I was sitting there on the porch of my Brother-in-laws and my sister's home in North Carolina, not in a rockin' chair - they didn't have one - trying to figure out how to read one of those American daily newspapers, you know - the one's with about 3,000 pages and with ink that never dries completely..and I was thinking over my plans for the day.
On my programme was a round of golf, my niece had (reluctantly) given up possession of her car so I could drive around a bit while everybody was at work, and I was slowly coming to terms with the American way of driving - all the same, my sister hadn't been so far as to leave me her brand new set of wheels - which actually pleased me because it had some new-fangled system of "automatic seat belt fastening" which scared the shit out of me.
When you got in, closed the door, this thing made one hell of a lot of noise and "lassooed" you around the neck and clicked into the retaining fastener. I had no idea how to open the thing, and - not wishing to be burnt alive, I always put my two hands out to prevent the thing from completely imprisoning me. It then complained bitterly and continually repeated - "lock me....lock me" or something similar. I just wondered where the fuse box was...!
I figure out, later, that my niece wasn't so dumb, she knew that every time I used her car, I would top up the reservoir, and I had to do that one hell of a lot...!
It was, saying the truth conservatively - "an older model" something between the Wright Brothers first airplane prototype (N. Carolina was their birth state) and Stevenson's "Rocket", but it had 4 wheels that turned and advanced - well..... sometimes....!
Finding myself on the freeway running out towards the Golf Course, trundling through the "shanty" towns of the black families on the outskirts of Raleigh, I found myself thinking about the events of the Jazz Concert in the Park, and having been pleased to have been able to "slap" hands with my new Black friends, much to the chagrin of my niece and my sister.
I hoped I hadn't overdone my show of solidarity, and thinking of that, I overlooked the fact that my "set of wheels" was slowing down - unexplained mystery...and finally ground to a halt, coughed once or twice and gave up its soul to the nearest mechanic...!
These things ALWAYS happened to me in the Old World, so it was no surprise that it happened to me in the New World...but...
The problems were different. In the Old World I could curse and swear in English and nobody would understand me - here it was different..!
Naturally, I found myself on a freeway around 2 miles from the nearest inhabited "dwelling" and - of course - that nearest "dwelling" was the shanty town for the Blacks, ill reputed for it's "welcome to the white man" places.....
Well - I had no choice anyhow, so I tramped back down the road, and finally arrived - somewhat warm.
North Carolina is a Southern State, and although pleasant, weather wise, not made for foot tramping, and I guess the sight of me walking down the freeway was amusing for some of thos idiots who blasted me with their klaxons or horns about a minute before they nearly knocked me down, and for around a minute after they had figured out that they'd missed.
It was then that I found out about the American national sport - "pedestrian huntin'..."
My entry to the shanty town recalled vivid scenes in my mind, from Hollywood films, and I slightly regretted the fact that I wasn't wearing my gunbelt, my cowboy stetson and my Marshall's badge, and that I wasn't sitting on a horse, but all that was romantic nonsense - my job was to find something or someone to repair those 120 horses that were stuck in the middle of the freeway two miles back.
I also regretted the fact that I wasn't in the "Old World" - it wouldn't have been two miles, it would have been two kilometres - shorter....!
Not knowing if there was a garage or someting in the shanty town, I walked past numbers of "li'l old men and women sittin' in the rockin' chair on the porch" except all the ones I saw were as black as the ace of spades, which didn't bother me too much, but I wondered if my colour bothered them..!
I finally took up courage, and stopped to ask about a garage, choosing just about the oldest and most ugly looking black man I could find, on the basis that since probably not many people stopped and said anything at all to him, he might be "friendlier" than some others.
Well, I asked my question, and he just looked blankly at me. I tried again, more loudly - again on the basis that he was probably stone deaf.
Poor old guy, I thought, ugly as sin, old as time itself...and deaf on top.........he's just got to be friendly!
He just leaned back in his rockin' chair, and slowly his face cracked into a toothless smile, and I thought - OK looks like the peacepipe might be smokin'...when he suddenly opened his mouth wide and screamed something like..... "Hollerbay"!
Not speaking the local dialect, nor indeed any of the dialects I was going to hear on this trip, I wondered what he had said exactly and how to reply..
I didn't have long to have much time to wonder...the fly door to the wooden porch burst open, and a Black Mountain appeared...and said something like - "Yeah, Paw......." then - seeing me on the steps below the porch, he approached, on the top step he looked even more like a black mountain, just about to suffer a volcanic eruption. A bit like this, only TWICE as big and totally BLACK....
