Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Going Away
(This was originally an email to my kids describing my arrival in America. My son, Mad, suggested that he put it on his website as the start of a blog and it now forms the first of many articles that constitute the Journal. These are scattered throughout the blog amongst other articles on more general thoughts, reminiscences and fiction. To make it easier to navigate should you wish to read the Journal as a book [which it is intended to be in the end], I have put links at the end of each article to take you to the next Journal article.)

I have come to the conclusion that everything happens to me when I travel
alone. This time it all began before I even started the hop across the
pond. I was not surprised when the Delta Airlines people told me they had
no record of my booking, nor was I totally astounded when eBookers too
denied all knowledge of me.

The real surprise was that Delta managed to get me a seat on the flight
anyway - surely a sign that good fortune smiled on me. The fact that I had
to pay twice as much for my ticket as I did originally was a mere footnote
to this brilliant light upon my journey.

Now, I'm a simple, trusting soul and so, when Mad, Judy and I sat for a few
minutes to await my departure and I noticed a booth nearby advertising
services to assist the less sprightly to the plane, I decided to avail
myself of the tendered facility. I was told that all I had to do was to go
through to the transit concourse and help would appear in the shape of "the
gentleman over there". Why, at that moment, did I begin to doubt?

After progressing through the security arrangements (much more interesting
these days - I decided straight away that, rather than emptying my pockets I
would cut things short by sending my coat through the x-ray machine), I
arrived in the concourse. Of course, there was no sign of the gentleman who
had been pointed out to me earlier and I resolved to attempt the journey to
the gate on my own. Thus began a long and arduous plod that was later to
prove a mere taster for the horrors to follow.

Gatwick, it seems, has tired of being the poor cousin to its mighty
neighbour, Heathrow, and has embarked upon the true endeavour of all
international airports, the attempt to get the passengers to walk longer
distances than they will ultimately be carried on their chosen flight. It
was a long way to my assigned gate. Of course, British airports are not the
real masters in this endeavour since they provide moving sidewalks that
carry one along at a sedate but leg-saving pace. This fact alone saved me
and it was in only a generally exhausted state that I arrived, on time, at
my designated gate.

Here I was able to rest for a while, the new security arrangements being the
main source of entertainment for the assembling passengers. They do
spot-check searches on passengers these days and the chosen few who are
allowed straight through (I was one - lady luck had not entirely deserted
me) can sit and watch the discomfiture of later arrivals being asked to
remove their shoes. A note here for any aspiring airline passengers - make
sure to wear decent socks for your journey.

The time came for embarkation and this went fairly smoothly, apart from the
fact that they fill the plane from the front, thereby ensuring that one has
to squeeze down the aisle with one's oversize hand luggage, bumping elbows
and shoulders as one goes. The chorus of sorries must be deafening on any
plane leaving a British airport.

I found my seat (a window adjacent, just as promised by the esteemed Delta
Airlines) and squeezed past my travelling companion - a mahogany-haired,
prim-looking lady in her mid forties, I would guess. After some work on my
part, I was able to persuade this lady that I was not quite as disreputable
as I looked and we eventually formed a working relationship in our comments on flying, airline meals and destinations (she was going to Mobile, Alabama, of all places). But I get ahead of myself.

The plane took off in the usual manner of these days (hurtling down the
runway and then lifting into the air at an impossible angle, the wheels
thumping into their sockets when we were only inches off the ground) and we
were off into the clouds. The clouds were there, of course, to ensure that
I was unable to follow our progress across the green face of England in a
last salute to home. When they parted at last, we were miles out over the
Atlantic and heading (so the pilot maintained) on a more northerly route
than usual in order to avoid bad weather.

