Driving south into summer : USA : 10-12 Dec 64

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve added a section to the top menu called ‘Historical Caveat’. In it, we’re discussing Dad’s letters and sharing Dad’s thoughts on the poverty/ racism/ inequalities that they witnessed, but which he often passed no direct comment upon in his letters. I was curious to know why – so I asked, and Dad answered. It caused an interesting discussion which we wanted to share. I’ve also added a few notes to the end of this letter. Now back to their dream road trip across America, driving a luxury car they’ve been hired to deliver….  

Plus – photos still to come!

Thursday 10th December

Well, here we are still speeding south in a red T-Bird. We have just stopped at a little town and had lunch for $1 which was very good. In the bar we saw the Sheriff complete with gun and Stetson (but no horse).

Yesterday we travelled 490 miles by 8:30pm, and then stopped to look for some accommodation. We couldn’t find the truck stop so we went into our first American motel. We each paid $3 (about £1) and we had a really luxurious twin bedded room with telephone, TV, shower, bath, toilet, central heating, air conditioning, etc.

Lovely beds which were fitted with a device which when switched on gave you a vibration treatment to relax you. We both had a bath, and then lay in our beds and watched TV. We saw the Danny Kaye Show, amongst other things.

The standard of TV shows here is very poor, mainly due, I think, to the amount of TV which is churned out. Lots of it is fantastically unprofessional. It seems, and probably is, very unrehearsed and a tremendous amount of ad-libbing takes place, which is about the only thing that gets laughs. The standard of comedy is really poor.

We finally went to sleep, and awoke at 9am, and once again lay in bed watching TV. (occasionally looking out at our fabulous red car, and frequently thinking that this must be a dream and that it’s not really happening). We fetched our electric stove from the car and plugged it in and cooked a breakfast. I don’t suppose many people do that!!

We finally set off at 10:15am and I drove for 4 hours, and now Colin is at the wheel.

Since finishing yesterday’s episode we have passed through the state of North Carolina and are now passing through South Carolina (as I write this we have just passed over Lake Marion).

Gradually throughout the day it has been getting warmer and the trees have begun to have foliage again, so, now we are back into the summer. We seem to have driven out of the winter and into the summer.

We are passing through tobacco and cotton country, and have seen lots of cotton pickers at work. We have also seen some terrible shacks where the coloured workers live, some of the shacks are barely standing up.

We have passed literally hundreds of motels – there are motels about every two or three miles, and then great clusters of them. All the prices are the same by law. But they all compete by offering better facilities. They all have exotic swimming pools, and now at this point the pools are surrounded by palm trees (real ones) and they look fabulous.

The pace down here is so slow that it almost stops. A fellow at a garage, a few miles back, took about 20 minutes to speak one sentence, but they are so nice you can’t be rude to them. They are amazed to find that we really are English (at first they often think we are Canadian) as they never seem to have seen English people before.

The town we stopped at last night was called Fayetteville, and the only historic place of interest in the town was the Slave Market Hall, where the slaves were bought and sold.

Colin just informed me that the car we are travelling in has an engine of 350hp.

The car situation here is fantastic. We pass loads of cars which have just been abandoned. When they break down, the owners just leave them. Eventually they are towed away and dumped in fields and we have honestly seen acres of cars heaped on top of each other. They look terrible but apparently the country is so prosperous they’re not interested in reclaiming scrap iron, so they are just left.

The accents are getting more and more incredible as we go deeper into the south. The driving laws are quite strict here. There is a max speed limit of 65 on most roads and also a minimum speed of 45. The roads are so fabulous that the max speed is crazy, so we keep a lookout for the highway patrol and put our foot down!!

Same day – (later)

We have just crossed the border into Georgia and have seen our first peach orchards and also melon farms (or whatever they call them). We are now in the real deep south and there is much evidence of the pre-Civil Rights Bill days.

At all places where there are toilets they are marked ‘Black’ and ‘White’, and also we have passed lots of motels marked ‘Coloured’. Once again (like Harlem) it’s a colour bar in reverse. Although of course this is now illegal.

We are making very poor speed today, as the roads have become much, much narrower, and the traffic a little heavier.

Friday 11th December

Well, here we are in Florida. We crossed the border about 7:30pm last night and stayed overnight at a motel in a place called Ocala, which is 100 miles from Tampa.

We had a bad day’s driving yesterday, and to make the distance, had to keep going until 10:30pm. We did a total of 530 miles yesterday, which quite frankly I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t actually done it.. The amazing thing is that we didn’t really feel tired after all that travelling.

We thought the first motel was luxurious, but last night’s stop made it look shabby. It was beautiful. Tropical palms all round, and a superb swimming pool. It’s difficult to describe the rooms but it was sheer luxury.

I had a double bed all to myself with silk sheets, no blankets, just a cover, and as I lay in bed the air was filled with the sound of crickets chirping outside – and I felt as though I was really living it up.

As I said to Colin – for the last two days (and one to go) I feel like ‘a real playboy’. Colin rather spoiled it by pointing out that tomorrow we give the car back to the owner, look for a job, look for somewhere to live, which is a bit different from being a playboy!!

But still I suppose being a playboy would become monotonous after a while.

We used our electric stove to cook breakfast again (it’s a great thing) and left at 9 am. I drove for the first 3 hours and now Colin is at the wheel, and we are now going through some of the most beautiful country – mile upon mile of orange and grapefruit fields, and palm trees everywhere. The temperature is at the moment 73 degrees (12 noon) and getting warmer as we go south.

A few miles back we drove down to the beach, and took our first look at the Gulf of Mexico. It was a beautiful beach with palm shades and palm umbrellas and very warm. There was a very plush restaurant on the beach, so we went in and had a coffee.

