Looking Up

“I like to be in America!
Okay by me in America!
Everything free in America
For a small fee in America!”


When we were kids there was a programme called Record Breakers on the BBC every Friday evening after school, and before tea. It featured Roy Castle presenting people that held Guinness World Records, and regular attempts to break records live in the studio. They would also show pre-recorded clips from the US of weird and wacky records, and that segment was always introduced with the song ‘America’ from Westside Story , chorus featured above.

That song always plays in my head whenever I’ve been travelling to the US, with visions of the Empire State , the Beastie Boys, and Cadillacs

The first time we went as a family, Mum, Dad, John, Stephen  and I , we travelled to Las Vegas for a footwear trade fair. Everything was spectacular ! We stayed in the Aladdin, where all the staff dressed  like characters from A Thousand And One Arabian Nights. The shopping mall in the hotel was decorated like a Moroccan bazaar , where it rained every 15 minutes in the middle.

When I went back to Las Vegas a few years later the whole hotel was gone, demolished and replaced by Planet Hollywood.

But my abiding memory of that first trip was the return journey home. Our flight from Las Vegas to New York was at 7.00am, and Mam wanted to be early so we could get a relaxed breakfast in the airport before we flew.  It had only been five months since 9-11, so airport security was at it’s peak, and five passengers all travelling together with the same surname meant we got extra special attention checking in. Our luggage was all searched in front of us, and everyone else, before we could hand it to the check-in staff. This made us late for the flight, we were almost the last ones aboard , and hadn’t even had a bottle of water.

We were all sitting in different rows on the plane. I was in the middle seat in my row. A lady was already asleep against the window, snoring, and I hoped that the seat beside me would remain free so that I could move over. Just as they started to close the doors a giant guy made it aboard carrying a weird case and the biggest sandwich I’d ever seen in my life. He sat beside me. The case contained a fluffy little yappy type dog, which he placed under the seat in front of him. He nodded ‘hello’ smiled and then started into his sandwich. I’d never seen anyone bring food on board before and was concerned that he’d ruin his appetite for the meal we’d be getting soon, when the plane took off.

The plane sat on the runway for an hour. I was starving and also now panicking that we’d miss our connecting flight to Dublin in New York. It finally took off and after only a few minutes the stewards started to move their trolleys down the cabin. My row mate was now feeding the last of his sandwich to the fluffy yappy dog, and he looked at me and I realised that I was staring and drooling.

“Want some ?” he said offering me the tail end of what I was later told was a foot long Hogie.

“No thanks.”

The trolleys were moving at a snail’s pace.

I thought they’d never get to me.

When they did the lady handed me a coffee and a large biscuit.

“When are we getting breakfast ?” I asked politely.

“This is it ,Sugar.” The steward replied.

“Can I buy a breakfast , or any food ?”

“No Sugar, this is all you get.”

Before I could say thanks, my tummy grumbled loudly.

“Bless.” My row mate and the steward said in unison. He rummaged in his pockets and handed me a Snickers bar, and the steward went off and came back with a can of Coke and 5 more large biscuits.

I cried….and devoured every last crumb.

Five hours later we landed in New York, late again , and rushing to make the Aer Lingus flight. We settled into our seats and 30 minutes later the Aer Lingus angels came around with a full Irish breakfast, orange juice, wheaten bread, sausages, bacon, egg, and black and white pudding.

I think it’s the most divine meal I’ve ever had in my whole life !

My Soulmate and I have been to the States a number of times since then, but never together. Our trips have separately included getting hit over the head with a pool cue when winning a $100 bet, got on the wrong plane in Charlottesville ,seeing my brother Stephen being challenged to a duel by an elderly man with a magnificent moustache, having a trip in a gondola in a mock Venetian canal, drove an M1 Abrams tank ,being wined and dined in a 5 Michelin starred sushi restaurant, attending the Annual Tuscon Women’s Roller Derby Awards, driving a US$3.4 million CAT 797 Quarry Truck, received a marriage proposal ,giving a talk in Nashville titled ‘I Hate Nashville’, watching Ray cry in the Johnny Cash Museum and hoping he didn’t see me cry, praying that AnnaMarie would make the cut off in the Barkley Fall Classic, and laughing out loud when someone in a bar in Montana said they were a creationist, thinking they were joking, but they weren’t, and they weren’t alone.

Extra double bonus points for guessing which ones belong to whom …..

A few months ago my Soulmate spotted a post about a group of funky people called The Good Glow Project who were organising a trip to New York to run in the half marathon on St.Patrick’s Day and we decided that it sounded fun.

And, so , as you read this , that’s where we are, together, wandering, looking up.

Happy St.Patrick’s Day !



P.S. Sad to hear this week that Karl Wallinger passed away. We saw him live twice, in the Waterboys and then in World Party. This was always a favourite, ‘Is It Like Today ?’

Author: paul

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