Deal or no deal. Chapter 8 Book of the Lion

It’s not that I was threatened by the people on the Greyhound bus, it was more feeling vulnerable with $2000 and $100 of class A drugs in my handbag. THAT makes you vulnerable, especially when the Lion was high on what’s ever the discharge meds were. Prescribed class A drugs are usually better quality than street drugs and of course you get more for your money. This made my handbag bulge rather suspiciously and if I had seen it I would have searched me and the bag. The Lion’s grey pallor also did nothing to detract from our possible criminal status and only served to reinforce the appearance of drug dealers on the run.

I didn’t want to draw attention to us unnecessarily, for all of the above reasons. So I leaned against the window, trying to be anonymous and prayed we made it to Chattanooga unscathed. No one gave the Lion this memo however and so the journey began. On the seat directly opposite us was a young American boy, he wore a navy blue matching basketball vest and shorts, with a while number 5 blazoned across his chest. His hair was neatly shaved and he had a diamond earring in his right ear. He also wore brand new white shin length cotton socks and brand new white sneakers and looked askance at this rather odd couple opposite him. Across his lap he had the most enormous boom box that he hugged with the defiant pride that befits a teenager having spent his entire pocket money on a radical purchase. He was a good looking black boy, with a broad smile oozing charm and fun. “Where y’all from?” He asked to no-one in particular and I stared right ahead. The Lion however said “We’re from Scotland”.

I turned to look at him in disgust, this was not the plan, but the young boy was hooked, firstly he did not understand the accent and so he grew more intrigued by this older couple sitting opposite. We piqued something in him, obviously and so he asked ” where’s that?” he had of course, as we were to learn like many Americans never travelled out with his own country. The Lion tried to explain the geography, but when your whole world is in one place, it is difficult to transfer the idyllic scenery and awful weather in a meaningful way. Every time the Lion spoke the boy hit the boom box in guffaws of laughter. He was clearly amused by the ‘fairy story’ and daft accent he thought the Lion was telling. So a little upset by this the Lion added he had been in hospital in Atlanta and regaled the story of the past few days. This was also interesting to me, given he had been comatose for the whole time and I thought he’d little recollection of any of it.

Before he could continue the young boy, now inching closer to our side of the seat to get an intimate look at this funny accented couple, declared he had just been released from Atlanta Jail. I drew my bag closer to my chest and thumped the Lion in the ribs at the same time, the lad continued that this incarceration was for stealing a car and crashing it following a police car chase. This was a fairly loud conversation and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we were only 10 miles into it. Although everyone would probably have heard this, no-one else looked around. This was clearly not the Edinburgh bus, where the whole bus would have turned to look at who had the audacity and shame to declare they had been recently incarcerated and the actual confidence to openly state this. That is what I love about America, there was his history right there in our face and he had no iota of concern. This says so much positively about social status in America, and I love that equalising confidence at least as it appeared in that moment, however back to our story.

Three seats down, there was a grey curly haired person, wearing a denim jacket facing forward and preventing me from determining their gender. This story had clearly travelled to their ears, he ( because we learned it was a man) placed his arm along the metal railing at the back of the seat and as he turned around we could see diamond earrings in both ears, ( clearly some badge of unity) before saying he too had been in Atlanta Jail and how bad the treatment had been there. ( Had they heard of the Bar-L) The young man reaffirmed this hardship and asked the older man what he’d been in for “dealing narcotics” came his reply and I almost fainted. The handbag was now completely immersed in my stomach as I pulled it tighter and tried to conceal the ‘narcotics’ within.

The conversation switched from all matters relating to Scottish geography to the more familiar territory in Atlanta Jail. The conversation was interesting but it began to develop into background noise as I plotted how we might get off this bus with our drugs and cash intact. The only other passengers were men sporadically spaced out on the remainder of the bus, the large guy occupying the whole seat in front of us was Mexican and a truck driver studying his map planning his next route north. He advised us he’d never heard of Scotland either hence his story was also available to the Lion who was now high on life as well as drugs and chattering unabridged to all in sundry. I remained silent and prayed we arrived soon.

It was now about half an hour into our journey, and the bus was slowly and rather laboriously climbing a rare incline on the interstate. It began to lurch, and stutter, perhaps appalled at the conversation. I looked to the Lion, who knows a thing or two about large vehicles, and he was momentarily distracted from the Jail chat to advise me something was not good with the bus. This funny chugging continued for about another mile or so, when Slim Whitman announced from the cockpit, “Atlanta we have a problem” as the bus limped over to the hard shoulder. We were going nowhere fast. You could not make it up. We sat there lost for words, the panic gaining momentum in my physical response. The Lion was non-plussed but the whole bus was now up off their seats and general mayhem was about to break out. Slim Whitman crunched and pulled at the clutch, the brakes then the steering wheel before he cut the engine and arose from his floating seat. I craned my neck to see what he was attempting next and hoped to god he could fix it.

