Saturday, August 16th 1986
Andy and I got back to the El paso hostel for 4pm. We asked the warden for a good place to have dinner and he told us that Pete’s Pizzeria was unbeatable. We agreed to meet at 7pm and went back to our respective rooms. I got in bed quickly and fell fast asleep. A Malaysian chap woke me up at about 6pm, introduced himself as Danny and announced he was on a round-the-world trip. He was a lovely guy and he told me all about his visits so far to London and Vancouver.
I went off in search of Andy and found him in his room in the company of two German lads who had just arrived at the hostel. We invited them both out to have Pizza but they told us they just had to have Mexican food. One had left his passport in New York for safe keeping and so they hadn’t been able to go to real Mexico. They were now insisting they needed Mexican food in El Paso. We told them about our experience in Woolworth’s and wished them luck in trying to find something better.
Pete’s Pizzeria turned out to be just round the corner from the hostel. I didn’t know which one of the two guys who served us was Pete, but the pizza was great. We shared a medium pepperoni and mushroom and ordered ourselves some Miller beers. It was a neat place; the LA raiders were playing football on a giant screen in the background, and the whole thing felt like a real American bar experience, which it obviously was.
It wasn’t long before the Germans joined us. They had argued and eventually given up on Mexican. They sat down with us and ordered a medium onion and garlic.
We ordered some more beer for everyone and started to get into the main business of the evening; discussions about politics, football and our respective travel plans. I soon discovered that I was the only one of us who was not called Andy. Along with Andy from Walton upon Thames, there was Andy from Hannover and Andy from just outside Hannover. Even though they were from almost the same place and had the same name, they weren’t actually travelling together and had only met on a Trailways bus a couple of days before.
We finished in the Pizzeria and headed over the road to the Tradewind’s bar. We had another round of 4 Millers. Andy from Hannover revealed that he had just spent a year in Stafford and had actually been in Blackpool during the last few weeks of his stay in the UK. He told us that had watched West Germany lose to Argentina in the World Cup Final in a pub in South Shore in Blackpool.
Another round of beers was ordered. Andy from Walton suggested in jest that we toast West Germany’s departure from the 1986 world cup. I added, again in jest, that we should toast West Germany’s departure from all world cups. The two of them took it in the light hearted way it was intended, smiled and drank up.
Then suddenly, just as we were all getting on so well, Andy from Hannover noticed that the pool table was empty. He challenged us to a pool rerun of the 1966 World Cup Final. It would be the best of five games, two teams of two and he was confident West Germany would win this time. We were a bit reluctant at first, but both Germans insisted. As we moved over to the pool table I asked Andy from Walton if he was any good at the game.
Fortunately he wasn’t good, he was absolutely excellent, and with just a bit of help from me we thrashed them 3-0. Just as they capitulated, somebody else in the bar put the tune “England Swings” on the juke box and the look on the German’s faces was priceless.
They claimed they had lost on purpose and challenged us to pinball instead. I was excellent at pinball, a result of hours misspent in the University bar, and that meant they lost that too. We ordered more beer. Competitive sports apart, it was a great evening and a lovely example of the spontaneous comradeship that I was starting to find came with independent travel. 4 guys from 2 different countries arrived in a strange place at the same time and became best of friends for a day or so and then parted never to meet again.
We finally made it back to the hostel at 12:30am and we actually had to climb in through a window to get to our beds.
Sunday, August 17th 1986
I woke up, showered, dressed and was already checked out of the hostel by 8:30am. I walked over to the Trailways bus station and had a hearty breakfast of sausage, hash browns, hot cakes and syrup in the cafe there.
My next stop was to be in Albuquerque. This was a previously arranged rendezvous with another University friend; Glen. Glen had been Mike’s room mate at Hull and, although I hadn’t been as close to him as Mike, he had extended a warm invitation to me to come and visit.
Now I tried to ring Glen in Albuquerque but I didn’t have any luck at all. Nobody picked up the phone. I started to think if the visit there would go the same way as Dallas.
It was still only 10am and the bus wasn’t leaving until 3:55pm. I was at the bus station just a little early.
There just wasn’t a lot to do on a Sunday morning in El Paso and I didn’t have much energy left. I went for a little walk and when I came back Andy from Walton was sitting at the bus station waiting for his own bus. I sat and chatted with him until he left just before 12.
Then I wandered over to the Greyhound bus station nearby, got a coffee and chatted a bit with the ticket clerk. He told me that he had lived in Leamington Spa for a year, had met a local girl, married her and they were now living happily in El Paso.
I went off to the supermarket across the road to get soda, bread, bologna sausage and cheese for the bus. I bumped into Andy from outside Hannover. He had been to Mexico for a couple of hours on his own and it now turned out he was heading to Salt Lake City and was on the same bus as me.
We went back to the bus station and sat there chatting. When I said ‘it is hot today’ an American lad of about 20 butted in and told us that it was a cool 96. Normally it was well over 100, he said. He told us that he had been in the army stationed in Germany and he had been to Hannover.
He told us he was originally from California. Nnow he worked in a McDonald’s in El Paso but lived in Cuarez as it was much cheaper. His flat in Mexico cost him 25 dollars a week.
He then began to explain a bit about El Paso. The children who were walking around the town with the signs saying “75 cents please – I am hungry” were actually Mexicans. The US guards let them come across the border because they always went back at night. In any case, he said, there were a few more guards beyond El Paso to stop them getting any further.
Juarez was relatively modern and advanced he said, but once you went further in things really got desperate.
He was sitting waiting for a friend arriving on a bus and he expressed his amazement that we were both traveling on Trailways. He told us of a recent accident on a bus travelling from Alberqueque to California. The drunken bus driver had fallen asleep and hit a tree cutting the bus in half and seriously injuring a lot of people. He also said that Trailways had had their charter license revoked in California because a large number of their vehicles had been found with faulty brakes.
The bus finally came in just before 4pm and Andy and I uneasily clambered aboard. The bus was particularly dirty and covered in graffiti inside. The bathroom, the American word for toilet, was particularly disgusting. We got going and we both noticed a smell of gas and wondered if there was a leaky pipe or something.
The mountain scenery was beautiful though and we had a quick coffee stop at a drug store on route at a town called Truth or Consequences. From there we headed on again to Socorro and it began to get dark. There were not that many in the bus. Apart from me and Andy the other passengers were all Hispanic. There was an argument going on in Spanish between a young couple with a baby and another couple. It went on for much of the journey.
We arrived in Albuquerque at 9:35pm. I called Glen from the bus station and was surprised he was in. He was surprised I was calling as he had completely forgotten about the visit. Nevertheless, he turned up twenty minutes later to pick me up.
Whilst I was waiting for him I called Amtrak and spoke to a lady who had a very sexy voice. I made a reservation in 10 days time for the Coast Starlight train from LA to San Francisco. I decided I had had it with Trailways, I was ahead in my budget and I decided I was wealthy enough to afford more luxury.
Glen turned up in a rather nice looking car. He took me back to the campus of the University of New Mexico and to a beautiful Pueblo-style house he was renting. He introduced me to his brother and 2 sisters who lived with him. We sat drinking coffee and talking about the old days in Hull. Unfortunately he was working nights at a photo processing plant and had to leave for his shift at midnight.
I continued chatting with his sister who was a freelance photographer working some assignments for the magazine Sports Illustrated.
I fell asleep on the sofa.
Monday, August 18th 1986
I woke up the next morning and, after a breakfast of bran flakes and coffee, I waited for Glen to come back.
He came back at 9am but he was obviously tired. He took me over to the university and into the Union building and we had a coffee. He left me to it as he explained he had to get to bed. I thought that reasonable enough. I had yet another coffee by myself and read the student newspaper for a while.
There weren’t many students around but I went for a walk around the beautiful campus of New Mexico University. It was my first experience of a university campus in the USA.
I spent a bit of time in the student services department and then another hour in the bookshop. It was all very impressive. It was a massive campus but I suppose it needed to be large as they had 25,000 students which was more than 5 times as many as Hull. Unlike the UK there were no bars on campus though.
I went into the Museum of Anthropology and learned about the history of the area with a special emphasis on the local Indian tribes, the Navajo and the others.
I walked back to Glen’s and we had chili hot dogs. They went down very well indeed.
In the afternoon I wandered into town and walked along Central Avenue. I found the rather beautiful Amtrak station and was able to pick up the ticket I had reserved the night before. I also took a photograph of the westbound “South West Super Chief” which had stopped at the station.
We had a dinner of tacos in the evening. They were delicious and made with mince, lettuce and pimento sauce.
We watched the baseball on TV. The game was between the New York Mets and the LA Dodgers. I talked to George, Glen’s brother and to his sister Diana again about photography.
Glen left for work again at 10pm and I fell asleep on the sofa at 12 midnight in the middle of an old episode of MASH.
