Houston was hot, hot, hot! We toured NASA and to my shame, I couldn’t have cared less. I was poaching in my own juices, basting in sweat. I was hung-over and jaded. Apollo’s could have been launching in rapid succession, like a flight of expensive darts, John Glenn could have been dancing Bojangles, and I’d have exchanged it all for a beer and a cold shower.
The whole complex gleamed white in the sun; it was beautifully landscaped and so monotonous. All I can really remember are three primary colours, white, blue and green geometrically aligned. But I walked, even kept up, and noted all there was to see.
To illustrate the full effects of a dehydrated brain, that evening I passed the chance to go to Gilley’s ‘The World’s Biggest Bar’ as it was then.* Shows you the state I was in. Dehydration clouds judgement. Another interpretation might be my Guardian Angel was concerned for my health. The bar had mechanical bulls that guaranteed a ‘Rodeo Experience’. I can’t think of anything worse, six or seven pints down and riding one of those things: vomit and broken bones, maybe both. But one thing for sure, I’d have been daft enough to give it a go.
Instead I stayed at the camp with Daphne and Laura.
And my Guardian Angel came up trumps again.
A travelling blues man set up in camp and made everything worthwhile. His caravan opened out down one entire side, and revealed an ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ interior. His name was Abner Jay, and it was only much later I discovered how privileged I was to have seen him. He was brilliant. The night was brilliant, sitting under Texan stars in an audience of the largely unemployed, the so called ‘white trash’ you read about in glossy magazines. They were friendly and generous to strangers. We drank beer and sang with Abner Jay, and the night went by.
Someone called Matt chatted up Daphne and Laura – as though having trouble which one he liked best. I could have advised him but instead went to bed.
(The second link best illustrated Abner Jay's style. He does, eventually break into song.' Don't mess with me, baby'. Imagine it with a cold beer on a Texan campsite)
In its prime, however, way before John Travolta uttered "up ya nose witta rubba hose," Gilley's had a reputation as the mother of all Texas honky-tonks. The Gilley's logo adorned everything from cans of beer (brewed by the same Spoetzl brewery that brings us Shiner Bock) and belt buckles to women's silk panties. Texans and tourists alike would cram in by the thousands to see top country music stars like Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, and George Jones, while a hardy, colorful crew of regulars (known locally as "Gilleyrats") showed up every night to drink, dance, fight, flirt, make out, bullshit, shoot pool, and see who got their nuts cracked on El Toro, the club's famed mechanical bull.