knew what Captain Scott had felt
FOR those of you who do not enjoy my travelling reminiscences, my apologies but as we are off on holiday So it was a case of my either missing out on writing a column until late July or continuing the theme of our travels across the USA last autumn.
For those who would prefer to have no column at all, don’t bother to read it, and your cause is served.
Back in the days when President Kennedy was still alive, yet fast coming to his date with destiny in Dallas, a group of us made a beery promise sparked by a record called Abilene. Recorded by George Hamilton IV, it expressed the sentiments that it was the prettiest town he had ever seen and added the observation that “women there don’t treat you mean, in Abilene.”
Having just been told my company was no longer required by a young lady, I was a little vulnerable to such sentiments, bought the record in a rash of reflective self-indulgence (something I am prone to every other week, it seems) and it soon became regular for the sing-song, which followed a visit to The Cock, Sarratt, back in the days when it was acceptable that you drove in order to drink.
One night, with our perspectives romantically clouded by real ale, we made a a spontaneous promise to go to Abilene. The thought stayed with us even if, as we turned fresh pages in life, we wrestled with engagements, marriages, mortgages, children etc.
The thought stayed with me, rooting somewhat deeper than with the others each of whom subsequently moved on and out, taking up residences in the likes of Denmark; Sausalito, USA; North Carolina; Kenya and Australia.
Perhaps their need for travel had been satiated but one afternoon, some 15 years after first hearing Abilene, I found myself sitting in a soda bar in Abilene, drinking my first-ever Dr Pepper and writing a series of postcards mailed to old friends all around the globe.
I just wrote one sentence: “Well, I made it but I never did see you around.”
I had stayed as a home-town boy but at least I had made it to Abilene.
The cards brought a good response, a flurry of nostalgia and memories of youthful innocence, when the biggest worry was how to afford a new battery for the banger.
Last October, we left Fort Worth and headed up to Lubbock, birthplace, home and burial-site of Buddy Holly – a pilgrimage that we had long planned and it just fell into our route as we headed north-west, up the 30 West, that it happened to pass through none other than Abilene.
Yet, I had a confession to make. Not many years ago, I read on the Internet that there is a popular concept that the song Abilene was written about Abilene, Texas.
In fact it was written about the Abilene in Kansas, the other end of the Chisholme Trail.
I am glad I did not see that in 1978, otherwise I would have known just how Captain Scott felt upon arriving at the North Pole and finding someone else had been there already.
Actually I looked at the Kansas Abilene pictures and it does look pretty. Abilene, Texas, was not then and certainly is not now the prettiest town I have ever seen. It is not the ugliest, but arriving there on a Saturday mid-morning, we asked two people as to the whereabouts of the centre or downtown and both looked confused: saying it was probably two blocks over.
It is one of those places that appeared to have had the five-minute warning and not let on. Deserted streets and where the 117,000 people, who live there, spend their time, we cannot fathom. We searched it quite thoroughly and came to the conclusion there was nothing there worth seeing.
The local cinema was showing North by Northwest – the Hitchcock drama from 1962.
“Must be a high incidence of self-harm out here,” Ellie suggested.
We stopped for brunch. I ordered just bacon and egg, no toast, no grits, nothing else, please. It came with home fries and a mess of beans that had obviously been through a grinder. It looked as if cook had been sick on the plate.
This Abilene waitress woman had certainly treated me mean.
I don’t like their beans. Heinz transported them from unpalatable to the tasty.
Discovering we came from “near London”, the waitress said it was her dream to go there and “was it pritty”. A hard question to answer because it is certainly not pretty but it does have its attractive moments, but I fancied semantics might be lost on her.
Ironically, outside a building opposite the Abilene diner was a sign: “The Loan Arranger”.
We left Abilene, encouraged by the fact it has the 17th best public school system in the US and the best in Texas, although we saw scant evidence of it with the waitresses.
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