We left New York on the New Jersey Turnpike heading south for Washington. There's something attractive about the name of the road, something better than a simple route number, something that makes you feel like it leads somewhere. In fact, of course, it's totally uninspiring. The New Jersey Turnpike is flat, monotonous, and barren, carving an uncompromisingly straight way through wastelands of drear industrial scenery. Chemical reeks filled the car as we rolled down the windows to allow the heat to swirl round a bit. Thus we sat, Joyce Scrivner, Gary Farber, Rob Jackson, and myself, choking, sweating, and becoming steadily grimier as mile succeeded mile.
Somewhere in mid-afternoon we stopped near a turnpike toll-gate and Joyce phoned to book a table at a Chinese restaurant she'd heard about on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Gary and Rob, croaking something about water, staggered straight for a grubby-looking tap. I meanwhile plunged off into the grass towards a nearby stream in search of American wildlife -- moose, buffalo, mountain lions, or whatever else might be around. Luckily the animals were all hiding quietly in the bushes; only a gigantic monarch butterfly flapped by, its vast orange wings creating a stir of air. (The distant beating of the dull Triassic sun pulls me towards a terminal Miami Beach. Miasmic images of the ruined Fontainebleau hotel and the mesmeric baying of the fans pursued me. It was getting hotter and the urge to drive south was strong. But meanwhile....)
Sometime later we found the restaurant. The waitresses were pleased to see people from Britain -- hell, since it was before 4.00 p.m. and the place was deserted, they were pleased to see anyone. But they were mildly concerned about my vegetarianism and made sober references to my 'condition'. I'd been awake now for 36 hours and probably looked suitably haggard and pale. The meal was fine, as I recall, and we washed it down with water and American beer (there's little difference). I think that it was here that I started going native, and asked for more ice.
We continued on to Washington, the road straight and flat as ever. Sometime around six we reached Falls Church on the outskirts of the city. It's a pleasant, leafy, suburban area -- what little I saw of it -- with large, standard American, timber houses, widely spaced on wide roads. After some mild confusion we found Terry Hughes's house in Arlington and decided he wasn't rich enough to live in such a middle-class suburban mansion. He does, though, albeit in a semi-basement flat. He's even got a garden, full of squirrels and odd whistling black birds. And a screen door -- something I'd always wanted to see. They're not mind-spinningly exciting objects: just bits of mesh designed to keep out flies and coyotes and things.
As our small yellow car drew up, I heard the screen door slam, and there was Terry himself, long-haired, blonde, and a less than successful dieter, standing outside. We tumbled out to greet him. Colleen Brown was inside, attractive, Chinese, and cheerful, together with Colleen's cooking (a bad influence on Terry) and, wonder of wonders, several bottles of ice-cold Guinness. Just as in New York there was a confused period of rushing around, chatter, and general clamour, except that we were all that much more sluggish thanks to the heat (so thick by now that you could see it billowing around you) and exhaustion. Rob had the puffy look, glazed eyes, and slurred speech of someone who's been drunk for a fortnight. He handed out the Mayas with solemn incoherence. Gary scampered about, Joyce swished around, Terry had a look of mild wonderment as if he'd just met Father Christmas's reindeers, and Colleen moved calmly around looking fresh, relaxed, and far from frantic. I collapsed in a convenient armchair, clutching a Guinness, and beaming in a less than intelligent manner at everyone and everything.
Visitors were anticipated later. Meanwhile Rob was easily persuaded to lie down in a bedroom till their arrival whilst the rest of us continued to chat. At some point Terry's leaner brother, Craig, came quietly in, followed by rich brown and daughter. Rich is bearded, affable, in his mid-thirties, and looks in fact just like Joe Staton's cartoons of him in Focal Point (with such a likeness it made the thought of meeting Arnie Katz rather worrying). Avedon Carol also arrived -- slim, Armenian, extrovert, and publisher of a fanzine called Macho. Rob had appeared again by now and was propped up in a corner, the tides of fannish conversation washing happily over him. I was disappearing deeper into my chair, Avedon resting on one arm, the Guinness on the other. Ted White and Dan Steffan came in later, having enjoyed themselves at a day-long party elsewhere. My stored memories of antique Atom cartoons let me down, since Ted has long since forsaken a crewcut and beard for long hair and mutton-chops. Still has a fine and distinguished drawl, though. Dan Steffan, eyes agleam, hair tied back, is a John-Berry-sized fan; it occurred to me in a haze of heat that Gary Farber's big brother had turned up. We talked for a good while, but I no longer remember what about; in fact, I probably didn't entirely know at the time. It had been something of a long day.
