Vacation - A Nightmare In America
The year was 1998, and this would be my first vacation alone.
I was 38 years old and had promised myself from a young teen, that I would visit America before I was 40.
I had been writing to my American pen friend for just over a year, when I was invited to stay.
I had got this guys name from a local magazine for incarcerated men, looking for pen friends.
That should have told me something, but I was immature and naive.
That following year I saved as hard as I could to get my flight from the UK to Florida.
Upon booking my flight, I could not get a direct one so had to change in Newark NY and wait four hours for my connecting flight.
That year went so slow, but eventually the day arrived when I was flying out of the UK to America, this was definitely a dream come true.
I arrived eagerly at the airport and waited for my flight to be called out. I was flying with Continental Airways.
I boarded the plane, and waited until we were ready to take off. Settling into my seat and preparing myself for the long flight ahead.
Upon arriving at Newark, I made my way through passport control, and then through to security where I could wait for my connection.
My hand luggage was scanned and all was fine, then as I went through the security barriers I set off all of the alarms.
The security guard asked me to go back through, and to take off any jewellery or metal that I had on me and try again.
It was not until the fourth attempt I realised I had a belt around my trousers that had a metal buckle. I mentioned this to the security guard but he would not have it. He frisked me and used the metal detecting rod over my body. I once again told him that I thought it was my belt and it would be a good idea for me to take it off. After some persuasion and by now a group of people watching, I was anxious, scared and just wanted to go home.
The security manager came over, and I explained to him what I think may be the problem. Having had my bags searched a numerous amounts of time, and now all I could think about was this stupid belt of mine. Finally I was allowed to take it off and let it slip through the scanner where my bag went. I then proceeded through the security gate without a glitch. I was so relieved. I had spent just over an hour trying to get through, and I was very worried about my connecting flight. Surely nothing more could go wrong today?
After a further three hours , I made the connecting flight to Jacksonville, where my pen friends brother in law would be waiting for me.
After arriving in Jacksonville I hurried through the airport, making sure I did not have my belt around my waist. I did not want to go through the same thing I did in Newark.
Everything was fine, so I made my way into the airport and looked for the guy who would take me to his home.
I did pass him once or twice and thought ‘No this cant be him, he looks a bit rough looking’
After he looked me up and down a few times he called my name and then we shook hands and made our way to his home.
Could things get any worse? Boy did they.
We had about a 2 hour drive to where he lived with my pen pals sister, and all I had was him drinking beer and smoking some funny kind of cigarette.
He offered me both, but I declined and made for my bottle of soda I had purchased in the airport.
Finally we got to his home. It was dark so I could not see much apart from a few Christmas lights around the porch.
I thought it looked very quaint, and very American, as we are only just following our American friends by decorating the outside of our houses.
The biggest blow would come the next day, when I had had a good nights sleep, and woke up refreshed.
When I got up, Terry had gone to work, leaving me with his wife who was getting the children ready for school. I had my coffee and went onto the porch to drink it. Then it hit me.
I was in the middle of nowhere in what seemed to be two trailers put together and a make shift porch. There was junk all around the garden, and not a person to be seen.
I gave his wife $200 for allowing me to stay, and I thought this would help her out. She was thankful for what I gave her, but gave most of it to her husband.
I was then told that I had to buy my own food, as they cannot afford to look after me.
It did not matter that I had just given them $200, they were very adamant that I look after myself.
I spent the next week trying to socialize with them, but all Terry wanted was to drink, and smoke his weed. Many times I declined, but it did not matter, I still inhaled his fumes.
A few days later he took me to his place of work, which again was about a 2 hour journey.
When we arrived he told me to have a look around and explore as he would not be long. He gave me what I thought was a normal cigarette to keep me going. I left him as he went into work, where I walked the streets, taking in some of the beautiful homes on the way.
I sat down on a bench admiring the houses, as I lit my cigarette. Next thing I knew I couldn’t feel my legs and my head was ready to explode. He had given me one of his other cigarettes.
Just as I was trying to walk it off, I saw a Police patrol car to my right. All I could think of was please do not stop me, all I want to do is get back to where Terry works and give him a piece of my mind.
