25 A Week In Sydney
26 Interview with the Widow - 1
27 Interview with the Widow - 2
28 Three Kings of Orient
29 1969 - Year of the Rooster
30 Summer in Europe
31 Bellybuttons & Maggots
32 Yes/No vs. Maybe
33 Blood, Beer and Warm Feet
34 Mine Universe
35 Hands off, Boots on
36 The Accidental Cure
37 It's the Only Thing
38 The Professor's Stable
39 Little House on the Highway
40 "9/11 is OK"
41 Suspected Child Abuse
42 Midlife Crisis
43 Where Am I Today - 1
44 Where Am I Today - 2
45 The Rosebud Period
46 Angular and Giddy
47 Sandin, N. A., Computer
48 Hot Trailers
SUMMER IN EUROPE
She was the only one left in the downtown London Air Terminal that I recognized from the flight. She was probably six years my junior, a nice-looking sandy blonde with her hair gathered into one very thick braid. She looked around constantly and seemed distressed, inspiring my paternal instincts, so I introduced myself and sat down, hoping I could help. In chatting with Pam, I found that we were both in the same situation.
We hit it off well, kicked around London for a few days, spent the rest of the summer touring Europe, fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after. But that wouldn’t make much of a Ponogram, so, although that probably happened in a parallel universe, let’s get back to reality.
It took me eleven years to get a bachelor’s degree. My college attendance was interrupted by marriages, divorces, 27 months in the Army, a couple of legal issues resulting in brief periods of incarceration, with an eventual radical change in my life and college major and successful graduation. At that time, much to my parents’ dismay, I elected to gather together every dime I could find and go to Europe for ten weeks.
As if by magic, it all came together. Michigan State University (MSU), my alma mater, sponsored a reasonably priced charter flight from New York (NY) to London with return from Amsterdam to NY that matched my dates well. My old Army buddy Neil was working in the mid-east on oil surveys and he got most of that same time off because it was just too hot in the desert in the summertime. I was unencumbered by a regular employment commitment since I had had only part time work during my last year at MSU. The sun, stars and moon were all in proper alignment, and I signed on the dotted line.
The plan was to pack all my belongings in my car, drive to my brother’s farm to store it, bus to NY, fly to London, meet Neil, train (and boat) to Copenhagen, rent a car, enjoy Europe, catch the return flight in Amsterdam, bus from NY to my brother’s place, and begin a new life.
Of course, plans don’t always come off. I got to the airport in NY and learned that Ajax Airlines (or whatever) had made a sharp turn on the runways on arrival and damaged the tail of MY plane! Now, Ajax probably only had the one plane, but somehow, arrangements were made to borrow a plane from Acme Airlines (or whatever). So the picture developed – we were going to London on a different airline, at a different time, and landing at a different airport!
Remember this was 1962 – no Internet or cell phones, and all I knew about Neil was that he was to get to London sometime before me and meet me upon arrival of my flight.
We landed at Heathrow and took a bus to the so-called Air Terminal near the train station in downtown London. I made a short walk and found a bed and breakfast, setup a tentative reservation, and left my bags. I had no idea where Neil might be, but I was drawn to the Air Terminal since that was the last link I had to the flight. That’s where I met Pam.
Pam had made arrangements to be met by her friend Roberta. Roberta didn’t live in London, and Pam didn’t know where she was staying. So, neither one of us had a clue as to how to make contact with our friends!
We kept on talking. I was determined not to leave Pam alone and I didn’t have anything better to do so I hung around. And then……….
I think both of us reacted at the identical time. I saw Neil come through the arch with a girl and Pam saw Roberta come through the arch with a guy! However, there was only ONE couple coming through the arch! It took a while to register, but Neil and Roberta were together!
It turns out that each of them had been touring airports and looking for the same plane and each heard of the other and they finally met and decided to continue the search together.
We sorted it all out and went our separate ways, but not before Roberta invited us to a party at a flat just a block or so from Big Ben. Thus began Summer in Europe!
