Archive for the Travel Category

Birthday Post!

July 24, 2003

My dear Spockling Churchwallop:

As you can see, I began to prepare for your birthday back on February 15, 2003. Since that time, you have changed your name and it seems that an English accent has come over you. You are going to be referred to in newspapers as Churchwallop – nee Kevin Shepherd. That “nee” business has to do with high class females who take a second name or a second or third husband.

Now before we get into the currency, I have a map of Africa from a Hammond Atlas and the Foreign Exchange lists published in the New York Times. Now on the map, you will notice that every country in Africa was under domination by a European power. The map is wrong on one point, as Egypt was a British possession. When I arrived in Dakar in French West Africa in February, 1943, this was the layout of countries. Incidentally, Dakar is now in Senegal, a free nation.

The money issued by the various government entities reflected the ownership of the country by European governments. Nearly every country has now won its freedom.

I traveled all over Africa and Italy and into the Indian sub-continent. In all those travels, I never set out to collect money as souvenirs. At the end of a trip, money left over would be put aside with the thought that the money could be used on my next trip to that location. When I finally came home in July of 1945, this is the money left over. And now it is yours.

Now for a little arithmetic lesson. In every case today, except for Britain, the Euro and Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the dollar is worth more than the foreign currency. The British pound used to be worth around $4.50 to $5.00. I ought to know because I got paid in pounds for a long time. Now the pound is down to about $1.70 which is a long way from $5 when Great Britain was riding high.

The Euro is a currency invented only two or three years ago in Europe. Not every European country subscribes to the Euro. As you can see, the English have kept their pound, Sweden has kept its krona and Norway has kept its krone. In the beginning, the governments in Europe wanted to keep the Euro even with the dollar, but as you can see, it has edged 15c or 18c ahead of the dollar.

The SDR (Special Drawing Rights) has to do with governments taking money out of the system. Let’s don’t mess with it here.

Using the “Foreign Exchange” from July 16, 2003 from the New York Times, let’s have a little arithmetic lesson. If I were going to Canada, I would go to the foreign desk of my bank which is the Chase Manhattan Bank, and I would give the bank $100 U. S. currency. For that, the bank should give me $139.53 in Canadian currency. On the other hand, if a Canadian wanted to visit the U. S., he would have to plunk down $139 in Canadian currency to get $100 in U. S. dollars.

Are you with me so far?

Now if I wanted some English currency to go to London, my bank would take my $100 in U. S. money and would bring me 62 pounds and 72 pence.

If it fell to me to go to South Korea, my $100 U. S. dollars would bring me 117,855 South Korean won. So stay away from countries where their currency is less than a penny in American dollars.

If you want to do some more arithmetic, perhaps your Dad can help. Don’t let him say that he has something urgent to do just because he can’t figure out all these numbers.

Spockling, these bills are so old that nearly all of the countries have been replaced so there is no published rate for conversation to dollars. Basically, this is the money I used as a soldier about 60 years ago.

Also, you will find some current dollars for your use in purchasing cigars or ear and nose rings for your birthday. We like big, fat, Italian stogies. Judy and I say “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. Also, Nick the Chipmunk, and the birds at the feeder all wish you a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

I want to thank you for your letter when I was being a patient for the Pacemaker insertion. It was good to get your letter which told me to get well. Now as you can see, I got well just as you said. My identification bracelet from the hospital is enclosed to show you I am finished.

When you have had a chance to look at these bills, perhaps you could write us a letter and tell us how you are going to keep them. Do you plan, for example, to show them at school? Or when you go to Sunday school, do you want to display them? If you get a chance to preach, can you say that this currency comes from wicked countries? That’s what I would say.

Well, Kevin (Mr. Churchwallop), That’s about it for a teenage birthday. Judy and I wish you well because we think you are a nice fellow who can write (very) decent letters. Write to us.

