My early childhood was spent on what my dad called a squirrel ranch. We usually had a few acres wherever we lived but all we really raised many of were squirrels. We had chickens, a couple of cows, a horse for my sister and several small dogs. Most of my fun experiences were playing in the woods by myself or with one friend or wondering around Vancouver Lake with a fishing pole, shotgun, or 22 rifle. Other than a camping trip to Spirit Lake once a year we didn’t do many things as a family.
My dad bought a television set when I was in upper elementary school or possibly even junior high. We watched it a little but my mother made it clear watching television was a waste of time if not even sinful. I wasn’t involved in any sports at school besides resource playing until I turned out for wrestling in my sophomore year of high school. Being on the wrestling team was a good experience for me. I didn’t learn as much about teamwork as I would have in other sports but I found I could do something well enough to gain a modicum of recognition by a few people. I don’t remember having any exposure to people from other countries or people speaking any language other than English. I apparently met very few black, African-American, students in my early years because I recall there being a black, or at least very dark brown, student named Nomar Ortega on the wrestling team. I don’t know if I thought the color would rub off on me or what but I do remember being a little apprehensive about wrestling him. My recollection is, he was a nice guy. Our only interaction was through the wrestling team so I didn’t get to know him very well.
In addition to not having any exposure to foreigners or foreign languages or people unlike myself, I apparently didn’t have any outstanding geography teachers to give me a good understanding of all the different people in the world. Possibly this was the seed of the curiosity which turned into a travel bug later.
Upon graduating from high school at Oak Harbor high school and would be Island in Washington state, I went immediately into six months of active duty in the Army. I did my basic training at Fort or California and my advanced basic and combat engineer training at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. When we were released from active duty in December I had the opportunity of writing home with a classmate from Oak Harbor in his car and for some reason, I chose to hitchhike home on my own. I didn’t yet know I had a travel bug or an adventure bug which would continue to grow. The next year I signed up for classes at Everett Junior College about 60 miles from Oak Harbor. I took general courses and as electives the second year I took philosophy and French. The instructors in these two classes were the two instructors I remember the most of all the instructors I had in my four years of college. Dr. John Broussard, who held a PhD in anthropology was the “out-of-the-box” philosophy teacher. I remember the great feeling of discovery I had in philosophy class from finding out I was not the first person to have all the questions that lurked in my mind. James Scott a devoted bachelor teacher was the French instructor. Learning French was not particularly easy but he made it fun.
One day in French class we were conjugating verbs; Je suis, to es, vous êtes, etc. having not thought about it before and probably just to try to get a reaction out of whoever was next to me in class, I said to no one in particular, “this is too much work. I’m going to go to France and learn how to speak French.” After I said it I wondered what one had to do to go to a country outside United States. I learned all that was needed was a passport and to get a passport required only to be able to prove I was born, a picture, and $10. Without hesitation I said about acquiring those three things and by the end of that school year I had a passport. During the summer I worked in my brothers machine shop and since I didn’t need the money for anything just let him keep it in his operating account to pay me later when I needed it. I didn’t make any particular travel plans but I just knew I was going to go to France. When my classmates in Oak Harbor all went off to college the next fall I realized I needed to start making some plans. I don’t remember the details of how I happen to be working for work Harbor freight lines again at the end of that year but I was and through them I made contact with a lion’s van line truck driver who traveled back and forth across United States moving people’s household property. He agreed to let me ride from Seattle to New York with him in exchange for me helping him load and unload as he dropped off and picked up households across the country. In December 1960 I remember stepping down out of the cab of the moving van onto the main street across Manhattan with my small suitcase. As the truck pulled away I remember looking up at the tall buildings all around me with the realization: “here I am.”
I had heard about people working their way across the ocean on a ship but I soon found in New York you had to know a lot more than I did as a country boy about the way things work to even get on the docks where ships were loaded and departed from. I stayed at the YMCA and was able to talk to other travelers also staying there. I learned an airline called Icelandic Airlines flew from New York to Scotland by way of ice land for an airfare even less than it would cost to get a ticket on an ocean liner.
My recollection is I had about $1000 owed to me by my brother and I had probably brought two or $300 with me to New York. I spent some portion of that, the amount I don’t remember, on a one-way ticket to Glasgow Scotland with a one-week layover in Rekjaviac Iceland. It would be fair to ask I decided to spend a week in ice land in January when I didn’t even know a thing about ice land. The reason I made that choice was because the airplane I would be on had to stop in ice land to refuel and my ticket allowed me to layover until the next flight a week later without it costing me anymore. I was the only passenger on the plane to disembark in ice land. The terminal at the airport consisted of a one room building with the stove near the fuel tanks. After the plane filled up with fuel everyone else got back on and the plane took off leaving me standing there in the darkness by myself. There was no cars no traffic no noise. I could see the lights of Reykjavik a ways away.I don’t remember if it was a half a mile or three miles. I just remember picking up my suitcase and walking until I reached the town.
The first thing I did when I arrived in Reykjavik was what, I now know, most Americans and other travelers do when they travel. I sought out somebody I had something in common with. I went to the American consulate and struck up a conversation with the Marine guard at the door. He offered to let me sleep in one of the unused bunks at the billets where he and the other Marine guards stayed. After two or three days they realize they were probably breaking a lot of rules since they had no idea who I was or if I was a criminal or terrorist. They suggested I found another place to stay so I went and rented the cheapest hotel room in town for two or three days. Following what came naturally, doing the easy thing, almost caused me to miss one of the most meaningful experiences of my travels. During those days when I slept at the Marine headquarters and in a hotel as a customer, I didn’t make any real one-on-one personal contacts with any Icelandic people. Realizing this on the last day before my plane was to leave the next morning, I decided I would walk the streets of Rekjaviac all night if need be to meet someone. During the evening hours I went into a café and ordered a cup of hot milk, which was a common beverage in Iceland. I asked the man who set down near me if he spoke English and, not only did he speak English but he mentioned he was on his way to a chess tournament. We talked about chess and he invited me to come watch the tournament and then sleep on the couch at his house and tell time to catch my flight in the morning. Talking with that gentleman after the chess tournament for several hours was my first real wake-up call about how ignorant I was about my own country. He knew more about the politics and economics of the United States than I did and I had lived here for 21 years.
When I left Iceland it turned out the plane could not land at Rekjaviac because of icy conditions so I got a bus ride from Reykjavik to the Keflavík Air Base. I had exchanged from US dollars for the local currency and when it was time to leave I still had a few dollars of the local currency unspent. That was my first introduction to what the gold standard is all about. The U.S. was on the gold standard but Iceland was not. Icelandic money could not be exchanged anywhere else in the world for any other currency because there was no common basis for its value. Rather than leave with some useless paper, I bought a nice looking sheepskin hat. It was a great souvenir for many years and I were at a fair amount while living in Alaska.
Landing at Glasgow Scotland and hitchhiking to the youth hostel at Loch Lomman Castle was an adventure for a reason that I had not considered before hand. Although the Scottish people technically speak English and I could hear them talking to me, I had no clue what they were saying. Enough for now.
I didn’t know adventure or drama when I experienced it. I thought it was just another day in my life
This all needs to be edited and cleaned up……….. August 31, 2017