Our early years in the States saw my dad try a number of brands, Marlboro Red and Camel largely dominating his smoking habits. But I don’t think he was particularly loyal.
Sometime in the summer of 1973 we were down in New Orleans, either heading north from Texas to Chicago or heading south from Ohio to Texas, I forget now. But I remember New Orleans. The huge expanse of Lake Pontchartrain and the amazing bridge that seemed to skim across the lake’s surface. We’d have been in a rental car, as the only time we actually owned a car in our American years was for a few months in early 1973. Dad bought a big green station wagon. We’d only had it a few weeks, and were headed out from Bowling Green to visit friends in Northampton, Massachusetts. Just over the New York State line we picked up a hitchhiker. Even though the wagon was tightly packed with the seven of us, and our baggage, we found room for Terry, a student heading for New York City.
Near Herkimer there was a loud noise, sounded a lot like the low flying jets that occasionally shot over the top of your car in England when you were in certain parts of the country. Everybody peered around to see what the noise was and the car went into a roll. In the short seconds of the crash my mind was focused on one thing: don’t let go of the nail clippers I had bought for 50-cents at the last rest stop. I’d never had a pair of nail clippers before, and I didn’t want to lose them in a dumb crash.
The car came to a rest on the outside lane of the four-lane Interstate 90. A truck behind had stopped to block traffic and people were obviously trying to see what the story was. The car had stopped on its side, and was totaled. Later on the police said that they were amazed anybody came out of the wreck alive, as we had flipped and rolled three times, and the truck driver couldn’t believe it when, one by one, all eight of us emerged with no injuries save a deep laceration to dad’s head. I say eight – seven actually emerged from the car, as Lloyd, my older brother, had been thrown clear and come to a rest a few yards from the car, unscathed apart from some scratches and the mysterious loss of his cowboy boots. The police ferried the family to the local Howard Johnson’s. Dad was taken off for stitches and that night we ordered whatever we liked from the menu, a real treat. I still had my nail clippers clutched in my hand.
The car was mangled beyond recognition and towed away to be scrapped. Later we found out the entire back axle had snapped, and the jet-like roar was the metal dragging along the tarmac. Our friend David had to drive over from Northampton to pick us up, a journey not without humour as he was suffering from a slipped disc and had to drive (propped up with pillows) in an almost upright position. Still, he drove with good will, a Marlboro clamped in his mouth and ash tumbling down his shirt front.
So we would have been driving a rental in New Orleans. We watched paddle steamers on the Mississippi and had lunch on Bourbon Street. Wandering around the restaurant after eating I found, in the tray of the cigarette machine, two packs of Kool menthol cigarettes. I took them back to our table and negotiated a small cash sum from dad, who smoked Kool for the next couple off days. Later on it became so hot that a pen left on the dashboard of the car melted when we stopped at a small petting zoo where a donkey ate the buttons from my sister’s shirt.