Thursday, July 31, 2008

Aunt Grace

Word came yesterday that my Aunt Grace died near Atlanta. She was the wife of my Uncle Bill, who was my father's brother. He died about 18 years ago. Uncle Bill and Aunt Grace lived in Atlanta pretty much their entire life together. They were well-to-do, and she liked the life in Atlanta society. In some ways, she was a little standoffish, but in other ways she was very caring. Just when you thought you had figured her out, she would surprise you. For example, she used to dispise going to Greenwood to visit Grandmother. After all, Greenwood was a small town, and it wasn't Atlanta. It didn't have much to offer in her mind. But, in her later life, she moved to Greenwood and lived there for a few years. We all thought that was funny, but Aunt Grace was determined not to be pigeon-holed. Even though she was getting older, she would drive herself in her Cadillac everywhere. She had a small dog called Coco who was her companion for many years. When Uncle Bill was alive, they built a log cabin in their backyard, and turned it into a show place. After he retired, they were going to move to an antibellum house outside Atlanta. They were to sign the papers on a Monday, and it got hit by lightning on Sunday and burned to the ground. They kept their house in Atlanta. I used to get in trouble with my parents about what I used to call Aunt Grace. I would refer to her as "George Washington". With her white hair, standing up straight, her high forehead, and her sharp nose, she looked to me as George on the one dollar bill. I didn't mean any disrespect. She came to my father's funeral in Greenwood by herself, which was the last time I saw her. In the last year, her health started to get worse. It was clear that her time was short. My cousin Ann Foster did a great job in taking care of her. She was a very independent woman. Aunt Grace, we loved you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Being There

My favorite book of all-time is "Being There" by Jerzy Kosinski. It is the story of a man, who was a gardener who got displaced. Through a series of misadventures, he becomes the nation's foremost philosopher and perhaps candidate for President. A simple man with little brains who loves one thing--television. It is a great story about how our society makes people famous, who don't deserve to be famous. If you don't want to read the book, which isn't very long, you can watch the film starring Peter Sellers. It was close to the last role he played. He did a brilliant job. Andy Warhol talked about everyone would get that 15 minutes of fame. Marshal McLuhan spoke on the medium is the message or massage, depending on your point of view. Our society promotes fame and fortune. There are famous people out there who shouldn't be famous. I am not talking about those folks who do criminal things to be famous. I am talking about folks with no talent who get famous. Consider William Hung. He couldn't sing, but he became a joke and actually released a cd of music. There are a lot of other examples. But, back to me, since this blog is about me and my world. TV has shaped my life. Movies too. Music too. But, mostly TV. My values and character has been shaped by TV and some movies. I guess it is a sad state of affairs, but I watched a lot of TV growing up. Kids shows, westerns, comedies, variety shows, the list is endless. I wasn't allowed to watch really violent shows at first. Later on, I got to watch those. What if we didn't have a TV? I don't know. There was a kid in our high school who didn't have a TV. He was a brainiac. Does that mean that TV corrupts and makes everyone dumb down? No, because there are a lot of stimulating shows on TV, but sometimes you just need mindless fluff. If you read "Being There" or see the movie, you will know something more about my psyche. And thus, something more about me. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Naming Kids

I was thinking about the thought process that parents have in naming their babies. Now, before anyone has any questions, I am not thinking about this because of any impending event in my life. I don't have any children and probably never will. But, I was named for my Mother's father--Walter Merrill. He was a judge and lived in Alabama. Thus, my full name is Walter Merrill Durst (the first). My mother had a brother named Walter, too. For a long time, my Uncle Walter thought I was named for him, but I was actually named for my Grandfather. My brother was named for my father, who was John Kemp Durst. Some would refer to Daddy as "senior", and my brother as "junior", but in fact, Daddy was John K. Durst III, and my brother is John K. Durst IV. So, you have those people who name their kids for famly members. Then, there are other creative ways. One friend of mine is named Aubrey. She was named for a wonderful song called "Aubrey" by Bread. If you aren't familiar with it, I am sure it is on iTunes. Check it out. It fits my friend Aubrey. Then, there is my friend Brandi. She was named for the song "Brandy" by Looking Glass. The song was a strange choice, based on what it is about--a bar maid. But, it makes for a good story. Then, there is my friend Joni. She was named for a singer named Joni James. Her father heard a song by her on the radio and decided that would be a nice name for his new daughter. Some people name their children based on Bible characters. The trend now is to either use last names as first names or as some sort of new-age names. When Frank Zappa named his kids Moon-Unit and Dweezil, people laughed. But, other celebrities wanted to make statements with their childrens' names. If anyone is reading this, who will have to face this issue down the road, please think of one thing. It is okay to be cutesy or thoughtful, and it is okay to give a name that expresses character. But, also think of if your child will be picked on by their peers because of thier name. If they go to a fancy private school, like many celebrity kids will, then I don't guess it will matter, but other kids will be cruel if your children are called "Moon", "Chevrolet", or "Captain Kirk". So, be careful.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Traffic Flow

I have noticed recently that there are a lot of followers out there, but not many leaders. That is in traffic. If you are on a four-lane highway (or more), there are far more people in the right lane than the left. Okay, on freeways, the left lane is for a faster flow. Don't you just hate it when the slow people get in the left lane on the freeways? Especially when it is rush hour? But, I am not talking about freeways. I am talking about the city streets. Recently, I have noticed that it is comfortable to be in the right lane, even if you are not turning right. The left lane can be empty, but everybody is in the right lane. Maybe they are having a party, and I wasn't invited. But, I am looking at the left lane, completely open, and nobody but me is on it. Let's give you an example. In Greenville, there is a big mall called Haywood. In fact, it's about the only mall in Greenville. They say over a hundred stores are in it. People from miles around come to this mall. It is right by an interstate/freeway. The main road that goes by the mall is called Haywood Road. It is a very busy street with lots of other stores and restaurants lining both sides leading to the mall. If you are coming up the road, with the mall on the right, the right lane is used for turning into the mall. So, you would think that all those people in the right lane would be going to the mall. But, Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! Some do turn, but the majority are just following the one in front, when the left lane is open to get around these people. I don't know, but if I have to get somewhere, the last thing I want to do is to be stuck in traffic, when there is a way of getting around the slowpokes. Now, I do not have a lead foot. I used to, when I was younger, but I have realized that the older I get, the slower I drive. But, for goodness sake people. Take the opportunity to look around and see that there is another lane you can get into. But, if you insist on being in the right lane, and you aren't turning into the mall, watch the grass grow on your side. I will look at it later, but not now.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frances Snipes

I am going to a funeral tomorrow for a woman, who could be best described as the mirror-image of my Mother. Her name was Frances Snipes. She and her husband Roger knew my parents in New Orleans around the time I was born. In fact, Roger was one of my father's students. When Daddy went to Columbia to be head of the South Carolina Baptist Convention's Sunday School Department, he asked Roger to be his right-hand and had up the Adult work. The Snipes were so close to our family, that my father would often call me "Roger" instead of "Walter". Mrs. Snipes and my Mother had many things in common. For one, they looked a lot alike and could have been sisters. They also loved to read. They had three children--Vonda, Cynthia and Stephen. Vonda was the closest to my age. She was the one who invited me to join the youth choir on January 4th, 1970 at Kilbourne Park Baptist Church. She was the catalyst that effectively saved my lfe. I would be dead now, if it hadn't been for that invitation. I taught Steve how to read. So, I have a lot of history with that family. When I decided to leave Macy's last year, Frances Snipes was the first person that I told. We rejoiced in the decision. The next day, she and Roger came in the store, and we had a prayer on the floor. Roger has been the one with ill health, having heart problems. Frances was the one with the strength, but she was called to Heaven first. We cannot plan things like that. We always thought that Daddy would outlive Mother, but that was not God's plan. So, the next two days will be difficult. The visitation will be this afternoon, and I will see a lot of people I haven't seen in years, but it will be just like yesterday. The funeral tomorrow should be a celebration. A celebration of love, faith, and going forward. But, there will be tears. When someone dies rather suddenly, you can't prepare for it as well. You must hold on to your faith. It is okay to cry. When my Mother died, many people referred to her as "a lady". Frances Snipes was a lady. I wish there were more of them.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Catching Up

