I’m delighted to introduce Paul Ariss to my blog. Paul is a songwriter, screenwriter and new to blogging.
Paul shares a true story about travel which gave me goosebumps when I read it because I knew exactly what he was experiencing.
Over to you, Paul.
In the early evening of Wednesday, 28th October 1987 I walked into a bar in rain-sodden Flagstaff, Arizona with Randy Jones, a two-tour Vietnam vet.
I’d met Randy hours earlier that day, just minutes after midnight in Albuquerque bus station.
Randy was a mad-eyed but good-hearted individual who happened to be stopping off in Flagstaff himself on the way west to an altogether different destination. Randy and I were polar opposites.
Probably fifteen years older but with a lifetime more living, Randy had fought the Vietnamese in the Mekong Delta and had spent the last two months in a cave in the Rocky Mountains killing animals for his supper.
I was a pasty-faced young English office-worker whose closest shave with conflict was with a drunk in an airport who’d subsequently fallen over his own suitcase.
Yet somehow, me and Randy hit it off immediately.
After getting off our Greyhound bus and booking into our motels we decided to find a local bar, and there we laughed about the cultural differences between the US and the UK, and I let him tell as little as he felt able to share about his time as marine.
Mostly however he was fascinated about my overwhelming desire to see the country that had demanded of him as a young man to go and fight but had largely abandoned him since he returned home.
We were joined after a short time by a huge bear of a Native American man who largely just smiled and kept his own council.
But it’s true to say this night I was restless and struggled to stay convivial. After a couple of beers, I made my excuses and headed back to my motel. I had an inexplicable need to be alone.
By now the late afternoon had given way to early evening and the darkness through my motel window matched my state of mind.
Keeping Hold Of The Promise To Myself
Just ten years earlier I had made a vow to myself that I was now just hours away from fulfilling. At the time of the promise I was unemployed, and giving £5 of the £7 per week Social Security to my recently widowed father for board and keep.
Contrary to the punk counter-culture so many youths of my age were immersed in at the time, I was spending my days listening to the Eagles and dreaming of the open highways of America.
But I was a dreamer without substance. On the day I signed on for social security benefits, I was two-thirds of the way through an 18-months stint of unemployment.
Drenched by a steady drizzling rain, I needed something to aim for, something so far removed from my current situation to be almost too ludicrous to consider.
And then it came to me. I made the decision that one day I would get to The Grand Canyon.
Geographically it was over five thousand miles away from my small town in north-west England, though metaphorically it felt closer to a million. But right at that moment the thought of eventually getting there made the day feel that little bit more bearable.
And so it was, with a decade of steady employment behind me and a modest but committed savings plan I had enough for the journey and sufficient fire in my belly to make the trip.
My anticipation had remained unquenchable and here I was finally about to satisfy that first.
So why was I so downbeat on the eve of seeing one of the most stunning areas of natural beauty on earth?
When The Final Step Is The Hardest
I was lonely. Not for company, but for home.
I had been travelling on buses for nearly three weeks criss-crossing from one exciting destination to another on a plan of my own volition taking in New York City, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, Nashville, Gracelands, Dallas, Denver; almost every day a new adventure, a new place I’d always heard about but never thought I’d visit.
Yet now, the day before reaching the destination I had planned and saved for over a decade, was the time I most wanted to be home.
The irony was crushing. I sat on the floor of my motel room and wept. Just a little. This feeling wasn’t what I had planned for.
I turned on the TV, a recording of Billy Joel live in Russia from two months earlier, the first rock star to play there post-Glasnost. Though not a massive Billy Joel fan, his energised demeanour helped fire me up.
“Don’t take shit off no-one”, Joel told an ecstatic crowd, each one no doubt loving the feeling of finally being able to let loose after a lifetime of social repression.
Oddly, a spark re-lit within me, enough to pick my emotions up off the floor and settle them enough to sleep after my long day of travelling.
I awoke the next day and pulled back the curtains to a welcoming early sunrise.
A slightly worse-for-wear Randy joined me for breakfast, telling me how the Native American had carried him back to his motel room at 2am. It seems I was right to have left early!
Randy saw me get on the shuttle bus that left for the Canyon.
Less than two hours later with a barely controllable anticipation I walked through a huge double door to finally see the most incredible, majestic wonder I’ve ever witnessed.
I smiled broadly and said hello to the Grand Canyon. We had finally met. I had travelled the millionth mile.
It had been a long, long journey but worth every step.
Later I thought about Billy Joel, performing so far from home yet feeling a kindred bond with strangers who had lived a life so culturally at odds with everything he knew. And I thought of my new friend Randy who had met someone in me who had expressed a feeling for his own country he had maybe lost something of over the years.
I thought of the Native American whose forefathers had their land ripped from them by Randy’s ancestors, yet felt the simple human instinct to carry him back to where was safe.
And as I turned away from the Grand Canyon at the end of that day my mind went back to where this had all begun and where for me the greatest riches still lay.
Paul started off as a lyricist in a song-writing partnership, before branching out into writing scripts. He’s now back to music, writing and recording solo material.
As a songwriter Paul has had songs published as part of a partnership, and as a solo writer has reached the semi-final of the UK Songwriting Contest and had a track chosen as Pick of The Week on a New York based online radio station.
As a script writer Paul has had material used on BBC radio shows on Radio 2, 4 and 5, and has been short-listed in two major script-writing contests as well as working as a Shadow Writer on Channel 4 comedy-drama Shameless, where he also contributed to its online platform.
Paul is new to blogging after getting the blogging bug in May 2020. He plans to increase his output very soon! His blog is called Songs and Scripts and Dunking Biscuits and can be followed by clicking here.
Songs from Paul are now on Spotify and all major streaming platforms have music videos to accompany them on YouTube, all of which can be accessed via his song-writing Facebook page.
Have you ever encountered the feelings Paul shared in his guest post?
My thanks to Paul for writing this guest post. If you have any questions or comments for Paul, please leave them in the comments section. He’d be delighted to hear from you.
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