We spent a few days in London (long enough for a Hyde Park pigeon to decorate the shoulder of my only sport coat) and then took a train to Copenhagen, where we rented a Volkswagen bug. Neil had brought a coworker with him. Lowell came in handy for sharing expenses, but his driving was atrocious. He managed to bang up the car on the second night or so of the rental. It was bad enough that we had to exchange it.
We had been “picked up” at the train station in Copenhagen by a couple who had a room to rent. They were nice folks just trying to make a buck and we took them up. They piled the three of us and all of our belongings into their tiny car, took us to the car rental place, waited while we made arrangements, led us to their tiny apartment, and set us up. We had beds and they served decent breakfasts, but we shared with neighbors a toilet located out in the hall and washed and shaved in the kitchen. They directed us to a nearby public bathhouse for further hygiene. Having someone help with a bath was a rare and unique experience for each of us!
After a brief stay in Denmark, we took a ferry to Malmö, Sweden. We wanted to get some sustenance on the ferry, but couldn’t find a table. A Swedish couple offered to share their table with us. We had a great conversation with them and when we docked in Malmö, they invited us to their house for drinks. He was a banker and we managed to finish the day and a couple of bottles of booze at their place. They directed us to a place to stay and we drove away on the wrong side of the street – Lowell didn’t drive in Sweden.
Next day we went to Tivoli and that was it for Sweden. Back to Denmark and a ferry to Germany, on which we froze – it was June, but no one told the wind.
We spent several days in Germany, since Neil and I had spent two years there in the Army. I visited the girl I had gone with while in the Army.
Ute and I renewed the love we felt for each other while we were dating. I decided to dump Neil and Lowell. Ute and I ran off, got married and lived happily ever after! But that wouldn’t make much of a Ponogram, so, although that probably happened in a parallel universe, let’s get back to reality.
Christmas 1959 – Pono & Ute
The combination of good (and plenty) German beer, lack of sleep, conflicting emotions, and the fact that I was going through more money than I had planned, brought on a recurrence of the ulcer I had developed while in the Army. I saw a German doctor who diagnosed me with tsverlfingeredarmgeswur (ulcers) and prescribed chamomile tea.
We decided to experience Berlin. The western section of Berlin was an island inside of East Germany, but there was one road that provided access. We had to fill out forms, declare our money, show our passports, submit to a car search, stay on the highway, make no stops, take no pictures, etc., but it was possible to get there.
We made it to Berlin and saw the wall from the American sector, but we were still not satisfied, so we signed up for a tour of East Berlin. This involved many of the same steps that we went through to use the access road, but the tour was by bus. The bus went through Checkpoint Charlie and it was weird to see the difference. The West was vibrant and alive – the East was quiet and somber. We were taken down streets with buildings on either side, but at intersections we could see rubble and ruin just behind the façade. Very few people were on the streets and we were not allowed out of the bus except in supervised venues. It would be interesting to see today, 20 years after the fall of the wall.
Checkpoint Charlie from the American Sector
The wall with barbed wire, a closed street, a tank barrier with a
manned gate, another wall with a break just inches wider than our bus,
the USSR checkpoint for paper checks, and then East Berlin in the distance
“You are leaving the American Sector”
(if you can get over the wall)
An actual chip of the wall, acquired after it fell
The trip from Berlin back to West Germany was pretty much a reverse of the entry except… One of us lost the precious paper given when we were inspected and approved to enter. That paper had to be shown to get out of East Germany! I don’t even remember what all happened – we tore the car apart, opened bags and searched pockets. I really think that the paper was never found and the guards just gave up on the three Stooges and were happy to see us leave!
We finally broke our strong connection to Germany and did a whirlwind tour of Austria, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland. As with so much of this trip, I’m left with a vague and hazy memory of these countries. I remember “Ja, das ist der Lichtensteiner polka, mein schatz” – based on the frequency of hearing it, I think that it is the Principality’s national anthem. The rest of the memories are as if they had been seen through the bottom of an empty beer glass!