Thanks for indulging me in reliving my Europe experiences. It was a very interesting trip. Some things I couldn't write about, but you got the gist of the trip. Maybe I'll find a rich American widow to take me back. Okay, so it has been three weeks since I could write about current stuff, and some things have happened. The Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, Andre Bauer, wanted me to meet with his chief of staff Jim Miles. So, I went to Columbia and talked with him about me and what I would like to do. There doesn't seem to be any openings in his office, but it was good to meet with him, and perhaps get my foot in the door. I want to make a difference in people's lives. I also have a real talent in finding lost souls. So, here is hoping that I will be able to help others, but not in a retail vein. For several months, I have been working with my friend Joni about her trying to decide whether she wants to leave Macy's or not. She had been there for 22 years, but things had gotten pretty bad for her. They kept heaping on jobs for her, but was not getting the support that she needed. One of her good friends died around Christmas. Another got hurt. She had surgery on her wrist. Her father has heart problems. So, she made her decision, and I think it was the right one. She realized, as I did, that there is life after Macy's. There is a world out there. Yes, it is a little scary, but life is too short. Joni is a very caring person. She cares about others, and I treasure our friendship. Maybe we can do something together in our quest to make a difference, but for now, she just needs to decompress. Well, I guess that's all for now. No, I haven't seen the new Batman movie. Maybe later.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Going Home

The day had come that we had been looking forward to and dreading at the same time. The tour was over, and we were flying home. We had been to England, Italy, Israel, West Germany, East Germany, Switzerland, France, and Spain. All in 21 days. We had experienced a lot of stuff. We had fun and fear. There had been laughter and tears. We had even learned some things about the history of other places, as well as learning about ourselves. Now, it was time to go back to our home lives. Sandra and Talula never liked to be photographed without makeup, so I made a point to take a few pictures of them that morning, before boarding the bus to take us to the airport. They didn't appreciate it, but we were all in an up mood. It was a time of anticipation. "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" was our song. We got to the airport and boarded the 747 for the flight home. One of the ladies on our tour had her sword letter opener confiscated. She protested, saying that she had no desire to hijack a plane with a letter opener, but they took it away and didn't give it back. Never once did they ask me about my pen knife, which could have done more harm than her letter opener. We took off and realized what a special adventure we had. There were smiles and tears. And exhaustion. The plane landed briefly in Lisbon Portugal. We asked the flight attendant how long we were going to be there, and could we go into the airport, and she said we probably shouldn't, so I went out on the tarmac, just to say I was on Portuguese soil. Once again, we took off for home. The plane was packed with people. The movie shown in our section was the comedy "Ten from Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar. It was very funny. If you haven't seen it, you should. I could also see the musical "1776" from my seat in the next section. The 8-hour flight was pretty long. I tried to pass the time the best I could. Some people slept. Others played cards. I had written a song in Jerusalem called "Save the World for the Children". I wrote it from our experiences with the children in Nazareth that fought over the fruit, as well as the kids outside the Jerusalem museum. I worked on the music for the song on the plane. As a side note, Pope John Paul II blessed that song many years later for me. We got to New York and got our connection to Charlotte and then to Greenville. It was pretty late into the night, and jet lag had set in. The people in our tour were collapsing in their seats on the plane. Mr. Vivian told me after we landed that Talula, Sandra and I were using each other shoulders as pillows, and we looked as we were connecting as friends, as we didn't want our friendship to end. He had no idea how true that was. When we got back to Greenville, my parents were there to pick me up. Jim was there to get Sandra. We said goodbye and left. When I got home, Mother had tied a yellow ribbon around our oak tree. I saw Sandra one more time about a month later to exchange some pictures at her house. I saw Talula a few more times, and we keep in touch to this day. I have lost track of Judy and Sha. I think they are both married. Some of our tour members have died. Mr. Vivian died several years ago. Sandra and Jim are still married. I am still single. I am glad I went to Europe with these people. I would like to go back at some point and see some things again. I think I would appreciate them more. I got three hours college credit for going. I had to write a paper upon returning. I wrote one on the people we met along the way, but the professor wanted a paper on the history, so I had to write one on the places I went to, which I wasn't really sure about some of them and had to go to the library to see those places again. Much of it was a blur. So, I got the college credit, but beyond that, I got a chance to experience life, love, fear, being needed, and thankfulness of being an American. It was quite an experience. Three weeks.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Our tour of Barcelona started off with a trip to a cathedral. It was very pretty. While we were inside, looking at a chandelier, Sandra pulled out some glasses to look at it. I said something to her about not knowing she wore glasses. She said she only wore them to look at beautiful things. That was a surprise, as I had known her for almost two years. We then went to an art museum that had some more Picassos. And, we saw a statue of Columbus pointing to the New World, which is where we were headed tomorrow. We went to a artisan place to see glass made and other crafts. One of our tour ladies bought a sword letter opener which would be confiscated the next day by the airline security. We got back to the hotel and had lunch at a restaurant next to the hotel. When we got our bill, we about had a heart attack, because it was thousands of pesedas, but after some calculating, it was only about $5. The girls and I went back to the 9-story department store to do some more shopping. They sold records, and I wished I had bought some Spanish Beatles records. But, that was another opportunity lost, like the 1-carat diamond necklace for $150 in Israel. We looked into going to the beach, but it was 30 miles away, and we would have to take the train, so we decided not to go to the beach. Toward the end of the afternoon, Sandra asked me to go with her to the post office to make the long distance call to Jim to tell him she wasn't marrying him after all and don't bother to pick her up at the airport tomorrow. We got to the post office, and after a few gestures and attempts to communicate what she wanted, she got a line to the US. She went into a private booth, while I waited. After her call was over, she came out and said she had talked to Jim. On our walk back to the hotel, I could tell she was upset. I don't know what Jim told her, but she told me that she had decided to marry him after all. I was crushed, but that was that. No debate. "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." And to top it off, when I got back to the hotel room and cut on the music, it was the theme to "Brian's Song", which was one of the most depressing movies ever filmed. At our dinner that night, Mr. Vivian went around the table asking what our biggest memory of our 3-week trip. That was very hard, as each country had its own ups and downs. But, I went with Israel and didn't elaborate. There were a lot of life-changing experiences in Europe and the Middle East. I grew a lot in those three weeks. Now, we were going home.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On to Barcelona