Tuesday, August 19th 1986
I woke up about 9am and after breakfast and a chat to Glen, I went back across to the UNM campus. I got in the library with the pass Glen had given me. I wandered around looking at the books in the politics section and sat around for a while marvelling at the very bright purple chairs they had in there.
I came back for lunch, Chili dogs again, and then had a snooze in the afternoon whilst Glen went for a job interview with the ambulance service.
When he came back we went, along with Diana, to the old part of Albuquerque that dated from 1706. It was interesting but it was also a bit of a tourist trap with lots of shops selling native Indian “Navajo” goods, pots and paintings.
We went in the old catholic church which dated from pre-independence times. They were strict on dress and I had to put my trousers over my shorts.
We walked around the town for a couple of hours. There was a shop selling nothing but Christmas gifts, a wild west photography shop selling and a few old art shops. Glen, wanting to joke, introduced me as an art connoisseur from the UK in one of them.
We went back to Glen’s house to watch another episode of MASH. We sent out for some Pizza’s from Little Caeser’s, as they had a two for the price of one on. The Pizza was delicious and we followed it with some excellent chocolate chip ice cream.
After a brief rest we went over to Glen’s girlfriend’s house. Pamela was a lovely person with a relaxed personality but her house was guarded by two large fearsome dogs.
We took the dogs in the car up to Sandia Crest, a long windy drive up to the top, which at 10,000ft afforded us a lovely view of Albuquerque and the valley below.
By the time we had descended it was time for Glen to go back to work again. I watched a BBC documentary on the Mekong valley in Vietnam and then the 5th or maybe even 6th episode of MASH I had seen since I had arrived.
I settled back on the sofa to sleep.
Wednesday, August 19th 1986
I got up and walked back again to the University bookshop. I browsed in there from 10 until 11 and then went back and fell asleep again. Glen woke me up at 2pm as he was leaving for another interview. I dozed around, walked around the campus again and then watched “The Love Boat” on Channel 14.
It was a wonderfully lazy “do nothing” day and I thought I needed it to recharge my batteries a bit. In fact the whole time at Glen’s had been slow paced and relaxing and I was grateful for that.
We had a wonderful dinner of fried zucchini, chicken breasts in sherry and cream sauce. After dinner George took me to Suds Launderette. I did the 1 dollar wash and dry deal. I was surprised to see that the whole place was kitted out not just with Laundry machines but a little coffee bar waiting area as well.
We didn’t wait there, but instead headed across the road to a little supermarket. I bought a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate. It tasted just the same as at home.
On the way back I chatted with George all about life in the UK, Monty Python and Sherlock Holmes. He was a really nice guy, he was studying chemistry but had a part time job at the Hilton hotel in town.
Glen was already waiting for me back at the house with Pamela. We watched the end of “Sophie’s Choice” and then set out at about 11pm towards the bus station.
Pamela handed me a little brown bag containing sandwiches, potato chips and chocolate for the journey. It was a lovely thought.
Glen apologised for not being able to spend more time with me because of the night shift, but I told him he shouldn’t. On the contrary, the slower pace of this visit had been exactly what I had needed.
As I waved goodbye to Glen and Pamela a bus drove out of the station. It went right past me belching fumes and poisoning the air. I thought “welcome back to Trailways”. I checked my bag and boarded the bus for Flagstaff. The only seat I could get was a one at the back in the smoking section. I was next to a pregnant woman who was chain smoking.
Thursday, August 20th 1986
Apart from a brief 20 minute nap, I didn’t managed to sleep at all. People kept smoking for much of the night and it was an awful atmosphere. The lady next to me finally stopped smoking and fell fast asleep. She shifted and turned a lot bumping into me several times. I watched the featureless moonlit desert landscape through the window. It slowly got lighter, although without a dramatic sunrise, and at 7am we pulled into Flagstaff. The end of my worst Trailways journey yet.
It was in fact only 6am, as we had gone through another time change and we were now on West Coast Pacific time. At least the bus station, which was in fact also the railway station, was a pleasant place to wait for an hour connection.
Once the bus we had left it was clear who was going to the Grand Canyon on the connecting bus with me. There were 4 English girls from BUNAC, an Australian girl, who was clearly identifiable by a T shirt with an Australian Flag and a Koala bear on it, two Scandinavians and a Chinese guy. The Chinese guy was really nice and he went round the whole waiting room introducing himself and shaking everyone’s hand.
We all started chatting to each other and one by one we shared our horror stories of Trailways. The two ticket clerks joined in. One entertained us with the funny story of a bus that had forgotten to stop in Pheonix and got half way along the freeway to LA before one of the passengers woke up and realised they had missed the stop. The other scared us by telling us there had been another crash in California the previous night, probably caused by a sleeping driver.
