Huge wedge of waffle on the way west from New Orleans 16 June 2004

On our way west, in search of Cajuns
How can a state so big only have one star?
Another rally, another load of Harleys
Lady Di, poor white trash
Thrills and spills as the idiots take to the road
Post-rally Austin
More information than we need
Bike matters
Characters in the house

Lafayette-Blue Moon
Since we arrived in Orlando we have been a bit short of tempted by English treats. This usually means that Marmite or decent tea are not available and that’s not so hard to live with. Little did we know that there are other gourmet delights that have been alluding us - Patak’s range of products for example. Following the directions of the receptionist, we nipped over the road to a deli to get vittles only to be astounded by the shelves full of Indian chutneys, spices, breads and all manner of other Middle Eastern delicacies. It was one of those shops where you could buy the whole shop and limiting yourself to 5 or 6 items was a decision nightmare. If we ever go through this way again, Cedar Grocery will be a definite stop. When we returned burdened with our goodies, we had to tell the lass that she should be more enthusiastic about promoting this shop to English guests.

The huge advantage of staying at the Blue Moon hostel is the fact that it supports and is a centre for performances of music and theatre. Residents get to see all performances gratis. On our first night we got a double dose of culture. Early in the evening a theatre group was performing short plays as part of a round town tour. The tour all happened on one evening and involved on this occasion just one change of venue. Wasn’t quite sure why one had to move from one bar to another to see the next three playlets other than to promote the different bars - surely not?

All this followed by a pleasant evening listening to a local band. What more could you ask for?
Odd, though, that the local band was playing Bluegrass music - we’d been hoping to get a fix of zydeco or at least something with a Cajun feel to it.

Our next musical diversion again proved to be very un-cajun. How can it be that we come to the cajun music capital and fail dismally to catch any creole sounds? But then again, how could it be that we could traverse Africa and not see Vic Falls in all its glory? Anyhow, Frigg-a-go-go were playing their farewell concert to a packed house. Their music can only be described as garage, a hard edged punky sound with sophisticated guitar riffs thrown in. Influences I would guess are Talking Heads, Doors and New York Dolls. It was a pretty impressive performance. The diminutive lead singer/guitarist was reminiscent of all the great prima donna types of rock and roll and did the neck of his guitar down his trouser front and all of those odd things that make for classic rock. Why go on about them? They are no more.

The great thing about Lafayette is that there are no pretensions. The place was packed but I only saw 2 girls with makeup on, both of whom were wearing unconventional punky makeup. There was nothing designer about them, just a bunch of people out to have a good time.

Bit of an odd character turned up in our room. Travelling with only a plastic bag under his arm, he simply checked in at about 5 in the afternoon and went to sleep ‘til about 9 the next morning. He advised us that we could get a free meal by going to the soup kitchen a few blocks away. We responded that although we like to travel as cheaply as we can, we do not resort to taking the food out of the mouths of the poor and needy. I hope we pricked his conscience about eating food intended for the less well off, especially as when we left he was negotiating for a private room, for double dorm bed fees. Not without funds, then. Maybe Helen won’t feel too bad about accepting hospitality from folk now that she’s seen what real blaggers are like.

We were a little disappointed and surprised in such a patriotic country, that the national holiday of Memorial day did not mean parades or something. Instead apparently the US customary way of remembering the veterans and the dead is to have a family BBQ, which has the by-product that national parks are full of BBQ-ing families. So we decided to hang around in a very quiet Lafayette for an extra day as the campgrounds would surely be chock a block, too. Not to mention that the Blue Moon is one of the best hostels we have stayed in, on our travels.

To entertain ourselves we went to see an oak tree in St. Martinsville. OK, we admit it we were scratching at the bottom of the barrel of places of interest. The oak is named the Evangeline Oak after the poem by a certain Longfellow dude. Extraordinarily this tree did not seem quite big enough given the time that has passed since the writing of the lines. On closer inspection of the literature, nowhere does it mention that Longfellow had ever been here or even that this was the exact oak tree referred to. A later search on the web revealed that this in fact the third oak to be dubbed “The Evangeline Oak”. At least is was an oak tree. Following the logic of it not having actually be the exact oak, one questions whether it has to be an oak at all. Good thing we didn’t have to pay to get to see it or we’d be having a right old rip-off moan about this one. I simply leave this issue wondering how desperate folk can get to drum up tourist interest.

