(Often on a round numbered story I deviate into non-fictional truth. What better story number than the round-figured 2200 to try a new feature? I thought for variety – at least for a time – I will each Monday introduce a famous person I have seen – albeit at a distance! Who better to start with than Dolly Parton?)
It was near Christmas in 1985. I was heading to Boston, U.S.A., to study for a Master’s degree. After a sixteen hour flight from New Zealand (including in those days a refuelling in Hawai’i) I landed in LA. I had planned several days in LA. The Travel Agency in New Zealand had told me what to do once in LA Airport. I should go out the main door and there were shuttle buses. Board such and such a bus and it will take you to your hotel.
I was clutching a fat sealed envelope from the American Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand. It contained my student visa. It was stamped with “Under no circumstances must this be opened”. Was I to be expelled before I had even arrived? Upon arrival in LA I was ushered into a small room with a counter. They took the envelope and my passport and disappeared – for three hours. I was becoming a little stressed! Someone eventually appeared, handed me my passport, and said “That’s ok”. I exited the room to a dark and almost empty airport. And… no waiting shuttle buses.
When one is younger such things don’t matter. I found a bus somewhere that took me to Anaheim. In fact, since I was the only one in the huge bus the driver took me all the way to my hotel! That was my first experience of the wonderful hospitality Americans are renowned for.
I couldn’t believe I was in a foreign country! I remember looking out the window into the night and thinking “I’m here! I’m really here!” Tired, I went to bed only to be woken by the phone ringing in my room around midnight. It was the hotel receptionist: “The women you ordered for the night has been held up and won’t be able to make it.” Pardon? “Is your name Bryce?” No, it’s Bruce. “Oh sorry.” It wasn’t to be the only time my accent caused confusion.
Over the next several days I had a fabulous time. I went to Disneyland. There was hardly anyone there and I went on every ride and everything else without once having to wait in line. In fact I went around “It’s a Small World” seven times! My favourite bit of all Disneyland was to be greeted at the entrance by the Queen of Hearts. She warmly shook my hand and then wiped her hand on her dress in utter disgust. I thought it was hilarious, and it set the tone for a brilliant day.
I visited the Spruce Goose and the Queen Mary. They were in Long Beach back in those days.
I took a tour in a Tourist Bus to Hollywood and Beverly Hills – including the Studio. Most of the names I didn’t recognize because I’m not a great celebrity person. “And there to our right is the courthouse,” said the guide. “Goodness! That’s Dolly Parton on the courthouse steps!”
And indeed it was! Our bus moved on. But I have seen that fabulously talented and generous woman…