Journey across America

As promised, I will now resume my story of my initial War Time Journey to North America, and our Service Flying Station in Canada. Our visit to Los Angeles could have been better, we were very much disadvantaged in that no one had any American money, or for that matter any money at all that anyone would recognise. No one it would seem, had given this small matter any thought. This meant we were, ‘On the Town’ and reduced to looking for anything and everything that was free. Fortunately for us during War Time, there were a lot of facilities available and free, catering for troops, such as the USO and other allied organisations. These even went as far as supplying a bunk at night to doss down in. For hospitality the Americans were simply wonderful, very generous with food and tickets to events. One problem that we had to contend with, was that we ‘talked’ funny. No one even knew where New Zealand was, or where we came from. The ‘Zealand’ bit had them ‘Foxed’, they placed us from somewhere in Scandinavia. Unfortunately by the time we had come to grips with what we could get from the entertainment system and exploit it, it was time for all to Marshall at the Rail Road Station, and move on.

Their Rail system was fascinating, the gauge of the rails was very large by our standards, even the rails seemed double in height to what we were used to back home, but when you considered the weight of the Locomotives they employed to haul their trains, that was what was required. We travelled in ‘Pullman’ cars, the height of luxury at the time. This meant at night your double seats were turned into beds, stacked two high. Privacy was taken into account by a curtain screen. You required this degree of comfort, as your journey could take four to five days. I understood that on some trains there were also ‘Day Coaches’ and in this ‘Class’ you slept where you sat, much like the over night express trains back home. It would seem in our War Time travels we were to experience many modes and degrees of accommodation. This ranged from the very basic bunks in the dark hold of a ship, to the very swept up. I think Forrest Gump put it very well when he said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get’. A dining car was attached to our train, very posh, even down to a linen and silver service. Here we ran into another problem. We still had no money, and to pay for our food we were given coupons, which turned out to be the minimum for any meal. Our appetites were larger that what the Rail Company regarded as a normal serving. After one small meal I did an ‘Oliver Twiss’ and asked for a ‘Return’. The waiter said he couldn’t comply, but if I wasn’t satisfied, go and ask the Chef for more. I did just that. and when I approached him, he saw my shoulder flashes, and inquired what part of NZ did I come from. I replied, ‘Somewhere you will have never heard of, Port Chalmers’. He replied, ‘I know it well, having been a cook on the New Zealand run’. ‘What is your name’? As he persisted with his questioning. I replied, ‘Really, my name wouldn’t mean much to you, but my Grandfather was Duncan Mackenzie who owned the Provincial Hotel’. Sometimes, it’s much better to have generous relatives who have helped many seamen down on their luck, than cash. From then on the food situation was taken care of. I’m of the opinion no matter where you go in this world, things keep on cropping up, proving to you just how small the world actually is. Another time I was in Cape Town in a South African Customs Office, trying to claim back some VAT when I met another woman doing the same thing, she said, ‘I can’t remember when I arrived here’, I told her just copy my form we arrived together. She exclaimed, ‘You are a New Zealander, where do you come from?’ It turned out she was Mrs Parsons who owned the New Orlean’s Hotel, Arrowtown, and soon we discovered, we had many mutual friends. At one timeI actually ran an agency out in Arrowtown once a week.

I’m sure we all enjoyed our trip through the Rockies, the scenery was really spectacular. The one thing that was brought home to us was the sheer size of North America. All too soon we arrived at our destination, Edmonton. My memory of this place was, that it’s one of the coldest places in the world. It’s the only place in the world where I have lived that you even planned your journey before you stepped out doors.

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