I felt sorry for the management, they were doing everything right for this to be the best hostel in the USA, but foreigners planning a trip to USA haven’t heard of the place and tend to bypass it. Not to mention it has the Cajun Festival every year. For those of you thinking of travelling in the US it is well worth slotting in Lafayette into the schedule between New Orleans and Austin. Even if you are not normally the hosteling type it has lovely private rooms and the great free live music, most nights, makes it an all round experience and with one of the most organised web sites we’ve seen

Big Country

So, without a hint of Cajun music under our belts, we headed west on our way to a big bike rally in Austin, Tx. When you look at a map of USA, Texas is not big its huge. As we entered the Junction number was 880, meaning that Texas is at least 880 miles wide beating the length of Britain by more than 100 miles. I had heard rumours that things in Texas, according to Texans, were bigger and better. So I was assuming that all things Texan were a bit like goldfish and grew to a proportionate size of the state. I was almost disappointed when we crossed the state border and things did not suddenly dwarf us. Only the roads fulfilled the bigness expectations with minor roads being six lanes wide.

A reasonable staging post seemed to be Galveston. Good write ups in the guide book and a state park ensured its inclusion in our itinerary. Scenery doesn’t come much more boring than this. Flat, flat, flat. The only features were fields of cattle and periodic nodding oil pumps. I guess that was my presumption about Texas, anyway, other than that I assumed that there’d be a bit more topographical variation. In our tradition of passing up photo opportunities, we passed by hundreds of classic “barren scenery with oil well” vistas. It was just so hot the idea of stopping with all our gear on was unappealing. There will no doubt be no more similar scenes on our route through the rest of Texas. I rather like those oil wells. They seem so strangely low-tech in somewhere like the States. It’s probably an deliberate strategy to pump the oil out as slowly as they can while burning up the resources of the rest of the world. Ouch.

Galveston regrettably did not inspire. From the free ferry through to the state park, we followed the sea wall and were treated only to views of a rather drab beach on the one side and dull hotels on the other. The campsite was rather lacking in inspiration, too. It was extremely well laid out and every pitch had an odd little concrete shelter under which to picnic. Concrete is a difficult medium to make attractive structures out of and though a reasonable amount of thought had gone into these, there remained a rather bunker-esque quality to them. Other than these and the toilet block, the site was featureless and exposed to the cotton wool, winds blowing off the gulf. A rather gormless rabbit seemed rooted to the spot as we walked out to the beach. Even the myriad crabs were a tad lethargic. Still, it was OK for an overnight.

The only entertainment for the evening was a rather odd couple of ladies who turned out to be mother and daughter. For some reason they had come down to Galveston to get a pre natal scan. This was clearly not the hospital on their doorstep as since a further scan was needed they had to overnight in the town. Shunning the numerous hotels, they chose to camp and bought a tent and mattresses at the local Walmart. Not such a daft idea as they got a night’s accommodation and came away with a new tent and mattresses for the price of a room for the night. Regrettably their tent came without instructions and the technology was rather more advanced than when they used to camp. Luckily for them, this thing bore more than a passing resemblance to Stevie's palace that we’d erected a few times in Africa and so it didn’t take long to put right. Blood is clearly thicker than water, with mother saying what a dear her son is whilst totally disregarding the fact that according to her daughter his violent temper had broken most items of furniture - umm nice! I may never understand parenthood. Clearly they did not have a brilliant night’s sleep and as they waved good-bye and left, the daughter was sucking on her fifth fag of the day to cheer herself up. Always admire that in a pregnant woman.

In fairness to Galveston, we did catch a glimpse of its better side when we hunted down the post office in the morning. Some nice porched houses and a few municipal building built with more than functionality in mind. The library was particularly inspiring as it had wallpaper which for me is a first. A distinct improvement on echoey white walled boxes.

“We rode our bike to the trailer rally” - (quote courtesy of Conrad)

Austin is reputedly in hill country, so we drove and drove across flatness and yes eventually we came to an undulation or two.

