Writing Sample

April-May 2018

In “Innocents Abroad” Mark Twain wrote,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

That quote sums up for me the intense memory of Lietta’s and my journey through parts of Europe as guests of my daughter, Cheri Ruger. Our itinerary was full and most professionally plotted and scheduled. (She could do this for a living.) At that time, so as to effect a meaningful travel and specific visits to specific places, we mostly did what we were courteously told … and profited.

North America across the waters.

At the suggestion of my daughter, we purchased two travel vests, each with enough pockets to get the count into double digits. Then we bought 24-25 inch suitcases with four wheels and that was wise. It was mostly easier to push a four-wheel suitcase than pull it on two wheels. Lietta had two carry on bags that draped over her neck. I had the CPAP case and a back pack Cheri loaned me that actually had a rubber inflatable water bottle with a sucking tube that might come in handy for long walking ventures without stopping to buy bottles.

At the airport I at first I experienced a vague uneasiness as I had not flown – commercially or otherwise – since the late 1980’s and was not excited about encountering the security checks and anti-terrorist paraphernalia and procedures required to get on the damn plane. My uneasiness was mostly unfounded – primarily I think because the security people knew their jobs, had seen it all and were mostly bored and wanting me to get on with it.

I have two stainless steel knees which triggered the metal detector as expected. They told me to take my belt off and hold my arms out, which caused my pants to start to fall because I’m so narrow-hipped once you get past the paunch. I pulled them up as high as I could and stuck my belly out as far as it would go, like a horse trying to make a rider think the saddle is on tight (until the horse expels the air.)

They waived me through after forcing me to explain why a kindle reader was hiding in my CPAP bag.

We flew out of Sea Tac airport on British Airways, headed north and east over Canada, flew below Greenland and Iceland and showed up at Heathrow airport 9 hours later.

I was struck by the shake, rattle and role of the aircraft as the pilot raised the RPM’s with his foot on the brake before releasing and sending the jet careening down the runway striving to reach leave-the-ground speed. The plane was shaking and seemed to teeter to the right and then the left all the way to “rotate.” Rotate is the word I would hear the pilots say during takeoff back in the early 1970’s when I was in the Air Force and on flying status.

Some things never change. The experience was exactly the same as when I was active duty with 900+ hours of flying now some 40 years ago. You’d think that with all this technological evolution and development they would have figured out a way to make take-offs and landings not feel like you have just been shot out of a giant sling shot; or like you were riding a giant rock falling toward the runway at breakneck speed all the time hoping the tires and landing gear were tough enough to handle the collision between runway and aircraft.

At Heathrow it was time to take a bus ride from one end of the airport to the other. I assumed such because based on the time the bus took to get us there in order to connect with another British Airway flight to Barcelona for the final two ours of our journey’s first leg. We sat near the gate for about an hour before boarding another British jet for a two hour flight across France to Spain.

Barcelona

I chose Spain for the first leg because I was curious about whether my Tex-Mex Spanish would be useful. It was. I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to interact. At the airport my first shot was a brief conversation with the young man who gave me my first passport stamping. I had to explain to him after a brief back-and-forth that my real name was “Guapeton” which in Spanish means Handsome. He understood me quite well and I could see his mind telling him to humor me and let us pass.

Our VRBO owner, David, arranged for us to be met at the airport, by a taxi driver. Barcelona taxis are all alike … same color, same speed and same impatience. As we left the airport I was acutely aware that the insulated touristy atmosphere of an international airport was about to be replaced with the moment-by-moment reality of an actual European city.

Shortly after leaving the airport and heading for downtown, I noticed a strange billboard about apricots and chicas (Spanish for “girls”). Turns out the billboard was about an escort service named Apricots. No shyness here. Can’t imagine what Billy Graham’s kid, Franklin would say about that.

What the hell is a VRBO? I had never heard of one and only came to know because for our journey, we stayed in VRBO’s except at Zurich. VRBO is like AIRBNB, vacation rentals by owner. Cheaper than hotels and in my experience more delightful.

While our taxi driver is moving with quick, deliberate and impatient energy, I found myself trying vaguely to remember our route which had to involve at least twenty sharp right or left turns on narrow streets. Lietta and Cheri are making a few comments on landmarks, etc. Suddenly the driver jerks the car to the curb, turns and points behind him and says in broken English, “Right there! 494 (I believe our address was.)” We got out, he offloaded our luggage, Cheri paid him and he was out of there.

We walked to a double door which Cheri negotiated. Lietta and I rode a tiny lift up two floors and Cheri walked it. We entered the first of a series of charming VBO’s each with its own special individuality and memories. Only photo I took in that first VRBO was what was on the wall in the living/dining room.

Next morning – if you want to call our attempt to sleep all night as jet-lagged zombies – we decided to head for the Sagrada Familia Basilica and on the way stumbled by and into the Mercado Sagrada Familia, and indoor farmer’s market that reminded us of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, only we saw no flyng fish. Lietta got these fotos:

Sagrada Familia Cathedral

How tall is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral?

That is yours truly aiming at the top

Panoramic foto of Barcelona taken by Chéri. You can see the Basilica to the left.

Of course we took the Cathedral tour.