The flight on an Air Canada plane seemed peopled by a few passengers uninterested in any return to North America. The air seemed freezing for the entire flight and the air hostesses hostile to the idea of personal service. The palatial and glacial emptiness of the stopover at Toronto airport didn’t go down well either.
On arrival at San Francisco airport the feeling I had was of unease given the journey and the wait for someone to turn up.
Her arrival. Meeting me at the airport my business contact was lethargic. She barely spoke and said the vineyard owner had been unavoidably delayed. She didn’t say why. I had flown slave class on the plane where my six foot frame had lost touch with its own leg circulation as I slept like some intestinal worm. I was tired and wanted to get to my hotel before we/I would cross the Oakland Bridge tomorrow.
I had been, was, a green keeper in Scotland who had worked three summers in California in a vineyard. After fifteen years soil and course management my American cousin had helped get me this job in the Napa Valley. I would be on trial for six months then they would propose to support my Green Card application at the end of a nine month period. From the intense slate skies of autumn to the searing heat of a Californian summer.
We headed on the freeway while my head was still seeing grey skies and the shrunken roads in Scotland.
The soft top convertible we had gotten into had the chink and slide of automatic seatbelts. This turned out to be deceiving. As we drove along she said,
‘The front left is kinda soft. I think we have to stop and sort the tyre.’
We turned off the freeway at the next turn off and headed into what was an anonymous street with a few stores or shops and a bar with a rusting and faded neon sign outside.
We pulled into a gas station. The booth was manned by a small guy who looked bored and unable to cool himself down.
The lady who was maybe over fifty looked at the tyre while I stayed in the false iciness of the air conditioned Mitsubishi. The lady went to the booth and spoke to the guy. He looked up and pointed strongly to the vehicle.
‘I got the car here and they won’t call someone to come fix this tyre. I have had nothing but problems.’
She was sitting in the driver’s seat. The air conditioning was now off. With the time difference and the heat I was tired. The company was closed as this was a Saturday.
‘I am sick of this crap with this garage. And the apartment.’
She began to weep. Quaking and fumbling in her purse she gulped air.
‘Can I help? What is it? Is it the car problem? I can get a taxi to the hotel.’ I said.
It seemed a long time before she swept back her bobbed red hair.
‘No its fine. The landlord at our apartment is wanting us out and our lawyer turns out to be wanted for fraud when she ran another company under a different name.’
The car engine had to be started as the heat was so intense. This was not a foggy day she explained. She was finishing wiping the smears of the mascara and explaining the owner of the vineyard would see tomorrow. I small car pulled in that looked like an old Datsun. A man got out and headed for our car.
Her short stare out the front windscreen and a held breath got through to me as I fought a sore head.
‘Terri, you gotta a problem. I read the message about you being here and being late’ the man said.
The smell of booze was reeking of him and the words had a slurry end on them.
‘I just finished at the airport.’ More reek of drink.
They went around the corner to the snack stand. I got out and went into the 7-Eleven store across the busy road. Feeling like I had gone somewhere light in my head I spoke to a tall guy who seemed like he should be on an NBA court.
After translation from another guy he got me a phone in their small office.
I got back and sat in the car. The sweat on my head and back was running in lines.
‘I’ve arranged for a taxi, Teri. Now don’t be worried. I’ll be saying not a thing’. I said to her when she sat back down and turned to speak to me.
The small car had headed off with her husband perhaps walking with his head higher than before.
I got the taxi to the hotel. The cable cars and view of the Bay with Alcatraz seemed false. Drinking a beer in the hotel bar the aches and tiredness in my head didn’t hide things from me. I’d probably be back in the grey, the sleet and the wind that can cut on a Fife beach.
Six months to learn. Feel a different dirt under your nails. And the boss at the golf course had said give him a ring if you needed it. He’d said that at the leaving party they had all organised for me.
Listening to the bar staff they warned a Japanese tourist not to carry his camera round his neck down at the pier. You had to watch you see.