So stay strong always,

*Pop’s signature*

~~~

I got this letter from Pop when I turned thirteen, and I’m posting it on my twenty-sixth birthday. I remember reading this letter the first time and then opening the box it came with, which contained dozens of little bags filled with the pocket change of defunct countries and currencies. Getting that box was eye-opening for me — I knew that Pop had been in the war, but I had no idea that during the war and his AT&T years afterward, Pop had been to more countries than I’d been to cities. “Well-traveled” didn’t even begin to cover it. It made me more interested in his stories, his essays, and all the artifacts that went along with them. I consider myself very lucky to have been the grandkid who he chose to give so much of his these amazing things to, and it’s entirely possible that this site indirectly exists due to the increased curiosity in Pop’s life that this box precipitated.

I have no real explanation for “Spockling Churchwallop,” a name that I chose when signing up for my first hotmail address. I’m glad we all kinda just let that die, and that subsequent letters didn’t carry on the moniker.

Unrelated: Isn’t it cool that this letter is also from 2003, which means it fits right in alongside the other 2003 essays I’ve been doing! So convenient. Thanks very much to you, Judy, for sending it to me again today.

ARMY DAYS – AFRICA AND OTHER PLACES

I suppose it would be well to write this essay in a bit of a hurry. The reason has to do with the grim reaper mowing down people who served in the military services in World War II.

Two years ago, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reported that World War II veterans were dying at the rate of 1500 per day. Yesterday, November 18, 2002, the same source reported that currently the rate of deaths among World War II veterans has now reached the 1800 per day mark. That is a very rapid increase. If I fail to finish this little essay, all readers may assume that I am being fitted for angel wings and a size XXX white toga and large sandals suitable for flying.

Harry Livermore observed my mathematical abilities from 1952 until 1955 and he seemed to conclude that I did not have any such ability. Now that I have had an opportunity from November, 1945 until November, 2002 to think about this problem of mathematics, it is concluded that I spent 39 months (three years and three months) in the service of the United States Army Air Force. The Army claimed that 28 of those months were spent overseas. The other 11 months were spent in being trained in Florida and New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, in a furlough after the Japanese were defeated, and finally, in getting out of the Army.

In the essay “They Never Betrayed Me,” I recounted my experience on detached service with the 12th U. S. Army Air Force which lasted somewhere around 12 months. This essay is to relate my experience as an Aerial Engineer in the Air Transport Command in Africa with trips to India and other places, which accounts for the remaining 16 months of overseas service. I have used the extensive graduate services of the Mathematics and Calculus Departments of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to compute these mathematical totals, just to make certain that they meet with Mr. Livermore’s approval.

As I write these lines in November, 2002, the talk of war against Iraq and the ill defined war on terror has intruded on our thoughts. After my recent essay on war in Italy (September 1, 2002), I had planned to deal with other subjects in forthcoming essays. But the current talk about war has brought back some thoughts about December 7, 1941 and the World War II years. In one series of thoughts, I have tried to recall the loneliest places that any soldier ought to be asked to inhabit. I can think of at least five such places in my own experience, but more about that later.

When war came to the United States on December 7, 1941, most of us were enjoying a Sunday, a traditional day off. At that time I had recently turned 19 years of age and I needed to work to pay off a loan on my 1937 Chevrolet, to pay board, and to keep the car running and to support my romantic endeavors.

Since September of 1941, I had been employed by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in its Midwestern headquarters at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis. At the beginning, the pay was $17 per week. Saturday work at AT&T was largely unheard of in 1941 as we were slowly emerging from the Great Depression. So I found a job in Harold Bauer’s Standard Oil filling station to occupy my weekends. Harold’s station was in a ritzy section of Clayton, Missouri at the corner of Hanley Road and Wydown Avenue.

Harold’s customers brought him many Cadillacs, Lincolns and LaSalles to work on. Every time one of the customer’s cars was to be moved, it was required that a seat cover on the upholstery be in place to keep it clean. On many occasions, the designated driver of customer cars was Dick (last name unknown now) because he stayed away from the grease rack and therefore, had little chance of depositing grease spots on customer’s upholstery.

On Saturdays, I worked a ten hour day, mostly on the grease rack lubricating chassis and greasing front wheel bearings which had to be done every 3000 miles in those days. This was dirty work which made me ineligible to drive customer cars. On the other hand, if a grease spot were found in a customer’s Cadillac, I could claim complete innocence.

On Sundays, I came to work at 8AM and left at about 1PM. The pay was not so great, but in that era, work was to be taken wherever it showed up. On top of that, Harold Bauer was a good man to work for. For all the years I knew him, he enjoyed a reputation for complete honesty and decency.

On December 7, 1941 after I had finished for the day, I went across Hanley Road to a drugstore for a sandwich. Then it was to North St. Louis to see a Polish girlfriend (Louella Tomeczek) and to join with her sister and my friend, Harley Wantz, for a walk. All four of us were standing under a large outdoor billboard sign advertising fresh fish. An excited man came along and said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. That was the first we knew of it.

All of us knew that we had been in intensive negotiations with the Japanese. The American Secretary of State Cordell Hull, had thought that the crisis was probably below the boiling point. Communications in that era were much slower than today. Somehow, the Japanese had kept its large armada hidden for the long trip across the Pacific. We did not know the full extent of our losses at Pearl Harbor for a few days. But in any case, people of my age knew that life for us from this day forward would be changed dramatically. At 19 years of age with no dependents, I was fodder for the American Army.

There was at this time a group of three nations calling themselves the “Axis Powers.” Germany, with Hitler was the Axis Powers’ guiding light. He dominated Italy with Benito Mussolini. The third member was, of course, the Japanese with Hideki Tojo as its Prime Minister. So shortly after December 7, 1941, the Allied Powers consisting primarily of members of the British Commonwealth and the United States and others, were forced to fight a two front war in Europe and in the Pacific.

And then there was the German thrust into Russia known then as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This also figures in our story, specifically as it relates to Basra, Iraq where Russian troops came to pick up American weapons – particularly the Douglas A-20 Attack Bombers and C-47 Cargo Carriers. Basra is back on the news today. The Russians loved the A-20 because it was a tough airplane. The Soviets liked to catch German air troop carriers, and to use the A-20 propellers to chop the Nazi planes until they were unflyable.

In getting supplies to our Allies and to our troops, we were very fortunate to have had the British Empire with its far flung holdings in Africa and India. We were also fortunate to count among our assets, Pan American World Airways. Pan Am had pioneered routes in South and Central America as well as in Africa and in the Orient. United States forces quickly moved to capitalize on those assets.

The first objective of U. S. forces was to support Allied efforts in North Africa and in Europe. Further down the line was the effort to confront the Japanese. It goes without saying that getting war equipment from the United States to Great Britain was greatly impeded by bad weather across the North Atlantic and by the presence of German submarines. So the U. S. forces, in the early years of the war, ordinarily elected to take the long way around through Central and South American, to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic and then to Africa. At Accra, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) one route led north to the North African and European fighting and the other led eastward through Yemen to Assam in India and then on over “The Hump” to American and British forces battling the Japanese starting at Kunming, China.

In the final analysis, this is the story of the Air Transport Command of the United States Army. It also involves the Air Ferry Command, which along with the Air Transport Command was headed by a four star general, H. H. “Hap” Arnold. This essay intends to give the reader an idea of the places that were used in an effort to supply troops and airplanes in the war against the Axis Powers. And as promised, it will deal with some of the loneliest places in the world to station troops.

This may sound like a travelogue, but in the last 15 or 16 months I spent overseas, it turned out that I had an opportunity to visit nearly all the African and Indian bases of the Air Transport Command, all the way from Miami to Assam, India. It was a lot of flying, but after 58 years or more, it makes for a few memories, some pleasant and some not so pleasant.

I have no familiarity with what was done in the Pacific Theater. I am assuming that Hawaii became our jumping off point in that theater, but the war ended before I ever got there, so this is an account primarily about the Atlantic operations.

I have no idea of how long the road from the U. S. to Kunming, China might be. I suspect it is several thousand miles. But it had to start someplace and that someplace was Miami, Florida. During the war, Miami was an around-the-clock operation. Once supplies were assembled in Miami, they were put aboard the work horses of the American Air Force, the C-47’s or as it was known in civilian days, the DC-3’s. The “D” stood for the Douglas Aircraft Company. The “C” in both cases stood for “cargo.” These were twin engine aircraft with a top speed of 230 miles per hour. It carried a load of 13,000 pounds and its service ceiling was 24,000 feet. Its range was 1350 miles. The C-47’s often had interior gas tanks in the cabin which tended to limit their hauling capacity but which greatly increased their range.

Helping out was another Douglas aircraft called the C-54 which was a four engine plane. It came along later than the C-47. The C-54 carried almost 30,000 pounds and had a maximum speed of 275 miles per hour. The service ceiling was 22,500 feet and it had a maximum range of 3900 miles. It was a clearly superior aircraft to the C47, but it was late arriving on the scene because it had not been produced before the war. Finally, the C-47 could get into small fields where the C-54 could not operate. This makes me sound like a cheer leader for the old C-47 – which I was and which I am today.

Also, in regular service across the Atlantic was the Consolidated C-87 which was the B-24 bomber converted to a cargo carrier. It wasn’t much of a cargo carrier, but it had a range of 2100 miles and a top speed of 300 miles per hour. It was used largely for trips between Miami and Accra and Dakar, Senegal and sometimes to Roberts Field near Monrovia, Liberia.

On the eastern side of the Atlantic, the primary landing was at Accra, Ghana which was the Gold Coast when I was there. If a cargo was headed for the North African or European theater, pilots occasionally would use Dakar, Senegal as their entrance to Africa. If Accra was out of commission, pilots would also use Roberts Field in Liberia.

Leaving Miami, the first stop on the long trip was Borinquin Field in Puerto Rico. My atlas tells me that this old regular Army base was located near the town of San Antonio. In recent years, the base has been renamed. It is now the Ramey Air Force Base.

The first time I ever saw Borinquin Field, was on my way back to the States aboard the oldest C-47 in the European Theater. The plane was to be taken to San Bernardino, California to be refurbished for a war bond drive. The flight had originated in Italy. I had been overseas for nearly 22 months and was the Aerial Engineer on the flight back to the U. S. This was my first look at a regular Army pre-war air base. It came as a very large surprise that the hangar floors were waxed. In wartime, that could never happen, but in this pre-war air base, we found out that the floors were waxed to provide a better dancing surface for parties! The radio operator and I came close to falling over when we received this news.

I went through Borinquin two more times going to and from Africa. The floors stayed waxed and this old time Army base operated something like clockwork. Now let us start at Borinquin and work our way south and east on our way to Africa and other eastern points.

 

The first stop in South America is Georgetown in what used to be called British Guiana. In recent years, the name of the country has been changed to Guyana. When I was flying, we had three Guiana’s reading from left to right, British Guiana, Dutch Guiana and French Guiana. Today we have, in the same order, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana.

The base at Georgetown, as I recall it, was fairly close to the town. It had been hacked right out of the jungle. As in all tropical locations, it was mandatory that Americans and Europeans sleep under a mosquito netting in an effort to avoid being bitten by Anophelese mosquitoes which carry malaria. I had two bouts with malaria in Africa and I knew that it could often disable a man for months with high fever. The only treatment was quinine which caused an enormous loss of balance and dizziness.

The cure was almost as bad as malaria. On one occasion in Africa when I was laid up with malaria, I attempted to go from my bed to the john. If I had been dead drunk it would have been better for me because, for example, I could not negotiate an 8’ – 10” archway. The sides of the archway kept getting in the way. Negotiating the door to the john was equally frustrating. Now you may say why not use a bed pan. Forget it. The U. S. Army did not believe in them. According to the commanders in the Medical Corps, a good soldier ought to walk to the john. That’s fine with me provided the walls of the ward and the hallway and of the john would not move around.

So, I was a firm believer in mosquito nets. But in Georgetown, there were one or two drawbacks to the use of mosquito nets. Its name – or their name – was lizards. During the night, lizards would come out to play. I suppose some of them stayed in the barracks all day long only to come out after dark.

Lizards were generally considered harmless by the natives. I went through Georgetown three times. I never completely bought that “harmless” story. In the Army, we did not have house shoes that one might use for padding around the house. We went barefoot or we would put our feet in our unlaced work shoes. Unfortunately, the lizards liked to hide in everyone’s shoes so the first rule is to bang your shoes upside down before inserting the feet. There isn’t enough room for a person’s foot and a lizard in a GI shoe, so bang the shoe on the ground before putting it on.

Now the lizards had one other trick. They would hide in the rafters or on the walls and late at night, they would leap on the mosquito netting. Of course, the man in the bed would be awakened with a start when a full grown lizard would land on the netting. I suppose lizards may grow to perhaps one or two pounds, but netting is a fragile product aimed at letting air flow through. It isn’t meant to be lizard proof, but for the past 58 years, I have always recalled the famous Georgetown, Guyana, British Guiana lizards. And all things considered, I am in no hurry to go back to good old Georgetown.

The route from Borinquin Field in Puerto Rico to Georgetown, British Guiana was over open water. In those days, you made it or you did not. There were no rescue vessels standing by. From Georgetown, ideally the next stop would be at Natal, Brazil. This was a hazardous journey of almost 1500 miles over dense jungle. If a plane lost power, the jungle would literally swallow the aircraft and it would be almost impossible to locate the wreckage.

If a pilot thought it was improvident to make the Georgetown to Natal flight, he could stop over at Belem, Brazil which is about halfway. Or he might wish to use Forteleza which is about 350 miles above Natal.

Brazil is a BIG country. During the war years, its president was Guitillio Vargas who was sort of a benign dictator. United States troops were welcomed by the Brazilians. Obviously, we brought U. S. dollars which the Brazilians needed and wanted, but on the other hand, Brazilians are a warm people. I liked them.

Almost everyone passing through Natal or Belem bought boots. In malaria ridden countries, they replaced leggings which were often required after sundown. Aside from that, boots from Natal and Belem were easy on the feet and lasted a long time.

Now while I am high on boots, the reports on the Brazilian nylon stockings which GI’s sent home to their wives and girlfriends were unimpressive. The women reported that Brazilian nylons lasted only one or two wearings. The other commodity sold in Natal and Belem was perfume. Reports from the women in the U. S. were not encouraging. So I stayed with the boots.

Natal sticks out further toward Africa than any other location in the South Atlantic. Flying from Natal, the next stop eastward was Ascension Island, one of the loneliest places in this world. Ascension belonged to the British. I believe they used it in colonial days to exile prisoners, particularly political prisoners. It was a lonely, lonely spot but the weather was usually mild and often warm. Many times an overcast settled over the island.

Ascension is a tiny spot in the South Atlantic. At most, the island is about three to five miles long and about one mile in width. In the middle of the island was a rather large volcano. The landing field had to be drilled and dynamited out of this inhospitable place. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that when a plane landed on this one way strip, it had no more than six to eight feet on either side of the wing tips. Absolutely no room for error.

This involved some precise navigation to find Ascension. While crews were absorbed in finding the island, German submarines would, from time to time, surface and send radio signals that would lead our crews wide of the path to Ascension. Unfortunately, room for navigational error was extremely limited, so if you missed Ascension, you wound up in the South Atlantic Ocean. The Army had a little couplet about this situation.

It went: “When you miss Ascension – Your wife will get your pension.” Two or three things were wrong with that couplet. Most of us were unmarried in the 1942-1945 period and there was no such thing as an Army pension, unless the soldier had served 20 years. If one of us were lost at Ascension or anywhere else, I assume that the Army insurance would pay off to the wife or parents. The maximum coverage was $10,000 for which a hefty premium was charged. I carried $3,000 or $4,000 for awhile, but the premium was such that in my later months in the Army, I dropped it all together. It was term insurance and it was very difficult or impossible to convert to long term coverage, so I cancelled it. No payoff for my wife which I did not have at that time either.

Everything at Ascension had to be flown in or brought in by an occasional freighter. There was a large amount of volcanic ash on the island. The men stationed on Ascension tried to grow vegetables hydroponically. It was a noble experiment, but the radishes and green onions I ate were largely tasteless.

Those men on Ascension as well as the transients passing through, ate every type of food that could be reconstituted in the war years. Perhaps it satisfied the need for food in the body, but I’m here to tell you, that in my three trips to Ascension, the food was basically tasteless. And the Army did not seem to care. Their attitude was that no one was shooting at soldiers on Ascension, so quit griping and be happy. For myself, I was happy every time our plane took off from that little island.

One last thought. On one trip through Ascension, I met a mechanic who came to our plane. He told me that his first tour overseas was in the Aleutian Islands, a remote treeless spot with no one around but Eskimos. So he put in at the end of his tour there for a transfer. His new assignment was Ascension Island. Talk about being snake bit. That fellow had snake bites all over his unlucky body.

Leaving Ascension and heading east north eastward, we next come to Accra. It is in Ghana now, but when I was there, the country was called the Gold Coast. There may have been gold there at one time, but by the time I showed up in 1944, it was the stuff of old time story tellers.

Ninety to ninety-five percent of the flights heading eastward or northward came from Ascension to Accra. In a 1980 Atlas, it is stated that Accra had 340,000 residents. It is the capital of Ghana. Accra is populated primarily by blacks with an overlay of British colonialism. When I was there, there were only a few hotels and eating establishments that were by common consent, white only. The Church of England had a pretty good representation in Accra bringing salvation to the natives. The natives were basically wed to ancient tribal rituals and did not warmly welcome Christianity which they identified with white people. The last 16 months of my overseas service, were spent headquartered in Accra and working out of the airport there.

Accra was a British military base which we shared. This is one of the many bases and routes that Pan American World Airways established. On days off, of which there weren’t many, I would try to go to a small restaurant run by English people who seemed to have a tie to the YMCA. I never saw any natives there, so I assume it catered to whites only. It may have had a religious component to it, but that did not interest me at all. I went to this out-of-the way place because they had eggs served over easy or sunny side up. Accompanying the eggs were British baked beans and toast and tea. For me, my dining at this obscure restaurant outside Accra was nothing less than a banquet. I suppose being in the Army and eating the cooking of British and American cooks could do that to a man. Here I am in 2002 some 58 years removed from that little place in Accra that served eggs, and I can still taste how good they were. But, in fact, I always liked eggs.

As a town, Accra was pretty much the same as any other African city. Walking through the city was a bit of an exercise because of the swarming crowds. All things considered, the local people were friendly. For reasons unknown at this late date, American soldiers were often referred to as “Joe” by the natives. By the same token, we would usually refer to an unknown native as “Joe.” There was no animosity in the greetings of “Joe” on either side. On the other hand, British troops were angered by being called “Joe”. They would say to the native that while you may not know my name, at least you can call me Lance Corporal, Corporal or Sergeant. For all the years that Great Britain had dominion over the Gold Coast and many other countries, they always asked for formality in their dealings with the natives. Even if I am forced to say so myself, the natives seemed to respond better to the informalities of the American troops.

The Army food at Accra was unadventurous, which is to say it was not so good; hence my trips on my days off to eat eggs at what seemed like a YMCA. We slept in bunks with one on top of the other. All the furniture as well as the shutters were made from mahogany. I believe my barracks was called “G-17.” I have no idea why I remember that after all these years. I am guessing now at this late date, but I believe there may have been 18 to 20 double header bunks in our end of the barracks, meaning that up to 40 men slept there. The other end of G17 was home to perhaps 40 other American troops. Mosquito netting was required. After sundown, soldiers covered every part of their bodies with boots, leggings and long sleeve shirts to foil the mosquitoes.

Every barracks had a houseboy, a carryover from the British Army traditions. The houseboy in our end of Barracks G17 was Mobo. He spoke English well enough so that he could carry on a limited conversation with the American troops who called the G17 barracks their home. The currency at that time was denominated in Gold Coast pounds which, or course, were based on the British currency system. Each week every person in the barracks would give Mobo a shilling or two shillings for his services. I think at this late date, that two shillings came to about 50 cents. For Mobo, this was a good living and he fiercely protected his job.

For a short time, I was the Line Chief on the Accra Airport midnight shift. Every morning, as many as 40 to 60 planes would leave Accra on their way to deliver supplies to the fighting in North Africa, Europe or the Chinese theater. My job was to run the engines on these planes up, make sure they were able to fly and taxi them from the work area to the departing terminal. At the terminal, I was responsible for inspecting the planes to see that they were in flying condition. By 8AM when my tour ended, I would then go to the transient mess hall where it was believed that breakfasts were better than at the regular mess halls. I’m not so sure that was the case. Maybe it was an illusion, but 8:30AM usually found me at the transient mess hall.

When I returned to G17, old Mobo would have my bed ready for me and he would have made up the beds around my own and would have done his sweeping to avoid bothering me as it was pretty tough to sleep during daylight hours. I always made sure Mobo was taken care of financially for the thoughtful service he gave me. I suppose when the Americans left the Gold Coast–Ghana after hostilities ceased, Mobo was probably a much lonelier man. His service in G17 made him an envied wage earner among his compatriots. Mobo was a good man.

One more thought about G17 barracks. The 40 men in our end of that barracks were matched by a similar number in the other end. They had a houseboy just like we had Mobo. Where we met was in the bathroom which was located between the two wings. The water there was generally unheated which made it a little tough for shaving. No one expected warm showers so there were no heart breaks there.

There were probably 8 to 10 commodes in concrete cubicles without doors. The Brits built the barracks for use by American troops and they built it to their specifications. As far as I can remember, when I was lodged on British Army or Air Force bases, there were no doors on the part of the bathrooms where the commodes were placed. I have no idea what the Brits have against doors for commodes, but it seems to me this would have been a superior reason for fighting the Revolutionary War as distinguished from the Tea Tax that George III tried to impose.

In any case, high etiquette demanded that newspapers from home be left in the commode section of what the Brits call the “Loo.” Newspapers were never delivered by air. Once perhaps every month, a boat would pull into Takoradi, which served as Accra’s harbor, and unload cargo from the States including newspapers. It was considered a very rude offense for a recipient of a newspaper not to pass it along to fellow soldiers. This was accomplished by leaving it on the floor outside or near the door-less commodes.

There was one fellow from Iowa named Merle Yocum. His wife back in Iowa was named Elmira. She sent the country papers to Merle which we all enjoyed. These were rural papers full of news about pigs and cattle and farmers. There were stories, for example, that Joe Jones had a cow who was carrying a calf. There were also stories about pigs being bred. Whenever a new shipment of newspapers from rural Iowa arrived, many of us would be all over Merle Yocum to know if Joe Jones’ cow had delivered or if he had a new litter of pigs. Iowa wasn’t my home, of course, but I enjoyed those papers – as well as papers from other parts of the country – a great deal. They sort of kept us in touch with what our fellow Americans were doing and even though I never saw a paper from my hometown, they seemed to make us feel better. So remember, always leave the newspaper in the john; some other lonely soldier may want to see it.

We will take our leave of Accra and head northward up the west coast of Africa. The first stop is Roberts Field outside the capital city of Monrovia in Liberia. Liberia, as most everyone knows, was founded by former slaves in the United States after President Lincoln declared emancipation. The Liberians use the dollar as their currency and English is widely spoken.

Roberts Field is where airplanes would land if Accra were fogged in, for example. As I recall it, the United States installation at Roberts Field did not have a mess hall as such. Food was served out of doors, as far as I can remember. Picnic tables were placed outdoors under thatched roofs in the dining area. I went through there twice and we always ate outdoors under the thatched roofs. I suspect that there must have been a more permanent dining hall, but I never saw it.

Monrovia, when I was there, seemed like a fairly gentle place. Since that time however, Liberia has fallen on hard times and a brutal internal war seems to be the fate of Liberians for the last several years.

Continuing north, the next major base is Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. Dakar was the main seaport of Western Africa during the fighting in North Africa. When I went over by ship in January, 1943, I landed in Dakar. When we came ashore, many people were waiting for us to ask where we had left from and where we were going after we left Dakar. It is fairly obvious that the questioners had a considerable number of spies in their midst. In later years when I went back to Dakar on telephone company business, the accommodations and the food were well done, particularly the lobsters that were served at lunch. I liked Dakar in 1943 in spite of the presence of spies everywhere around the docks. And even now – 18 to 20 years later after my last AT&T visit, I still recall the grilled lobsters offered for lunch. Our hosts were always Muslims so no wine was served, but the meals there were very good. Remember, that was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s which is a long cry from being there in war time in 1943.

The base for Americans was 25 miles away from Dakar in the interior. It was called Rufisque and it had nothing but red, red clay all around. Not long after I showed up, some other soldiers were getting up a football game. The captain of the team was a fellow who owned a football which I supposed he had brought from the States. It was a tackle game and naturally, there were no pads or other football paraphernalia.

I wandered in late and found that the owner of the football had designated himself quarterback. His friends populated the backfield and the two end positions. The only spot for me was in the line. As it turned out, there was a tremendous mismatch. My opponent was Dean Coddington who had played for the Chicago Bears as a 255 pound tackle. I had no previous football experience and weighed in at about 155 pounds.

You may recall my saying that Rufisque was in red clay country. Furthermore, in this game – as it was in the 1940’s – players played both ways, on offense as well as defense. When I lined up against Coddington, he proceeded to rub my face in that red clay. I suppose the game went on for an hour or so, by which time I had had my fill of Coddington, of red clay and of football. When the call came for me to join the 12th U. S. Air Force in combat, I was ready to leave Rufisque, Senegal. Right now!

Now on our tour of Africa, we come to perhaps two of the loneliest spots anywhere on this planet. From Dakar flying north and northeast, we come to Atar, Mauritania. And then after a few more hours of flying time, we arrive in the absolute westernmost place in Algeria called Tindouf. Atar and Tindouf qualify as two of the most miserable places on this earth. They, of course, are in the Sahara Desert. The wind blows there constantly, carrying with it dust and sand particles. These particles get in your ears, in your hair, in your nose, and in your mouths and even in your eyes. Folks, I’m here to tell you that the wind in Atar and Tindouf is completely miserable.

In the mess halls, such as they were, the wind blown dust got into the food. At night when people were trying to sleep, they’d wake up to find a crust around their mouths and noses. The wind never let up. The latrines were built outdoors, obviously without running water. One lesson that had to be learned when you first went to these two places was NEVER to stand on the downwind side of another soldier. Never, never.

I went through these two places on two occasions. It was my misfortune to spend a night in Atar and then in Tindouf. Lonely, lonely, lonely. But there are two more in Sudan just like them. We’ll get to them in a little while.

Flying north northwestward out of Tindouf, we come to Marrakech in central Morocco. Marrakech is in the mountains and it should be a beautiful city. Winston Churchill used to come here in Winter and Spring to escape London’s chills. I was in Marrakech on three occasions. On two of those visits, I went into the city for dinner. We should have stayed at the Army base. Americans were in bad repute from earlier in the war when we helped overthrow Admiral Darlan, the Nazi puppet who headed the French government after Germany’s victory over France. In any case, the two restaurants made it clear that they were doing us a big favor by serving us. Such a shame in such a good looking city like Marrakech.

If one wished to head to the North African campaign, Marrakech could be skipped. Flying north northeastward out of Tindouf, our next stop was at the edge of the Great Western ERG. This is not going to be helpful, but an erg is a Greek word meaning work. So you see, in English, we were at the Great Western Work. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

The name of the town that we used as an airbase was Colum Bechar in Algeria. In recent maps it is called simply Bechar. It is on the edge of the desert near Morocco and is distinguished mainly by one thing – oranges. Big oranges with thick skins and absolutely delicious. They were better than any oranges I had ever tasted. And they were easy to peel.

Flying eastward from Bechar, the next stop was Tripoli in Libya. Early in the North African fighting, the British engaged German forces in Libya. Later, with Americans driving from the west and with the British Army driving from the east, the Germans were driven out of Libya. Libya was the crown jewel in Benito Mussolini’s dreams of African Empire. Tripoli was the capital city.

Tripoli is the place for transfer to the war in Europe. German forces gave up at Cape Bon in neighboring Tunisia in the May of 1943. Tripoli served the Air Transport Command as its base for shipments and ferry service of aircraft to the European theater. It is a short hop from Tripoli to the Italian mainland.

A year or so ago in 2001, I found a box with some medals and other things associated with the war. One of those things was my 1942 Zippo lighter. For some reason, that box had a ticket permitting me to enter the mess hall at Tripoli. Actually, that base was in a suburb called Tripolitania. As Army mess halls go, Tripolitania was a bit better than average, but I am now at a loss to remember why soldiers had to have tickets to eat Army food. I gave the tickets and my old Zippo lighter to my grandson Kevin, whom I have designated as the Official Family Historian. He doesn’t smoke and from what I hear, he doesn’t eat Army food.

From Tripoli, the next stop was Benghazi in Eastern Libya. Benghazi was the taking off point for the initial raid on the oil fields at Ploesti, Rumania. The only thing in my mind at this late date is that the air base there was named Wheelus. Cairo, our next stop, had an Army General Hospital named Wheeler. It took me several decades to get these two names fixed in my mind.

Cairo, Egypt was a very important base for both the British and American war efforts. As a result, it had tons of generals and colonels and other military brass. I genuinely liked Cairo mainly because the Egyptians seemed to welcome us. In the latter stages of the war, the Egyptians would come up to us on the street and offer to take us to our destination. Very often, they would stop to see a fellow who sold printings or sand sculptures. In 1980 many years after I left the Army, the guides, as they were called, were still at work leading wealthy Americans to bargains. I was still a sucker and bought some paintings but 20 years later, the paintings are really not so bad.

The Army warned us about eating in Cairo because the food may have been handled by unclean hands. When we could escape the U. S. Army, the meals I had in Cairo were not so bad according to my often faulty memory. But whatever the food contained, it was no match for the warmth the average Egyptian showed toward us.

Leaving Cairo and heading southward in our tour of Central and North Africa we come to the capital city of the Sudan, Khartoum. If the desert wind blew hard at Atar and Tindouf, it blew just as hard in Khartoum. And the wind still carried desert sand and dirt. It got into the food and on our faces when we tried to sleep. Khartoum is an Arab city. It runs to Arab rhythms with prayer coming in at five times a day. Of course, not everyone prays five times, but it is clear that Allah was not being asked to make the American soldiers any more likeable. I was in Khartoum three or four times and went into the city on one occasion. Once was enough for me.

The American soldiers – as well as the British soldiers – seemed to be regarded as infidels. Together with the sand and the bleak landscape, Khartoum was a good place to stay away from. But at least Khartoum had the accoutrements that go with a city of some size. There were British merchants left over from before the war, so some things could be found in town. But bad as Khartoum was, it was at least 100% better than the next two places, also in Sudan, that were the postings of American soldiers.

Leaving Khartoum and flying westward, the first of these desert outposts is reached in western Sudan and it is called El Fasher. New atlases call it Al Fasher, but in my Army days it was always El Fasher. I am not an Arab and so I am constitutionally incapable of saying that “Al” should replace “El,” so it will always be El Fasher in my mind.

If El Fasher was out of commission because of a sand storm or some other atmospheric condition, we were to land at what we called El Genina on the Sudanese border with Chad. If the town still exists, and modern atlases do not show it on the Sudanese map, it is eight or ten miles from the easternmost Chadian town of Adre.

El Fasher, El Genina, Atar and Tindouf together with Ascension Island are to my mind the loneliest places in the world. And the four Arab towns have unfavorable climate conditions. In El Fasher and El Genina, the wind blows constantly carrying dirt and sand. To a large extent, transients through those two wide places in the road often depended on boxed Army rations to avoid the possibility of sand in the mess hall food. I really felt sorry for the men who had to work there and the men who ran the mess halls in those two places.

As you might imagine, the sand and dirt in the air was bad news for aircraft engines. As the Aerial Engineer, I always encouraged pilots to minimize ground warm-ups. At the first opportunity, I put shrouds around the engines to try to keep the sand and dirt out of them.

There is one other distinguishing thought that comes to mind about El Fasher and El Genina. The first time we landed at both places, Army ground personnel such as mechanics came to meet us wearing what we thought were white coveralls and white work clothes called fatigues. In the American Army, fatigues and coveralls were always olive drab. There were no such things as white work clothes. Finally, I asked a mechanic at either El Fasher or El Genina why he wore white work clothes when everyone knows that being an airplane mechanic involves dirty work. The mechanic explained to me that when he first came to this desert spot, his work clothes were indeed olive drab, just like every other mechanic in the American Air Force. However, he said that when the Arab women washed their work clothes and hung them on a line to dry, it was only a matter of time before they took on a gray or even a sort of white appearance in the desert sun. He also explained that the laundry was picked up and delivered by Arab men who took it to their wives. The wives were never seen by the GI’s at El Fasher or El Genina.

So I decided then and there, to stay away from desert spots where it was hard to breathe and where airplane mechanics wore gray or off white work clothes.

We are on the home stretch on our tour of Central and North Africa. Leaving the desert of Sudan and flying westward over Chad, we come to Maiduguri, Nigeria. Maiduguri is basically a Moslem City, but taking one thing with another, it is light years ahead of Khartoum, El Fasher and El Genina. There was a town at Maiduguri with lively commercial transactions. The local people seemed pleased to have us. I suppose part of that may have been the impression that American troops were loose spenders. But in my case, the attitude in Maiduguri was 180 degrees different from the towns in Sudan, another Muslim country. The Sudanese assumed American troops were Christians and that meant problems.

But what set Maiduguri apart and more or less advanced it to the head of African cities was eggs. That’s right – eggs. In the Air Force base at Maiduguri you could ask for eggs in the transient mess and they would be provided on the mess hall line. I went through Maiduguri perhaps three times and that was in late 1944 and 1945. Now, close to 60 years later, I can still recall those fresh eggs which were found no place else in African mess halls run by the U. S. Army. So you see, I am consistent. I liked the eggs in the YMCA room at Accra and I liked the Army eggs at Maiduguri, Nigeria.