We got up the next morning, and it was raining. We got on the bus and headed for the airport to fly to our last destination--Barcelona, Spain. On the airplane, Sandra told me that she had decided not to marry Jim back in the States. She said she was going to call him to tell him not to pick her up at the airport, when we got back in a few days. As the plane was descending to the Barcelona airport, we flew over the Spanish Riviera, and we thought it would be great to go to the beach. People were waving at us flying over them. When we would get to the airports on the trip, we would just go from the plane, through the terminal, and to our bus. So, I was doing that in Barcelona. I heard a man behind me yelling "Alto Alto". I didn't speak Spanish, so I just kept walking. I heard him again yelling "Alto Alto". I knew alto was a singing voice, but I was a baritone. Then the man, who was a Spanish soldier, stuck his machine gun in my face, and said "Alto". I figured that he was saying "Stop", as I didn't have to go to the bathroom anymore. It seems that they required us to go through customs, so I did. I tried to tell him I was an American, but that didn't seem to matter. Spain was being ruled by Franco and was still something of a dictatorship. There were signs and pictures of Franco everywhere. We got to our hotel, and it was far from being a four-star hotel. There were speakers in the rooms that broadcasted music. There was a woman on our tour, who was a Spanish teacher. She found the same thing about the Spanish language that I did about French. Her Spanish was not the same as they spoke in Barcelona. The Spanish she knew was Mexican Spanish. So, she could pick out certain words but not much else. We went walking around the city and found a 9-story department store in the center of the city. They had everything, so naturally the girls and I went shopping. During our visit there, I got lost from the girls for a few minutes. It was a rather frantic time, but we found each other again before going back to the hotel. Sandra wanted to call home, but the hotel said that there had been a fire and the long distance phone lines had been cut. We just thought that the hotel didn't want to put the call through, so they told her that she would have to go to the post office two blocks away to make a call, and they were closed and wouldn't be open until the next day. So, her call to Jim would have to wait one more day. We found Barcelona to be a rather stark and boring place. Maybe we were just tired and ready to go home. Two more days.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Sunday in Paris. It was a beautiful day. We started our tour at the Louvre. We were warned not to take flash pictures, so of course some of our crowd did, and got in trouble. I took some non-flash pictures, and they were hard to see but turned out okay. The highlight was the Mona Lisa, but there were a lot of classic art there. From the Louvre, our bus took us around Paris and saw some sights. We ended up at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where we went to a service. I didn't understand the language, but I fell in love with the Catholic style. It was a very moving experience. We went to the Arch de Triumphe, and I almost got run over by cars, as I tried to get a picture. Folks didn't want to stop for pedestrians. We drove to the Museum of Modern Art and saw some Picassos. I was used to interpret the art for others in the group. Outside of the museum, there was a guy on roller skates dancing. There was also a nice view of the Eiffel Tower, and I took pictures of Sandra and Talula sitting on a wall. Unfortunately, we did not get to go to the tower itself. After the tour was over and got back to the hotel, the girls wanted to go shopping. We went by a perfume store. Sandra said that Paco Rabanne turned her on, so naturally I bought a bottle. We got back to the hotel. After dinner, I went for a walk. I walked along the Seine and ended up at the Tuilleries. It had gotten dark, and I was sitting near a fountain. I was alone, but noticed a guy getting closer to me. I started to walk away, and he began to follow me. I got the impression that he was going to rob me, so I began to run. He ran behind me. I lost him by running through traffic along four blocks before getting back to the hotel. I thought I was fluent in French, having had five years of French in school. That was until a man came up to me on the street. He started a conversation with me, and he was talking a mile a minute. The only thing I could pick out was that he was asking directions. My fluent French ego was crushed, when I had to tell him in French that I didn't know, I was an American. He patted me on the back and apologized. It turned out that the French I learned in school was the French they spoke on the Riviera, which was different that Parisian French. The language was basically the same, but there were different idioms. Our trip was winding down. Our last stop was coming up. A lot of experiences with more to come.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Train to Paris

It was Saturday. We left Lucerne by train to go to Paris. The four girls and I had a compartment along a narrow corridor. It seems like everytime we had an opportunity to relax on our trip, things happened that did not allow us to do what we wanted to do. This train ride was no different. There were some Portuguese soldiers on the train, which was packed with people heading to Paris. They were supposed to be in the economy area of the train, but they wandered into our section and stared at the girls through the glass door of our compartment. I locked the door and put my feet up on the latch. They were trying to get in the door. We called for the conductor to come and chase them away, but they came back. It gave us a real sensation of what animals at a zoo experience by people making faces at them and trying to impress them. I had been wearing a fake wedding ring on the trip that I used in a play in college. As one soldier was staring at Sandra, I pointed to the ring and pointed to Sandra. The soldier pointed to his finger with no ring and pointed to Sandra. It was getting pretty scary. The conductor came back and chased them away a second time. We were then able to go to the dinner car and have lunch. After lunch, we tried to sleep for a while, as the train went through the French countryside. Sandra put her head on my lap. As I stroked her hair, she looked up and mouthed the words "I love you". I mouthed to her "I love you too". She smiled and went to sleep. Maybe in Paris, we could be together. I decided that we would go to Maxim's in Paris. The fanciest restaurant I knew. I was so looking forward to our time together. They made the announcement that Paris was coming up. The girls awoke, and we saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It was very romantic. When we got to the hotel in downtown Paris, it was in a wonderful location. It was on the Place d'Opera. At the other end of the street was the Paris Opera House. A few blocks away was the Louvre. Close by was the Tuilleries Gardens. As we were unpacking, Sandra called me to come to her room. She had a problem. When I got there, she said she had broken a tooth, and it was cutting into her cheek. She was in some pain and needed a dentist. Since I was fluent in French, I asked the concierge where we could go, and he suggested I call the American Hospital. It was Saturday night, and they didn't want to talk to me. I told them that it was an emergency, and they told me it wasn't and hung up. We were in France, where Americans weren't liked as much as some other countries. I found a dentist in the phone book and called him. I tried to tell him it was an emergency, and he said it wasn't, but he told me what to do until she could get back to the States. She could put some candle wax on the spot and eat soft foods. So much for our dinner date at Maxim's. After she got some wax, the four girls and I went to an ice cream shop a block away from the hotel. The shop workers weren't nice to us either, but at least we did get some ice cream. We walked around a little afterwards and did some window shopping. Then, we went back to the hotel and to sleep. July 21st was my father's birthday, and maybe it was the beginning of a new love for both of us.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


The morning started with a bus trip to Mount Pilatus, one of the many in the area within the Alps. We got up to the top of the mountain to find a lodge, as well as many black birds flying around. The four girls wanted me to take a picture of them sitting on a wall with the mountains in the background. As I was getting ready, Mr. Vivian told me that he wanted two other women in our tour to be in the picture too. He said we had been ignoring them. Yeah, so? We reluctantly let them in the picture, but it was not a pleasant shot. I was glad I had my jacket, because it was pretty cold up there. We took a ski lift back down the mountain and then headed back to Lucerne. The afternoon was free. I saw swans in a lake, eating whole apples, and watching the apples go down the swans' necks. The four girls and I went shopping that afternoon in the old city of Lucerne. We came upon a crystal shop. When we went in, we got roses from the shopkeeper. Very nice touch, even if we didn't buy anything. Sandra wanted an Omega watch and saw how cheap they were being sold. We had gone to a diamond factory in Israel days before, and they had a one-carat diamond in a necklace for $150. I wanted to buy it for her, but I couldn't afford it. So, now that we were in Switzerland, I wanted to do something nice for her. As we headed back to the hotel, we saw the movie theatre in the next block. I told her that we should go to the movies. We looked into it and found that the film was in French. She said she wouldn't understand it, but I was fluent in French, so I told her that I could translate it for her. She said okay, as we wanted to have some time alone together. After supper in the hotel, Judy, Sha and Talula said they wanted to go out walking around the old part of the city. Sandra said she wasn't feeling too well and looked at me, and I said I wasn't feeling too well either. We were trying to stay out of the walk, so we could go to the movies. But, Mr. Vivian said that if the other three wanted to go for a walk, then I had to go with them to protect them. Sandra decided to go with them. So much for us trying to be together. We had walked a couple of blocks and came upon five Swiss soldiers. They were drunk. They tried to grab the girls, but they got away, or at least I thought so. I had a habit of counting to four to account for all the girls, but all I got to was three. I looked back and saw the soldiers with Sandra. They had made a circle and were passing her around the circle. She called out my name. I ran over, and grabbed one soldier by the shoulder. As I spun the guy around, her hair was on his shoulder, and some of it were pulled in the process. The only time I had used my knowledge of karate, I put the soldier on the ground. It was enough of a shock to the other four soldiers that I could get Sandra away, and we ran down a foot bridge along with the other three girls. We were afraid that the soldiers would come after us, so we ran a few blocks before heading back to the hotel. I am not a typically violent person, in fact I am a rather peaceful person. But, Sandra needed me, and I rescued her. I asked if her head hurt from my pulling her hair. She said yes, but it was worth it to get away from them, because there was no telling what would have happened to her, if I had not been there. It was nice being needed. Mr. Vivian asked us how our walk had been. "Fine". No need to tell him what happened. Sandra thanked me, but said that had we gone to the movies, none of this would have happened. I knew that, but the majority ruled. A rule that we had to do since being in Israel. What if...?