As we approached the bike rally campground, we saw the ill-omened flashing lights of emergency vehicles. The sobering scene was a hapless Harley wedged under the front wheels of an articulated lorry. The Harley looked in one piece and I hoped the rider was merely injured, I later found out that my optimism was unfounded. The rally did not officially start ‘til the next day and there was already one fatality.

This had not put people off and the ground was filling up with RVs and tent campers. As is true of most of the Southern States bandanas were the head gear of choice, the only people wearing helmets were the BMW riders, of course, like ourselves - and some people on sporty road bikes.
Intelligent people in fact. Ouch!!

It was hot, hot so we picked a spot on the hill with a modicum of breeze. Assembling the tent - disaster.....! Those of you who are dedicated readers may remember a rather drunken episode where I broke the tent in Chile 18 months ago. Our makeshift repair finally gave way. Bugger! We have just paid for festival tickets for 4 days camping
(come on Hippy, I had managed to wangle a 50 percent discount for bringing a bit of international colour to their rally!) and the tent is broken. Brilliant!

In true American hospitality fashion, campers came up offering a variety of advice; duck tape, nip to Walmart and get a new one - it’s the American way, one guy went searching for a branch to act as a splint. Pat was all for a second binding method (not sure if we mentioned that it was only a few days earlier, in Fontainebleau that we had to re-repair the break by binding). I went into lateral thinking mode - for a plan B if the binding thing failed again. This has the disadvantage that my mind goes through all manner of mad ideas and Pat is in automatic disregard mode.
Hippy reels off an infuriatingly large number of ludicrous ideas that are structurally unsound - without going back to first principles it is hard to explain why they are such a load of bollocks. Not sure she’s ready for Mohre’s circle for stress yet. I tend to think aloud and do not filter out the madder options before uttering - for once I did not offer an inflatable solution, but I did go through bungy options, wire options, bendy branch contraptions, before hitting on using a tent peg up the centre of the poles as a splint.

Genius. We’ve steadily acquired extra pegs that we’ve found left on campsites from Tanzania to the U.S. and amongst our collection there was one with pretty much an exact fit for the inside of the frame tube. Cutting the hook off was bit of a problem, but a neighbour seemed unconcerned about the state of his pliers and happily nipped through the peg with the wire cutters using a big hammer to provide the necessary grunt. Bingo.

That night the gusty winds blew up, and the heavens opened with dynamic, driving rain beating against the nylon of our shelter. The tent tugged and strained against the elements. There was enough light from the full moon to observe the testing of our makeshift repair. The odd drip of rainwater made it through the now worn seams as if to remind us that we are never impregnable.

In the aftermath, we discovered that our tired, ailing, tent had done a better than the surrounding new, bigger, tents of keeping us dry. Some of which had partially collapsed during the night under the strain drenching the occupants. As others hung the sleeping bags out to dry, I felt a certain affection of our faithful, faded little yellow cocoon. I keep thinking that maybe it is time to upgrade, but today’s experience does not inspire me to pension off this old friend. If I was at the Hostel in Forest circle of Thanks, our tent would have made it to top of the list. Texans later informed us that the storm had been a tornado - or is that just Texan boasting at work?

What constitutes a wild time?

There was something Mardi Gras-esque, with guys in Village People attire - the leathermen sporting moustaches shouting out to girls and offering them tacky plastic beads if they revealed their breasts. Seemingly this has become a national obsession since one of the chat show hosts started encouraging semi nudity with the same kinds of offers. This is all seen as highly risqué by the American public and, so, well within the rebellious bikers remit. Regrettably many of the bikers demonstrated a poor knowledge of spelling with signs such as “Show us yor tits”. But then again this is not a new trend. Colour became color, after all.

The truth is that you would have seen more semi-nudity on a beach in Europe, or in many back gardens on a sunny day in England. Clearly, for the repressed Americans this was rebellious, but there seemed to be something oddly restrained about their overt liberalism. I don’t know whether it was the flashing of their tits and then covering them back up again rather than dispensing with the top altogether or the deliberate aversion of eyes from the odd person who went the whole hog. Jonny, a black guy, who we were talking to explained it by saying the Americans find it hard to shed their conservative upbringing and enjoy breaking the ‘rules’ but still like the rules to be there, and are unable to dispense with them altogether. i.e. they simply don’t know how to party. Come on Hips, even you have limits.

