5.21.07 Edinburgh, Scotland
I wish I could give you a nice tourism round-up from my four-day drive around Scotland, but it's kind of hard to take field notes when you're afraid for your life. Big D established the rules right after him and his son, Little D, scooped me up from the hotel last week (these are the Texans I met on the flight over). As soon as I was buckled into the backseat, Big D turned around and handed me an empty Styrofoam cup.
"Here's how it goes, son," he said in his twang. "I drive, Little D navigates, and you mix the drinks."
And so, for the past four days, I have been in the backseat of a Volvo station wagon juggling bottles of Scotch while we hauled ass between Scotch distilleries, the left side tires scraping the asphalt off the shoulder and the smell of torched brakes wafting through the floorboards. I can't tell you how many times I looked up from my bartending duties to see us in the wrong lane at 95 mph on a two-lane twister with a sheep truck bearing down upon us. In such situations you sort of concentrate on the truck as opposed to the nice scenery.
And, from what glimpses I did get of it, Scotland is pretty damn pastoral. Maybe too much so. At times it seems almost like you're driving through a set; everything is just a little too pristine, the hills too green and cropped, the lakes too clear and deep, the sheep too frisky and white. I kept expecting to see some giant moon-faced kid come looming over the horizon to make landscaping adjustments as if he was screwing around with his deluxe train set in the basement. I thought I was going into the land of Hooligans, but this was just too scrubbed to believe. And not a cop to be found anywhere. Talk about a missed opportunity: a wagon of drunken Americans screaming through every speed zone with open bottles rattling around on the floorboards. Too bad for them.
The Alpha Objective of the tour was to get Little D up to Pennan, a dinky fishing village on the extreme north coast of the country. This little burgh is the one featured in the 1983 Burt Lancaster vehicle "Local Hero", and Little D has been obsessed with having a drink there while making a phone call from the famous phone booth as the sun sets. This is not to say that he was so inspired that he made any reservation inquiries, because when we got down to the village, we found that not only were the eight rooms of the Inn booked, but that dinner was also out of the question. The three ladies working the joint were nice enough about it, but they made it quite clear that although we could drink the sun out of the sky, we weren't going to be getting so much as a crust of bread to gnaw on. They're taking reservations for July already. We pondered this for an hour at the Hobbit-sized bar before the smells wafting out of the kitchen became unbearable. Big and Little D were looking like a couple Grizzlies circling a locked Dumpster full of donuts. It was too much to take, so we borrowed coffee mugs and spent the next four hours drinking Scotch on the sea wall as Little D recreated several shots from the film--standing in the water with his trousers rolled up, making a call from the weather-beaten phone booth (which he couldn't get to work, by the way), etc. The D's got drunk enough to start inquiring about properties for sale. But all in all, Little D's wish had come true and the sun obligingly set. We only had to stop at seven distilleries en route.
The D's dropped me off here yesterday as they continued down to some graveyard outside of London where Big D is convinced he will uncover his royal ancestry. I still couldn't tell you what Big D does for a living except that his Blackberry was buzzing quite a bit and he kept grumbling about how he couldn't stand "Politicians who don't stay bought." God love Texans, but I won't be getting near any Scotch for the next decade. And my master plan to buy a case of premium hooch to use as a bargaining tool when I hitch my ride from Gibraltar to Beirut got scratched when I realized that it would cost less to buy the stuff in America and have it Express Shipped back to me here. The dollar is absolutely pathetic over here, might as well try wads of Pesos or otter pelts. I don't know how many more $3 Cokes I can afford.
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At least Tony Blair got the exchange rate part right because he appears to have screwed up royally everywhere else. He might be more unpopular in Scotland than Bush is back in the homeland. He's been getting kicked around like a can in the papers every day and there's not much enthusiasm for his replacement, either. The other big news over here is that Mars admitted using baby cow stomach linings in their candy bars and the vegans went crackers and the whole country (the world?) is tearing its hair out, JonBenet fashion, about this four-year-old girl who got kidnapped in Portugal a few weeks back. They had Maddie's little mug up on the JumboTron at Wembley Saturday before the Chelsea/Man U game. Lapel ribbons, website hotlines, the whole catastrophe.
At any rate, I've got a couple days to drink beer out of paper sacks (can't afford to buy them in the pub at 8 bucks a shot) and look at old churches before I head down to Southern Spain where I'll hopefully meet up with my Vegas connection's cousin for a ride into the action. I'll let you know how that shakes out.