The lovely sunny weather we’re enjoying here in England at the moment is bringing back memories of past holidays. The one that particularly comes to mind is my second trip to the USA…
Many years ago, I used to work for the braille production unit at the RNIB. When the organisation moved this unit from London to Peterborough, however, many of the staff, including me, took the redundancy money and ran for the hills or, in my case, the United States, because I used my money to take my parents on holiday to California. I thought they would enjoy it.
We flew out of London Heathrow, appropriately enough, on Ascension Day. My father was not a happy flier and so it wasn’t an auspicious start when take-off was delayed. The laid-back American pilot assured us that said delay wasn’t because the crew were getting nervous, though Dad clearly was. After this unpromising start, he survived the flight quite well, but was then thoroughly alarmed by the plane’s sharp banking round some tall mountains on our approach to LAX. Despite Dad’s fears, though, the pilot brought the aircraft down smoothly and taxied us to the terminal without incident.
I had booked assistance because of my mobility issues and my parents were very grateful for this. They said they would never have found their way round the airport on their own. Fortunately, they only had to follow me in my wheelchair. Apart from my mum having to surrender her apple to customs, there were no dramas and we made our connection to San Francisco without incident.
Why San Francisco?
Because a friend of mine from college was living there. She met us at the airport and took us back to her house for a cup of tea (and it was real tea too, not the Americans’ idea of tea!).
I thought it would be a good idea to spend a weekend in San Francisco acclimatizing and recovering from the journey before picking up a hire car, so my friend booked us into a motel.
San Francisco is known for its restaurants and we did have some excellent meals out. (I also recall eating KFC in the motel room on one occasion, but you can’t live it up all the time!)
The first place we visited was Fisherman’s Wharf. We bought clam chowder from a street stall and ate it sitting on the kerb. Well, we were on holiday, so we were letting our hair down!
One day it rained but, no matter, we sheltered in the Cable Car Museum. Basically, this was a room under the streets where you could see the mechanism that powered what we would call a tram system. After trains and buses, trams were my father’s favourite thing. Mum and I just sat on a bench and let Dad revel in the excitement of looking at a load of cables.
My father was a clergyman and it was his custom to find churches for us to attend when we went on holiday. California was no exception. He searched the phone book in the motel, made a couple of calls and Sunday found us at the First Congregational Church.
We were warmly greeted at the door and had pink rosebud stickers affixed to our coats to show we were visitors. During the service, visitors were invited to stand up and it turned out that we made up a large proportion of those present. It was Memorial Weekend, when the dead of all wars are commemorated in the States. We were interested that candles were lit for members of the church who had died, but most of them were not military veterans but people who had died from AIDS.
That evening, we attended choral evensong at Grace Cathedral. It couldn’t have been more different from the studied informality of the morning’s service with the Congregationalists. This was worship on the grand scale: formal, liturgical and awe-inspiring. It was a wonderful experience.