Thursday, 7th August 1987
I slept like a Canadian log and woke up only at 9:20am. I escaped a chore at the hostel as they were just about locking it up when I was finally ready to leave. I grabbed a donut and three pieces of fruit for breakfast. It was raining hard outside and I suddenly felt quite at home.
I found Brian waiting at the bus stop and we caught the bus back to Buffalo together. We said goodbye again as he headed off to the local bus for the airport and I headed to the Trailways section. My bus south was not leaving until 2:35pm. It was only 12 noon so I put my luggage in a locker and went for a walk around Buffalo.
I don’t know if it was the rain, the comparable size of the centre or the fact it had a large Woolworth’s, but Buffalo reminded me of Manchester. I walked around the centre a bit and then found a large shopping mall, another impressive one, and inside it a bookshop. I browsed for ages but in the end I settled on a copy of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”. I hadn’t seen the recent film, so I thought it would be interesting to read the book first.
I went into a Pizza Parlour and got the $4 lunch special of lasagna, bread, and Sprite. It was surprisingly good. I walked around the central plaza watching a band play.
There was a lovely little market in the plaza selling all kinds of produce. I was very impressed by the fruit in the USA. Most of the fruits seemed much larger than in the UK. There were giant peaches, apples and pears. They were all in plentiful supply, they were cheap and they tasted great too.
Armed with a bag of apples and some cinnamon bread, I went back to the bus station, retrieved my bag and boarded the Fullington Trailways bus to Du Bois. The Fullington company, who had the local franchise for Trailways, seemed a step removed from regular Trailways, the livery was different and the bus was a bit older.
The ride down from Buffalo was very pleasant. The bus was only a quarter full and, rather than plying on the interstates, it took the back roads through little towns and magical wooded scenery. I chomped on my cinnamon bread and my fruit and dipped into the “Color Purple”.
At Springville the driver stopped the bus at a roadside fruit stall and actually bought himself some fruit. Not content with that, he then stopped at another stall about a half mile further on and bought some more. It was a nice laid back touch and I figured that if my journey across the continent carried on like this it would be very pleasant indeed.
After Ellicottville I got into a conversation with an elderly American and his wife who were sat in front of me. The old guy ate first shelled peanuts and then chicken wings as the discussion moved from rattlesnakes to the Pennsylvania tomato crop. We carried on chatting as the bus, still on the back roads, started climbing mountains, passed the Pennsylvania State line after Bradford and finally made it into Du Bois at 6:35pm.
Du Bois was the hub of the Fullington Network and I changed buses there. Whilst I was waiting for the 6:55pm bus on to Pittsburgh, I chatted to a young local lad who had literally just left home that afternoon and was on his way to Texas to join the USAF. He wasn’t a good advert for Du Bois as he explained that there was nothing else to do in Northern Pennsylvania.
The second bus departed on time. It was newer and a little bit fuller. I sat in front of a couple who had just met each other waiting for the bus. They were both divorcees: she was off to Hollywood to write songs; he was a drummer in a local country and western band. I had chatted with both of them whilst we waited for the bus, but once on board I left them to it. They seemed to get on well together and when he got off an hour later I lent them my pen so they could swap addresses.
The rest of the trip passed without incident. The only highlight was when the girl next across the aisle finished the candy bar she had been eating and immediately whipped out a toothbrush and started brushing her teeth still sat in the seat.
The route was still all the way on back roads, but after it got dark there wasn’t much to see. We made it in to Pittsburgh by 9pm. I then waited until 11:30pm and caught the local connection back down to Mongeheila City. Mike picked me up at McDonald’s at Mongeheila City at 1am and took me back to the house again.
It was nice to be back, even if my stay was only going to be a brief one this time.
Friday, 8th August 1987
I woke up late and spent a very lazy day doing nothing in particular. In the evening we feasted on char-grilled steaks, baked potatoes and corn on the cob before the highlight of the evening, yet another first for me, going to a “drive-in” movie.
We loaded up with Grizzly Bear beer and took the car to the drive-in. It was actually a large field set up with a screen and lots of poles with ancient sound systems on them. It was itself like something out of a movie from the 50s. The experience was unique for me, but it wasn’t particularly good. The pop corn they brought round was way over salty and we both agreed that the films they showed were total shit. They were Friday 13th part 6 and Sylvester Stallone in Cobra.
Saturday, 9th August 1987
I woke up relatively early again at 9am. Mike and I headed out to Giant Eagle to do a bit of grocery shopping for the household. We got bread, tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes.
Mike had got himself another little job tutoring young kids in maths, so I spent a couple of hours chatting to his mother in the kitchen. She gave me a fabulous demonstration of Italian-American cooking as she made spaghetti with meatball sauce and then baked wholemeal bread, zucchini bread, blueberry pies and a variety of cakes.
