This is an excerpt from my book : Morrissey International Airport. In 2011 while following Morrissey around Texas we stopped off at Dealey Plaza - the scene of the assassination of John F Kennedy.
Wednesday 16 November 2011
Up and out at speed and feeling rough. We didn't get in until the early hours. Thank goodness for Texas licensing laws which make it illegal for anywhere to sell alcohol after 2am.
Today it's onward to Dallas which is a six or seven hour train journey. It's getting to be a bit of a drag unpacking the case, then repacking the case, then when we leave somewhere making sure we've got all our belongings, tickets and passports. I've been losing paperwork as I go - deliberately. As soon as we've left one motel I've destroyed all the maps, address details, bus tickets. On a trip like this the paperwork almost outweighs your clothing. Not that I packed many clothes. I'd brought with me old teeshirts and jeans so once worn I could dispose of them. The plan was for my bag to get lighter as the trip goes on.
And so, the Amtrak. Austin train station consists of one basic waiting room. For a city this size it's a bit of a let down. I mean, I wasn't expecting London St Pancras, but I've seen Hornby model stations bigger than this. Our train is meant to depart at 09:31 but it's running late. A giant Union Pacific freight train thunders through, bells ringing, pulling about three hundred trucks. Trainspotting can't be big over here; you wait days for train and when it arrives it goes on and on and on.
Finally, ours shows up. The grandly titled Texas Eagle. We make our way to the sleeping car. Helpful Amtrak staff carry our bags. Good start. We are led to a Superliner Roomette which is basically a mini compartment for us to relax in. The two chairs turn into bunks. This is what you call travelling in style.
But no time for sleep. Breakfast is being served. Our onboard train manager Tony Clementi seems like a character and welcomes us with a feast fit for kings in the dining car. He's fast talking and funny. In his uniform and specs he reminds me of Tom Hanks in the Polar Express. He offers us a beer. "No way," I say instantly. "Oh come on Ricardo, you know you want to," urges Tony. The train to Dallas is already looking like a fine move. Orange juice, coffee, cheese omelette, potatoes, cakes, all included in our $65 fare.
I reckon I only had about five hours sleep last night, so decide that the bunk may be a good idea, at least for an hour or so. Before I pull the curtains across I notice that the slightly weird passenger in the roomette opposite is reading Pure Murder by Corey Mitchell. It slightly unnerves me. As the train shudders and lurches no wonder I find it difficult to fall asleep.
Mid doze I wake to the sound of train manager Tony with an "important announcement": "Will passengers Felton and Crist make their way to the dining car as lunch is served." More food aboard the Texas Eagle. Lunch is splendid and I'm surprised at the big vegetarian selection. Black bean and corn veggie burger, greek salad. You don't get this back home on Virgin. Me: "So Tony, what time will we reach Dallas?" Tony: "We may get there at 4pm or 5pm or later, who knows?"
I start to question the vagueness over timings but it quickly becomes apparent how difficult it must be for Amtrak to keep to exact times. The distances covered provide a clue. The Texas Eagle is travelling the entire length of the US. From San Antonio in the south to Chicago in the north. The journey will take a staggering 22 hours. So it's almost impossible to say exactly when a train will arrive at a stop along the way.
Big Tony downstairs in the snack bar is doing his best to drum up custom for every calorific snack under the sun. Every once in a while he gets on the public address to advertise his "Candies, pretzels and potato chips." I imagine that if you were on this train for the full 22 hours you'd eat your entire bodyweight in junk food.
Never once is it announced how the train is behind schedule or what time we'll reach Dallas. If you have a young family the Amtrak just wouldn't be an option. Stations with no facilities, trains which may or may not turn up. But for us, on this sunny Wednesday, it's ideal. We don't see Morrissey again until Thursday. For the next few hours we just recline in the viewing car.
Our train eventually rolls in at tea time. The last moments aboard the Texas Eagle and we're ending it where we started seven hours ago - in the dining car. I'm excited: "Will we pass the place where JFK was shot?" "Yes the train goes right past Dealey Plaza, you will see it to our left," says ever helpful Tony Clementi. I give an enthusiastic: "Oh great!"
