I left Christiane and Volcker at the Munich train station on Wednesday October 10 1973 and headed out by train using my rail pass, on my own again, this time headed to Mainz to take a boat up the Rhine river. I was due to meet my mom’s friend Giselle in Paris in six days and I decided in the interest of time that I would pass on exploring the Black Forest for now. My new plan was to spend a few days touring the great historic river, which separated France from Germany, that Patton’s army breached in World War II with my dad as an artillery platoon leader, and that I had done a report on in sixth grade with ample assistance from my dad. A couple of my fellow young backpackers that I had spent the night with in the Bern train station had suggested that the sightseeing boat ride up the Rhine and then down the Mosel were spectacular.
In the narrow hallway of the train I passed a young adult guy, maybe a few years older than me, wearing an American army uniform, shiny black boots and a beret, which I figured meant he was in some sort of elite unit, maybe airborne. He seemed distracted and distant and did not look me in the eye, even though we had to do an awkward little dance to get around each other in the narrow aisle, me with my big backpack on my back, him moving into a sitting compartment momentarily to let me clomp by in my own not so shiny black hiking boots. I suddenly remembered that the war must still be going on in the Middle East, and though I didn’t think the U.S. was involved directly, since Israel, Syria and Egypt were, then the U.S. and the Soviet Union were probably already active behind the scenes and mustering various forces just in case the other side made some big military move.
It was Thursday October 4th 1973 when I debarked the train from Bern Switzerland in Munich Germany, fifty pound (or should I say 22 kilo) pack on my back, bleary from lack of sleep, but happy to recognize Christiane and Volcker on the train platform smiling and scanning the numerous people exiting the train. I on the other hand looked much different than the five foot six inch short haired fifteen-year-old kid they had met three years ago. Now I had a long curly mop of hair, was six feet and even taller wearing my two-inch-heeled shoes (which I typically wore instead of my big clunky hiking boots which still hurt my feet and hung from my pack). When Christiane figured out by process of elimination who I was she started waving vigorously and her face lit up. Volcker followed her lead and waved as well, though more sedately, and put on his best charming smile.
We did not make it into Switzerland that day due to an unexpected detour by our last ride, a forty-something guy hauling a big sailboat behind his VW bus who seemed somewhat crazy or at least very very scatterbrained. With darkness approaching he took us into the town of Friedrichshafen in the very southernmost part of Bavaria, where he said he was going to participate the next morning in a big boat race. The town was on the north shore of a forty mile long lake called the Bodensee, which made up part of the border between West Germany and Switzerland. It was a beautiful town with great views of the lake. The blue-gray water blended into the blue-gray somewhat hazy sky at dusk to make the interface between the two indistinguishable, and with the far shore hidden in the haze, it felt like the town was on the edge of an endless abyss.
With all the bravado I could muster I left the hotel and my travel companion Angie, the two of us having decided to part company, I to continue some version of our original planned trip to the continent, and her to stay in London and hook up with her parents who had planned a trip to England. Though I was not excited about continuing, and part of me wanted to bail on the whole odyssey and return home, I could not bear the sense of defeat I knew I would feel if I gave up the adventure, even now alone and on my own. Like it or not, for my own still tenuous self respect, I had to continue. I knew at some level I was throwing myself into a hugely developmental “deep end” that I was in no way looking forward to but determined to traverse somehow and return home a triumphant European traveler.
I missed the 1968 generation. I came too late. That’s when we were still all together moving in the right direction. Now the momentum is shattered. People are turning inward and cruising. But maybe because I’m not part of the 1968 “Vietnam” generation I’m not disillusioned. My time may still be to come.
I felt I was somehow too young, born too late to have the bonafides to be an actual “hippie” radical, like my good friend Avi’s older brother or the characters in the movie The Strawberry Statement. It was like that boat had sailed and I could only at this point be some sort of poser wannabe… no thank you!
When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
Dear friends and family… For the 7th year, I will be riding in the North Valley Caring Services bike-a-thon to raise money for this great community organization that supports the emergence of this poor mostly Hispanic community in Panorama City, just a couple miles east of where I live. This year’s event is on Saturday, March 28, just four days before my 60th birthday!
From its beginnings as a soup kitchen, NVCS has grown to offer an array of programs that help individuals and families, including Adult ESL Courses, Early Childhood Education, and Parenting Classes; a Youth Program and a Workforce Development program. In addition they have added further services in response to community requirements, including Holiday Toy Give-Away, Thanksgiving Meal, Health Screenings and Referral Services.
Please support my effort by making a donation of $25, $50, $100 or whatever amount you can give by clicking the “Donate” button below! My goal this year is to raise $1000 for them!
To learn more about North Valley Caring Services and the great work they do, go to their website at www.nvcsinc.org.