It was probably only a couple of hours or so before I saw the coastline of
the new world approaching. Soon the oh-so-familiar barren wastes of
Labrador were inching past under our wings. Two hours later those wastes
were still inching their way past. In all that expanse I saw one road and
no habitation. Canada goes on forever. An hour later I was beginning to
think that we were flying in circles, the only indication of our steady
progress being that the lakes and forests get larger the further south one

Then at last the rectangular fields of North America arrive and, shortly
afterwards, the impossibly huge expanse of the great lakes. On the far
shore the neat and prosperous plains of the midwest stretch to the misty
horizon. And so it goes: over the vast fields of Ohio and Kentucky until
suddenly there beneath us appear the most beautiful mountains I have ever
seen, blue with distance and the mist boiling up in the valleys so that the
peaks seem like whales breaching upon an ephemeral sea. I heard someone say "the Appalachians" yet felt sure that I was seeing the Smokey Mountains of hallowed fame.

Then we are decelerating and descending to Atlanta within its great bowl in
the heart of the ranges. Mile upon mile of American city we passed over,
the geometric roads marking out the tidy suburbs and then, as we banked on
final approach, in the distance, the towering skyscrapers of the city's

So I came to Atlanta, the dread of all airline passengers everywhere, the
true test of a migrant's stamina. Atlanta Airport has been described to me
as huge, vast and endless, yet these words do not begin to illustrate the
true misery of the place. Its distances match the eternal wastes of that
Canada I had so recently said goodbye to. Yet I was prepared. I had heard
the tales and girded my loins for the ordeal ahead. How was I to know that
my preparations were in vain when contrasted to the reality of what lay
ahead? Atlanta Airport is the southerners' revenge for General Sherman's
burning of the town during the Civil War.

Once off the plane all casual acquaintances of the voyage were immediately
abandoned in the frantic race for the queues at immigration. Race, did I
say? Not I - forewarned, I reined in my pace and allowed others to trot
ahead. After several trips up and down escalators and along endless halls,
when my legs were beginning to protest at the impossibility of further
endeavour, I spied the incredible sight of three wheelchairs and attendants
approaching from the other direction. I resolved to ask their assistance.
Yet they were travelling fast and had almost passed when I cried out to the
last one, " Oh, excuse me, can you tell me if it is much further to
immigration?" What a talent I have for asking the wrong question at the
wrong time. As they pressed on with their journey, they yelled out to me
that it was "just around the next corner". I already knew that the next
corner lay somewhere off in the blue distance down the vast hall in which I
lay becalmed. But it was too late; they pressed on with all speed towards
their unlikely goal and I was left to stagger on towards the mirage.

Of course, after a few rests, I did eventually arrive at immigration to find
a large hall with several queues already formed before the desks. I suppose
it was inevitable that the shortest queue should be the furthest from me but
I gathered the last of my strength and set off towards it. As I plodded
slowly on, late arrivals continued to stream past so that, when I finally
arrived, my chosen queue was one of the longest. Needless to say, I did not
bother to change horses, preferring to look upon this as a welcome
opportunity for my legs to recover.

I looked at my watch - forty-five minutes to go before my connecting flight
was due to leave. Enough, surely, even though the queue was moving slowly.
Yet the time ticked away and each person was so slowly dealt with that I
began to worry. Half an hour to go and still five or six people ahead of

Then the pace picked up and, with twenty minutes left, I was at the head of
the queue. The immigration officer was abnormally kind, even offering
suggestions as to how best to ensure my acceptance as a permanent resident, then I was off once again, this time in search of the baggage claim department. I do not need to tell you that this was another long walk but I made it and claimed my luggage with ten minutes to go to departure time. Then it was on to the connecting flight desk, for once fairly close and very
speedily dealt with, so that my luggage, at least, would make the flight.

Another good walk brought me to the entrance to the transit area where my
hand luggage and jacket made its usual journey through the x-ray machine. I asked how far it was to the departure gate, B7 as I'd been told by the connecting flights desk. "Oh, no problem," I was advised, "There's a train."

