This was the first year I had been to the USA, and mum and I arrived eventually in Chicago airport. We had to try and follow the signs to the luggage collection point, which we did, then to try and find our way to the appropriate departure area for the flight on to Nashville. Some how or other my mum managed to get out of the airport and as we waved to each other through the glass doors, a very pleasant security man (!) came and adjusted the doors so they could be opened to let mum back in, to save her having to walk some distance, he also directed us to the platforms in order to catch the train to our departure gate. While waiting...and waiting, and the crowed growing bigger and bigger and us realising we were not that sure which side we should be on, it was announced there was a problem and the trains weren't running, due a problem on the line!!!!!! They said it wouldn't be long so we decided to wait it out as we had plenty of time for our connection, and it gave us time to figure out which side of the platform etc. After quite a while the train appeared, there wasn't a full service, but we managed to get on and off and get to the departure lounge....where we discovered there was a problem with our plane!!!
We were om a touring holiday of the music of the South, and everyone was meeting in Nashville that evening, however many of us were arriving in the departure area all the time from flights from the UK. We got together, appointed a spokesperson who dealt with the airport rep and eventually a coach arrived to take us to a hotel for the night.Well we thought, what a start! A quiet night was spent in the hotel as we all recovered and had an early night as we were on the 1st flight in the morning.
All went well the next morning, arrived at airport, plane was ok, on time, and we all got seats. We arrived in Nashville and the Tour Escort was waiting for us, she seemed a little put out by our late arrival, which I felt was a little unfair, to say the least. On arrival we were given out room keys and directions, then the rep told us we had an hour to get settled and have the breakfast which was waiting for us, before the coach arrived to take us on the tour of Nashville. You can imagine we all ran around like demented creatures, and arrived at the front door breathless but ready. Then the rep informed us the bus had broken down, and would be an hour late....we were seriously starting to get a little anxious for the holiday by now.
The coach duly arrived and we did the tour of town, into the Country and Western Hall of Fame, saw all the well known places, on arrival back at the hotel our rep told us it was the Grand Ole Oprey that evening, and it was an early start so we had.....20 minutes to get ready and back for the coach. Despite the rush, it was fabulous, really enjoyed it and saw several well kent faces there. On the coach going back we were hungry as we hadn't eaten since breakfast, and the coach driver said he could drop anyone off if they wanted to. We hopped off at the White Horse Saloon, and had a couple of drinks, something to eat and watched the line dancing. We knew the hotel wasn't far so we wandered out to try to get a cab. Well no one had told us it was the local college football derby, and the roads were all closed off, it was chaos, we finally saw a cab, and climbed in, the driver said the man we came across asleep in the corner was there first - so we would take him first then he would take us home.We explained the hotel was at the top of the hill just in front of us, it was one of a popular chain. After a grand tour of downtown Nashville and ending up in the Gay district at a club, we woke the guy up who staggered out the cab and away. While on route to our hotel I looked up to see the signs for Memphis,so asked the driver if we were going in the right direction, I forgot to mention he was from Iran and had poor english, eventually we got back to the hotel, almost via Memphis, but he only charged us $5 as he got the directions wrong and the other passenger gave him much too much.
The next morning was a very early start, we were on our way to Branson Missouri. That was a lovely couple of days, at night we went to Andy Williams Theatre, where he was playing that night with Glenn Campbell . It was terrific, neither were people I would have chosen to go see, but I really enjoyed them. We also had a trip out on a Duck, the vehicle that runs on the ground then right into the water!
The next change of venue was to go to Memphis, we set off on the morning of 9/11. We stopped at a McDonald's for coffee, when a trucker came in and told us the news. There was a stunned silence then our driver rushed in to tell us the 2nd plane had just hit the Twin Towers. What news, we were all shocked to the core. The mood obviously was very somber. We headed off again, and were going to pop into the town in Arkansas where President Clinton was from, but the National Guard had a blockade up, we carried on to Memphis, and we were going to the Peabody Hotel - the one with the ducks, but there had been a gas leak so the whole area was condoned off, so we just went straight to our hotel, where we all stopped in the lounge and just sat and watched the TV to see what was happening, and to get up to date with all that happened during the day. We had a wander down Beale street but no one was in the mood to party! next day we were off to Gracelands for the day, on route, one of my fillings fell out as the rep passed round her boiled sweets. She managed to get an appointment for me at a dentist for the next morning.
The next move was on the train to Lafayette, the coach picked us up when we arrived, it was an interesting journey as the train was full of people trying to make their way home or whatever as there were no planes. We arrived hot and tired, to find the hotel had a lot of other visitors - cockroaches, huge cockroaches!! Had several changes of room before we found a vacant one!! We went out at night to a restaurant up in the hills for some great music and dancing, Cajun style!
Next and last stop was to New Orleans. We had a beautiful hotel in a central location, near Canal Street and the French Quarter, we had a wander all through the French quarter to Jackson Square, and over to The Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets. I loved it apart from the humidity, I was soaked, you would have thought I had had a shower, clothes dripping, hair stuck to scalp. We were out on a boat to see some gators, went out on the river boats for a jazz evening, wonderful, despite all that was going on at that time, and having no idea how we were going to get home.
As it turned out, mum and I had no problems, our flight was on , though many of our group had to be taken by bus to other airports in order to make connecting flights. The only obvious signs of what had happened were the security men with dogs, and armed police on the the flight.
That is a brief history of my first trip to the USA, so much went wrong on this holiday at all levels, however, we loved seeing the country, loved the South, being on a coach trip meant we were taken to so many places, and told the history of each place we visited. Hearing and seeing all the footage of the Tragic events at the moment caused me to think back about the holiday, and the hours we spent each evening watching what was happening which was seemed so much more frightening being away from home.
It didn't put us off thought, the next year we went on another coach trip following Route 66. This week starts a TV programme by Billy Connolly of his travels along this road, so it will be essential viewing and more memories stirred.