Saturday, July 19, 2008


We left Weisbaden, and I found out that the park I sat in the night before was in front of a casino. Great, I could have gambled. So, we headed on toward our next stop, which was Lucerne, Switzerland. Our bus went through the Black Forest region of Germany. It was a beautiful section of Germany with quaint houses that looked like they had not been touched by war. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that served bottled water. The labels had my last name (Durst) on them, so I took one with me. After lunch, our bus pressed forward, and we arrived at the border between Germany and Switzerland at a place called Rheinfall. It was on the Rhine River, and it was where there were waterfalls and rapids along the river. It is truly the most beautiful place I have ever seen in the world. If you ever get a chance to go, you need to. Although there are some tourist areas around it, the area is for the most part unspoiled. We got back on the bus and continued on into Switzerland. We passed by Zurich and got to Lucerne. We were at the base of the Alps, and the temperature was colder than what we had seen before. From 127 degrees in Israel just a few days before to 50 degrees now. It was a bit of a shock. Thankfully, I had my jacket. Our hotel was centrally located in the middle of the city. There were shops nearby, as well as a movie theatre. We were pretty tired from our trip and went to bed. We had seen a lot of very pretty sights that day. Especially Rheinfall.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Boat Ride

As we left the hotel for the airport, we got our passports back. I guess nobody in our group were spies, or they didn't find out what happened to us in Jerusalem. We flew out of Berlin and went back to Frankfurt, where we saw the giant cow again. We then got on a bus for a tour of the German countryside. We went to several towns including Rudescheim, which has one of the smallest streets in the world, or at least that's what they said. We also went to Koblenz, where Sandra's father was during World War II. The bus had a radio that was tuned to Armed Forces Radio, and we got to hear pop music. It was so refreshing. Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Get Down" was a favorite, and "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" became our theme song. We changed the line "It's been three long years" to "three long weeks". Also, Sandra would take naps on the buses. We laughed a lot about her sleeping with her mouth open, but she denied that. I got a picture of her doing that and showed her later. She was amazed. We got on a tour boat on the Rhine for a supposedly three-hour tour. We saw castles and other stuff. We were amazed at the farmers who were growing corn on the sides of mountains. Cows were even grazing on the hills. How they didn't tumble down, I will never know. The trip continued for six hours. It turned out that we were going upstream, which made it so long. Everyone spent the time differently. Some just enjoyed the sights. Some napped. Others interacted with the boat crew. Sandra used to say, to quote a Stephen Stills song, "If you can't be with the one you love, Love the one you're with". When we finally docked and got off the boat, I took a picture of Sandra coming off the boat. There were 22 guys from the crew watching her through the windows of the boat. We got back on the bus and went to Weisbaden, where we were going to spend the night. By now, we were almost two weeks into our trip. It was a little misty that night, kind of like what we had seen in London. There was a big park across from our hotel. I went over there that night and sat to think. I wanted to ponder what had happened so far, and what was to come. Some of the others of the group went out to a club. I didn't do what Mr. Vivian wanted me to do, in that he wanted me to stay with them no matter what. But, this night was a night to reflect. And unwind.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

East Berlin

People have often wished to go back in time. Maybe to right a wrong. Maybe to say something to a lost love. Maybe to change history. We went back in time, when we crossed Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. First, the bus had to go through several angled turns through the Berlin Wall. Then, we were stopped and boarded by a man with a machine gun. He was making sure that we were tourists. We were told not to take pictures of the Berlin Wall from the East side. They didn't want anyone to see vulnerabilities in the wall. Of course, I took pictures, but wasn't caught. The buildings near the wall looked pretty much the same as they did after being bombed in World War II. They were shells with no windows. It was pretty strange. We were also told not to speak to anyone. We stopped at a cheesecake shop to get authentic German cheesecake. The waitress was asking us about America. Suddenly, a man in a trenchcoat showed up, and she ran away. He was KGB. The USSR embassy was across the street from the restaurant. There were symbols of the Soviet Union everywhere. Statues of Lenin were at street corners. The hammer and sickle were on buildings. As prosperous as West Berlin was, it was totally opposite in East Berlin. We didn't see much color. It was sort of like stepping into a black and white movie. The guide made a point to tell us that an international youth convention was to take place son in East Berlin. We did get to see where the Reichstag stood and other World War II era buildings. We ended up at the Soviet War Memorial, where thousands of Russian soldiers were buried in mass graves. This was a time, when we were glad to be Americans. As we were leaving East Berlin, the guard with the machine gun came on the bus again to look for escapees, and a man moved a giant mirror under the bus to look for people hiding. They were serious. On the west side of the wall, I saw a billboard advertising Fanta. It had my last name on it. "Durst Macht Spass Mit Fanta". I took a picture of it. That was cool. The afternoon was free to do what we wanted. While most of the group took a nap, I went across the street from the hotel to the Berlin Zoo. It was a nice park. One strange thing to me though was the sight of a group of school kids. They appeared to be high school age. All of the boys had blonde hair and were tall. I felt that they were the product of the Aryan movement that the Nazis had to produce perfect children. After I left the zoo, I found that Talula wanted to go to the large church nearby to get a German hymnal for her pastor back home. So, I went with Talula and Sandra to the church. We first went to their gift shop to see about buying one, but they had none for sale. We then found a priest at the church to ask him if we could pay him for a hymnal. He got very upset and started to yell at us about offering money for a book. He was telling us that we were disgracing the church. I think it was a communication problem, but he said absolutely not were we to buy a hymnal. Talula and I were just shocked. As we left the church, Sandra pulled a hymnal out of her oversized purse and gave it to Talula. She had stolen the hymnal. I would like to formally apologize to the church now. We ran back to the hotel, thinking someone would call the police, but no one did. Thankfully. We then went to a department store to do some shopping. I had a knack for being able to convert American money to the money of the particular country we were in, so I became a human calculator for the girls doing the shopping. We also found that if you make a stab at the particular language, the clerks will be more helpful. A nice German woman helped us look at towels, among other things. Berlin was a nice respite from the terror that was Israel. It was nice to be home, even though I had never been there before, at least in this life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wheels Up