At 7:00am the clerks received a phone call and then announced that the 7:00am “Navi Hopi” connector bus to the Grand Canyon was going to depart late. We were waiting for the Eastbound Super Chief train which was itself late.
The train pulled in at 7:55 to the accompaniment of bells and whistles. A few people got on but nobody got off. The wait for the train had clearly been a total waste of time.
About 10 minutes later the bus turned up. It was bright yellow and as it was not in the Trailways livery it cheered me up. I got my little red ticket by paying $22:60 (round trip) to the driver and boarded. There were only the nine of us on the bus. It was actually more comfortable than Trailways and the ride was beautiful. I munched on the delicious pastrami sandwiches Pamela had given me as we headed up the wooded mountain roads up to the Grand Canyon.
We arrived at the canyon at 9:45am and I quickly deposited my bags with the information office. They had a neat little free shuttle bus that took you around to all the different viewpoints. I spent the day walking around looking at the canyon from a variety of different angles. It was spectacular and words cannot really do it justice. There were plenty of tourists around, mostly Japanese but a few other nationalities too, but the place seemed to absorb them and it didn’t feel crowded at all.
I moved around from Hermit’s rest to Hopi Point and then had an omelette and chips for lunch at the Blue Angel Inn. I walked along the Blue Angel trail for a bit and down into the canyon itself. It was hot at the rim, 86 degrees, and they said that in the canyon itself it was 106 degrees.
In the afternoon I found a tree and had a little nap in the shade. When I woke up it had started to rain. I set out again walking a little bit in the cooling rain and I walked as far as a campsite and saw a display of boats that had all negotiated the Colorado rapids. Eventually I got back to the information centre and browsed in the gift shop.
I went back to the bus stop and caught the 5pm bus back to Flagstaff. It was full of Japanese people and it made a couple of extra tourist stops, one at a trading post shop and one at an all-denomination chapel building. The Japanese all got off the bus for a look but I stayed on and actually fell fast asleep.
Back in Flagstaff at 7pm we made a tour of the town and most of the Japanese got off at a couple of hotels. The bus finished back at the station and I alighted with just one Japanese lad who must have been a similar age to me. He didn’t speak English, but he followed me out to photograph a goods train pass through the station. He smiled and followed me again as I walked along the siding near the station to take a picture of a Santa Fe locomotive stabled there. He actually took more pictures of it than I did and then he disappeared.
The bus wasn’t due out until 12:45am. So I sat in the little waiting room again and started the 5 hour wait. The only other two people in the room were two old ladies. They were discussing the worsening crime situation in the USA. There was a tall thin one who wanted to talk and a short fat one who didn’t really want to listen.
The short fat one just nodded as the tall thin one told her how she had had her car stolen in LA, been pick-pocketed on the bus 3 times and why she now believed it was safer to have just two carrier bags instead of a suitcase for an 18-day holiday. In the end the short fat one totally ignored her and went over to the water fountain for a drink and then returned to sit somewhere else.
I sat and wrote post cards and almost finished my book. At about 8:30pm two English girls walked in. They were both from Bromley and were doing the BUNAC programme. They were both studying French but one was at Warwick and the other was at East Anglia. They told me they had been working in a French croissant shop in Boston and were now travelling to Long Beach in California for some fun.
At 9pm an English guy came in. He was from Birmingham and he was heading east. He had failed to get a seat on the 9:30pm bus that had arrived from LA. There was another bus at 12:45am at the same time as ours headed west. He had no option but to wait with us. He was clearly upset at missing the first bus and started pacing up and down whilst mumbling to himself “Trailways is the pits” and then, perhaps only half in jest, “Take me home to mother”.
Another English guy, who was studying Physics at London and living in South Kensington, had actually got off that bus from Los Angeles. He started asking us if there was anywhere to stay that was cheap. The girls recommended the youth hostel but he wasn’t keen. He said he would find a field and pitch his tent. We wished him good luck but mentioned that Flagstaff seemed reasonably built up.
As the clock ticked towards midnight, more and more people joined our little group and in the end there were two French girls, 2 lads from Yorkshire, a girl from the Netherlands, and another pair of English girls all heading west with me, and just the lad from Birmingham heading east.
Freight trains clattered through the station every 30 minutes or so as everyone tried to doze.
I sat there and I was content in the knowledge that I was about to embark on my very last Trailways journey. Ever.