Tony laughs sarcastically: "Oh yeah 'great' Ricardo, getting excited about a man getting his brains blown out..." I didn't mean to sound so kiddy about a place where a man lost his life. But this is the site of massive historical importance and like everybody else I've watched the documentaries, seen the Oliver Stone film and been intrigued as to what really happened.
Time to get off the Texas Eagle. I had my bags packed about an hour ago ready to dive into Dallas. Not that I'm desperate for our rail odyssey to end, I'm just keen to experience a new city. Matt is still supping a Bud Light - in no rush to do anything. If it wasn't for the Morrissey gig tomorrow both of us could quite happily stay on the Amtrak all the way to the Windy City. Travelling by train in the US is fabulous.
How could so many citizens of this wonderful and crazy country be so apathetic to rail travel? I lost count of the frowns and sighs we received in Austin when telling people we'd be hopping aboard the train for this date of the tour. Compared to Britain, the trains here are sensational.
We wave our goodbyes to Tony and his Polar Express. Stepping down onto the platform the chill hits us immediately. Dallas is several notches colder than Austin. We walk about three blocks and are at Dealey Plaza. This is it. The place John F Kennedy was assassinated. I'm struck by how, 40 years on, the place looks exactly the same as it did in all the old newsreels. Very little has changed around here since 22 November 1963. I expected to see a McDonalds or a Wendy's, but Dealey Plaza is exactly as you'd expect it to be. There's a few people milling around. Photographs get taken, people loiter near the white fence on the grassy knoll: a location cited by conspiracy theorists as being where a second gunman fired at the President.
Despite its horrific past and six lanes of traffic, Dealey Plaza is green and peaceful. A few street vendors tout souvenir newspapers of the assassination. The Plaza is named after George Bannerman Dealey, an early publisher of the Dallas Morning News and civic leader who died in 1946. Yet the place named in his honour is synonymous with an infamous murder.
Anyway, enough of JFK for now. We need to hunt out our motel. As usual, it's cheap as chips and a little way outside downtown. Not that this is much of a problem; the gig tomorrow is on a university campus north of Dallas and our place is up that way.
I amble with little purpose. Matt is more direct and darts across a pedestrian crossing while I get stuck at a red light. From across the road I see he's successful in hailing a cab. By the time the lights change and I catch up he's already deep in conversation with the taxi driver. And while it may be a full six weeks until 25 December, we have landed in a sleigh, I mean cab, driven by Father Christmas. "I am Santa" proclaims our taxi driver. Oh no - not another lunatic. We've only been in this city five minutes and we have a cabbie with a split personality.
But no, our driver really is Santa, well, for four weeks of the year anyway. He gets dressed in red, decorates his cab and spreads season's greetings across Dallas. He sounds like a lovely guy until we drive through a somewhat depressed part of town: "You know, there are people here who will rob you, stab you and kill you."
This is not exactly the kind of festive cheer I was expecting from Lapland's finest. I'm not sure whether he is referring to this particular neighbourhood of Dallas or America in general. There's something totally disturbing about a taxi driver issuing this kind of safety advice because taxi drivers tend to be in the know. Like our driver in Houston. There's none of the obligatory "But every place has good parts and bad" reassurances, St Nick just paints a bleak picture. Our nerves rise as we slide onto the freeway headed to our last motel of the tour. Please let this be in an area we won't get robbed, stabbed or killed.
Hurrah, the Best Western Cityplace Inn looks survivable. We make plans to shower and hit a restaurant and some bars, assuming there are any. I'm thirsty - I haven't touched a drop all day. But for the very first time this tour Matt is out for the count. Sprawled on his back, he isn't going anywhere. Even the party maestro needs his kip sometimes.
Thursday 17 November 2011
McFarlin Auditorium, Dallas, Texas, USA
Matt: "I can't believe I fell asleep. Why didn't you wake me. I was all set for a session."
Me: "Sorry mate, there was no rousing you, you obviously needed your sleep."