Very early Monday morning, we got up to leave Jerusalem. It was still dark, and folks in the neighborhood were still asleep. We were flying out of Israel to go to Germany, which was our next stop on our trip, but having to get up at 3am to leave was a little unusual. The 16 tourists crammed into two taxis, along with our luggage and drove to Tel Aviv and the airport. No more being afraid. We got to the airport, but still had fear in the back of our heads. How far did their tentacles reach? The security at the airport was impressive. Sandra gave her wooden camel to me to carry, as she had a lot of other stuff. There was an Arab businessman in front of me in the security line. He said he sold tractors and was on his way to Paris. The security people would not let him board the plane. He protested saying that his business depended on him going to Paris, but they said no. Another man had his dirty underwear inside a vase. The security people went through the underwear to look at the vase. That was kind of gross. Then, they came to me. They opened my vitamins and looked at them. They also looked at the camel. I told them that it was made of wood, but they wanted to make sure there wasn't anything inside the camel, so they broke it in half to determine it was solid. Then, they gave it back to me in two halves. Sandra was very upset. I told her that maybe we could glue it back together, but it would never be the same. With all of the security, they never asked me about my penknife, which was quite strange. We boarded the plane for Frankfurt, and we breathed a sigh of relief with "wheels up". We were free of Sam, Omar and Sam. It may have been something of an international incident. If anyone believes that the Agency doesn't use ordinary people, think again. So, we headed to Frankfurt, West Germany. There was a layover there, and we had lunch at the airport--hamburgers and cokes. At last, food that we knew. The bill was $15 for five hamburgers and five cokes, which was a lot back then, but it was worth it. Talula grew up in the country of South Carolina and raised cows. There was a giant sculpture of a cow in the middle of the airport. It was quite a sight, probably advertising milk, but she felt it was a little like home. From Frankfurt, we boarded a plane to Berlin. The new plane had pilots that could fly into East Germany. Apparently, pilots had to be approved by East Germany to go into their airspace. We arrived at the Berlin airport, and I got the distinct feeling that I had come home. My Durst family was from Germany. I also have a strong interest in the history of World War II. When we were in the elevator at the airport, heading toward our bus, I was humming "Deutschland Uber Alles". I got some stares, but it didn't matter. I was home. By the time we got to our hotel, it was dark. We had been told not to give up our passports no matter what. But, the hotel asked us to give them our passports for us to be checked out. Mr. Vivian told us to do so. What if something happened to us? We had just left Israel, where we had been threatened. Our passports were our security. Now, we didn't have that security. The girls and I took a short walk near the hotel, just to see Berlin at night. The city was alive with lights and traffic. We counted our blessings of being away from Israel, and we were going to have fun again. Hopefully.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jerusalem Sunday

We had come to Sunday in Jerusalem. Our last full day in Israel. We went to John the Baptist's boyhood home. We then went to the Jewish side of Jerusalem to the Israeli Museum. While we were waiting outside to get in, we came upon some small children. One little boy was being picked on by the others. I really identified with him. When the kids saw us, they all wanted us to take their pictures, but the one boy stood off to the side. I went over to him and took his picture. I just wanted him to know he wasn't alone. We then went into the museum and saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We left the area and went back toward our hotel. We took a group walk to the Baptist Church to go to the service. All of us younger folks of our tour were a little wary of being on the street, so close to Sam, Omar and Sam, but thankfully we didn't see them then. Sandra bought a solid wooden camel at the Baptist Book Store adjacent to the church. It was pretty big, at least one had to hold it in two hands. We went back to the hotel and was again confronted by the Arab boys. Prisoners once again. We were looking forward to leaving these troubles behind tomorrow, hopefully. We just didn't want an international incident on our hands. Little did we know...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Around Jerusalem

That morning, we were pretty scared. We knew that the boys knew about us. We knew about them. We couldn't tell Mr. Vivian, because he would have suggested we go home. So, we put on a brave face and went on the tour around Jerusalem. We went to the Dome of the Rock which smelled awful, because there were beautiful rugs inside, and everybody had to take their shoes off before going inside. You haven't lived until you smell all those sweaty feet. We then went to the Wailing Wall. We were told not to take pictures, since it was the Jewish Sabbath. There were armed soldiers making sure. I did anyway. It was a theme that continued throughout the trip. Take pictures of things you aren't supposed to. We went to Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. It was a very sacred place. We went to the place where the Last Supper was supposed to have been. We went inside the walled city of Jerusalem and saw many religious sites. All the while, there were two kids following our group, trying to sell us rolls of mints. Their selling technique was "1 for a quarter or 2 for 25 cents". They didn't have a concept of American money. We went for the "2 for 25 cents". As it turned out, the Arab boys had gotten these kids to follow us around. While the boys ran their store, the kids were keeping tabs on us. When we got back to the hotel for lunch, we ran into Sam, Omar and Sam. We were told that they would not hurt us, as long as we were on tour or inside our hotel, but if we ventured out by ourselves, we will be killed. They were serious. Dead serious. Mr. Vivian wanted us to continue on our tour that afternoon back to the Old City of Jerusalem. The 4 girls and I said we weren't feeling well and were going to stay at the hotel. So, we did. I went across the street to a drug store to get some Alka-Seltzer. The stress was making my stomach upset. I got to talking to an old Arab man and was asking him about the three boys. He told me that those boys were "crazy", and we were to stay away from them. The old man was very wise. I got back to the hotel. The girls wanted to go to a beauty salon near the hotel to get their hair done. I told them that it would be a bad idea, but they insisted. We couldn't go out the front door of the hotel, so we went through the service entrance. The beauty shop was behind the hotel and across a side street. We ran across the street and into the shop. The women there were very sympathetic to our plight and told us we were safe there. We stayed there for a couple of hours, until the word got out in the neighborhood that we were there. The boys showed up and stood outside the shop, waiting for us to come out. We were prisoners in the shop. The women called the police and disbursed the boys, and we ran back to the hotel. There are many fears in life. The fear for your life may be the biggest. That night at supper, the man from the consulate came back. We told him what had happened. Mr. Vivian was shocked, to say the least. The official said that we would be protected. The boys knew that they couldn't come into the hotel, so they stood out of our windows and taunted us from the street. What had we gotten ourselves into?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


The morning of July 13th, we boarded the bus to go sightseeing, but Mr. Vivian had an announcement to make. Because of what happened the night before, I was now the constant companion for Sandra, Talula, Judy and Sha. Where they would go, I would go too. If anyone wanted to do something, we all did it. The majority ruled. This meant that I would go shopping with the girls. No matter whether I wanted to or not. I had a "brown belt" in karate, and I carried a pen knife in my pocket. I was to be their bodyguard. So, off we went on our bus. We saw the place where the Good Samaritan was. We went to Jericho and then to Bethlehem. Nazar got us deals at an Arab shop. Bethlehem was an awe-inspiring place. We went to the Dead Sea. If you think you have experienced hot, you haven't until you go to the Dead Sea. There was a shop that sold ice treats there. The machine broke, as it got overworked. The temperature was 127 in the shade, and it was estimated it was around 135 in the sun. I got sunburned in the bus with tinted windows. We didn't go in the water, but I touched it, and it was hot. We also saw the caves from a distance, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. There were explosions nearby. We didn't know if someone was shooting at us, but the Israelis took it in stride. We headed back to Jerusalem for dinner. As we sat down to eat in the hotel restaurant, a man came to our table and sat down. He identified himself as someone who worked at the US consulate, which was near our hotel. He was the political attache, which was another way of saying that he worked for an Agency. The Company. So, he told us that he had understood that we had befriended 3 Arab guys who ran a souvenir shop near the hotel. We didn't know how he knew this, but he did. He said that we were not to associate with these boys. He said that Henry Kissinger was in Jerusalem to try and broker a peace, as war was eminent. The Yom Kippur war did occur in October of that year. We told the man that the boys had become our friends. He told us that the boys were not friends of the United States. They would be terrorists now. I asked the guy wouldn't the boys be suspicious if we suddenly cut off contact with them? The man said that was probably true, so we were to continue being friends with them and find out everything we could about them; who their friends were; what their feelings were; etc. Then, the man would come back each night at our hotel dinner for us to tell him what we found out about the boys. I asked him what if we didn't do this, and he said they would revoke our passports and send us home. He wasn't playing. This was serious. All I could think about was what would I tell my parents, who had paid for this trip for me? How could I explain it to them? So, we agreed. Then the man said that if we mentioned this to anyone, they would deny it. We were now working for an intelligence arm of the United States. We were scared, but we had no choice. The hotel staff were friends with the three Arab boys. Apparently, one of them told the three boys about our meeting with the man. That night, I was in my room and talking on the phone with Sandra in her room, and we heard a click on the phone. The hotel switchboard was listening to our conversation about the visit by the official. We realized that the boys had found out. We were now in trouble.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