There is one more stop before reaching our taking off place in Accra, Ghana. Flying westward, the next stop is Kano, Nigeria. Kano is now the seat of fundamentalist Muslim culture in Nigeria. There, the authorities have ordered the Muslim Sharia laws into effect which provide, among other things, the stoning to death of women involved in extra marital affairs. The men involved in such affairs are never arrested or even questioned. I only went into Kano once. It struck me as an African city where Muslim clerics had a lot to say about what went on. It was a thriving place, but largely unattractive and so on subsequent trips, I never left the air base.

And so now we return to Accra, Gold Coast which was the hub of African operations for the U. S. Army. The trip that I suggested around North and Central Africa covers an enormous distance. However, by flying out at dawn or before, it is possible to make sometimes more than just one stop in the bases I have described. One of the big obstacles in African flying when I was there, was the complete absence of flood lights to light the runways. In effect, we were ordinarily limited to daytime flying. When there were matters of some urgency, airplanes could land and take off using their own wing lights. Pan Am pilots who flew the Ascension Island – Accra route often landed in Accra just at daybreak, but in the absence of combat conditions, it was much, much better to wait for daylight.

As you can see, the Americans and the British together with Pan American Airways had done an enormous amount of work in the so called “Dark Continent.” As it turns out, it was essential to our success in North Africa and in the European combat operations.

 

War Against Japan

But Accra also had an ancillary purpose. Early in the war against the Axis Powers, it seemed clear that Japan would have to be attacked from China. Later, of course, when Allied Forces were successful in the island campaign advancing from one island to another closer to Japan, there was not the urgency to mount an attack from China. In the meantime, however, there were substantial Allied Forces at work in Burma, Laos and western China. To support this effort, the supply chain stretched across the Atlantic, through Africa, through Yemen into India at Karachi and ending in the Assam Province which adjoins Burma.

This is a lot of territory. If we come eastward from Accra all the way to Khartoum, the next stop is in Aden, Yemen. American soldiers were more or less barred from Aden. And that did not bother me at all. I was glad to be on my way to Karachi, India. After the war, India let the Muslim part of their country go and Pakistan was created. But during the war years, India was the main target.

Karachi is the main seaport in that western part of India. I went through there on two occasions during the war and found it to be a Wild West sort of city. In short, almost anything was accepted in Karachi including kidnapping and murder. Even the British who had long ruled India were wary of Karachi.

I have told about this little song on several occasions. The Brit who taught it to me called the city “KEE-RACHI”

When you go to Kee-rachi
Keep your money in your shoes,
Because the Kee-rachi women
Sing the Kee-rachi blues.

I took my hints from British colleagues and mostly stayed at our base far from what the Brits called “Kee-rachi” snake pits.

In 1983 on my way from Paris to Beijing, Air France had a short layover in Karachi. I had no desire to leave the airport to go to the city. From what I learned, Karachi was not improved over the war years.

From Karachi the next stop is about 900 miles away in Āgra. Āgra, of course, is the home of the magnificent Taj Mahal which was built between 1631 – 1645 as the tomb of Shah Jahan’s empress. Shah Jahan must have thought a lot of that woman – his wife – as he made the Taj Mahal an enduring monument that has lasted 350 years.

The other fact about Āgra is that the citizens there have an inordinate affection for gold. Women wear gold earrings and nose pieces as well as rings and bracelets. Men wear gold rings. One way or another, they produce a golden thread that is used to sew garments on the outside where it can be seen. All American soldiers and air men wore shoulder patches on the left shoulder of the uniform. In many shops in Agra, those U. S. patches were faithfully reproduced using gold thread. I found them attractive, but I bought them as souvenirs, not to be sewn on a uniform. It is quite likely that a by-the-book Army officer would order a GI such as myself to get rid of such un-GI symbols of gold thread shoulder patches. Some 58 years later, I have some of those patches in my file cabinet, never worn on a uniform.

The people in India often spoke English due, of course, to England’s rule over them. Communicating with Indians was thus made much easier. In Agra, it was easy to deal with Indians in what was largely a commercial town. Perhaps because American troops spoke our version of English, we seemed to get along well with the Indians. Like anyone else, the Indians seemed to react well when treated with respect by American troops. It is unfortunate that some troops – particularly from the rural South of the United States – regarded the Indians as gooks and put them down because of their Hindu religion. I got along very well with Indians and they were often helpful to me.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, it fell to me to make a few trips to Bombay and New Delhi. I enjoyed them a great deal although there was an occasion when my AT&T colleague Howard Pappert took an Indian couple to one of the finer restaurants in Bombay. They were the Ramaswamis.

Mrs. Ramaswami was the wife of a treasured Indian colleague with whom we had dealt for years. At dinner she sat to my right. She wore a diamond ornament on both sides of her nose. I began to wonder whether the nose was punctured to accommodate the diamond ornament or whether it was simply pasted on. I would like to report to you the outcome of my wondering, but I left India no wiser about the nose doo-dad. And to his everlasting disgrace, Howard Pappert, who had India as one of his responsibilities, could offer no help. Howard’s attitude was that I should not wonder about such things but here I am almost 20 years later and I am still wondering.

Leaving Agra to embark upon the last leg of Air Transport Command flights in India, the next stop is in India’s far eastern Province of Assam. It is a flight of about 1000 miles which tells you that pre-war India is a big country. The base in Assam was at Shillong. It was all business at that air base as we transferred cargo and new planes to the crews who flew what was called “The Hump” into Kunming, China. Some of the mountain ranges between Shillong and Kunming were as high as 25,000 feet with raging winds. I never flew “The Hump,” but I had the utmost respect for those who did it.

Assam was as we would now say, “Out in the boonies.” It was a primitive place and the object for us was to deliver whatever we had brought and to get out of Assam as soon as possible. All over India, irreverent GI’s from Assam would tell you that “My ass-am dragging”. In that Indian province, that is about the best joke that GI’s could make. It was not a particularly lovely place.

Now that we have dealt with Africa and Yemen and India, perhaps we ought to say a few words about trips from Accra to Johanesburg (Jo’burg) with a return through Nairobi.

Before World War II, Belgium was a big colonial power. They had possession of an extremely rich country in Africa which they called the Belgian Congo. Today, with the Belgians being kicked out, that country is called Zaire. In the Belgian Congo days when I was there, there were two main cities. One was Leopoldville, named after the Belgian king. It is now called Kinshasa. Now the Belgian king had a wife who was named Elizabeth. You may be stunned to know that the Belgians called that big city at the southern of the Congo – Elizabethville. It is now called Lubumbashi. The Belgians were greatly unloved by the natives because of cruel treatment. At the end of the war when native uprisings occurred, no one raised a finger to help the Belgians who had drained the Congo’s resources for more than 100 years. They were simply thrown out and told to stay away.

The object in going first to Leopoldville and then south to Elizabethville, was to get to Johannesburg in South Africa. Because of the unrest, I never left the two airbases in the old Belgian Congo, but Jo’burg was a different story. The people there were divided between the old line “Dutch” who had fled Europe many years earlier, and the English who more or less governed things. In all candor, the so called Dutch were more German in origin and their support for World War II was lukewarm. The English were completely in the war. I flew with squadrons of the South African Air Force stationed in Foggia, Italy and they were virtually all from the British side in South Africa.

Jo’burg was a delightful spot for those of us who had been to the horrors of Europe and then to the backwardness of Central and North Africa. The food was good and we were treated sort of like visiting royalty. That is saying something for an American GI. I only made one trip to Jo’burg during the war years, and I remember it to this day.

In the 1980, my AT&T colleagues and I made another trip to South Africa. At about that time, the whites were losing their mastery over the country. What we saw was a deterioration of the life that had caused everyone to envy South Africa in the ‘40’s. In 1980, I recall seeing natives building cooking fires on the downtown sidewalks and using the gutter for personal matters of hygiene. I greatly regret Jo’burg being subjected to such uncivilized conduct.

Leaving South Africa during the war years brought about a long flight to Nairobi, Kenya. In World War II, Kenya was a British possession and things worked well. Nairobi had largely been untouched by the fighting in North Africa and Europe. The English more or less used Nairobi as a rest and recovery location. After a long time, it seemed to me that the food and the services that Nairobi provided were first class. Which is to say GI’s like myself were astounded to see people enjoying themselves in a city that was pretty close to first class.

In recent years, Nairobi has largely run aground. Reports from my colleagues going there have to do with pick-pocketing and violence. It is out of sorrow that it is necessary to scratch Nairobi from the list of places to be visited.

I sincerely hope that my readers have stuck with me as I recounted memories from World War II which included Central Africa, North Africa, East and West Africa, South Africa, Yemen and India.

I enlisted in the United States Army more than 60 years ago. I had no idea that Army service would take me to so many places in Africa, in Europe and in India. It is nice now to put my feet up and ponder some of the things that GI’s saw including the most lonely places known to man: Ascension Island, Atar, Mauritania; Tindouf, Algeria; and El Fasher and El Genina in the Sudan. But more than anything else, it is a most pleasant thought to know that this old GI will not be going back to those miserable forsaken places. Not now, not ever.

Taking one thing with another, as Henry Mencken used to say, I consider myself very fortunate to have seen so much of the world. My service extended from my 19th year until my 23rd year. At that time of my life, I simply wanted to be a soldier; hence my early enlistment rather than waiting for the draft.

The fact that it was my good fortune to visit many countries has aroused a life long interest in foreign affairs. On many occasions when a news commentator says that the next story comes from Algeria or Mauritania or the Sudan, causes me to still think, “Hey, I was there once.” So in spite of the hardships and inconveniences and lousy food and sleeping with sand on the pillow, I consider myself a lucky man. The Army service instilled a desire to know more about some of the places that I have written about in this essay. I did not join the Army to see the world, but in fact, I suppose I did see quite a bit of it. And to top it all off, we know that World War II vets are dying at the rate of 1800 per day. I am sure that I won’t live forever, but I’m doing my best to do so.

E. E. CARR
November 28, 2002

 

The wing positioning of the C-47 is completely different from today’s passenger planes, and the angle of the plane’s body when it lands seems like it would leave pilots staring up at the sky instead of looking at the runway.

As for the rest of this essay, it is sort of incredible how a man from such humble beginnings would get to see so many different places. I usually hear the phrase “Join the army, they said — see the world, they said” as a joke more than anything, to describe some recruit who gets stuck in the middle of nowhere in the US. Pop had the distinction of seeing all sorts of nowheres in Africa and beyond. Perspective is invaluable, even if it’s just “Hey, I was there once.” I hope to be as well-traveled as Pop, but ideally under much more pleasant circumstances.

Officially the longest essay on this site, and one of my favorites. Microsoft Word clocks it at 10,000 words exactly.
Cheers, Pop.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK PART 11 – MOSCOW, MANHATTAN AND THE FBI

Readers of these essays may recall a story I wrote about Howard Pappert, Dave Dietz and myself setting out to visit some countries behind what Winston Churchill called “The Iron Curtain.” Visiting communist countries in the 1970’s and 1980’s was not a pleasant task for those of us at AT&T who had the responsibility for keeping track of circuits, revenue and political developments in countries under Moscow’s controls.

Dave Dietz was a big fan of Swissair, the airline of Switzerland. The more I flew Swissair, the better I liked it. To mangle a thought, Swissair ran like a Swiss watch. But even better, the Swiss are known for their neutrality which gave them airline connections where other carriers such as those from the United States, were barred. Unfortunately, through bureaucratic bungling, Swissair stopped working permanently in 2001. What a shame.

My recollection is that the three of us met in Zurich to get to our first stop in Prague. At the time, that country was called Czechoslovakia. Now of course, it is known as the Czech Republic.

I suppose my mind unconsciously thought of the Czechs during their many prosperous periods in the 1920’s and 1930’s. That was a big mistake. First they had been ravaged by Hitler’s sinister forces and then the Czechs had then seen the tender mercies of Stalin and his butchers. My recollection is that our visit took place in 1983 when the Czechs were a largely beaten race. Where as the Czechs used to be known for precision in manufactured goods, they didn’t seem to care anymore. For example, the people who painted the interior of our hotel and the headquarters of the Czechoslovakian telecommunications building painted with no concern for borders. If the varnish on the doors was also found on the walls, so be it. If the paint on the walls was also found on the doorjambs, so be it.

I had no idea that things would be so bad. The taxi driver cursed his Russian-made car and asked if we wanted to buy some Czech currency. We did not. The people at the hotel, one of Prague’s best, didn’t much care. Guests meant more work for them.

All the while this discomfort was taking place, I had a vision of a great dinner with goulash. There weren’t many restaurants in Prague at that time that offered decent food. So we elected to patronize the hotel’s dining room. The waiter nodded when I ordered goulash. He was neither applauding my choice of goulash nor was he refusing to take my order. He nodded and shrugged his shoulders.

When the goulash arrived at our table, I did not recognize it. Ever the optimist, I said it is probably an old Czech recipe that will be delicious. My optimism was not rewarded. The goulash was abominable. So I said so much for dreams when one is behind the Iron Curtain.

Our next stop was Budapest. The Hungarians were a cheerful lot. They laughed and generally told the Russians to get lost. The women wore bright clothing, not the drab apparel that one associates with countries under Stalin’s influence. As I have often said, Hungarian women were the most vibrant of any European country during the period under Soviet domination.

Hungarian food was not the greatest, but it was served well and was usually accompanied by an orchestra or band in the restaurant. The Hungarians have my admiration. Not the least of which is my admiring them marrying good food with good music.

The day before we left, Dr. Ferenc Valter, who was the deputy director general of the P.T.T., met with us and offered a magnificent lunch. It was served with wine, which would be absolutely against the policy of AT&T in the states. Hungary is one of my favorites.

Small aside about serving alcohol on AT&T premises. I had three Swedes at a lunch in the President’s dining room in Bedminster. As far as I know, every Swedes starts off his lunch with a bottle of beer. When one of the Swedes made that request, I offered a lame explanation for AT&T’s no alcohol policy. The Swedes heard me out. After the meal, they told me that America is in the grip of far right Christians. All this mess over one bottle of beer? I agreed with the Swedes.

Leaving Budapest, we next went to Warsaw. The Poles are tough people and very likeable. As in most Eastern European countries, we stayed fairly close to the hotel when it came time to eat. And when it came time to dine, there were women who pulled up a chair and proceeded to proposition us. I suppose they would also have eaten too, but we called for help in chasing the women away, so they went unfed by us. Prostitution was rampant around hotels in central Warsaw. The same could be said for the unauthorized exchange of zlotys for dollars.

We stayed at the Forum Hotel which the Communist regime proclaimed to be the newest and best hotel in Eastern Europe. The weather was warm, but if any air-conditioning was part of the best hotel claim, it was not apparent to us. But the Communists had imported shoe-shining machines which they installed in the elevator lobby of every floor.

The whirling cloth discs that shined your shoes were found on each side of the machine about twelve inches off the ground. To shine a shoe, the patron would stand on one foot and thrust the other shoe into the whirling discs. Then of course, he would stand on the newly shined shoe and thrust the other unshined shoe into the machine. To be sure that patrons observed proper safety rules there was a large sign on each machine which stated in English, French and Polish, “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SHINE BOTH SHOES AT THE SAME TIME.” I suppose some Commisar had decided that shining both shoes at the same time was a dangerous exercise.

Wherever we went in Warsaw, we heard the thought that Poles are like radishes. Red on the outside, but that is as far as the Red can go. I like the Poles. They are a brave people who made it clear that their enemy was old Ivan.

Our next stop was Bucharest. What a dreary city that was. The food was forgettable, lines at streetcar and bus stops seemed to go on forever, yet the dictator Nicholas Ceausescu was building an enormous series of buildings to house his government and himself. The Romanian people were a beaten lot. Again, as we had seen in other Eastern European countries under Russian domination, prostitution and money changing schemes were everywhere.

On the Saturday morning before we boarded an Aeroflot flight to Moscow, I sat next to a fellow who had a cigarette in one hand and a cigar in the other. He would alternate puffs on the cigarette with puffs on the cigar. When I pointed this fellow’s conduct out to Dave Dietz, he said simply, “That man can’t wait to get his life over with.” I have never seen that kind of smoking before or since.

When we arrived in Moscow, we were met by an English-speaking fellow from Boris Chirkov’s staff. Chirkov was the Director of the Russian PTT (Post, Telephone and Telegraph) we had come to see.

This young fellow was our constant companion. When he disclosed that Saturday, the day of our arrival was also his wedding anniversary, we insisted that he go home to take care of business. But first we had to go by a florist so that his wife would have some flowers for the occasion. He was a nice young man, but all of us felt that we were being followed.

On Sunday we were joined by an older English speaking man, also from Boris Chirkov’s staff. He had tickets to the circus where he said he liked to take his grandchildren. The Moscow circus was great stuff. This gentleman seemed to take great pleasure in seeing three Americans enjoy themselves so much.

This fellow was about the same age of Howard Pappert and myself. He was an engaging man. During the Sunday afternoon at the circus, he said that he had served in the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is called in Russia. He asked if some of the three Americans had been in that war. Howard had been in the Navy in Pacific operations. I, of course, served in the Army Air Corps – later the Army Air Force – in foreign service.

The Great Patriotic War is regarded as being of the utmost seriousness to perhaps every Russian. The fact that Howard and I served in that war made an impression on our circus host. At the time we had no idea of the seriousness which Russians attach to that war. Clearly, he reported that to his boss, Boris Chirkov, which resulted in some pretty good treatment as we will see a little later on.

A word or two about the National Hotel located across the street from the Kremlin. It dated at least from the 1917 era when the Communists came to power. It showed its age with elevators that occasionally worked. The bathrooms suggested that not many people took baths regularly because of the primitive fixtures in the room. The baths were unheated. Guests were given a cube of soap measuring about 1½ inches each way. By the third day, my cube of soap was pretty much a memory, but there was no replacement.

I had a large sort of a suite with a grand piano in the living room. The piano covered a large hump. When I inquired about the hump, it was explained that the chandelier from the room below me had its shaft anchored in the hump. Similarly, the chandelier in my room over the piano penetrated my ceiling and presumable, it was anchored in a large hump in the room directly overhead. When I found that out, I stayed away from the piano and the chandelier.

The dining room was something to behold. The headwaiter carried a large red book that was about an inch in thickness and was given to diners. But as it turns out there was no veal cooked in vodka. Nor was there any beef stroganoff. This was an exercise in futility. In the end, the dining room had only a boiled chicken and some other mystery dish. So I told Dave Dietz and Howard Pappert that I would try room service. Little did I know that there was no such thing as room service.

There was a very stern woman who sat near the stairway or elevator lobby on each floor. Her duty was to collect keys when guests left their rooms and return them when they returned. One way or another, she came to see what my problem was when I found there was no room service. She was a tough customer, but using my hands, I told her of my hunger. In a short while, one of the bar maids showed up with a large slab of cheese, some Russian brown bread and a warm bottle of beer. So I made out better than my two colleagues who had to wrestle with a dubious chicken in the dining room. While I ate, I stared at the grand piano in my living room with the chandelier anchored in the ceiling. This was some way to pass a Saturday night in Moscow.

We were set to meet Comrade Chirkov at about 8:30 on Monday morning. The distance from the National Hotel to his office was only a five minute walk. When we entered the large meeting room, Chirkov greeted us properly. He was accompanied by seven or eight other people. We quickly sensed that those other people were not necessarily members of Chirkov’s staff. In all likelihood, they came from the NKVD, which is the political police. When we got into discussion about circuits between the Soviet Union and the United States, the NKVD people had nothing to say. On the other hand, when the subject of urban beauty came up, Comrade Chirkov announced, in broken English, that Moscow and particularly the Kremlin complex “were the most beautiful city in the world.” At other points where agreement seemed to be in doubt and where Chirkov or one of his deputies would offer an alternative, Chirkov would say that it “was his Socialist duty” to support the USSR point of view.

We did not become angry or annoyed because we thought Chirkov was simply showing the NKVD that he was an ardent Communist. We did become unhappy because a suicide bomber had entered a Marine barracks in Beirut the night before our meeting, and 250 United States Marines were killed. The Soviet side seemed to say that’s what the United States gets when it becomes involved in other people’s affairs.

The meeting lasted about three hours. The Russians seemed torn between wanting to be friendly and showing their sense of “Socialist duty.” We finished before noon and shook hands and started to walk toward the staircase to go to our hotel. As we stood up, Chirkov came to me with his female translator, to ask if I had really been in the Great Patriotic War. I told him that Howard Pappert and I had spent more than three years in that endeavor. Chirkov’s translator made it clear to us that Chirkov had a great regard for veterans of the Great Patriotic War. The remarks of Chirkov and his translator were made beyond the hearing distance of the NKVD. Perhaps, they had gone when the subject of the war came up.

One of the members of Chirkov’s staff was the fine gentleman who had taken us to the Moscow Circus the day before. I am positive that he had told Chirkov about the involvement by Howard and by myself in World War II.

When we left the meeting room, we had no plans but to rest until the next morning when we were to catch a Swissair flight to Zurich. During that Monday afternoon, the young man who had met us on Saturday came to our hotel and told us that Boris Chirkov was arranging a dinner for us that evening. We told this young fellow that we would be delighted to have dinner with our USSR compatriots.

This invitation was completely unprecedented. None of the few AT&T people who had ever been in Moscow had ever received such an invitation. From discussions with other American telecommunications carriers and with the British and French carriers, they had never had a meal with the USSR officials. In this case the Director of Telecommunications for the USSR, Boris Chirkov, was to be our host. All of that was unheard of before our visit.

I ascribe Chirkov’s desire to host a dinner to his profound respect for veterans of the Great Patriotic War – World War II. And secondly, Chirkov had a burning thirst to know about New York and the United States. I’d say Boris was inspired about 50% for the war and 50% for New York. The rest of the United States was incidental to New York, if I read Chirkov’s thoughts properly.

The dinner was held in a restaurant-nightclub setting. While we were eating, the floorshow took place. It was much like the Moscow Circus with jugglers, sword swallowers and trick bicycle riders. The meal was interesting because the main dish involved beans or lentils. I am a pushover for beans and lentils. So I thought that the meal was quite good.

At dinner, Boris displayed a much better command of English than he had shown during our earlier meeting. When he needed help on an English word, the young man who had met us on Saturday helped out. Boris peppered us with questions about the war and about New York and the rest of the United States. Boris brought about five men with him and none were the NKVD representatives we had seen in our morning meeting. Whereas in the morning meeting, Boris who often said he was “doing his Socialist duty,” none of that entered his conversation at dinner.

I am certain that when we told our host at the Moscow Circus of our World War II connection, he had told Boris Chirkov before we showed up for our Monday morning meeting. But in the hospitality department, old Boris was not finished with us. We had an 8AM flight from Moscow that took us first to Warsaw and then on to Zurich. Naturally, it was a Swissair flight. Boris said he and the nice young man from Saturday would pick us up in front of the National Hotel at 6AM. Our hosts were right on time.

We arrived at Sheremetyevo airport in about 30 minutes. Boris took us up to a bar adjacent to the Swissair gangway. The young Russian man from Boris’s staff took care of everything for us including passport control, currency control and validation of our flight. Clearly, Boris was an important person in the USSR. It was now 6:45AM and Boris took us to the bar and ordered brandy for all five of us – three Americans and two Russians. We had at least two or perhaps three brandies. Boris and his helper had an arrangement with the doorkeeper on the Swissair flight to call us at the last minute, which he did. We told Boris and his assistant that we had enjoyed their company and hoped to see them in the United States. That was music to old Boris’s ears.

In point of fact, when we were seated on the Swissair flight, all of the three Americans were anxious for the take off and to bid old Mother Russia goodbye. We were given extra ordinary friendly treatment by Boris Chirkov and his staff, but Russia and Moscow were depressing places. Goods available to Russian citizens were probably no more than 35% of the goods available to citizens in Western European countries. We were ready to go to Zurich.

Leaving the National Hotel at 6AM, we had no breakfast, of course. When we boarded the Swissair flight, we had a sufficient supply of brandy in our systems. As soon as the flight was airborne, the steward came around to tell us that breakfast could not be served until we departed from Warsaw – and in the meantime, wouldn’t we like to have some brandy? Because we were clearly on our way out of the USSR, all three Americans said, “Of course.” The breakfast that was served between Warsaw and Zurich was scrambled eggs and they were delicious.

Early after satellite service was introduced to the world, Boris made it his business to gather that service into his official duties and to become the expert on satellite telecommunications in the USSR. That was a very fortuitous move by Brother Chirkov because satellites obviated the need for cable and open wire. More importantly, it gave Boris a reason to travel to the United States and it provided him with a much greater income after the old USSR came apart. When the Russian government came apart, all kinds of states told Mother Russia to get lost and became independent. I’m thinking of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Estonia and all the many others.

In Moscow, a kind of cowboy atmosphere prevailed. There was no tomorrow and there were few controls. Whereas in the past, the USSR controlled nearly every move its citizens made, now the lid was off and there were no more controls. Some people floundered and lost all hope because there was no overwhelming central government to control what they did. Other people – like Boris Chirikov – used his government position to set himself up in business – the satellite business.

In this atmosphere of no controls, Boris Chirkov thrived. He was calling the shots and he had no concern for his old Communist bosses. This was every man for himself and Boris was getting his share or more.

Quite soon after our trip to Moscow, I heard from Boris that he and two other people would be in Washington. At the time, I was to attending a meeting in Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. I flew back to New York accompanied by a case of recently harvested pineapples. Then it was back to Newark Airport to get the shuttle to Washington where I had told Boris’s female translator that I would meet them at my favorite restaurant in Washington, the Cantina d’Italia. I took a pineapple with me to present to the Russians.

At lunch, there were four Russians: Chirkov, his translator and two assistants. The owner of Cantina d’Italia was known to me only as Joseph for many years. He came around to see how I was getting along with the Russians. Old Boris was feeling his oats and asked Joseph for a little bit of this, a little bit of that and a little bit of something else. Joseph very diplomatically explained to Boris that he had a menu for that purpose. Boris could pick out anything on the extensive Cantina menu, but Joseph said his chef was busy and couldn’t spare the time to make a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The thought finally struck me that in the USSR, the waiters tell you what they can serve that day. As in the case of the National Hotel Dining room, menus don’t mean much. Perhaps it was possible that Boris had never seen a Western menu before, particularly when the Chef could deliver on any dish listed in the directory.

Boris’s English was improving rapidly and I did not see why he needed his translator anymore, but I said nothing. When I presented the pineapple to the Russians, they had no idea how to eat it. Joseph showed how to cut it, but they said they wanted to take it back to their hotel and eat it later. I am certain that this was the first pineapple ever eaten by this group of Russians.

Boris was absolutely not bashful. I had a car to take me back to the Washington airport. When Boris urgently asked me to go to Rockville, Maryland so that he could buy Russian books unavailable in Moscow, I said take me to the airport first and then the driver could take them the 15 or 20 miles to Rockville. I only did this as my “democratic duty,” to paraphrase Boris’s exclamations.

After that, I heard from Boris perhaps a little too regularly. As I said, he was not bashful. Shortly before I retired, Judy and I met Boris and Yelena Kapustina, his translator, and took them to Gage and Tollner, an old restaurant in Brooklyn. Going over the Brooklyn Bridge was a sight that the two Russians had seen in photographs in Russia. They seemed to be thrilled.

At dinner, the pianist played “Moscow Nights” for our guests. They sang along. When it came time to order, Yelena (Helen) Kapustina, the translator, said there are so many wonderful dishes, what shall I order? Just to be helpful, I said the American lobster could be found no where outside the North American continent and lobster happened to be one of Gage and Tollner’s signature dishes. I should have kept quiet. The lobster was presented to Yelena who had no idea about how to eat it. The cracker and the narrow forks were unknown to her. But she was game. The waiter and I helped her with cracking the lobster, but my heart tells me that she would never order broiled lobster again if she had the choice. For me, after that episode, I retired from suggesting food to order in restaurants.

On the way back from Brooklyn, our two Russian guests asked to see 42nd Street and also Broadway. They had read about those locations and they were thrilled to ride on those streets. So you see, I am not the only one who wanted to come to New York. Those two Russians were having the time of their lives in the Big Apple.

Sometime after the Gage and Tollner meal, Yelena painted a picture of the Kremlin and presented it to me. I know that with the NKVD listening, Boris said the Kremlin was the most beautiful sight in the world. I would not necessarily go that far, but the painting has hung in my recreation room for many years. It is one of my favorites. It goes along with Vladamir Lazarev, the Russian dancer who sold three of his paintings to me, so those Russians can paint and they are very fond of New York.

As time went on, I heard from Boris quite regularly. I suppose about every other month, I would find myself in Manhattan to take Boris and different female translators to lunch. I don’t want to sound catty, but Boris and his female friends showed up as though they were dressed for a picnic. On one occasion when Howard Pappert and I took Boris to lunch, reservations had been made at La Caravelle or a similar upscale restaurant. Boris showed up with no tie and a sort of jump suit. Howard or I explained to the headwaiter what we were faced with. He said he would take us anyway. He seated us in an obscure place. I was thankful for the headwaiter’s courtesy. On that occasion, Boris was carrying a fur coat for his wife bought while in Hawaii. As you can see, the old Comrade was doing well for himself.
In the fall of 1985, Boris called and said he would be in New York on a Saturday night. He said he would be staying in the headquarters of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. That building was somewhere in the upper 60’s on the east side of Manhattan. My daughter, Maureen, and her husband Walter Nollmann, were invited to have dinner with us and Boris Chirkov on that occasion in Short Hills. I drove into Manhattan to pick up Walter and Maureen who lived on 86th Street east of Fifth Avenue. We then drove to the Soviet Mission.

Boris was not standing in front of the building, so Walter said he would go into the building and try to find him. I parked in front of the Mission while Walter was gone. In about five to ten minutes, Walter came back with Boris in tow. On this occasion, Boris was dressed like a Beau Brummel. It was obvious that with my car in front of the Mission for as much as ten minutes, some intelligence people would become aware of it.

When Boris arrived at my house, he inspected every room from the attic to the basement. He asked questions of Walter, a fellow engineer, about the construction of the house. Perhaps in the USSR, a Commissar would live in such a house. It was pleasant for Boris to show so much interest in the house.

My thought about having my car in front of the Soviet Mission and about the idea that American and other intelligence forces would have an interest in it was to be rewarded. About a month to six weeks after Boris came to Short Hills for dinner, I walked by the front door of my house which has a mail slot cut into it. I saw a small card on the floor. It was so small that I could have easily overlooked it. When I picked it up it was from the F. B. I. Without calling me, an agent had showed up and after finding that I was out, left his card with a note on the back. Here is what the note had to say.

So I called the number Tom Hand, the FBI agent had left. Hand said that he wanted to talk to me in person. No subject was mentioned and he did not want to speak over the telephone. The next morning, Agent Hand appeared at my front door and I invited him in. I was still drinking coffee in those days, so I offered some instant, decaffeinated coffee to the FBI agent. He accepted my offer.

At the outset, Tom Hand said that I was not in any kind of trouble. They simply wanted to talk to me. I was dubious about his reassurance about not being in trouble. We sat in the living room on two chairs facing each other. Judging from remarks by Hand, the FBI wanted to know if the man we met on that Saturday night at the Soviet Mission was a new NKVD operative being inserted into the United States. I was struck by the thought that the FBI saw my car about six weeks ago. In that length of time, a new NKVD agent could have started cells in four or five different cities. But I suspect that the FBI people in New York who saw my car had to contact Washington who then had the Newark office call on me. Quick response time apparently has never been an FBI virtue.

I responded to Hand’s questioning in an open fashion. In the first place, I told Hand that my meeting with Chirkov was normal and was well within limits. My title was Director for AT&T. His title was Director for USSR telecommunications. So we had a meeting of Directors. I also pointed out that on that trip, I had similar meetings with directors and other officials in Prague, Warsaw, Bucharest and Budapest. I told Agent Hand that is what I did for AT&T.

I went to my office in the house and retrieved Chirkov’s calling card as well as some of the minutes that we had composed about the Moscow meeting. My point with Hand was to impress upon him that Chirkov was a bonafide Director of the USSR telecommunications efforts. He always said he was a Communist, but if he was doing any spying on the side, it was not apparent to me.

Tom Hand listened to me. I told him what we had for dinner on that Saturday evening and about Boris inspecting the whole house. Before Hand ever asked the question, I told Tom that Boris had never made any sort of suggestion that I would sell out the United States. On the contrary, he viewed me as a patriot because of my service in WWII. When all this occurred, I had been retired for about a year or more. Retired employees have no influence on events at AT&T. That has always been the case.

Tom Hand was a gentleman. I thought he was convinced that Chirkov was a telephone man and nothing more. In two or three weeks, I answered the door to find Tom Hand standing there. Apparently, FBI agents try not to use the telephone. He came in and told me that everything I had told him about Boris Chirkov had checked out and the incident was closed. He thanked me and I shook his hand. As I say, Tom Hand was a gentleman.
* * * * *
My point in telling you about Boris Chirkov and Yelena Kapustina is that they wanted to come to New York much as I had done a good many years earlier. They had much greater obstacles to overcome, but one way or another, they did it. I believe it fair to say that New York entranced them. Actually seeing the Brooklyn Bridge and 42nd Street and Broadway was a dream come true. I was glad to have a part in making that happen.

When people of my age think of Russia, they often think of Joseph Stalin and the head of the spy network, Lavrenti Beria. But there is more to Russia and Russians than that. Often, Russians will make generous efforts at friendships when they know that their gestures will not be rebuffed. I have made it abundantly clear that I have no desire to live in Russia or any of the Eastern European states. In none of those countries could 42nd Street or Broadway exist. But there were evidences of genuine friendship with the Russians, with or without the attraction of New York.

After we had had dinner at Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, Yelena went home and painted a picture of the Kremlin for me. I was deeply grateful. When the Russians celebrated the October Revolution, which actually occurred in November, the Russian Army handed out medals for Veterans of the Great Patriotic War. Somehow, Boris got one and presented it to me – in New York, of course. In anticipation of my becoming an angel, I gave it to Kevin Shepherd, one of my Texas grandsons. I have not heard from Boris for six or seven years. By this time, he may have enough capital to by Enron, Arthur Anderson and WorldCom as well.

It was a pleasure to know the Russians. I was moved by their desire to share in the New York experience. In New York, it takes all kinds to create the magnificent mosaic that is New York, New York. The Russians I knew fit that New York mosaic quite well.

E. E. CARR
July 27, 2002

