'My friend Jeremy will be in Dallas,' Bess said. 'We need to go.'
'We need to go to Dallas?'
'Yes. He has a one man show. The cats will be okay for one night and I haven't seen him in ages.'
'He has a one man show?'
'Yes, and it's in Dallas.'
'Despite our having been married for eight years, this is the first time you've ever mentioned anyone called Jeremy.'
'Yes, and that's why I have certain reservations as to the urgency of this proposed visit to Dallas even before we get to your use of the term one man show.'
'We've been friends for ages, since we were at school. I can't believe I've never mentioned him.'
'Well, maybe you have, but I already have a friend called Jeremy and it's not a very common name in my experience so I'm sure I would have noticed your mention of this additional Jeremy.'
'Well, we need to go to Dallas.'
'For a one man show?'
'Yeah. I don't know. It could be awful, but I have to see him. Even if it's really bad, it will still be exciting to go. We can visit Dealey Plaza.'
'Can't I just stay here? That way we won't have to worry about the cats. I hate leaving them on their own overnight. You should go and meet your friend and have fun.'
In the end we reach a compromise because Bess is similarly uncomfortable with the thought of leaving the cats unattended. We're going to set out early in the car, see Jeremy's one man show, then drive back the same day. It will be a long time spent on the highway, but we did it back in 2013 when we drove to Fort Worth to see a baby elephant then recently born at the local zoo. It's a bit of a hike, but we've done it before.
We leave at around nine. By ten we're already passing through Austin, which seems weird. Austin is usually to be found at the conclusion of a long road trip, but the travel time has passed more quickly on this occasion with Austin now marking off just one segment of a greater distance.
Bess explains how she first encountered Jeremy during a school trip to Washington DC. The trip brought together kids from all across the country rather than from any one specific school, and she and Jeremy were in the same hotel. They hit it off immediately and have kept in touch ever since.
The next major conurbation through which we pass following Austin is Temple. I look at the map and deduce that we should be in Dallas shortly after midday. We've been on the road since nine, it's now eleven, and Temple isn't far short of Waco which looks like two thirds of the total distance to me. We've been listening to a CD of a lecture by Howard Zinn entitled Stories Hollywood Never Tells, about political bias in the movie industry. Andy Martin gave me the CD many years ago and I recall having once found it interesting and enlightening. We tend to listen to either spoken word or stand up comedy on our road trips, and Howard Zinn seemed like a good choice as I hadn't heard the thing in a long, long time. Unfortunately, whilst I continue to sympathise with Zinn's general position, he pauses and mutters and doesn't seem to speak well in public, and there are a whole string of movies conveying anti-establishment, anti-war, or otherwise left-leaning messages to refute his theory; which leaves him sounding like your archetypal whining snowflake - as I believe is the current nominative - and this is a realisation which places me in the company of your archetypal whining Trumpanzee, which is awkward. Bess feels the same so we eject the disc.
Approaching Waco, we begin to notice billboards advertising the Cheese Cave.
'The what?' Bess asks, having missed the billboard.
'It's a cave, probably one of the old mine shafts where they used to dig for cheese,' I propose.
'We need to go there.'
Traffic slows as we come into Waco.
'We could just go to the Cheese Cave and tell Jeremy the traffic was too bad,' I suggest.
We crawl along, idly making an assessment of the city of Waco based on what can be seen from the highway. We already know they have a Cheese Cave. They also seem to have something to do with a mammoth. Inevitably we get onto the subject of David Koresh and whether or not the city has chosen to remember him with a statue, or at least a blue plaque. Realistically we both know that a theme park would be expecting too much.
By now, we're both hungry. We make several attempts to dine at branches of Cracker Barrel, an eating establishment dedicated to the dining requirements of crackers such as ourselves, but it's Father's Day so the parking lots are all crammed and with lines of customers trailing out of the entrance awaiting seating. We settle for Heitmiller Steakhouse, and Bess takes the opportunity to learn more of the Cheese Cave by reading about it through the agency of her phone. Apparently it's a store selling all sorts of cheese, so we definitely need to go there at some point.
Duly fed and watered, we return to the road. Dallas, when we arrive about an hour later, reminds me of Austin. At least the city centre has the same look about it, which I didn't expect. I think of this as being my third trip to this locality, but the two previous visits were actually to Fort Worth, the neighbouring conurbation which I've tended to regard as being simply west Dallas, at least up until now.