We washed all the cars together and then I was allowed to ride one of the three petrol driven lawn mowers (another first) and cut the grass.
Lunch was broccoli soup and then we headed out to Charleroi to pick up the pair of Jeans. I had gone for the slightly larger waist size given the amount I was eating.
From Charleroi we headed to Cokebury which, Mike told me, was a very Italian-American-dominated neighbourhood. Cokebury, as the name suggested, was a former mining town and it was where Mike’s Uncle Martin and Aunty Betty lived.
Martin took us out to the “Sons of Italy” bar; a very atmospheric drinking place full of ex-miners drinking away the settlements from their “Iron lung – industrial injuries” The barmaid had a beer gut, the decor was tatty and they had a big jar of pickled eggs on the bar. But the company was splendid and over 4 Stoney’s beers we had a great conversation all about the decline of coal mining and steel making in the area.
Martin took us back to his house afterwards and we had zucchini bread and coffee. He gave me two silver Kennedy dollars to take to the barman at the White Horse pub in London. He had met him years ago on a trip to England. He provided me with a description but not a name or the exact location of the pub. I promised to do my best.
We got back to the house just in time for a dinner of meat, delicious zucchini casserole and corn on the cob, salads and coffee.
We sat down to watch the Chicago Bears beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-13 on the TV and I won a $2 bet with Mike on the result.
Sunday, 10th August 1987
I had breakfast late at 11am and then smoked with Mike in the garden for a while. We set off for a run together but Mike couldn’t actually keep up with me. I told him it was because he was over doing the weightlifting.
We had a late lunch of cheese and ham sandwiches with mayo followed by my first ever taste of blueberry pie.
We watched on TV again as the Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the St Louis Cardinals. The local teams were not doing well, but Mike was now sensibly refusing to let me bet against them.
In the evening we had a real family dinner sitting round the table for meatballs, Italian sausage, spaghetti and salad. Followed again by yet more blueberry pie
It was my last night with the family so just for once I had an early night.
Monday, 11th August 1987
I spent the morning lazing on the sofa watching old TV shows. Buckwheat was clawing on the door desperate to come in, but I didn’t give in to him. The last thing I wanted was the cat allergy to play up again. I sat there half dozing through episodes of the Monkees, Hawaii Five O and the Partridge Family.
Mike came back around noon and we headed out to the post office. I spent a hefty $20 on sending more than 30 post cards to the UK.
We had a submarine sandwich for lunch, the first time I had had one, filled with pastrami, cheese, sausage, ham, lettuce and mayonnaise.
I went home to finalise my packing whilst Mike headed out for weightlifting. When he returned we had a little game of American football in the garden before saying goodbye to everyone, finally gathering everything in the car and heading out of the house for the last time.
We went back to Pizza Hut for the $3.49 deal again and managed to eat a full six slices each. That was with Mike, Carl and two other friends.
I said goodbye to the lads and Mike drove me down the Monhogeila valley to the river. We sat and talked near the river for a while. Mike told me how the river had flooded the previous November when a pumping station had mistakenly pumped water down the wrong channel.
After sitting by the river we went back to Charleroi, stopping at Foodland to get me some fruit, bread and a can of the “New” Coke for journey. Mike told me the “New” Coke would taste like Pepsi.
After a coffee and a donut in Mister Donut, I said a very fond farewell to Mike and thanked him for two marvellous weeks in Pittsburgh. I got on the same 9:10pm bus as I had the week before and, perhaps unsurprisingly, met the same hairdressing student. We had another conversation about baldness and highlights.
I arrived back at the Pittsburgh Trailways bus station just after 10:30pm. I cashed in my voucher and got a ticket to Chicago. It was a case of déjà vu. I was sitting in exactly the same place and waiting for exactly the same bus as the previous Monday.
I looked around at the people surrounding me in the waiting room. I counted about 20 of them. Beside me an old man sat reading a novel and in front of us there was a young girl about 10 years old doing her best to annoy her mother. Most of the rest of the passengers were watching television, either on their own miniature transistor sets or on the 75c coin operated sets that were incorporated into many of the seats.
I sat there and picked up a spare copy of USA Today. The newspaper was a colourful amalgamation of news, facts and figures unlike anything I had seen at home. It had lots of graphs and pie charts to illustrate its points.
I read that, according to a survey by Purina Dog Chow, the most common name for a dog in the USA was “Duke”. The graphs below told me that “Duke” preferred hot dogs (30%) to pizza (25%) as his favourite human food. His favourite sports were jogging (48%) and baseball (16%). I started to wonder how a dog could actually play baseball but gave up and put the newspaper in the rubbish bin.
The bus was due at 12:30am. For the last hour before it came I sat and pondered the last three weeks of my trip. I was really grateful to Mike, his family and friends for providing me with a lovely atmosphere. They showed me great hospitality and gave me an insight into what it might have been like growing up in an American middle class family.