~~~

I keep all of these types of artifacts in Austin, in a strong plastic box. Next time I’m home (probably in May for my little brother’s graduation), I’ll find the medal in question and post it on the site.

Also, I find the shots against Arthur Anderson in this essay in the last to be a lot of fun: not only did both my parents work there, but when it spun its consultancy off into Accenture, my brother worked there too — and my uncle was a partner there, and one of my cousins works there presently. I’m one of the few Shepherds who seems to have avoided the business, and I’m pretty glad to have done so. Most management consulting seems kinda miserable, honestly. Hopefully it at least affords the opportunity to have four brandies before breakfast while on the job.

Oh and PS, at 19 pages I think this is the longest Ezra’s Essay that I can remember. He had a lot to say about Russians! As someone who traveled as frequently as he did, and to countries of as much interest as Russia held, something tells me this wasn’t Pop’s only run-in with the Feds.

THE OLD REXBILT BRIEFCASE

Last week, I was startled to read in New Jersey’s leading journal, the “Star Ledger,” that the deposed head man of Lucent, Richie McGinn, got a going away present of 12 million dollars. His Chief Financial Officer, Debra Hopkins, who had only a year of service with Lucent, got pretty close to 4 million dollars. I had reason to be startled as both were fired. They were discharged as in dismissed. There was no camouflage about the separation such as a leave of absence or special assignments. They were simply fired. On the way out the door, Richie McGinn put $12 million in his pocket. Ms. Hopkins found her purse heavy to carry as it had an extra $4 million in it. Now do you wonder why in a year, Lucent stock has dropped from $78 per share to its current state of trying to stay near $6 per share?

Well naturally, this brought up a memory of my departure from an organization that I had been closely associated with. That would have been Local 5 of the Long Lines Telephone Workers which became Local 6350 of the Communications Workers of America a month or two before I left. I was not fired. I left the Union with handshakes all around and a couple of drinks. I simply took a management job that made me ineligible to participate in Union work. So as I left the Union, there was no severance pay because my job as Local President was unsalaried. The same goes for my job as Union negotiator in national contract bargaining. We just had the handshakes, a drink or two and a well used briefcase. I’ll tell you a little more about the old briefcase, which is the reason for this essay.

I was discharged from the Army on November 8, 1945. About the 15th of that month, AT&T said to come back to work. The job that the Company had cobbled together was simply a make-work effort. In spite of the fact that the Company had plenty of advance notice, the jobs provided to returning service men were largely meaningless. The Company had failed to think through its work operations so the returning veterans were left to twiddle their thumbs. No one ever asked us what we would like to do upon returning to work. And curiously, management continued the wartime practice of four hours overtime on three nights of the week. So we had lots of time on our hands.

During that winter of 1945 – 1946, I had my share of health problems. I had just turned 23 years of age but I felt like an old man. Malaria was a constant companion. I spent two weeks in the Veteran’s Hospital at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri for pneumonia. On top of all that John Lewis, the boss of the Miners, was threatening more strikes. Most houses or flats or apartments in St. Louis were heated by coal, so a strike by the Mine Workers was a serious threat. During the war, John Lewis had threatened or had struck coal mines. Largely because of Lewis, I was down on unions and did not belong to the telephone workers union.

Then in the spring of 1946 came a wake up call. In calculating where returning service men were to be on the wage scale, the Company made what it called an “inadvertent error.” None of us believed the inadvertence story. In any case, each of us was short a few hundred dollars. Later, the Company paid the money while admitting no fault in its withholding.

As soon as I returned to work, union people tried to get me to join the union and to run for office. In all candor, the candidates needed to run with a veteran. So after the Company’s “inadvertence” in the wage scale calculations, I said “sign me up.” I believe my first elected office was Chief Steward but that soon morphed into the Local Vice President’s job. In 1948, I ran for the President’s job and was elected. In 1950, I was re-elected without opposition.

So now about the briefcase. Sometime in 1946, the Union decided to give two of its officers Rexbilt briefcases. They cost more than the Local could really afford but they were good, quality briefcases. They had handles and a lock. They sat on the floor and were opened from the top. And they could carry lots of important papers. Sometimes when the occasion called for a drink, the briefcase carried a bottle or bottles of whiskey.

A small digression about whiskey. The Local in St. Louis had responsibility for all the Construction Gangs in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. I made several field trips to meet with the Construction Gangs. These men were at the bottom of the pay scales and in the Company’s affections. Most were poorly educated. They often lived in rooming houses that could be considered flophouses. They were away from home from five to seven days per week. They ate in greasy spoon cafes. These fellows drove the Caterpillar tractors, the cable plows and the bulldozers. They handled the jackhammers. In short, they did the most miserable jobs in the Company for less than adequate pay. And much of their work while I was there took place in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas – either completely dry states or at best, subject to local option liquor laws.

It would be unthinkable in the late 1940’s for a fellow from St. Louis, in a wet state, to go meet with Construction Gang men in say Enid, Oklahoma or Madisonville, Texas, without offering a drink or two. The drinks came from that famous briefcase. If the bottles were shaped properly, the briefcase could hold three fifths or quarts. The papers that might have been carried in the briefcase were carried under the arm. First things first. So you see, that old briefcase bought salvation and redemption to the thirsty in the southwestern part of the United States.

I had the briefcase during the national telephone strike in 1947. It made several trips to New York to pursue bargaining with the Company on contract matters. It made several trips around Local 5 territory in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. And it accompanied me to national conventions in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Cleveland and other places. In short, the old leather briefcase showed its nicks and scratches but it still got the job done.

So it was in July of 1951, fifty years ago, Vern Bagnall, the Western Area General Manager, summoned me to Kansas City and offered me a management job. The pay was $470 per month. I thought that was miserly but after a while I took the job. I called back to St. Louis and asked Gordon Sallee, the Vice President of the Local, to hold a meeting of the Executive Committee that evening to accept my resignation. I went directly from the St. Louis Airport to the Union’s office. The union office was an ordinary bedroom, without the bed, at the Claridge Hotel on 18th or 19th Streets in St. Louis. When I walked in the office, every one was there. Gordon Sallee, Stanley Bare, Ann Schiffer, Gloria Gilson, Ed Ward, Johnnie Watters and Art Ford. There was no place to sit, so I expressed my thanks for the opportunity to serve the Union standing up. And then I returned the old briefcase apologizing for its scratches.

Gordon Sallee made a few well-appreciated remarks and took the old briefcase. I shook hands all around and then Gordon said that if I retired to the lounge on the first floor, some of the participants might later like to have a drink with me.

So I went to the bar and ordered a drink. As I recall it, ordinary bourbon was 50¢. Fancy stuff like Jack Daniels was 65¢, and scotch, which I drank, was 75¢. Before I finished my drink, the whole Executive Committee joined me in the bar. After some hemming and hawing, Gordon Sallee said they had a present for me. He reached under the table and presented me with my old briefcase. It was not wrapped, of course. Gordon Sallee said it came with the sincere best wishes of the officers and members of Local 6350 of the Communications Workers of America. I was very grateful for the present and what it represented.