I have no problem with nudity at all
(as I think most of us know), but there was a leeriness about things here that made me want to cover up. Basically if I want to go naked, I to do it because I feel like it, not because leery men want to ogle and take photos. Mind you over half of the exposees were fabrique de silicon. I suppose if you have paid out for a new pair of tits you need to show them off.

There was a guy a few tents away who really gave me the creeps, George. I cannot say exactly what made skin crawl each time he engaged us in conversation; was it is the eyes that mentally undress you, the way he made no bones of the fact that he was there to see tits, the sign out of bits of gaffer tape on a gazebo saying ‘show us your tits’ or was it just a gut feeling. Funnily enough we never got around to passing on our email address - strange that.

As the nights wore on and sobriety wore off, more clothes were shed and parading bikes bore nekked riders in procession. Interspersed were guys burning out their rear tyres by spinning up the wheel while holding the front brake on. Its not new, its not big and its not clever. Slightly over the eight or handicapped by a permanent bike control problem, some of the burn out warriors veered recklessly towards the crowds gathered at the road margins. At least one ambulant civilian was taken away to hospital after being wiped out by a hot-dogging pillock. Really, I think this will be the last bikers rally I’ll go to, I’m more at home with the BMW fraternity. Boring but rather more wholesome.

Conversations with Kristy and James revealed that their perception of Britain was of us being prissy and prim. They seemed totally unaware of The Sex Pistols and other outrageous bands of their ilk. It seems that the enduring image is of Beatle haircuts and Sergeant Pepper suits rather than the controversial John Lennon statements and Paul McCartney dope growing sagas. Lady Di came from an underprivileged background and rose Cinderella-like from obscurity. Excuse me? I guess many of our perceptions of America are equally distorted.

Others were also under the impression that the reason that country and Western music was not popular in the UK was that the words were too risqué. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that we just see it as rather dull and uninspiring.

Russian roulette on the highway

Saturday brought a “poker run”. The idea is that you go out for a good old ride and draw cards out of a hat at various checkpoints. Highest drawn hand according to poker rules picks up 500 dollars and the chance to win 250,000. Seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up. Half way around the course, three bikes had been wiped out by a speeding juggernaut. As we arrived on the scene, there was carnage with bits of bike all over the place and the truck off in a field to the side of the highway with a huge plume of black smoke being generated by the fuel tanks flaming away. After waiting for 20 minutes or so we decided to head back to camp rather than getting caught up in a huge rush back with the others to complete the run in time to make a claim for the prize. Our worries proved well founded a short distance from the accident scene where frustrated bikers had hooned off shortly after being let through the blockage by the police. They’d managed to have another accident within half a mile. We nodded a told you so to each other as we passed and I inwardly resolved to join that BMW owners club as soon as I can.

The rally site provided countless (cosmetic) bike bit outlets. You could buy just about anything, but not anything of any use to us. Pick an object, put a Harley D logo on it and it would have been there. There were little businesses attaching neon lights to bikes so that their shiny parts would look amazing at night. (Each neon light attached at a cost of 50 dollars, no less. I would estimate cost price of these things to be about 50 pence - please correct me if I’m very wide of the mark) Was there anywhere to buy functional bits, though? Spark plugs, filters and the like. There were one or two places selling tyres, but that was about your lot - not much chance of an oil change, then.

No, the rally was sadly not to our taste or interest. The campers had made us very welcome - especially James, Pat and Kevin and Kirsty and James who had spare camp chairs and a cooler with them - but it simply wasn’t us. I’ve never really been a poseur apart from briefly when I returned to uni as a mature student and I had a collection of exoticish bikes and a Golf GTi. The parading thing that these Harley owners go in for just seems a pain in the butt. Stop, start, stop, start, engine overheating, bottom sweating away on black saddle in the blazing sun. Madness.

We were beginning to get an understanding for motorcycle rallies in the USA i.e.Harley Rallies. People come to the rallies not to enjoy motorcycling or to gain knowledge or parts to improve the mechanics of their vehicles, but to pose:- to show off their own paint job and neon lights and look at other peoples paint jobs and neon lights. The parading up and down was not to enjoy riding with other bikers but to have people ooooo and aaah at their bike - it’s an ego thing. There was little respect for the odd vintage bike or admiration for the fact it was still running, attention always fell of the newest and flashiest looking, there was no shame about bring the bike on a trailer and entering on the concourse judging. The only other rallies I had been on in England with the Matchless owners club, some of the most moth eaten old bikes got the most attention with albums of the places and travels the bike had done and was still running. No bike could enter judging if it hadn’t been on ‘the run’ at the rally of about 50 miles. We did not fit in.

