As promised earlier this January, Dear Reader, and more purposefully due to an encouraging response to what turned out eventually to be Part One of my “Life on the Road” published in the New Year, here goes my next stab at recalling memories of the past that still resonate within me. After all, they in truth bring to life not just the road – in all its literal and figurative meanings – that I’ve traveled over the past seven decades, but the will and fortitude to follow through with bringing to fruition some of the hopes and aspirations that still reside deep within me in my ‘golden years.’
I’ve never subscribed to the belief that advancing years prevent one from looking ever upward and onward. And, therefore, for as long as I can, I aim to enjoy the freedom that modern technology gives me to do just that: Consider that two decades ago, as a budding techie in his 60’s, I made my first desktop computer in Teaneck, NJ, for $750. If you remember, in those early days of the digital revolution, the cheapest IBM desktop cost fourfold more at $3,000 a pop and far too expensive for the mom-and-pop store-front non-profit community arts organization I was working for and continued to do so for nigh on 20 years. By that time, the National Guild – as it was known – had established itself in New York and in most of the states in the USA as a force to be reckoned with in the world of music, dance, visual arts and theater education in aspiring communities.
So here I go on to the new-fangled blogosphere with travel vignettes of the distant – and not so distant – past of my life on the road!
Looking back, my very first sortie on to the European mainland from the comparative insular safety of the British Isles stands out. Believe it or not, after arriving in England by ocean liner from India in 1949, I was so overwhelmed by day-to-day educational and scholastic activities in the County of Kent and concurrently in London that I had no time to think of other foreign shores to explore.
Nonetheless, the time came when my French friend, Gérard, who was my congenial roommate at CentYMCA, London (1953-55) – he was there to learn English and eventually became my pen-pal when we went our separate ways – encouraged me to spend the summer of 1953 in various parts of Western Europe ending up in his hometown of Lyons. His hotlinked name above will take you to two archival photos – one of him, the other of the two of us on the road.
What follows is that summer’s excerpt from my opening diary entry recorded just before I took off on the first leg of my maiden European hitchin’ and hikin’ trip: I kept at it religiously penning all the strange and wondrous experiences over three summers that turned out to be so far removed from the comparatively staid, stiff-upper-lip Brit populace that I had got accustomed to interacting with during my university days in England.
Dover-Ostend Quay 21 July 1953 @ 10:15 pm
I take back most of what I said about “hitching'” in England. I travelled so fast, that I could have caught the 4:50 pm ferry, if I’d wished to.
After leaving Dartford Station, I walked to the A2, taking approx.: ½ hour. I could have bussed it, but I wanted to get used to carrying the “baby”. I soon got a lift in an army vehicle, which took me all the way to Gillingham. Then followed 2 shorter lifts. I lunched on your cakes @ 2 pm, and then caught a van into Canterbury (3 pm). I went over the Cathedral, had refreshments (the inevitable ice cream and a milk-shake) and then hitched a new racy half-way to a haven not far from the White Cliffs of Dover pictured below (4:30 pm).
There I met 2 country types who offered me considerable hospitality at a near-by pub. Before going in, we sat on the grass outside chatting (I’d decided to take the 1 am ferry). I had a free pint of milk, followed by 2 eggs on toast and tea. I then played darts, later strumming on the piano (a very battered and unmusical instrument indeed!), everyone – the party now being 8 in number, including the host, a large, cherubic and rotund countryman – joining in. After this I was plied with offers of varied species of drinks, but I refused them all.
I left @ 8:30 pm and immediately hitched a brand new car carrying Swedish colours. The driver, a young Swede, Hr. Atte Nyberg working for a short time in London as a correspondent for a Swedish newspaper, was on his way to Paris, leaving by car ferry in the morning. He drove me to the Sea-Front, then searched for the Dover-Calais Quay, leaving me watching a basketball match in the open air. He was back a little later to watch the end of the game, then drove off to find a hotel. I read the Figaro, sitting on a bench, facing he sea. I’d just got up @ 9:30 pm to look for my Quay, when he was back again, taking me there in double-quick time. On the way, he gave some advice: in London, if you get to know a girl, she always wants to know the marriage date; in Scandinavia it is very, very different – and he left it at that!
Well, I arrived here so early that there wasn’t a soul in customs, so I’ve retired temporarily to the address @ the head of this letter. The boat train from Victoria arrives @ 12 midnight and so no one is allowed on deck till then. If my present run of luck continues, I should get to France via my circuitous route of Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and Italy by early September!
However, Nyberg told me that it is not as easy in Belgium. Anyway, the hard facts are that I spent one pound and three shillings today on refreshments to keep the wolf from the door.
Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas