« A Bird In The Hand | Main | Tutor »

About A Week: An American Love Affair

Peter Hinchliffe's love affair with America began with chewing gum and comics.

My love affair with America began with Juicy Fruit and Batman.

We had an evacuee staying with us during World War II. A London lad, bombed out of his home, whose mum had an American boyfriend.

Regular supplies of chewing gum and comics came through our letter box. Gifts from the boyfriend.

In gloomy-grey wartime-rationed England, American comics were like messages from a distant and far more exciting planet.

And American gum made you rich when it came to swaps.

One packet was worth half a dozen glassy marbles or a pocket magnet or a mouth organ with three notes missing.

I didn’t trade much Juicy Fruit. I chewed it myself. Soon I was an addict.

I chewed before breakfast. I chewed throughout the day. I chewed last thing at night. Lonnie Donegan sang about me. I parked gum on the bedpost.

My jaws were working again before I got out of bed in a morning.

When I was seven, eight, nine years old, I dreamed of going to America. Of choosing my own comics. Of having so much gum that I didn’t need to make one piece last all day.

The love affair deepened during my teens and twenties, nourished by novels, then rock ‘n’ roll.

America was Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. Time Magazine, Esquire, The New Yorker.

And, boy oh boy, it was Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard!

More than ever I longed to go to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.

And Memphis, Tennessee.

Then I started work as a trainee reporter in Batley.

I reported on council meetings, flower shows, funerals and magistrates’ courts for the Batley News.

After a year or two I joined the Huddersfield Examiner. I reported on council meetings, flower shows, funerals and magistrates’ courts.

America seemed a long way away. Almost as difficult to reach as Mars.

Suddenly, I was 27 years old, staring out from the Examiner reporters’ room on a grizzly drizzly December day at the blackened stone of Huddersfield Town Hall.

“That does it,” I said to myself. “I’ve got to get out of this place. If it’s the last thing I ever do.”

So I went to Huddersfield Reference Library, there to give myself writer’s cramp by copying the address of 50 American newspapers.

On January 1, 1962, I posted 10 job applications. To Fresno, California. To Sacramento, Modesto, Eureka, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Merced.

And Monterey.

Within days a letter dropped on to our kitchen mat. A fancy air mail envelope bearing the title of the Monterey newspaper.

It contained two closely typed sheets.

“Dear Peter, you are showing the spirit of adventure which made our country what it is today.”

“I’ve made it!” I thought. “Who’d have believed it would be so easy?”

“Unfortunately,” said the last paragraph of the letter, “we have no vacancies at this time, but I know your enterprise will one day bring you over to the land of the free. Best of luck.”

I drew a blank in California.

I tried 10 papers in Florida.

Another blank.

Ten in Ohio and Indiana.

Blank.

By this time it was May, 1962. Obstinacy kept me going.

I tried 10 papers in Texas.

A blank from Laredo, Abilene, El Paso, Fort Worth.

Then bingo! House!

Al Parker, managing editor of the Wichita Falls Times, said, “Come on over. We’ll give you a job. $100 a week.”

I was all for rushing to Liverpool and jumping on the first boat bound for the US of A.

But formalities had to be gone through. Three nerve-wracking months of formalities.

Answering questions at the US Consulate in the Liver Building, Liverpool.

“Are you, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Then I had a compulsory X-ray.

“Oh please, oh please, don’t let me suddenly discover I have TB.”

It was August when I finally boarded the Cunard liner Sylvania in Liverpool Docks.

Two weeks later, after a voyage and a series of Greyhound bus journeys from New York to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis and Oklahoma City, I reported for duty in the Wichita Falls city room, wide-eyed and nervous.

At the end of the first week Al Parker accepted me into the family. He said he liked my work.

“Do you know what got you the job, Limey?” he asked with a grin. “It was that line in your letter.”

He pulled my letter from his top drawer and read it back to me.

“Obviously, I cannot afford to come for an interview, so you will have to accept me on trust. You could be getting a lousy reporter, but spare a thought for me. I might be applying for a job on a lousy newspaper.”

All Parker’s grin broadened.

“I said to myself, this guy knows how to laugh. He’ll do.”

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.