Snufkin Goes West ...

The 1998 TAFF Travels of Maureen Kincaid Speller
Issue 3: 24 August 1998 -- 24 September 1998

A note arrives with my copy of SGW #2. Mark tells me he had to drop stuff, and "margins are getting smaller all the time." Hmm, and I thought there was so much more space out west (according to Patrick Nielsen Hayden).

Chicago: Our heroine bid a tearful farewell to Paul, who flew home to wreak havoc on REC.ARTS.SF.FANDOM and the TIMEBINDERS list by using her e-mail account without signing on as a member of the Here family. People were telling me about this all the way to Seattle; it's amazing how much impact one man and one e-mail account can have on the world.

Meanwhile, at the Field Museum in Chicago, I am buying postcards and a book. Me: do you take traveller's cheques? Young person at till: yes. So I write my first traveller's cheque (Paul had written them all previously, to use his up), hand over my passport as per Paul's explanation, and the young person looks at me blankly. "Er, do you have a driver's licence?" "Yes, but I don't think it's going to be much help; it's a UK driver's licence." He stares at it blankly for a few moments and then starts phoning people. I'm reminded of a story I once heard about Dan Steffan lambasting someone for not accepting a British passport as proof of identity, and rather wish he was here now. I practise fine speeches about this passport being good enough to get me into the country etc etc. The Young Person is listening intently to the receiver, with the kind of expression that suggests he doesn't overly understand what he's hearing. Finally he says, "No, she's not from the US," pauses and then puts down the phone. Obviously, no one had ever told him that overseas visitors use traveller's cheques too, and that they don't tend to have a US driving licence for ID.

Jae Leslie Adams has nobly volunteereed to drive me to Madison. In Chicago we posit a new theory of Western civilisation which requires domestication of animals because everyone had become too short-sighted to track them. Delighted with this, we provide a practical demonstration by failing to notice we've lost ourselves in a set of roadworks in a north Chicago suburb and are now heading for Milwaukee. We arrive in Madison only a couple of hours late.

Madison: My host Jeanne Gomoll is revealed as a closet cat-wrapper. Apparently, she wraps them up and they fall over. I devote much of my visit to persuading her that it really is time she came to the UK again, to meet Snufkin. Between times, Hope Kiefer initiates me into the mysteries of Beanie Baby collecting, Scott Custis introduces Madison fandom to beer survived the British way, and we visit House on the Rock, a terrible warning to fandom about accumulating too much Stuff. This is probably the weirdest place I've ever visited. Words really can't do it justice (and probably just as well for Mark's sake).

The mid-West's answer to Thelma and Louise hit the road again, this time to Minneapolis (reflecting that it is as well there are no canyons for us to drive over, nor any need to gun down Harvey Keitel). However, Jae adds to my collection of roadside attractions by taking me to Prairie Moon, an assembly of model buildings constructed by a retired man with a taste for flights of fancy.

Minneapolis: Geri Sullivan and I do battle with Sun Country. My aim is clear: I want to fly to Seattle. Given that the Northwest Airlines strike has made airline seats rarer than hen's teeth, I'm grateful to have found one only two days later than I originally wanted. I'd like to pay for it. Sun Country would like me to pay for it. Unfortunately, while Visa cards may be welcome in Moroccan bazaars, they aren't welcome at Sun Country, at least not foreign ones. Geri's travel agent harangues the airline but finally Geri heroically sacrifices her credit card to them, and I later learn the joys of taking money out of ATM machines in garages at midnight. Truly, the USA is civilised.

Minn-stf, of which I am now a member, for life (and death will not release me), takes me to the Minnesota State Fair, for TAFF-on-a-stick, so named because going to the Minnesota State Fair is all about food on a stick. The deep-fried pickles weren't on a stick, but they had ranch dressing, and came with Geri's fervent expressions of disgust. The watermelon cotton candy was on a stick, as was the alligator (it was a sausage), and the corndog. The lefkas, Pennysylvania Dutch funnel cake, the milk shake, doughnut and good Methodist cooking weren't. Nor were the embarrassing quantities of soft toys I won on the midway.

Seattle: Kate Schaefer and I decide that we don't look much like one another, really, whatever Tommy Ferguson says. Instead, we work on the small details of life, like putting up the walls of the room where I'm sleeping, and getting me fit to go hiking on the trails around Mount Rainier. This outing is truly one of the highlights of my trip, and not to just to watch chipmunks and ground squirrels hitting on Andy Hooper, in case he has a spare grape or tortilla chip hidden around his person. 6,500 feet is higher than I've ever been in my life.

Portland: Kate Yule takes me to Powell's Bookshop, and helps me pick my jaw up off the ground. Then she takes me to her gay square-dancing class, where I spend a riotous evening forgetting my left from my right, and learning that yes, this is possibly the most fun I can have with my clothes on.

Eugene: Loren MacGregor takes in his stride the fact that my train is a bus, and the next day takes me to the farmers' market where we witness an extraordinary androgynous creature in a skimpy costume, alternately playing the violin and singing in a strange operatic falsetto. After some uncertainty, Doug Faunt reaches Eugene, and we drive into Eastern Oregon to look at volcanoes. He assures me that nothing has happened recently, which is OK, I suppose, if you don't consider 1917 to be recent; in volcanic terms, that strikes me as pretty much like two seconds ago. I suggest that killing off the TAFF delegate in a volcanic eruption might be a bad idea but instead we drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park to look at boiling mud pots, steam holes and sulphur which is kind of cool. Well, actually, no, but you know what I mean.

I'm now (24 September 1998) in the Bay area, about to head out to the wilds again. After American Civil War history, pioneer history, and geology, it's time to think about the Gold Rush.

Thanks go to Jae Leslie Adams, chauffeuse extraordinaire; to Jeanne Gomoll and Scott Custis, and Madison fandom; to Geri Sullivan and Jeff Schalles, and Minn-stf, not forgetting Willow the dog; to Kate Schaefer and Glenn Hackney for finding space for me in Seattle, and to Sheila Lightsey for being my New England guide; to Kate Yule (and a very fleeting David Levine), the Rosetown Ramblers and Portland fandom; to Loren and Lauryn MacGregor and the Eugene fans, and Phoebe the world's noisest cat; and to Doug Faunt for driving me through Eastern Oregon.

Ahead of me lies a fortnight in the Bay area, plus time in Los Angeles and Las Vegas before a return to New York. I'm back in the UK on October 29th, arriving at Heathrow that morning. I expect to be at the next Jubilee meeting in November, if I'm awake.

Snufkin Goes West... was written by Maureen Kincaid Speller in the Bay area, shortly before disappearing into the wilds of California for a week or so. 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 November