So on I went, up hill and down dale (well, OK, escalator) until I arrive,
with five minutes still to go, at the platform for the trains. But where
are the trains? There seems only to be a series (a long series at that) of
holes in the wall covered by little doors with windows in them. When these
doors open I realize that they are in fact the train. The signs are so
confusing (no mention of gates to the planes) that, once again, I am forced
to ask a nearby airport employee. She tells me that I'm in the right place
- all I need to do is enter through the doors. So I do. Then she yells to
me - yakkety, yakkety, blah, blah. I can't decipher her words through the
hissing noise the train is making. "Pardon?" I say in true Brit manner.
"Yakkety, yakkety, blah, blah," she repeats. I just can't make out what
she's saying so am forced to leave the train and ask again. Now she becomes agitated, obviously concerned that the train will leave without me (as indeed was I). "No, no, get back on the train," she urges and, once I'd
complied, she comes over and says, "The train will stop at D, C and then B,
so it's the third stop you need". I thank her and commit this useful
information to memory. As the door closes prior to my departure, I read the
notice just above it. This train will stop at D, C and B it says.

And it all turned out just as they had said - in very little time I find
myself at station B, wondering where I go from here. I study the signs,
looking for a clue. The only gates mentioned are T gates, whatever they may
be. There is a moving sidewalk nearby that seems to offer an acceptable
route to these T gates so once again I set off. In time I realize what T
stands for - it's Train you dummy.

So I turn around and start heading back. Halfway there I pass a group of
airline employees. They assure me that the gates to the planes are up the
escalator I can see, just opposite where I disembarked from the train. No
sign above it, of course - Atlanta knows all the tricks.

At the top of the elevator I am confronted with Atlanta's finest achievement
- a hall so long that its furthest extremities are shrouded in the blue
mists of distance. For a moment I had the foolish hope that gate 7 might be
closer to this end of the far-flung vista. My hopes were dashed as I saw
the sign above the first gate: B29.

I have three minutes to drag my aching legs along the greatest distance I
have contemplated in many a long year. Even if I manage this impossible
task, the likelihood is that I shall be too late - if the plane leaves on
time, it will be revving up just as I arrive at the gate.

And so it proved. I cannot begin to describe the agony of forcing my legs
to keep moving, however slowly, along that endless hall. It is only
incredible to me that I arrived exactly on time, 6:08pm, at gate B7. Of
course, it was deserted. Looking outside, I could see my plane, still
attached to its umbilical cord but cut off from me by an empty desk and a
closed door. Over the tannoy some helpful (or sadistic) announcer informs
me that the next Delta flight to Dallas leaves at 6:45pm from gate A21.
Gate A21? If I set off NOW (which I cannot do - my legs are finished) I'd
have difficulty in getting there on time.

And then the miracle happens. From a door adjoining the door to the plane
an airport employee emerges. I seize upon him and explain my predicament.
He goes to the computer and starts looking to see if he can get me on the
next flight. And then he notices that we share a surname. Now, understand,
he was a man of colour (indeed, dear reader, he was black) but he rallied to
the Allen flag as only a true Allen could. In seconds he was on the phone
to the plane. Could they wait until I staggered onto the plane? Indeed
they could. And I was ushered through to my seat, the last man at the last
minute. Oh happy day.

I should explain an interesting little side track at this point. When I
reached my seat, I tried gamely to stow my hand luggage (a bag weighing at
least as much as a well-fed elephant) in the overhead compartments but
others had been there before me - there was no room at the inn. Becoming
impatient, a stewardess took the bag from me and advised that she would
"check it in". The end of this particular little side track comes much
later, in Dallas - be ready.

These internal American flights are quite interesting. They are like
British buses in that the passengers are almost all commuters, so used to
air travel they are; and the planes are worn with constant use and swift
turn-arounds. Here is the true America, for few indeed are the tourists and
holiday-makers of international flights - one's fellow passengers are
generally tired after a long day's work and are silent in their exhaustion
and lack of interest in the scenery they overfly. I sit next to a
well-dressed black man reading the Atlanta Financial Gazette and we exchange a few words after my weak joke about how it surprises me every time that these lumps of metal can fly. We agree that we'll not tell the other
passengers about how nature's laws are being offended against and then lapse into silence again. Through the window I can see the red haze of dusk settling on the vastness that is continental America.

In the dark of night we arrive over Dallas, that endless landscape of fairy
lights strewn as far as the eye can see in the blackness. As we land I
recognize enough for me to feel almost that I am home, so often have I
visited this airport.