It would be unfair to tar all the people here with the same brush. Pat, camping near us had bought a harley from a Vietnam vet who had had a paint job to remember his comrades, and Pat had decided that to respect the sentiment he would preserve the decor rather than go for a flash new make over. Unfortunately this kind of respect is the exception rather than the rule.

We took refuge in the air conditioned arena and at last found a biking event that we enjoyed, in fact lapped up. Indoor motocross over a course formed from imported dirt. Ranging from 4-6 year kids that struggled to make it over the hills to the professionals that leapt nearly from one end of the arena to the other, every event had something to offer. Being typically British we rooted for the underdog in every event. The ultimate moment for us was the quad bikes. This is obviously an event for the less confident participants being nowhere near as fast and inherently more stable. Or so we thought.

One competitor, Arturo Romero (or something like that), was obviously from a less well off background from the other drivers, where they had body armour and the latest motocross fashions, he had a pair of shell suit bottoms and an old black vest. Only by his helmet could you distinguish him from some kind of hispanic rap artist. His quad was old and tatty and made about 60 percent of the power of his fellow competitors. He was out to have fun and when he had been passed by everyone, he held back to get a big run up at the track. The upshot was just that, as he shot up into the air over one of the jumps. No one else had dared to do such a thing on one of these bikes and it soon became clear why. As he flew through the air in front of us, clear over a huge valley and the crest of the next jump, his bike slowly rotated in the vertical plane until, as he came in to land, it was nose down and never going to regain its correct attitude. As it still had abundant momentum, it somersaulted over on to its rider. He landed neck down and must surely have broken his neck. Did he? Oh, no, our hispanic hero got up and walked away to put his bike back on its wheels, start it up and then push start his mate before riding off. We watched incredulously.

The man was not only the the underdog but he was a sportsman playing by Queensbury rules. Are we not mixing our sporting metaphores, Hippy? A man that will push start a competitor, putting him ahead of him in the race is definitely a gentleman. He was our hero. When he still came out in the second heat with the now even more knackered quad bike, we applauded. He even managed to pass a couple once or twice when others crashed only to be overtaken again 2 minutes later. We did get funny looks from our surrounding spectators who could not comprehend the logic of supporting a loser. It was not worth trying to explain.

Highlight of the festival for many was the performance by Hank Williams Jr. Seemingly all our neighbours on the camp ground were fans. We joined James, Kevin, Pat and their ladies (Oddly everyone we got on with including Kirsty and James were from Louisianna. Perhaps my mate Mark has good grounds for settling there.) for the concert. They had told us how great he was and we thought it was about time that we gave country and western a chance. It was clear to us after about 5 minutes that this was not going to be a show that would be memorable as we rock back in chairs in later years. OK the music was not our kind of thing, but what was intolerable was that he sang out of tune, and his roady kept retuning his guitar only for Hank to de-tune again. The expression on the roady’s face said it all. I’m sorry but if this is what country and western (I think you’ll find its written C+W, love) is all about, I will never by a convert. We drifted out as best we could without being seen by the others as we didn’t want to hurt their feelings. We really should have said we were going as it turned out that they spent the best part of thirty minutes looking for us at the end of the gig. Oops

Others we have met have confirmed our suspicions that this is a man trading on the success of his father. Seems to be the done thing in Texas.

We had met some lovely people, but the Harley Rally thing is not really us.

Austin, music city

We had planned to go to Austin before we learned of the bike rally to experience to music capital of the world (they say, but it is Texas). As we had discovered an oil leak and I still wanted to experience some music, we headed into Austin proper, and the hostel. Which, by the way, is another well run establishment

That night we went in search of live music. The one way system, took us on a detour, a couple of streets from our intended venue. Outside a rather shabby looking bar was a couple of tidy vintage BMWs, and a Vincent Rapide series B. There was no negotiation - we pulled up. Travel worn helmets and jackets sat on tables, in what appeared to be the nearest bar to an English pub we had seen so far in the US. This bar was great - it brewed its own real beer, a coat hanger by the door had coats that had been left by prior customers for borrowing if there was an unexpected downpour, the furniture felt genuine, and non-pretentious. The mistake that a lot of American bars make when they are trying to recreate the olde-wolde pub thing is that they have everything clinically clean, unfaded, and matching. This bar had I think unintentionally hit on a more real pub atmosphere. There was a used-ness about everything. We felt at home.