To Jerusalem

We left the kibbutz and got back on the bus to continue our tour. Our tour guide was an Armenian man named Nazar. Because he was not Israeli meant that we could go to a few places in Arab areas without question. One was Samaria. Apparently some tourists could not see the well, where Jesus met the woman. We did. We had lunch in Tiberias on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was quite a strange restaurant. They served fish. The problem was that they caught the fish in the sea; threw it in boiling water to kill it; and then served it head and all. They gave you a knife and fork. You had to cut through the scales and bones to get to the meat. All with the eyes staring at you. It was like being in disecting class in Biology. In addition, the restuarant had windows that looked out over the water, and you could watch the fish being caught. The water had a gas slick on it, and folks just lost their appetites. I didn't eat fish for years after. After an afternoon of more sightseeing, he got to Jerusalem. We checked into our hotel and had dinner. It had been a long day. After dinner, Sandra, Judy, Talula and I went walking near the hotel and came upon a souvenir store a block from the hotel. We were looking for mother of pearl things, especially Bibles. The store had a lot of those things. There were three guys who ran the store named Sam, Omar and Sam. At least, that's what they told us. The guys were in their twenties and were smitten by the three girls. We began talking with them, and it was decided that they would take us on a walking tour around the area, after they closed their store that night. Each guy took a girl for the walk, and I was walking behind Sandra at the back. The boys had their arms around the girls, as we walked around the neighborhood. At one point, Sandra waved at me behind the boy's back, and I got the idea that she wanted me to get lost, so they could be alone with the guys. So, I proceeded to truly get lost. I wandered through neighborhoods that made the NYC ghettos look like swanky hotels. It was pretty scary. I came upon a group of orthodox Jews to try and get directions back to the hotel, but they didn't want to talk to me. It was getting close to midnight, and I was very lost. I found a cab and asked him to take me to the hotel. It turned out it was around the corner from where I was, and I gave him a dollar. As I got back to my room, Mr. Vivian was waiting and was very mad. Where had I been? Why wasn't I with the girls? Where had they been? I couldn't answer the questions. They got back to the hotel before me and didn't know where I was. It turned out that Sandra was just waving hello to me, not to get lost. They were apprehensive being with the guys without me around. So, Mr. Vivian changed the rules. From now on, I was to stay with the girls including Sha as their companion/bodyguard for the rest of the trip. Everything they did--I did. I was okay with it, but the girls didn't know that yet. It was a night, where we truly did experience the city that the tourists didn't usually see.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Northern Israel

July 11th was taken up with touring northern Israel. We left Tel Aviv and went by bus around the countryside. We saw a lot of Biblical sites. We ate lunch in Haifa but hadn't quite mastered Israeli food. The guide pointed out Lebanon from a mountaintop. It looked very beautiful and peaceful. In later years, it lost its beauty and peace. We were told not to take pictures of Israeli Army camps, but I did anyway. One nice thing about our bus tour was that we were allowed to get out of the bus and walk around at the sites. One place we went to was Nazareth. The boyhood home of Jesus. The hotel had given us a fruit basket as a going away present. Outside of Nazareth, we came upon a group of children. Everywhere we went, we were hounded by children wanting money. We were told not to give money to the kids, but we decided to give the fruit basket instead. It caused a riot. The kids fought over the fruit, and we watched from inside the bus as the dust rose around the kids. One boy was so proud that he came up with the peel from a grapefruit, as the insides had been obliterated in the fight. We saw how little these kids had, and how grateful we should be as Americans. It was only fruit to us, but it meant the world to them. We continued on and ended up at a kibbutz called Nof Ginosar. That's where we spent the night. It was a beautiful oasis. They had candy with a liquid center of brandy. Brandy candy was a big hit that night with the younger set. We tried to get Mr. Vivian to eat some, but either he knew what they were or else he didn't want candy. Too bad. It would have been fun to see him with a buzz. He had an infectious laugh. Tomorrow would be the beginning of a new chapter of the tour that was dangerous.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rome to Tel Aviv

The next morning, we were scheduled to leave at 10am for the airport for a flight to Tel Aviv. All the rooms were supposed to called by the hotel to get them up and ready for the day. We started assembling in the lobby of the hotel with our luggage to board the bus. Mr. Vivian noticed that Sandra and Talula were missing. He had me call their room, and I woke up Sandra who answered the phone. They never got the call. They rushed to get dressed and ran to meet the bus getting there right at 10. Sandra said that, as they passed by the bellhop from last night, as well as the desk clerk, they both smiled, as if they were getting the girls back from the incident with the bellhop. The girls were mad, but we were just glad to leave that hotel. We got to the airport and were rather frightened by seeing men with machine guns walking around the airport. It was the first time of us seeing this kind of security at an airport. We boarded the plane and flew to Tel Aviv. We flew across the Meditarranean Sea. It was long but beautiful. Upon arriving at Tel Aviv, some of the group referred to it as "Tel A Viva". We were looking forward to spending some time in Israel and be able to see things at a more casual pace. We checked into the Pan American Hotel on the coast of the Meditarranean. I saw some of the Watergate Hearings in the States on the TV in the hotel. That night, the girls hung out in the bar of the hotel. Judy befriended the bartender. I went out on the beach and put my toes in the Sea. Judy and the bartender walked along the beach, more or less. It was a time of winding down from the stress of leaving Rome. Little did we know what was about to come our way in the coming days.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When In Rome

This day, we toured Rome. It was a day packed with a lot of old stuff. We went to Vatican City and saw the Sistine Chapel. We were warned not to take pictures inside, but of course of our group did. I thought she was going to be arrested, but she said it was an accident, so she was forgiven. We didn't see the Pope. We went to Trevi Fountain and tossed coins which symbolized coming back at some point. We drove by the Colisseum but didn't stop. By the time lunch arrived, the group split up to find places to eat. I went with Sandra, Talula, Judy and Sha to an Italian restaurant. We had wine with our food. It was the first time I had ever drunk wine and got a little buzz. The main problem was that our breath smelled like wine, and Mr. Vivian disapproved of anyone drinking alcohol, so we tried our best to avoid him. I'm not sure he ever found out, but I think he did. Kids will be kids. That afternoon, we did more sightseeing like The Forum. The big thing about Rome is that everything is old. That night as I was fixing to go to bed, the phone rang. It was Sandra. She told me that I needed to get to their room, because she was afraid they were going to die. I knew there was a problem, because she never talked about death. I went down the hall and found she and Talula terribly afraid. What happened was that there was a push-button system to summon a bellhop, maid or concierge. They thought they had pressed the button for a maid to bring more towels, but instead it the bellhop button. When the knock came on the door, they said "Come in" and were undressed. The bellhop got a surprise, as did they. They screamed and shut the door in his face. They were afraid he was going to do something to them, so they wanted me to protect them. While I was in the room, we made a plan to get him back. I was to go in the bathroom and wait, as they called him back to their room to apologize. He was going to get the idea that they were going to party with him. At that point, I would come out of the bathroom to say hello and scare him off. The boy arrived at the door, and they welcomed him in. I flushed the toilet and came out of the bathroom. The boy got scared and ran out. We all laughed. We had made him look foolish. We had embarrassed him. I went back to my room feeling good. They had needed me. Mr. Vivian asked me what was going on. I just said that we had a little fun, and I went to bed with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Flying to Rome