He opened the door disappearing out alongside the bus while he made a few cursory checks and then got back on board. I realised I wasn’t breathing and took in a sudden gulp of air as Slim announced we had ran out of fuel and he needed to switch tanks. That technical information was lost on me but comforted the Lion as the vehicle sat for a few more moments, made a couple of further lurching noises and then started to roar into life. Within about ten minutes we were on the road again and the bus fell quiet, losing the impetus of great stories as each of us just waited and hoped we would get to our destination………………………………………………………..

Part one of our journey by Greyhound Bus. Chapter 7 Book of the Lion

Greyhound Bus travel was on my bucket list, and since we were now in America, and stranded in Atlanta after the Lion had morphed into a Hyena, it looked like this was going to be a reality. Although well covered by travel insurance, I considered that was purely for his intensive care in Atlanta University Hospital. I drew the line at taking an expensive taxi just to catch up with our pre-booked tour that had left without us and was now some 120 miles away. $350 seemed ridiculously expensive for a taxi and since bus travel presented a cheaper and available option, that was what we opted for.

We had elected to carry cash on this holiday, we were not big on credit card use and since we had no idea when we might get to a bank that had seemed a sensible option. But when we left the hospital, with the Lion in Hyena mode, I felt vulnerable. I clutched my handbag close to my heart, while struggling to manage two wardrobes masquerading as cases and the bewildered, pain-ridden and disorientated Lion. We took a taxi to the bus station and should have become concerned when the taxi driver asked with incredulity “are you taking the bus???”

The bus station was awash with travellers; families and individuals, all ages, ethnicity, shapes and sizes. My senses went into overdrive as I scanned the vast area in an attempt to orientate myself with these unfamiliar surroundings. I spotted a bank of seats where I could safely lodge the Lion while I sought to purchase our tickets and work out which bus we needed to take to Chattanooga. He looked so small I thought as I trundled toward the desk with the two overly large cases. I waited in the queue for about 10 minutes before being called forward by a smartly dressed but intimidating Atlanta woman, scowling at my bags. I asked for two tickets to Chattanooga and she looked as if an alien had just asked her for directions to NASA. She stared at me for what seemed minutes and I panicked that she had mistaken me for a fugitive on the FBI most wanted list, who happened to be my doppelgänger.

It was the bags and the accent that usurped her. After she gathered herself together, she advised that I had to have the bags weighed first and assess whether they had met the criteria for transfer to the bus. A bus I had no ticket for yet, I have to add. The Lady pointed to another desk and asked me to lodge the bags there before returning to her desk to purchase the ticket. I glanced across at another lengthy queue, gave her my finest forced smile and trundled the large cases over to the weigh station. I could feel the tears threatening to spill, but I drew in my breath, glanced at the Lion who was half asleep and hoped no one tried to steal my handbag. After a fashion, 15 minutes to be exact, the baggage handler took my cases only to advise me, unsurprisingly, they were overweight. In order for her to accept them I had to decant items into hand luggage and represent them. In response to my information that I had no hand luggage, she pointed me in the direction of the first desk where I might buy additional bags. Sufficient to say that queue had also filled up again.

I trucked back to the first desk where smarting with frustration at another 10 minute wait, I bought the bag before returning to the weigh in desk decanting knickers and other oversized items into the hand bag. After a further but shorter wait, my lighter cases were finally accepted. I was provided with the required luggage tickets to present for my onward journey and returned to the ticket desk where I finally purchased the bus tickets and some 45 minutes later, returned to the Lion. He was struggling to stay awake and I noticed he had been joined by a young black American boy, who was taking up two seats with his expansive backside and a large red velvet pillow that was totally incongruous with his physique.

Despite my initial reservations and ill placed fears, he smiled at me and asked if the New Orleans bus had left yet. He too a bit vulnerable and uncertain. No sooner had I responded and alerted him to my alien status, I turned to start fussing over the Lion. But was prevented by an announcement “They are getting in Line at Door number 9” which came lilting lyrically over the loudspeaker. This colloquialism brought a smile; a uniquely American phrase, that reminds you that travelling is real, different and so interesting. For a nano second I was lulled into tourist mode, only to crash to reality when the Lion was unable to stand up and walk to the Line. Johnny Cash he was not.

With the help of the rather large American boy, the Lion was frogmarched (getting to be a habit) to the Line and I escorted him to the coach stairs where we had to identify our luggage, match the ticket numbers and acknowledge the HEAVY banner that had been strapped across the buckles.