And here, in this story, I must explain that I had the same problem of finding an illustration - YOU try "googling" something like "big black men"...........!
Anyway - it seemed that his name was something like "Haller" and he was the "boy" of the house...!
I finally managed to explain my desires, and he "hollered" - "Ain't no garages round here Mister - last one closed down years ago - too many hold-ups", followed by a laconic - "Where's ya cah, anyhow..?"
I explained roughly two miles down the road, and he disappeared only to reappear in a dustcloud behind the wheel of the most fearsome truck, a thing that had known, personally, Henry "T" Ford....! I felt myself taken back in time to "Nite nite John Boy, nite nite Grandad" and so on, or even further back to "Jed and family"......
So there I was - installed at the side of this colosse, bumping and coughing our way back up the two miles to where I had left what I now considered as a "luxury" model of a vehicle...!
"Holler" didn't say a word, which I was quite thankful for, since he didn't talk, he hollered, and I couldn't understand a word he said anyway...
We arrived, and "Holler" hollered - "Why - that ain't nuttin' - yo fanbelt broke...." (at least I think that's what he said).
Mountain man of action, he started hawling things out of the boot of the car, and out of the back of his truck.
At this moment in time, we both heard a quick "howl" of a siren, just behind us on the freeway, and I could swear that my mountain' man - black as the ace of spades, went ash grey...!
Yeah - folks - 'twas the "Highway Patrol" till then, for me a TV programme....!
They pulled up in their flashy car, and two guys looking for all the world like Wyat Earp and friend slowly descended, hitched their gunbelts and trousers, spat a couple of times - one to the left the other to the right, sort of "layin' their mark" and snarled
"You alright, Sir....?"
I didn't know if they were talking to me or to "Holler", but since "Holler" was already packing his affairs back into his truck, I guessed they were speaking to me...!
"Yes," I replied, "This gentleman was just giving me a hand to fix the car"
Well....they both looked around themselves, obviously looking for the "Gentleman" I had mentioned, and apparantly not finding him, one of the "Blues Brothers" drawled
"This ain't no good area, Sir, been loads of hold-ups and stuff here..." and carried on "guess we'd better just call up a breakdown trucker and get ya out o' hiyah..."
"Holler" climbed back into his truck, under the suspicious stare of the Sheriffs, refusing my handshake and probably not understanding my words of thanks, and disappeared, still under the hard stares, down the road in his cloud of dust.
That was my one and only brush with the law and order of the State of North Carolina which I was quite happy about...!
I had been almost kidnapped by a big, black mountain man, and rescued by the heroic, modest, white, well armed law enforcers of the Capital city of Raleigh......N. Carolina...!
Yes - they knew their beat better than I did, but "Holler" - apart from his outward appearance, probably had a heart of gold, but I was pleased not to have to put it to the test!
The only thing left for me to do was to enjoy the evening at the bowling alley, true to my motto of "live the American Dream" - I was due to accompany "Buttercup" (the alias used by my brother-in-law when bowling) and my sister downtown to the bowling alley.
I won't harp on about it, but I was a small disaster with the big black bowlin' balls, just as I had been with the big black mountain man, getting my thumb stuck in the hole......... something I hadn't attempted to do with the big, black, mountain man - not being of that "inclination"......all in all a "Big, Black day" in my holiday....................!
On the other hand, I was an exceptional success on the small table full of multi coloured balls, being quite a good snooker player, I found the "Pool" tables too ridiculous...enormously large pockets, tiny little balls, nobody could miss - and I didn't...!
My hosts, thankfully family, so not entitled to "gobstop" me, were impressed - but hurt in National pride and only understood when I told them how Snooker was played....!
So - in the end, honours were even, but I still felt that the Sheriffs had won really, but I just wasn't too sure what they had won!
And we drove back to the homestead, in the settin' sun, and my brother-in-law offered me a beer and a Marlborough - which I refused, pulling out my "stinky" French cigarettes to pestify the back porch....!
I realised I was slowly running out of Gauloises, and I had to start wondering where I was going to find some more in this State of N. Carolina - the biggest tobacco producing State in the US of A........but that's another story.....in part III..........
iwmpop (mr le Marquis) - Vauvert,France - November 2010.
weather at Vauvert, France
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