We asked for girl why there wasn’t a single solitary soul on the beach (it was deserted) and she said (with amazement) ‘What – at this time of the year?’ And believe it or not the water temperature was 70 degrees F. We roared, and when we told her about the sea at home, she was very surprised.

We are now heading towards Miami from Tampa on the Tamiami Trail, and will pass through Indian country and also alligator country.  Earlier on this morning, when I was driving there was an eagle in the road. I blew the horn and it lumbered into the air – it was about the size of a turkey!!!

All the towns we pass through are decorated for Christmas, but it seems all wrong somehow in this weather. People all over the US not only decorate the inside, but the outsides too. They floodlight their houses (in colour) and put fairy lights up. Also on the lawns they put life size cut-outs of Father Christmas and reindeer. Some even have a real sleigh with a stuffed effigy of Santa Claus sitting in it. To see these amongst tropical flowers is very strange.

At this moment we are in Sarasota, which is beautiful. It’s on the sea, and very ultra modern. Florida is a really wonderful State. It is called the ‘Sunshine State’ and is clean and modern. Wonderful  roads, and a complete air of spaciousness and expensive living.

We keep passing ‘Boatel-Motels’ which are big places where you can drive your boat in from one side, and have a room overlooking the sea, or drive a car in the other side, and have a room overlooking the road.

Late evening

Well, I have just finished another turn at the wheel, and we are now speeding through the Everglades. We have left behind the plush resorts of the west coast of Florida, and are now travelling through a never-ending mass of jungle and swamps.

We have passed lots of Seminole Indian villages, and stopped at one, and we went in. They don’t live in tents here as it is so marshy, but on wooden platforms, and with a sort of palm thatched roof – no walls or sides at all.

There was junk and rubbish everywhere, with loads of chickens and dogs and cats. There was an old woman squatting down and cooking pork chops over a wood fire. They live all the year round in these things, so you can see what the climate is like.

The amazing thing was that although they live in these awful swamps, they have fabulous cars parked outside their ‘huts’ and inside they have TV sets and fridges!!!

Indians in America are stateless and cannot vote, so Herb told us. They get all sorts of peculiar treatment, and even their cars had special number plates.

We saw alligators in the swamps next to their village!! (some about 5ft long). We have also seen some very strange birds flying about, and lots of things which look like parrots, perched on telephone wires. We also saw a dead raccoon on the road – probably it had been killed by a car.

Saturday 12th December

We arrived in Miami at about 6pm and drove straight to Miami Beach (this is a separate place and an island, where all the fashionable hotels are), and started to look for somewhere to live. We had a terrible time as rents are high and many places full.

Finally, at about 10 o’clock we struck lucky and found an apartment for $25 a week. It’s a cinch we have the wonderful clear warm sea right over the road, and can hear the sea from our room. We have a private shower and bathroom, and a fridge. With our own cooker, we are self-contained. We even have a maid to make the beds, and tidy up.

It’s very hot (80 degrees today and very humid) and no-one in the sea once again as it is ‘winter’!!! We just cannot believe it – we shall be in the sea and sunbathing tomorrow, even if they do think we’re mad!!

After we had moved in, we phoned the owner of the car, but couldn’t get a reply, so we went for a stroll. We arose at 9am and phoned the owner again, and then cleaned the car.

We did this because the owner of the agency in Philadelphia had advised that to, as he said that these owners of these cars are often very rich, and they often tip quite well. Some even tip as much as $50.

So, we religiously cleaned the car, and drove up to Pompano Beach, which is a very plush place north of Miami. We eventually found the address, which was in one of the most Ritzy areas I have ever seen!!  Each house had a road in front, and a waterway (or boat dock) at the back, and they all had Cadillacs in the drive, and yachts out the back.

We met Mr P, who showed us around his house. This demonstration of sheer wealth left us breathless – and this is only their winter home, which they only use for a few weeks of the year. The rest of the time it is locked and battened up and left for the summer. (They spend their summer in Philadelphia, where they have a large ranch).

This house alone is worth $52,000, and he has recently sold one of his ranches in Texas which was 17,000 acres big!!! So, you can imagine the money he has. He stays regularly at The Dorchester in London, and tours the world frequently.

We were putting out loads of hints, which we hoped would lead to a fat tip, and we honestly thought we had hit the jackpot with this one. We eventually got round to money and he carefully counted out $37.50, the exact amount he owes us for petrol.

Then offered to drive us to the bus station, and then put his hand in his pocket and very graciously gave us ONE DOLLAR each. This is the about the equivalent of three shillings each – and we had driven his car 1,400 miles and cleaned it too!!! We were disgusted and annoyed, and were glad to see the back of him.

The car incidentally was his wife’s. They already had one great gleaming monster there already. If money makes you that mean, I don’t want it.

We came back on the bus, and had a quick look around the beach area. It’s really beautiful and so clean. Anyway, I will tell you more about Miami in my next letter as I want to get this one away for you. We are job hunting tomorrow, so wish us luck.

Look after yourselves,

Lots of love, Tone xxxxx

(NOTE: America’s landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed just five months before this letter, finally outlawing racial segregation and discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Dad and Colin had arrived in America at a time of great change, upheaval and high racial tensions – but he confesses now that as two rather unpolitical young men, back when access to the news was much more limited, they were genuinely unaware of a great deal of current events around them!

Discussing this trip in particular, Dad recalled that he was so excited to be finally fulfilling his boyhood dream of driving across America – in a dream car to boot! – that at the time, he just wanted to live in the moment and enjoy every second.

 

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