July 8th meant we were flying from London to Rome. The bus ride to the airport was bittersweet. We were moving on to the next city, but we were leaving London. Upon boarding the British Airways plane, there was an alarming discovery. They had seats that faced each other, much like a train. Everyone that could got the seats that faced the front. Unfortunately, I got one that faced the tail. That was strike one. After we took off, strike two occurred when they served ham that didn't look too good. Then came strike three. We hit an air pocket that caused the plane to drop 8000 feet in three seconds. At least, it seemed that way. I began hyperventilating. My group noticed that all the blood had drained from my face, and I my skin was ashen. I was cold, and my heart was racing. They called over a stewardess. Then came a steward. They laid me on the seat and took my blood pressure. Apparently, it was pretty high. Then came the oxygen. Then came some pills. I have no idea what all they gave me, but I was still not doing well. Then they had me breathe into a paper bag to try and control my breathing. That helped a little, but I was still in trouble. There was a nurse on board who tried to help. As they worked on me and put more pills into me, a little British lady a couple of rows back said, "Give him some hot tea". They did, and my color came back. My breathing got better. My blood pressure went to normal. I was okay. By the time we landed in Rome, the pills took effect, and I was flying on the ground. The folks in the tour kept asking me how I was. I was great! I could feel my body floating along the sidewalk. It was quite a sensation. Upon arriving at the Imperiale Hotel, we found ourselves just around the corner from the Spanish Steps. We were warned that guys would tend to pinch the women's bottoms. I went with the girls over to the steps, and the previous warning came true. It is a wonder how some women are able to sit down later. The hotel was built on different levels. On our floor, there were steps in between rooms along the corridor. It was rather confusing to get from one room to another. But, with all the drugs in me, I didn't really care. I just wanted to sleep.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Touring London

July 7th brought the much anticipated tour of London. I asked the tour guide to take us by the Ministry of Defence and Savile Row. I could see the place where James Bond worked, and the place where The Beatles had their offices. They were gracious to do that. We also got to see The Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, Westminister Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and the Changing of the Guard, among other things. We took a lot of pictures at the Old Curiosity Shoppe. That afternoon was supposed to be for rest, but who could rest? Some of us wanted to go to the British Museum, so we took the tube from our hotel there. The problem was that we got there 30 minutes before it was closing, so we only got to see a couple of things. It was hard to remember to look right and then left before crossing the street without being hit. One of our tour members, Mrs. Sitton, dropped her camera in the street. She thought she had broken it. She ended up buying slides and postcards to make up for the broken camera. She didn't find out until getting home that her camera didn't break after all. That night, we went to the theatre to see "The Mousetrap" by Agatha Christie. I guess it was good. I slept through most of it. I still had not mastered jet lag. I wish we could have stayed longer in London. After all, they spoke English, or at least some did. We were quite surprised how many foreigners made up the people there, but it was a good start to what would be an adventure.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Arrival in London

So as the plane was winging its way toward London, most folks were sleeping, or trying to. It was hard to sleep with the excitement of what was to come. As I looked out the window of the plane, I saw the green of Ireland. Our body clock might have been 2am, but it was around 7am in London. The plane started its descent, and we were going through the typical pea soup fog. You couldn't see a thing. Hopefully, the pilot could. We landed at Heathrow Airport. The same airport that The Beatles had landed years before to screaming fans. We were there, but no one was screaming. Everyone was too tired to scream. After a long wait, we got a bus to take us to our hotel in London. The hotel was the Mount Royal near Hyde Park. It was in a great location, although the hotel itself was not four-star. It kind of reminded us of one from World War II that had not quite been remodeled. Everyone paired off for their rooms. Sandra and Talula, Judy and Sha, and others. I was with Mr. Vivian, since we were the only males. I thought I knew him, but I found he had a real phobia of germs, and he washed his hands constantly. He suggested we take naps, due to the jet lag, but I wanted to go out. I wanted to get something to eat, so I went into a restaurant near the hotel and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. They didn't know what that was. I tried to explain to toast bread with cheese in between. They tried to do it, but it ended up more like a quiche. We had a communication problem. That would not be the only time. After leaving there, I thought I would try out my British accent that I had developed during a play a few months back. Things were going pretty well. Then a man came up to me. It was obvious he was an American like me. He asked me where the US Embassy was. Of course, I didn't know. I had landed just a few hours before. So, I told him in my British accent where to go--down three blocks and take a left. He asked me if I was an American. I told him no, but I had spent some time there, but was born in Kent. He bought it. I realized two things then. First, my British accent wasn't pure. Second, I sent the guy in the opposite direction. So, if he is reading this, I'm sorry. After walking around the area and taking in the ambience, I went back to the hotel. Our supper consisted of bean soup and some other stuff. We found that you were not supposed to drink anything until after the meal, no matter how hot it was. That was challenging. Thank goodness for crackers. After supper, the younger ones (me, Sandra, Talula, Judy and Sha) went for a walk. It was misting, raining and foggy, but it didn't seem to matter. We found a mall, but it was closed. We all decided that we would stick together, since our ages were so far removed than the majority of the others in our group. We also decided that we would try and discover other places that were not on our tour, so that we could get the feel of what each city had to offer. We wanted to have fun, but we didn't realize that it would get us in trouble later on.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Trip Begins

It was July 5, 1973. The day our trip to Europe began. There was 16 people in our tour group. Mr. Vivian was the tour leader. He was my speech and drama teacher from Anderson College, which is where the tour originated. Back in the Spring, he announced that he was going to lead a tour to Europe and the Middle East. It seemed like a perfect thing to do. After all, my friends Sandra and Talula wanted to go. We were all very close. My parents thought it was a good idea, since their big motto was "travel broadens one". They also recognized the need to be with friends. And, I felt a special closeness to Sandra. There were two other girls in the group--Judy and Sha. Judy was my age, and Sha was still in high school. The others in the group were school teachers or retired women. I was the only guy in the group, besides Mr. Vivian. We met up at Greenville Airport. Sandra's boyfriend Jim brought her. It was not pleasant. My parents brought me. We had a group photo; said our goodbyes; and boarded the plane. I had flown before, but others hadn't. Three weeks later, we would all be veteran flyers. The first flight was a short one from Greenville to Charlotte. After a brief layover, we flew from Charlotte to New York, landing at JFK. I had never been in an airport that big before. I saw a man selling pencils in the terminal. We had about three hours before we were to board the plane to London. Of course, everyone split up. When the time came to board around 7pm, Sandra and Talula were not there. Mr. Vivian was panicking. I found them, and we ran to the plane. It wouldn't be the last time. We flew via Pan Am toward London. They gave us flight bags as a bonus. We got the music headphones. The music was David Bowie's "Space Oddity", which was very appropriate. "Ground control to Major Tom, Ground control to Major Tom, Countdown engines on...May God's love be with you." Also on the music was New York City's "I'm Doing Fine Now". They did some good programming. The plane lifted off. It got dark in a hurry, as we headed toward England. We could see the lights of Boston off in the distance. They soon served dinner on the plane. I had Roast Duck with Orange Sauce. I had never had plane food that good. After dinner, they announced that they would show a movie. It was getting kind of late, at least based on our body time, but I wanted to watch the movie. Others tried to sleep. The movie was "The Thief Who Came to Dinner" with Ryan O'Neal. I tried to watch it, but with the exhaustion, it seemed a little boring. I'm sure it was good. The day ended somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, trying to sleep. I have never been able to sleep on a plane, train or bus. This time was no different. The new day coming would be the start of a real adventure. I asked Sandra if she thought this was a dream or real. She said it was real. It seemed like a dream.