Then reality stepped in. I saw the law enforcement officer, I looked at him and froze. This is the first time I had been so close to an officer of the law with a gun. Not having a gun culture here in England, and then being confronted with it was a very scary ordeal in itself.
I gave the officer a polite smile and a nod of the head, with a greeting of Good Morning, where I then proceeded to the building where Terry was.
My heart was pounding, I was scared beyond belief.
Finally I managed to walk off the effects of the weed and I sat outside of the place where terry worked. By mid day he had finished and he drove us back home.
I felt I was in a world that I could not control, I was in Terry’s world of drink and drugs, and I was to scared to say anything.
He told me if I liked the cigarette he gave me, where I then ripped into him and called him all the inconsiderate names I could think of.
‘‘It was the bud dude’ he said. “You will not get anything stronger”
I once again had a go at him, and told him that he had no concerns about me, and what would have happened if the police officer had stopped me. I was in a strange country, with not a clue where I was, and no passport or id.
It did not seem to matter to him. He just laughed at me and said “You English people are funny”
I put up with this for a few days more until I had really had enough. I finally picked up the courage to tell him that he has to drive me back to Jacksonville, where I can book into a motel before flying back home.
My ten days were full of enduring weed and alcohol and Jerry Springer. All three were 24/7
After about 5 days, I went to visit my pen friend in prison. I was drove there by terry and his wife, and then just left at the prison gates in Marrion County. I nervously entered the prison, showing my id and visitors receipt. I then was taken into a room, frisked and strip searched. I thought to myself who is the prisoner here? It was another experience I would not like to try.
Having finally got through the security, i made my way to the visitors lounge, and waited for my friend to arrive. Upon him coming through, he greeted me, but then his demeanour changed. He was not like the guy I had been writing to. He was very distant and was only interested in how much of a western union cheque I had left with the guards.
It was then that I knew I had been played. My whole reason for coming over to visit him, was to see how much he could get out of me.
I will not say that all prisoners are like that, but I had obviously been scammed. The few hours I had with him went by so slowly, and I often avoided the question of money. He kept telling me of how he was innocent of his drug charge, which was news to me, as in prior letters he was in there for outstanding traffic offences.
Finally after a few hours, I told him that I was leaving, that I could not afford the amount of money he was asking. But as I was still very frightened in an environment i had never been in before. I told him I would see what I could do when I got home.
I looked at the guard, then made it clear to him that I wanted to leave.
I stayed out in the car park a further 2 hours before being picked up. How could I have been so naive, so stupid, and allowed myself to be played. I am usually a very cautious person.
On the journey back into Jacksonville, I thought my life would be over there and then. Terry was as high as a kite. I had the window open so that I may get some fresh air. There was a large tanker coming towards us as Terry had to swerve to miss hitting it. I was sitting there in horror praying that my life will be spared. Finally he dropped me off at a motel near the airport, where I checked in, and the owner gave me a set of keys. Terry asked me if I wanted some company, and a few beers and smokes, and I just told him ‘NO’ I really had had enough, and just wanted some me time.
I closed the door behind me, closed the curtains and fell onto the bed in a flood of tears. I have just been hijacked these past ten days by the Beverley Hillbillies, was the only thoughts I had in my head. I locked myself in the apt only going out to get some food supplies, and not answering the door to anyone. I would stay in that room a further 3 days, frightened and alone.
On the day of my flight, I arrived at the airport with lots of time to spare. I did a little bit of shopping for souvenirs for the family, and then waited for my flight back home. Again it would be a flight to Newark, then my connecting flight back to the UK.
Yes I had experienced a bad vacation, from a couple of rednecks.
The only thing good to come out of this was the fact, the people at the bank, when I had to get some money, and the people at the airport and motel were very friendly and what I would class as decent folk.
Upon my return home, I gathered my thoughts and wrote down my experiences. I also told him that I would no longer be writing to him again, as It was friends I was looking for. I was not in a position to keep sending money overseas. I never ever heard from him again, neither did I hear from his family.
I have not been back to America since.
Has it put me off.
No, I call it an experience of life, one bad person does not reflect or justify the whole population.
I found on the whole, that the American people are a friendly nation, and a warm loving and understanding nation. I will revisit some day as I will not let myself be put in a situation like I was on this vacation.