We soon discovered that we had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whilst we had been surrounded by cosmetic bikers, five miles away there had been an older classic bike rally, with bikers who want to ride, who respect the old and shun pretence; whose bike gear is weather worn and moulded into the shape of their owners instead of uncomfortably new. It felt like fate had brought us on a one way detour to show us that there are real bikers in America. The quest for live music, was dispensed with in favour of a healthy does of talk with kindred spirits.

Charlie wheeled himself over to us and invited us to join him at his table. Charlie’s wit, that was so dry it was arid and dabbled into black. I had assumed naively, that the constraints of being disabled had meant that he had had to retire from riding. Apparently within days of the accident that had left him partially paralysed, he was sketching ideas for how to adapt a motorbike for him to continue riding. His positive attitude, had been infectious in the physiotherapy resulting in parents thanking him for reviving their previously suicidal daughter’s determination and will to live. This man inspired - he did not evoke or want sympathy. Instead his intelligence, and personality transcends his disability to a point where you run the risk of forgetting his situation entirely and saying something thoughtless.

He and Kate had met at Hippie Hollow a local, clothing optional beach. She, also a real biker, is now temporarily without a licence, due to drunk riding offences. So now is conveyed around by Charlie in side car position in his chair while she sits on a bike with no handlebars.
Kate was very open about her drink driving and confessed to being a little nervous about the prison stretch she will probably have to serve. It is quite a sight to see a motorcycle with no rider but an able bodied pillion and sidecar passenger who is in fact not a passenger at all -dissolving any stereotypes of dependency.

We got on well, they had a healthy cynicism of politics and the media, and proclaimed that the problem with Americans is that they are ‘Stupid’, believing what they are told and feeling that politicians are essentially nice people. Each time we meet such people, I feel a weight lifting and feel I can be myself, and drop the politenesses of polite American conversation. We felt at home with people fondly taking the micky out of us.
And them not being offended by a little ribbing in return.

Charlie rather flattered us, by seeing our travels as reflecting a more hard core biking attitude than them - I think he was too kind.
Yes, it is full on, but we’ve come to the point in feeling that riding bad dirt roads is to be avoided if possible - far too much like hard work. In general our daily mileages have dropped to a paltry figure. I’m really surprised to find, on calculating, that it’s as high as 49 miles per day. I honestly thought it was less by now. Anyway, the travel thing is nothing to do with bravery and hardness, even if that is how it is perceived. Hassles yes, but there’s been no real danger and no amazing physical feats involved. When Charlie kept shouting out “We’se all pussies” to the other bar flies I thought that he might provoke a sour reaction. But there was no raising of eyebrows even when he added his comments of “Americans am stupid” at the top of his voice (in response to our quest for explanations of American behaviour)

Our position was quite the contrary. Here is a man in a wheelchair who has designed and built his own special bike so that he can continuing motorcycling in all conditions, over whatever distance. Charlie, respect is due.

He was not the only one who had humbled us that week. A guy, called Mark staying in the hostel, had had the courage to break away from the clutches of his Mormon upbringing in Utah. Now, shunned by the Mormon community for rejecting the calling, and an embarrassment to his family, he is making a new life for himself in Dallas. The pressures of the religion, he felt may have contributed to one siblings suicide and another’s mental illness. He says he came to realise that this brand of christianity was not him, when he even felt guilty that he was not doing God’s will when he wanted to sit and watch a sunset instead of ringing his superior about progress in his missionary work. Forgive me for my ignorance about religion, but if God created the world, surely he would be pleased if people paused in their daily toll to appreciate the wonders he had created. Mark clearly felt the same, he was by no means anti-religious but felt that the intensive protestant work ethic of the Mormons had somehow left no room to enjoy the wonders of the world.

