Chapter 16: HOMEWARD BOUND
I awoke late on Wednesday 19th September, my last day in America. Not so
Avedon, who had risen hours earlier and bashed out a letter to Dave Locke, which
I read while eating breakfast. While agreeing the necessity of some sort of
response to Locke's letter, this seemed a bit too intemperate, so I suggested we
should stick to the letter I'd written yesterday. Since we'd arranged to see Ted
White one last time before I left, we decided to get his opinion. Queenie wasn't
pleased when Avedon told her we were going over to Ted's:
"But he's seen Ted White already! Why don't you take him to see
the amphitheatre, or something interesting like that?"
"He doesn't want to see something interesting; he wants to see Ted
Soon after midday, I finished packing, said my farewells to Queenie and
Gary, loaded my baggage in the trunk of Avedon's car, and we headed over to
Falls Church. By the time we got there we were feeling hungry so, at Avedon's
suggestion, she, Ted, and I ate at the local International House of Pancakes.
Taking full advantage of my last chance to indulge in American excess, I ordered
chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream and sugar. The others watched me eat
this with looks of horror on their faces, but I didn't care.
"I have a high tolerance level for overly sweet and gloppy food,"
"Then America's where you ought to live," said Ted. "It seems
unfair that you live three thousand miles away because I enjoy hanging out with
The feeling was certainly mutual but, much as I'd enjoyed my visit to the
US, I found it difficult to imagine living somewhere that doesn't have universal
health care but does allow anyone to own a gun.
Back at Ted's house, we showed him the letters we'd written to Dave Locke.
He agreed that mine was the more tactically useful, so that was the one that got
sent. We talked some more after that, but all too soon it was time to set out
for National Airport. Ted drove, and we made good time, but even with Avedon's
invalid plates (she's arthritic) we couldn't find anywhere to park. Never one
for long goodbyes in any case, Ted decided to drop us off at the entrance,
saying he'd be back for Avedon in 45 minutes.
My bags checked, Avedon and I said our farewells, a long process with much
hugging and kissing. With a final wave, I headed for the departure lounge and
sank into a chair for the long wait before my flight. I was sitting there,
thinking of all that had happened on my TAFF trip, the three most memorable
weeks of my life, and wondering when I'd get to see Avedon again, when a female
voice said: "Hi, Rob." It was Avedon. Using her considerable powers of
persuasion she'd talked the aiport staff into letting her into the departure
lounge. It seemed our farewells were going to be even more protracted, which was
fine by me.
My plane was late in boarding and take-off, but none of this really mattered
to me. I'd enjoyed myself immensely over the past three weeks and I was deeply
reluctant to have my trip end. Nevertheless, take-off was a joy (I love
flying) and the view of the Pentagon out of my window was spectacular. As we
banked away onto our correct heading, I got my first aerial view of the DC area
and realised why Washington is sometimes called the city of trees. At ground
level you can hardly fail to noticed how well-endowed with trees Washington is,
but only from the air do you grasp their extent. Apart from the downtown area,
the city seems to be built in a wood. From the low, flat angle I viewed much of
the suburbs were invisible beneath the tree cover and you could be forgiven for
assuming most of it was still virgin forest.
It was a late afternoon in late summer and there was only haze, no clouds,
above which the curvature of the Earth became obvious. Below, Washington thinned
out and the outlying districts became clear. Was that Falls Church? Or
Kensington? I had no way of telling. Before I knew it, we were over Baltimore,
with no perceptible break between it and Washington. Suddenly the concept of a
future BaltiWash Metroplex became even more real and I chuckled as I recalled
Ted and Avedon joking about Baltimore. By 6.10pm we were flying over New York;
half-hidden by the haze, but unmistakeable. Down there the Brooklyn Bridge, over
there the twin towers of the World Trade Center. That Manhattan truly was an
island could be clearly seen from this height, and for the first time I noticed
the strange spits of land that are part and parcel of the Long Island coastline.
(A later check of the map reveals these to be Long Beach, Ocean Parkway, and
Fire Island.) By the time we reached Boston, 25 minutes later, the haze had
thickened into cloud that looked like dense fog from our altitude, but as we
dropped through it Boston came into focus. We swung low (very low) over
the bay, crossing narrow spits of land encrusted with brightly painted wooden
houses. And then we were down and it was 6.49pm and we were 16 minutes late.
This was my first ever visit to Boston's Logan airport but the hassle and
aggravation were depressingly familiar. After being assured that my luggage
would be transferred automatically (there was some confusion on this point) I
got my seat allocation and boarded the 747. It took off at 8.10pm a half-hour
late -- and my great adventure, at last, was over. I'd made new friends, put
faces to others I'd known only through print, and expanded my horizons in ways
that might seem obvious but which only became so in retrospect. In the course of
three weeks my love for America and her people had only deepened, and there was
one thing I was sure of above all else: I would return.
And I did, too.
(Note: If reading this as a standalone report click on 'NEXT'. If reading it
as part of 'Eighties Letters & Fan Diary' click on 'BACK TO FAN DIARY'.)