If you came straight to this page, you need to go to part one of this thrilling voyage first, to see what you missed.
One thing that I missed was all the people. I'd never seen so many empty seats on a Transatlantic flight. The 'plane was probably about two-thirds full. Obviously the 80 Euros for a visa and 15 Euros for the 'phone call were having completely the opposite effect to that required. Serve them right.
Or maybe it was because they realised that I was on board and my suspicions about the ultimate destination of this flight were confirmed, and the rest of the passengers had headed for the hills accordingly.
But having criticised United Airlines for the state of the 'plane, it's only fair that I give them the appropriate reward for giving me my vegan meal. Despite the fact that every time I take a 'plane I specify a vegan meal, I rarely get it (and I've never had it with British Airways) so the fact that the catering staff of United can read is worth at least ten points.
And having duly eaten my meals, had a sleep, read my book, visited the sh ... er ... bathroom etc etc., this on the left is landfall North America. In fact, for those of you who don't recognise it, it is the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from 35,000 feet up, and you can still see the snow.
It definitely feels like home when I find myself over here. I just wish it wasn't so flaming cold in winter.
I'd never been to Washington Dulles Airport before, so I didn't know quite what to expect. And I certainly wasn't expecting this. The aeroplanes actually tie up in the middle of the concrete pan, like something out of a bad 1960s film. No danger of them tieing up at the terminal building. For a modern airport, I was quite surprised. Surely we aren't all expected to walk down the steps and into a bus?
Absolutely not! What happens is that something like "War of the Worlds" pulls up, raises itself up on stilts to the height of the aircraft door, and suckers itself to the sides. Then everyone gets into this thing, and it lurches off across the concrete to the terminal. When it arrives, another set of adjustments brings it to the level of the terminal door, it suckers itself on to that, and then disgorges everyone into the building. Weird.
If you click on the image to the left, and look under the control tower, you can see what I mean.
Passport control - well, passport control. And what a wait too. Worse than in Denver 2002. I was, well, all sorts of things. Examined, fingerprinted, photographed, interrogated - even with my 10-year visa for which I had also been Examined, fingerprinted, photographed, interrogated a couple of weeks earlier.
I tell you now - I spent a great deal of time in the 1970s and 80s travelling to eastern Europe and I remember how difficult it was and how long it used to take to cross any of the older borders during the days of the Communist regime. Getting into the USA today is just the same. And for the same reasons too - "National Security". After the USA spent 45 years trying to crush the Soviet regime, I am waiting for some American politician to actually admit that maybe the Communists did have a point.
Good news, is that my visa for 10 years is valid even if I change my passport. I simply bring the old one with me.
Bad news is that they still date-stamp my passport. I don't know if I still only get the 90 days. That could seriously knacker up some of my future plans.
But I learnt something new, too. You have to declare a place of residence on your entry certificate. Often, that's quite difficult for me as I arrive, hire a car, and p|$$ off into the distance until it gets dark, when I stop at the first convenient motel. Can't do that any more. At least - that's what they say.
I explained my predicament to the clerk, and she replied that I had to put down an address, otherwise they won't let me in. But it was the careful, measured, metallic tone in which she said it that aroused my suspicions. I got myself clued in
"Ok. I understand what you are telling me. Next time I come over, I'll put down an address".
So on my travels I equipped myself with a "Motel 6" directory, and I'll swot up before I come over next time. And if anyone else is in the same predicament as I might be, and I'll tell you the address of a Motel 6 within reasonable driving distance of wherever it is you are going. Ho hum.
Customs wasn't so easy, though. They confiscated my pear and banana, although they did let me keep my "Carrefour" honey and nut loaf. Just as well - I was going to need that later on. And that was that. "Into the great wideopen", as Tom Petty would have said.
God gave me travelling shoes
God gave me the wanderer's eye
God gave me a few gold coins
to help me to the other side".
as Simple Minds would have added. And here I was, on the other side. Complete with my few gold coins (well, plastic cards actually, but don't let us get bogged down in trivialities. In any case, we didn't have them for long either), my travelling shoes, and I didn't have them for long either and my wanderer's eyes. I just hoped that the wanderer didn't want them back.
But never mind Tom Petty and his "rebel without a clue". Bearing in mind my legendary schitzophrenia, I suppose I was more like a "rabble without a clue". The nice thing about being schitzophrenic of course is that you always have someone to talk to. I just hope there will enough room for us all in the car. Not, of course like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior in The Cannonball Run
"We're bound to win. After all, God is our co-pilot"
"You fool! Take a look at our car! It's only a two-seater! Where's he gonna sit?"