Truth is I didn't try to wake him at all. I was totally shattered and needed a night in. I was almost relieved he was zonked. But today - our last day and night in America - will be different. We'll go out with a bang and watch magical Morrissey live tonight at the McFarlin Auditorium.
We walk to Downtown Dallas. There's an amazing amount of building work going on with cranes everywhere. I've always viewed this as a positive; it means a city is in good health. Dallas Museum of Art has a brand new exhibition: The Fashion World of John Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. It features over 140 haute couture dresses.
We fancy taking a look, but it doesn't open for an hour so we wander instead. We have the entire day at our disposal and it's the last day, which means we're keen to pack in as much as we can.
"Strange Dallas, isn't it?" I observe, "You know, we've been walking for an hour from the motel to the centre of town and we haven't seen a single person." Matt: "Where is everyone? It's not like it's a Sunday. This is Thursday, isn't it?" Of course, there's millions of people sat in cars, mostly stuck in the same traffic jam, but no pedestrians. There aren't even any shops; I had been looking forward to clothes shopping. But instead it's just skyscraper after skyscraper. At last, people. We spot some construction workers building another skyscraper to stand alongside the million or so others. But there's just so few people anywhere. Strange.
We eventually get to the memorial to John F Kennedy. It looks like a huge art installation. White walls surround a granite slab which bears the name of the dead President in gold letters. It's a beautiful spot, meant for reflection. We arrive to find a party of young schoolchildren having their lunch sat on top of it.
We head to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza which chronicles the assassination and legacy of JFK. The 48th anniversary of his murder takes place in a few day's time and the museum is busy. Me and Matt don headphones and take in the audio tour. Museum staff look like nightclub bouncers. The word 'security' on teeshirts puts you ill-at-ease immediately. Maybe that's the whole point. We were issued with a stern warning about not taking photographs or video.
The most remarkable thing about this museum is that it's located in the building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that changed history. And in the corner, separated from museum visitors by perspex, is the very window from where Oswald pulled the trigger. In the souvenir shop they sell replica beads like the ones Jackie Kennedy was wearing on that fateful day. On the carriageway outside 'X' marks the exact spot where bullets hit their target. We watch some motorists swerve so not to drive over the very spot where 'it' happened.
The City Bar, Dallas lightens the mood. Christmas lights adorn a large mirror behind the bar as a 50s crooner croons on the stereo. We sip ice cold cans of lager. There's a pop art poster of Johnny Cash on the wall and the Texas flag, of course, hangs proud.
We hop next door to a posh-looking hotel to see a bus outside. Not any bus; the Morrissey tour bus. Wow. Morrissey and band must be staying here. We settle at the bar as staff put up the Christmas tree. It's all very festive and it's fitting to get an expensive bottle of red wine in. Suddenly, we spot Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias getting aboard the bus.
Me and Matt have some philosophical banter about what exactly are we doing 4,000 miles from home following a pop star. By the end of the conversation we both agree that it's just something we do because it's just we something we do. And, well, it's just so much fun. The red wines start to flow, and when Matt isn't looking I decide to do something very silly. I source paper and envelope from the hotel receptionist and I pen a brief note to our hero:
It's Dickie here from Liverpool. We are following the tour from San Antonio to Dallas. You have been amazing. We've loved watching you this week and as tonight is our final night I was wondering, if possible, could you shake Matt's hand during the gig?
I hand it to the receptionist and it's a very surreal moment as I say: "I was wondering, could you get this to Mr Morrissey?" Receptionist: "Certainly, sir. I will make sure he gets it right this minute."
Me, in a sweat and a panic: "Er, well, you don't have to get it to him straight away..."
Receptionist: "No, I insist, he's in his room so I will take it now to ensure he gets it."
Within a split second I rejoin Matt at the bar, tell him nothing of my letter-writing and suggest we head off, quickly. Anyway, it's early evening and we don't want to be late. We have a quick freshen up at the motel then hit the road on foot, headed north to another university campus. We walk alongside a four lane freeway in the general direction of the McFarlin Auditorium. We have no real idea where we are going. The receptionist at the Cityplace Inn just pointed in the general direction. Up and out of the city and towards the university. We end up walking through some nice suburban areas.