Friday, July 4, 2008

4th of July

In the spirit of understatement, we live in a great country. We have a lot of freedoms that others only dream about. Is there any wonder why so many folks from other countries want to come here? Most do it legally. They contribute to our society, and make this country a better place. Then there are those that come illegally. But, they come. On the eve of my 35th anniversary celebration of my trip to Europe, I wanted to impart some wisdom that I learned in relation to this day. Before we left to go to Europe, they told us to keep our passports close to us, because people would try and steal them. That was some very good advice. I had a jacket with me that I could keep my passport close in the lining. Someone would have to rip my jacket off to get to it. In many countries, the folks welcomed Americans, mainly because of their money. In some areas, the folks were a little standoffish to Americans. Perhaps they forgot that we liberated them in World War II, but I am not going to name names. Although I will tell more in the coming days, the general feel after three weeks away was how glad we were to be home. We missed family and friends, but we also realized how good we had it here. While you are drinking and eating today, and then drinking some more, and then maybe eating a bit more, and then watching the fireworks tonight, just think for a second how your country made it to this point. Despite all of our faults, we are still here. Thanks to Tom, Ben, John, George, Betsy, Paul, and all of the rest who got us here. And thank God.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

35 Years

We are about to start a retrospective adventure in a couple of days. It is the 35th anniversary of my trip to Europe. I will do a day by day remembrance of what happened each day on my trip. It will not be a travelogue, but rather a collection of stories about a group of people on a journey. It is a journey to find oneself, as well as a lot of experiences. If you find some of these stories as being hard to believe, then okay, but it will all be true. 35 years has been a long time. A lot has changed, but there are some themes that are still relevant. So, I hope you will read them and be entertained, as well as being thought provoking. As for today, 35 years ago on July 3rd, my mother and I went to see the James Bond film "Live and Let Die". We usually went to the James Bond movies. She introduced me to the series, and I fell in love with them. We both liked this one. After all, it was filmed in New Orleans. It was the first one with Roger Moore. We were both partial to Sean Connery but thought Roger did well. Two days later, I was to fly to London where James Bond lived. Also The Beatles. My mother introduced me to their music in 1964. She was a very hip person. We went to see "Live and Let Die" at the Dutch Square Theatre which stood in the parking lot at the back of the mall. Not where it is now. Anticipation was building with my trip looming. Daddy had been to Europe and had told me some things to expect. The group had met to be told what to expect and what not to do. We listened. Little did we know how important that meeting was, and how much we probably had needed to listen more closely. So, in the coming days, just know that I am not making this stuff up. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Boz Scaggs

I had a treat last night by going to see Boz Scaggs at the Peace Center in Greenville. It was a great show. But, let me go back a little first. I heard of him back in the early 1970's from my friend Sonny Smith. Sonny was very big into music. He introduced me to the music of a lot of artists, such as CSN, Todd Rundgren, and Carole King. He told me to check out Boz Scaggs, specifically the album "Moments". I did, and it was wonderful. A blend of rock, blues and jazz. When I moved to Fort Worth and working in the music dept. at Sanger Harris, "Silk Degrees" came out. It was one of the biggest selling albums in the 1970's. Hits like "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" were all over the radio. My personal favorite was "What Can I Say?". It was also the time that I was in love with Kare. It was a good time. When I heard he was coming to Greenville, it was a given that I was going to the show. Yesterday, I went to the box office to get a ticket. The girl at the ticket window was not to clear as to who Boz Scaggs was. She thought he was related to Ricky Skaggs. Last night, I went to the show. Most of the audience there were in the 50's and 60's. It was really a retro audience. The show started 30 minutes late, due to a medical emergency in the audience. Apparently, a woman fell in the balcony. Some folks in the audience got a little rowdy waiting for the show to start by trying to encourage them to come out by clapping and hollering. I think that might have been the result of selling liquor at the show. I have never been a fan of selling liquor at concerts. Once Boz Scaggs and his band came out, the audience erupted in applause. He started with "Lowdown", and it got better with each song. The music was a little blues, some jazz, and a lot of jamming. One of the big highlights for me was the appearance of Greg Phillinganes on keyboards. He has played keyboards for Eric Clapton for a lot of years, and I have him on video. He is a musical genius. It was a great show. I had wanted to get an autograph after the show, so I went to the stage door outside near the tour buses, and I was the only one around. Some folks were coming and going through the stage door, but no sign of Boz. I found out that some people had backstage passes, but I continued to wait patiently. As one guy came out, he asked me if I wanted his pass, and of course I said yes. I went into the stage door, along with two others. We thought it was very cool and began wondering around back there. A woman came up to us and told us that we needed to stand near the door and wait for them to come by. The drummer walked by, and then one of the horn players. We still waited. After a few minutes, the woman told us that Boz wasn't signing any more autographs and wasn't feeling well, and we needed to leave. That was a bit disappointing, but at least we were close. All in all, it was a good night. The music was great. It was as if I had gone back in time for a couple of hours. Thanks, Boz.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Caring About Others

When I grew up in a Baptist minister's home, I was taught early on to care about others. Not just caring about their souls, but also about their emotional side. Growing up, I was like a sponge. I absorbed everything, which made me what I am today. A caring soul. As I was being abused by my peers in junior high and high school, I formed a group called "The Walter Durst Society for Human Rights". It was a small group, but we did actually have members. It was a group focused on the needs for people to be treated equally. I also was very concerned about pollution and the need for social change. When I went to college, it became the "United Society", which just happened to have the same initials as the "United States". It was more focused on the political and social climate in the country. I worked hard to have a stream cleaned up in downtown Anderson SC. It was near children and pets, and was quite toxic. When I went to seminary, I saw first-hand about the abuse of women at the hands of men. I got involved in women's rights. When I moved back to Columbia, I lived with my parents and saw the need of the rights for seniors. I also got involved in the United Way, because they provided Meals on Wheels. My parents would have starved without it. I also saw the need for children's rights through my writing and performing puppet shows for inner-city kids in Philadelphia PA and Smyrna TN. The common thread throughout all of these social issues is that no one has the right to abuse another, and everyone has rights. It all goes back to caring. Sometimes I think I care too much at the expense of my own needs. That is probably right. And I think that sometimes my friends get a little sick at my concern for their needs. There are even some people who misinterpret my concerns. I learn lessons every day about the need to care. One day, I was in downtown Columbia and saw a homeless man looking for money in pay phones. Two well-dressed men walked by him. One yelled out to the homeless man, "Get a job". They laughed and walked away. The homeless man pretended not to hear, but he did. People can be so insensitive of others. We just want to get where we are going, and not be bothered by the needs of others. I have seen this in my own life, when I needed help, and folks just didn't want to be bothered. We need to change that perception. People are readily willing to help others they don't know in lands far away, but they don't take the time to lok around in their own community for the needs of others. My mother used to say that I had a very caring soul. She was right. I care. It would be nice that when I leave this world that someone will say that I made a difference in this place. That would be the highest compliment one could bestow on me. I just want to make a difference and make this world a better place. Does that sound like a dreamer? I suppose so, but all of the best ideas in life has started as dreams. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." Together we can do great things. I care.