Excerpts from On the Road in ’68
- Chapter 1. Summarizing a memorable journey and friends.
- Chapter 2. What’s so special about 1968?
- Tales from the Road “To India or not to India, that is some question”
Chapter 1. Summarizing a memorable journey and friends.
In a six-months’ journey around the world in 1968, a mere four decades ago, I and my traveling pal Jim, saw many wonderful places and tourist Meccas: The Rome Coliseum, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Alhambra in Granada. We skied the slopes of Kitzbuhel, partied along the south shore of Spain, wandered through the intimate alleys of the Casbah of Tangiers, strolled the avenues on the Left Bank of Paris, and listened to the passionate oratory at London’s Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner.
When my fellow wanderer headed back to the States after three lively months, I continued on solo to visit the Acropolis of Ancient Greece, the Pyramids of Egypt, India’s Taj Mahal, and Kyoto’s parks and temples.
With newfound companions I watched the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin; rode the ferry to Greek Islands and the train down to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings; wandered at night through the back streets of Bombay; bicycled to a temple outside Kathmandu; shared a taxi up to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; rode Hong Kong’s Star Ferry; and sailed Japan’s incredibly picturesque Inland Sea.
I met some intriguing figures here and there: the fabled Maharishi of Rishikesh and another revered holy man in Kashmir; a barefoot Saddhu in Nepal; even Macbeth in Glasgow.
Other visits were unforgettable but not for wonderful reasons: troubles in Kashmir, the ongoing war in Saigon (yes, I was a tourist), the World War II Atomic Bomb War Memorial in Hiroshima.
On a Sunday afternoon in June I was able to enjoy both the splendid views from Japan’s Mount Fujiyama and Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Something about crossing the International Date Line and picking up a day.
Extended travel is not always all fun and games. Some of those toilets presented significant cultural challenges. My skiing pleasure in Austria was curtailed while I stayed in bed fighting a winter cold/flu. I got to know Hong Kong much better than intended when my traveling money was late in arriving.
People make a journey memorable
Way beyond seeing the many wonders of nature and mankind, the strongest memories of my journeys were the people I met along the way, and the many kindnesses they offered me, a total stranger appearing suddenly in their worlds. Over four decades I’ve been able to maintain friendships with some of them, regrettably lost contact with others.
So this book and these tales of pleasant memories are dedicated to all those fine folks we met out on the road who shared experiences, conversations and travel tips with us, and in many cases their homes, knowledge, and friends. You’ll meet with many of those friends during the journeys and in the back of the book as many have provided their personal perspectives on their worlds of 1968 and today. And should any readers recognize a name, perhaps their own, I will be delighted to hear from them via the web site on the back cover.
Let’s revisit those times and see how they relate to today
And now, four decades later, we’ll look back at ‘68 and track those journeys and adventures. In “Tales from the Road,” you’ll read about the places, experiences and people we encountered and mostly hugely-enjoyed, with some details culled from my travel journal’s almost-daily scribbled notes. Month-by-month you’ll see what was going on in the world, with current-day headlines providing perspective on the world of 2008 vs. 1968.
Some major changes in world situations would make a six months on-the-road journey today very different from ‘68. Then the Yankee dollar was pretty much the world’s champion, as you’ll read about very low lodging and transportation costs allowing my tightly-budgeted funds to do well for me. In this era of the Euro, dollars go mighty fast. Getting across borders was generally trickier, as each country had its own checkpoints and currency, thus careful countdowns of each country’s bills were important to avoid extra costs of turning those back into dollars or the next country’s coinage.
With the establishment of the European Economic Community, evolution into the European Union, and the Euro common to members (most), plus the arrival of ATM (Automatic Teller Machines), a traveler’s currency management is much simpler. Then again, should you lose that ATM card…
In ‘68, you could get in to few Mideast countries if your passport had an Israeli stamp in it. On the other hand, an American could travel to Vietnam with no visa (depending on where you started), just show up (if you were so inclined). Not quite the same today. Oh yes, U.S. Troops were in a quagmire there in ‘68, again now in a quagmire in Iraq. Have we progressed?
Visiting Dublin in ‘68, yes, for St. Patrick’s Day, showed a city and nation low on the economic wealth scale. A more recent visit to Ireland saw many signs of a clearly thriving economy. Then Spain was a tightly-controlled dictatorship under Franco, now it’s a free-spirited democracy. And Bombay in ‘68, though reasonably prosperous by Indian standards, was way down there in wealth per world ranks. Today Mumbai has a more thriving film industry than Hollywood and is the prime center for those customer service calls from throughout the world, even if Charley’s real name is Anish. Oh, yes, Jaguar and Land Rover automobile lines are now under ownership from India.
Written communication then relied mostly on mail, meaning a letter sent airmail from Asia would take a few days to get to a U.S. destination. Today readily-found Internet cafes reduce that to seconds. The main currency mode was via travelers’ checks; today they’re called credit cards (and maybe frequent flyer miles).
A major complication, then, not now (maybe)
Then, for younger American fellows, there was this intrusive thing called the draft. When you turned 18 and henceward until age 35, if you’d had deferments (as I had), you could be drafted into the Army. The reality of the draft was regarded as one of the major reasons for serious rioting back then in the U.S.
In 1973, the draft ended, with the start of the all-volunteer army. In 2008, with the army mightily strained due to the Iraq war and continuing occupation, there is some talk of reinstating the draft, and much talk that anti-war protests are relatively mild primarily because there is no draft.
