Taking the Chequ(ck)ered Flag
Monday, June 24, 2013
Liberty House Restaurant to meet my East Coast support team for brunch and take the metaphorical chequ(ck)ered flag.
KA and Mrs KA were there; among my longest-standing and best friends. He is the best construction project manager in the world, with millions of square feet delivered on time and budget and a man from whom I have learned a lot about getting things done under pressure. Mrs KA was one of Mrs P's closest friends during and since our days in Poland.
Mr Julius and his wife (who is above suspicion) had selected this perfect location and organised today's event. As a young lawyer in London I watched and learned as he negotiated the deals on which I worked for him. He is simply the best business negotiator I have ever seen in action. Mrs J is a delightful lady with whom I share odd tastes in vintage television. She has kept him well grounded.
One of their sons, an entrepreneur in the e-books business, was on hand to lend his support and circulated a list of "Tom-isms" from the road trip blog posts. It was odd to be quoted to myself but satisfying to know that my late night labours along the way had been read so closely.
Mrs Olympus was a friend to Mrs Paine and me in Poland when she was even younger and much more single than she is now. Her husband is one of my newest friends. He has been offering travel tips via Facebook along the way. Their five year old son, a confident young chap, ably represented the youngest generation of Americans and they were accompanied by one of Mrs O's grad school friends with whom I didn't have nearly enough chance to chat.
I made my entrance in "Tom Paine US Tour 2013" T-shirt and trucker hat and a blue candy striped blazer that finally justified its place among my baggage today by lending a tone of English eccentricity to the occcasion. All this was accessorised (as the ladies say) with the Ford Mustang shoulder bag containing precious trip documentation that I have kept close to me for weeks. From that hung the jangling cluster of "trophies" I have pictured here as it grew to its present ludicrous size.
If I cut a strange figure on arrival, it didn't matter much. Just showing up in a British-registered RHD Ferrari already marked me out as an oddity, as it has throughout. It will seem odd to blend in back home.
We had a splendid brunch, enjoying great views of the Manhattan skyline and - of course - the Statue of Liberty. It was, dare I say it, an awesome way to end my adventure. In the end, journeys can only be fully appreciated in retrospect; talked over with friends and, when I get back to England, family.
All that remains is to deliver Speranza to the shippers tomorrow morning. She and I have spent so much time together I don't know how I shall manage for a month without her. It will be strange not to get up every morning and drive hundreds of miles to the music of her V8. Winston, whom I met weeks ago near Yale University, asked me incredulously "Is this what you do? Travel around in a Ferrari?!" For a while, the answer was "yes". In consequence, man and machine have become one. I can only aspire to be worthy. For she is Speranza, conqueress of continents, the little car that could; a Grand Tourer in more than name.
BA has kindly begun to acclimatise me to the disservice culture of England by holding me on the phone for over an hour this morning before refusing either to change my flight (booked for July 1st) or cancel it. So I have booked a new flight with another airline on Tuesday to get me to London on Wednesday. If I could avoid using BA again, I would. It sucks royally and has for as long as I can remember. Were it not for its historic control of the best slots out of Heathrow, its competitors (and its bolshy unions) would have despatched it to the innermost circle of Business Hell long since.
What I lose in unexpected flight costs I save on hotels and speeding tickets. I budgeted $1,000 for the latter, and have received none. That, perhaps, is the biggest surprise of the trip. The Q picked up two when he joined me for just one section. Better, as my father says, to be born lucky than rich. I shall be framing and displaying the formal caution I received in Wisconsin.
Would I do it again? Yes, if I had the chance. America is vast, beautiful and full of interest. And it is set up to make road travel easy, with roadside hotels and restaurants for every budget. Her people (and most I met on the road were hard-working minimum wage employees) never fail to reset my optimism. Faced with a problem, their first thought is to help themselves and each other. I will never forget sitting on the Interstate in Moore, OK as listeners to the local radio station phoned in one after another to offer personal help to those affected by the tornado. It has been a delight not to have heard for so long the poisonous English chorus - "the government should do something".
The situation here is not all rosy. Their government has indebted Americans beyond all reason. My friends here point out that I have only met working Americans and have had no exposure to their "welfare culture". But if most Americans keep the self-reliant attitudes I encountered, I believe they will do fine. I could not wish them more well and I am grateful to the many who helped me along during this journey with practical help, advice, service and endless words of encouragement.
Much as I want to see my home again, I am sorry to leave. God bless America.