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  • Philip Bryer

Is there gas in the car?

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

I have a firm ruling on subject matter; never use illness or holidays. However, as one of the best-received pieces I ever wrote was about my two-week holiday on the men's chest ward at Bristol Royal Infirmary, I feel it won’t do any harm to touch upon a recent trip to the USA.

Welcome to Boston

A city which, as the tinderbox of the American revolution and a major source of Provisional IRA cash for bombs and bullets, an Englishman might approach with some well-judged caution. With this in mind, I decided that if we were on a tourist bus or at an event and one of the guides were to ask, “So, where are you guys from?” I would pretend to be Italian. “Ah, mi dispiace ma sono Italiano. Non parlo Inglese.” I had it All. Worked. Out.

The Tour Bus

We board the hop-on-hop-off bus for the first time and hand our tickets to the driver/guide:

“So, where are you guys from?”

“England.” (Bugger!)

“Have ya come back for ya tea?”

The Tea Party Experience

This is a tourist attraction which involves the re-creation of the famous moment when British tea was dumped in Boston Harbour by Americans protesting against the rule of the Crown. We thought it sounded like a bit of a lark, so we pencilled it in, but in the end we didn’t go through with it. Why not? Read on.

The World’s #1 Clash Fan

The biggest fan of Britain’s great punk band The Clash is a charming thirty-year-old black geezer who is funding his music production ambitions by driving the Uber which took us on the forty-five minute ride from Boston to Salem. Most of which was spent talking about The Clash. He’s got all the CDs, albums, DVDs, and posters (he has a young family, so we must assume he is also lucky enough to have a wife who tolerates posters of The Westway on the walls of their apartment). He speaks of Joe, Mick, Paul, and Topper as if they were personal friends, and when I ask how a young chap like himself came to have such a relationship with a group of Englishmen who had disbanded before he was born, he replies that by chance he heard Rock the Casbah, was fascinated, researched them, could see they were for real, and the message they put across gave him the impetus to have a go at music himself. I never got your name but AhJegannie is your Uber handle, and we wish you well. And yes, to confirm, Peppa Pig is hugely popular over here too.

Steely Dan

It is the night of their residency at the Orpheum Theater and they open by playing the whole of the Gaucho album, which, despite having some fabulous grooves, I find rather a cold record. Unfortunately the provision of toilet facilities in the theatre is not commensurate with the amount of beer being shipped by chaps with bladders which have lost much of their youthful snap, so trips to the facilities have to be carefully timed, and at one point at the urinal I rue my decision to wear red suede shoes. My wife and granddaughter describe the opening act, a modern jazz trio, as ‘the worst half-hour of our lives’, I think things got marginally better, although we haven’t talked about it much. Still, it’s not for everybody. The thirteen-year-old may bear long-term scars from the sight of so many blokes of her granddad’s age enjoying themselves with such wild and unfettered abandon, but she liked the backing singers, The Danettes. And yes, there was gas in the car.

Barnes & Noble

The bookshop chain has a lovely large and airy store in the city. Just like in New York, the staff are chatty and knowledgeable, and shopping there is a real pleasure. As I wait in the queue I can hear the conversations at the tills:

“Have you read any of her other books?”

“Oh, I’m just like you, I simply love magazines!”

“Did you see the movie adaptation?”

I am carrying a book by Peter Asher (pictured). Peter Asher; legendary music producer, A&R man for the Beatles at Apple, and a great friend of Paul McCartney. Now, I have interviewed Peter Asher so I am awaiting my turn and rehearsing my lines with mounting excitement. At last I’m called forward. I offer up the book, resisting the temptation to say anything about it, keeping the old powder dry at this stage, and then she said:

“Are you a member of our loyalty programme?”

“Er, no. No, I’m not.” (While attempting mind transfer by repeated silent recital of the words, ‘I have interviewed Peter Asher, though’).

“That’ll be twenty-seven dollars.”

Peter Asher Beatles book

The Tea Party Experience

On the approach to the Harbour, as we gather up our things and prepare to disembark, the driver primes us for the Tea Party attraction:

“It’s a fully interactive experience, guys. You’ll get to take part in the re-creation of events. All of you playing a part, and you’ll be given cards with your lines on…”

My eyes meet Mrs Bryer’s. After all these years we know each other well. It is all in the eyes and the oh-so-slight motion of the head which is imperceptible to the casual bystander. We stay on the bus.

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