Tony Miller BSC  
O-1 US Work Visa + Union, Fluent in French + Dutch


On the Road with Cormac McCarthy
  Cormac McCarthyI first met Cormac McCarthy, in the middle of a replica Stonehenge, built by a Sikh property tycoon - only in America of course.

We were there to celebrate the wedding of Dr Roger Payne, the brilliant whale scientist who had, in the 1960’s, decoded how whales communicate by singing across oceans. Roger and I had spent the last two years filming a documentary of his life called “In the Company of Whales”.

I had arrived late for the weekend celebration, in the last available hire vehicle that Avis had at the airport; a Lincoln Town car. It was the kind of lascivious five-meter-long, gas guzzling leviathan, that drove Detroit to bankruptcy.

An unassuming man in his late fifties, Cormac was bemused by the fantasy park surroundings our host had built. Despite a certain amount of success in the States, he was a writer most of us had not heard of at that time. He told me he preferred the company of scientists to writers, that they were more rational, usually atheist and more connected to the realities of America today.

On the Sunday night, with the skies darkening and and storm clouds approaching, I offered him a lift back to Boston Airport – after all I had the space.

We wound our way down towards Woodstock, the Lincoln lurching around with the near 80-mile winds. Cormac described his life as a writer. He told me that to date he had never sold more than 5000 copies in hardback, that there were times when he could not afford the paper for his old Olivetti typewriter. He survived on foundation money, not critical acclaim or popular success.

Alcoholism, he thought was part and parcel of that existence – most writers he said battled with it. One of his novels had been a semi-autobiographical account of living on the margins in Tennessee, drunk and in despair, embodying the dark underbelly of the American dream.

We talked about the selfishness of American society and how it seemed to create such unequal divides. He described “Blood Meridian” (later to become one of my favorite books of all time), and how he had tried to mirror the current American loss of community values at the hands of self-interested individualism, with the conquering of the great lands to the West. Had that brutal history of murdering the Indians, fostered the selfish egotism, pervading contemporary America?

We drove in the dark, looking forward, our conversation intensified by the lightning strikes and driving rain. Though his evocation was sparse, it was deeply poetic. Lit by the warm glow from the dash, and odd flares of sodium, his face was chiseled with deep sunk eyes.

We stopped at a gas station on the outskirts of Woodstock, its sign ominously flapping back and forth in the wind, a Hopperesque moment on our journey. The owner who was shutting up, warned us not to continue. Had we not heard about it? Everyone knew. Hurricane Andrew – the biggest storm to ever hit the East coast.

We decided to carry on anyway – wasn’t going back as hard as moving forward? We wound our way uncertainly down deserted roads, the odd ‘crazy’, (like us), still out and about. Cormac was fascinated by the difficulty of filming whales – how the hell did you repeatedly get in the water with ‘Moby Dick’, larger than an ‘18-wheeler’ truck? Did you suspend your normal perspective (and sense of preservation) in the service of an almost obsessive quest? Whatever the answer, Ahab’s mad pursuit of the white whale seemed a suitable metaphor for our current journey.

He talked about his love of the natural world and how it could so easily be permanently desecrated. Climate Change was surely a reality, especially on a night like this? There was a brutality to the human existence he thought.

Just before dawn, blocked by a tree in front of us and a land slide behind, we gave up. There seemed little point trying to carry on and so we tried our best to sleep in the big car.

In the morning, the storm was passing. We walked across some fields, a mile or so, to a small diner and shared a survivor’s breakfast of coffee, bacon, eggs and grits.

Maneuvering around the wreckage of the hurricane, we finally made it to Logan airport. Cormac headed to Texas and I to London.

So long, hurricane friend” - he gave me his number and address (somewhere in El Paso) and said I should look him up, if I ever came down that way.

The next few months, I worked my way through his books and watched as “All the Pretty Horses” become a sensation. And later, I watched as these poetic books became translated into epic cinematic films.

by Tony Miller