State objects

So that we cannot make any gaffs in Texan company, the state guide provides us with all sorts of information. In Lancashire, we are very proud to have the red rose as the county emblem. The list of county items provided for Texas is as follows:-
State Name, State Nickname, State Motto,
State Bird, State Fish, State Insect,
State Reptile, State Dinosaur, State Large Mammal, State Small Mammal, State Flying Mammal (?),
State Tree, State Flower, State Plant,
State Shrub (should that be Bush?), State Grass,
State Vegetable, State Fruit, State Pepper,
State Native Pepper, State Fiber and Fabric, State Gem,
State Gemstone Cut, State Stone, State Seashell,
State Dish, State Musical Instrument State Folk Dance,
State Plays (????), State Sport, State Tartan,
State Ship, State Air Force.

I kid you not. A fiver if you can tell me what they all are. The Lancashire county flying mammal would be the hamster the Julie Howarth once gave me that got cruelly tossed around on a Saturday night.

The seems like an over zealous attempt to fabricate a culture for Texas to me. Somehow I feel the America was a missed opportunity, it clings desperately to evidence of its short post pioneer history, and makes ridiculous attempts to create a nouveau identity with the above nonsense when it could have celebrated its newness without the restraints of old ways and traditions. It could, have been the completely architecturally innovative, embracing new materials and design technologies, but in fact most architecture is pretty dull and boxy - seen one ugly bland concrete Wal-mart shopping plaza - seen ‘em all. This is not just reflected in their building design, but religion and politics are stiflingly conservative. Paradoxically, their newness seems to have made their lifestyles less radical and liberal than the old world nations. Funny old world when you think that the pilgrim fathers were escaping persecution to be able to carry on their own thing. You’d think that the spirit of anything goes would have kicked off grand style.

With the Patriot Act post 9/11 many Americans we have spoken to feel that the freedoms that Americans have been proud of have been eroded, and fears about the world beyond the country limits is making the people become more and more conservative. Every country that has had the audacity to assume its way of life is the right one and inflicts itself on other countries has eventually collapsed. My theory is that each empire in history has had a shorter and shorter viable life span, Egyptians, Romans, Chinese, British, Eastern block, now there is the American Empire. As William Ralph Inge (by the way I had to check that on the internet) said ‘Every institution not only carries within itself the seeds of its own dissolution, but prepares the way for its most hated rival’. So maybe America’s media encouraging a more and more narrow view of the world will be the factor that means and the nations power implodes, when the people rebel against a government that destroys its most treasured liberties. Would be interesting if they are preparing the way for their most hated rival.
Hard to work out who the most hated is at any moment in time, it changes so quickly. I dare say they’ll be Islamic.

End of political sermon.
Oh, she does love a rant.

We had enjoyed Lovejoys bar so much that we arranged to meet up again on Monday. Me, totally forgetting that it was my birthday. I passed up the idea of a romantic meal for two for my birthday in favour of an evening in their company.
Given that the romantic evening would be with me (I presume) that was probably the best choice. To be honest it was one of those birthdays where I didn’t feel very birthday-ish at all so it kind of went by without incident, except that Pat had pulled out the stops by making me a cooked breakfast complete with bacon and orange juice. What more could you need for a birthday? I could think of a few things.

The other advantage of meeting up with a bunch of real bikers is that we made a contact who could help check the bike over, Roger, who rides an immaculate vintage white BMW with a sumptuous looking sheepskin seat.

BMW repair section - not too tecky

Ok, so Berthette had been leaking a bit of oil from the gearbox and, although this was a small leak, it needed looking at before things got really bad. Assuming the worst, I made sure that I’d be able to get hold of a new oil seal. No problem and very cheap. Roger is aiming to start up a business proper and currently works out of the garage by his house in the evenings while working his way out of his job with a major techno company. This puts a big load on him when world bikers turn up on his doorstep and beg a bit of space and know-how. Over a couple of nights we pulled stuff apart and put it back together again and shared grumbles about BMWs inability to quite finish the job of building perfect machines. At the end of the day if it was all perfect he would not have the germ of a business coming to gether!

