Over the past few weeks, lots of my more hard working friends have been jetting off for well earned holidays. A month travelling around the Far East, a luxury villa in Tuscany, even an around the world cruise. None of these trips, however, have made me regret my choice not to work full time. That’s because I have learned a thing or two over the years and, one of the things that I have learned, is that you never know which trips are going to be the ones that stay with you forever. It could just as easily be that weekend in Margate as the month in Thailand.
I have enjoyed some wonderful travelling experiences but there is one that surpasses all others as the most memorable and probably not for the reasons you might imagine. It took place while I was studying in Texas. I had already visited lots of places in Texas; Austin, San Antonio, Houston, all amazing cities which I would recommend to anybody. I’d been to Florida and New Orleans which also had their good points. By the time my sister decided to fly out for the Christmas break then, funds were running low. We didn’t let that stop us though and made arrangements to travel to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles using the Greyhound Bus service.
The tone of the trip, in hindsight, was in evidence from the moment we climbed aboard a bus, that was so packed full, we had no chance of sitting together. My sister sat up front next to a woman with a baby and I had to go right to the back next to a seemingly inoffensive man. All was well until, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, we were stopped by Border Patrol officials. As they boarded the bus, demanding to see everyone’s identification, I could sense the man next to me getting twitchy. But, to be fair, watching the unsmiling, uniformed officials moving their way down the bus, I was getting a bit nervous myself.
Clutching my passport in anticipation I had to wait while they focused their attention on my by now, clearly got something to hide, companion. I’m not sure what happened next; it was all a bit of a blur. One minute I was sitting down, the next I was being hauled out of my seat, passport flying in one direction, bag in the other. I was shoved unceremoniously out of the way whilst the fugitive was dragged kicking and screaming from the bus.
I was totally traumatised but, once the man had been dragged off, the entire bus went back to snoozing and reading as though nothing had happened. I clearly remember catching sight of my sister’s face up front as she laughed like a drain at my own personal horror show. She did get her comeuppance though, a few stops down the road, when the bus stopped for a short bathroom break. By this time I was next to a nice granny who was crocheting clothes for dolls (strangely it didn’t seem odd at the time but my previous seat mate had been a wanted fugitive). The bus started up again and I became aware of a furore at the front. Looking up, I saw my sister bellowing for the driver to stop, holding a small baby aloft.
What followed was over an hour’s delay as the police had to be called to deal with the abandoned child. The mother had asked my sister to watch it while she went to the bathroom but she never came back. The police theory was that she must have decided to abandon it and, tragic as that may be, the hilarious bit is that she abandoned it to the care of my sister; the least maternal woman in the entire universe. The look of abject terror on her face as she thrust the baby in the general direction of the bus driver can still make me laugh out loud.
We eventually got to Las Vegas the day before Christmas Eve. We had assumed that because it was in the desert it would be really hot and dressed accordingly. We arrived to sub zero temperatures with not a jacket between us. Thank God for the abundance of thrift shops that we found. I got the best fake fur coat ever and it broke my heart to have to leave it behind but it was just too cumbersome to carry.
The week we spent in Las Vegas was amazing, primarily because it was totally deserted. It was Christmas 1982 and everybody had gone home for the holidays. We got upgraded to the most luxurious room I have ever seen before or since and the waitresses in the hotels couldn’t give us enough food. Christmas Day was completely surreal as everything was open but there was nobody around; just a few hard core gamblers and the people who worked there. As practically the only visitors we couldn’t have been treated better if we had been royal dignitaries.
After a week we moved on to LA and there were several more bus incidents but by then we were veterans and barely batted an eye. It was strange leaving our bubble behind but, other people had started arriving anyway, and it was already beginning to feel different; less ours. LA was great but nothing could compare to that week we spent in Las Vegas.
All these years later, when people ask what my favourite place is, they are usually shocked when I say that Las Vegas has to be on my list. I suspect though that our experience was unique which is why I have never wanted to return. I’m too scared that it would spoil a wonderful memory. My advice to anyone then would be, if the prospect of a trip comes your way, take it. Don’t imagine that you know how it’s going to turn out because places have an uncanny way of surprising you.