But it was certainly a fine evening. We packed it in about two o'clock (7.00 a.m. Back in Dawlish). I collapsed on the couch before I'd even got my shoes off. A quick 48 hours from home, and here I was -- asleep at Terry Hughes's and already replete with memories of Fanoclasts, Fabulous Falls Church Fandom, and the fantasy world of America itself. In a very hot Virginia night, a giant fan hummed me to sleep.
Next morning we were up bright and early, just this side of midday, and made plans to take a quick afternoon tour of Washington, it being the capital of the United States and all that. We said farewell to Terry, since he was off to SunCon that afternoon, travelling by Greyhound Bus (of which much more later), and we all piled into Joyce's car and headed into Washington itself.
I never really got my bearings in Washington as I did in other cities that I explored as a solitary pedestrian. Joyce Scrivner had lived there and knew her way around. Or so she said, though we seemed to find an abnormal number of cul-de-sacs and rarely-seen backyards in our travels. As a result I'm confused as to where exactly we got to and how. We did find the White House, however: a comparatively small building and easily overlooked. Someone said that the British had burnt down the original place during the war of 1812. This seemed rather caddish of as, so Rob and I apologized. Actually, several Americans mentioned this piece of ancestral arson to me later in the trip ('Say, are you British? The folks that burnt down our White House?' etc.). Despite my background as a student of American history, I'd completely forgotten the incident. This only goes to show, I suppose, the different emphasis each country puts on its history. The war of 1812 doesn't exactly have a high place in British education -- in fact it probably ranks somewhere in between the Conquest of Zanzibar and the War of Jenkins's Ear. But the Americans remember it well enough. Still, as I recall, they won and that always helps. Anyway, they've got round to building a new White House which we inspected briefly from the road. Nobody was overly impressed.
Most of the other sights of Washington are dotted around a large area of parkland, flanked by the Potomac River. We cruised round -- even took a look at Watergate, though it's of no intrinsic interest as a building -- and finally stopped off at the Space Museum, one of several vast block-like buildings that sit on the ground looking as heavy as sin.
Inside I discovered the pleasant American custom of public drinking-fountains (in Britain we only have municipal horse-troughs) and the wonders of air-conditioning. The Space Museum is fall of astronautical objects and displays of obscure technology; I have little or no interest in machines, but some of the stuff there was bizarre enough to appeal to any Luddite. Amidst a miniature forest of potted palms and trees lurked several genuine space-capsules, pitted and blasted with scars of re-entry. I ran my hands over them and peered inside, impelled by a childlike sense of wonder as flashlights flickered over the surface like an echo of meteorites (dozens of bemused Japanese parents will by now have been shown snapshots of an unknown idiot fondling exhibits). I then of course lost everyone else. Most of the time in the Space Museum was taken up with this pastime. Joyce and I would wonder where Gary was; I would wonder where everyone else was; Gary and I would wonder whether everyone else was wondering where we were; and periodically we all wondered where the hell Rob was.
At some stage we went for lunch and were confronted with the strangest piece of technology yet: a cafeteria with a huge revolving counter, three-quarters of it visible and open, the hidden quarter in some unseen kitchen or factory. We all stood around this marvel and observed the food swinging into view, passing in front of us, and disappearing out of sight and into the wall. Other customers, including Gary and Joyce, grabbed the food as it passed and made off with it to a waiting cashier. Rob and I were hypnotized. After a while the others came back to help us and we shook ourselves out of the trance and attempted to seize food. The pre-packaged goods were confusing, however. Everything we seemed to pick turned out on closer inspection to be a freshly-wrapped tribute to American bad taste. Rob had discovered a bag of chips somewhere; but all I seemed to be getting were elk and banana yoghurts or Mr Spock's Home-Fried Pumpkin Rinds. We eventually walked off with a trayful of items which proved to consist mostly of plastic, cellophane, and tinfoil.