When all was complete and running, we settled up for a paltry sum which included the borrow of a bike to get home while Berth was in bits. Chatting away as we parted, Roger divulged that he’d just been diagnosed with a rather aggressive form of skin cancer and was due for an op. I felt terrible for having caused him more inconvenience when he obviously has enough on his plate just at the moment. Thank you, Roger, you go on the list of folks we couldn’t have done it without. We wish you a speedy recovery and every success with the new business.

Hostel life

Whilst Pat was being Mr. Grease Monkey I was being entertained by a couple of Brits. The rain was descending again and Guiseppe, an Italian cockney had decided to start a 3D jigsaw of Big Ben. I have probably not completed a jigsaw since I was 12, but I became obsessed, working into the wee hours. I could not leave the dam thing alone. James, a Brit from Cheltenham, of 22, had been amused by our dedication to a puzzle, until he joined us. It is hard to explain but finding that elusive piece and it fitting in exactly spurs you on to the next. A couple of successful piece fittings and he was hooked. You try to walk away as your eyes are glazing over, but the pieces draw you back; you spy out of the corner of your eye, what you think is that elusive piece you have been searching for; for the past hour and you have to try it out; you now know the shape of the next piece and the addiction continues. For a day and a half the jigsaw grew, probably 10 people in all contributed to its erection. It now stands minus one piece on top of the piano. Ironically, we chose Austin to develop a film we had been carrying from England, only to find a picture of Big Ben from our day in London getting visas. Funny old world.

Hostels work out quite expensive for us, so when we learned that you could stay for free if you did some domestic chores we were up for it. They only had enough work for one, but it meant that we could now afford to eat at least.

We had been in Austin for a few days now and not experienced any live music having been weigh laid by Lovejoy’s bar. James, who seemed to be almost a permanent resident, recommended a blues guitar player, Eric Tessmer. Having no knowledge of the local music scene we were happy to follow the flow.

We sat mesmerised by Eric’s playing. He was magnificent, the quality of music that emitted from the guitar was exquisite. He is only 22 but has played with Clapton already. The guy deserves to go far. What amazed me was that someone so talented was playing in a venue with no cover charge and to only about 30 customers.

The unfortunate thing about going to see such a great performer as the first act in Austin is that the other acts seem somewhat a disappointment. Bars with no cover charge have bands that work for tips only. The ones that have already made a name for themselves can demand high fees producing big cover charges, of up to $20 which I am sure they warrant. But unfortunately, they are beyond our budget.

A lot of boring reasons meant that we hung around in Austin longer than intented. Trying to order tyres, having American companies reject our visa cards because there were not issued in America, etc. - don’t ask just a lot of nonsense frustrations.
We couldn’t even use an American Express card as it wasn’t issued in America. How mad is that?

We had not really seen the hill country even though the Harley Rally had provided us with a “self guided” tour which turned out to be along traffic light festooned highways. So we took an afternoon to have a more in depth look around. Close inspection of the map had revealed a road that did not disappoint as it twisted and turn hugging the edge of Lake Travis. Seemingly there was too much ‘riding’ for the Harley contingent. We loved it.

Useless travellers, or what? A couple of guys arrived at the hostel, who we thought may be a couple. Now being assigned to the couples dorm, what do you think is the correct etiquette here? We wanted to offer for them to stay in the couples dorm with us, but would they be mortally offended if they were straight? We played safe and kept our suspicvions to ourselves.

As soon as they arrived they were on the internet trying to find the number of the hotel they had just stayed at, where they had discarded a fag packet with someone’s phone number on it, who had offered a bed for the night in Austin. Now come on, no hotel manager is going to search the rubbish for some blithering traveller who had been dim enough to leave it behind. No joy. Then one of them lost his wallet. Then the next morning, they’d lost their car key. There is no hope for such people.
I must point out that Helen loses her comb every single morning. Added to this the fact that they are trying to cover the whole of the USA in 13 days by road - going see a lot of interstate then. I wish them luck. I think think will need it.

The closure of the colleges for the summer, means that the hostels fill up with youngsters and we feel suddenly very old. Having a birthday did not help. Maybe we are too old for this kind of thing.

Austin has a buzzing night life and crawling into bed in the wee hours is the norm. The hostel is in a beautiful setting on the river bank with jetty out over the water to contemplate the world and watch the sun go down. It’s romantic setting makes it the perfect setting for courting couples. I will say no more.