Never Judge a Charlie by His Cover(alls): Deliverance in the Deep South
Somewhere between Clearwater and Miami, Florida, (I know, I know, bloody big place, but to us Brits, following a map, small town swampland in the Deep South was a bit of a blur!), as I was saying, somewhere in that large bit of the States, our hire car decided it couldn't cope with the humidity and promptly started steaming.
A few miles later, steam at full head, we pulled over onto the heat haze that was the roadside, checked for crocodiles, pulled out the paperwork, and rang the hire company.
Luckily, there was a garage in the next huddle of churches, gun shops and bars that passed for a town, just ten miles East. (Why Americans can't just say left or right continues to baffle me, just HOW do you folks know which way is East without a compass or nearby mossy tree etc1?)
Anyway, just as the car melted in the heat, we pulled into the 'garage'.
Wood-framed house, rusty pickups on the drive. Porch with rocking chairs, ancient Coke machine and a "God, Guts and Guns will keep us Free!" sign on the door.
We piled into the office, dripping onto the floor, as we adopted the English crucifix stance in front of the antique air con machine.
The elderly lady paused from sucking on her pipe (I kid you not2), smiled sweetly at my family and asked how she may help us on this fine August morning.
Gulping in the cold air, I returned a smile, apologised for hogging the air con, handed her the hire agreement, and pointed to the equally overheated Pontiac. (that dates this tale for those in the automotive know)
"Where you folks from?"
"England, near Chester."
"No, just Chester..."
Puzzled look and sucks on pipe.
"I heard of Manchester, England...."
"We're a bit further South, between Liverpool and Wales?" I offered.
"What kinda whales you folks got over there, then?"
"Sorry? Oh, no, not whales, Wales!"
"Never understood you Brits!"
I returned to basking in the air con.
"Jeez, it's hot!"
"Hot?" A giggle behind the pipe, "You wait 'til next month, then it starts to get hot!"
I could not comprehend anything being hotter than this, maybe Lucifer went to small-town Florida on vacation?
"When we left Manchester it was raining and fifteen degrees!" I tried another smile.
"Thought you folks weren't from Manchester?" Her suspicious frown summonsed wrinkles that would've put the Grand Canyon to shame. (If the Grand Canyon had totally failed to understand the East and West directions too...)
"No, we flew from Manchester...airport...a lot cooler back home!"
"Yup, anyway, our car, seems to be overhea....."
"CHARLIE," the old woman bellowed, shocking us all enough to turn away from the vents.
The ground seemed to shake as the man-mountain ducked through the doorway, overalls covered in red.
"Charlie, these folks from England, Manchester way. Say back home it's fifteen degrees and a rainin'"
"Fifteen degrees? I'd be in the forest with ma gun and ma bow, lookin' for a big ol Buck!"
Charlie raised his mighty paws and proceeded to scare the life out of us as he looked through his imaginary scope and pulled his imaginary trigger as the drool dripped onto the unimagined red stains on his vast overalls.
"Bye bye, Bucky!" His smile was a whole lot more frightening than the imaginary gun or bow!
Dueling Banjos played in my head: could I hold Charlie off while my wife and kids escaped, how far could they get in the overheated Pontiac before the bow and the gun totin' Charlie came a-callin?
A huge, threatening shadow fell over me as Charlie reached out a red-stained, shovel-sized hand.
Instead of eating us (or worse) Charlie took the car keys and in record time replaced the cracked radiator hose, gave the kids some sweets (candy), opened the Coke machine and handed out blissfully cold drinks, apologised for the brake fluid stains on his coveralls, and proceeded to bombard us with questions about English whales and the 'Manchester soccer team'.
Friendly waves sent us on our way South, ...OK, we turned left...
Six hours later, the Pontiac running on fumes through Alligator Alley, we pulled off the freeway in search of petrol (gas) and met some actual, really, true-life, really, really, scary dudes.
Come back, Charlie, all is forgiven.
Ok, cue the banjo.......