Dallas distances too cannot compare with the mighty Atlanta - it is very
quickly that I find myself standing by the carousel, waiting for my luggage
to trundle past (well, all right, there WAS a minor problem in that I
arrived at the wrong carousel the first time around and then found that it
was impossible to get back through the revolving doors - but this was a
minor matter when compared to the grim extremes of Atlanta's torture).

Dying for a cigarette, I eye the doors to the outside longingly - but resist
the temptation, knowing that I'd find it impossible to get back inside
again, forever separated from my luggage. Then a stewardess is at my side,
enquiring if I was the guy who'd been last on the plane at Atlanta. I
confirm her suspicions and she tells me that they stowed my bag in a closet
on the plane - it's been put on the carousel and should reach me at any
moment. I thank her and move forward to intercept the adventurous luggage, any chance at a sneaky cigarette now definitely blown away.

It arrives and, shortly afterwards, the rest of my luggage. I load myself
up like a pack donkey and make my painful way outside (noting, of course,
that the doors open both ways so I COULD have nipped outside and still made it back in time to meet my luggage). Dallas airport is the same outside as all airports - a reception area where passengers come and go, a dual carriageway road and then a car park stretching into the distance.

I step to one side and light up that first cigarette after the long drought.
A man in a dark suit and white shirt (no tie) comments on my impressive
array of luggage and we get to talking. He is the archetypical Texan, with
an accent so broad and true it is only my long experience of western movies
that enables me to understand about half of what he says. I have no idea
whether he understood a word of my replies but it doesn't seem to matter and we spend a few minutes reflecting upon the vagaries of air travel and the meeting of relatives at the other end. I think his problem was that his
son-in-law was to pick him up but hadn't specified whether he'd be in the
pick-up or the saloon or whatever other vehicle cowboys drive. I become
aware that he's had a few drinks on the plane and understand how this must
make it even more difficult for him to pick out his ride from the horde of
pick-ups passing by. We sympathise with each other, two lost souls at the
end of our journeys yet with nowhere to rest our heads. My romantic imagination insists
that he must be from Lubbock but I don't think he ever confirmed this.

I finish my cigarette and we part, him to continue with his vigil, me in
search of a phone booth inside the terminal. And, at last, I see the little
lady, advancing towards me from the direction of the carousel. We meet amid questions of how we'd managed to miss each other and then she is gone again, to fetch the rest of the greeting party. On my being pointed out to him,
Ridge exclaims, "What, that hippy?" It turns out later that he'd seen me
talking to my cowboy friend but dismissed me as just too disreputable to be
the right one.

And so to the car (a huge Honda MPV with sliding doors that whoosh into
place when touched) and the journey to the motel. This takes a while but
I'm too tired to notice. We have the usual kerfuffle with a key that
doesn't work but Kathy sorts this out with the front desk and we are
accommodated at last.

The next morning Margie and Ridge arrive and we follow them to the Cracker
Barrel at Denton. It is as I remember it (all Cracker Barrels follow the
same layout) and we have a breakfast fit for kings. Then a quick goodbye
and we're on the road north, north to the Red River and Oklahoma! The
exclamation mark is necessary for anyone who has seen the show of the same name.

As we near Lawton, I realise that we are on the prairie. When I was in
Kansas City, what I had asked to be shown was the prairie - now I'm going to live on it. I find out, too, that Lawton is attached to Fort Sill, a place that looms large in the history of the Comanche (indeed, Lawton is in
Comanche County of Oklahoma) and, somehow, this all seems apposite and
appropriate (I became interested in the Comanche when I found out that they killed more palefaces than any other tribe - this led me to buy a book on their history).

For the moment, we stay with Larry and Tracey and their two charming
daughters, Emma (6) and Rachel (7 months). The house is beautiful, built of
brick yet still with a wooden shingle roof. It is, shall I say, extensive
in comparison with English houses but those who remember Africa will know
what I mean. The yard (not garden, please note) is open at the front and
fenced at the back.

Lawton is a typical Midwest town, gloriously spendthrift in its use of space, extending for ordered geometric miles in all directions but, hey, if
you have the space, why not use it? For these are truly African spaces - it is hours between towns of any appreciable size and in between there is very little but space, miles and miles of prairie.

