Surely the best thing about travel writing
It was 2003 and I set off on a journey which would become the book ‘In Search of Swingers.’ The point? To play golf with whoever happened to feature on the front page of the newspaper where ever I happened to be staying.
So who did I meet?
Michael Georgatos, who was on the front page of the NY Post because he found a four-foot-long alligator while walking his dog in Central Park. Bubbles and Sweet Thang, two clowns getting married in Richmond, Virginia. I met Don Wardlow, a blind baseball commentator; an ex-CIA agent who became a pro on the senior golf circuit and played with Chi Chi Rodriguez; a Stevie Wonder impersonator in Las Vegas; a 91-year-old beach queen from Tybee Island, Georgia; and Mary and Otis Barnes, stamp collectors from Port Arthur, Texas. (Yip, slow news week when stamps make the news.)
If you click on NEWS you’ll see photos of these brilliantly kind nutters who let me into their homes. I started the trip in New York City, headed south through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New Orleans, Arizona, Las Vegas and L.A.
I still keep in touch with Otis and his family, though sadly a few years ago he lost his life-long soul mate, Mary. I will never forget being at the Hotel 6 in Port Arthur and seeing Otis on the front page of the paper. I called him out of the blue and asked if he would fancy a game of golf. As was the case with most of my ‘victims,’ he declined, but did offer me dinner. ‘I’ll be in a brown pick up truck; sure hope you like dogs.’ Half an hour later I was with Mary and Otis at their home, drinking Dr. Pepper and watching Letterman. The dogs, of which there were seven, scrapped, barked and licked my feet.
I haven’t heard from Lady Iva (the 91-year-old beach queen) for a few years, which is a worry. When my first daughter was born she sent a card and gift. I’d be surprised if Iva was still around, but she had a good life. Who else can say they won a beauty pageant at the age of 91?
Many of these people I met for no more than a few hours, but have been mates ever since. As for golf? Non-existent. I just figured travelling all over America was a damn sight more interesting than playing 18 holes at home.
Above: The Barnes family, Port Arthur, Texas. L-R – David, Karen, Mary and Otis. (Dr. Pepper – photographer’s.)