“Oh, I am most dreadfully sorry officer. I had absolutely no idea. Oh, I do apologise…”
The same effect happened just outside of Austin while driving the Cadillac CTS. Let me put this in perspective though. American roads? One of the fastest production sedans in the world? A car capable of 0-60 in the sort of time that the average person would have reached the word “average” in this sentence? And a British journalist with only a passing knowledge of US speed limits and blissfully unaware that they drop by 10 mph if there are roadworks?
The sight of blue and red flashing lights in the rearview mirror is one of the more sphincter-tightening moment you can have in the US. I blame Hollywood. Pulling over, stress levels were rising. My companion for the trip, Roger, was reciting a mantra from thousands of US cop shows and movies: “put your hands on the wheel, no sudden moves…” And thus, by the time the policeman arrived at my window, vocally I was already somewhere between Hugh Grant and Prince Charles.
“I am most dreadfully sorry officer. Were we going too fast?”
“It would be a 70, but the roadworks means you take 10 off…”
Oh, I am most dreadfully sorry officer. I had absolutely no idea. Oh, I do apologise…”
“License and registration?”
“Oh, I say, Roger, my good man, could you be a sport and get the insurance? I think it’s in the glove compartment. That’s the one, splendid, thank you old bean…”
Happily – thanks to an old school British license that’s so ancient it’s in two pieces and an insurance document in the name of the event company that had delivered the car – the policeman rapidly developed an impending sense of paperwork and let me off with a warning. Thus, after much more apologising, more Four Weddings-esque stuttering and, I fear, an attempt to shake the policeman’s hand, we pulled away to cruise into Austin for dinner. And something that wasn’t BBQ.
Two things to make clear. Texas is a great state – but after two days, all their BBQ tastes exactly the same. Actually, let’s clarify a third point: the Cadillac CTS is a fine vehicle. It certainly turns heads when in this particular shade of metallic bright blue (called “Opulent” appropriately enough). I didn’t think it existed outside of Miami Vice episodes. The CTS also turns heads because of the way it can shoot away from traffic lights. The acceleration is amazing and giggle-inducing. Even with the police incident inspiring a rather more sedate pace for the remaining days, there’s a deep satisfaction going from zero-to-absolutely-legal-speed-limit-honest-officer in a couple of seconds. There’s also a satisfaction when your iPod introduces the residents of San Antonio to the cockney joys of Chas and Dave via the impressive Bose speaker system, but that’s not important right now. From San Antonio to Austin, via as many food stops as two men can manage in seven days (49 – don’t judge me), and a couple of brilliant hours shooting big guns, the Cadillac was the sort of All American vehicle such a trip demanded.
San Antonio itself is a strange place. It’s a fun place – anywhere with that much Mexican food will always get my vote – but an intriguing mix of the new and, by American standards, the very old. I could insert a clunky Cadillac analogy here. But I won’t. Suffice to say, unlike many US towns, it’s extremely walkable, with the river, and the River Walk, giving the place a heart. An occasionally wild, partying heart, but a heart nonetheless. There is a sense of community here that’s missing in many places, that it’s not just a vague Mexican-styled theme park for the tourists. The Alamo too provides a fascinating few hours, if only to speculate on why more Brits died than Texans defending it and just why does Phil Collins own so much Alamo memorabilia?
The food’s great too, although the Cadillac’s satellite navigation system had its only hiccup of the week attempting to find La Gloria. We should have been pulling into the car park of La Gloria, home of chef Johnny Hernandez’s impressive upscaling of Mexican street food in the reclaimed art and living space around the old Pearl Brewery. Instead we found ourselves initially outside a similarly named restaurant in a part of town that made you grateful you had a fast car. In the coming days there would be other sat nav problems but these were all driver error and my general inability to work out quickly enough which of three approaching slip roads was the one I actually wanted.)
In terms of food, Texas means comfort classics, with a heavy bias towards BBQ. There are some undoubted highlights. Fried chicken – allegedly to the Colonel’s original secret recipe before it went all corporate – at Earl Abel’s was good. The first proper BBQ – Gonzales Food Market – was also some of the best, probably because it involved spicy, fatty, run-down-your-chin lamb rib. Hashes, burgers, more hashes, more chicken, and BBQ at all the key points in Luling and Lockhart – the BBQ capital of this most BBQ-y of states – followed. While the car could have coped with the extra pounds (and even a whole new suitcase or two of slightly larger clothes), somehow the grazing / regular tasting resulted in a weight loss of three pounds in a week. Now there’s a diet – an admittedly expensive diet – that they don’t tell you about…