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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 69: 2 December

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 Days'Here we are, Mr Palin . . . ' with the exquisite timing of a B-thriller, she unwraps the note. 'A Mr Seth Mason says if you have any time in Chicago he'd love to see you. Please give him a call at home.'

6.35. Never been so happy to be on a train, and a comfortable one at that. The Lake Shore Limited left on time, seconds after we boarded, and it's racing out of Chicago most purposefully, like a train that has business to do, rather than the pleasantly peripatetic California Zephyr.

Through South Bend Indiana, another good functional name. In England we so seldom have to make up new names. Apart from a few Skelmersdales and Telfords our cities, towns and villages have had their names for centuries. America has no such inheritance, and yet a much greater demand. No wonder they run out of inspiration and have to pinch other people's names. Most of the cities I've passed through in the last sixty-nine days have been replicated somewhere in the U.S. There's Bombay, New York; Madras, Oregon; Tokio, Texas; as well as four Venices, seven Cairos, and no less than seventeen Cantons.

Clocks go on an hour, my seventh lost since the Date Line, as we enter Eastern Standard Time. Hard to get to sleep for the sound of loud, grating voices from a very busy next-door compartment.

'We have been in court for custody, in ten years, a total of seventy-four days!' Rumbles of reaction from deeper voices over which a harridan cry rises once more. 'Seventy-four times, in and out of court in ten years!'

Do these people know there's anyone else in the world?

If all goes well this could be my final night on land before we reach Britain. And lying here looking out into the dark as we pull up at some unnamed Ohio station on the shores of Lake Erie, I'm having a last concentrated dose of America.

Forty-five-foot trailers are being humped noisily into a siding, the bare anonymous station is lit by a pair of cold overhead lights like an Edward Hopper painting, and the soap opera continues next door. . .

'I'm thirty years old and my life is goin' nowhere . . .'

I take recourse to my headphones. Blank out the noise with Leonard Cohen.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 69
  • Date: 2 December
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: South Bend - Indiana
  • Book page no: 232

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