About this time I realized that I was never going to make it with my remaining funds. Wisely, I had prepaid the air and bus travel, but just eating and sleeping was going to break me. I sent a telegram to a buddy in my home town pleading for a loan and asked him to wire it to me at American Express in Madrid, Spain.
It was my turn to drive as we headed into Spain. We had picked out a target town to stay in and made good time, pulling in around dusk. We spotted a potential place to stay and stopped. The place was full so we asked if they might recommend another place. The clerk laughed and said if we didn’t have reservations we didn’t have a chance – big bullfight tomorrow and everything for miles around was booked solid!
So, we got back in the car and started driving. Neil and Lowell both zonked out pretty quick and I just got into the “rhythm of the road”. Along towards dawn we drove into Madrid. We did a little eating and touristing and then found a small hotel on a side street and registered. I had saved the cost of one night’s lodging from my skinny wallet.
I did a little laundry by hand and was hanging it out on the patio overlooking the narrow street. The little store across the street had a tiny grill just outside their door. I watch them cooking animal guts and just about hurled. People in the street saw me hanging clothes and made fun of me. I didn’t care – I was nearly broke.
I don’t remember how it happened, but that night I was on my own, barhopping. I hit one place that was really dead, but there was a good looking Spanish lady sitting alone at the bar. I can’t tell you how we managed to communicate, since we had no common language, but we did. She took me home with her to meet the folks and then we went back to the hotel. The next morning after breakfast we went out doing errands. She had to stop here and there – I didn’t understand any of it, but I held her hand and tried to look intelligent. She did some shopping, showing me this and that – little did she know that I had nothing but ID in my wallet.
We spent the next few days together in Madrid. Maria showed me all the sights of the city and didn’t even mind paying for things. Gradually I learned Spanish and she learned English and we found that we had much in common. I abandoned the summer tour, got a job, got married, and lived happily ever after. But that wouldn’t make much of a Ponogram, so, although that probably happened in a parallel universe, let’s get back to reality.
Next day we hit American Express – nothing. My old homeboy had failed me. I guess I sobbed hard enough though – Neil came to my rescue and let me borrow $200 for only 10% interest! I signed the paper that he gave me in a minute. It wasn’t until I got back to Michigan that I noticed it was 10% per week!
From Madrid we drove north and into France. We did a quick drive through the hyperactive Monaco. Somewhere in France Neil and Lowell left to return to work. I stopped in Verdun to visit a high school friend who was stationed there in the Army. He and his wife had something planned so they had to leave after a couple days, but they let me stay on while they were gone. I survived on odds and ends of left overs, canned goods, etc. in their cupboards. I was still concerned about finances.
Verdun was spooky. I know that LOTS of soldiers gave their lives in the wars in that locale, and I felt like their spirits were all around me. I don’t remember ever having that feeling before or since.
I stayed in Verdun (in those free quarters) as long as I could and still manage to make a dash to the airport in Amsterdam for connections to my flight. Nevertheless, I collected Belgium and Luxembourg before reaching the Netherlands. I turned in the car and got on the airplane and breathed a huge sigh of relief. With a prepaid flight to NY and prepaid bus from NY back to Michigan, I only needed money for local connections and a little food.
When I got off the bus in the little town near my brother’s farm, I checked my finances. I called Bud to pick me up and while waiting I had a hamburger and a cup of coffee. That left me with 65 cents. So, after 10 weeks, 13 countries, about *44* beers, depletion of my vast fortune, and *many* adventures, I borrowed $15 from my brother and drove off to claim my real destiny. I was some $215 in debt, but I was young, single, freshly “educated”, and full of hope and optimism.
(I was just kidding about Neil charging me 10% a week interest – it was really only 10% a month. But that wouldn’t make much of a Ponogram…etc.)
Neil admiring Heidelberg Castle in 1962
Neil in 2008 after forging his Army rifle into a plowshare