ON THE OUTSIDE
So having passed through the barriers into Great Satan, next stop was to pick up the hire car. So, outside I stepped to find the courtesy buses. But I had forgotten about air conditioning.
CHEESES! it was roasting outside! I'd come from a cold foggy Europe, an air-conditioned aeroplane and an air-conditioned terminal building, and here outside, it was melting! Off came a lot of my clothes, on went my "Home Depot" baseball cap (silly sod hadn't thought to bring his shades, man!), and I slowly melted while I waited.
Meanwhile, I switched on my phone. Yes, cheap Motorola tri-band, all thanks to
. I've had it a couple of years now, and it's done faithful service in Europe and over here too. Immediately, there was a text message. Paul.
"Have a good time. But remember. They have guns and they voted for Bush"
Good man, Paul. He knows me quite well.
Eventually, the shuttle came. Driver told me that the weather had only been like this for a couple of days. Furthermore, it wasn't going to last swine - he was dead right too.
After a lengthy wait in the car hire office (I was already behind in my schedule now, before I've even started. Nothing changes, and it wasn't going to get any better as time went on), I got myself some wheels. The leaflet I picked up when I reserved the car in Belgium told me that the "economy car" would be either a Hyundai or a Kia. So I pleaded with the guy in charge of the hire desk.
"Any possibility at all that I could have an American car? I haven't really come all this way to drive in a foreign vehicle"
And look what car I got - a Ford Focus! Well, it's got to be better than a Hyundai, hasn't it?
Cue blonde joke
Two blondes walking down a street. One says to the other "Look at that photographer getting his equipment out. I think he's going to focus"
The other one says "What? Both of us?"
First thing I did (well, after putting my cases in the car)? Put on the "Tom Petty". My "financially-challenged" state meant that I was going to have to live like a refugee for this 12 days or so, so I may as well set the scene.
AND OFF WE GO
Getting out of the airport wasn't so easy. Well, I mean it was, if you weren't choosy like I was. You could quickly pick up the toll highway to Washington D.C. It was signposted from absolutely everywhere. But no tolls for me. I was going to go the cheapskate's way. And, of course, it wasn't signposted.
However, my legendary sense of direction soon had heading south on Highway 28,in the direction of Highway 50, where I was to turn eastwards to meet Interstate 66 which would take me to Washington D.C. centre. Yes, I was going to beard the lion in his den. I mean, you can't come all this way and get so close, and not do the touristy bit.
A thought suddenly occurred to me. Here I was, on my way to Washington D.C. It was a good job I hadn't been searched thoroughly at the airport. They would have seen my hand-drawn map of the city centre, with all the points of interest shown upon it and highlighted in orange marker. What on earth would they have made of that?
Drat and double-drat. While I was quietly laughing to myself, I had driven past a sign that proudly announced that there was an Air and Space Museum, and right near to the airport too! I was so late that I didn't have time to stop, turn round, and go to visit it. Must remember for on my way back!
Now, this on the left was a good sign. In more ways than you might think. Firstly, it confirmed that I was on the right road; secondly, it confirmed that my "point and click while you drive" technique hadn't lost any of its old reflexes; and thirdly, it confirmed that I was already in history. Not the Steven Stills type of history, but like real Civil War history with Manassas, First Bull Run, Second Bull Run and the like. And it was here (or hereabouts). If you know anything about my peculiar tastes, you would straight away realise that I was really going to enjoy this holiday!
By the way, look how "Centreville" is spelled. Click on the image to resize it if you can't see. It's evidently the Americans who have forgotten how to spell.
It was starting to get late in the afternoon by now, and I was in some really heavy traffic. First thing I noticed was the number of Japanese cars on the roads in the USA these days. It's a good couple of years since I last was in the States, and I definitely don't remember this many foreign cars. Before I left the USA, I was to hear several news broadcasts about the condition in which GM found itself. Looking at all of this, no wonder!
Another thing I saw was a new Mini. First one in North America. And I was to see plenty more before the trip was over.
Highway 95 was by now packed solid with cars heading into the city (shouldn't they all be heading outwards? This was confusing). The Washington Metro clattered past with alarming precision. My original plan had been to park up and take the metro into the city for the sightseeing, but as I was running late I had decided to press on in the car. I was starting to regret it by now. But after a while I found the 9th Street tunnel which took me onto Interstate 395.
There's a rule about Interstate numbers, by the way and I have talked about this before. Two-figure numbers are traditional Interstates whereas three-figure numbers beginning with an even number denote ring roads, and three-figure numbers beginning with an odd number denote spurs into a city.
And on that note, I came out of the tunnel, and hit the city