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Well, we were 18, that seemed like a worthwhile destination for our hitchhiking trip. To be clear, we had no particular animus towards Asia, it was simply a way to mark the most distant point of our excursion. I had finished paperwork and had some time before reporting for my enlistment in New York. Walter was experienced, he hitchhiked solo to southern Spain last summer and wanted me to join him on a trip to southern Europe.
We planned it in detail. We would head down south through Germany, Austria, cross the Alps, through Yugoslavia, down to Turkey and Istanbul, take a ferry across the Bosperous to the Asian side and take a leak there. Then on to Greece and Athens before heading back north. Dad dropped us off early one morning at an entrance ramp to the Autobahn. It didn't take long for a big trailer truck to a come to a screeching halt for two lads with their thumbs out. We were off.
We had a ball. I recall getting dropped off late in the day at crossroads, tasting strange foods - first time I had stew consisting of a pile of snails to be slurped from their shell. We learned to always have a wine bottle with us, filling it with local wines along the way and avoiding the extra charge for a new bottle. Crossing into Yugoslavia our passports were annotated with the make of the cameras we carried to prevent black market sales. Those commie countries were very suspicious of that happening. One ride dropped us off at a roadside inn late at night, we filled our bottle and stumbled in the dark into trees across the road, camping out in our sleeping bags. In the morning we discover the Adriatic Sea, down a sheer cliff just a few feet from where we camped.
In Istanbul I snapped forbidden pictures in the Haga Sophia with a miniature spy camera I carried which made a very loud clang in echoing arches. No one noticed. Just as planned, a ferry took us across the Bosperous to the Asian side. As I recall there was nothing much there there, just dusty private homes, but we did find a deserted alley to do what we came to do. We pissed on Asia.
There was no room in the hostel in Athens, they let us spread our sleeping bags on the veranda where we woke to ripening grapes hanging over our heads. In the morning a room opened up, we stowed our bags and went exploring sans cameras, too touristie. The Acropolis. When we returned our belongings had been ransacked, our cameras were gone.
Back then before the Internet and email, when international calls cost a mint, there was such a thing as Poste Retante, General Delivery. Don't know if that still exists. You could send a letter to a post office anywhere in the world in care of So and So; they would hold it until the person came to pick it up, good for people on the road in foreign countries. The main post office in Athens had a letter from home letting me know to report in New York in a week. No time to hitchhike back, we took a train.
We slept through crossing back into Yugoslavia. Later, at the border crossing into Austria, the train stops. Yugoslavian border guards are doing a thorough check of passports, heading our way. Walter remembers the camera entries in our passports, gets very nervous, so much so that the agents notice something is off. They give my passport a cursory glance and are more interested in Walter's, start rummaging through his bag, pulling out every last bit of clothing, sleeping bag and camping paraphernalia, piling everything into his arms and on a seat. Nothing there. Walter looks very scared. They pat him down. Nothing. Finally they decide to move on, never noticing the missing cameras listed in our passports. Walter heads to the loo.
We make it back to Frankfurt in time for my flight to New York.
Sleep, Dearie, Sleep / Amazing Grace
Who cannot shed a tear when the bagpiper fades off into the distance.
I can't help but thinking of an old traditional German song that begins:
Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin;
Ein Mährchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn..
I don't know the meaning of why I'm so sad, a fairy tale from ancient time has taken over my mind.
We're celebrating, yes, celebrating, with pomp, circumstances, pageantry, a fairy tale empire with a rite fit for the Queen. It was a grand production, every last step choreographed, every color matched, every song tuned - I was waiting for the lone horse - greater than any movie finale I've seen, more than Star Wars or Cleopatra could come up with.
I wish King Charles the best, and we're looking forward to his coronation production. At the same time I have the feeling it's the end of a fairy tale that, in the minds of many, never was. Her passing will be seen as an opportunity to shed the last vestiges of being a 'Possession.'
