Snufkin Goes West ...

The 1998 TAFF Travels of Maureen Kincaid Speller
Issue 2: 2-23 August 1998

Heathrow: The plane thunders down the runway, and I'm fascinated by the fact that the wings have developed a distinctly lattice-like effect as the flaps organise themselves for take-off. As the ground drops away I lean right forward in my seat to savour the moment. I glance round to reassure Paul that I'm not at all nervous, and find him ashen-faced, clinging to the arms of his seat. Come to think of it, so's everyone else. Why didn't anyone tell me you're not supposed to enjoy take-off? As we fly over Greenland, the clouds part and I stare down at an incredible landscape of mountains and ice. I eventually realise that the large white blobs in the sea are icebergs. Given that we're flying at 36,000 feet, they must be very large icebergs.

Washington, DC: Marilee Layman has no idea what I look like. I have only the haziest recollection of what she looks like from a hasty inspection of her Web site. Miraculously, we instantly recognise one another at Dulles Airport because, of course, we are fans and have that look about us. This also holds good the next morning when we meet Richard Lynch at Union Station (but possibly that's because people don't normally hang around at the Amtrak Information Point). Rich's notorious but highly recommended 'full press court gonzo walking tour' takes in Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth -- distant ancestor of Cherie Booth, which kind of suggests Tony Blair shouldn't get too baroque in rearranging the UK. In the basement is the world's most bizarre collection of memorabilia, everything from locks of hair (if all these really did come from Lincoln's head, his hair must have hung down in ringlets to his knees) to the tools used to seal down Lincoln's coffin, and more bits of funeral drapery than the world really needs. Paul, needless to say, is in ecstasy. Meanwhile, I am riveted by the extraordinary collection of portraits of Lincoln, some of which bear absolutely no resemblance to him at all.

Arlington: Dan Steffan wins Paul's heart by handing him two Civil War bullets to play with. He also presents us both with TAFF T-shirts, and we spend a raucous and congenial evening with the Steffans and Ted White in an Italian restaurant.

Baltimore: The hotel room -- booked in the names of Maureen and Paul Speller; how I laughed -- is on the seventh floor, with full-length windows. Only after I fling open the curtains on Thursday morning and realise that I am staring into an adjacent office block does it occur to me that US hotels aren't too up on the idea of net curtains. I take to dressing before I open the curtains. Bucconeer rapidly becomes known as SoreFootCon because everything is Very Far Away From Anywhere Else, even within the convention centre. Arcane licensing laws also mean there is no alcohol available on the premises to assuage the mighty thirst built up by constant trekking from one end of the building to another. I learn later that the bulk of the British contingent decamp to a pub across the road. Pat McMurray informs me that her luggage is in Reykjavik. At least, that's where the airline told her it was, and that's where they're looking for it, so she hopes that's where it is. Mike Ford's luggage spends a good deal of time touring rural Maryland, looking for Nic Farey's house. We appear to be the only British fans whose luggage has not circumnavigated the globe three times unaccompanied. We are loudly smug.

TAFF meets DUFF: Terry Frost (DUFF delegate) and I spend a lot of time together, not least because we're programmed together at every available opportunity. This is a fact which will later lead to some deeply entertaining confusion in New York among those who can't tell the difference between an Australian accent and a Mancunian one. We're also co-presenting the Hugos for Best Fan Artist and Best Fan Writer. I cunningly contrive to have Snufkin's Bum mentioned by Charles Sheffield when he introduces us, which pleases me so much that I spend the rest of the evening telling people about it. Joe Mayhew, winner of Best Fan Artist, says a good number of very nice things about Ian Gunn. When I announce the Best Fan Writer Hugo, the name staring out at me is that of Dave Langford. I've come several thousand miles to present a Hugo to Martin Hoare. Later, at the Hugo Losers' Party, someone is overheard opining that Martin Hoare is really Dave Langford in disguise. Fashion note: At the Hugo ceremony, Maureen Speller was wearing a very stylish (and much praised) Chinese-style suit in dark green silk. She also wore high heeled shoes, as promised; and, as feared, they hurt. She would like to assure everyone that this is why Terry Frost was carrying her through the streets of Baltimore, honest.

Outside is America: We pile ourselves and a good deal of luggage into the Nielsen Hayden hired car and set out to storm Gettysburg. Only now do I begin to fully appreciate the appalling enormity of Strip Mall America, where nothing is more than a storey high and everything goes on forever. Cultural shock is vocal and prolonged and vastly entertains Patrick and Teresa. "If you think this is bad," says Patrick, "wait 'til you get to the West Coast. They've more space there."

Gettysburg: Visitor's Centre, something over a hundred dollars; Paul, a number of heavy books about the Civil War, some maps and a set of Civil War screen-savers, not to mention a promise of another book from Teresa to complete a set. Maureen sighs resignedly.

New York: We like New York. In fact we love New York and are rather reluctant to leave. Paul commits the ultimate gastronomic solecism in the 2nd Avenue Deli and orders his pastrami on white bread, and Gary Farber later assures me I am the first Brit he's ever encountered who actually likes lox. We take the book shops by storm, do culture, go to the top of the Empire State Building with Mike Ford, wander boggle-eyed around the local neighbourhood stores (I have to be forcibly restrained from mailing home the entire dried chilli section of one of Patrick and Teresa's corner shops), drink beer, eat ice cream, walk across Brooklyn Bridge, visit Ellis Island's museum and generally have a great time. I shall return. "Lucky sod," said Paul.

Goshen, Indiana: So small, no one has ever heard of it except me, Paul, and Karen Babich. We spend two days with a non-fannish friend who tours us round the local shops (books, cross-stitch and quilting), and also takes us to Shipshewana, an Amish and Mennonite community which is something of a tourist trap. Nevertheless, in the thick of it, the Amish and the Mennonites pursue their traditional ways and drive their horses and buggies to town (bicycles are also permitted). Paul buys obscene amounts of sf and Civil War stuff from a bookseller who turns out to be a fantastically good cross-stitcher. In a local museum, Paul finds another relic of the Civil War -- a piece of the towel used as a flag when Lee surrendered to Grant -- and sits on the floor staring at it for a long time.

Paul is now safely home, as doubtless most of you will be noticing in due course. His last message said he'd been downloading my e-mail for two hours and still hadn't finished.

Thanks go to Marilee J Layman, Richard Lynch, Ted White, Dan & Lynne Steffan, Terry Frost, Ulrika O'Brien, Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Debi, Karl & Jason Kreider, Nigel Rowe and Karen Babich for the fantastic hospitality and support provided so far, not to mention everyone at Bucconeer and in New York who put in so much time and effort to entertain us. Special mention must also go to Vicki Rosenzweig, Moshe Feder, Lise Eisenstein and Gary Farber in NY for maps, guidebooks and much good advice.

The US-UK TAFF race is now under way, the winner to attend Reconvene next Easter. The candidates are Vijay Bowen and Sarah Prince. Extra-special TAFFish gratitude to Dave Langford for heroically distributing ballots in the UK while I'm away. Please support TAFF by voting, donating money and suitable items for auction, and simply taking an interest. TAFF relies wholly on the support and goodwill of fandom and has done so for more than 40 years, a remarkable achievement.

Snufkin Goes West ... was written by Maureen Kincaid Speller in Chicago on Nigel Rowe's computer. Editing, layout, printing and distribution by Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer/Fishlifter Press. Further copies are available at various London pub meetings or from 14 Northway Road, Croydon, Surrey CR0 6JE (SAE appreciated).

Next issue: early October