Back in the museum proper, we pushed the little kids off a design-an-alien machine (consisting of slides by New England fan Bonnie Dalzell, and a series of tempting buttons), sneered at the original model of the Star Trek Enterprise, and got ourselves mutually lost again.
After wandering around for several hours we went out into the stunning heat of Washington in August and walked over to the Capitol, another solid block of a building though modelled in mock-classical rather than utilitarian style. We found our way inside and discovered that the place was full of junk. I have a fetish about domes and am unnaturally fond of them; but the main dome of the Capitol is the drabbest I can recall and is encircled by large and dismal pictures of colonists cheating the Indians. The rest of the building contains unhistoric scrap, armed guards, squealing children, and statues of forgotten capitalists. We went out.
Walking back to the car we passed several roadside stalls whose owners broke into commercials as we passed -- a smoother and distinctly American form of the barking and crying in British market-places. Joyce, maddened by the sun, bought some cold drinks. I bravely tried a sip of 'Dr Pepper's', a noxious and extraordinarily sweet liquid tasting of creosote. As Joyce cooled her heels in a nearby pond, the rest of us examined the tawdry items on the stalls, mostly photos of the President's unphotogenic children and large plastic peanuts with toothy smiles. So much for politics.
Evening was coming on and we decided to head for somewhere to eat. Firstly, however, we drove to a local sf bookshop, Moonstone, which hides in a basement somewhere. Rob, as anticipated, bought an armful of books; I pretended to be fascinated in sf, but couldn't keep it up and came out empty-handed, also as anticipated. More interestingly we then went into a nearby bar, an event I'd been looking forward to.
Unexpectedly the place looked like an average pub. I don't really know what else I was expecting -- something a bit more alien I think. We went up to the bar to get drinks and Joyce simply asked for 'four beers'. Astoundingly the barman seemed quite happy with such an abbreviated order and served us up four halves of lager without further question. No messing with brand, type, or quantity of beer -- you had a chance of half a pint of lager, half a pint of lager, or half a pint of lager. That was o.k., as it happened, because an ice-cold lager was just about what I wanted. Luckily.
This was all pleasant enough and we had a couple of rounds before moving on to a Swiss restaurant a few yards away. This proved to be a more expensive place than we'd anticipated and Gary (who'd got the vast sum of $30 to last him for the entire trip and the Worldcon) was reduced to eating a frugal meal of bread dipped in cheese. We let him lick our plates, though. I also made the interesting discovery that imported Swiss lager costs £2 a pint -- I didn't dare let Gary even look at such a precious liquid, lest the sight of such conspicuous consumption made him ill. The final bill certainly didn't leave me feeling too good. Cow bells tinkled mockingly as we left the place.
We started off on the first of many fruitless expeditions to find me some cigarette papers to go with my duty-free tobacco and somehow ended up at the Lincoln Memorial after dark.
Another solid great slab of a building with a flight of steps leading up to it, the place nonetheless had a pleasanter feel to it than most of the monuments I'd seen in Washington. Probably it was just the floodlights against the night which always makes the most mundane structures seem unusual and attractive. One side of the Memorial is open and the vast statue of Lincoln gazes out into the distance: very paternal, very reassuring -- a proper and distinctive sort of monument somehow, and in complete contrast to -- say -- the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens which just looks ludicrous and inspires not a single thought about poor old Albert himself. We ambled over to the Potomac and looked out over the river and the parklands at the lights in the night. Flying saucers buzzed and winked at us overhead, pretending to be aeroplanes; a pleasant way to end a day's sightseeing.
Ted White had invited us out to his home that evening and it was getting pretty late. We headed back to Falls Church, therefore, passing the vague hulk of the Pentagon on the way.
Dan Steffan, Jay Kinney, and others were waiting or us when we arrived, sitting around quite happily on a couch of bedlike proportions, listening to music and watching Ted finish off some magazine work. We joined them, admired Ted's enormous record collection, settled down on the couch, and spent the last couple of hours of the evening, chatting, talking, listening, and feeling at ease with the world. I shall never forget the sight of Rob with a soda bottle jammed in his mouth, trying, I suppose, to inhale the elysian essence of the place. It certainly seemed the fannish thing to do. And why not? We eased ourselves off the couch at some fairly sane hour in order to be awake the next day, returned to Arlington, slept some, and round about eleven in the morning left Washington and headed for the Suncon.
More of which next time.