The roads are surprisingly bad - America is renowned for doing things in a
big way and the state of the roads is no exception. There are cracks in the
tarmac that could swallow whole families of British potholes, bumps and
ridges that forever give the lie to the prairies being flat. This is a result of the extremes of climate here and poor Oklahoma does not have the money to keep ahead of the damage.

To British eyes, the place is wonderfully clean. The traffic is sedate
(even so, we found an accident where several cars had contrived to rear-end
each other) and the shops (oops I mean stores) are plentiful and always

The people, of course, are delightfully open and welcoming. An old,
pessimistic Brit like me feels like an imposter living amongst them. They
seem to like me, however (perhaps it's because I talk funny), and, who
knows, in time I might learn to be as unselfconscious as they are.

Kathy and I have already been out house-hunting and have found a few that we could afford. And I prepare to hawk my book around the various publishers. Life is good.

(to go to the next Journal entry, click here)


I am gripped! I shall continue to read this journey once I figure out what all the big words mean =S...
Date Added: 27/11/2004

Bubaker (Mad)
Heh! Glad you like it Smebb. WD1 will always tell you the big words... lol
Date Added: 27/11/2004

I'm homesick all over again! Can't wait to hear about, "the holidays". Please don't forget to tell all about the outlandish and over the top light displays!
Date Added: 15/12/2004

One of these days, Clive, I will come to Oklahoma to see these wonderous sites of which you speak. My imagery of the state is limited to grotesque Tusla. Until then, however, I will faithfully attempt to catch up on all these fabulous posts that I have never before read.
Date Added: 09/01/2005

Gone Away
Oh I didn't think Tulsa was that bad, Actress. ;) But I hope you enjoy the posts. They are actually a Journal that was started by an email to my kids - it was my son, Mad, who suggested continuing with the intention of ultimately having a book that might be worth pubklication.
Date Added: 09/01/2005

I've decided to go through your site from beginning to end. - Please stop posting for 3 weeks or so or I'll never catch up... Thanks - Paul - GBYAY -
Date Added: 09/05/2005

I've decided to go through your site from beginning to end. - Please stop posting for 3 weeks or so or I'll never catch up... Thanks - Paul - GBYAY -
Date Added: 09/05/2005

Gone Away
You're a brave man, Paul. ;) But stop posting? I think this is like a runaway train - it's out of control and I can't stop it!
Date Added: 09/05/2005

Pretty Moon
Welcome to Oklahoma! I live in Oklahoma City. I happened upon your journal and was intrigued. I will read more!. By the way, my son and his father are champion fancy feather dancers. I can get you a pow wow schedule if you want. I love the way you write.
Date Added: 18/07/2005

Gone Away
Thank you, Moon - both for the welcome and the compliment on my writing. I love those fancy feather dances! But that tells me you must have read the post on the Rattlesnake Ceremony I attended - my wife and I have just returned from a visit to Tahlequah and I will be posting about our visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center in the near future. I never expected to be drawn into Native American culture as it seems I am but I find it fascinating.
Date Added: 18/07/2005

Those mountains you saw? They are also known as the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as the Appalachian Mountains. They are my home. The "Almost Heaven" that Bob Denver sang about. You might be interested to know that the oldest versions of British ballads and folk songs have been found in those mountains. The folks who inhabit them are the descendants of folks who came to the US from the mountains of Europe. They looked for land that looked like home and they found it. But it was so out of the way and transportation was so poor that they were then pretty much isolated. And the result was that the songs they brought with them were handed down pretty much as they arrived.
Date Added: 13/11/2005

Gone Away
Fascinating stuff, Isay, and thanks for pointing it out. In my article, Bluegrass in Duncan, I have looked briefly at the origins of the music of the Appalachians and come to the same conclusions as you. What is really interesting is that the earliest versions of British folk songs were saved in those mountains - without that, there would never have been a revival of folk music in Britain.
Date Added: 13/11/2005

Wayne Shannon
This must be how Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato felt when they stumbled upon the idea of staking a claim at the Kimberly diamond pipe. I sincerely hope you don't mind if I read them all, one at a time.
Date Added: 25/11/2007

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