Fuel For Thought

22 working days since my possessions hit US territory, and Customs still haven’t cleared them… What: me, worry? Went out today to pick up some propane for the barbecue – or is that Bar-B-Q? The British part of me regards such preparations as horrifically premature, seeing it’s only the middle of February, but then in Britain, there are only about two days a year when a barbecue is a viable proposition, and so you can use Halley’s Comet as a handy reminder that it’s time to get more fuel. Ah, yes — many are the grim, soggy afternoons spent round a grill saying, “I think it’s alight now”, and “The rain’s easing off a bit” alternately, both more in hope than with any real conviction.

Anyway, I digress. While at the gas station, watching the attendant fill the tank with a device that looked like a medical instrument from hell (but which would, undoubtedly, make a fabulous flame-thrower), I noticed a small fire-extinguisher behind him. Yeah, right: like anyone is going to hang around and try to put a fire out if it goes anywhere near that propane tank. They’d be better off hanging a pair of running shoes or some clean underwear back there.

But gas-stations are a significant part of the American psyche. Last night, on the way to the drive-in (another part of the American psyche, about which you can expect to read more in due course), I passed a cross-roads which had three of its four corners occupied by different brands of gas – Chris tells me this is not particularly noteworthy and she knew of one which, until recently, had a grand slam of four, one on each side. From the consumer point of view, this does make it very easy to go comparison shopping – provided you’re brave enough to stand in the middle of the junction and make notes – but it’s hard to see how all four could make enough to survive. That they do, proves further that America is indeed the land of the car.

On the other hand, I was delighted to discover that Arizona is one of the few states where parallel parking is not part of the driving test, perhaps because it is the only state with more parking spaces than cars. Given the monster truck which Chris drives (okay, it’s not that big, but you’re talking to someone who has only ever owned a Renault 5 before, and the two-door version at that), I will not be shedding tears at the thought of missing out – reversing the beast is bad enough on its own, without having to steer it, in the manner of a supertanker going round the Elephant & Castle.

This comes to mind, since I will be driving my parents round town for the next few weeks, as they make their first visit to Arizona. That, in itself, promises to be an entire barrel-load of monkeys; I don’t think they’ve been in the car with me for any longer than 25 miles tops, and it’s almost more than that to the airport from here. How they – and I – will take to this is hard to say. Even though I have a pristine driving record (largely because, until I moved out here, it had been almost entirely uncontaminated by any actual motoring), they’ll be nervous; Dad in particular, is far more used to being in the driving seat than being chauffered. My mother has a driving licence best described as theoretical: I think it’s on papyrus.

Still, I look forward to seeing their faces at the Grand Canyon, or when we drive down the Strip in Las Vegas. I remember vividly how utterly gob-smacked I was, and I’ve clocked up a few more countries than my parents. At the very least, it’ll be hard for them do any backseat driving when their jaws in their laps.