I used the briefcase until it couldn’t be repaired anymore. I think an argument could be made – and I will make it – that receiving that gift from the union members in St. Louis may have given me as much pleasure as Richie McGinn’s $12 million. I never had $12 million or anything like it, but at least those folks in St. Louis didn’t run me off and I believe, would welcome me back into their ranks if I ever needed to go back.

I know that time goes on. As I said, it has been 50 years since all the events in this essay happened. In that span of years, every person on the Local 6350 Executive Committee has died. I know that in 50 years people die, but to me, the briefcase incident seems like yesterday. And my memories of those people are all still fresh in my mind.

E. E. CARR
August 20, 2001

~~~
Here is, I’m pretty sure, the briefcase in question:

I believe that this is was also the briefcase used to tote watermelons in the recent essay “ON TO MOTHER ENGLAND AND THE U S OF A.”

I like to think that the booze was more useful in negotiations than any paper ever would be, and it makes me smile to think about Pop running around the country with a nice briefcase full of liquor (and the occasional melon). It was also sweet of the union to give it back to him at the end of things. Definitely a classy move.

THE PASTICHE

In recent months, a collection of essays has emerged from my participation in the Kessler Speech Therapy Program. As a general rule, these were travel experiences in various parts of the world. In effect, they were a little like a travelogue. And in nearly every one of those several episodes, the tone was positive and upbeat. Sometimes there were humorous situations that caused the author a pleasant moment or two. But in the end, most countries were shown in a favorable and a humanizing light in the essays.

Now there is an other side of that coin. Sometimes it borders on ugly. Sometimes it makes you shake your head. And sometimes there are moments which bring a smile or two. All this represents a pastiche of recollections. It is a potpourri. The doom sayers may say it is a hodgepodge but that is a down scale word. Better it is a potpourri. Ah yes, it is a genuine pastiche.

The only element that binds this collection of recollections together is the thought that there are places in the world where I would tend to feel At Home. Not that I intend to go move our residence to each of the places where I may tend to feel At Home. Maybe I’d feel at home there for a few days or for a couple of weeks or months. In short, there are places where some of us would feel at home for whatever reasons, be it language or bull fights or other cultural attractions.

This is not an objective analysis. Maybe there is a bit of irrationality in all this. So be it. If I tend to feel at home in some of the towns and countries which follow this preamble, I’ll apply a small amount of logic and objective analysis to support my choice. If I fail to give you a logical reason for my choice of At Home locations, it may mean that there is no rational reason for my choice. That’s the way it is.

And finally, there will be a choice of places where I probably would feel Not At Home. This is not really a put down of those locations at all. It simply is a place for which I am not inclined to say that it is an At Home situation for me. No hard feelings. As we say, as irrational as it may seem, that is the way it is.

Finally, it should be recognized that some of these recollections go back to the World War II years. I know that things have changed over the last few years such as the Russian break up.1  On the other hand, lots of things proceed without much change as in India and the Arab States. So we’ll take it as it comes and if there is doubt about the timeliness of my recollections, we simply mark it off to the more things change, the more they remain the same. And so to —

CANADA
This is an At Home country for me. Roger Doucet was known to millions of Canadians as “Mr. O Canada.” He sang the national anthem before the home games at the Forum in Montreal as well as at other places. Roger Doucet said “Every time I sing it, I think I’m singing to a beautiful woman. I see this country from coast to coast – from Bonavista to Vancouver Island.” It is a magnificent country with a matchless national anthem and no one sang it better than Roger Doucet. Over a period of many years, he must have sung “O Canada” on thousands of occasions. So he must have spent a goodly amount of time singing to those beautiful women. Good for him.

I’ve had the chance to spend some time from Sydney Mines in the farthest reaches of Nova Scotia in the East to Vancouver, British Columbia, the western most limits of Canada. Sydney Mines is the location of the landings for the first Transatlantic Cables laid in 1957 and 1959. On one trip, I drove back to Halifax where the fog was pretty dense. The next morning, I looked out the 10th floor window of the hotel hoping to catch an Air Canada flight to Montreal that day. No luck.

The fog was all the way to the ground and up above me. It stayed that way for three days. I learned a little more about Halifax than I had bargained for.

If I had a vote in Canada, it would be to declare that country a Republic, ending the English government’s ability to send a Governor General to Ottawa. He doesn’t have much to say, but it is an irritant to all the French speaking residents of the country. And after the Governor General is sent on his way, please Canada, take the Queen’s likeness off the coins and currency. That is more than an irritant.2 A good trade would be to replace the Queen with Maurice Richard or Jean Beliveau, two hockey players.

Now that I’ve given my advice on restructuring the government of Canada, my overriding thoughts are the sentiments of John Kennedy. When he visited Ottawa in 1961 to address the Parliament, JFK said: “We are neighbors by chance; but friends by choice.” I think that reflects all my thoughts on the matter.

MEXICO
Mexico is a country where I would feel Not at Home. As time has gone on, Mexico has slipped down the scale toward a more violent society. For starters, there is a chance that by entering a taxi cab, particularly at night, you may wind up a statistic not only as a robbery victim but perhaps, as a homicide as well.3 That’s why we always rented cars with reputable drivers.

About the last thing any of us would do is to drive a car ourselves in Mexico. An accident always seems to attract the Federales and where they go, payoffs are demanded. The word is “morbida” – a bite. And if there are no payoffs, the prospect of jail is always a consideration. Not an American jail; a Mexican jail.

Finally, I am very fond of many people in Mexico City. They are well educated people. Many of them have studied in the United States. And they are upscale people who have one or more servants in their homes. But I am stupefied to see them ignore and overlook the poverty around them. When there is no choice but to avoid peasants trying to sell fruit on the side walk, for example, they step over them. And usually, we are on our way to a fancy restaurant for a fancy meal. I often lose interest in eating.

A child’s play pen is an open fruit box. The sidewalk is filthy so the child stays in the box for as long as its parents take to sell the fruit. That may be 10 hours.
There simply is no recognition of the poverty which surrounds the well-to-do class in Mexican cities. Maybe they can’t fix it. But they don’t seem to be addressing the issue. In the meantime, they literally step over or around the problem. Someday, there may a reckoning south of the border.

A final thought. On the day that Spiro Agnew called it quits as Vice President of the US, I was scheduled to return from Mexico City on an Eastern Air Lines flight. When I checked in, my interest was in the English language newspaper accounts of Agnew’s resignation. When I was asked a question or two, I replied “Si Senor” to the agent and sat down. That was my undoing. In first class, there were only a total of two or three passengers going to New York City – all Spanish speaking – and because he had heard me reply “Si” to his question, he assumed that I too spoke Spanish. When the call of the Eastern flight was made, it was done only in Spanish. I had my head in the news about Agnew’s problems, so I never heard him. I did not growl at him because he complimented me on my Spanish. Nonetheless, he spoke to me in English to praise my Spanish.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAS
As a general proposition, I’m inclined to rule it as a Not at Home location. Throughout the Caribbean states and then into Venezuela and Brazil and most of the rest of the South American countries, one problem jumps out from the rest. That problem is throw-away children.

Let’s take just Brazil. It is a lovely country. The people are warm and usually friendly. But they produce children who are often left alone without education or guidance. They are usually the product of “Favelas,” the slums surrounding Rio de Janeiro. Near the large hotels on Copacabana or Ipenema Beach, the children demand money. If they fail to get it, mustard or ketchup or ink is sprayed on the tourist. While he is concerned about his clothing, the rest of the pack of vandals try to lift his wallet. From the front door of the hotel to a taxi stand, the traveler must run a gauntlet.4 So most of us simply stayed in the hotels.

When I first flew between Natal and Belem to Ascension Island in 1944 and 1945, the problem was kids trying to peddle things – Ungentine, nylons and the like. And of course, prostitution was rampant. In the intervening years, time has not made the problem any better. On the contrary, the problems of throw-away kids is growing worse.

If I had a conditional choice of being At Home, I might award it to Argentina and Chile. They seem to do better in Buenos Aires and Santiago. There is a certain elegance in those two towns. Well, at any rate, we found something to applaud in our examination of Latin America. But not in the throw-away kids.

FOUR NORDIC COUNTRIES
They are Norge (Norway), Danmark (Denmark), Sverige (Sweden) and Suomi (Finland). Enough of the negative stuff from South America. These are all AT HOME countries – with an exclamation point at the end. From Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” in the east to the Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite in the west, there is music in the air. Think about as many as four soloists and orchestras simultaneously performing in Tivoli Garden.

I spent two Fourth of July celebrations in Copenhagen listening to that music. In the summer, the Castle of the Swedish King is set aside for concerts.

And then there is the heroism in the Second World War. Finland took on its powerful neighbor, Russia. She lost that war after a fierce and prolonged struggle.5 The Norwegians stood up to German troops, often paying the price of execution on Parliament Hill. And the Danes, one way or another, concealed their Jewish neighbors from the concentration camps.

And remember old Paavo Nuurmi, the Finnish long distance runner from the 1932 Olympic Games. He won everything in sight. And don’t forget that at the end of World War II, Finland was the only country to repay its loan to the United States. They did that on top of heavy reparations to the Soviet Union.

In all these Nordic countries, they speak English with American accents. As my old friend Sven Lernevall says, he is always glad to see us and I believe him. And I’m glad to see our Nordic cousins who have an At Home sign in the window.

IRELAND
So much has been said about Ireland, that there is not much more to be added. Obviously, almost every Irishman would seem to find an At Home in the Emerald Isle. I’m not unlike those other Irishmen with one exception. That is the pervasive influence of Roman Catholic teaching in Irish schooling, politics and laws. Sooner rather than later, that influence will diminish as young people tend to grow to accept the culture of other European and American norms. And until that time, I lean toward a conditional At Home vote for the Republic of Ireland.

ENGLAND
Like so many people, I have enjoyed the civility of the English people. Their food may not come close to Paris but taking one thing with another, they are a decent lot. And who can forget that they stood in the way of the Nazi juggernaut long after the French threw in the towel. There is a sign in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that says that more than two million English men lost their lives in France during the First World War alone. In the Second World War, perhaps another million men of English citizenship died. As Jumbo Wilson, an English General said about American troops, “Brave Men.” We return that salute.

Now after all that, we are going to give England a conditional AT HOME vote. It has to do with the Saxe-Coburg family, now known as the Windsor family. I have no trouble with Winston Churchill, obviously. I like Tony Blair. But I have trouble swallowing the principal of a royal family – and this one has fewer recommendations than most. Let Margaret marry Captain Peter Townsend. Let Charles plight his troth with Camille Parker-Bowles. Let Elizabeth out to pasture. And as an American-Irishman, I’d say this charade has run long enough.6 Enough already.

FRANCE
During my life time, the French have repeatedly gone their own way insisting that they are guided by “The Grandeur of France.” As a former Army Sergeant, my reply is “Horsefeathers” or something quite worse. Those people lost World War I and II because they did not take the steps to rearm. They followed it with the loss of Algeria. And after all that, Charles De Gaulle came to Quebec to proclaim that Province should be called “Quebec Libre,” free of Canada. I need some time to digest all this “Grandeur” and I’m not doing too well at it.

There is much to recommend in France, particularly their food, wine and cheese. But to live there for more than a few days, I have to call it one of my lower At Home ratings.

SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
Spain is by far the richer country. And poor old Portugal is down there doubting itself. If I lived in Spain, it would most likely be in Barcelona. In Portugal, it might be in the Algarve.

When Franco was alive, there was little crime in Spain. Now there seems to be quite a bit of it directed at tourists. In Portugal, people returning from Angola had become a problem as they had no jobs and some turned to crime.

With all the problems, these are two civilized places to live so I’d say my vote would go to an At Home rating.

THE FORMER IRON CURTAIN COUNTRIES
After Vaclav Havel came to power, the Czechs have made their orientation to the West quite clear. Their food may be tough to take with its emphasis on beef, pork and wild game. But that’s all right. I still probably say, give them an At Home rating.

For the rest of those old Iron Curtain countries such as Bulgaria, Rumania and Slovakia, I’m not inclined to say that I have much in common with them. And so I’d probably vote NOT AT HOME for them as well as for all the Russian republics. Nyet, nyet.

HUNGARY AND POLAND
I’ve already stated my thoughts on these two countries in an earlier piece. It was most favorable. When the Russians cracked down harder, it was the Poles and the Hungarians who fought back. Remember the 1956 uprising in Hungary? Remember the remark that we are like radishes. We may be red on the outside, but white all the rest of the way.

They would have my vote as an At Home place.

HOLLAND AND BELGIUM
In Holland, most Americans are genuinely accepted. I can’t think of a place that welcomes us more than Holland. So we’ll say simply, give that place an At Home sign.

In Belgium, there is more of a stand off problem. Brussels is home to many foreign business men and diplomats. There is much less of a welcoming atmosphere in Belgium and then there is the difference in language between the Flemish from the North and the French from the South. They don’t trust each other. Making friends here is tougher than in Holland. But all things considered, I say let’s give them a conditional At Home rating.

When mussels are in season, which it is most all year, the average man seems to consume about three to four dozen of those mollusks. I can handle a dozen or even a few more, but then I want nothing else to eat. I can’t explain why the Belgians are mussel eaters – so I won’t even try.

And one last thought. At Malmedy a group of 110 U.S. soldiers had surrendered during the Battle of the Bulge. German SS troops killed every one of those unarmed men. There is a tank at Bastogne near Malmedy which memorializes the Battle of the Bulge. You may recall that when General McAuliffe was told that his troops were surrounded by German forces at Bastogne, his answer in the American newspapers was quoted as “Nuts.” Don’t let them kid you. He gave them a better answer than that. If you are ever in Bastogne, it would be nice to visit the memorial to the Battle of the Bulge.

GERMANY AND BERLIN
The war is over. Fifty or more years is a long time to ponder what happened between 1941 and 1945. I’ve saved these thoughts until toward the end because I’m not sure how I’ll respond even at this late date in 1998.

If there was a favorable turning point for me, it occurred in the late 1970’s. My friend, Howard Davis the N. W. Ayer advertising executive who accompanied me, insisted on a beer and a sausage in a place near the center of Munich. The sausage was “Weiss Wurst,” a veal sausage. So I sat there munching on a sausage with a beer that I don’t usually drink. Howard must have paid for it, because I felt some obligation to act as though I enjoyed the repast.

In the midst of the food, a German man came to our table. It was not reserved for us at all. Quite to the contrary, it was out in the open where as many as six to eight customers might find seats at the table. Before long he asked me politely in passable English, if I was of a “certain age” who served in World War II. He made it clear that he understood that he was addressing a former American soldier. I believe that he stated that he was taken prisoner by the British and wound up in Scotland where he learned the English language. As Howard and I talked to him, he had no bone to pick with us at all. For him, as it happened to most Europeans of that age, events simply controlled him. He was a small cog who did what he was told. If he had been told to kill us back then, he would have done it. Such is the way of wars. In the final analysis, I learned from this old German soldier that he did what he had to do and we did what we had to do. Sometimes it was ugly.

Europeans don’t carry hard feelings as much as we do, I believe. When their wars are over, they go back to trading with one another after an appropriate period of reflection. After a generation or two, some of their children intermarry. They’ve been at it many more years than we have so who’s to say that they have it wrong. Well in any case, the former German soldier and the two old American soldiers shook hands and parted as friends.

Yes, I think I’ll award them an At Home rating. But I’m still not buying a Mercedes automobile or a carton of Beck’s beer.

Now two thoughts intrude, both from a Sunday in Berlin. It may be recalled that when it came to adding surcharges to a telephone bill, the Germans were champs.7 Sometimes they loaded 300% on top of the cost of a call. AT&T had developed a plan asking that all hoteliers limit their surcharges in which case we would advertise to American travelers that such hotels would treat customers fairly.

In the meeting on the fateful Sunday morning there were hoteliers from many Western German hotels. This was their only day off. We were pretty sure that we weren’t making much progress when during the later stages of the meeting, one hotelier actually accused us – the Allied Forces – of starting the surcharge practice after the war. It was as if Eisenhower didn’t have enough to do after the war and so he forced German hotel keepers to pump up their surcharges by some 300%.8 In the end, German hoteliers wanted the telephone surcharge as a profit center and they weren’t going to give it up. For myself, I had nothing to do as a member of the Allied Forces with imposing the surcharge problem on the helpless German hotel keepers. They invented that fraud all by themselves.

That afternoon we rented a car and drove over to East Berlin, that is, behind the Berlin Wall. That was not our best idea for the day. Jim Hurley drove the car and Sully Clark sat in front with him. I wedged myself across the rear seat. This was a very small car.

When we entered East Germany, the authorities took our passports away, which was a very bad move. They issued us a currency declaration and made it clear that unless we returned that declaration at the end of our allotted four hours, there would be no return of the passports. We would be stateless persons in a Communist controlled country. And so Jim Hurley thought he put the currency declaration in a pocket on his shirt. Only he did not, as it turns out.

Shortly before the end of the trip in East Berlin, Jim came to a stop outside the Passport Control Office. The East German guards looked into and raised the hood of this tiny car to see if a man was hiding under the hood attempting to escape the good life in East Berlin. There was no man under the hood. Next came a look at the trunk. No man in the trunk. Finally, a long mirror on a pole which was shoved under the car. Again, the Germans had in mind that this small car, smaller than a Beetle, could carry an escapee under the frame. No one was found.

While all this was going on, Jim Hurley did NOT have the Currency Declaration in the pocket of his shirt. Or in any other pocket. When Jim went through his shirt and trousers, he could rightly be called the Fastest Man in East Berlin. But there was no one laughing. After all, the cops were going through the hood and trunk and under the car and even they could see that something was amiss in the car. The end of the story came when Jim said he had actually put the Currency Declaration with his wallet right out there by the speedometer where he would find it right away. Well, we got our passports back from a sullen clerk who said as we finished our transaction, “Raus.” I think that means have a good day.

VIENNA
This is a good place for about everything. The music is good and the food is first class. By all means mark this one down as an AT HOME arrangement.

While we were meeting with the Austrian Administration, the talk veered away into an interesting episode for me. As I had experienced in Berlin where the former German soldier asked me about my service in the American Army, two Austrians asked me the same question. It turned out that both had been drafted by the German Army and were taken as Prisoners of War by Americans. They spent some two years ironing sheets and pajamas at the Memphis General Hospital in Tennessee. And they said they ate the same as the rest of the hospital staff. They came out on top.

We enjoyed Vienna staying at the Bristol Hotel where Richard Karger entertained with his piano. The Dri Husaren served some of the best food around. Finally as we were leaving, our host, whose name I have forgotten, asked us where our next stop would be. This was in a taxi. When we said Zurich, he pointed to the enormous Central Cemetery in Vienna nearby and said, “Zurich is twice as big —- and half as gay.” He had something there.

SWITZERLAND
Every thing in Switzerland works. The national airline is a jewel. The trains run on time. The raclette is great on new potatoes and Roosti is a delicious dinner for me. The Swiss are not long on schmoozing with people but nonetheless I say they are an At Home place.

GREECE AND ITALY
These places exude Mediterranean charm. The food and the hospitality are worthwhile. Yes, I’d go first to Italy and maybe a little later to Greece. In both cases, they are At Home locations.

JAPAN AND CHINA
Japan is clearly the favorite for an At Home rating. And China finishes in the lower ranks of the Not At Home classification.

In Japan, it is like Switzerland. Every thing works there. And they play baseball there. In China, I wanted to leave long before the two weeks were out. It is sort of uncontrolled chaos.9
There is not much choice when it comes to Japan and China. It’s Japan all the way.

ALL THE NORTH AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Forget about them. They are a tough sell. The idea is to get into them, avoid trouble and get out. Of all the places in North Africa, Cairo is about the only one to even suggest an At Home rating. The rest, Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Libya are not to worry about. Don’t go there.

ISRAEL
Israel is in turmoil these days with the religious right holding positions in the Netanyahu government. This is a bad arrangement but most recent Israel governments have given the religious parties a prominent position in national policy. As far as I know, the national airline, El Al, does not fly on the Sabbath. There really is no answer that makes sense. Swiss Air simply loads up for the Sabbath in Israel. I suspect that ban still applies. There is much to be said for a division in church – state relations.

And as for a rating, I’d have to say a conditional At Home rating because there are so many Israelis I like.

INDIA
There are so many people here and many have nothing to do. Take a cab to the airport. Before the cab comes to rest, dozens of men are fighting for the small tip that goes with carrying the suitcase into the terminal. If there is a Malthusian dynamic at work, it will have to happen to India first. Such great swarms of people. I’m not really comfortable in Bombay or New Delhi and so I’d say it is a Not At Home sort of place.

As a soldier I made one trip through India to Assam. At Agra I picked up a book that had advertisements in the back. One that caught my eye said it cured earaches and enlarged the bust. And I didn’t have an ear ache.

SOUTH AFRICA
The climate is wonderful, but there is not much more than that. Before Mandela was released, my experience with apartheid was appalling. A man in a hotel rest room told the black attendant to tie his shoe. And he did it. The man acted as though this happened every day. It probably did. The cruelties aimed at defenseless black people were unconscionable and they had the backing of the government in Pretoria. Remember the effort to drive black people to what were called their “homelands.” One was called Bophuthatswana. The capitol was called “Sun City” and had a casino and a Las Vagas type of show where the South Africans could let their hair down. Well I’m not inclined to give Sun City or Johannesburg or much else a rating of At Home. Maybe it is better now, but I’m not going to go back soon. Rate South Africa Not At Home.

ATAR, TINDOUF, EL GENINA, EL FASHER AND ASCENSION ISLAND
These were all part of my military adventures. There is no reason ever to consider laying your head down in these places unless it is a case of duress.

Ascension Island is a very important piece of real estate in the South Atlantic. It is the midway point between South America and Africa. In the military it was said that if you missed Ascension, your wife could collect her pension. It was a mighty small place with only one runway cut through rocks on either side. If you found Ascension and hit those rocks, you still came out a loser. Luckily, Ascension had very few cloudy days so it was possible to get out of there almost every day. Ascension Island should not be high on your to-do lists.

At El Fasher and El Genina in the Sudan, I was amazed to see as we taxied up to the terminal, that Army mechanics wore white coveralls. Nobody wore white coveralls in the U. S. Army. Well they were white but they used to be green. The sun on a line outside had made them white. That tells you a little bit about Fasher and Genina. Don’t rest your head here if it can be avoided.

We’ll close now with a word or two about Atar and Tindouf. These are about the loneliest places in the world. They may be worse than El Fasher and El Genina.

Tindouf is in a corner of Western Algeria near Morocco where the boundary is marked “Undetermined.” Atar is in Mauritania and there are no nearby towns. The Air Force maintained fields and radio gear at these two locations. The wind blew at a brisk pace all the time and carried grit with it from the desert. Lots of grit. It was in the mess hall and in the barracks and in machine gun barrels. If a man who chewed tobacco wanted to expectorate, he had a choice. If he spit with the wind, he could expect to cover 20 to 30 feet. If he made a mistake by spitting into the wind, his tobacco would be all over his face. I didn’t chew tobacco but I learned to work with the wind. And one night in each place, told me that is was time to go. And not to go back.

SUMMARY
In the beginning of this piece, I said that this was a pastiche. Maybe it is a potpourri. It is an attempt to define where I might tend to feel At Home and it is an attempt to state where I would feel something less than an At Home sort of arrangement. As I said earlier, don’t try to read any sort of logic into all this. There are some prejudices and some irrationality at work here. I suppose that is the way it has always been.

Also don’t read my overlooking some countries in this grand survey. Australia and New Zealand have been covered in earlier essays. Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, Yugoslavia, Saudi Arabia and a few others I have failed to deal with. I think you’ll understand that this essay has gone on long enough. Maybe next time I’ll gather the strays and try a piece on them. We’ll see.

And so this is the pastiche. If it does nothing else it makes me feel good that I got it off my chest. Right or wrong, prejudices or no prejudices, rational or irrational – that’s the way it is.

This pastiche has become too serious. Therefore, I will close with a paean of praise for the old capital of Pakistan – Karachi. The British soldier who recited this little quatrain to me pronounced the capital KE-RA’-CHI. It warns:

When you go to Ke-ra’-chi
keep your money in your shoes,
Because the Ke-ra’-chi women
sing the Ke-ra’-chi blues.

I don’t know what it all means, but again, it must count for something.

E. Carr
January 9, 1998

