My American Journey


This is a personal memorandum about my first ever trip to the United States in the summer of 2004 at the age of 68, after a life-time of being interested in, and drawn to, the culture and society of that country, either by cinema or book; a life-time of day-dreaming about visiting that great and most fabulous of countries.
Another factor playing no small part in the dream was a life-long interest in maps and geography. This had started at a very early age, when I used to cycle round London with my grandfather, getting to learn my way around without fear and never feeling 'lost' or frightened at being far from places I knew. Later, this translated itself into a more concrete form when I became - after qualifying and working as an analytical chemist for some years, a London cab-driver and then - as a hobby - learning to fly. Map-gazing had been - and still is - a very real part of my life!
Throughout the years the dream of visiting the U.S. returned every so often but for one reason or another - not least among them, money - the dream never progressed much beyond being just that - a dream. Then, when the dream had virtually faded from even the background of my memory, I met my second wife, Elisabeth.
Elisabeth is originally from Morocco but from the age of about 20, lived in the U.S for 20 years until around 1982, when she moved back to southern France (Montpellier), with two of her now-growing four children. Her own family - siblings and parents - had settled there years previously, some of them in Paris, some - cousins, etc., elsewhere.
The eldest of her children, Randy, had decided in any case to remain in the States and settled in what had been their home town of Muncie, IN. Later, a daughter - Michelle - decided to return to the States and, after a spell in Chicago, moved to the west coast, married, settled eventually in Las Vegas but then moved, with her husband to Phoenix, then to Sierra Vista and latterly to just north of Washington DC.
Also in the States were several cousins and an aunt all of whom had arrived independantly - either through marriage or other reason and lived variously in Los Angeles and Florida. There were also other friends scattered throughout the States apart from those made during her 20 years in Muncie.
As a senior employee of a major international airline, one of her sons enjoyed privileges for family members and as a step-father, it soon became clear that these privileges extended to me also. With that knowledge came the realisation that what had been once a mere, idle dream became a step nearer reality and in the summer of 2004, as the result of a special invitation to Berlin to attend certain ceremonies, we decided to continue on to the States for a visit to get to know Elisabeth's other two children and relatives. The family in France I had already had the pleasure of meeting on two or three previous visits. For months previously, as soon as it became clear that this journey had every chance of becoming a fact I had been studying possible routes, using Terraserver, on the internet, evaluating topography and even examining major urban road intersections for entrances and exits via aerial zoom photos. I was determined to see the United States from zero altitude and not from 30,000 feet or so. With that in view, I had been in touch with several companies or their affiliates dealing in car-ferry services and since our journey was programmed to start at San Francisco, I eventually made a friendly contact with a company office in Hayward, on the east side of the Bay.
So it was, that my passport shows an American stamp for the first time, dated 10 August 2004, at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C. We had to wait on stand-by for several hours for a flight to San Francisco but eventually some time around midnight, we found ourselves taking-off for the west coast. There is little to see from an aircraft at night so after a while I found myself dozing off. I awoke to see far off on the horizon, to the northwest, a haze of light - far too large to be just a small city. I 'guesstimated' it to be Sacramento, and said so to Elisabeth adding, that if so we should very shortly be making a descent for San Francisco. The words were no sooner out of my mouth when I felt the change in the power settings and sure enough we began to descend.
And so it was that for the first time in my life, I found myself walking the streets of the United States of America. My step-son's wife, also an airline employee, was already booked in to an hotel and we took a cab there from the airport. Later that morning when we all awoke, there was a message for me on the mobile phone Elisabeth's son had given us for local use: wonder of wonders - not only was there a car available for us - but it needed to be delivered all the way to Atlanta, Georgia!! Bearing in mind that our eventual destination was Muncie, IN., this was indeed a godsend. Added to that was the fact that the car could not be delivered BEFORE the 20th August, so at first glance it seemed we would even have extra time to sight-see - more than I had hoped for when planning - or so I thought. Treat me not as an innocent with no conception of the distances involved; I was well aware of the awesome landmass of the U.S. but I felt sure that we had just enough time to complete the route I had planned, changing only the last section by having to find a way from Atlanta to Muncie - no big deal!
And so we come to the route.................
As originally planned, we had hoped to drive from San Francisco, to Los Angeles to visit a cousin and then on to Las Vegas to visit Michelle. Then - since we planned to go to Navarre Beach (Pensacola) to visit another cousin, it was clear that we needed to drive south, via the Hoover Dam and Phoenix to Tucson and then eastward on the IH 10 all the way to Pensacola. As I studied the proposed route in greater detail, evaluating the topography for the country we would be traversing, I realised there were many points of interest known to me along the way - to say nothing of the many of which I knew nothing! Clearly, even at the outset in San Francisco, there was Wyatt Earp's grave together with that of his wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Fisherman's Wharf. In Los Angeles there was the 'shrine' of Al Jolson and no power on earth would stop me from paying my respects there! Of course, there were other more mundane and 'secular' places - Universal Studios; Grauman's Chinese Theatre with Al's hands and knee prints - to say nothing of an entire galactic universe of stars - and lots more.
And so our route took shape - Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Benson, Tombstone, Las Cruces, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans - and so on. In fact we would be traversing, one way or the other 13 different states - California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana.
On the following pages you can read my itinerary as I prepared it and wrote it down in preparation for the journey but before you do so I should tell you that we were not able to complete the journey precisely as envisaged simply because by the time we awoke in Tombstone, on the morning of the 18th, it was clear to me that there was no way in which we could visit San Antonio (The Alamo), continue on to Navarre Beach to visit the cousin and still get up to Atlanta by the 20th. I pleaded with the ferry service to allow us an extra day or so but for reasons of insurance this was impossible and so from shortly after El Paso we abandoned the I-10, continuing straight on with the I-20 all the way to Atlanta, Georgia arriving only 3 or 4 hours after the appointed time.
Nevetheless, I had a most wonderful and exciting journey across the States, seeing things I had hardly ever dreamed of seeing and promising myself that - given health and strength and years I shall see yet more.
When you have finished reading the itinerary as planned, you can read the day-by-day diary taken from brief notes written up at the end of each day. There are also a few conventional photographs but unfortunately at the time my video camera was not digital and neither did I have a digital hand camera, so none of the filmed journey can be put on the site - next time!!
 Here you will find the detailed itinerary as it was planned.
And here  all the maps I studied, downloaded and printed out to add to the file I carried with me.
While this link will take you to the day-by-day journal of our journey.

This link will take you to my other, main web site Holy Land Tours