Mac the Hack

‘Does this mean I can go on holiday now?’ I asked the lovely little Spanish oncologist. Her name is Aranjutu or something. I call her Orang-utan – but not to her face.

‘To where and for how long?’ she asked politely.

‘Erm, America, about three weeks?’ I replied.

‘That’s the first I’ve heard about this!’ piped up wife Annie from her customary seat beside me. Orang-utan smiled.

‘OK,  I will make an appointment for you in six weeks.’

Thankfully the new tablets, an alternative to the anticipated chemotherapy had worked quickly. In January 2019 the all-important PSA level had begun to drop right down to acceptable levels. Phew, it had been rising uncomfortably to 48 at the November blood check for my Prostate Cancer.  Great – but the new tablets had plenty of strange side-effects. When my lovely wife told one of her friends about the new tablets I was on, the friend said:

‘Oh my brother-in-law’s on them – he keeps bursting into tears’. Oh, for pity’s sake, why is it they’ve always got a relative or friend who’s got similar symptoms and treatment – and it’s always bad news?

‘Huh’ I replied cynically, ‘Bloody wimp!’.

As soon as I got home I booked us three weeks in the States, mid-Feb to early March: four days in Nashville, four days in Memphis, six days in Orlando and six days in New York. Question:

‘Was I biting off more than I could chew health-wise? Nah, go for it, John, you never know what’s ahead’. The long-suffering Annie took some convincing though: what do women know (don’t answer that).

The long flight to Nashville from Heathrow was OK, good ol’ British Airways, and we landed in the state of Tennessee on a very wet Friday evening. Nashville was a surprisingly small airport, no real problems, just ‘waiting in line’ i.e. queueing patiently to meet a large, happy, black lady with a badge saying ‘ESME’. She was merely interested in taking our fingerprints – which of course I managed to get wrong.

‘Oh no, Mr John, not like dat, try it ‘dis way…’, so fingerprints duly recorded we collected our bags and moved through arrivals. I had booked a car, courtesy of Alamo, and we were ushered to a huge multi-storey car park. I picked out a Hyundai as I drive one in Spain, but this one was about three times the size of mine with different controls.

Right, here we go – we headed out into the now-blinding rain before taking the Interstate Highway towards the centre of Nashville to find our hotel. I was trying desperately to remember which turn-off I had to take from the previously-made plans in my head. No, I hadn’t booked a Sat-Nav, but in retrospect that night it would have been another distraction.

I suddenly drove into self-inflicted hell – it was a terrifying experience. I soon found myself in four or five lines of traffic hurtling along the Interstate Highway in driving rain and quickly-gathering darkness, everyone knowing where they were going except me. My worlds-worst-backseat-driver/wife didn’t help.

In fact she added to my woes, screeching at me that I was speeding – despite everyone, huge trucks, coaches, cars, motorbikes, the world and his (helpful) wife included undertaking me, overtaking me, lights everywhere, glaring, indicating, neon advertising, everything distracting me from all directions – it was just horrendous. Believe me, I’ve driven in a few places round the world in some strange conditions, but nothing prepared me for this. With all the bright advertising lights of the city rapidly arriving from everywhere  I soon lost my bearings and missed the turn I had mentally ear-marked to come off at.

Cursing myself for doing what I have previously criticised others for stupidly doing and somewhat exhausted after the long flight, desperately low on morale and common sense, in my own personal living nightmare I suddenly thought:

‘I’m going to burst into tears’…

Somehow at last I managed to get off the motorway and tried to hide somewhere – anywhere, just for a few minutes peace and quiet to recover. Round the back of a closed car dealers I found an oasis – Starbucks! We went into this domain of normality and I nervously ordered a tea and a coffee and asked – or begged – the young man who served us for some help and advice.

‘Sure’, he said casually. ‘I’ll bring your drinks to your table’. After a few minutes he came over and put them on the table, sat down and asked what the problem was. I confessed we were hopelessly lost and he asked me where we were heading. When I told him, as a perfect representative of his generation he pulled his phone out of his back pocket and punched in the details.

‘We – ll, actually,‘ he said brightly: ‘You’re not too far away… you go right out of here three blocks down right, highway 743, third exit go straight left up three blocks and take the fourth turning…’ Well, yes, perhaps I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture – utterly baffling. I made him say it slowly three times and insisted that the world’s worst navigator with me write it all down.

Taking some food away with us in case the hotel weren’t serving any – if we ever found it – and our courage in both hands off we went again into the ever-pouring rain. This time we nearly made it, but after going round the same block three times I needed help again – but from where?

Oh yes, good ‘ol McDonalds! Anne wouldn’t stay in the car alone due to the dodgy-looking bloke in the car park so we went in together. All the staff were busy, so I picked on a clean-cut, well-dressed young man, about to sink his teeth into the biggest burger I have ever seen. Just as he did so I asked him where the Comfort Inn was on Music Row (everything in Nashville is music-orientated). After what seemed 10 minutes of him trying to swallow this mouthful he said politely:

‘OK,  just turn right out the car park, go up two blocks, turn right again and I think the Comfort Inn is on your left.’ I could have kissed him, it was so clear. I gasped my eternal thanks and… Praise The Lord, the Comfort Inn was delivered to us. The hotel was a bit dated, Holiday Inn 70s-style, but clean enough with two enormous Queen-size beds, but as we were still just about on speaking terms we only needed one. Indeed there was no restaurant open, the hotel only doing a buffet-style breakfast, so the Starbucks oasis and take-away proved a great decision.

Dry your eyes, little Johnny, we survived.  We had somehow made it, so Thank the Lord, the lad at Starbucks and Chuck at McDonalds. Now we could relax, lick our wounds and prepare ourselves for the next day . Tomorrow downtown Nashville – here we come, man!