If events happen in threes I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Yesterday around noon I hear a loud squeal and crash coming from Second Avenue, sirens shortly thereafter. By the time I pass several EMTs are working on people strapped down to prevent spine movement. Somehow, in mid block, one sedan plowed into another, ending up broadside to traffic.
Today , same time, a block further north, a familiar squeal and crunch. A ConEd truck driver, no doubt proud of himself for having gotten his truck into a legal parking space, throws open his door into passing traffic, in the process wiping out the door and the entire right side of a taxi. Luckily there were no passengers.
Reminds me of the days when I worked cars and some of my more spectacular accidents, used to have one every six months, needed or not. I suppose one of the best can be told truthfully now, much time having passed.
I picked up a brand new Cougar at a railhead in New Jersey, eight miles on the odometer, destination Kennedy Airport. About 20 miles or so down the road on the BQE, traffic opens up. I decide to check out low gear (it was an automatic) and somehow slam it into Reverse? instead. The car bucks and spins down the road I don't know how many times, then goes airborne and lands on top of the center divider.
My foreman eventually makes his way through the traffic jam, I hop into the van for the next job, leaving the car for a tow truck, on the way filling out the accident report: the car had an obvious factory defect since it had only 25 miles on it when the transmission failed.
then there was a time I had just gotten a tuna sandwich ...
and the time a semi was in a hurry making a turn while I was beating a yellow light ...
and the time the engine went up in smoke. I left the car on the side of the road next to a wheat field during a dry spell ...
New York, New York
Times Square Reflections
One of my co-workers was an elderly woman, Mrs Washington. I do this only to keep busy, she said. We would give her a key, point to the car, tell her where it was needed, then quickly get out of her way. She'd be there at the destination, patiently waiting for the rest of the crew to catch up.
Once we had to refuel our cars at a local gas station. While being fueled she heard a gas cap door snap shut, thought it was hers and took off, ripping the hose and spewing gas all over.
There was a fire.
Okay, I admit it, it wasn't nice ... but he challenged me when I passed him! He speeded up, I sped up, raced him up the hill where I took my foot off the gas. He sailed past me, triumphant, right past the State Trooper hiding in the bushes where I knew he always hid.
New York, New York
Hi Ho Hi Ho Off to work we go.
I'm heading west, crossing Broadway, stop at the light next to a group of 15 or 16 year old boys in heated argument. One turns to me: 'Excuse me. Mind if I ask you a question?'
Sure I say, expecting to give direction to Washington Square or Alphabet City.
'Is testicular cancer the same as prostate cancer?'
ooomph. mmm, uh, I don't think so? The prostate is a gland, a different gland than testicles .... mmm ... you know the mmm balls. I can't believe I making ball gestures to a bunch of teens on the corner of Broadway. There's a triumphant 'see, I told you' from the kid with the question. "I was right!'
just then the light changes and I continue west ...
New York, New York
Mariko Mori's waveUFO landed in the huge atrium on the corner of 56th and Madison where it shimmers amid three-story high bamboo. We take off our shoes while attendants all in white glide by, handing out small white slippers with rubber ridges, paste electrodes to our heads and lead us up clear plastic steps into the pod to nestle in contoured innards where our brainwaves combine to produce a lightshow from rhythmic pulsing alpha, beta and theta waves.
Still deep in reveries on the bus back home, a woman seated right behind me gets on her phone, calls an operator and demands a number in Connecticut, getting louder with each sentence. People are beginning to make faces. "I'm calling from New York" she shouts. I turn and shout a bit louder "She's calling from New York!" I was planning to add more to make sure it covered the distance to Connecticut, but she broke into a series of "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
It's drizzly today, I like drizzly, the walk from the bus gets me back into the lightshow, I notice there is a bit extra spring in my step? That's nice I'm thinking.
Back home I take off my shoes and there are those small white slippers with bouncy rubber ridges.
Now that rang a bell. I've been wondering what was there in that aging plastic bag in the back of my sock drawer!