Neil Smith

3 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Howelling for joy.

Howelling for joy.— L. 1] = |

This is an unreliable memoir of early travels in the USA from an unreliable author. The events below all happened a long time ago and my memory of them is partial and uneven. In fact, it's probably best to not pay any attention to it at all. Any names used are false and any similarity to real life is purely coincidental. The first part of this is called Awake in a dream of America and can be found here on 

The road to Michigan.

In the days following my arrival in America there was a degree of tension and uncertainty in the air between my two travelling companions and myself. Mostly though this didn't affect me because I was utterly clueless. I had no idea what was going on between them. Didn't know what was going on between me and the girl (Let's call her Alice) I had come to visit and frankly, didn't have much of a clue about what was going on generally. On top of that, fatigue and a general lack of awareness meant that I missed a lot of the atmosphere. Mostly I existed in a state that could be described as manic, detached enthusiasm. I couldn't ask "So is this your boyfriend then?" because (A) It felt like a very awkward subject and (B) because the answer might be a resounding "Yes" and I wasn't yet ready for that level of negative certainty in life. Instead I spent the journey staring at all the novel stuff that was passing by the window and allowed the sensory overload that is America to protect me from an uncertain and possibly unwelcome reality.

So we drove through Buffalo and I stared, fascinated by the endless parade of gas stations, convenience stores and fast food outlets. The roads were wide and contained some uniquely american cars, the billboards were huge and all kinds of everything was all sorts of different. Bigger, brighter, more garish, more in your face.

Only some rustic from a small Highland village could be excited by the sight of a White Castle burger joint or a Big Boy restaurant offerring free refills. The petrol stations also sold coffee which you could make white by adding a kind of powder called "creamer". How amazing was that?! Seriously, it took so little to impress me in the eighties. I couldn't have been more of a hick if I was leading a cow on a string. And the more I cared about such trivia the less likely I was to get into complicated, scary conversations.

Niagara was a bit blah unfortunately. The falls were huge and majestic and the primal force of the river was obvious. I could have sat listening to the roar of the water for hours. The setting let the falls down though. They just look to have been installed in a large car park and surrounded by ugly buildings with no thought to enhancing the natural splendour of the falls themselves. Even then this thought struck me as ironic. An hour earlier I had been orgasmically excited because I had purchased a massive sandwich that was at least a foot long and now I struggled to appreciate one of the world's iconic locations. We walked around, took a tour, got wet and headed back to the car for the trip through Canada to the border with Michigan.

Time to talk.

The rest of the journey passed without incident and we made our way to the town of Howell, Michigan. This was a pleasant small town outside Detroit known for growing melons, an annual balloon festival and for being the home of a former KKK grand dragon.


The plan was to spend a couple of days with Alice's friends before heading to her family home in Trenton just south of Detroit. I spent most of the first day being introduced to some very pleasant, welcoming people and saying things for them in my allegedly cute accent. I drank tea and enjoyed lazing in a sunny garden with very little to do until at one point the heat got a bit too much and I retreated to the basement for respite.

Aren't basements amazing? In half a century of life I have never met anyone in Scotland or Ireland who has one in their house yet they are not particularly expensive to build, warm in winter, cool in summer and provide an ideal location for imprisoning enemies and temporarily storing their bodies. What's not to like?

Anyway in this basement, at this time there was only one other body and she was far from dead. Alice, like me had sought shelter from the swelter and was hiding out underground. For the first time that week we were alone and there was no hiding from having to talk. Almost her first question was to ask me why had I been avoiding her and been so uncommunicative on the trip. Well!  Was I ever righteously indignant. I  hadn't shown up with a significant other in tow. It wasn't my  country. Who the hell ever makes serious personal conversation while there's a third party at the wheel? Huh? Answer me that.

What I actually spluttered was more along the lines of "Em, eh, well em. Well I kind of um eh thought you eh were um ah well, you know, your boyfriend kind of thing.

Except much less pithy and expressive than that. It turned out that I was wrong about the boyfriend thing although in my defence it would have done no harm had she dropped that little nugget into conversation at some point. He was a friend who took advantage of my arrival to visit people he knew in NY. Apparently she was all ready to throw herself at me and I just hadn't seemed all that interested in being thrown at.

Communication eh? We should try that.

It all appears much more straightforward than it did thirty years ago.

This changed everything. Suddenly, in the basement a whole new scenario was opening up and it seemed like I wasn't destined to find myself camping out for the summer at the airport waiting for a ride back home however just at that moment the rest of the group wandered downstairs to join us. Earlier I referred to them as "friendly, welcoming people", well it turns out I was wrong about that. What I actually meant was "Insensitive bastards. The kind of clods who would walk into a basement and get in the way when a tender scene was developing." but perhaps I'm being a little bitter and unfair.

The next couple of days in Howell were a bit of a pleasant blur. Alice's not boyfriend at all went back to East lansing and I enjoyed being a tourist. We bought corn on the cob from a farm where the cobs were snapped off the plant, ate barbecued food outdoors in the sun and visited the nearby town of Brighton where we held hands, kissed in public and behaved like two teenagers who should get a room. In my memory however Brighton itself is an utter blank.

On our last night in Howell I went to sleep eventually and not in the most relaxed frame of mind. On the following day Alice's parents were to pick us up and take us to Trenton. Meeting the parents when I had only barely met the girl hadn't ever been part of the plan. Not that I had anything like a plan in the first place. Staying with these potentially homicidal, overly protective strangers for two weeks seemed somewhat intimidating even if they didn't imprison me in the basement.

Still, I'd probably get time off for good behaviour.



If you liked this then please feel free to share it with your friends and connections. Other pieces by me, both personal and paid can be found here on 

Thanks for reading.
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Neil Smith

3 years ago #9

That's what all my old friends are asking too Claire L Cardwell and I will certainly be coming back to this as soon as work allows. Cheers.

Claire L Cardwell

3 years ago #8

Great piece of writing Neil Smith! What happened next?

Neil Smith

3 years ago #7

Nothing was clear then and not much is now but despite that it was a pretty exciting time. Now I have to go and look up that Peggy Lee song. Thanks Jerry. 

Jerry Fletcher

3 years ago #6

Neil, Reminds me of a Peggy Lee song: "Is That All There Is?" Sometimes looking back makes me wonder if anything was ever really clear especially that guy/girl stuff.

Neil Smith

3 years ago #5

Bloody hell. Thanks for the compliment @Pascal Derrien. It's funny the things that stick in your mind. But I will always remember strolling around a Niagara car park and thinking "Is this it?". 

Neil Smith

3 years ago #4

Bloody hell. Thanks for the compliment 

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #3

That's a very TALENTED piece of writing men thinks, the sentiments and their complexity are thoroughly described, funny I was not impressed by Nigara falls either its a bit like Christmas build up in Ireland 30 days of frenzy for turkey sandwiches not much spark in the end ?

Neil Smith

3 years ago #2

Thanks Debasish Majumder. I am quite enjoying living in the past for a while.

Debasish Majumder

3 years ago #1

nice buzz Neil Smith! liked and shared. thank you for the buzz.

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