Matt sees the sign first and stops stunned: "Look at that. A bar called Strangeways. Can you believe this? We are 4,000 miles from home on our way to a Morrissey gig and accidentally stumble upon a bar named in his honour?" This bar looks like an old mission, or an old shack, a bit like the Alamo but smaller. "Matt, I just don't believe it. Come on, the Strangeways must refer to something totally different. A bar in a suburban street in Dallas, Texas, would not be named after The Smiths' 1987 studio album. Would it?"
We walk in. And then jaws drop as we gawp at a selection of Smiths' sleeves on the walls, and photos of our hero everywhere. We don't even say a word to each other. We just pull up a stool at the bar and try to take it all in. The owner, Eric, shows up and we introduce ourselves. Eric is the man who has transformed what was a beat-up bar with a bad reputation into something altogether more charming. For the first time this entire trip we are served real ales. None of that Bud Light stuff. "...and so you named a bar after a Smiths album?" I ask, "That's just genius."
Eric shows us photographs of him with Morrissey. He went to the star's home when he was living in Los Angeles. "I'm not like one of these fans who hang around waiting for Morrissey to sign their arm," Eric says. I lie: "No mate, me neither."
The talk goes around that Morrissey was in Dallas today getting his hair cut and allegedly insisted that the barber mop up all his hair and give it back. Laughs all round. A story so wild, it's probably entirely true. Eric seems like a top guy and offers us a lift to the gig via a few other bars in the neighbourhood. By the time we show up at the McFarlin we are slightly worse for wear. Like Austin on Tuesday, we find ourselves in a cleaner-than-clean university campus. Eric drops us off near the venue while he parks up. The McFarlin-looks a bit like the college in James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause - all steps and brick.
Inside we bump into Cathy and Tom. And two British fans: Paul, who made it on stage in San Antonio, and the ever everywhere Stephen Tait. Another all seated venue, we just loiter with the rest of the hardcore Morrissey fans near the front of the stage. We watch Kristeen Young's set and she's fabulous. At first Security seem happy to let fans stand where they want. We are exceedingly close to the stage, stood behind Stephen and Paul. The venue has a stage which protrudes a little in the centre allowing Morrissey to get as close to his fans as possible.
The bells chime, Morrissey walks on and declares: "We have come to occupy Dallas." Then, although it's a familiar set, we just marvel at seeing him again and being close. Thousands of miles from home we just want to savour every single second. You Have Killed Me, You're The One For Me Fatty sound as good as ever until I feel a tap on my shoulder. "Let's see your tickets. Are you sure you should be stood here?" Security suddenly gets tetchy. Matt's all in a flap: "I haven't got the tickets, have you?"
Somewhere rooted in my denim jeans in a crumpled mess should be my ticket. But I turn to Paul and Stephen in front, "Er lads, I don't suppose I can borrow your tickets for a split second?" I flash the two tickets and Security seems to accept them. All's fine but as we enjoy First Of The Gang To Die, Security moves back in: "Can we see your tickets again?" This is getting stressful. I turn to Paul and Stephen again, but it looks like we've been rumbled. May as well just accept that Security wants us to move back to our seats.
Until, Morrissey stops mid song, turns to the four of us and says: "Are you all OK?" Moz then beckons his own security guy to tell the McFarlin local Security to piss off. What a fantastic moment. As the set nears the end Morrissey comes close and seems to make a beeline for Matt. His arm stretches; so does Matt's. It's a re-run of Douglas as hands clasp together. I wonder if..? I wonder if Morrissey got that letter? Maybe it hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
Before he launches into the final song Morrissey says: "I'm sorry you've all been strapped to the floor, but you're not old enough to be trusted by yourselves." The band bursts into Still Ill as assorted bodies propel themselves towards the stage. Morrissey sings and touches as many hands as he can as we enter the last moments. I decide it's my time. Matt gives me a lift, I hit the stage. I miss Morrissey, Morrissey misses me. Security pounces. My body dragged off.
