Stranger in a Strange Land: Part Three

I went to Greensboro one day… yes, you may need to Google that one..

This happened quite a few years ago, it was one of those days, I pitched up at Gatwick airport and asked when was the next plane leaving for the States, the clerk said the next available flight was to Raleigh International Airport, North Carolina so I said “excellent, never been there before, I’ll have a return ticket please” and three hours later I was flying over Glasgow, Iceland, Greenland and then Newfoundland etc

Anyway, I duly pitched up at Raleigh International Airport… and went outside to the taxi stand,
“Take me to the nearest big town please..”
“ermmm that’ll be Raleigh…you SURE you want to go there?”
“ermm yes…why not?”
“No-one visits Raleigh, it’s like Hotel California, you can check out any time you like but you can never leave…”
“OKKkkkkkkk well, lets go see anyway”

Six hours later and I was hitching my way out of town up i40.The Dispatcher was right, worlds most uninteresting town.. worse than Great Yarmouth in February and that’s saying something. My main aim was to try to get to Greensboro because there was a lot of Civil Right history there, the Long March started there and I thought it might be interesting. Sadly I was mistaken.

Dear reader, as a word of future warning, the best time *not* to visit Greensboro is when they have “Furniture Week”, what happens is that all the furniture manufacturers pitch up at Greensboro for a week and show off their designs and everyone in the States comes along and buys wardrobes and tables and expensive magazine racks on wheels.. and every hotel and motel, guest house, B&B and cardboard box is fully booked, the proverbial no room in the Inn…not good.. but eventually I found a room in a seedy hotel…I know it’s seedy as it takes only cash and there are bars on the reception kiosk.. but a room is a room and I try to freshen up.. Whilst I was washing away I could hear this Irish music playing away faintly and I thought what the hell is that, I thought I’m the only Irishman for about 500 miles in either direction so I got dressed and tried to locate where the music was coming from. I walked around the block to the back of the hotel and listened and followed the music, eventually I found this pub called M’Couls and it was buzzing..

So I went in and I couldn’t hear too much because of all the chat downstairs so I said to the barman where was the Irish music coming from, he said upstairs, a group plays there one Sunday every month, I said God, I thought I was the only Irishman for miles around and he said, oh yes, you are, in fact you’re the first Irishman I’ve meet since working here….oh dear..

So I went upstairs and it was packed there too but out on the veranda there were about a dozen men and woman all sitting down with goose harps, drums and bagpipes playing this great music and a large appreciative audience watching them. I thought this is great so I went to the bartender and asked for some Guinness, (terrible terrible muck but I felt I had too drink it considering the circumstances). The barman gave me a huge big smile and asked if I was Irish and I said yes, of course and he asked to shake my hand..I thought that’s very friendly of him..

I sat down and started to listen to this group playing and then it dawned on me that I hadn’t a clue what they were playing, I sat there for nearly a hour and I had no clue what any of the tunes were. The weird thing was it was definitely Irish music but they would be playing away continuously and then one of them would slowly stop, put his drum down, go for a quick pint and then come back and start playing again, and they all did this, there was this continuous movement of group members to the bar and loo but the music just kept on going, and then the music would slow down and someone would start a different beat and then they would all follow that beat and join in..

Eventually I wiggled my way to the front when one of the girls playing the goose harp took a break and went off to the bar, when she came back I stopped her just before she started again and I asked her what the group was called and what was that tune they were playing..

She looked at me with huge big eyes and said, “oh my God, are you Irish?” I said “well yes, so what?” (I’m starting to get worried now..) … and she waves her arms to the rest of the group and goes “Guys Guys, he’s Irish!!” I’m checking out just where the exits are now… They all stop and go “Wow, you’re Irish…” and I say “…errrrr..yes, what of it, what’s the big deal?” and they all start asking me questions about the music…and I’m sitting there and they’re all shaking my hand and I’m thinking what bloody parallel universe have I stumbled upon, surely there must be Irish folk around here if you are all playing Irish music but no, apparently they don’t get many tourists in Greensboro, they do have a tourist office but it’s usually to point them to some famous drive in the mountains and also where some civil rights march started in the sixties but that’s it, no-one comes to Greensboro outside of Furniture Week and there are no out’a towners let alone foreigners..

So it transpires that there was this guy who ran a music shop in Greensboroand he loved Irish music, so he taught himself some of the tunes and then others came into the shop and learnt the tunes and instruments, eventually there was about a dozen of them and they started meeting up at weekends and making up and playing their own tunes. Before they knew it the neighbours were complaining about the racket so they approached McCouls and asked if they could use his upstairs space to which he readily agreed, and then it became a regular fixture that they would all meet up there at 4pm for 4 hours first Sunday of the month and this was great for them as they had an appreciative audience and the bar got all the extra trade.

But the thing was that they didn’t know any traditional Irish tunes so they simply did jamming sessions all afternoon and of course none of the locals know any tunes either so they didn’t know any better and this is where I came in and they wanted to know how they sounded and did they sound Irish and a hundred a one other questions soooo I spent ages chatting away with them and slowly getting plastered with more Guinness…god awful stuff but they kept buying me pints of it…and the food was even worse…

Anyway, they were a really nice bunch, so lovely and keen but to cut a long story short and after a few pints and loads of questions I got up and announced that “as the unofficial Irish Ambassador to Greensboro, North Carolina, it gives me great pleasure to bestow honorary Irish citizenship on each and every member of the band” to which there was a HUGE cheer and lots of back patting..

Not bad for a Northern Irish Git, this is what is always happening to me on my travels and why I like to travel off the beaten track..

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