~~~


1. Since “break up” used most often to describe the end of a couple’s relationship, the wording here makes me think that the Soviet Union and Russia just hit a rough spot, emotionally. Also, this essay is so long that I need footnotes to keep track of commentary, because without them it’d be rather hard to follow. I actually like the footnote style better than the just “paragraph of response” style, but the former is less amenable to the blind using screen readers, so I tended to stay away from it. In the spirit of the site I’ll probably use it sparingly going forward. But exceptions ought to be made when an essay clears 5,000 words.


2. I have no idea what problem Pop had with the Queen of England on Canadian currency. I’d have loved to hear more on that.


3. Channeling his inner Trump here a bit. But seriously, Mexico had and has huge cartel problems. A friend of mine has done some reporting in and around Juarez — he’s certainly got some stories to tell.


4. Brazilian robbers are incredibly bold and work in huge packs sometimes. I had to study up before I went there twice last year. Crazy country.


5. Pre-WW2 proper, the Winter War between Finland and Russia was remarkable. The statistics are almost unbelievable — for instance, there were 26,000 deaths on the Finnish side, but around 150,000 on the Russian side. Lesson learned: invading Finland, even with a vastly superior force, is a terrible idea. Come to think of it, invading Russia is an equally bad idea. Trying to do so during winter is perhaps the rookiest of rookie mistakes that a military commander can make. Just say no.


6. Ah.


7. I honestly get a huge kick out of the toggling back and forth between war-mode and phone-mode that Pop makes throughout some of these essays. Both sent him around the world, but the way that he reflects on the two different periods predictably couldn’t be more different.


8. Fun fact, this was actually the real reason for the war.


9. I actually love this about China. Sadly I think it’s starting to calm itself down in more ways than one; I’ll take chaos over the state’s more authoritarian leanings any day. Also surprising to hear Pop speak so highly of Japan, given essays like this one.

DIDGERREDOO

The title to this little essay is an aboriginal name from the Outback in Australia. There is no written language in the aboriginal culture, so every one is free to spell it as he sees fit. I spell it as DID-GER-RE-DOO, a musical instrument. So keep that name in mind while we spend a few minutes in Fiji, New Zealand, New Guinea and the Northern Territory of Australia where we will find the DIDGERREDOO. And a wild west hat and a necklace of little pine cones.

 

FIJI
My companion at the beginning of the trip was Ron Carr, no relation, but a fine fellow. Ron came to us from many years in Rates and Tariffs where he dealt strictly with numbers. When we sent old Ron out to deal with say the Papua New Guinea’s of the world, he made friends and came back with those people on his side. And so I’ll tell you a story about Ron Carr – never to be mistaken for my wife. Or I, for his wife. Later.

Fiji is a long, long trip from here. First we go to California with a change in airlines at Los Angeles. In Honolulu, there is a midnight departure for Fiji so resting was out of the question. Early the next morning we arrived at one of the two main islands, Suva, and arranged for air transportation to Nandi, the other main island.

Fiji is not far beyond the International Date Line. To digress for an instant on the Date Line, sharp eyed accountants occasionally will find that we charged meals and lodgings on the same day in two different locations. It’s not that we ate so well or slept around; the Date Line makes that happen. For example, we may incur expenses on say Tuesday, then cross the date line where it is Tuesday again. So we have a duplicate set of charges for Tuesday. Well in any case, the last thing on our minds as we stumbled to bed in Nandi was the accountants in New York.

So we enjoyed a day or two in Nandi to unwind from the New York trip. The Fiji administration treated us very well indeed. And we learned that ethnic strife had invaded Fiji. Increasing numbers of Indians were moving to the Islands and the local natives were most unhappy.

So it was time to return to Suva where the Airport was located. No planes flew that day and we were forced to drive the 100 miles to Suva. It was one of the worst trips that Ron and I had ever experienced. Rock slides and washouts at rain swollen creeks were only two of the problems. At the end after it became dark, Ron and I both sensed that we were being led into a trap – sort of a New York mugging. Well, it didn’t happen so we spent a relieved and pleasant night in Suva.

 

NEW ZEALAND
Early the next morning we caught a Japan Air Lines flight for the trip to Auckland, New Zealand. The stewardess had at least two helpers with her although we were the only passengers in the first class section. On the other hand, I didn’t see any other passengers in other sections of the plane. The Fiji – Auckland part of that route was not a big seller.

The three stewardesses spoke little English; but they intended to furnish first class meal service. We couldn’t communicate with them so they brought what every American man wants for breakfast – or so they thought. It turns out that Japan Air Lines served us 30 second boiled eggs. Oh, maybe it was 45 seconds, but not much more. With three anxious stewardesses hovering over us to see how the Americans enjoyed their breakfast, we ate. And we said it was mighty good. Well, they eat their fish raw, don’t they?

At Auckland we took a limousine about 75 miles to Rotorua. The steam comes out of the ground in Rotorua so people come from all over New Zealand to treat their arthritis and other ailments. The town also has a large concentration of Maori, a sort of aboriginal grouping. When they allowed us through their steam baths and their schools as well, the Maori women who conducted the tour wore a little clothing or they wore nothing at all. There was nothing sensual about it and they were not showoffs about it. It was normal for them and they jokingly suggested that the two American visitors were prudes for wearing all that clothing. I believe they were joking. But Ron did have a lot of clothing on.

 

PAPUA NEW GUINEA
We’ll skip Wellington because not much happens there except for Andy Turpie, a prince of a man. We passed through Sydney and Brisbane and wound up the next day in Papua New Guinea. Ron wanted for me to see the far edge of his territory. I’d say it was a little beyond the edge.

Papua New Guinea was the scene of heavy fighting at Rabaul and Bougainville where we took many casualties from Japanese guns as well as from malaria and other diseases. It is about the world’s worst place to fight a war. The Aussies and the armed forces of the United States will not soon forget that war.

Our major escort was John Solomon, an Aussie who was on leave from his main job in Brisbane. All the staff in Papua New Guinea were on leave from their telephone companies in Australia. And they were a lonely lot. They were paid well but there was no place to go. They worked during the daytime and went to a men’s club of sorts for food and plenty of beer. They didn’t tarry coming home at night because of some brazen robbers who viewed the Aussies as rich people.

As I said, there was no place to go at night. There were no restaurants in Port Moresby. Wives were not encouraged to come to Papua New Guinea. So they stayed home. And so it was night after night at the “club” where even by Aussie standards, they drank a lot of beer.

John Solomon provided a stretch to the old days of Australia. As recently as during World War II, Jewish men were turned away from fighting for Australia. I believe the ban applied to all those with other than English sounding names. John Solomon’s uncle was turned down twice when he went to enlist because of his name. On the third try his uncle said his name was “Sullivan.” No trouble at all. He was welcomed into the Aussie Army.

John Solomon’s uncle was killed in Papua New Guinea and was buried in the main military cemetery near Port Moresby. For many years, his grave was marked by the “Sullivan” tombstone. In 1982, good sense had prevailed. The “Sullivan” tombstone was being changed to “John Solomon,” the namesake of our guide. John’s uncle was my age. He was killed at 22 years of age.

The people of Port Moresby chew betel nut which is a mild narcotic. I don’t know about the narcotic effects of the betel nut, but I’m here to tell you that it causes them to expectorate. The walls and streets are covered with spit or spittle. I’m taller that most Papua New Guineans but I’ve seen many tell-tale marks above my head. Perhaps when there is a brisk breeze from the rear quarter they may be able to reach that high.

As we sat drinking tea in the Director General’s office, one of the men turned down the tea because he said the water from the city pipes was not clean and would cause cholera or some other disease. As a matter of fact, two men who came down from Rabaul actually had the dread disease. Needless to say old Ron and I more or less pushed our tea cups off to the side and began to think better of our friends who drank Aussie beer.

On our last night in Port Moresby, the Aussies had a nice meal for us. With two Americans present there was a reason to celebrate down at “The Club.” There was also an element that wanted to drink the two Americans under the table. There are two fortunate circumstances here for the Carr boys from the States. In the first case, Aussie beer is potent at home, but when it is exported, it’s alcoholic content becomes something like 11% to 12%. And they drink great oceans of that 11% to 12% beer. Now the second circumstance is that Scotch whiskey makers decrease the proof of their product for use in the Commonwealth Countries. Whereas the United States may drink 80 proof (40%), the Commonwealth countries may drink 60 to 70 proof or 30% to 35%. Well, Ron and I drank Scotch delicately from the lower proof whiskey and the Aussie’s drank that hyped up beer from Australia. It was no contest. When John Solomon came to pick us up during the next mid-morning, he was forced to admit that only two or three of his men were barely recovered from the night before. This hung over bunch in Port Moresby bade us farewell and I suspect they never wanted to see another American traveler again. I blame it on their loneliness.

 

AUSTRALIA
Well one more stop with old Ron Carr. We reached Sydney from Port Moresby at say about 5:30 to 6 PM on a Friday evening. There was a big dinner that evening at which we were expected. Ron assured me that the Australians would send a car so that we could make our dinner date.

After we landed and retrieved our luggage, we noticed that every one else was gone. No car, no driver and I supposed we had to compete with every one else for a cab driver at the main terminal on a Friday night. So reluctantly Ron called our contact in Sydney. He said the car had left an hour earlier. When we were pondering this bit of news, one of us said that there was a fellow sitting on some steps off to the side of the terminal. We asked him if by some chance. He worked for the Australia Overseas Telecommunication Commission, he said, indeed, he drove for them. When we asked if he intended to pick up a passenger named Carr, he said he planned to do that. Then he showed us his routing slip which said that he was to pick up a couple named Carr – and he didn’t see any female. When we showed him our passports, it all became somewhat clearer to him. At any rate, he drove us to our hotel and then departed to have it out with the clerk who prepared the routing slip.

At dinner that night, the guests were speaking of a new, much tougher test for alcohol in the blood of drivers. The papers had reported that the police had parked a number of mobile vans around Sydney to be used as a sort of local lock-up until court proceedings could begin. In one of the first cases in point, a local business man had taken plenty to drink after work that day and became confused on his directions. He was lost. So what better place to ask for directions than at one of the mobile vans of the police? It only took the cops a minute to realize that he was not only over the new limit but the old limit as well. When he belatedly realized where he was, he attempted to leave. Unfortunately, he fell down the steps of the van. So score one for the Sydney police.

Now the small story about the Didgerredo. It happened on one of my last trips to Australia. At the outset, I will say that if I had to spend six months to a year in some location outside the United States, Australia would probably be the place. The people are friendly. The men and women seem to enjoy a pretty ribald sense of humor. It is a place I enjoy being – in spite of insults and put-downs from the likes of George Maltby, Randy Payne, John Hampton and Chris von Willer.

I spent two days with those fellows and I stated that upon leaving them, my next destination would be Alice Springs, Ayers Rock and Perth. The kindest remarks were directed toward Perth where airline captains are alleged to have said upon landing, set your clocks back twenty years. Those guys are nuts. Perth is a lovely town.

Now about Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. It was pointed out by my antagonists that this was February, the equivalent of July in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Outback, the bugs swarm all over everything in July and every other month, as well. And the temperature was – HA, HA, HA, HA, going to regularly reach 115 degrees in Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. They were not so smart about that particular subject however, because the temperature at Ayers Rock snuck up on 125 degrees. Inadvertently my foot was moved from the shade to a sunny spot. It took only a minute or two until there was a burning sensation in my toes, as in the case of the old grade school hot foots.

And so I departed Sydney with the hoots and hollers about the bugs, the temperature and the not so great living conditions in the Outback. But in the final analysis, each one of my Aussie tormentors admitted that none of them had ever been to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. For years after, I lectured them on the lure and romance of Australia’s Outback.

On one hand, Alice Springs is a town right out of Colorado at the turn of the century. On the other, it is a modern little city. There are places to assay gold diggings. Men from ranches come to Alice Springs to buy supplies and to shop for their families. A large home school radio network is located here, which serves a good part of the Northern Territory. It has two hotels and there is lively commerce in Alice, as it is called. I liked Alice Springs. It is a sprightly town.

I stayed outside of town in a modern hotel, restaurant and casino. It was impressive to see the aborigines gamble. They didn’t seem to eat. They drank and gambled. As it is said, there’s a sucker born every day.

And so it was down to Ayers Rock for a look around. Ayers Rock is a massive formation that turns different colors at various times of the day. Some of the aborigines worship there. I suppose after about 18 hours of looking at the Rock, there really isn’t much more to report. It is impressive.

Back in Alice Springs after the Ayers Rock trip, I found a very friendly store with the Outback hat, the pine cone necklace and the Digerredoo. The “D”, as we will call it, is about four feet long and has many insects and other animals carved into its side. Naturally, it is hollow so that the mellifluous sound may pour out of either end. Sometimes it is a baritone sound. At other times, it is alleged to be the sound of a large choir. It is hard for me to say what sound emerges from the instrument as I have not really heard it.

It is also alleged that the music of the “D” is best digested with a Rhythm Section. According to Cal Tuggle, who knows nothing about this woodwind instrument, two aborigines hold large flat rocks and beat them together to provide the Rhythm Section. The “D” carries the melody.

As best as I understand it, the instrument is held at either end and the proper tune is hummed into it. Obviously, there are no keys or valve openings as on a trumpet or saxophone, so the “D” player is free to improvise or even to fake the melody.

The lady who sold me the “D” said that aborigines would not occupy the houses that the Aussie Government had built for them. They slept outside. Similarly, she said the “D” players only played outside; never inside as in a concert hall or a night club. And she said that the rocks that supported the Rhythm Section had deteriorated in quality with a certain sponginess being found among them. Nothing throws a big “D” player off as much as a bad Rhythm Section, unless it is playing indoors.

Unfortunately, she had sold her last recording of several DIGERREDOO solos as well as her orchestral recordings which sounded, as she described it, much like the New York Philharmonic. I had wanted to send them to those NAY sayers back in Sydney, but I suppose we’ll now have to wait for the CD version.

I’m not aching to go back to Alice Springs, but it might be enjoyable. Perhaps there might even be a festival of DIGERREDOO players from all over the Outback. I’d like for those fellows from Sydney to be immersed in big “D” music. I have told them that they will have to sleep outdoors to appreciate the full effect of the magnificent music from the DIGERREDOO orchestra.

A final note. The lady at the store in Alice Springs said that my purchases would arrive in New Jersey in two weeks. She hit it on the head. And as for Maltby, Payne, John Hampton and Chris von Willer, they still have not gone to enjoy the thrills of Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. Mark down one for the Yanks.

