Lubbock, Texas: Lubbock or leave it

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Lubbock, Texas: Lubbock or leave it

There comes a time when anyone who travels becomes Blanche Du Bois, the woman in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire who famously said, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers".

We might not always be as needy as that faded southern belle -- but when you need help strangers are often the ones you depend on.

Joe Don was one such stranger.

My need wasn't desperate. I had food, shelter, a car and a credit card. But I also had a troublesome computer and a looming deadline.

I was in Lubbock, Texas which is best known as the birthplace of Buddy Holly (whose humble gravesite is in the cemetery on the edge of town) and is one of the biggest spots on the map in the arid Panhandle. On the long drive from California through Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico I had taken photographs to accompany an on-going series of articles for the New Zealand Herald newspaper.

Downloading them proved impossible given my computer illiteracy. At previous stops in places with evocative names like Amarillo, Tucumcari and Albuquerque I had grappled manfully with my borrowed computer but simply couldn't figure out how these crisp and sometimes beautiful images could be sent from this flat piece of plastic down a wire then through some invisible force to a phone line into a computer in Auckland.

It sounded so simple.

And so in Lubbock, increasingly annoyed with myself, I depended on the kindness of a stranger: Joe Don, photo manager at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

The paper got its unusual name, he told me, at the beginning of last century from its founder Thad Tubbs who -- despite being in the one of the flattest parts of the continent -- announced his paper would arrive like an avalanche in this small outpost. And so The Avalanche, which was later absorbed into the Plains Journal.

Joe Don was slight and short, balding with thick-rimmed glasses, and spoke with the quiet and endearing drawl familiar in this part of the country. He didn't make much small talk but when told of my problem applied himself to finding the solution. After an hour during which he never muttered the curses I formed in my head, he dispatched photographers to assignments but seldom raised his head from the task which had now become almost more important to him as it had me.

Eventually he resigned himself to the fact he couldn't crack it.

But that wouldn't be the end of it.

He rang around and found a place that would drop the images to disc and then we could use that in an internet cafe to send them home. We shook hands, exchanged cards, and I left.

I was back the following morning, disc in hand and a furrowed brow. In a college town where everyone had computers I could only find one internet cafe, and they wouldn't allow me to put the disc in their computers.

Again he bent himself to the task, first using one of the paper's computers then, when the more pressing business of deadlines demanded he free it up, going to the car to get his own. As we downloaded and sent the images through we chatted.

Yes, he knew about New Zealand and was hoping to come down our way, and he asked where I was headed next. I told him San Angelo then San Antonio and on to Austin.

I was taking the old roads, he said when he went down to Austin he took the freeway. He was going that very weekend to see his girlfriend who lived there. It was an eight hour trip. He thought nothing of it.

In Texas distance is measured in hours not kilometres.

I shook hands with him again and thanked him profusely. He said he'd look me up if he was ever down our way. I told him I would expect nothing less.

Joe Don was living proof of the old saying, "a stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet".

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