Dallas, the TV show, was pretty big when I was a kid growing up in England. Its influence was such as to have impacted upon the language of myself and my peers, specifically in the coining of a verb, to do a Dallas. Holding two slats of a window blind apart with one's fingers whilst peering out at an approaching visitor, perhaps with a look of suspicion forming upon one's face, was doing a Dallas. I seem to recall that Sue Ellen Ewing spent quite a lot of screen time doing a Dallas, and presume that's where it came from. It seems that I must have watched Dallas, and enough so as to negate the need for anyone to have explained the verb to me, but it was a long time ago and all I can otherwise remember are grassy plains, skyscrapers, and big hats. So this is, after all, a new thing for me.
We pass what curiously resembles a British pub, then find ourselves at Theatre Three. Jeremy's one man show will be performed in the basement, in a subsidiary venue wittily named Theatre Too, and we're here with twenty minutes to spare, which seems like good timing. We purchase drinks in special theatrical sippy cups from a goth wearing a Church of Satan pendant, then head downstairs.
Jeremy sees us in the queue - which isn't too surprising given that the queue comprises just Bess and myself - and is overjoyed that we've made it. Introductions are effected, breeze is shot, and I am relieved to realise that he's a nice guy. This is because my wife is disinclined to befriend arseholes.
The show, which is called Keeping Up With the Jorgensons, isn't well attended, just five or six of us for whatever reason, but is nevertheless an exceptional performance of a wonderful piece of writing. Jeremy spends an hour talking us through the events of a road trip taken with his father when he was a kid. It's both hilarious and horrifying, and most impressive is that I somehow forget I'm watching one man playing all of the parts - himself as a kid, his father, grandfather, neighbours and others; all are brought to life in detail so agonisingly plausible that you can almost smell the booze and the foot odour. It's exhausting to watch, but in a good way.
The hour is up. Jeremy comes out to take a bow, seemingly unconcerned by the poor turnout, and Bess and I get back on the road. The woman who sold us our tickets said something about a tornado warning, which is worrying. Back upstairs, we stare from the theatre doors at a Biblical deluge where before there was sun. We were going to take a look at Dealey Plaza, but this changes things; and Jeremy was supposed to be heading off to the airport to catch his flight immediately after the performance, so it probably changes things for him too. We run for the car, having reasoned that it may get worse, and maybe we can get ourselves out of Dallas before it hits.
It takes less than a minute to get to the car but we are both soaked by heavy blobs of rainfall sluicing from the heavens. We drive cautiously around Dallas, back onto the highway. The streets empty as everyone else takes cover. The sky darkens and we hear thunder. Visibility drops and the vehicle in front reduces to red lights in the dark grey haze of noisy water.
Back at Theatre Too, the woman selling tickets showed us the animated weather forecast, horizontal waves moving west across Dallas and Fort Worth. It looked as though we would be okay south of the city, with the storm proposed to hit Waco no sooner than 6.30PM, and it's only just gone four. I try hard to keep from visualising our car sucked up into the sky.
The rain eases a little and the sky brightens, but the roads are still slick with water and the car hydroplanes across the highway from time to time. Bess grips the wheel and drives slowly.
'It looks okay up ahead,' I suggest.
'Yes,' she says, 'once we're clear of the city…'
The sky darkens, thunder cracks, the rain renews its efforts, and this happens over and over for the next hundred miles or so. Sometimes we even see a thin stretch of blue running along the horizon or hit a dry patch of highway allowing us to go a little faster, but then I look away and when I turn back the storm has somehow revived itself. Lightning flashes, our wheels lose traction, and golfball hailstones batter the car, on and off for the next couple of hours, all the way through Waco, and then Temple. At one point a lightning bolt strikes a light pole about fifty feet away, so quick and loud it makes us both jump. The light at the top of the pole seems to explode and it resembles a special effect.
It's after six as we approach Austin, with more and more blue sky somewhere ahead of us. We're hungry so we stop in at a Cracker Barrel, reasonably confident that it will have cleared by the time we've eaten. We eat and the rain is harder than ever as we once again run for the car.
We drive slow, and eventually it no longer feels as though we're driving through the Biblical end of days, and it's after nine by the time we get home. We survived, and next time we'll go looking for that Cheese Cave.