Strange how some things lodge themselves in the memory and others -- perhaps far more important -- lose every trace in the mists of the past. When Pamela and I left New York by Greyhound to stay for the week or so preceding the con with Don Ford and his family in Ohio, we could not help the feeling that we were once again leaving civilisation and friends and penetrating into the wilds of western savagery. Understandably that feeling had been strong as the good ship M.V. Inishowen Head neared Baltimore -- but we met friends and felt at home. So now, as the Greyhound monster rushed glaring through the night we tried to understand that -- quite apart from Don Ford himself -- there would be other friends to meet us.
We were right. The Greyhound let us pause to take breakfast in Pittsburgh but did not allow me time to look up a chap I'd known in the 15th Air Force. Pittsburgh appeared to be a maze of broad streets piled on top of one another, and cars scurrying everywhere -- naturally enough. We saw nothing of the industry there, tho'. The Greyhound restaurant place reminded me irresistibly of a film set, with quick, hard-eyed waitresses flippant about the breakfast you wanted. Each price tag increase added something to the meal. We stopped low on the list.
Then off again through the day, stopping to change from the Greyhound proper into a feeder bus that took us into Cincinnati. The driver switched off the air conditioning because people persisted in opening the windows... so we all sweltered.
Now one reason, among others, I've refrained from writing about Don Ford before this is because no one would have believed me in Britain. Now you've seen him and know.
We crawled from the bus, exhausted, flattened, gasping. I noticed a man standing in the doorway of the depot. So tall, bulky and colossal a figure was he that I shrank back. He balanced a Hollywood film camera and equipment on his chest. He was wearing a brilliantly blinding tee shirt. I hunted around for a fan....
Pamela and I did not find a typical fan to meet us so we began to wonder if this whole story of there being a person called Don Ford was a gigantic hoax cooked up by WAW and Chuck to dispose of the Bulmer in wildest North America. It smacked of that, somehow, and we were about to crawl to the nearest British Consul or what have you when -- everyone else having departed and the depot being strangely quite -- I noticed that King Kong was still standing there looking speculatively at us. I took the plunge. Man Mountain turns out to be a fan -- and this, mark you, after seeing Donaho.
Don couldn't have been kinder, whisking us away in his car -- a Ford -- along teeming roads filled with geezers turning out of work, under bypasses, over bridges, farther and farther into the country. At last we disgorged before a charming white frame house and clambered up the stairs to flop -- dead beat -- onto a low chesterfield. Margaret Ford came in to say hello and the two -- at that time -- children regarded us as no doubt Livingstone must have looked at Stanley. You know; it was nice of you to come, but why? Margaret had turned out a really enormous and sumptuous meal of ham cooked with rare delicacies and looking like the front cover of a glossy cooking mag. We set to -- it was as scrumptious as it looked. Don at that time was living in the upper part of the house and we admired the way the place was laid out. You all, I believe, know that Don is a camera bug? Enuff sed, then. Of our stay with Don and Margaret flashes of moments of intense pleasure strike the memory chords now. Like finding that the shopping was done in a small shop -- store -- that would very nearly have fitted into our own local shopping centre -- small and friendly. Of course, Pamela used to the bed in Dave Kyle's apartment which had a smaller mattress placed on top of a larger one enabling her to wedge herself in the gap against the wall, had to imagine the same applied here and fell out of bed with a salutary thump in the middle of the night. I hauled her back in. Next morning she swore blind I'd imagined it all. Then she found the bruise.
The weather remained brilliant -- one of our minor grouses was that for the first time in umpty-ump years Britain had been favoured with a fine summer and we'd gone away. Still, minor that was, except for the times when one or other of us nearly passed out. Pamela went swimming the Margaret and the children and achieved a neat case of sunburn. On that day Don and I went into Cincinnati. The swimming pool where we left the girls had been dug out of a farmer's field and he'd filled it with water and charged admission. Such is private enterprise. In Cincinnati my strongest memory is of Don deciding I needed to sample a Rum Collins and of the drink appearing in a tall frosted glass. We visited the centre of town where Don shot photos like crazy -- and proved it by showing them in London last year. Natch, Pamela and I missed them as we were tending Debbie at the time.
