“I love America,” he said matter-of-factly when I met him at Washington National Airport late that night. “You can really bum your load over here,” he continued. Yes you certainly can, I thought. On his second trip from Scotland to the United States, my dad had spent the past forty-five minutes on a connecting flight from Newark sitting next to a cheerful loud American braggart. But, in the company of boasters, Dad was a spirited and well-rehearsed competitor. Apparently he had recanted his maiden American journey to his new American friend in terms comparable to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. “I let him have it,” he affirmed dryly. Alas, the unfortunate chap in seat 12A was probably just making friendly conversation with a foreigner. Outgunned!
Nevertheless, his tales were more than engaging. For example, stopping briefly for gas in Hurricane, Utah, on an otherwise dull and long drive from Las Vegas to Denver later became part of a momentous adventure that could have been a blockbuster prequel for Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Captivating accounts of exploration and intrigue were often built somewhat loosely around authentic details.
In another example, and there are many, the Sundance Kid’s illegal Canadian-American border crossing escapade pivoted on the unlawful conveyance of a small apple. A forbidden honey-crisp apple hidden deep in the trunk of the rental car. In a modern day Checkpoint Charlie scenario, Sundance used the illicit apple as a decoy in order to transit the international border without proper credentials. By bringing smuggled contraband to the attention of the American customs official, the cop didn’t check properly to see that Sundance had the correct paperwork with his passport. Classic stuff. Could have been used by Redford in a few more box office hits. In unembellished reality, Dad had accidently brought Mom’s I-94 visa form instead of his own and in reading the intimidating U.S. customs border signs he panicked about the Canadian apple in his bag. Only afterwards did he realize he had the wrong form. This became legend.
While Lewis and Clark risked many perils to map western territories in the early 1800s, two hundred years later I had to endure hazardous rapid highway pull-offs in order to secure authentic photographs of Dad with state welcome signs. Only once did the cops move us along.
For credibility back home in the local Scottish pub, donning a cowboy hat was considered mandatory anywhere west of the Mississippi. Ball caps were deemed suitable for the east coast and California.
Eat your heart out Lewis and Clark. In several visits over a fifteen-year period, Dad travelled throughout about three quarters of the United States. That’s more than a few dozen tall tales.
“If something is worth doing, just slap it together and get it out there.”