Slumped over pizza with a sore left wrist, me, Matt and Cathy reflect on a fantastic gig. Tom's not happy with the heavy handed security; neither am I. But Morrissey had sung well, the band had been great and it had been another sensational night.
But as we wait for a cab back to our motel, all I can really think about right now is home. I haven't seen Jen and Frankie for a week. We get back to the motel. "Right Dickie, let's have a nightcap in Strangeways. Come on, it's the last night." Me: "I'm finished Matt, it's time for bed."
Friday 18 November 2011
We are on separate flights today. While I head home to England, Matt has a few more days in America to visit friends. I explain to the taxi driver that Matt's flight is at 10:00, while mine's not until 14:05 so he needs to go to Matt's terminal first.
But not for the first time a Texas taxi driver has us in a spin. "No, wait a minute, if one of you wants to be dropped off at Terminal One and the other at Terminal Three that's a problem. These terminals are miles apart. I wouldn't want you to miss your flights."
From what he is saying Dallas Fort Worth Airport is the size of a small British city - probably bigger than somewhere like Milton Keynes. "Mate, it's fine, drop Matt off and I will just get off with him at his terminal. My flight is not for hours, so I can wait." Taxi driver, determined to complicate and confuse matters: "But the terminals are miles apart, what I can do is take one of you to Terminal Three and one of you to Terminal One..." For the first time all trip me and Matt speak at the same time, loudly: "Just drive will yeh."
The road to Fort Worth is littered with conspiracy theories; taxi driver is convinced there were multiple shooters on the grassy knoll. He even has diagrams to prove it, which he unveils while doing 100mph along the freeway. We emerge from under his diagrams and souvenir JFK assassination newspapers to arrive at our terminal.
And so this is it. Six days, four cities, three Morrissey gigs, 54 songs, one handshake, one failed stage invasion: our American adventure is almost over. Matt goes through security with Philadelphia his next destination. I hope the bars are ready for him.
I need to catch a flight to Chicago where I have a 40 minute wait before catching a plane back to Manchester, England. The girl at American Airlines is certain I will have time to make my connection in Chicago. "Oh don't worry, sir. American Airlines is never late." "That's good to know, but I only have 40 minutes changeover time to get my Manchester flight." "Mr Felton, relax, it will all be fine."
And so I do relax; magazines, breakfast, lunch, a few nervous stares at departure boards. And then I notice: 14:05 Chicago DELAYED. Apparently there's horrendous weather in Chicago which is delaying flights. I go to the American Airlines desk: "As things stand, if I miss my connection I'll not get back to England. Is there any chance you can get me on an earlier flight out of here?"
Several other travellers are trying the same thing. And so there's now seven of us on the reserve list for three places. What had been a relaxing wait has now got tense. "Hang in there, Mr Felton," assures the American Airlines girl: "We'll do our best to get you out of here." I can't help but smile: she's making it sound like we're in the movies and I'm escaping some kind of nuclear armageddon.
I pace the gate, glance up at the departure board, I do some more pacing, I bite my nails, I check my phone for the millionth time. "Ok, Mr Felton - you're on - here's your boarding pass."
I get to Chicago O'Hare International early and the airport has Christmas in full swing. Huge Christmas trees, lights everywhere. It's very seasonal and in a very warming way, just nice. The last leg of the trip. I board another American Airlines flight. First fail on my part, I didn't reserve a seat. And so I find myself in the worst ever spot on the worst ever plane. I'm rammed in the corner next to two huge blokes. The leg room is minimal. There was more room in the back of my old Renault Megane Coupe. Seven hours of torture. How on earth am I going to deal with this? Why didn't I just book with British Airways coming home? Why didn't I try to pre-book my seat?
My iPod on, I listen to a Desert Island Discs' Tony Adams interview. Then I read a magazine I picked up in Dallas: Best Homes In America, 150 pages of the most inspiring homes. This is torture. Seven hours to go, six hours to go, five hours to go, four hours to go, three hours to go...