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Around The Sun: Arriving In The USA

Steve Harrison's arrival in the United States heralded experiences in the first 48 hours which were more bizarre than a fiction writer could have invented.

Never drive cars supplied by strangers who you have just met, especially if you don’t know their name.

I had hitchhiked through Europe and across North Africa. I had discovered Amsterdam and run out of money. I returned to England with only a few shillings in my pocket.

Then I saw a sign. “Freddie Laker Flights To America, New York £59 or Los Angeles £79.'' It was too good to be true. I applied for a US visa, wrote a couple more bad cheques and the next thing I knew I was on a jet bound for the good old USA.

While in Spain I had met a couple in a bar. They said that if ever I was in the States I should drop in and stay with them. I also had a girlfriend, Joanna Dowd, who lived in California.

As the flight neared Los Angeles I started to talk to a black guy who was returning home after working in London. I told him the address of the couple I had met in Spain. He knew the area. He had a car at the airport, and offered to drop me off at their house.

I sailed through immigration. Hey presto, I was in America! I went with the black guy to a car park at L.A. airport. On the sixth or seventh level there was a Ford Capri. And that's when things started to go wrong. My new buddy discovered that his car keys were in a jacket back in London. No problem, he said. He would call his brother in Pasadena, and he would bring the spare set of keys.

I didn't know it at the time but Pasadena is miles and miles from the airport. We did a lot of standing around and chewing the cud, waiting for the brother to show. When he finally turned up we decided it was too late in the day to drop in on the couple I had met in Spain. I gave them a call. They sounded surprised. It was obvious they didn't remember who they had invited to come and stay at their home.

The brother had brought the car keys, but we couldn't get the thing to start. We decided to leave it where it was. I would collect it and drive it to Pasadena on the following day. I spent that night at the home of the brothers.

In the morning we returned to the airport. I left all my gear at their house. The idea was that we would pick up the Ford, return to Pasadena, then the guy I had met at the airport would drive me on to the San Fernando Valley. This time, with a bit of petrol in the carburator, the Capri started up. I got behind the wheel - left-hand drive - and followed the guy at breakneck speed, down the exit ramps, out onto the street.

We got onto the freeway, heading East. I was a bit of a lead foot at the time, but my new-found friend was obviously a racing driver. I had never been on a highway so broad and so busy. We were really cruising. I switched the radio on. The Beachboys... This was the life!

My friend was weaving in and out of traffic, continually changing lanes. I was doing my best to keep him in sight. I was gazing in wonder at the downtown skyscrapers when another driver came alongside me, sounding his horn. I wound down my window. I couldn't make out what he was shouting at me. I accelerated, trying to keep my friend's vehicle in sight.

Another car came alongside. It's driver was pointing. Making peculiar gestures. I was confused. Were American drivers all mad? Then I looked in the rear view mirror and saw smoke pouring from the back of my car. I stuck my head out of the window. Thick black smoke was billowing from a rear tyre.

Other drivers were now blowing their horns. Ahead the highway divided. Four lanes went in one direction, four lanes in another. At the divide there was a small concreted area. I pulled the car onto this, set the handbrake, switched off the engine, then got out and ran away. I thought the car was about to blow up.

After running for a hundred yards or so I stopped and looked back. There was still smoke, but no sign of flames. Cars were whistling by.

The reality of my situation suddenly hit me. I didn't know the name of the black guy who owned the Capri. I didn't know his address, and all my stuff was at his house. Passport, international driver's license...

And the guy was nowhere to be seen.

I walked back to the car. Surely the cops would soon be on the scene? How could I possibly explain my situation. Even to my own ears it would sound far-fetched. I thought that with a bit of luck I would be able to change the wheel, and get on my way again. But where to?

I only had one car key and it opened neither the boot nor the petrol filler cap. Should I abandon the car and make a run for it, or sit tight and hope that help arrived.

...You see I met this guy on the 'plane. No, I don't know his name. And he took me to his house. No, I don't know the address. And I'm hoping this couple I met in a bar in Spain will give me a bed for a few days...

I must have sat there for at least half an hour, then God took pity on me. A breakdown truck pulled up by me. It's driver was a happy-go-lucky guy. He even seemed to believe my story.

He had just finished fixing the tyre when along came my black friend. He had driven quite a way before finding a place to u-turn and back-track.

So all was well that ended well. I rang the couple I had met in Spain again, and they graciously offered hospitality. Though they still seemed puzzled as to where they had met me.

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