Shifts in stature & style do occur
One major difference Americans are experiencing as they travel abroad is that the U.S. reputation as the flag-bearer of freedom, opportunity, and equal justice for all has suffered badly over the last half-dozen years. With the Iraqi War in particular, with its premises for justification now well-recognized as false; the perception of our bullying, vs. persuading our own allies; violating the Geneva Convention of treatment of prisoners at Guatanamo Bay prison and sneaky use of other countries’ torture chambers; justifying spying on our own citizens without needing judicial permits, etc. etc., travelers to other lands often report that locals who in the past have been gracious and friendly now are more likely to be antagonistic.
In ‘68 the Vietnam War was a huge sore point against U.S. policy in many settings; in ‘08 there seem to be multiple sore points. In ‘68 the U.S. was clearly the world economic leader; in ‘08 the U.S. dollar is in sad straits such that Americans heading abroad better have high limits on their credit cards. In ‘68, the U.S. was the primary advancer of new technologies, products and ideas; in ‘08, with the power of computers, satellites and the Internet, fresh ideas and successes keep appearing from many sources beyond the U.S.
Fortunately, however, in ‘08 as in ‘68 friendships across borders still happen. Our more current travels in such places as Argentina, Denmark and, yes, even France continue to be enriched by personal interactions, though my traveling styles have a few differences from ‘68.
Well, so much for 2008. This undertaking is to explore world travel four decades back, so let’s start with my first “Tale” from that intriguing year of 1968.
Chapter 2. What’s so special about 1968?
This is a look-back at that journey and that most tumultuous of years, 1968. Many books have been written focusing on the events of just that year. The titles alone of several will capture the flavor of that year:
- The Year of the Barricades: A Journey Through 1968 by David Cause; – 1968 in America: Music, politics, chaos, counterculture and the shaping of a generation by Charles Kaiser; – 1968 (The Year that Rocked the World, from the Introduction) by Mark Kurlansky; – An American Melodrama, The Presidential Campaign of 1968 by Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson and Bruce Page. In 2008, a raft of publications and special programs have focused also on that tumultuous year of 1968: – Time Magazine, 40th Anniversary Special. “Time 1968: War Abroad, Riots at Home, Fallen leaders and Lunar Dreams: The Year That Changed the World.” April 2008; – AARP (Magazine and Internet). “1968 –The Year That Rocked Our World.” May-June 2008; – Vanity Fair. “Bobby Kennedy: The Hope, the Tragedy and Why He Still Matters (Inside RFK’s Daring 1968 Campaign).” June 2008; – The History Channel. “1968, with Tom Brokaw.” December 1967.
- And just what was going on in 1968? Here’s just a sampler of events from around the world then, all occurring while I was on the road:
- The Vietnam War (with Khe Sanh the scene of a major siege and battle from January into April and the Viet Cong’s TeT offensive right in Saigon from January into March); ‒ Capture of the U.S. Naval ship Pueblo and crew by North Korea; ‒ Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not again be a candidate for the U.S. Presidency; ‒ Installation of a new government in Czechoslovakia; ‒ Religious struggles in Northern Ireland and Kashmir (two of my journey’s visits); ‒ Assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
- Many other equally monumental events occurred worldwide in 1968 after I was back in the U.S. and resuming my business career. To note a few:
- Student riots in the U.S. and many other countries, including France, Spain, Italy, and Japan (all of which I had visited); ‒ Major anti-war demonstrations and police over-reactions at the Democratic convention in Chicago; ‒ The Olympic Games in Mexico City, marked by major protests, shootings and fatalities, and dramatic statements from the winner’s stand; ‒ The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and overthrow of that recently-installed government.
Tales from the Road
“To India or not to India, that is some question”
Ring…ring… Back in London I was putting a call in to Usha, my Indian friend from Paris a couple weeks ago. It was decision time. My three-months leave from General Dynamics was just about up. But my Paris meetings with Usha and her friend Tini had got me thinking about possibly seeing about a continuation of my journey with a jaunt over to India and beyond. It would require getting some more leave time from GD, and a review of my bank account and a few other factors. This is sort of how that interaction went.
“Hi Usha, it’s Tom again.”
“My goodness, I’d given you up. You certainly pop in and out rather suddenly. Where are you calling from?”
“Earl’s Court. Where else would I be? How about supper? Also I want some more suggestions about India.”
“Fine. Have you decided to go?”
“Still thinking. That’s a big decision. See you shortly.”
She’d received a letter from Tini, who was back in Calcutta. “Tini says she’s expecting you to visit her in Calcutta.” said Usha. “And here are addresses of my friends you must call in Bombay, Delhi, Ranchi, Madras…” Usha even had a travel agent friend who’d gladly help me with reservations.
The next morning I was in the friend’s travel office, still thinking. I departed and took a thoughtful stroll along nearby Carnaby Street to mull over all the considerations, such as “What do you suppose they do with penniless Americans in India?” – and weighing the pros and cons — “How long do you think it will be before you get a chance like this again?” Finally a big breath. The decision. Go!
Back to the travel office. “Very well, you have a reservation. Be at Knightsbridge Air Terminal at 1:30. Can you make it? It’s 12:30 already.”
Nothing to it. I only had to hop the tube back to Earl’s Court, pack, check out, hop the tube to Knightsbridge and find the bloody airline terminal. And sweat a little and knock over a few old ladies in the process: “Pardon, je suis Pierre.” Must protect the polite American image.
Oh, yes, and mail off a request back to my GD leaders asking for another two months’ extension on my leave. No return address of course.
And off we go. Monday March 25 on United Arabian Airline (UAA).