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Chapter 4 from my book Exotic Travel Adventures
The day after high school graduation I left for New Orleans. In several days I found myself in downtown Houston.
At dinner while eating in a diner I spotted two men in their early 20’s and asked them where teenagers hang out. They told me they planned to go to a club and asked if I could give them a ride.
As I followed their directions, driving to the supposed nightclub with one of the men sitting in the back and one in the front seat of my car, after I told them I planned to travel to Acapulco then out west for the summer, the man sitting in the back seat started singing the Elvis song “It’s now or never.”
It dawned on me that they planned to rob me. I immediately suggested we all go down to Galveston the next day. Since I had already checked in at the Hilton we should leave the next morning. They must have realized that it would make a cleaner crime if they got me when I did not have a connection to a hotel.
I told them, “Pick me up at 5:00 am so we have a full day there. We’ll drive in my car.” I dropped them off back at the diner. I went back to my hotel and I got up and left at 4:00 am. I did not think about it for thirty years until I read an article about the conviction of two men in Houston for procuring teenage boys to a third party. Officials found at least 20 teenage boys dead and buried in this third party’s back yard. It had gone on for at least 30 years. I wonder if this kind of issue may account for part of the large missing persons list in this country.
Segment from Chapter 13
Fortunately I had excellent driving skills. The colonel had a previously long-scheduled visit planned by his wife to visit him from America for several days. Although the Tet offensive took place just before her scheduled visit, she made the trip as planned,nunaware of potential danger. The colonel and I took her to Pattaya Beach, a resort on the Gulf of Thailand. Our Special Troops Unit had charge of the Army R&R center in Pattaya.
As the colonel, his wife, and I drove down a two-lane highway several days after the Vietnamese Tet offensive started, in an Army sedan with the steering wheel on the left and driving according to the English style convention in Thailand on the left (”wrong”) side of the road, I passed a long truck. All of a sudden the truck deliberately drove me off the road into the ditch at 55 mph. I reacted instantly, hit the ditch, corrected properly, and sling shot us out of the ditch back onto the road. This masterful response allowed us all to survive. A less skillful driver could have had three dead. My white faced passengers felt very thankful. The colonel’s wife cut her trip short and the next day went back to Bangkok to fly home.
At the end of my first eight-week session of taking two night college courses we had 12 days off from school before the next courses began. I had heard of a free Embassy flight the U.S. government sent around the world once a week in each direction. You needed to have the rank of a full colonel or above to fly on it. I asked my colonel if I could take a leave and go to New Delhi. He said ok and got me a flyer pass. Traveling only in civilian clothes, I arrived in New Delhi in early March 1968, one month after the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. This completed my round the world quest by age 20. Upon arrival at the airport, in a special area, since it was a U.S. Embassy flight, I was standing next to Prime Minister Indira Gandi as she welcomed general Nu, the dictator from Burma, on a state visit. Just one of my many Forrest Gump moments. I went to the U. S. Embassy where I found restaurants by the swimming pool and 17- year-old female dependents at the Embassy’s ongoing pool parties.
With Chester Bowles the U. S. Ambassador to India at the time the 17-year-old American high school seniors invited me to go to a Ravi Shankar concert. Just a soldier from Southeast Asia who dropped in, I sat next to Mrs. Chester Bowles, the Ambassador’s wife, at the concert. We had quite a night out. My colonel felt very impressed to hear about it later.
From New Delhi I flew to Kashmir where I stayed on a houseboat on Lake Srinagar, for $5.00 for one night. Art Linkletter stayed on that same houseboat just prior to my visit. Years later I sat next to him seeing the Broadway show, “42nd Street,” in New York City and he confirmed staying there. Small world. Varuska, the super model, stayed there the week before Linkletter.
After the houseboat night I heard about a ski resort in the Himalayan Mountains and found myself taking a donkey with a group going up to Gulmark, Kashmir, one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially in March, with views of snow on the Himalayas. I walked into the only lodge, checked in, and promptly met 20 American Peace Corps workers on holiday. In those days all male Peace Corps workers joined for only one reason, avoiding the draft. Take that, Chris Matthews. We had a lively debate about Kennedy vs McCarthy or Humphrey. I endorsed for Nixon. They couldn’t believe it. They had trouble believing an active duty soldier had come there from Southeast Asia.
The next day I skied for the first time in my life. We used a rope tow. Having grown up in South Florida I never had a chance to ski. The following day we arranged for coolies with burlap tied over their feet to carry our skis up the nearby Himalayan mountain as we walked behind them, so we could ski down the pristine pathway. Not bad for my first ski experience.
