My Travels

 

During my senior year at Oak harbor high School I joined the Army Reserves. My brother was a reservist and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  This was at the end of the Korean conflict and before Vietnam became a real war. Upon graduating from high school at Oak Harbor High School on Whidbey Island in Washington state, I went immediately into my six months of active duty in the Army. I did basic training at Fort Ord in California and my advanced basic and combat engineer training at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. When we were released from active duty in December in Missouri I had the opportunity of riding home with a classmate from Oak Harbor in his car. 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 during 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 bachelor and devoted  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 never 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 I needed was a passport. To get a passport required only to be able to prove I was born, a picture, and $10. Without hesitation I set 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, I let him keep my earnings it in his operating account to pay me later when I needed it. I didn’t make any particular travel plans but I had said I was going to so 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 Oak Harbor freight lines at the end of that year but I was and through them I made contact with a Lyon’s Van Line truck driver who traveled back and forth across the  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 loads across the country. In December 1960 I remember stepping down out of the cab of the moving van onto East 32nd Street in 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 Iceland for an airfare much 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 three hundred dollars 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 why I decided to spend a week in Iceland in January when I didn’t even know what language they spoke or what the weather would be like. The reason I made that choice was because the airplane I would be on had to stop in Iceland 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 Iceland. The terminal at the airport consisted of a one room building with the stove and some 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 were no cars, no traffic and no noise. I could see the lights of Reykjavik a ways away. I picked up my suitcase and walkied 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 have any meaningful one-on-one contacts with any Icelandic people. I didn’t get to know anyone or learn much about living there. 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 sat 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 until time to catch my flight in the very early 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 and had attended two years of college.

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 some 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 wore at a fair amount while living in Alaska.

Landing at Glasgow Scotland and hitchhiking to the youth hostel at Loch Lomon Castle was an adventure for an unanticipated reason. Although the Scottish people technically speak English and I could hear them talking to me, I had no clue what they were saying most of the time. 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 needed to be edited and cleaned up when dictated on August 31, 2017.  I cleaned it up on January 7, 2018 after reading it on my phone and realizing how many wrong words my dictation in Dragon Naturally speaking had produced.

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