E. Carr
January 4, 1998
Essay #7 (Old Format)

~~~

I’d never heard of betel nuts before reading this essay, but apparently their use is incredibly wide-spread even today. The fact that chewing these nuts has been directly linked to way higher rates of oral cancer does not seem to be a strong enough deterrent.

Also, weaker scotch or not, I have it on good authority from my father that trying to outdrink Pop was always a terrible idea. Of course, drinking beer that’s as potent as wine probably didn’t help the Aussies much.

Small admin note: Looks like I can’t create new categories for some reason — working on fixing that.

THE THREE I LEAGUE

When we were young, many of my compatriots had their sights set on a professional baseball career. Unrealistically, as it turned out. But we didn’t know that then.

In the Midwest, one of the leagues to which we aspired had clubs in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. And so it became the Three I League. It may have been as much as three or four levels below the major leagues, but anyone who made it as far as the Three I League had a certain celebrity about him. During the off-season, people invited him to sports banquets and introduced him as our next major leaguer. Well, all that was heady stuff but I didn’t know that there was a relation between the Three I League and politics here in the Northeast.

Politics here have their own Three I League. Since 1950, almost every politician from Massachusetts in the north to Pennsylvania on the west and south to Washington, D. C. have paid their respects to Italy, Ireland and Israel, our version of the famous Three I League. Obviously, immigration has much to do with this as they have ties back to the home country. As it is said, we are a nation of immigrants. It is clear that a good many of those descendants of immigrants have married each other. So when the politicians address one group, they often automatically appeal to the rest of the group who may have varying degrees of ties to the Three I League, but they get the message.
ITALY
And so we start with Italy, because that’s where I first landed in the great Three I League. Those are not unusual locations as is the case in Africa. Italy, Ireland and Israel are pretty much the way we are. No big surprises. They go about their business as we go about ours. And so there are no horror or many funny stories about these countries. I feel at home in every on of the I-I-I countries, so we’ll start with a word from my friend down at the toe of Italy, Walter Pippo, who has a spirited Sicilian wife. Being from Reggio Di Calabria makes him know about things in Sicily.

AT&T’s point of contact with the telephone administration in Italy is called Italcable. It is a first class outfit. They recalled that AT&T went out of its way to rehabilitate Italcable and its predecessors after the war. And curiously, they look upon our soldiers from World War II as friends and even mentors. We enjoyed a very warm relationship with that organization.

One of the quirks in Italian business is that many people expect to be called by their professional title. Thus, it is Engineer Spasione or Accountant Muzzalti. I always had some trouble remembering the professional titles in a group where a large number of people were gathered, so like most Americans, we simply addressed our Italcable compatriots by their first names. They seemed to like that as it distinguished us from the more starchy European representatives. And they returned the favor calling us by our given names shortly after meeting us.

Now we come to Dr. Walter Pippo. In formal meetings, even with other Italcable employees, Walter Pippo was often addressed as “Dr.” I never found out what he professed to be a Doctor of and he never explained it. I’m reasonably sure that he assumed the “Dr.” because he had no identifiable academic discipline such as Engineer. I’m sure he was not in the medical field. Walter was just a good and devoted friend who answered to “Walter.”

The given name of Walter is a bit of a story in itself. When American troops landed in Italy it was 1943 and Walter’s mother was pregnant. His father hated the Fascist regime of his government. But even more, he hated the way that Italians were treated by the Germans. He hated everything about the Germans from their forced call-up to perform manual labor to forcing Italians to serve in the German Wehrmacht, the Army. And his father hated the attempts to ship Italian Jews to German concentration camps. He obviously had no love for the Germans on any score.

Walter’s father decided that his child would be named after an American to thwart the Italian and the German authorities. And so there would be no Guido or Bennito or Mario for Walter’s father. No sir! He decided to give his new born son the American name of Walter.

When Walter grew into his sixth or seventh year, he became curious about his name. Naturally, he discovered that it is a German name. He never told his father about his discovery.

His father died happily in the knowledge that he had given his son an American name. Walter always points out that his name reflects the landing of American troops in Italy and has nothing to do with any other influence. Hurrah for Walter’s father and Hurrah for American troops in Italy.

Maybe it is as Pablo Casales said that the United States lends itself to every noble effort of mankind. Maybe so. Maybe so. At least in World War II, I believe that.

We shift scenes to the outskirts of Siracusa, or as it is referred to in English, Syracuse. It is on the southeastern coast of Sicily. It is about as poor as one could imagine. The people lived there in a sort of long range depression. It never seemed to end. And the Italian government gave no help at all. Those people after the war simply could not look for help from Rome. There is not much difference in 1998, I suppose.

Sicily grows a tough bunch of people in that climate, one of whom is married to Walter Pippo, who told this story to me. The people of Siracusa realized that there was no church in their outlying town. If they wanted to attend services, some way had to be found to take them to Syracuse, which could be a burden. And so an appeal was made to the pride of the citizens on the outskirts of Syracuse. And in time, donations were made. The local men performed much of the work in building the framework of the church.

The church was not a major edifice from the outside. It was serviceable. On the other hand, the local people wanted the inside to be a magnificent monument to their pride of having their own church. They wanted to have a tile floor like no other.

As it turns out, Libya is just across the Mediterranean from Sicily. It was a former colony of Italy. Many people there speak Italian. This would have been in the 1970’s and there was still plenty of Italian influence. And there was a depression among Libyan tile setters, considered the best in the Arab world. So it was made to order for the people of Syracuse to find the out-of-work Libyan tile setters and invite them to come to work in Sicily.

The men worked quickly setting their small one inch squares, one after another. The locals were impressed with their work. But most impressive was the beautiful design that appeared in the tile across most of the nave of the church. I think I have that right. It is the section of the church from the front of the first pew up to the alter. In St. Patrick’s, it may be 65 feet or 75 feet. In smaller churches, it may only be 15 to 20 feet in width. From Mrs. Pippo’s story, I’d guess the width of the nave would be maybe 15 to 25 feet. And all the better to see that beautiful design the Libyans had left at the front of the church.

Weddings were held in the church and the bridal party stood on the beautiful design in the nave. I suppose confirmations were held there, as well. And maybe some funerals departed with a last fond look at the tile design in the nave of that Roman Catholic Church.

In the end after three or four years of gracing the nave, a gentleman who spoke Arabic came to the church. He was so sorrowful to announce that the beautiful design actually read, from right to left: “THERE IS NO OTHER GOD BUT ALLAH – AND MOHAMMED IS HIS MESSENGER.”

Maybe the Libyans had evened up for years of Italian occupation. Or maybe it was something that every Libyan church or mosque had as its motto. But in the end, the beautiful design was covered by a carpet. It was too expensive to remove.

And so we take leave of Walter, his wife and all our other friends in Italy.

 

ISRAEL
Lots of memories come flooding back after all the trips to Israel. If I had to name a best friend in the world, it would be Jake Haberfeld, the Zionist who came to Israel from his native Warsaw. And there was Aryeh Ron, known formerly in Vienna as Leon Ritter, who decided it was time to leave when the Nazi’s made him clean the sidewalk near his home with a toothbrush. And then there was the large presence of Gideon Lev who ate a pair of eggs at breakfast in two bites. One bite for egg number one; one bite for egg number two.

Jake Haberfeld was as tough as Gideon Lev was, but they had different styles. Jake was polite and understanding – as was Aryeh. Gideon made some noise but in the end, he did what was right for the Israeli administration. But in no case did Jake or Gideon or Aryeh ever give anything away. Those fellows stood for something. I believe it is fair to say that I enjoyed dealing with them as much as or more than any other administration in the world. Each of them had seen combat service in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts. I suppose that lent some meaning to their efforts in negotiating with us. Hurrah for Jake, Aryeh and Gideon and their subordinates.

A transient thought jumps out here. We had been in negotiation with the three of them when it became obvious we were running up against the noon Friday deadline when the Israeli’s begin their Sabbath. We had to give the results of the meetings to the Overall Cable Steering Committee in New York, so that they could answer while the Telex operators were still at work. As we got closer to the cutoff time there was no time to summarize the whole set of negotiations. With only a few minutes left before the telex operators left for the weekend, Gideon said, “So — we’ll send a short telex.” I’m sorry that Jackie Mason isn’t here to do his routine on the virtues of short versus long telexes in the style of Gideon Lev.

There are two other thoughts that come to mind about living in Israel where, a few years back, enemies surrounded almost all of the country. To gain admission to Israel, one must pass through the Border Guards on the way in and on the way out. They are not to be fooled with. Those Uzis on their hips are not there for parades. They mean business.

In the beginning, I made a little splash of spreading my name on the entry card as “Ezra,” the scribe of Jerusalem from the Bible. After two or three printings in bold letters, it made no difference. The Border Guards still looked right through me and told me to move along. On the other hand, they were very considerate if we were headed for an Arab country. In most cases, rigorous Arab countries would not admit a person with an Israeli passport stamp. So the Border Guards did not stamp our passports. They simply stamped pieces of paper which showed entry into the country. When we left, we turned in the piece of paper and no stamp ever appeared in any of our passports.

When you leave the country, the Border Guards take you into a booth where you are frisked. Cameras are pointed toward the ceiling and the button is pushed to expose the next print. For many years I carried a ball point pen which required a motion to expose the ball point. That was pointed at the ceiling and the lever was pulled. There was an intense search, a frisk, before we got to our bags. I was glad for that.

When it came to the bags, all of us were asked if we were carrying any package for anyone else. Woe to him who said he was. Start looking for a later plane. I rarely had trouble. If they wanted to look at my bag, I had it ready to open. Rule one is you don’t mess with the Border Guards. I saw that happen when a woman in front of us represented herself as a person of some substance – in short – as a big shot. It only took a minute to call out two female Border Guards who opened her bags and went through all of them. I only stayed until we could move to an unencumbered line for the luggage check, but what I could see out of the corner of my eye, told me that the female Border Guards were going through her lingerie, girdles and everything else, in plain view of other passengers. Rule one and two is don’t mess with the Border Guards.

Maybe it’s time to leave good friends in Israel to go to the last of the Three I Countries. As we leave, I’m always impressed by what the Israeli’s have accomplished for their country. Let’s leave Bibi Netanyahu for another day.
IRELAND
The Irish are like home to many of us, even to friends who have no shamrocks in their blood. Their conversation is easy and they show a respect for others. Now if I could only get them to heat their houses. It doesn’t get much below freezing, but in a brick house with only a small electric heater in a fake fire place, the chill becomes progressively worse. With Alan Corbett and Mick Sheridan and wives, we wound up at the Sheridans. In a circle we sat facing the two watt electric heater. And it took no time for the cold to creep down from the nape of my neck to the small of my back. I’m not giving much to the conversation going on around me as I’m wondering how do these people take baths. They are not alone as in the other two I Countries, but I still think about the bath – shower situation.

Two other thoughts invade my memory right now. In the first case, the Irish rarely ever say “yes” or “no.” They say that it would be a pleasure to do what you are suggesting or they may say that it would be better to do something other than the suggestion you had to offer.

In this case, Judy, our daughter, son-in-law and a 15 month old baby started the trip from Shannon to Killarney after an overnight flight from the United States. We did pretty well until we got to a confusing turnaround some eight to ten miles from Killarney. The hotel was located on the Cork Road, which is how things are designated in this country. After two or three trips around the turnaround, we stopped and I asked a gentleman standing on the corner, “Could you tell me how we would get to Cork?” He told me that “Indeed I can.” And then he walked away. Well, he had answered my question, so he left. I finally figured out what the problem was. I asked another gentleman to tell me where Ryan’s Hotel was on the Cork Road. He almost took us there.

Now a final thought about AT&T’s Miss Mary Margaret Murphy. I suppose no one ever comes closer to a saintly life. She may not think so, but I would nominate her for at least canonization.

In the 1980’s research was a major problem because we didn’t know as much as we would like to know about why people made international phone calls, particularly from their hotel rooms. So under Tom Poretta, we gathered a few stalwarts who could ask the questions and coax some answers. This was no check the multiple choice question. It was much more of a dialogue than that.

So Margaret went to London, Lisbon and Spain. And finally she came to Dublin. She was required to go to the top-flight hotels in the morning, again in the afternoons and quite often in the early evenings. All to ask people about making calls, particularly back to the United States. This meant she had to move from one hotel to another throughout the day. Well, that was her undoing.

It turns out that an elderly cab driver worked these luxury or near-luxury hotels. And he picked up Margaret and drove her to the next hotel FOR RESEARCH. As Margaret tells it, he picked her up for the fifth or sixth time on the second day and could no longer hold his peace. The cab driver told her that he knew exactly what she was up to going from one high priced hotel to the next. She was not fooling him. He thought about calling the police but said he’d think about it and pray. In the meantime, Margaret was consigned to Hell.

I’m sure he would never believe the story about research but that’s all I have to offer in our defense. Ah well, Margaret Murphy is still my candidate for canonization.

There may be much more that we could write, but that will do for now. The friends in the Three I Countries are keepers. They are among life’s joys.
E. Carr
December 30, 1997
Essay #6 (Old Format)

~~~

Pop got into the swing of essay-writing quite quickly, it’d appear. This is probably one of my all-time favorites. Granted, I’m unquestionably a sucker for travel writing, and a three-decade time delay only makes the pieces more interesting to me, but still.

Israel seems like a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” — it is still ringed by enemies, and the guards there are likely more vigilant than ever.

The Italy story reminds me of non-Chinese speakers who elect to get tattoos in Chinese characters. I’m at a loss for why people choose to do this, but I do know that people frequently get tattooed with gibberish or worse. http://hanzismatter.blogspot.com/ does a great job of documenting all the different types of failures out there — the lucky people get away with characters that are just upside down or inverted, but tons more wind up with curse words or words that completely distort the intended meaning. Tons more wind up with English words “spelled out” in characters, as if each Chinese character corresponded to an English letter. If you know so little about the language that you’re permanently embedding into your skin that you think “JOE” can be one-for-one translated into Chinese, I guess you get what you deserve. Clearly this level of ignorance didn’t stop the Italian Church either — the “this looks pretty, must be fine” — seems to have carried over to them. I guess it’s possible that they were duped, but even still: the minute you recognize that someone is tiling words into your nave, you should probably get a second opinion on what those words say.

Also one last note about the Chinese tattoo thing, just because I find it infinitely frustrating: on the rare occasions that both tattooee and tattooer manage to translate and ink a phrase properly in a language that neither speaks, the outcome is almost guaranteed to be completely inane. You wouldn’t tattoo “HEART” or “BRAVERY” or “[YOUR NAME]” down your back in huge English letters, so why are those all so popular when written in non-English letters?  Writing things in a language you don’t understand doesn’t make those things more deep. Bah.

THE GREAT NEPAL ROBBERY

In an earlier episode of this great World Wide Travel Report, it was reliably reported that Cal Tuggle, Howard Pappert and I were headed for the mystic delights of Bahrain. Such as they are. And then on to India, Nepal, Bangkok and Kuwait, such as they are.

You may recall the Blah, Blah Blah incident at Heathrow during an overnight layover. Well, that was only the beginning to a trip that included my being ripped off by Custom Agents in Nepal (they are there to protect you) and ending in a beheading in Kuwait. We’ll get to all that but first a welcome from Manama, the International Airport of Bahrain.

Gulf Airways did fairly well on the London to Bahrain leg of the trip. On international flights, such as this one, Gulf simply ignored the Islamic ban on alcohol. Some people without movies or reading material always drink too much. And some drink out of loneliness, I suppose. To go back to their postings in an Arab country may be a reason to over imbibe. As a group, the Arabs drank a robust amount of alcohol on nearly every occasion on most flights. For the three Americans, it made no difference because we were trying to deal with breakfast or brunch. We didn’t need wine to handle that.

Somewhere about dusk, we were all herded into a room at the Manama International Arrivals and Immigration Service bureau. We weren’t feeling all that great after a long ride from London, but then came the word that it would cost us around $20 to enter the Kingdom of Bahrain. And so we paid. Consider the alternative.

But in exchange, we received the most astonishing passport stamp in all of the civilized world. It has a picture of the King with his mustache and beard and his headdress. But then there is the “BLEEDING HEART” that is surrounded by serpents or dragons. This is worth the price of admission. And so with the artwork in hand we depart for Manama to watch the Arabs cavort, which they do. There is not much else to report from Bahrain. I’m sorry about that.

And so it is on to Kuwait. Remember, that in the eighties Kuwait was afraid of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, with good reason. They were distant with visitors from the United States. And the worst of the rules against women found their way into the Kuwaiti fabric of society. We’ll talk a bit more about women later. It took a war against Iraq to help straighten things out, but the presence of Saudi Arabia still lingers over Kuwait, particularly in religious matters.

We were to meet Frank Mullin and Pat Downey in Kuwait City. Frank and Pat had had the miserable experience of trying to kill a weekend, Thursday and Friday, in town. There were no bars; no movies; no dancing and very few restaurants were open on Friday, the Sabbath. Later, that evening Pat had listed all the shortcomings of Kuwait followed by the thought that, “Is there anything we can do here?” Frank turned to Pat and said, “What is there to do in Kuwait City? Man, you’re doing it.” And so they headed for bed at around 9 PM.

It took quite a while to drive from the airport to the hotel. It seemed that we drove around the Hilton International on at least three different side streets. We could see the hotel signs but we kept being turned away by police. Finally, a policeman explained that there was to be a beheading at about that hour. This was no big deal because the Kuwaiti authorities regularly chopped off arms and now and then, a decapitation. Cal Tuggle explained that the people of Kuwait had to pass the time on their Sabbath and that this was as good as any other.

After we reached the hotel, we found an account of the beheading in the next edition of the Kuwait City Times. As he approached the executioner, the accused asked for a reading from the Koran. That was seen as a sign of remorse. He then asked for a more lengthy reading from the Koran. More remorse. But then the newspaper said he asked for at least one chapter to be read to him. At that, the authorities said he was stalling and so it was all over for him.

The Kuwait City Times only prints a four page edition; however on this occasion, they extended it into a six page issue for the execution. Cal Tuggle found that the extension of the story from the two front page columns caused it to end up on the rear of the paper – by the sports pages. Tuggle has always dined out on the beheading of this poor fellow as being reported by the sports staff.

Now for a gem of a man, Mr. Al-Awadi. He spoke American English without a trace of an accent. His three fine sons, from about 12 years to 17 years, joined us for dinner. Dinner at Mr. Al-Awadi’s house is a great joy except for one thing. The preparer of the meal, Mrs. Al-Awadi, never shows her face. Or anything else. As we had cocktails in the living room, our view of the dining room was screened from view. When everything had been prepared and brought to the dining room, a screen was pulled over the kitchen door so that no one could see Mrs. Al-Awadi. That was the signal for the boys to open the screens between the living room and the dining area. After dinner, we had retired to the living room. The screens were then put back in place between the living and dining area and Mrs. Al-Awadi emerged from the kitchen to clean up the dirty dishes. If she had a helper, I’m at a loss to say but it was a first class meal. And there was no running back to the kitchen; it was all laid out on the side tables.

When we finished I looked for someone to thank – as did we all. Arab protocol is to thank the host, who presumably will thank Mrs. Al-Awadi. There simply was no way to thank our host’s wife for all the work she had done. And so, on the next trip by our people, I sent a pewter American Bald Eagle to grace the Al-Awadi living room. Frank Mullin who delivered the eagle tried to make it clear that it was for both of the Al-Awadi’s. I hope he got that point across.

There is a sobering thought here. During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Mr. Al-Awadi disappeared. I sincerely hope that he survived. He was a first class gentleman who meant much to Mrs. Al-Awadi and their three sons – and to all of us.

A final thought about Arab business men in Kuwait and other cities. It doesn’t matter how deep in conversation their boss might be. When an Arab clerk enters the room, he does so without knocking. He then goes over to his boss and engages him in conversation and even in disputes. On more than one occasion I have sat there and listened to all this. At the conclusion, there is an attempt to pick up the conversation with the foreign visitor – until the next clerk comes into the room without benefit of knocking. As a general rule, allow two hours for a one hour meeting.

And so it is back to Kuwait International Airport for a trip to Bombay. The pushing and shoving at the airport leaves me breathless – until I start shoving right back. Apparently there is no sanction on rude behavior in Kuwait, so we were in a sort of free style exhibition.

In Bombay we had dinner with Mr. V. Ramaswami at a place that suited me because they had a large selection of vegetarian dishes. Mrs. Ramaswami, who was a delight to all of us, sort of led the way for Hindu women to dine out with foreign guests. They had not done that before. Hurrah for her.

Now there was one distraction about Mrs. Ramaswani. I sat along side of her and noticed that her nose was pierced to accommodate a fairly large gem. It wasn’t whether it was a diamond or not; it was how that thing keeps staying on the side of her nose. And she had another one on the other side. Are they anchored inside? Do they use some sort of stick’em on the gems to bond them in place? I’m not even in favor of piercing ears for earrings so this bothered me. And so I went back to my vegetable dinner while those thoughts about making the gems stay on were on my mind.