The centre of the city was a refreshing change from other cities, as far as I could tell, as it carried a restful air about it one never found, say in li'l old New York. We had some fine views of the city from the country around, too, with one whacking great tower spearing up. Don was evidently proud of Cincinnati, and I think he had every right to be. Strange, too, when you recall that a small village of near-savages fighting grimly against all their neighbours should have created legends to help them and their descendants along, something over 2,500 years ago on a peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean, and one such legend -- because I suppose it was apposite to the minutemen -- travelled all that way in time and space and gave Cincinnatus' name -- who left his plough -- to a modern progressive city in a continent that Plato hadn't even dreamed up then. Oh, well.
The Ohio river is a marvel at night. I understand that as a river it stinks -- literally. Sewage gets chucked into it that could kill a horse at fifty yards sniff type thing, and quite recently various cities up and down the waterway have been getting together to stop the pollution. Don was full of knowledge of the area, pointing out where various incidents had occurred. We went to a fireworks show. Now I'm not sure of the fireworks position in the States, but I believe you can't just wander into a shop and buy them as you can here. All firework shows have to be staged and run officially; and this is probably a good thing in may ways. If lacking the glamour typified by the annual Bonfire night blazes in Ted Tubb's garden. Anyway, Don took us to the show where there were many side-shows and, we were surprised to see, the Rotor type thing that had been at Battersea Festival Gardens, with pictures of it there and of British servicemen going round on it, that brought us up with a jolt. Here we were, slapped down in the middle of the US and gradually absorbing their way of life when we were jerked back to the Festival of Britain and all that. Still, the swings and roundabouts were sampled and they provided a deal of amusement -- and also a bit of a mystery. Don claims to have a photo of Pamela on file showing her screaming her head off as she came down some shoot on a tray to skim onto the water below. Pamela and I have little memory of this; we suspect Don is having another of his lazy but devilish legpulls.
We wandered about eating popcorn and soaking up the atmosphere and being told that after Labour Day weekend all this sort of public entertainment ceased in the US as though chopped with a cleaver. Then the big item began. We found good positions in the crowd and watched as rockets soared (I think) and the set pieces blazed into life forming figures and scenes. They were really first class. There was obviously a high order of skill being employed. The dark sky above, the trees ringing the field, the old Ohio river sliding along over the bluff, the kids' oohs and aahs and the sheer beauty created by lines and whorls and cascades of coloured fire -- yep, a real night to remember. When the last picture came on and as piece by piece it lit up and showed to be Old Glory -- the Stars and Stripes -- for all my British redcoat pride I still felt dam-fool sentimental and ready to cheer my head off for Uncle Sam and the very real traditions that have already been established. I think everyone just about had that feeling too. And, to digress, it is important that they should.
That's one of the ways the US knocked a scruffy load of immigrants of all nationalities into a first class proud nation. I found all over where we went in the US the readiness of people to talk about the American Revolution in terms of every day and up to the minute interests. They had a different slant on it from that they had on their Civil War. I could talk more about this and may when Dick Wilson's noble attempt to show me a Revolutionary battlefield didn't pan out -- that darned Labour Day cleaver again. In one of the few remarks to Lee Hoffman about the Revolutionary War as opposed to the War Between the States, I indicated that my sympathies were with the redcoats having to slog through the awful heat. She went on to talk about Jesse James. Many people went out of their way to tell me that we here lost that war because our soldiers wouldn't fight their own folks and many deserted from the army to become good Americans. This is probably true. I don't envy anyone having to fight in a red coat and leather stock under the conditions we met. Enuff of that.
This was only one of many successful expeditions made under the kind but firm eye of Don and Margaret. Here also I was spoken to by the police as narrated in TAFF Tales 1. What should be apparent here is that Pamela and I spent not a fannish time in the States but a family time of meeting friends and sf and fandom featured small in most of our conversations.
But people are important anyway, are they not?