With my one year of college I managed to pick up the best looking girl, a University of Michigan graduate, to travel out of there with me. We flew to New Delhi and took the train to Jaipur, the pink city. After we split I went back to New Delhi and took a train to Banaras, where they cremate bodies on the banks of the Ganges River. Next I stopped at Agra and the Taj Mahal, very beautiful. For my last stop I went to Calcutta then back to New Delhi. On this leg of the trip I realized the quality products sold in the Indian stores would sell well in America for five times more money than in India. I had the idea of buying products made in India and selling them in the United States two years ahead of Sam Walton, the Wal-Mart founder, but alas, I had to go back to the Army.
I walked into my Army headquarters at Camp Friendship and showed my four-day growth of beard. I had forgotten my electric shaver in the men’s room of the Grand Hotel, in Calcutta. I wanted the colonel and other office staff to see me with a four-day beard before I went to the PX and bought a new shaver. The colonel, the lieutenant colonel, the sergeant major, and the beautiful 23-year old married secretary, all felt very impressed with my travels. My colonel asked me where I planned to go next. I immediately said, “Laos.”
The next session of double college night courses started that Monday night, but the next weekend I took a train to the upper Thai city across the Mekong River from Vientiane, Laos where I paid 1 Baht, $.05 for a 15-minute ride across the river in a dugout canoe. They did not have the formalities of visa and customs in this war-torn country. After eating and touring the old landmark French hotels of Vientiane I took a cab by the North Vietnam Embassy, waved to the civilians in suits standing outside, returned to the boat landing, and went back to my base in mid Thailand, all in the same day.
Segment from Chapter 16
The next June, 1975, we flew to Norway where we looked up my old French Riviera girlfriend. She had become a dentist and had a baby. We drove to Stockholm and took a ferry to Helsinki where we caught a prearranged train to visit the Soviet Union for a month, deluxe class. At the first stop, St. Petersburg, we observed the police state first hand. In Moscow, we stayed at the National Hotel for two or three days, right off of Red Square, the same hotel where Lenin stayed when he came to take over the country in 1917. The hotel had a band that played from 8:30 to 10:30 pm. At the National Hotel, they threw a small cocktail party for us, a 27-year-old pediatrician and a 27-year-old businessman from America, and had 30 top University of Moscow students meet with us at the cocktail party. I suspect that V. Putin may well have come with the group. We imagined that Moscow had had few deluxe class tourists of our age. Moscow had a daily English-language newspaper apparently printed by Pravda, the Russian state news organization. To find a newspaper with more balanced news, one day I went to the U. S. Embassy in Moscow where they allowed me to read the international newspaper, The Herald Tribune, in the lobby.
On a train ride in Russia, we met a married couple, both engineers, and in their late 20’s like us. They saw a copy of the National Geographic magazine that I had with me. They felt eager to look at the advertisements in the magazine, something they had never seen. We calculated out the relative income levels for our particular situations versus their junior engineer salaries, which came out to 66:1.
We flew down to the Soviet province of Georgia where we rented a car to drive to Sochi, on the Black Sea by way of Gori, Stalin’s home town. None of the roads had proper signs ever since the Nazi invasion. We came to a fork in the road, stopped the car, got out, and saw two Soviet Air Force pilots walking along the road. We asked them for directions to Gori. They said they would show us, because they needed a ride. We went only a mile down the road until the police pulled us over and arrested our uniformed passengers. They escorted us to the Intourist office in the next town where they said don’t pick up any riders, and then they let us go.
On an overnight train in the Ukraine I locked the bathroom door to wash my hair in the sink. The police nearly broke the door down when I did not open it immediately after they started knocking.
Even though we traveled deluxe class, half the time the hotel had no hot water. Every meal took two hours of waiting to get the one available dish, chicken Kiev, but we had a great adventure. In Odessa our guide spoke perfect English so we asked her story. We felt incredulous when we learned that her parents re-immigrated back to the Soviet Union from her home in Detroit. She said her father had deteriorating vision and they got more medical care in the Ukraine than in Detroit. I regret that we brought her to tears to tell her the benefits that she missed by leaving the United States. Did you know, in the 1830’s, Russia tried real hard to duplicate the French and/or American revolutions to have a constitution just like the USA. Their aim was to free the Serfs, agricultural workers tied to the land which was owned by the aristocrats. Ironically, the serfs gained their freedom on January 1, 1863, the same day President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Talk about world pressure.
The Czar and the royal system put down this attempted revolution with great bloodshed. Had these early revolutionist succeeded, there probably would not have been a need for Lenin, Stalin, communism, or any cold war with the USA. The Czar’s system was the ultimate ripoff, and they get their fall. Oh those Russians!