My first impressions of the greyhound bus was that it was grey. Inside the chairs were plastic and mostly burst with foam spewing out, it was cold and unwelcoming,hardly the bucket list ride I had hoped for. The coach was clean enough, but it was clear that it was pre-loved. I guided the Lion to the mid section and again left him to the aisle seat. Most people were travelling solo and had taken single occupancy of the seat, sitting in the middle to ensure no strangers dared to share it. Some required the whole two seats just to accommodate their bulk. I felt so slim, there were some benefits from this experience at least.

The Driver emerged and walked the length of the bus, I thought he looked like Slim Whitman, with a pencil moustache, slick backed hair, and warm brown eyes. He wore a smart, creased shirt and was impeccably presented with a slim black tie held neatly with a gold pin, belted slacks pressed with knife-edged seams and shoes that shone and sparkled as he navigated the narrow passage of the bus. He quickly checked the toilets at the rear before clearing his throat and loudly declaring in a southern drawl. “This is the finest greyhound bus in the fleet, we will be travelling to Ohio and on my bus I will not tolerate no alcohol, no knives and no narcotics” I tried not to process that information and watched him closely as he thrust himself forward dominating the other passengers, establishing himself as the alpha male, marking his territory and making sure that everyone understood who was in charge. We sat in awe of this entire experience, terrified but somehow strangely safe, as the bus slowly edged its way out of the station……

Off on holiday we go. Chapter 3 Book of the lion

So the first holiday you take as grown ups without your kids is a remarkable moment. It is s coming of age, when you arrive and suddenly make grown up decisions for you and no one else. Most of our holidays had been taken with our kids in mind, we’d gone where they wanted to go, we’d given up on our dreams, or at least put them on hold. Our hopes were also on hold, and just for the peace that’s was necessary when you have teenagers, we made sacrifices without any fuss. All of those holidays had been safe, we had gone to resorts where teenagers had been accommodated, where parents were invisible, until of course we were needed. Holidays where you blended in, merged with the sand, sea and sunshine and somehow managed to have fun in spite of your kids and their demands.

So when they were 17 and 16, and no longer wanting to travel with us, we were delighted. We tried to conceal our joy when we booked a trip to the Deep South of America and curtail our enthusiasm for this was a first for us. This was to be a journey to the musical Deep South, where we could indulge in our love of country, blues and jazz. We were uber excited and two of our then closest friends wanted to join us, what was not to like? It was after all our first grown up holiday. We booked with a company that provided us everything we needed from our dream trip; starting in Atlanta, crusing into Chattanooga before moving into Nashville, down to Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, Baton Rouge then finally Houston. What a trip! we were beside our selves with anticipation and excitement and all without our kids.

The night before we set off we had a bit of a blitzkrieg with our daughter, significant at the time, although now, despite my best efforts I have no idea what it was about, but it was significant enough to upset us both that night. We did not sleep. It just goes to show that arguments with children in their teens are an emotional wrench and although hardly worth reflection there is little doubt we were deeply affected by this hiccup because we cared. So much so, we got up in the morning having not slept a wink, for a five o’clock taxi pick up to head to Edinburgh airport with no joy in our hearts for this trip, rather I have to admit we had heavy hearts that day.

We were travelling British Airways, again the most efficient airline customer service wise. And given what was to confront us on this journey, they were to come to the fore once again. Our flight out of Edinburgh to Gatwick was straight forward and after we had been served our breakfast, some 40 minutes into the flight, our journey suddenly turned into a nightmare. The lion who was in the middle seat, like me was making his way through a majestic scrambled egg with sausage and bacon. I glanced sideways to acknowledge the sublimity of this meal, this trip and our happiness when I noticed he was not enjoying his food. I suddenly became aware of how claustrophobic the space was between the three seats we were contained in. Suddenly, without warning, he put his knife and fork down on the tray, and in an instant his eyes rolled in his sockets as he fell backwards into the headrest and turned grey.

My observations were informed by my experiences and the pace of my thoughts had little concern for reality. I immediately thought he had had a stroke. Then I noticed his parlour a pale grey, and thought he had died. I wondered fleetingly where dead people went on a plane. These were flashing thoughts because at the same time I was panicking, I was pushing the button to alert the air hostess. I was screaming silently for help and noticed immediately that the hostess thought I was just seeking more coffee. She looked toward me with disdain but I slowly raised my arms, started waving and my face communicating that this wasn’t a request for coffee but an urgent need for her assistance. All of this while I was calculating where dead bodies might go on the plane.

The outer seat passenger was tucking into his breakfast totally unaware of the drama unfolding before him. When the air hostess arrived with oxygen in hand she dragged him out of his seat without the slightest concern for the progress of his consumption of his breakfast. With a single but swift manoeuvre he was launched into the aisle in shock. So slick was her actions he had no time to absorb what was happening, By the time this response and immediate reaction had take place the Lion was taking a deep breath and with all the effort of the flick of an electronic switch he came to life suddenly, totally unaware of the drama he had created. I was immobile stuck in the corner when this drama unfolded. I could do nothing to inform those around me about what was happening, I could not share with them that I thought he had died. I had to stay put as people were displaced, and while his life was re-ignited I knew suddenly our trip was in jeopardy. The captain was in control of what happened next. I was looking at the lion wondering what had just happened, grateful he was alive and watching those around us who were preparing to land oblivious to anything we had endured on this journey.