In another piece I intend to touch on the Malthusian theory about the overpopulation of India. It will wait till then while I give some more thoughts to Mrs. Ramaswani and her clip on nose rings.

And so we were off to New Delhi where we picked up an Air Nepal flight. They only had two planes. One flew back and forth to New Delhi and the other to Bangkok. As we entered the airplane, my baggage was inspected. In it was found a small table knife which I had used in Europe to remove the core of apples. I don’t care much for coffee in the mornings and large breakfasts in hotel rooms don’t really do much for me. So it is mostly an apple a day at breakfast.

The knife had seen its best days and looked pretty shopworn. None the less, the Nepalese insisted on removing it to a safe place. As I watched, the air crew tied to it a sign reading “Kathmandu” and laid it on the Engineer’s table. As the flight door was never closed and as the Engineer had other things to do, I could have grabbed my little knife on several occasions. When we arrived in Kathmandu, the Engineer returned it to me and so there was no hijacking on that flight with that knife.

Kathmandu is like a sort of outpost. It seems like the last stop in civilization. Crews come here to get ready to assault Mount Everest. Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa guide, is a big name here as he led the initial climb on Mt. Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand joined Tensing Norgay in that climb.

It is a dusty place. The people seem to be operating as they have for centuries. Ox carts are found more often than automobiles. Among the attractions are some shrines to long forgotten heroes. And a famous one at Pathan, the Kama or Kama Sutra, which is dedicated to lustful desires, both real and imagined ones. Jimmy Carter should have seen that one. In other words, Kathmandu tends to convey to other travelers that we’ve seen it all. It is the end of the line.

To accommodate the tourists who come to Kathmandu with hard currency to spend, there are two large hotels. The grander of the two is the Kathmandu Oberi. It probably has 250 rooms. The hotel employs a large number of workers who seem glad to have their jobs. And the Kathmandu Oberi is the reason I spent a few days at the Great Nepal Robbery.

The International Hotel Association, based in Paris, embraces a group of perhaps 5000 hotels catering to the international trade. The leading hotels in every major city belong to the IHA. Because travelers from the United States made and received almost all their calls from their hotel rooms, it made sense for AT&T to join the IHA. And we participated fully in the semi-annual meetings of the International Hotel Association.

The semi-annual meetings were held in member locations in all parts of several continents. There were meetings in Barcelona, on Rhodes, in Munich, in Bangkok and in several other places throughout the world. And now comes the Oberi in Kathmandu saying that it is time to come to Nepal. And so we went.

One of the reasons that we were interested in the work of the International Hotel Association was the practice of hotels adding surcharges to the cost of international calls. In many cases, surcharges came to as much as 300%. From Germany, for example, a call from Bonn to Detroit that should have cost $30, would register as much as $100. And so we were looking for the hotels to give the guests a break and stop making this a large profit center. The idea was called “Teleplan.”

Each year, we would fashion a new complimentary handout to the delegates from the IHA. They were the owners and managers; the ones who could make Teleplan work. In the case of Nepal, we carefully counted the number of women and male delegates so that the cost could be contained. We intended to hand out scarves to the women and neckties to the men. They were not inexpensive. On the contrary, the cost for about 350 sets of the scarves and neckties came to around $3500. Added to that was the cost of shipping from New York to Kathmandu. And we were assured that there would be no problem in transit and none at customs in Nepal.

Soon after we arrived in Kathmandu, I went to the customs office which I found locked. Trying again, I found the customs office open, but no one really knew anything about packages from New York. On my last try, I asked for the boss who showed me two large packages, from my shipper, which were empty. In fact, the scarves and neckties had vanished. At that point, the big boss presented me with a bill for $920 in customs charges. I told him what he could do with his bill which I believe was understood in English as well as in Nepali.

As I left the office, I recalled that it was not a good rule to get into a fight with a foreign policeman or a tax man. I ignored my own advice.

When I returned to the hotel, old Cal Tuggle who had just come back from an afternoon in downtown Kathmandu reported that my efforts to spread the word about Teleplan were enjoying great success. It seemed that half the cops were wearing Teleplan ties and scarves. Cal said they lent just the right amount of color to their drab uniforms. The only enjoyment was that I never paid the $920. If I had paid that much money, I’m fairly certain that the cops in Kathmandu would have bought at least three bars.

When we were leaving the Kathmandu International Airport, my luggage was searched and turned up an electric razor. To a fellow with one foot in the 17th century, the razor was a complete surprise. Cal Tuggle held the razor up to his face and made a buzzing sound. Of course, there was no electricity, so the razor had to accommodate itself to Cal’s buzzing sound. After a time, he finally got through to the Nepali customs clerk that it was a razor. Unfortunately, the clerk had no beard to speak of. On the other hand, he assured all of us in his best Nepali, that if he did grow a beard he would be certain to trim it with that device that made the loud buzzing sound.

I think I’d better end now because my depression, which has lasted since 1981, has overcome me again. To think that those Nepali robbers could outsmart a New York shipper who guaranteed that every tie and scarf would arrive in pristine condition. I can’t believe it. But the last laugh is on them. I still have my $920 in my pocket.

E. E. Carr
December 28, 1997
Essay #5 (Old Format)

~~~

I’ll admit, I’m hoping the internet will eventually come through for me on this one. It’s a long shot, but if these things were well-made then I’m sure there are a handful still floating around Nepal in the backs of closets or attics. I hope that one of those original police officers handed down one of these Teleplan items to his child (who is probably an adult by now); I want that kid to find an old Teleplan scarf or Teleplan tie, and then I want that him — hopefully he or she speaks English — to use the magic of Google to find this essay and solve one of life’s little mysteries. It’s incredibly unlikely but I have a long time to wait, and as of 2/18/16 Google informs me that the phrase “Teleplan scarf” doesn’t appear anywhere else online. Hell, I’ll even write Teleplan रूमाल here for good measure, to cover searches in Nepali.

Also, reading about pre-9/11 airport security is funny to me. I’m honestly a little surprised that they even took the knife away in the first place.

ON TO MOTHER ENGLAND AND THE U S OF A

Now that we have finished with the Iron Curtain, there may be some small merit in a review of the trouble of a Libyan tour group in Heathrow and finally, a call to personally minister to the needs of a fine group of Overseas operators and executives in Pittsburgh.

We may as well start with London where Colonel Quadafi sent his stalwarts to take in the sights of beautiful women on stage, forbidden at home, and frightful amounts of alcohol, also forbidden in Libya. There is no need for a local Chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in downtown Tripoli or in Bizerti, either. Keep your minions at home in Evanston, Mrs. Tooze, and work on the misguided souls being lost in Chicago.

 

England
One day, we enplaned for Bahrain. It’s a long trip and not a very rewarding adventure. The plane made a stop at Heathrow, outside London where we were to spend the night leaving early the next morning for the trip to Bahrain. I rarely ever looked forward to visiting an Arab country. They are often grim places. They don’t enjoy the give and take of the Western world that would leaven the mix and make for a little laughter. And, for many of us, we are infidels. I don’t feel all that comfortable in an Arab city except for Cairo. But we did have a little to look forward to in Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia is among the most repressive places around except for the Taliaban in Afghanistan. Women don’t drive cars and they must stay at home. Ah, but on the weekend from Thursday through Friday, there is a stream of traffic over the new causeway bridge from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain. And lots of airplane flights. The attraction is alcohol, with maybe a few floorshows thrown in. There may be a little gambling. In any case, the confining chodor comes off as it hits the end of the bridge and doesn’t go back on until Friday night on the way home.

The bridge was new to us so we thought we’d like to see Arabs at play. Mostly men, they acted like school children out of school. They had their fill of alcohol and western food. And they chased girls.

And so we looked forward to seeing a loosened up Bahrain. It sure wasn’t Paris or Amsterdam. But that is what set our hearts to singing a little bit because we might see an Arab capital Manama, warts and all. It turned out that it wasn’t that good. Ah, but back to Heathrow.

Well after a bit of sleep, we step into the check out line at the hotel cashier. There is all the usual confusion as to whether we had breakfast followed by presentation of drachmas, liras, guilders and so forth. The fact is that it took time which we didn’t have with an airplane to catch.

Last night we were “entertained” by a group of Libyans who had a plenitude of alcohol to drink. It may be banned in Libya, but they made up for it in the United Kingdom. And so the next morning a hung over Libyan tried to sort of crash his way to the front of the line at the cashier’s desk. Most of us thought he had forgotten his manners and the clerk would send him back to the end of the line.

Cal Tuggle, Howard Pappert and I were at the front of the long line leading to the cashier cage. When he spoke, the Libyan’s English was pretty good. The problem was his friend on the Libyan tour plane, had not gotten up. He needed to make a call rather than running up several flights of stairs.

After he annoyed the cashier with his questions, he was told to go to the house phone near where we were standing. He couldn’t get it straight. He couldn’t understand that if he dialed 678, for example, his friend would answer. So we went back and forth with all of us becoming more annoyed at the Libyan. Eventually, the cashier put down his pen and said, “Sir, you go over to that phone and dial 678 and it’s all taken care of.” The Libyan still couldn’t believe that this was the way phones worked in a big hotel. Finally, the cashier said, “Sir, you can dial. You do not need to do more. All you do is when the phone answers, you say “Blah, Blah, Blah.” That’s all there is to it.”

As Cal Tuggle, Howard Pappert and I watched, the Libyan was armed with his new information that he had dragged from the cashier. He went to the phone and dialed 678. When the phone answered, he yelled “Blah, Blah, Blah.”

His companion was in no mood to hear “blah, blah, blah.” I think he hung up on him.

 

U S of A
Now that we have disposed of the Libyan tour group, let’s move on to a presentation to one of our five Overseas groups in Pittsburgh. It was an attempt to show them how they fit into the Overseas scheme of things from the initial advertising to eventual cable layout and settlements of accounts.

While I was out of the country, Dottie Giovi Campbell got some of my major exhibits together. When I came back to the office, I finished my preparation and stood ready to leave the following morning. During that afternoon, Dottie asked, as she always did, what would I need for my use the next day in Pittsburgh.

I told Dottie that she always made good arrangements for me. However, in an afterthought that I threw away, I mentioned that it would be nice to have a watermelon in my room. I was kidding and Dottie knew that. I think she did. But she still told the Traffic Manager in Pittsburgh. Apparently, he thought she was serious or else he decided to find a suitable watermelon. I’m sure that he had his tongue firmly in place, but he was a good guy who would show this apple knocker from New York what Pittsburgh was about.

I forgot to mention that this presentation was being made late in January, a small detail, but very significant for our little story.

I carried a large briefcase to this meeting because I had quite a bit with slides and other materials for use in the meeting. This is the sort of briefcase that lawyers call an exhibit case. It plays a prominent part in the story.

When I checked into the hotel, the Bell Captain cautiously inquired of me if I had any unusual request of the hotel. Then the Bell Captain asked bluntly, whether I always had a watermelon in my room. I almost answered without thinking but then, Dottie Giovi and the local traffic manager came into view. And I told him that “Yes, I always had a watermelon in my room. They more or less made a home for me away from home.” I think maybe he wanted to like me, but that New Yorkers were pretty odd.

Now comes a special call from Bob Christ, who is negotiating a contract in Nova Scotia. The Operator who took the call didn’t get it quite straight. She gave it to the same Bell Captain, who didn’t get it quite right, who brought it to me in the room. He announced that I had better get to this message because it “was from Christ.” It was from Bob Christ – not from any one but old Bob.

I never found out about where that watermelon came from in January but I knew I had to take it home. The watermelon was a round one. I took all the lining out of the large lawyer’s bag, and it fit perfectly. It was ungainly, but it fit and I could button the briefcase covers. When I reached the Pittsburgh airport, my bag was not out of my hands for an instant until a man called out he had a suspicious looking briefcase. Three or four fellows came and demanded that I unload the “Large Object.” I told them it was a watermelon. That only made them angrier. And so I unloaded the famous watermelon. One of the guards who did a little farming agreed that according to his estimate, I really had a watermelon.
I still joke with Dottie Giovi, but I don’t mention watermelons anymore. And let’s hear it for the men who produced that watermelon in the snows of January. Those fellows acted as though they always had watermelon for a guest. I never asked them about it.

E. E. CARR
December, 1997
Essay #3 (Old Format)

~~~

I actually found the first bit of this essay a little harder to follow than usual. I think in the early essays Pop was mainly writing for his own theraputic benefit more than writing for an audience, so he tended to move quite quickly. Not a bad thing, but I do find myself wondering if other essays will shed more light on these traveling companions, the timeframe in which we’re operating, etc.

EDIT: Judy contacted Dottie Giovi herself! Apparently the watermelon incident took place around 1975-6, when she and Pop worked together at the #5 World Trade Center building.

BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

The world may be broken into three parts, as the French say, but for us in the Overseas business of the Bell System, it had a great many more parts. I found them all fascinating from the Indians, to the Saudi Arabians, to the various tribes in Africa as well as to the more familiar in Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to explore it more fully. I worked at it for 15 years, but the fact that we had to move on to the next stop militated against learning as much as we could have. Rudolf Ruutschi of Switzerland, said on more than one occasion that we have to “let the sun shine on our faces” and we could grow with the people and learn their ways. We had to make the next stop and all the stops after that. And then back to New York. We were there so that some of the culture came to be second nature. I regret that we failed to spend as much time as the world’s cultures and customs would dictate.

So now, we look back to recall a good many incidents over the past years from the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Some are a little funny – see how BLAH, BLAH, BLAH got a telephone answered. Some are more serious as in the case of traveling through the old Soviet Union. Most are less serious than all that. We will try to recall that a lot of good humor made it easier to bear the burden of being away from home for prolonged periods of time.

So why don’t we start with one of the few places where I welcomed a stout drink of brandy with breakfast. Let’s start with the Soviet Union. Yes, I know that it’s Russia and a dozen other independent republics, but before the Berlin wall came tumbling down, it was known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – the USSR. Probably the most formidable of the countries hostile to the United States.

 

Moscow, Rumania, Poland and more
Now this is one rule, for our people, that shall not be broken in any place in the world – but most especially in the Soviet Union. We don’t deal in currency transactions aside from an official rate of exchange. No matter how many Rubles or Zhlotys or whatever are offered, we don’t buy it. Not from cab drivers or from waiters or the men hanging around the local hotels. We don’t buy it. If you’re in a currency bind, the American Embassy will be most unhelpful. You’re not quite on your own, but the distance is negligible.

Now the next rule is to never get into a fight. You’ll lose because the cops are on the local side of the order, and they are usually cut into the take. And lastly, do not mess around with women. If a woman in Poland or Rumania or in Russia invites herself to sit at your table, better you should get the management to shoo her away. If they let her stay, head for Room Service, such as it is.

Now, on the menu of the National Hotel in Moscow. It resembles a sort of large book. Maybe it would be 9” or 10” by about 12” to 14”. My companions started to salivate. However, when the waiter showed up, he began to list the things that he did not have. No beef stroganoff. No veal with vodka. No meat pie with beef broth. The long and the short of it was that he had a chicken and another mystery meat – and that was it. So this was a four day stay in the best hotel in Moscow across from the Kremlin. Our four year old grandson plays restaurant with a menu he has picked up from the local deli. When old Will is asked about pizza, he is out of it. Same for ham sandwiches. Same for Coca Cola. It’s all the same old dodge that Will and the headwaiter play, a script from the National Hotel in Moscow.

Now a word about the room. It had a little square of about 2” x 2” of soap. That had to last for as long as your stay at the hotel lasted. In my large living room, there was a large lump under the piano. It was explained that the floor below mine had a chandelier. The shaft of the chandelier ran up into my room, so I couldn’t do anything about that hump, without the chandelier falling into the room downstairs. When I looked up, I could see that I had a chandelier anchored in the room above. I stayed away from that chandelier.

There was a stern looking woman always on duty outside our room. She took our keys in the morning and gave them back at night. There was no fooling around with that Mrs. Stalin-esk character. I did not mess with her.

Now, a foolish reminder about how bad the Soviet System was indeed. I showed a Kleenex to several people in and near the hotel. I wanted to buy a box of Kleenex. Each of them sent me to another store and on to more stores. Finally, I got the message. There was no Kleenex in all the Soviet Union, but no one wanted to admit it. I hung on to the Kleenex in my over coat pocket until it was pretty shopworn.

And so we departed at the beginning of the fifth day at somewhere around 6:30 AM. Our hosts, who were good hosts, took us to the bar near the Swiss Air terminal. The hosts ordered brandy. I not only enjoyed the brandy with our hosts, but once I found my airplane seat, the steward said we had the look of someone happy to leave the Soviet Union. And we couldn’t eat until we landed at Warsaw. And so it seemed natural to polish off two more brandies before breakfast. I never missed the Soviet Union.

 

Rumania
Before we got to Moscow, we sat for a long time in Bucharest waiting for the Aeroflot flight to Moscow. Near us sat a man with a lighted cigar in one hand and a cigarette in the other puffing in alternate intakes. Unlike Clinton, he inhaled both. Dave Dietz said simply, “He wants to get his life over with.” It made sense to me.

Aeroflot, the national airline of the USSR, gave each of us in the first class cabin a roll out ruler, the kind that you pull out and push back in. It was a full meter with millimeter markings as well. Finally, it had Cyrillic instructions to mark certain places in the tape. Unfortunately, I had no immediate use for a Russian tape so I offered it to my two sons-in-law. They didn’t really look hard for a use for it, so it fell into disrepair. I lost it.

 

Poland
Now, let’s get this straight. There are two stand-out places behind the Iron Curtain – Hungary and Poland. We’ll have to get to the Hungarians at a later date even though they have the most radiant set of women in all of Europe. The Poles are tough and defiant. They show it in their love of colors. They will not be undone by a collection of ragamuffins like the Russians. They may be under the yoke of the Rasputins of the East, but they remind us that they are like a radish. They are red on the outside but white on the inside. So much for red all the way through.

The Forum Hotel in Warsaw was built to some sort of Western specifications. It didn’t have enough elevators and the windows failed to open. They didn’t seem to have air conditioning. However, at the end of each hall by the elevators, stood two fairly enormous machines. They had been brought back from the West and were called Shoe Shine Machines. The shoe shine machines made it into a first class hotel. No matter that the ordinary bureaucrat never shines his shoes, the fact was that the many shoe shine machines made it a World Class Hotel. Even the Plaza had no machines like these.

Each of these machines came with English, Polish and French signs. There were two different shining machines – one on the left for the left foot, and about two feet on the right side of the machine, one for the right foot. Obviously, one stood on his right foot and stuck his left foot into the shining machine. Then he stood on the left foot and stuck his right foot into the right shining machine. Both shining machines were about a foot off the ground. Well, I’m sorry about the old Polish joke routine, but the signs said in English and Polish and French, “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SHINE BOTH OF YOUR SHOES AT THE SAME TIME.” I suppose some Russian or a member from an East European country, may have tried to shine both shoes at one. It would have made for quite a splatter in that hotel hall.

We leave with one more attempt to outdo the West. In each room there were book marks. That shows the sensitivity to higher learning for the patrons at the Forum Hotel. Unfortunately, the book marks had an adhesive on the back to paste in the prescribed page. Well, their hearts were in the right place and remember, we’re red on the outside but white all the way through.

The old Soviet system had not many admirers. It collapsed of its own weight. Think of the planning in every East European capital called Plannization. Ah well, it is mostly all gone now. Let’s see what the new tomorrow may bring.

 

E. E. Carr
December, 1997
Essay #2 (Old Format)

~~~

It’s the little details that I love about these essays. Who knew that kleenex-seekers would be out of luck in the Soviet Union? I’d have been miserable for that alone, unless the SU also was short on cats and cedar. The adhesive bookmarks definitely take the cake, though.