Time now for a short tale of the 1950s about two fans who had already found the road
to FIAWOL, in this case a real road, from Oakland to New Orleans for the 1951
Worldcon. It takes a true sense of fannish determination to drive 2,000 miles just
to attend a convention, and such a trip is an accomplishment in itself. But, as the
following article shows, sometimes the most memorable aspects of a convention trip
are things that happen along the way.
Les had been reading science fiction magazines since he was about five years old, and had been writing letters to the editors since he was a teenager. When we got married, he added my name to the letters, so Les and Es Cole had some name-recognition among the regular readers.
Then a real science fiction fan came to visit us in Oakland. Lee Jacobs was an interesting young man and no trouble as a house guest. All he did, all day long, was sit in the apartment and read Les' collection of s-f books and magazines. All he ate was macaroni and cheese, he made himself, and he drank chocolate milk. He told us that once he ran out of regular milk for making macaroni and cheese, so he used chocolate milk. He said it wasn't bad!
Lee talked us into publishing a fan magazine, and that gave us a little more name-recognition. Then we joined the local sf club and Les became president and I became secretary, and we were ready to attend our first world science fiction convention in New Orleans.
We drove, stopping at Carlsbad Caverns and picking up another fan en route. Carl Murray was a pen pal we'd never met. He turned out to have a Texas accent as thick and slow as hardening lava. But his wit was lightning swift. The combination was intriguing. (Carl came back to California with us after the convention for a brief vacation. We remained friends, mostly through correspondence, for over 30 years.)
When we reached Louisiana, it seemed like a cheerful state. All the signs ended in a musical note: Shreveport La, Lafayette La. In Port Charles La, we stopped to eat ice-cold east Texas watermelon, and it was the most delicious, most thirst-quenching, satisfying watermelon I had ever tasted. All the wonderful tastes in all the world had been condensed into that slice of ice-cold melon.
Then we reached New Orleans. September in New Orleans should be abolished. I'd lived in California all my life, in dry heat, and it was incredible to me that weather could be so foul. The daytime temperature was about 90 and the humidity was just as high. In the evening, the temperature dropped about two degrees. Day or night, walking outdoors was like slogging through a sauna. Fortunately, the hotel was air-conditioned, as were the restaurants. And along with the convention, we were interested in sampling the cooking for which New Orleans was so famous.
Our first dinner was at the Court of the Two Sisters. Our food came, it smelled lovely, and tasted fine, but I wasn't hungry. Next night, we again went to a recommended restaurant, and again the food was good and again, I sat looking at it dreaming of watermelon. I thought maybe the heat was getting to me.
The science fiction convention took most of our attention. There was a small group of us from Berkeley, and we were trying to get the next convention to San Francisco. Most of the fans lived in the eastern part of the country and they preferred to keep the conventions in that area. Traveling to the West Coast would be long and costly. In those days, convention registration was about one dollar, and no one had much money for travel or hotels. We were curious about other fans we knew through their fan magazines, and we were curious about some of the writers we read. A big treat was to meet Robert Bloch, who would eventually write Psycho. Bob had started a rumor that Les and Es were 15-year-old twin brothers. We thought that very funny. Les and I dressed alike in jeans and t-shirts, but we didn't look alike. It didn't take much to amuse us in those days.
At the end of the long weekend, we headed home via a different route: north to Missouri and then west. As soon as we were on the road again, I started craving watermelon. It was early September, and the melon season should still be around. We kept our eyes alert for any roadside stands.
At last, in Arkansas, we spotted a likely prospect. Les screeched to a halt and we ran to the stand. We couldn't spot any watermelon. The farmer, seeing how anxious Les and I were, said he might be able to help us. He took Les out back, and said, "How badly do you want that melon? I got some hot watermelon yonder in that shed." We didn't know if he meant the temperature was hot, or if the fruit had been stolen. But it was really cold melon I craved, so sadly we returned to the car and continued.
For more than 2,000 miles, we chased the elusive ice-cold watermelon. We found stands that had been closed the day before we arrived. We found stores that had sold out 30 minutes before. There seemed be a conspiracy to keep me from satisfying my melon thirst.
At long last, when we had finally reached California, very near to Sacramento, we spotted the sign we wanted: "Ice-Cold Watermelon."
We pulled into the yard and gave our orders. With a flourish, Les presented me with a large slice of beautiful red watermelon and stood back waiting for ecstasy to pour out of me. I looked at the watermelon, then looked at the other displayed fruit. I turned to Les and said, "I want some nectarines." In that instance, Les knew I was pregnant. There was no need for a rabbit test. The nectarine test told the whole story. What does all this have to do with science fiction? Les used the saga of the melon chase in "Unborn of Earth," his first published story, and the beginning of his professional writing career.
Les went on to write and publish dozens more science fiction and crime stories. We went on to another world sf convention in Chicago, and to produce one in San Francisco in l954. We even went on to produce another boy.
But I've never again found that magic taste of west-Texas watermelon.
All illustrations by Julia Morgan-Scott