The lion started to perspire, slurred his speech and was disorientated. Oh my god he’s had a stroke I thought and my holiday dreams as a couple and not parents, flashed before me…………………….

Dramas with Dirhams in Dubai. Chapter 1 Book of holiday dramas

A Facebook post this week reminded me of our eventful trip to Dubai in November 2013. It’s really no coincidence that we take holidays in November, it is our wedding anniversary as I have previously intimated. As we couldn’t afford a honeymoon in 1982 every year since I try to organise a holiday masquerading as the honeymoon we never had. We have had a few interesting trips over the years and not always abroad. But if you go in November and you want sunshine you do have to go a bit further to get it and Dubai appeared to deliver that.

I had never been to the Middle East and, as Dubai was enjoying a period of popularity as a holiday destination, it was an easy decision. I made plans and booked our trip some 6 months ahead for November. I was so excited to be staying in Festival City and travelling Emirates for the first time. For me it was an exotic, untested adventure for us and one that promised romance, mystique and intrigue. For my husband; he was not an explorer, he was non-plussed, not one for demonstrating his emotions, instead he prefers to humour my childlike excitement and anticipation for the trip. However on reflection given all the dramas we have experienced perhaps it’s more likely that he’s quietly speculating what calamity will befall us this time (note the choice of tense).

In a totally separate but connected incident the mermaid put my driving licence in between a space in the floorboards a few weeks before we travelled, and unless we wanted to lift the floor ( which we had to do two years later) I had to apply for a new one. I went on-line, but unfortunately it was early in my silver surfing career and I was not aware of the Google algorithms that would prioritise services for me. Hence it was that I was guided to a site, similar to the Government site, but where you had to pay money for what was in essence a free service. I was reasonably far into this application, including having given my credit card details to pay for what was free, when it crashed and everything was lost.

This alerted me to a potential fraud and misappropriation of my visa credit card, so my next move was to cancel that. Now I was more than a little frustrated by this techno failure but cancelling the credit card took that to an entirely a different level. It was an automated system (non-human) requiring you to speak, fine, except it did not speak Scottish (most of them don’t). Despite using my best rolling r’s accent (received pronunciation) I continued to flummox the computer persona, unable to make any progress with the process, and as I was already frazzled I discontinued the call (threw the phone away) half way through.

I didn’t hear another word from them, and having calmed down sufficiently to make rational decisions, I determined that since the process had failed my card was still active. The card details did not appear to have been compromised so I was going to forget about cancelling it.

The next two weeks flew past, and soon it was time to head off to Dubai. When we arrived at the airport we were immediately approached by a man offering to taxi us to our hotel. Although we later became suspicious of him, when he took us to his car in the car park, we initially judged him harmless and threw in our cases and got in the back. Nothing about this vehicle looked like a taxi, there was no meter, it was sparkling clean (should have been a clue), but lacked any safety or regulatory notices. Our hotel was only a five minute drive from the airport so despite nervously exchanging glances and holding onto our hand luggage just that little bit tighter, we made a timely and safe arrival.

When he charged us 100 Dihram I contemplated whether that was bit too much, but to be honest we were more relieved we hadn’t been slaughtered or kidnapped by this random individual posing as a taxi driver. What a start to our holiday… I was immediately distracted by this absolutely fantastic hotel; splendour and glamour emanated from within the Lobby, which was a vault of statement, stature and style. It was midnight and although there was an absence of guests, clearly staff were still milling around in numbers and smartly whisked our cases off to the desk and corralled us into the reception

Exhausted from the travelling, overwhelmed by the Lobby and relieved we had our lives intact, we prepared to check-in. I provided our details and waited, taking in our palatial surroundings I noted it was almost 1230am. We waited, then the desk clerk went off to find the night manager ( sorry, it was not Tom Hiddleston). He arrived and while we continued to wait, both of them were transfixed by a screen, muttering in Arabic, and then making another call which had the effect of summoning a woman. Half an hour passed while all three continued to stare at the screen, before finally informing me that our booking had been cancelled. Flabbergasted, but ready for retaliation I proudly produced the email confirmation. This created further palaver and to-ing and fro-ing, all the while being reassured that everything would be fine. Then suddenly to a cacophony of 1000 apologies, we were allocated our room, our anxiety palpably disappearing momentarily. ” We just need your credit card” and I handed it over.

We did not have many Dirhams with us, and had planned to rely on using our credit card to savour many of the treasures that Dubai had to offer. But that was until the manager advised me it had been cancelled……………………